Chapter Four. Laws of “Blessing” Gоd (The Prohibition of Cursing)
Praise the Lord, all you peoples, laud him all your nations. (Psalms 117:1)
Any person who shall blaspheme his Gоd shall bear the burden of his sin. (Leviticus 24:15)
1. It is forbidden for both Noahides and Jews to curse or blaspheme the Creator of the universe.91
2. This commandment is meant to negate all pessimistic views regarding the world.92 Anyone who sees in Gоd’s world only evil tends to attribute blame to the One who created the world. According to the Talmud,93 this commandment was initially spoken to Adam94 and it is a fundamental value of human existence.
3. This prohibition includes all the names of the Creator, including nicknames such as “Merciful One” or “Compassionate One” and every other name that is known to everyone as a name for Gоd. This prohibition applies to every language.95
4. Insolent language directed Heavenward – that is, harsh speech directed towards the Creator – is forbidden.96
5. There are those who include possessing an atheistic frame of mind in this prohibition.97 However, one should carefully examine the true intentions of one claiming atheistic belief since, sometimes, they are merely rejecting an idolatrous practice.98 About this (i.e. rejecting idolatry) the Talmud says: “Whoever rejects idolatry is called a Jew.”99
6. Whoever hears blasphemy of Gоd’s name should tear his garments because of the severity of this act.100
7. Contempt for the Creator, of any kind, is forbidden, even where no punishment is involved. This prohibition includes not causing damage to holy books, to holy names, or to synagogues.101
8. It is forbidden to utter any of the Creator’s names in an unclean place or when the speaker is unclean or undressed.102 Similarly, one should not take an oath in Gоd’s name without just cause (for example, outside of court) and, all the more so, one should not lie under oath.103
9. The sages said:104 “Three partners make a human being: his father, his mother, and the Holy One Blessed be He.” This passage equates the honor due to parents to that due to Heaven.105 Moreover, honoring one’s father and mother106 is an aspect of human morality accepted throughout the world,107 as is reverence for one’s father and mother.108 And, needless to say, one should never hit109 or curse110 them, Gоd forbid.
10. How is one to honor his parents? By bringing them food and drink, by escorting them when they enter and leave the house, and so on. How is one to revere them? By not sitting in their chair, by not opposing them in an undignified manner, by not calling them by their first/given name (rather “Father” or “Mother”), and so on.111
11. The Torah commanded that respect be given to elders,112 as well as to Jewish sages and Noahide sages.113 And it is fitting to respect every person,114 and all the more so, not to curse anyone.115
12. Extreme caution should be taken not to curse authority figures or prominent people116 and, all the more so, not to curse the nation of Israel.117
13. The sages of Israel praised the other nations of the world for their respect of the Torah.118
14. There is a moral obligation to thank the Creator for every goodness He bestows upon us.119 Based on this principle, the sages of Israel composed blessings of praise and thanks that are recited at times of enjoyment120 (such as eating and drinking) and on happy occasions. These blessings are found in detail in prayer books.121
15. Thanks should be expressed even over difficult circumstances or occurrences since even these are ultimately meant for good.122
16. Anyone who hears another person say a blessing should answer “Amen”123 in order to identify and show solidarity with what has been said. This also applies to a Jew who hears a blessing recited by a Noahide, if it is clear that the Noahide was blessing the Creator alone and was not directing his blessing at any other entity.124
17. It is a wonderful custom to thank Gоd for the very gift of life upon awakening from nighttime sleep. The prayer reads: “I offer thanks to you, living and everlasting King, for you have compassionately returned my soul to me – your faithfulness is abundant.”125
18. The finest, most exalted blessing is the one recited over food, eaten with bread, at the completion of a meal and it is called “grace after meals.”126
19. There is a special obligation to preserve the wholeness of the world of the Holy One blessed be He, as the Midrash says:127 “Everything I created, I created for you. Be diligent not to degrade or destroy my world.” Therefore, it was prohibited for Jews to destroy or disfigure any plant, animal, or human being for no reason. This prohibition is called “do not destroy.”128 And it is fitting for every human being to behave in this manner.
90 Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, Siman 237, 1.
91 Leviticus 24:15-16; Sifra Emor, Paragraph 14, ד”ה איש; Bavli Sanhedrin 56a.
92 This explanation was given by Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi.
93 Bavli Sanhedrin 56b; see Kuzari 3:73.
94 Genesis 2:16; Sanhedrin Ibid.
95 Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 9:3. There are those who say (Minchat Chinuch, Mitzvah 70, according to Rambam) that one does not incur punishment unless he cursed Gоd with Gоd’s actual name, but may utter “let Yosi smite (Yosi is a euphemism used out of respect for Gоd’s name) Yosi” in testifying against someone who cursed Gоd, yet there are those who require punishment for cursing Gоd with a substitute name for Him (Meiri, Sanhedrin 56a, at the beginning).
96 See Bavli Baba Batra 15b, regarding Iyov (Job).
97 See Maharal, Gevurot HaShem, Chapter 66, ד”ה ואלו שבע מצוות ; see Margoliot Hayam on Sanhedrin 56a, Paragraph 25.
98 Since, according to Rambam (The Guide for the Perplexed 1:59), appropriate knowledge of Gоd negates all positive attributes of Gоd, it is possible to include in this form of praise the atheistic view based on negation of superstitions.
99 Bavli Megillah 13:1; since the root of the word Jew (Yehudi) is acknowledgement (hoda’ah) and the negation of idolatry assumes acknowledgement of the existence of Gоd.
100 Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 2:10.
101 Deuteronomy 12:1-4; Mishneh Torah, Yesodei Hatorah 6:1,7-8.
102 Bavli Shabbat 10b; Mishneh Torah, Kri’at Shema 3:5.
103 Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11.
104 Bavli Kiddushin 30b.
106 Exodus 20:12; Rashbach Gaon on Genesis 34:12; Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 21:13.
107 Yerushalmi, Pe’ah 1:1 ד”ה כיבוד אב ואם; Bavli Kiddushin 31:1, story of Dama Ben Netina.
108 Leviticus 19:3.
109 Exodus 21:15.
110 Leviticus 20:9.
111 Mishneh Torah, Mamrim 6:1-3.
112 Leviticus 19:32.
113 Bavli Kiddushin, 32b; Mishneh Torah, Talmud Torah 6:9.
114 Mishnah Avot 4:1.
115 Leviticus 19:14; Sifra Kedoshim, Parasha 2,ד”ה לא תקלל ; Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 231.
116 Exodus 22:27.
117 Genesis 12:3.
118 Bavli Chulin 92a-b.
119 Bavli Sotah10b; Genesis Rabbah, Parasha 49, Siman Dalet.
120 Bavli Berachot 35a.
121 In the “Brit Olam” prayer book we included a version of the blessings suitable for Noahides.
122 Mishnah Berachot 9:5.
123 Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, Siman 215:2.
124 Yerushalmi, Berachot Chapter 9 (end); Shulchan Aruch ibid., Rama.
125 There are different versions of this thankful acknowledgement whose source is ancient and was mentioned by Moshe Ben Makir in Seder Hayom.
126 Deuteronomy 8:10. The version appropriate for Noahides was included in the “Brit Olam” prayer book.
127 Kohelet Rabbah, Section 7, Siman 13.