Wednesday, September 16, 2015

UMJC Still Employs Derek Leman's Moral Law vs. Non-Moral Law Distinction

In David Rudolph's position paper entitled "Gentiles and Torah", he says that Torah may be classified according to ethnic laws, incumbent upon Israel, and ethical laws, incumbent upon mankind.  He cites to Derek Leman, who was, until very recently, a UMJC rabbi, the Chair of the UMJC's Education Committee, a member of the UMJC's rabbinical council, etc.  Now, Derek Leman is the only one from the UMJC that has written extensively on this so-called ethnic vs. ethical distinction in Torah.  So I thought I'd give a brief review of Derek's writings on the subject since it appears that the UMJC bases this ethnic/ethical distinction largely on the writings of Derek Leman.

Derek Leman bases the so-called ethnic-ethical distinction on the theory that some laws in the Bible are moral and some laws are not moral.  No, seriously, that's what he says.  For example:

"The blood prohibition is not a moral law. It is a priestly law," from: (cached)
By the way, just for the record, something is considered "moral" if it is "good."  The opposite of moral is therefore something that is "bad."

So, according to Derek's view, once a Gentile distinguishes between Biblical laws which are moral (and therefore universal) and Biblical laws which are immoral (and therefore intended only for Israel), then a Gentile is able to live his calling as a righteous Gentile. 

Does that sound like a good guideline to follow?  Or does this sound like the kind of thinking that might lead someone astray?

But, as of 9/16/2015, the UMJC apparently thinks that Derek Leman's analysis is correct because this is the teacher to whom they cite in their position papers (e.g. "Gentiles and Torah").

Shalom and Blessings to the True Brothers and Sisters in Messiah Yeshua,



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Peter, even though I don't agree with Derek Leman about the non-application of what he calls the ethnic laws to the non-jews, I think that the hermeneutic jump that you take from not moral to immoral is very out of order. Maybe they are ammoral, meaning, not related to any moral.
    When people say some of the Laws of the Torah are not moral, they mean they do not pertain to moral issues, they do not define what is good and what is bad per se.
    The rabbis agree with that, when they make a distinction between the mishpatim and the chukim, actually that is an universally accepted distinction in judaism, between those laws that " if they had not been written they should be" (such as the prohibition about murder) and those laws about which "the satan and the nations provoke Israel" (such as the red cow).
    The difference of opinion of the rabbis about the second kind of laws is whether they are merely decrees of the King with no real reason (other than that we should gain by obeying G-d) - Rashi sees this way - or whether they really have a reason, a spiritual or mystical one, that we just can't see as a given and must therefore try to understand it better - Rambam and Ramban.
    I really don't see how not eating pig makes me a more MORAL person than the christian next door, but I do see how it makes me more obedient, and I know that matters. But that does NOT mean this is a moral law.
    Also the same goes to the observance of commandments pertaining to the history of Israel as the Pesach and related mitzvot: I see how that makes me one with the people G-d chose to reveal himself through, but not observing it does not make me an immoral person.
    I think the division of moral and ethnic laws proposed by Derek can and SHOULD be rejected, specially on the side of ETHNIC commandments. I don't think however your critique was on point, or that it made justice to his"theory".

    1. Mattheus,

      A law is only legitimate when it corresponds to the Divine Will. The Divine Will is perfectly good and therefore all laws corresponding to the Divine Will are also good. Therefore, laws are either good/right (i.e. they correspond to the Divine Will) or they are bad/wrong (i.e. they deviate from the Divine Will).

      This is a binary issue: good vs. evil.

      Yet you claim there is 3rd distinction: neutral laws. This is a false distinction because a law must either be for or against the will of G-d. There is no in-between.

      Therefore, it MUST follow that Derek Leman's assertion is false that only some Scriptural laws may be classified as "moral." They are all moral! They are all good!

      This is simple logic, man.

      Secondly, I must correct you when you say the rabbis make a distinction between chukim and mishpatim. This is a Scriptural distinction! The rabbis didn't make this distinction!

      I love you and so I'll tell you all of this as a brother with love and respect. You must think all these things through logically. You say I didn't do justice to Leman's theory. Well, I must disagree strongly. Leman's "theory" fails to do justice to the nature of the Torah!



    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I agree with you, Peter. As I said before. I disagree with Derek, I only also disagree with the way you chose to argue against him. Of course G-d's will is good, but it is not always good in the moral sense. You must accept that even though YOU don't see this as possible (just as maybe Ramban and Rambam wouldn't as I pointed out) there are some who can make it work somehow (for example by arguing that some commandments reveal and express the will of G-d about what is good, while others exist only to be obeyd.

      The issue may be presented the following way:obeying G-d is good, but in some cases besides the fact that obeying G-d is good there is to the commandment another reason besides simple obedience, such as the preservation of the divine image in man (in the case of murder).

      There are other commandments, according to a certain line of thought, in which the ONLY good that there is is the obedience itself, such as not wearing shaatnz. That is, in this line of thought G-d could just as well have decreed for men to WEAR shaatnez always and the same ends would be met, that is, that man obey the creator only by faith despite his reason (in a very different way from other commandmants - the mishpatim - in which we can see a moral good and agree rationaly with it.

      In this sense, Derek's theory would make sense, if you would concede to say that G-d wanted only an specific group to have this "blind" obedience, or that the reason behind some commandments were only applicable for such a group (an example is the Laws of the cohanim not being allowed to get impure by a corpse - is it bad for anyone to get impure this way? Or only for those G-d decreed so?). In this line of thought G-d would have decreed some things only for the jewish people, while the other "rational" commandmentes were for all mankind.

      You could have come and said that this does not stand because:
      1) as some sages defend: all commandments have a reason. The decrees are not obvious to us, but they have a very important effect on our spirit, or teach valuable things, etc.And
      2) Scripture DOES NOT make the claim that the chukim are only for Israel, but not for those who join them (as Derek would have). Actually, the name of our doctrine (one law) comes from various passages that say CHOK ECHAD for the ger and for the native born alike.

      Now what I have just said IS VERY different from your binary thought that, although I agree in part, is not very useful in some discussions such as, I would say, this one.
      YES: there is only good or bad: but some stuff are obviously and inherently good-bad (moral issues) while other would be good-bad depending on something else (for example, eating pig is not BAD in itself - as long as I can see - but it IS BAD bc, and as far as I can see only because, G-d said so).

      This could again be countered by saying that the second group is also inherently bad-good but it is just not obvious. Or even on reversing the whole argument to say that nothing is inherently good-bad, all is from above, and we just have been accostumed to some and not to others.

      Anyway, the point is that the way you chose to equate not moral with bad in any sense simplified the issue to the brink of a sophistry, not making justice to a discussion about the Word.

      Im sorry, I had to edit the comment and deleting it was the only way I found for that, this is the second time this happens due to some spelling mistakes.


    4. Matheus,

      RE: " Of course G-d's will is good, but it is not always good in the moral sense."

      Moral, by definition, means "good." So you literally just said, "G-d's will is good but it's not always good in the "good" sense."

      That makes no sense!

  3. I think what Mattheus is saying, or his overall point, at least, makes some sense. It seems it can be simplified down to the following idea:

    "All mitzvot are of course moral in that all mitzvot are obedience to G-d. Clearly, it is moral to obey G-d, and immoral to disobey G-d, in all cases.

    However, some mitzvot have an additional *apparent* moral dimension in and of themselves - for instance, even if G-d had made no decree on the issue, following these things would be apparently moral - for instance, against murder. However, for other mitzvot - for instance, against shatnez - this is not *apparently* the case; they do not have this *apparent* inherent morality apart from being the will of G-d."

    Thus we have some level of categorical distinction (which Peter rightly indicates is perhaps captured in the scriptural distinction between chukim and mishpatim).

    While this may or may not be a reasonable distinction conceptually, I think you two would agree that in practicality it does not hold up to the sort of application for which Mr. Leman has, in the past, used it. Firstly, while it's intellectually conceivable that G-d would have the second category above apply only to native-born Israelis, (Scriptural Sabras?) Scripture does not seem to back this up in practice.

    Secondly, as Matheus covers, its arguable that saying "certain commandments do not seem to me to have moral application outside of the baseline morality of obeying or disobeying G-d" is a statement set up for failure. Maybe they all *do* have independent moral value, and in our limited knowledge we can't see it. Or, my personal belief, the idea of "independent" moral value apart from the morality of obeying G-d is a cultural construct which has no validity, because G-d, not culture, must define morality.

    For instance, to a believer in certain tribal societies, eating pig or drinking blood might seem obviously morally wrong in and of itself because of a cultural norm that says these things are acceptable, but perhaps the commandments about a rigorous trial prior to conviction might not, because rigorous trials are not common in that culture. On the other hand, to a modern Scottish believer fond of haggis and black pudding, the inherent morality of rigorous trials would likely seem indisputable, but avoiding pork and blood would seem to be arbitrary on G-d's part.

    In both cases, the source of each man's judgment about which commandments have "independent moral value" and which do not is the individual's local, man-made culture. So, in even making such a judgment, each person has set up their personal culture, rather than Scripture, the arbiter of morality, and let man-made norms usurp a role that belongs only to G-d.

    Still, I can see the conceptual possibility of the distinction that Matheus is trying to get at - but it is questionable in practice, and I don't think it should be employed to justify the sorts of practical things which Mr. Leman derives from it.

    1. My apologies - third paragraph from the bottom should read...

      "because of a cultural norm that says these things are NOT acceptable..."

    2. Shai,

      You're not using the term "moral" correctly. Moral literally means something that is good and right. So you cannot say that certain commandments do not seem to have a moral application. They all definitely have a "moral application" because we know that they all come from G-d.

      What Matheus is arguing is patently absurd. He doesn't understand the definition of "moral." He fails to understand that moral literally means "good." And so he says nonsensical things like Of course G-d's will is good, but it is not always good in the [good, i.e. moral] sense."

      That's meaningless double-talk.

      All of G-d's commands are good. All of G-d's commands are therefore moral. Period.

    3. Perhaps I was not clear - I'll give it another shot. Of course I am well aware that "moral" means "good." Nu?

      Note that I said...
      "All mitzvot are of course moral in that all mitzvot are obedience to G-d. Clearly, it is moral to obey G-d, and immoral to disobey G-d, in all cases."

      Thus, I'm not sure why you felt the need to remind me that "They all definitely have a "moral application" because we know that they all come from G-d." We are in complete agreement on that issue.

      The point of supposed differentiation is *additional* moral application *outside* the inherent morality of obeying G-d. Certain mitzvot *seem* moral *apart* from G-d's decree. For these commandments, even if G-d had said nothing on an issue, it would still *seem* commonsensically moral to institute such a rule among men - say, against murder or theft, for instance.

      (Albeit, this assumes that one accepts the existence of morality apart from G-d's decree, which I do not - apart from G-d's decree, there are only arbitrary cultural norms masquerading as morals).

      On the other hand, other mitzvot, while of course being moral because they involve obedience to divine will, do not *seem* to have moral value *apart from* the inherent moral value which they carry as commandments from Hashem - at least, not which we can see or understand. For instance, against shatnez.

      As I said before...

      "However, for other mitzvot - for instance, against shatnez - this is not *apparently* the case; they do not have this *apparent* inherent morality apart from being the will of G-d."

      So, I think the two "categories" that the other commenter is getting at are:

      1)Commandments which are moral because they are the will of G-d, but would also seem moral on a commonsensical level even G-d had not commanded them

      and on the other hand

      2)Commandments which are moral because they are the will of G-d, but which, if G-d had not commanded them, would not seem to have moral weight in and of themselves that we can understand.

      If G-d had never said "You will not murder," I would still think people should likely figure out among themselves that murdering is not a good idea. On the other hand, if He had never said, "You shall not wear a garment of wool and linen," I don't see any reason why people would not wear such clothing.

      As I understand it, this is the traditional distinction between a mishpat (in the first category) and a chok (in the second). A chok is a commandment whose purpose we do not understand, but we obey out of fealty to G-d. A mishpat we obey out of fealty to G-d, but also, it makes sense why G-d would command it.

      So, yes, you're correct that Matheus' comment about something not being "good in the moral sense" isn't exactly the best wording, but I think what he might be trying to get at is simply that certain mitzvot are mishpatim, and certain are chokim. Or at least, whether he's trying to get at it or not, this distinction does exist, and as far as I can see it hinges on the idea that while all mitzvot are moral due to obedience to the King, certain are *comprehensibly* moral otherwise, and other mitzvot do not have other moral application that we can understand.

      At any rate, I wouldn't go the route that some in the UMJC do of saying that just because there are these conceptual nuances, one category applies only to one ethnic group.

    4. Shai,

      How does man's ability (or inability) to understand the rationales behind the mitzvot have any bearing on the goodness of the mitzvot?

      It's totally irrelevant.

      You can't say "well, Shabbat isn't for the non-Jews since I don't really know for certain what the rationales for Shabbat are." It's such an irrelevant basis for making a distinction.

    5. "How does man's ability (or inability) to understand the rationales behind the mitzvot have any bearing on the goodness of the mitzvot?"

      It doesn't in the least. It merely establishes the distinction between chokim and mishpatim. There *are* these two sorts of mitzvot. Not that either is amoral, but that one is moral in being divine will, and the other is *additionally* (seemingly) moral for reasons comprehensible to humans.

      As far as...
      "You can't say, "well, Shabbat isn't for the non-Jews since I don't really know for certain what the rationales for Shabbat are."

      Agreed. As I said above, even though I can see differentiating between these two "types" of commandments...

      "I don't think it should be employed to justify the sorts of practical things which Mr. Leman derives from it."


      "I wouldn't go the route that some in the UMJC do of saying that just because there are these conceptual nuances, one category applies only to one ethnic group."

    6. Shai,

      It doesn't "establish" that chukim and mishpatim are distinct at all. In point of fact, the Torah will describe a mitzvah as being simultaneously both chok and misphat. The words are even used synonymously in Torah and each used as a synonym for all the mitzvot. There is no clear distinction that you describe. And ALL the mitzvot have reasons anyway.

    7. Strictly speaking, this is probably true - maybe "establish," if you interpret it with such force, wasn't the best word choice on my part. I'm not too precise with my verbiage on an Internet comment thread.

      To be more nuanced, maybe it provides a vantage point from which it seems (to me) to be easy to comprehend how someone might group the mitzvot in such a way - irrespective of whether they drew from these groupings any conclusions about who should obey what or whether any (or none) should be disregarded.

      As I understand, this has been one way the terms have been employed traditionally by the Chazal to categorize mitzvot.


      The text itself, of course, is not bound by that later convention, (so one might say, I suppose, that it's simply inaccurate.) but I find it to be a useful grouping. It enables discussion with those from non-Messianic circles who endorse such groups, and is useful when discussing with those among the Christian world who would have us ignore mitzvot that do not "seem" moral to our conscience. "Yes, we've already thought of that. In fact, those are called 'chokim,' and we don't agree that we should disregard an entire subset of mitzvot just because they are (to quote the chabad article) supra-rational. The fact that we have the term demonstrates that our decision is obviously not on a whim.""

      We're spilling quite a lot of ink over some very specific particulars with all of this. All I was getting at was that that Matheus' original post did not seem so far-fetched to me because as I understand the tradition, the mitzvot have been grouped a way similar to the way he described (albeit that the initial "good in the moral sense" wording obscured the discussion.)

      I did not mean that either is less important, nor that either lacked moral force, nor that one should be limited to any group.

    8. Shai,

      Let's review. Morality is defined as G-d's values that are built into Torah. Therefore all Torah is moral--each mitzvah contains a moral value or values. But Derek Leman and Mattheus argue that only SOME of the Torah is moral which would then mean that some of the Torah is immoral.

      Since we know that the Torah cannot be immoral, it MUST follow that Derek's proposed distinction is false.

      If you think my definition of morality is wrong then show me how it's wrong. If you think my analysis is wrong then show me how it's wrong.

  4. Peter I was about to answer you, but I gave up. We have come to a point where we are just to repeat the same things. We have to agree to disagree.

  5. This article says that there are certain Gentiles called into Messianic Judaism and to live a Jewish-style life. OK. Maybe Torah observance isn't for every Christian today. But, how many Messianic Jewish leaders have run off or turned away Gentile believers who were legitimately called by God into their congregations and synagogues? How many of them now make up an unstable and discredited Hebrew Roots movement?

    1. +1

      Of course, if they were legitimately called by G-d, then they likely *remain* legitimately called by G-d, and G-d will continue to do His work through them no matter if they're in a UMJC congregation or a HR one. If certain Messianic leaders do not want these legitimately G-d-called people in their congregations because of their race....okay, but it is to the detriment of the congregation that kicks them out. Either way, G-d will do what He will do, and if the congregations that kick these individuals to the curb want, for some odd reason, to have *less* to do with that plan than they otherwise would....I guess that's there choice.

      Seems like an odd choice, but racism is weird like that.

  6. Funny that they cite a man who had to step down as rabbi because he was committing adultery on his wife and is an alcoholic. I have followed his blog for years and have seen just how unabashedly arrogant he can be. Even his so called apology didn't seem sincere, more like he got caught and was sorry he was caught. Even now he says he will no longer teach, but after a few weeks for everyone to forget about what he did, he's back to teaching online. It's all about him, and he disgusts me. He's not sorry, hope his wife recovers from this and finds a more deserving man.

    1. Anonymous,

      Where did you get this information? Can you direct me there?

    2. Anonymous,

      Where did you get this information? Can you direct me there?

    3. He posted it on his website shortly after stepping down at his synagogue. He's apparently taken down the original post but it's in the bio still. Here's a link:

    4. Wow...How the mighty have fallen...

      When one defrauds people it always comes back to bite him in the Tuches.....