The Dilemma of the Ger: Commentary on “Has an Ancient Biblical Status for Non-Jews Reemerged After 2500 Years?”
The Torah Awakening among Christians is creating something the world has not seen for two thousand years: a growing body of non-Jewish people who are doing the best they can to live by God’s eternal standards (His Torah – Law, Teaching, Commandments), but who do not intend to convert to Judaism.
What is the world to do with such people? Perhaps the more immediate question is, what are the Jewish people and the State of Israel to do with such people?
Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler explored these questions recently in an article for Breaking Israel News. Her article, “Has an Ancient Biblical Status for Non-Jews Reemerged after 2500 Years?”, presents the biblical concept of ger, (גָּר, Strong’s H1616), or foreigner, as a possible status for Torah-keeping non-Jews. Dr. Adler and I have shared some correspondence on this question, and hopefully will be able to continue that conversation in a point-counterpoint discussion. Here is my initial offering.
According to Strong’s Concordance, a ger is a “sojourner; a temporary inhabitant, a newcomer lacking inherited rights; of foreigners in Israel, though conceded rights”. The implication is that such people are not Israelites, not Hebrews, and not members of the nation or commonwealth of Israel.
This is where we run into several issues. The easy path is to argue these points, but that is not necessarily the wisest path. What we all need is the path of wisdom and reconciliation, and that is what I hope to investigate.
Many of us who have embraced Torah have also embraced our Hebrew identity. We believe we are part of the Lost Tribes of the House of Israel, which Scripture also calls the House of Joseph (Yosef) and House of Ephraim. The single greatest topic of prophetic writings in the Bible concerns the restoration of these Lost Tribes at the end of days and their reunification with the Jewish people, whom we understand to be the House of Judah. The story of how these two pieces of the nation split apart is in I Kings 12. The story of their reunion is explained in many places, such as Ezekiel 37 and Isaiah 11. If we modern-day Hebrews are the returning House of Joseph/Ephraim, then that means we are not strangers and aliens, but are in fact full-fledged members of the nation of Israel, just as are our Jewish brethren.
But our Jewish brethren, and our Christian brethren, and the rest of the world operate under the paradigm that Israel consists entirely and exclusively of the Jewish people. That is as true today as it has been since 720 BCE, when the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and transformed the House of Joseph/Ephraim into the Lost Tribes. That present reality shapes the way this reunion is to happen.
There is another awkward reality that impacts the reunion. We who are coming from the Christian side are inextricably attached to Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ), whom we believe to be our Messiah, and whom we do believe is the incarnation of Almighty God. That is why we cannot convert to Judaism, and why our Jewish counterparts are reluctant to have anything to do with us. However, our awakening to Torah and to our Hebrew identity is because of Yeshua. We know now that he was very Jewish, that he kept Torah, and that he taught his disciples to do the same and to respect the Jewish spiritual authorities of his day. This compounds the dilemma for our Jewish brethren: the very person they insist cannot be Messiah is the one who has brought us to Torah, and whom we understand to have opened the way for us to have a relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Truly he is a stumbling block to both houses of Israel, just as Isaiah 8:14 explains.
How, then, can we return to the Land of Israel when the Jewish people are not ready to consider admitting multitudes of Yeshua followers, no matter what we do with Torah? Perhaps the concept of ger provides a way forward.
It seems that Yeshua himself alluded to the ger in one of his most famous teachings: the parable of the Prodigal Son. Many of us in the Hebrew Roots movement have come to understand this parable as a prophetic telling of the reunion of Ephraim and Judah. Here it is in full. Perhaps you can see the connection:
Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:11-31 NKJV)
Do you recognize in the younger son the lost House of Joseph/Ephraim? The original Joseph may not have acted as selfishly as the Prodigal, but he was separated from the family and counted as dead. So, too, were his descendants, only they did act selfishly and wickedly. It was they who broke the family and shattered the nation. The fruit of their rebellion created insurmountable problems for older brother Judah – problems that required continuous Divine intervention just to keep the Jewish people from perishing off the face of the earth.
If we are the returning House of Joseph/Ephraim, then this is our heritage. We may believe we are Hebrews and Israelites with as much right to the Land as our Jewish brethren, but what do they think? And what are we really? How many of us speak Hebrew with any degree of fluency? How many of us do business with Israel? How many of us even have Jewish friends? And how many of us have even tried to learn and obey Torah for more than a dozen years?
And how many of us and of our ancestors have been complicit in the endless suffering of the Jewish people?
When we see the issue this way, it seems the prayer of the Prodigal is the one we should be speaking right now. One day, when God Himself welcomes us back, we can step into the fullness of our Hebrew identity. Until then, we can only speak to it in humility and repentance according to Scripture, expecting that reconciliation with our God and our brethren will happen in time.
This is why the name of ger applies to us. Perhaps it will apply to us for some time yet – even after we have opportunity to live in the Land of Israel. Ezekiel 47 presents the division of the Land among all 12 tribes. Near the end of that passage are these curious words:
“Thus you shall divide this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. It shall be that you will divide it by lot as an inheritance for yourselves, and for the strangers who dwell among you and who bear children among you. They shall be to you as native-born among the children of Israel; they shall have an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance,” says the Lord God. (Ezekiel 47:21-23 NKJV)
Are these gerim us, the returning Hebrews of Joseph/Ephraim? If so, then perhaps we are to return as strangers and hired servants, humbly repenting for what our people have done over the last 3,000 to break this nation apart. If that is what pleases our God and advances His Kingdom purposes, then let us not allow our pride to turn us away from it.
Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler
Published in Breaking Israel News on January 15, 2017
“One law and one ordinance shall be both for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.” Numbers 15:16 (The Israel Bible™)
Most people think the Bible separates humanity into two basic categories – Jew and Gentile. In truth, the Bible has a third category, known in Torah literature as Ger.
There are 60 verses in the Hebrew Bible that use the Hebrew word Ger (plural Gerim). It is almost always mistranslated as stranger or foreigner. It is also understood to mean convert.
According to Rabbis Chaim Clorfene and David Katz, co-authors of The World of the Ger, Ger is actually a third category, between Jew and Gentile, that existed in Biblical times and is re-emerging today as redemption draws ever closer.
Rabbi Clorfene spoke to Breaking Israel News about the connection between Ger and geula (redemption). “The Maharal (famous 16th century Jewish scholar) says that before the geula can come, the old order has to collapse, along with its institutions and processes and systems. I believe that the primary agent of the collapse will be the Gentile who comes to the Torah, connects with the Jewish people, and keeps the Sabbath,” he proclaimed.
“Our God is his God, but he does not convert. This is the non-Jewish Ger. He can thrive only in geula. This Ger has now fully reemerged, for the first time since the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, 2500 years ago. And as he increases in numbers and in wisdom, the golus (exile) will collapse.”
Rabbi David Katz has spent thousands of hours researching what Jewish law has to say about the status of Ger. Recently, he translated an important rabbinic work on the topic from Hebrew to English. He will be in South Africa this month to meet with individuals who identify as, or are considering becoming, Gerim. He answers their questions according to Torah law.
Rabbi Katz plainly states, “In the Messianic era . . . there will be Ger in the world. They will come back. They will not convert [because] we will not accept converts in those days.” He further explained that Gerim “need Torah for their souls. . . . . There is a Ger in the fabric of creation and they are starving and thirsty for Torah. It’s a hundred billion percent kosher.”
In the Preface to The World of the Ger, Rabbi Clorfene writes, “In the times of King David and King Solomon, the Land of Israel’s population included hundreds of thousands of righteous Gentiles. This is the Ger Toshav, the foreign resident mentioned in the Torah. And so it was throughout the First Temple period. But then, the Kingdom of Israel was exiled to Assyria as the Ten Lost Tribes. And the Kingdom of Judea was exiled to Babylon (those few who Nebuchadnezzar left alive). And the Noahide (all Gerim Toshavim are Noahides) got lost in the shuffle.”
The Biblical Ger has a different status than a Gentile. The Ger of the Bible was an absolute monotheist who accepted the Seven Laws of Noah. The Biblical Ger has permission from the Torah to adopt Jewish practices, such as learning Torah, celebrating Shabbat and avoiding pork and shellfish. The true Ger is a kosher non-Jew according to Torah law.
Among the most well-known Gerim in the Bible are Shem, the son of Noah, Yitro (Jethro), the father-in-law of Moses and the Queen of Sheba.
There are multiple categories of Ger found in Judaism’s rabbinic literature and explaining the nuances extends far beyond the purview of this article. The concept of Ger is not a simple one and the existence of Ger today is a matter of great controversy among rabbis.
Most Jewish people today are misinformed, or completely uninformed, that such a Torah category even exists; they use the word Ger to refer to a convert to Judaism.
Nevertheless, there are individuals today who identify as Ger. There are small communities of Gerim in Texas and in South Africa and a number of Facebook groups where people who are exploring, or have committed themselves to, the Torah category of Ger are able to network.
Russell Kirk, a self-identified Ger from Waco, TX, spoke to Breaking Israel News about his spiritual journey, which began in earnest 17 years ago. “What I have learned in my pursuit of understanding Ger that strengthened my faith in God is that even from the foundation of creation, HaShem (God) considered me in His Torah. The Torah of HaShem is totally complete with a plan for grace, mercy, and salvation for the non-Jew. From the very beginning HaShem has always considered the Ger.”
In 2014, the Chief Rabbinate formally recognized a Ger for the first time in 2,500 years. This unusual action was taken in connection with the observance of Shmittah, the Biblical requirement to rest the land of Israel every seven years.
But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for Hashem: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. Leviticus 25:4
The 2014 decision of the Chief Rabbinate was not intended to set a precedent for Israel to formally recognize Gerim in our day. However, it is clear that according to many leading rabbis, the time of the Ger is at hand.