1. Noahide Idenity in the Modern Era I

1.1. Defining Ger Toshav I

In the Noahide world today, much confusion exists as to whether or not the identity of the modern Noahide overlaps with, or is entirely independent of, the ancient designation of ger toshav.1 Although he may be unaware of it, the lack of clarity on this specific issue is the cause of much of the mixed messages, heartache, and frustration experienced by the contemporary Noahide. For uncertain reasons, evaluation of this vital question from a practical, halakhic (religious law) standpoint was not undertaken at the beginning of rabbinic involvement in the modern, resurgent Noahide movement. In the past several decades, though, a number of eminent scholars and authorities have contributed to a greater understanding of the issue.

We will now embark upon a large survey of the Torah literature pertaining to this topic. Note, however, that this exploration requires the full understanding of a number of topics in Torah law. These topics are interrelated, forming the background and context for our question. Without an understanding of these fundamental subjects, it will not possible to arrive at a clear picture of Noahide identity. In this first section, we will cover the  following:

A)  The Torah prohibition of non-Jewish residence in Israel,

B)  The residence of non-idolatrous gentiles in Israel,

C)  The rights of a ger toshav,

D)  How to become a ger toshav,

E)  If ger toshav status applies today,

F)  The modern status of non-Jewish residence in Israel, and

G)  Maimonides’s rulings regarding the reward of one who accepts the Noahide laws and the ambiguities contained therein.

A)  The Torah Prohibits Idolaters from Living in Israel

In Deuteronomy 7:1-2, God commands to the Jewish people:

When HaShem your God shall bring you into the land when you go to possess it, and shall cast out many nations before you – the Hittite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite, seven nations greater and mightier than you – and when HaShem your God shall deliver them up before you, you shall smite them. You shall completely destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show them favor.

From this last verse, …nor show them favor, the Talmud Avodah Zarah 20a derives a number of prohibitions, one of which is the prohibition of settling idolaters in the land of Israel. Maimonides2 proposes Exodus 23:33 as the reason for these injunctions:

They [idolaters] shall not dwell within your land lest they cause you to sin against Me and worship their gods.

Maimonides summarizes the halakha, practice, derived by the Talmud from these verses:3

It is forbidden to sell them homes and fields in Israel. In Syria, one may sell them homes, but not fields.

One may rent them homes in Israel, provided that a neighborhood [of idolaters] is not established. Fewer than three [homes] does not constitute a neighborhood. It is, however, forbidden to rent them fields. In Syria, one may rent them fields…

…It is permitted to sell them houses and fields in the Diaspora, because it is not our land.

Even when it is permitted to rent [houses to idolaters], it is not permitted to rent to them for use as a dwelling, because they will bring idols into them, as [the Torah in Deuteronomy 7:26] states: "Do not bring an abomination into your home." It is, however, permitted to rent them homes to use as storehouses.

It is forbidden to sell them fruit, grain, or other produce while it is attached to the earth. One may sell [them] after they have been harvested or on the condition that they will be harvested, and then he must harvest them.

Why is it forbidden to sell them land or anything attached to the land? Because [the Torah in Deuteronomy 7:2] states: "Do show them favor." [Which the Talmud points out may also be read as:] "Do not give them a resting place in the land." As long as they do not have a resting place in the land, their stay will be a temporary one…

It is also forbidden to give them a present.

The Shulchan Aruch and all other codifiers rule in agreement with Maimonides that it is prohibited for idolaters to settle permanently in Israel.4 This rule however, only applies when Israel has sovereignty and authority over the non-Jews in its land.5

B)  Are Non-Idolatrous Gentiles Permitted to Reside in Israel?

Maimonides’s last statement, regarding gifts, is curious on account of the following verse:

You shall eat not eat improperly slaughtered meat – you shall give it to the ger within your gates so that he may eat it… (Deuteronomy 14:21)

This verse instructs the Jew to gift improperly slaughtered meat to a ger. Now, we might assume that this “ger within your gates” is a convert to Judaism. However, this cannot be because a convert is like a born Jew in his obligation to observe the dietary laws. If, however, this verse speaks of a non-Jew, then it must refer to a non-Jew who is not an idolater. Otherwise, how is a Jew allowed to gift the meat to the non-Jew? As we just learned, a Jew may not favor an idolater with gifts! From this verse, we see that the Torah anticipates the presence of non-idolatrous gentiles in Israel.

We have learned above that a number of prohibitions apply to an idolater’s presence in Israel. What, however, is the Torah’s rule for a non-idolatrous gentile who wishes to live in Israel?

The Talmud discusses such an individual in numerous places, calling him a ger toshav – a resident alien.

C)  The Rights and Benefits of a Ger Toshav

A survey of the Midrashic, Mishnaic, Talmudic, and halakhic literature reveals that the  ger toshav, though not Jewish, enjoys many of the benefits reserved for Jews who live in Israel. However, the ger toshav is also bound by  many  of  the  same  restrictions  that  apply to idolaters.

Let’s first examine the residency of a ger toshav. Unlike an idolater, a ger toshav is allowed to settle, even permanently, in Israel. However, his dwelling there is subject to a number of conditions:


1 A “resident alien” status that granted certain benefits to non-Jews who wished to reside in Israel. As we will see below, it has not been possible to grant ger toshav status in over 2600 years.

2 Hilkhos Avodas Kokhavim 10:6.

3 Hilkhos Avodas Kokhavim 10:3-4.

4 Yoreh Deah 151:8. While all agree that this is true for selling property to non-Jews in Israel, there is much disagreement about renting property to non-Jews even outside Israel. The custom appears to be to rely upon the lenient authorities who permit rentals to non-Jews.

5 Hilkhos Avodas Kokhavim 10:6.