WHAT IS A GER, GER TOSHAV, GER TZEDEK?
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Many articles and lectures have been recently produced in an attempt to expand the definition of Ger. However, the methods and conclusions of these authors are without merit and beyond the pale of mainstream Torah thought. The fact that their conclusions are contradicted by the preceding 2000 years of Torah scholarship is one of many strong rebuttals to such a position.
The following article is an excerpt from one of the lessons from the Yeshiva taught course on the Noahide Laws information was researched by an oversight committee of Poskim and Dayan and written by a Posek, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel.
Ger Toshav-A Non-Jew who resides in the land of Israel
The term ger toshav has created special confusion for modern Noahides and will be discussed at length in a future lesson.
The ger toshav is referred to in many places in the Torah:
Exodus 12:43-45 – This is the decree of the Passover offering… a resident [Toshav] and a hired laborer may not eat of it.
Lev. 25:6 – The land’s yield of the sabbatical year shall be yours to eat, yours… and the residents’ [Toshav] who sojourns [Ger] among you.
Lev. 25:35 – …you shall strengthen him, the convert or the resident [Toshav].
Lev. 25:40 – Like a laborer or a resident [Toshav] he shall be with you, until the jubilee year he shall work with you.
Lev. 25:45 - …also, from among the children of the residents [Toshav] who dwell [Ger] with you…
Lev. 25:47 – If the means of a sojourner [Ger] who resides [Toshav] among you…
Num. 35:15 – For the children of Israel, the convert, and the resident [Toshav] among them…
The term ger, from the Hebrew root gar, meaning “to sojourn,” refers to an alien, a stranger, or an immigrant. Toshav means “reside.” A ger toshav is, therefore, a resident alien: a non-Jew who resides in the land of Israel among the Jewish people. However, the Torah tells us:
They [idolaters] shall not dwell in your land lest they cause you to sin against Me and worship their gods.6
We see that a ger toshav must give up his idolatrous beliefs and practices in order to live in Israel.
How is this accomplished practically? How far must a non-Jew go in disavowing idolatry so that he may reside in Israel? The Talmud7 explains that the prospective ger toshav must come before a Beis Din (Jewish religious court) and accept upon himself to faithfully observe the seven Noahide laws.
However, the Talmud8 tells us that there is no status of ger toshav in our days.
Nevertheless, some rabbis have instructed Noahides to accept the status of ger toshav even today. Others have not sought to confer ger toshav status, but have required potential Noahides to nevertheless accept their commandments before a Beis Din (Jewish Rabbinical court). Both of these are unnecessary as we will see in future lessons.
The halakhah (decisive religious law) is that there is no need or benefit for one to accept the Seven Mitzvos before a Beis Din. Such an acceptance before a Beis Din will have no effect whatsoever on the Ben Noach’s religious status, ability to fulfill the mitzvos, or the merit he receives for fulfilling the mitzvos.
Ger Tzedek – A Righteous Convert
The word Ger has many meanings. The verb root from which it derives implies sojourning. However, in its noun form it means a stranger or outsider. When used alone, Ger almost always means a convert. When Ger is in any way used together with the word Toshav, it means a Ger Toshav, something entirely different than a convert. The Talmud devotes extensive analysis to determining correct interpretations of the Torah’s use of the term Ger. For clarity, the Talmud qualifies its own use of Ger with the term Tzedek, meaning a righteous convert. The term Ger Tzedek, as used in the Talmud and codes of Jewish law, means exclusively a full convert to Judaism.
If a ger tzedek is a full convert to Judaism, then why does the Talmud call them a ger tzedek and not simply a “Jew?” The reason is that a convert is not 100% identical to a born Jew. For example, a female convert may not marry a Kohen (descendant of Aharon). A convert may also not serve in a position of communal authority (such as being a synagogue Rabbi) nor sit on a beis din (Rabbinic tribunal). For the purposes of discussing the laws involved, the Talmud must have some way to distinguish a convert from a born Jew. We should note also, that there is no other term in Hebrew for convert – only ger tzedek.
6 Exodus 23:33.
7 Avodah Zarah 64b.
8 Arakhin 29a