The Dilemma of the Ger: Commentary on “Has an Ancient Biblical Status for Non-Jews Reemerged After 2500 Years?”

James Tissot, The Return of the Prodigal Son.
The Return of the Prodigal Son, by James Tissot.

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.

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Fox Byte 5775 #51: Nitzavim (You Are Standing)

נִצָּבִים

Famous literary figures with identity issues. Top row: Oedipus Rex (Bénigne Gagneraux, The Blind Oedipus Commending his Children to the Gods), Beauty’s Beast (illustration by Walter Crane), The Frog Prince (illustration by Paul Meyerheim), Rapunzel’s prince (illustration by Johnny Gruelle). Bottom row: Hansel and Gretel (illustration by Arthur Rackham), Sleeping Beauty (illustration from Childhood’s Favorites and Fairy Stories), Snow White (illustration by Alexander Zick), Cinderella (illustration by Anne Anderson).
Famous literary figures with identity issues. Top row: Oedipus RexBeauty’s BeastThe Frog Prince, Rapunzel’s prince. Bottom row: Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella.

The worst fate a person can endure?  That would be loss of self.  It is not the same as selflessness, a desirable state of humility which YHVH honors.  Loss of self means removal of what defines a person as a person.  We see this in loved ones who slip slowly away through the ravages of progressive dementia.  Little by little they forget who they are until in the end there is nothing left of them but the memory carried in the hearts of those who once knew them.  It is a tragedy as old as humanity. 

Some of our best stories spring from this loss of identity.  Nearly 2,500 years ago Sophocles dramatized this phenomenon in Oedipus the King, a tale of a man whose birth was accompanied by a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother.  The parents attempt to circumvent the prophecy by ordering the infant slain, but to no avail.  Oedipus is saved and brought up by foster parents, completely ignorant of his identity.  Eventually he fulfills the prophecy.  When at last the secret of his identity is revealed, his mother commits suicide and Oedipus puts out his own eyes.

This motif of hidden identity and forgotten knowledge manifests not merely in classic Greek drama, but in every literary form.  It appears even in fairy tales, where protagonists like Beauty’s Beast and the Frog Prince lose their humanity.  Rapunzel’s prince retains his identity, but he wanders in blindness.  Similarly, Hansel and Gretel lose their way in the forest despite their best efforts.  Princesses also succumb to identity loss, as we learn from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.  Even Cinderella’s true station in life is a mystery to her prince.

The fairy tales generally have happy endings, or at least the Disney renditions make them so, but that is not the case in every tale of this sort.  One might say this identity issue is a perpetual human condition.  We make it worse by ignoring our history, severing the connection with our fathers and mothers of ages past.  This ignorance, whether self-inflicted or imposed by other forces, is the foundation of George Santayana’s famous warning, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.  It is also a reflection of prophetic truth uttered by two men of God in the 8th century BCE:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.  Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest.  Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.  (Hosea 4:6 NASB)

Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst.  (Isaiah 5:13 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #44: D’varim (Words)

דְּבָרִים

"The King and Queen inspecting the tarts", by Sir John Tenniel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
The King and Queen inspecting the tarts”, by Sir John Tenniel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

One wonders whether Lewis Carroll required chemical substances to help him create the absurd worlds of his literature.  Readers of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and audiences of the screen and stage adaptations thereof often conclude that the author – whose real name was Charles Dodgson – must have been on opium or some other sort of mind-altering substance fashionable in Victorian England.  If we are to believe the Lewis Carroll Society of North America and other authoritative sources, there is no truth in such allegations.  How, then, could a rational man come up with such outrageous fiction, creating characters and situations that defy logic and even sanity?  Most likely Carroll would have explained in the same way C.S. Lewis explained how he could create the diabolical correspondence of the demon Screwtape a generation later:

Some have paid me an undeserved compliment by supposing that my Letters were the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology.  They forgot that there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. “My heart”—I need no other’s—“showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.”  (C.S. Lewis, 1961.  The Screwtape Letters with Screwtape Proposes a Toast.  New York:  MacMillan.)

What Professor Lewis tells us is that all humans have the capacity to imagine evil, and to act upon it once it is imagined.  Evil is abnormal; the opposite of good and right and true.  If our hearts are inclined toward evil, they are also inclined toward everything else that is contrary to good and right and true – things which are unsuitable, wrong, and illogical.  That is why Carroll can depict an absurd criminal trial with such success.  The King and Queen of Hearts sit as judges to determine the guilt or innocence of the Knave, who stands accused of having stolen the Queen’s tarts.  As judge, the King has trouble getting beyond his instructions to the jury to consider the verdict before any evidence has been given.  As witnesses, the Mad Hatter and the Knave say nothing of substance, and throughout the trial no one seems to care that the stolen tarts are there in the courtroom, presumably having been returned by the thief.  The trial ends with a mockery of due process of law as the Queen says, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”, and then pronounces summary judgment on Alice:  “Off with her head!”

The sad thing about this trial is that it is not far removed from reality.  For much, perhaps most, of history unjust judges have made people’s lives miserable and shorter than they should be.  This is true even for judges among the people of God, which is why in promising to restore His nation of Israel, YHVH delivers this glowing promise:

“Then I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning; after that you will be called the city of righteousness, a faithful city.”  Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness.  (Isaiah 1:26-27 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #7: VaYetze (And He Went Out)

וַיֵּצֵא

In the 1970 film Little Big Man, Jack Crabb/Little Big Man (Dustin Hoffman) and Younger Bear (Cal Bellini) discuss their marriages as Little Horse (Robert Little Star) looks on.  (Photo from http://limereviews.blogspot.com/)
In the 1970 film Little Big Man, Jack Crabb/Little Big Man (Dustin Hoffman) and Younger Bear (Cal Bellini) discuss their marriages as Little Horse (Robert Little Star) looks on. (Photo from Lime Reviews & Strawberry Confessions)

The 1970 movie Little Big Man, starring Dustin Hoffman, follows the story of Jack Crabb, a white boy adopted by a Cheyenne warrior and raised among the Indians with the name Little Big Man.  Jack spends his life moving between the very different worlds of his native white frontier people and his adopted Indian family.  At one point, when he is back again among the Cheyenne, Jack takes a wife named Sunshine.  The two live happily for a time, but then Sunshine persuades Jack to marry her three widowed sisters.  Jack reluctantly agrees, and soon becomes head of a very large household.  One day, as he wanders through the camp pondering his circumstances, he encounters an old enemy, the warrior Younger Bear whom he has inadvertently shamed many times.  Thinking he at last has an advantage over Little Big Man, Younger Bear boasts, “I have a wife.  And four horses.”  Jack answers as if in a daze, “I have a horse . . . and four wives.”  And with that absent-minded answer he once again shames Younger Bear.

Little Big Man is a satire, but oddly enough it echoes something from our ancient past.  Our ancestor Jacob, like Jack Crabb, left the land of his birth to seek a wife among his distant relatives.  He ended up taking four wives, shaming his wives’ kin, and coming home with far more than he anticipated.  Jacob’s story, however, has much greater significance than the ribald satire of Little Big Man.  His life is a continuous string of prophetic pictures illustrating what happens to us, his offspring.

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The Shemitah and The Yovel:  Examining The Relevance of God’s Appointed Times, Part VIII

Walking Through The Open Gate

The Vision of the Dry Bones is the most graphic illustration of God's promised restoration of the Kingdom of Israel.  The establishment of the State of Israel opened the way for Judah (the Jewish portion of Israel) to return to the land, but to the way for Ephraim (Northern Israel) is only now beginning to open.  (Ezekiel's Vision, The Coloured Picture Bible for Children, available on Mannkind Perspectives.)
The Vision of the Dry Bones is the most graphic illustration of God’s promised restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. The establishment of the State of Israel opened the way for Judah (the Jewish portion of Israel) to return to the land, but to the way for Ephraim (Northern Israel) has remained closed until now. (Ezekiel’s Vision, The Coloured Picture Bible for Children, available on Mannkind Perspectives.)

An Enduring Standard

We see from Scripture that the Creator’s processes are lengthy, thorough, and often completely different from what humans desire or expect.  This should not be a surprise.  YHVH says quite plainly that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.  Nevertheless, He does tell us what we need to know, and He reveals things at the appointed times to those who bother to seek Him.  What we often learn is that the answer has been there all along, but we have never understood it correctly until the right time and until we approach with the right heart.  When it comes to the purpose of the Lord’s processes regarding His people Israel, the answer has been staring at us for about 3,000 years.  He spoke it through Moses to prepare the people for their first great meeting with Him at Sinai:

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.  When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain.  Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel:  You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.  Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”  (Exodus 19:1-6 NASB, emphasis added)

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