The Ger Conundrum

For those who seem a bit befuddled by my earlier blog posts on the gerring issue, I decided I needed to clarify a few points. For this essay, I am enlisting the help of Rabbi Chaim Clorfene, the co-author of Path of the Righteous Gentile and The World of the Ger. I will be inserting snippets of Rabbi Clorfene’s video entitled “Shabbat for the Noahide.”

The first snippet is simply the beginning of the video where Rabbi Clorfene introduces the topic.


With the next video snippet, we go into the real meat & potatoes (or bagels and lox, if you prefer) of the argument.


In this video segment, the argument is that the ger is in the Torah and the “Noahide,” the Bnai Noah, is not (except for the few times it is referring to Yaphet, Cham and Shem.) The problem with this argument is that it is only true of the Written Torah, not the Oral Torah. Only by ignoring the Oral Law can Rabbi Clorfene make this argument stick. Throughout the tractate of Sanhedrin, particularly in 56a–60a, it clearly states in many places Bnai Noah—the Children of Noah, or all non-Jews. This same argument has been used by the Torah’s detractors, that since the “Noahide Laws” are not spelled out in the Written Torah, they do not exist. This is a case of Sola Scriptura, that only the Written Torah is to be considered authentic and authoritative. To encourage the concept of Sola Scriptura, a all too common belief among ex-Christians, only creates confusion about the authority of the Oral Torah.

In seldom-discussed baraisa in Sanhedrin 74b, there is another example of the words Bnai Noah in a discussion of whether or not a Noahide is commanded to sanctify God’s Name. Rashi, in his commentary on this baraisa, says that the Noahide is not only commanded to observe the basic Seven Laws, but also all of the various regulations concerning them (also, cf. Rashi Menachot 73b). Since Rashi teaches that the Bnai Noah (not the “ger toshav”) can keep other mitzvot (the “spices”) which enhance and strengthen the Seven, the argument that the “ger toshav” is allowed to keep more than just the Seven falls flat. Of course, the real reason of this “ger” teaching is to justify the addition of the “religious” laws which were given exclusively for the Bnai Yisrael’s service to God.

Now we move on to the third video.


The problem with this is that Rabbi Clorfene explains that Rambam’s “today” meant during the time of the Rambam, 850 years ago when conditions were much different than they are today. I made the same argument on page 407 in my book Secular by Design:

Noahide Law is not mummified in a twelfth century Egyptian sarcophagus. Modern nations and states have written codes of law and constitutions, and our civilization has moved beyond the ancient practice of having individual judges being the sole dispensers of legal justice. Opinions and views which were valid in Maimonides’s time and place (Medieval Arabia) have changed, and…there has been some valid rabbinic criticism about certain points of his work, particularly in Maimonides’s interpretation of the Noahide law of social justice.

The problem is that this argument can be applied to other areas of Rambam’s interpretation of Noahide Law, particularly that of dinim, or social justice. As I explain further on p. 408:

Nachmonides, known by the acronym Ramban, had a different perspective on the Noahide law of social justice than did Maimonides. In a lengthy commentary on the Noahide Law in Bereishis 34:13, Ramban said that Noahides were commanded by God:

“Concerning the laws of theft, overcharging, withholding wages, the laws of bailees and of the rapist or the seducer of minors, the various categories of damages, personal injury, the laws of creditors and debtors, the laws of buying and selling, etc., comparable to the civil laws about which Israel was commanded.”

Understanding this approach, we see that Noahide law should be the legal basis of our contract law, property law, trust law, tort law, criminal law, and international law. Ramban’s approach viewed the Noahide Law in a much broader context than did Maimonides; instead of the Noahide having to set up individual courts of justice (having judges who based their decisions on Noahide Law) as Maimonides taught, Nachmonides maintained that a Noahide society should develop a body of civil law based on the Torah. The Noahide law is not to be as exact either in strictness or in severity, but it should follow the halakha as closely as possible. According to Ramban, Noahide law should be the legal basis of our contract law, property law, trust law, tort law, criminal law, and international law—basically everything we consider our “secular” law. In the broader context of implementing Noahide Law in a society, the laws of idolatry and blasphemy are not simply prohibitions against the worship of false idols, but prohibitions against organized religion. This can be seen in the context of the discussion in Sanhedrin 56a–60a, where the focus of the discussion by the rabbis is on which mitzvah violation a non-Jew can be tried for in a court of law, not for setting up a “religion” for the Noahide.

There is also the problem of the Hebrew text itself of the Mishna Torah. The Vilna text, which is the one Rabbi Clorfene is reading from, was edited by Christian censors. The Yemenite version, which was not altered by Christians, does not have ahkum (idolater) but “goy” […גוי שעסק בתורה, חייב מיתה]. In other words, Rabbi Clorfene’s “main teaching” is based on an altered text, and the word he bases his argument on is not found in the earlier unaltered text of the Mishna Torah. The original text clearly says “goy” or non-Jew (Noahide.)

In the last video snippet, we have Rabbi Clorfene giving the “bottom line” in his argument about gerrings and Shabbat. Again, his assertion that Rabbi Weiner’s view “which is accepted by everybody” is simply not true. Since Rabbi Weiner’s book is largely based on Rambam’s Mishna Torah (which we have discussed above), it is open to the same criticisms.


We now come to the real “bottom line.”

In Rabbi Clorfene’s full-length video [which you can see in its entirety here], he spends over an hour and a half explaining a law which is not part of the Seven Noahide Laws. Instead of teaching the principles of halakha to Noahides in order to give them the skills they need to figure out the Seven Laws themselves, he prattles on about what is essentially an irrelevant subject. In Isaiah 1:13–15, 17, it says:

“[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.”

Mind you, this is Hashem talking to the Jews who are commanded to observe Shabbat. The Noahide, and that includes the gerrings, are not even commanded to observe Shabbat. Noahides are, however, commanded to observe dinim. Did Hashem say about Abraham (whom Rabbi Clorfene describes in the video as a Noahide) in Bereishis 18:19, “For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem, keeping Shabbat and offering daily prayers?”

The argument that the Seven Noahide Laws are a paltry, dry and legalistic system reeks of Christian theology. It is no wonder that the vast majority of gerrings are ex-Christians. To this, allow me to quote from Secular by Design one last time:

“Although Noahides think that they are fulfilling God’s Will by observing the “religious” mitzvot, particularly the mitzvot that have to do with the Jew’s service to God, they are instead fulfilling their own selfish desires, doing what they want to do rather than what God expects of them. Also, the Noahide should understand that the reward for keeping a mitzvah that one is not commanded to perform is not as great as the reward for observing mitzvot that one has been commanded, and so the observance of non-obligatory mitzvot at the expense of the obligatory mitzvot detailed in the Noahide Law defeats the purpose of the Noahide wanting to draw nearer to God. The Talmud is emphatic about this point: “R. Meir used to say: Whence do we know that even a heathen who studies the Torah is as a High Priest? From the verse [Ye shall therefore keep My statutes, and My judgments:] which, if men do, he shall live in them. Priests, Levites, and Israelites are not mentioned, but men: hence thou mayest learn that even a heathen who studied the Torah is as a High Priest!—That refers to their own seven laws” (Sanhedrin 59a). In this oft-quoted verse, those last seven words are usually ignored (if they are quoted at all). The Talmud makes a point to explain that the Noahide is rewarded for keeping the Seven Laws and the Seven Laws only.” Secular by Design, p. 409–410.

Going back to the first video snippet, Rabbi Clorfene says, “Everybody involved with this knows that there is an argument among rabbis whether the Noahide can keep the Shabbat or not.” Well, I say: let ’em argue among themselves. We Noahides have more important things to do than to listen to arguments and teachings about things that do not really concern Noahides, and we should not be impressed by this sort of shoddy scholarship.

What distinguishes the Noahide from the gerring, not ten-fold but a thousand-fold, is that the Noahide should be focused on what Hashem wants us to do, not what the rabbis want us to do. The Noahide wants to create a society whose legal system and government is based on the Torah; the gerring only wants to turn the Noahide Code into a religion of personal salvation. The Noahide wants to keep those mitzvot which the Torah has assigned to him; the gerring wants to add to and take away from the Noahide Law, observing things not meant for Noahides. And this, my friends, is the real motherlode.


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