Ger toshav (Hebrew: גר תושב ger "foreigner" or "alien" + toshav "resident", lit. "resident alien") is a term in Judaism for a gentile (non-Jew) living in the Land of Israel who agrees to be bound by the Seven Laws of Noah, a set of imperatives which, according to the Talmud, were given by God as a binding set of laws for the "children of Noah" – that is, all of humanity. A ger toshav is therefore commonly deemed a righteous gentile (Hebrew: חסיד אומות העולם chassid umot ha-olam "Pious People of the World").
In the formal sense, a ger toshav is a gentile who officially accepts the seven Noahide Laws as binding upon himself in the presence of a beth din (Jewish rabbinical court). In the Talmudic discussion regarding the ger toshav, there are two other, differing minority opinions (Avodah Zarah, 64b) as to what the ger toshav accepts upon himself:
- To abstain from idolatrous practices of any kind (detailed in Exodus 20:2–4, Deut 5:6–8).
- To uphold all the 613 commandments in rabbinical enumeration, except for the prohibition against eating kosher animals that died by means other than ritual slaughter, or possibly (Meiri) any prohibition not involving kareth.
The accepted legal definition is the majority opinion that the ger toshav must accept the seven Noahide Laws before a rabbinical court of three. Such a ger toshav receives certain legal protections and privileges from the community, the rules regarding Jewish-Gentile relations are modified, and there is a Biblical obligation to render him aid when in need. The restrictions on having a gentile do work for a Jew on the Sabbath are also stricter when the gentile is a ger toshav.
In the informal sense, a ger toshav is one who accepts the Noahide Laws on his own, or alternatively, simply rejects idolatry. (the latter issue is in particular brought up regarding Muslims.) More formally, a gentile who accepts the Seven Mitzvot, although not before a beth din, is known as chasid umot ha'olam, which means "Pious People of the World." There is discussion among the halakhic authorities as to which of the rules regarding a ger toshav would apply to the informal case.
The procedure has been discontinued since the cessation of the year of Jubilee, and hence, there are no formal gerim toshvim (plural) extant today. However, it can be argued that a great deal are "informal" ones, especially since it is possible to be a chasid umot ha'olam even when the Jubilee Year is not observed.
Modern times and views
Judaism encourages non-Jews to adhere to the Noahide Laws. Some groups, notably Chabad Lubavitch, have set up classes and networks for Gentiles who commit themselves to this legal system (see Noahide Campaign). The Lubavitcher Rebbe himself encouraged his followers on many occasions to teach the Seven Laws of Noah, devoting some of his addresses to the subtleties of this code. Others, largely among stricter students of the Maimonides, sometimes inaccurately referred to as Dor Daim, have devoted a number of websites to issues of importance relating to the Noahide Laws.
In 2008, a new code of law, written by Rabbi Moshe Weiner specifically for Noahides, was published under the auspices of Ask Noah International. The book's stated intention is to serve as the first ever "Shulchan Aruch for all the laws of the Children of Noah," and is entitled Sefer Sheva Mitzvot Hashem. To grant it authority, it bears letters of endorsement from Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg of the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Israel, both the Chief Rabbis of Israel, and letters of blessing and approbation from various other notable rabbis around the world. In the code itself, it states that "at this time, while we do not accept geirim toshvim for the sake of (granting) the privileges of (the ger toshav) [for example, to live in the Land of Israel], nevertheless, if he comes before (a rabbinical court of) three of his own free will to accept upon himself to be a ger toshav and one of the Pious People of the World, for the sake of accepting his mitzvot, we accept him." Later, it notes that one of the "Pious People of the World" (chasid umot ha'olam) is not necessarily also a ger toshav, and it is possible to be a chasid umot ha'olam despite not being a ger toshav. In fact, it lists four possibilities for Gentiles:
- Complete conversion to Judaism of his own free will
- Upholding the Seven Mitzvot of the Children of Noah, i.e. chasid umot ha'olam
- Ger toshav
- Having himself circumcised
A Gentile is obligated to accept the Seven Mitzvot, but is not required to appear before a rabbinical court to become a ger toshav; that is a personal choice.
According to Kellner (1991) on Maimonides, a ger toshav could be a transitional stage on the way to becoming a ger tzedek (Hebrew: גר צדק) or "righteous alien", a convert to Judaism. He conjectures that only a full ger tzedek would be found at the time of the Messiah.
However, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn states that the status of ger toshav will continue to exist, even in the Messianic era. This is based on the statement in Hilchot Melachim 12:5 that "the entire world's (kol ha'olam) occupation will be nothing but to know G‑d." In its plain meaning, he asserts, kol ha'olam also includes Gentiles. As proof, he cites 11:4, also dealing with the Messianic era, where the similar term ha'olam kulo, "the world in its entirety," clearly refers to Gentiles. Continuing the text in Hilchot Melachim 12:5, Maimonides explicitly changes the topic to Jews by using the term Yisra'el, explaining that "Therefore, the Jews will be great sages and know the hidden matters, grasping the knowledge of their Creator according to the full extent of human potential," indicating that Jew and Gentile will co-exist in the time of the Messiah.
In any case, even when there is a Jewish king and a Sanhedrin, and all the twelve tribes live in the Land of Israel, Jewish law does not permit forcing someone to convert and become a ger tzedek against his will.
- Am ha-aretz
- Conversion to Judaism
- Dhimmi, similar concept in Islam
- Righteous Among the Nations
- Seven Laws of Noah
- Virtuous pagan, similar concept in Christianity
[...] In rabbinic literature the ger toshab was a Gentile who observed the Noachian commandments but was not considered a convert to Judaism because he did not agree to circumcision. [...] some scholars have made the mistake of calling the ger toshab a "proselyte" or "semiproselyte." But the ger toshab was really a resident alien in Israel. Some scholars have claimed that the term "those who fear God" (yir᾿ei Elohim/Shamayim) was used in rabbinic literature to denote Gentiles who were on the fringe of the synagogue. They were not converts to Judaism, although they were attracted to the Jewish religion and observed part of the law.
In order to find a precedent the rabbis went so far as to assume that proselytes of this order were recognized in Biblical law, applying to them the term "toshab" ("sojourner," "aborigine," referring to the Canaanites; see Maimonides' explanation in "Yad," Issure Biah, xiv. 7; see Grätz, l.c. p. 15), in connection with "ger" (see Ex. xxv. 47, where the better reading would be "we-toshab"). Another name for one of this class was "proselyte of the gate" ("ger ha-sha'ar," that is, one under Jewish civil jurisdiction; comp. Deut. v. 14, xiv. 21, referring to the stranger who had legal claims upon the generosity and protection of his Jewish neighbors). In order to be recognized as one of these the neophyte had publicly to assume, before three "ḥaberim," or men of authority, the solemn obligation not to worship idols, an obligation which involved the recognition of the seven Noachian injunctions as binding ('Ab. Zarah 64b; "Yad," Issure Biah, xiv. 7).
[...] The more rigorous seem to have been inclined to insist upon such converts observing the entire Law, with the exception of the reservations and modifications explicitly made in their behalf. The more lenient were ready to accord them full equality with Jews as soon as they had solemnly forsworn idolatry. The "via media" was taken by those that regarded public adherence to the seven Noachian precepts as the indispensable prerequisite (Gerim iii.; 'Ab. Zarah 64b; Yer. Yeb. 8d; Grätz, l.c. pp. 19–20). The outward sign of this adherence to Judaism was the observance of the Sabbath (Grätz, l.c. pp. 20 et seq.; but comp. Ker. 8b).
- According to Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, Entry Ben Noah, page 349), most medieval authorities consider that all seven commandments were given to Adam, although Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M'lakhim 9:1) considers the dietary law to have been given to Noah.
- Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, entry Ben Noah, introduction) states that after the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people were no longer in the category of the sons of Noah; however, Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M'lakhim 9:1) indicates that the seven laws are also part of the Torah, and the Talmud (Bavli, Sanhedrin 59a, see also Tosafot ad. loc.) states that Jews are obligated in all things that Gentiles are obligated in, albeit with some differences in the details.
- Compare Genesis 9:4–6.
- Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, ed. (1979). "Ger Toshav, Section 1". Encyclopedia Talmudit (in Hebrew) (Fourth Printing ed.). Jerusalem, Israel: Yad Harav Herzog (Emet).
- Talmud b. Sanhedrin 56a, 56b
- Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, ed. (1979). Encyclopedia Talmudit (in Hebrew) (Fourth Printing ed.). Jerusalem, Israel: Yad Harav Herzog (Emet).
- Sefer Sheva Mitzvot Hashem, p. 27: עוד מבאר בלקוטי שיחות ע"פ הצפנת פענח שחסיד אומות העולם אינו דוקא גר תושב, ואפשר לב"נ להיות חסיד אומות העולם, אע"פ שאינו גר תושב. ולכן לא הזכיר הרמב"ם כאן ש'אין מקבלין גר תושב אלא בזמן שהיובל נוהג' כדרכו בכל מקום (הארה: ראה הל' ע"ז פ"י, הל' מילה פ"א, הל' שבת פ"כ, הל' איסורי ביאה פי"ד.) שהזכיר דין ג"ת, כי אין כוונת הרמב"ם שכופין ב"נ להיות ג"ת, אלא לבאר האפשרויות העמודות לב"נ על פי התורה. א) גרות גמורה מרצונו, ב) קיום שבע מצוות – ועל זה צוה ה' את משה לכופם, ג) גר תושב, ד) למול עצמו. "It is further explained in Likkutei Sichot according to the Tzafnat Pane'ach that a chasid umot ha'olam [lit. Pious People of the World] is not necessarily a ger toshav, and it is possible for a Gentile [lit. Descendant of Noah] to be a chasid umot ha'olam despite him not being a ger toshav. And therefore the Rambam did not mention here that "We only accept a ger toshav while the Jubilee Year is observed" as usual in all the places (footnote: See Hilchot Avodah Zarah ch. 10, Hilchot Milah ch. 1, Hilchot Shabbat ch. 20, Hilchot Issurei Bi'ah ch. 14) that he mentions the law of the ger toshav, because the Rambam's intention was not that we force Gentiles [lit. Descendants of Noah] to be geirim toshvim, but rather to explain the options that stand for the Gentile [lit. Descendant of Noah] according to the Torah: 1) Complete conversion by his own free will, 2) upholding the seven mitzvot – and regarding this, G‑d commanded Moses to compel them, 3) ger toshav, 4) to circumcise himself."
- Sefer Sheva Mitzvot Hashem, p. 28: ד חיוב בן נח ואפשרותו להיות חסיד אומ"ה הוא בכל זמן, ואינו תלוי בזמן שמקבלין גר תושב. The obligation of the gentile [lit. Descendant of Noah] and his ability to be a chasid umot ha'olam are at all times, and are not dependent on the time that we accept a ger toshav."
- pp.27, 40 et al, Sefer Sheva Mitzvot Hashem
- Likutei Sichot vol. 26, p. 133
- Likutei Sichot vol. 35, p. 97
- Likutei Sichot vol. 4, 1094
- Sefer Sheva Mitzvot Hashem, title page
- Sefer Sheva Mitzvot Hashem, p. 18. Square brackets in the original; round brackets are the translator's interpolations. Also see footnote 10 at length there, explaining the sources for the ruling. Original Hebrew: ולכן בזמן הזה, אע"פ שאין מקבלין ג"ת לענין זכויותיו [כגון לגור בארץ ישראל], מ"מ אם בא לקבל על עצמו מרצונו להיות גר תושב וחסיד אומ"ה בפני ג' לענין קבלת מצוותיו מקבלין אותו.
- Sefer Sheva Mitzvot Hashem, p. 28: א. בן נח חייב לקבל על עצמו ולקיים שבע מצוות מפני שה' צוה לבני נח והודיע ע"י משה רבינו בתורה, והנזהר לקיימן משום כך הרי זה 'חסיד אומות העולם'.... ו. גר תושב וחסיד אומות העולם שתי תוערים הם. ואין ב"נ צריך לקבל על עצמו להיות גר תושב, וכן אינו צריך לקבל על עצמו עול ז' מצוות בפני בית דין ישראל. "1. A Gentile [lit. Descendant of Noah] is required to accept upon himself and uphold the seven mitzvot because G‑d [so] commanded the children of Noah through our Teacher Moses in the Torah. One who is careful to uphold them because of this is a chasid umot ha'olam [lit. Pious People of the World].... "6. Ger toshav and chasid umot ha'olam are two different terms. A Gentile is not required to accept upon himself to be a ger toshav, and so too is not required to accept the yoke of the seven mitzvot before a Jewish beit din."
- Maimonides on Judaism and the Jewish people -Menachem Marc Kellner – 1991 (S U N Y Series in Jewish Philosophy) (9780791406915): Page 44 "against my reading of Maimonides is strengthened by the fact that Maimonides himself says that the ger toshav is accepted only during the time that the Jubilee is practiced.43 The Jubilee year is no longer practiced in this dispensation ...... Second, it is entirely reasonable to assume that Maimonides thought that the messianic conversion of the Gentiles would be a process that occurred in stages and that some or all Gentiles would go through the status of ger toshav on ...But this question aside, there are substantial reasons why it is very unlikely that Maimonides foresaw a messianic era in which the Gentiles would become only semiconverts (ger toshav) and not full converts (ger tzedek). ...But the main thrust of all the Maimonidean texts we have been analyzing here is that in the days of the Messiah all human beings will stand before God equally and jointly. What is a semiconvert? Maimonides explains that the ger toshav "
- Schneersohn, Menachem Mendel. Sha'arei Ge'ulah. pp. 267–8 (translated from Hebrew; emphasis and round brackets, but not the square brackets, in original text): There is a further detail in the wording of the Rambam in the completion and conclusion of his book [Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 12:5]: "And the occupation of the entire world will not be anything other than to know G‑d." Because in its plain meaning, it thereby includes the nations of the world as well (similar to what the Rambam wrote in the previous chapter, that the Messianic king will "improve the world in its entirety to serve G‑d... I will transform the nations etc."), especially since immediately afterwards the Rambam changes [terminology] and writes "And therefore Israel will be great sages etc." From this it is clear that the phrase entire world written above is intended to thereby include the children of Noah as well.
- Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 8:10
- The Seven Laws of Noah, Lichtenstein, Aaron, New York: The Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press, 1981.
- The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism, Novak, David, ISBN 0-88946-975-X, New York and Toronto: Edwin Mellen Press, 1983.
- Tolerance in Judaism: The Medieval and Modern Sources, Zuesse, Evan M., In: The Encyclopaedia of Judaism, edited by J. Neusner, A. Avery-Peck, and W.S. Green, Second Edition, ISBN 90-04-14787-X, Leiden: Brill, 2005, Vol. IV: 2688–2713
- Encyclopedia Talmudit, Hebrew edition, 5739/1979, entry Ger Toshav
- Sheva Mitzvot Hashem, Weiner, Moshe, Jerusalem: Ask Noah International, 2008. (Hebrew)
- The World of The Ger, Rabbi David Katz and Rabbi Chaim Clorfene