... increasing awareness of Torah among non-Jews ...
The Mitzvah of Dinim
Rabbi YIRMEYAHU BINDMAN
(Note: The author is not associated in any way with the Netzarim)
The history of the Noahide Laws in world consciousness during the centuries of exile shows at each juncture how the times tended towards the Redemption, as well as how it was held back. During the Second Temple era there were large communities of Noahide observers living in association with the Jews all over the Roman world, Greek-speakers in the eastern half and Latin-speakers in the west. After the Destruction their children could no longer obtain instruction so easily, and so they tended to assume that Christianity with its admixture of Torah concepts would serve them well enough.
The mediaeval era, with its intense repression and wars between Christianity and Islam, was lacking in any overt opportunity for Noahide practice, but both these sides saw the appearance of the "Judaizing heresy," where quasi-rebellious movements arose to demand that the established forms of worship be replaced by greater conformity to Jewish truth. Jews could do nothing to assist or correct such movements while their own lives were at risk, and it was not until the Reformation came to challenge church domination on a more educated level, due to the invention of printing, that renewed interest began to emerge.
The purely religious results of this development were more evident than had been the case in the mediaeval time, but there was still confusion, and the Protestant leadership itself moved to reassert Christian concepts decisively before very long. On the civil side, however, corresponding to the Mitzvah of Dinim which obligates the nations in constitutional government, the level of collaboration remained high, all the more so when absolutist kings such as Louis XlV of France strove to repress freedoms for immoral reasons in the wars of the Counter-Reformation. Protestant states began to look seriously at Noahide relations with Jewry as a means of strengthening their statehood against this threat, especially as American developments gathered momentum with the likelihood of influencing all of Europe in their turn.
The Dutch Republic was first in line for this, as the pioneer in American enterprise, and its West India Company had founded New Amsterdam. The only hope for Protestant states to match the vast wealth of the Catholic kingdoms was to extend trading into America, and as the Dutch developed corporations to trade overseas and attract investors, the Jewish community and its Rabbanim were brought into the arrangement on a well-established footing. Since the Torah was then still officially recognized as the law for the Jews in Holland, under the Rabbinic autonomy which ruled throughout Europe and the Moslem world until Napoleon, this was a matter of actual treaty agreement between the autonomy and its host state, since the proper legal terms had to be in place for a bilateral relationship to function. In this way the foundations were laid for the corporate structure of today’s world and the Jewish place within it, based around American realities then as now. The arrangements which the Dutch pioneered were later taken up by the English when they admitted the Jews to the country and its colonies under Cromwell’s Republic, though with the difference that they did not establish the Rabbinic autonomy. They had already disestablished the Church of England, in a manner later taken up independently in America, and this fulfilled a criterion of Noahide acceptance.
A limited-liability corporation is an entity which can hold property, conduct transactions, and sue and be sued, and the Jewish Beit Din has no power to create such an entity. Only the non-Jewish government can do so, and this only because of a decision in the Noahide Mitzvah of Dinim giving it a such a capability from the Torah. There is a dispute among the poskim on this point, over an opinion that there is no such power, and that if it is done the property is being illegally held, but the halakha is decided in accordance with the first view. The arrangement is empowered for Jews after the fact through dina d’malchusa, the Torah principle d’oraysa which allows the non-Jewish state to make laws for the Jewish people on economic matters, once they are deemed acceptable to the Torah’s own norms. Even at this, though, corporations have no halakhic existence of their own, but are merely fictions for the government's capacity to hold assets, through the power to enact corporate law awarded to it by the Torah. For this reason the Rabbanim do not address themselves to corporations for morality, even though they seem to be making all the decisions, but only to individuals and to the government.
Before the Napoleonic abolition the Jewish communities in Europe were
themselves incorporated by the governments under which they lived, paying
"corporation" tax collectively, not as individuals. In this they
resembled the American colonies of that time, which were chartered as British
trading corporations, occupying territory and administering populations, and
regulated from London by the British Board of Trade. The slogan "no
taxation without representation" referred to a similar collective tax
payment, and the Americans considered that their governing organization should
not be regulated or taxed in this way by another country, and so their
Revolution took a form where the "corporate" colonies acceded to
statehood. They recognized the Jewish corporation as another
"socio-religious" trading entity like their own, though not
incorporated by London, or indeed by any other single regime. The idea for Jewry
to acquire an identity in the American corporate world by founding a State of
Israel was thus following a similar pattern; that the corporate entity which had
been challenged by Napoleon should reconstitute itself by acquiring territory in
its own ancestral land, and then accede to a statehood of its own.
In addition to this basic structure, the government is enjoined under Mitzvat Dinim to regulate the activities of corporations in the public interest, restraining them from unfair or restrictive practices or from harming the general well-being, and bringing them to justice where necessary. The morality involved is therefore Noahide morality, which includes all provisions relating to the needs of Jews themselves, and thus the Torah is brought through the non-Jewish government's responsibilities into the basis of corporate operations. Fascist and Communist states deriving from Napoleon’s revolution were wrongly constituted in this respect, since they abolished the corporate regulation altogether and allowed immoral practices, and though Western countries establish their corporations correctly, the actual regulation does not always operate as well as it should. Public issues over corporate morality thus return to the government as the sole source of these otherwise 'soulless' entities, and so governmental consciousness of Noahide law emerges as the solution to all such questions, just as it did when the original terms were devised between the Dutch government and its Rabbinic autonomy.
All business activity exists to carry the world from its origin to its destiny, supplying its needs, and fulfilling the Torah laws which are ‘enclothed’ in the transactions. For this to take place in the modern corporate world a dual consciousness is required; that individuals remain obligated by personal morality even within a corporate setting, and may not hide behind the anonymity of ‘the firm’, and that management are required to fulfill the considerations of public morality which the government enjoins upon them out of its sovereign responsibility, without attempting to bend the sovereign power to their own designs.
The American colonies were not a treifah medina," nor was the United States at its inception, and its relations with the Rabbinic autonomy in Europe were good. It only later became so through the influence of the French Revolution, especially though Germany where most of the early Jewish immigrants came from. Now that large numbers of religious Jews have become settled in the United States, and the Chassidic movement transferred along with them, consciousness of the Noahide Laws is spreading rapidly, and this can bring about a re-emergence of favorable aspects which have been present in America since its earliest foundation.See Rabbi Bindman's book, The Seven Colors of the Rainbow: Torah Ethics for Non-Jews
Copyright © 1998, Yirmeyahu Bindman. Revised - 3/23/98