The Unbiblical Gentile

To some, the fact that the Hebrew term “bnei Noah”, descendants of Noah, doesn’t appear in the text of the Jewish Bible and the books of Moses means something significant. And the fact that the Hebrew term “ger” appears in the Jewish Bible and the books of Moses, to those same people, also means something significant. Some non-Jews looking for some identity (although, that can easily be better understood as “label”) in the Torah use these facts to somewhat push aside the title “ben Noah” and put on the title “ger.” Unfortunately, it seems, so much focus is put on the label than the actual content and then it is conflated with some ambiguous thing called “an identity.” It’s as if some teacher, some rabbi, were teaching that if you are not found in the text of the Jewish Bible – not the Torah tradition, but only a specific part of its written tradition – if you’re not there, then you don’t really exist. It can make a person feel degraded, feel like nothing, when someone says that their status or identity is not found in the Bible. This can especially impact ex-christians who have been indoctrinated into a sola-scriptura mentality, even having accepted the existence of the oral tradition.

I must stress the point that the Torah is a tradition that has both a written and oral component. This is vitally important because when someone has a way of thinking heavily skewed to just the written component of the Torah tradition, they can get an unbalanced point of view. That very same written tradition can be misinterpreted when the oral tradition is lowered in esteem, seen as not as important.

And this has happened with the argumentation of certain rabbis, Jews and Gentiles. “Because ben Noach is not in the text of the Jewish Bible, then it can’t be that important. But because ger is in the text of the Torah, then that is more important.” If this wasn’t the way of thinking promoted by some, then this “ger” issue wouldn’t even exist. Why? Because Torah, oral and written, is God’s will for humanity. The terms and meaning of both “bnei Noach” and “ger” is in that Torah tradition. So as they both have existence in Torah tradition, oral and written, then the argument that one is mainly found in the written tradition has no real power to it. It can only have power if the unbalanced thinking, the overweighting of one side of the tradition versus another, comes into play. I haven’t heard it argued yet that the Hebrew term generally translated as “pious of the nations of the world,” a term never used in the Jewish Bible, is said to not really exist. I think it’s important to reject such a distortion, as it has lead to the misdirection created by certain agendas.

So for now, I’m going to define identity as that things that define a person, that distinguish him and her from others. Included in this can be a sense of belonging to some group or something. Now there are two things among others that can give a person a sense of identity: the label that person attaches to oneself; and the actions the person performs, the lifestyle that person chooses to live by. Unfortunately it is unsurprising in our modern culture of deception, of bread and circuses, of the emphasis on flags, celebrity, sports, so called “spirituality” and school grades rather than morality, character, comradeship, God’s commandments and wisdom, it is unsurprising that people would end up debating over labels. “I’m a ger, not a ben Noach!” “I’m making a prayer thing open to a noahide and a ger.”

Some will say it is about more than a name, it’s about some affiliation to Israel (an Israel that doesn’t exist right now, that being a Torah based Israel, with Sanhedrin, Temple, a population of observant Jews and a government not simply an odd form of western democracy but fitting the Torah model). But that simply means that they want the label to contain so much certain information.

But, I believe, labels are secondary to how a person lives their lives, the choices they make and the actions they take. That’s not to say that labels have no importance whatsoever. After “human,” four important labels are Jew and Gentile (meaning simply “non-Jew”), and righteous and unrighteous. Does a Jew live according to the commandments God gave to Israel? Does a Gentile live according to the commandments God gave to the world? There’s little point in deciding if one is a “ger” or a “ben Noach” if they are not even learning the Seven Laws to keep them, if they are not keeping the Seven Laws. Not only that, but are they trying to be decent people?

I’m not going to do a reprint of the article I wrote about the simple definitions I found for what a “ger” is and what a “ben Noach” is which I confirmed with those I consider my teachers. But to summarize, a “ger” in a general sense is “a person who was not born in [a] country but has come from another country to sojourn there.” When it concerns Israel, that root meaning still applies, but specifically now, the “sojourner” now lives in Israel either remaining a non-Jew but formally keeping his or her seven laws (ger toshav), or naturalising and becoming a Jew (ger tzedek). A ger toshav proper can only exist when certain circumstances are in place that are not currently in Israel (a temple, a Sanhedrin, etc). I don’t think there is a person I know who calls himself or herself a “ger” that fulfils either the root meaning and has literally moved to Israel or the more specific meanings that are relevant to Israel. So, in a sense, it has once more just become a label for a club member, a religious club, nothing more. I know that there are those who call themselves “ger” are sincere. Ah, if only sincerity was the only prerequisite you needed for truth.

The simple meaning of the Hebrew term “ben Noach” is just anyone who is not Jewish. [As usual, I’ve done my best to avoid the English word “noahide”; to discuss that would be to fall into a bog, a mire, a quicksand of ambiguity that, as you may know, I have no care for.]

Both of these terms are in the Torah, the Torah which comprises of both a written and oral component. For a person who truly appreciates this fact, the fact that “ben Noach” isn’t specifically and distinctly named in the written Torah should not bother them, in the same way that it shouldn’t bother that person that the entity called “the seven laws” is not in the written torah as is confirmed by the Kuzari

After the Rabbi demonstrates to the Khazar king that the rabbinic interpretations are precise and faithful to logic and wisdom, he suggests that the fact that they do not correspond to the plain meaning of the text can be understood as follows:

The Rabbi: Let us rather assume two other possibilities. Either they employ secret methods of interpretation which we are unable to discern, and which were handed down to them together with the method of the “Thirteen Rules of Interpretation,’ or they use biblical verses as a kind of fulcrum of interpretation in a method called asmakhta, and make them a sort of hall mark of tradition. An instance is given in the following verse: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat'” (Bereishit 2:16). It forms the basis of the seven Noahide laws in the following manner: [“He] commanded” refers to jurisdiction. “The Lord” refers to the prohibition of blasphemy. “God” refers to the prohibition of idolatry. “The man” refers to the prohibition of murder. “Saying” refers to the prohibition of incest. “Of every tree of the garden,” the prohibition of rape. “You may surely eat,” the prohibition of consuming flesh from the living animal. There is a wide difference between these injunctions and the verse. The people, however, accepted these seven laws as tradition, connecting them with the verse as an aid to memory. It is also possible that they applied both methods of interpreting verses, or others which are now lost to us. (Kuzary, Chapter 3, Section 73, found at http://sacred-texts.com/jud/khz/khz03.htm, emphasis mine)

It should not matter that the term “pious of the nations of the world” is not distinctly mentioned in the Bible, or the terms “eiver min hahai” (flesh from living animal) or “dinin” or “dinim.”

It would be so easy for me to blame the Karaite-like arguments put forward by the first proponents of this “ger” idea which would be so easily received by those with the dregs of a past false religion still circulating in their system. But what would that achieve? The main thing is that those who hold onto Torah should hold onto the whole system, not just a written part of it, treating the oral tradition as if it were some secondary weaker limb.

And I fully understand that those who accept the “ger” idea may say there are many other reason they accept it. They may say that some rabbi has multiple sources that “backs up” his idea. This “short” blogpost isn’t to deal with all that. It’s simply a call for people to embrace Torah as a whole, and then to live it.

We’re going to disagree on this label. That’s life. Life is full of disagreement. But the main thing should be to live according to God’s law as best one can, regardless of the label.

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1 Comment

  1. אלי

    You made me ponder why does the Torah itself use one word – ger – for both the convert and the stranger. Surely it is not in order to confuse us, so there must be some deeper meaning to look into (maybe related to what we call today “the other”).

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