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Topic: Code of Hammurabi compared to Torah

Aaron Hock wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

What are the similarities and differences between the Code of Hammurabi and Jewish Law expressed in the Torah? Thank you for any help you might offer.

Dear Aaron Hock,

Hashem taught the Torah to Moshe on Mount Sinai; therefore, the Torah can't be compared to any legal code of human origin, even to legal codes which "predate" it as Hammurabi's does.

That having been said, there are a number of differences between Judaism's legal system and the Sumerian Code of Hammurabi (18th century BCE). For example:

  • Hammurabi's Code is only consequential law; i.e., if you do X then Y will happen to you. The Torah on the other hand gives moral pronouncements; i.e., "You shall not…" - as well as consequences.
  • Hammurabi's Code contains no positive obligations toward others. The Torah on the other hand is replete with directives of love, kindness, lending, charity, etc.
  • Hammurabi's Code protects the nobility and land-owners as privileged classes. The class of people "protected and favored" in the Torah are the widows, the orphans, the poor and the strangers.

Whatever similarity Hammurabi's Code bears to the Torah may be attributed to the following: Before the Torah was given at Sinai, Mankind already had seven categories of laws in the "Noachide Laws" which G-d had commanded to Noach. These laws were passed down from generation to generation, and these laws were the subject of study in the ancient Academy of Shem and Ever. I once heard from Rabbi Simcha Wasserman, zatzal, that Hammurabi most likely absorbed some ideas from this academy.

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