I would like to talk about the new fad sweeping the Noahide community, the “ger toshav.”
As you probably know, the “ger toshav” was the term for the non-Jew who formally accepted the Noahide Law so he could live in Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. By doing so the ger toshav would have certain benefits under Torah law. Of course, the status of the ger toshav has been in limbo for nearly 2000 years, and has, until recently, been little more than an academic curiosity.
In the past few years, however, the “ger toshav” has been resurrected by a baal teshuva named Rabbi David Katz. Rabbi Katz teaches that the “ger toshav” is an elevated status of the Noahide, a Noahide with “benefits.” Dazzling Noahides with his mastery of Hebrew sources, Rabbi Katz teaches that there are actually three categories of the non-Jew: the goy, the Noahide, and the “ger toshav,” or “resident alien.” Rabbi Katz teaches that the “ger toshav” is to be considered a “fourth house” of Israel (along with Kohen, Levi and Israel). Rabbi Katz teaches that a common run-of-the-mill Noahide can achieve the exalted status of “ger toshav” by jumping through a few rabbinic hoops, the most important of which is to declare him/herself before three rabbis. The main benefit is that a “ger toshav,” being a “fourth house” of Israel, would have greater access and comradery with the Jews.
For many Noahides who wish for a deeper religious commitment, this seems like welcome news. Instead of being a mere Noahide, they can attain the Biblical moniker “ger toshav,” which is sort of like “proselyte second-class,” just a step below the ger tzaddik, or full proselyte.
There are some problems with this “ger toshav” theory. The first is the focus. This can be understood by looking at the verse, Devarim 24:14, which according to R’ Katz, “serves to be the benchmark of the entire ger story.”
“You shall not cheat a poor or destitute hired person among your brethren, or a proselyte [ger] who is in your land, or one who is in your cities.” [Devarim 24:14]
Without going into the rabbinical calisthenics that R’ Katz uses to prove that the use of the word “ger” in this verse supports his “ger theory,” we need to look at this verse in the broader context of the Noahide Law.
This verse, Devarim 24:14, is closely linked to another verse, Vayikra 19:13—“Do not cheat your fellow and do not rob; and do not withhold a worker’s wage with you until morning.” In his commentary to this verse (Devarim 24:14), Rav S. R. Hirsch explains: “These duties of conscientiously paying wages punctually have already been declared in Vayikra 19:13, in the chapter of sanctifying our lives and there we have explained them fully. Their repetition here in the compendium for the setting down in the land is accompanied by the most impressive warning against sinning in this respect, especially towards the poor and needy. For its practical importance only really begins with the settling down, and the experience of ages teaches how just the unpunctuality of rich people in paying their obligations towards their workmen and craftsmen has undermined their developing and prospering.”
Both verses teach a principle which falls under the category of the Noahide law of theft, and of honest business practices. It is also worthy to note that Rav Hirsch talks about “settling in the land,” a sore point among the “ger toshavists” who claim that the “ger toshav” status goes beyond the borders of Eretz Israel.
Rabbi Katz spends a great deal of his time talking about his “proof texts” and rabbinic commentary to back up his theory. What he does much less of is enlighten us to what good this “new” status of “ger toshav” is for. The idea that the “ger toshav” is one of the four houses of Israel runs into a few problems. If the “ger toshav” can be classified as one of the four “houses” of Bnai Yisrael, is it then halakhically permissible for a “ger toshav” to marry a Jew? Would any God-fearing observant rabbi allow a “ger toshav” to marry an observant Jew? The answer, of course, is NO (cf. Devarim 7:3). The Torah also states quite clearly that the (ger) toshav may not eat the lamb of the Pessach offering (Shmos 12:45.) Also, the verse 14:21 in Devarim states that Jews are commanded to give neveilos (animals that died without proper slaughtering) to a “ger toshav.” In fact, the Talmud (Bava Metzia 111b) describes a “ger toshav” as “one who may eat neveilos.” The Talmud goes on to explain why a “ger toshav” does not have the prohibitions of a day laborer as would a Jew. Clearly, the Talmud makes a distinction between a “ger toshav” and a ger tzaddik, or a full convert. Here we see that the teaching that the “ger toshav” is a “fourth house of Israel” is a tad deceiving.
If the Noahide thinks that being a “ger toshav” elevates his or her status, and that observing mitzvot that are specifically for the Bnai Yisrael to observe gains themselves spiritual brownie points, he is mistaken. “[As for] the New Moon and Sabbath, and your calling of convocations, I cannot abide mendacity with solemn assembly. My soul detests your New Moons and your appointed times; they have become a burden upon Me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; even if you were to intensify your prayer, I will not listen…Learn to do good, seek justice, vindicate the victim, render justice to the orphan, take up the grievance of the widow.” [Isaiah 1:13–15, 17.] In other words, to Hashem, social justice is more important than festivals and prayer. And the verse from Isaiah was directed to Jews. What about the Noahide that is not commanded to observe Yom Tov or to pray? This is what the gist of Devarim 24:14 and Vayikra 19:13 is about; social justice, not a new status of Noahide.
One of the teachings of Rav S. R. Hirsch is the importance of the juxtaposition of verses in the Torah. In the verse immediately following Vayikra 19:13, verse 14, we read: “Do not curse the deaf, do not place a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God – I am Hashem.” In Bava Metzia 90b, in a dialogue about Jews instructing Noahides to do something that the Jew is forbidden, it points out that this verse (Vayikra 19:14) applies not only to the Jew but also to the Noahide. In other words, a Jew violates halakha when he causes a Noahide to violate one of the Noahide Laws. The question is: is the teaching of the “ger toshav” a violation of halakha if it leads to non-observance of the Seven Laws by the Noahide?
Here is the problem. The traditional status of the “ger toshav” was that of “resident alien,” or, to put it in modern terms, a citizen of Israel. The new version of “ger toshav” is told that by acquiring that status, he or she can be “closer” to the Jewish people, a co-religionist who is “allowed” to keep Shabbat, Yom Tov, and all the other “fun” things associated with Judaism. The problem is, by submitting to rabbinic authority, the Noahide will have to conform to Jewish halakha such as observance of Dina D’Malchuta Dina [the law of the land is the law] and not to actively attack other non-Jewish religions. Since the Noahide law of Dinim requires that a Noahide replace any legal system and government that is not based on Torah, and is violating Torah law, this is problematic for the Noahide when told that, as a “ger toshav,” they must work within the system instead of trying to dismantle it and replace it with a Torah-based system. It is the same for organized religions such as Christianity; the Noahide is commanded to enact laws which prohibit idolatry, and since the First Amendment has been interpreted to mean “freedom of idolatry and blasphemy,” we may deduce that this is keeping the Noahide from observing the law of Dinim. It can be argued that the rabbis are merely trying to get all the non-observant goyim to become observant Noahides, but this in itself is not enough; the Noahide must change the legal system itself to make not just idolatry but all organized religions illegal. Since we have learned the Noahide is forbidden to create any organized religion, even if it is based on the Noahide law, a Noahide cannot accept the halakha of Dina D’Malchuta Dina which is only for Jews living outside Eretz Yisrael in a sovereign non-Jewish state.
If indeed the rabbis teach that a “ger toshav” should learn the halakha of keeping Shabbat, Jewish prayer and other things that are not part of the Noahide Code while at the same time telling the Noahide that they should not keep the Noahide law of Dinim, this is putting a stumbling block before the blind. At the very least, by filling the Noahide’s mind with things that do not apply to the Noahide law such as Sukkas, Red heifers, and Mikvahs while ignoring the commandment of Dinim, the rabbis are violating the halakha by preventing the Noahide from observing the Noahide law.
As far as rabbinic authority, we turn to none other than Raavad who teaches that, in his commentary to Malachim 6:1, that Israel cannot enforce observance of the Noahide law on non-Jews that are conquered militarily, let alone sovereign non-Jewish states outside of their jurisprudence. This is also the teaching of Ramban in his commentary on Bereishis 26:5 and Devirim 20:1, 11 as well as the Tosafot in Avoda Zara 26b. This not only creates a problem with the validity of the “three rabbi council” in applying “ger toshav” status, but negates any sort of authority the rabbis have over Noahides. After all, the halakha is with Raavad…
It seems to me that the term “Noahide” means all non-Jews (Bnai Noah). There are only two types of Noahide: observant and non-observant. A non-Jew calling himself “ger toshav” does not alter this point. After all, the aim is to be observant, not righteous. The bottom line is: you can put a yarmulke on a pig, but it’s still a pig.