Perhaps you are familiar with the Hebrew term “ger,” derived from the Hebrew term “lagoor” – to dwell or sojourn. While ger is often translated as stranger, it is also the Hebrew term for a convert, one who chooses to become a part of the Jewish people. Because a convert chooses to join the People of Israel both physically and spiritually, the longer term ger tzedek, righteous convert, is often used as well.

In the Torah and throughout Jewish literature, there is another term that is often associated with the word ger. That term is ger toshav, which is technically translated as a stranger who lives among you. A ger toshav is not a convert to Judaism, but rather is a non-Jew who makes a choice to live among the Jewish people in the Jewish homeland. The ger toshav had to be approved, so to speak, to reside among the Jewish people because Exodus 23:33 directs that “They [idolators] shall not dwell in your land lest they cause you to sin against Me [God] and worship their gods.”

In the Talmud, a ger toshav is defined as follows:

Any [Gentile] who takes upon himself in the presence of three mitzvah observant people not to worship idols. Such is the statement of Rabbi Meir; but the Sages declare: Any [Gentile] who takes upon himself the seven precepts which the sons of Noah undertook; and still others maintain: …A proselyte who eats of animals not ritually slaughtered, i.e., he took upon himself to observe all the precepts mentioned in the Torah apart from the prohibition of [eating the flesh of] animals not ritually slaughtered (Talmud Avodah Zarah 64b).

The topic of today’s Jewish Treat was inspired by the United Nations designated World Day of Social Justice (February 20). It is fascinating to note how the topic of foreigners dwelling among the Children of Israel is already dealt with even in the Torah. The “resident alien” (ger toshav) is mentioned at least seven times in the Torah, sometimes stating things he may not partake in (like the Passover offering), but other times referring to the ways in which his rights must be respected (for instance in the right to use a city of refuge). In other words, newcomers were welcome, and protected, upon the understanding that the newcomers would respect the Torah as the law of the land.