1. Noahide Idenity in the Modern Era I

1.2. Defining Ger Toshav II

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:

  • The ger toshav must be settled in a place where he can make a living or practice his trade.6
  • A ger toshav was not permitted to live near the borders of Israel, but only well into the interior.7
  • A Jew may sell land in Israel to a ger toshav.8
  • Once settled, the Jews may not force a ger toshav to move from one place to another.9 It is, however, permitted to relocate him if the move is of substantial benefit to him.10
  • A ger toshav may not reside in Jerusalem.11

The Jewish community is commanded with a general obligation (derived from Leviticus 25:35) to sustain a ger toshav. Such is not the case with idolaters. The Jewish community is prohibited from providing medical treatment or even saving the life of an idolater.12

“Sustaining” a ger toshav includes the following:

The Jews are commanded to sustain the ger toshav and to ensure his welfare in the same way they would for a fellow Jew.13 For example: if he is in danger we must do whatever possible to save him.14 So too, he must be supported with charity, if needed.15

  • Since Jews are commanded to ensure his welfare, they may even provide the ger toshav with free medical care if necessary.16
  • A Jew may, even on Shabbos, assist a ger toshav in giving birth.17
  • Jews may give gifts to a ger toshav.18
  • Jews may go beyond the minimal social graces required for peace when interacting with a ger toshav. This is not the case with idolaters, for whom we may only show the minimal degree of courtesy needed to maintain peace and civility. A ger toshav, though, may be treated with the same etiquette, kindness, and grace afforded to other Jews.19

The Torah also commands the Jews in a number of mitzvos that ensure the ger toshav a degree of equanimity in civil and monetary law.20 These mitzvos also guarantee specific protections for the earned wages of a ger toshav.21 There is also an obligation for the Jews to establish courts to adjudicate disputes between ger toshav according to their Noahide laws.22

From the Jewish perspective, the ger toshav, since he does not worship idols, is not subject to laws based upon concerns for idolatry. For example, we do not accept an oath from a regular non-Jew because he will likely swear in the name of his false deity. However, we may accept an oath from a ger toshav.23 The wine of idolaters, because it is of religious significance to them, is prohibited for both benefit and consumption. However the wine of  a ger toshav is only prohibited for consumption.24 It should be noted that there are a few other instances in Torah law, unrelated to idolatry, in which a ger toshav is regarded differently than an idolater.25

In every other respect, though, a ger toshav is treated like an idolater.26 In a number of instances in which we might have thought otherwise, the sources make certain to reinforce this point:

  • A Jew may lend to a ger toshav on interest.27
  • A Jew who must sell himself into servitude may only sell himself to another Jew or to a convert. He may not serve a ger toshav.28
  • The shemitta year29 does not cancel the debts30 of a ger toshav.31
  • If a Jew sells his indentured servant to a ger toshav, the Jew is forced to buy him back, even if at an exorbitant price, and to grant him his freedom.32

Biblically, a ger toshav is like a non-Jew with regard to the laws of tzaraas he does not become impure.33 However, there are a number of rabbinic decrees creating exceptions for a ger toshav.34

  • A ger toshav may not partake of the Passover sacrifice.35
  • Jews many not accept funds from a ger toshav for the rebuilding or upkeep of the Temple complex.36
  • Jews have no commandment to correct or rebuke a ger toshav.37

D)  How Does a Non-Jew Become a Ger Toshav?

The Talmud in Avodah Zarah 64b records a three-way dispute as to how a gentile becomes a ger toshav:

  • Rabbi Meir – A ger toshav is a non-Jew who has, before three Torah Scholars, accepted upon himself to not worship idols.
  • Chachomim (the majority of sages) – a ger toshav is a non-Jew who, before three Torah Scholars, accepts upon himself to observe the seven Noahide laws.
  • Acherim (the others) – A ger toshav is a non-Jew who has accepted all of the commandments of the Torah save one: the prohibition of eating neveilos, meat that has not been properly slaughtered according to Torah law.

Multiple opinions may be acceptable in matters of history or homiletics,38 yet we can only accept a single idea as binding in matters of practice.39 One of the many rules for deciding halakhah, practice, is that the opinion of the majority is decisive.40 The chachomim, being the majority, are therefore the halakhah, practice.41


6 Sifrei to Deuteronomy 23:17. See also Maseches Geirim 3:4, by way of implication.

7 Sifrei to Deuteronomy 23:17; Maseches Geirim 3:4.

8 Sefer HaChinuch 94.

9 Sifrei ibid.

10 Malbim to Deuteronomy 23:17; Sifrei ibid.

11 Tosefta Negaim 6; Maimonides, Hilkhos Beis HaBechira 7:14. However, Sifrei to Deuteronomy 23:17 and Hagahos Raavad to Hilkhos Issurei Biah 14:8 hold that a ger toshav may not live within the boundaries of any established city. Maimonides and Tosefta, though, only prohibit the dwelling of a ger toshav within Jerusalem, making no mention of any restriction upon living anywhere else. If Maimonides agreed with the Raavad, then why would Maimonides need to single out a prohibition against living in Jerusalem? It appears, therefore, that Maimonides does not acknowledge a general prohibition against residing in cities. See Maggid Mishneh to Maimonides, Issurei Biah 14:8. See also Zayis Raanan and Zera Avraham ibid.

12 Maimonides, Hilkhos Avodas Kochavim 10:1-2. Maimonides qualifies this ruling, writing that Jews may offer an idolater medical treatment if denial of it would disrupt the peace. However, a Jew may only do so for fee and not for free.

13 Pesachim 21b; Avodah Zara 65a; Maimonides, Hilkhos Zekhiyah UMatana 3:11 and Hilkhos Melakhim 10:12.

14 Ramban in his gloss to the Sefer HaMitzvos, Mitvah Aseh 16.

15 Maimonides, Hilkhos Matnas Aniyim 7:1.

16 Maimonides, Hilkhos Avodas Kokhavim 10:2.

17 Maimonides, Hilkhos Shabbos 2:12. However, we may not violate the Shabbos to do so.

18 Pesachim 21b; Avodah Zara 65a; Maimonides, Hilkhos Avodas Kokhavim 10:4; Tur, Choshen Mishpat 249.

19 Gittin 62a.

20 Maseches Gerim 3:2; Yerushalmi Yevamos 8:1; Sifrei Deuteronomy 23:17.

21 Sifrei Deuteronomy 24:14; Maseches Geirim 3:3; Yerushalmi Yevamos 8:1; Bava Metzia 111b; Maimonides,

Hilkhos S’khirus 11:1.

22 See Maimonides, Hilkhos Melakhim 10:11. The Radbaz ad loc. notes that the Jewish obligation is only when the ger toshav have not established their own courts.

23 Exodus 23:13; Tosafos Kesubos 94a.

24 This prohibition of consumption is part of many dietary restrictions aimed at limiting social interaction between Jews and non-Jews. Maimonides, Hilkhos Maachalos Asuros 11:7; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 124:2.

25 See, for example Maimonides, Hilkhos Rotzeach 5:3-4 on the exile of a ger toshav who unintentionally kills another ger toshav or an indentured servant.

26 Avodah Zarah 64b.

27 Mishnah, Bava Metzia 70b and Talmud, Bava Metzia 71a; Maimonides, Hilkhos Melaveh Ve-Loveh 5:1.

28 Maimonides, Hilkhos Avadim 1:3.

29 The seventh, sabbatical year of the seven-year agricultural and tithing cycle. See Exodus 23:10-11.

30 Cancellation of debts is an effect of the shemitta year. See Deuteronomy 15:1 – 3.

31 Sifrei Deuteronomy 15:3.

32 Gittin 44a; Maimonides, Hilkhos Avadim 8:5; Shulchan Aruch YD 267:80.

33 Mishnah, Negaim 3:1; Maimonides, Hilkhos Tumas Tzaraas 9:1.

34 For example, they are decreed rabbinically impure for the tzaraas of houses and garments. See the Rash to Negaim 3:1; Rosh, Raav, to Gittin ibid.; Tos. Yom Tov Gittin 3:1 and 11:1; Mishnah LeMelech Tumas Tzaraas 14:11. A ger toshav is also equal to a non-Jew with regard to the ziva impurity. See Tosefta Zavim 2.

35 Mechilta, Exodus 12:45; Maimonides, Hilkhos Korban Pesach 9:7 (see Raavad and Kesef Mishnah as well); Sefer HaChinuch 14; Minchas Chinuch 13:2; Sefer Mitzvos HaGadol, Lav 354.

36 Maimonides, Hilkhos Shekalim 4:8 from Ezra 4:3 and Nechemiah 2:20.

37 Rashi to Sanhedrin 75a. This is difficult considering that Maimonides holds of an obligation to compel observance of the Noahide laws (Hilkhos Melakhim 8:10-11). It may be that this obligation is only in force  until the non-Jew has accepted the seven laws. After that point, he is liable for his own observance of them.

38 See Maimonides’s Perush HaMishnayos to Sotah 3:5, Sanhedrin 10:3, and Shevuos 1:4. See also Tosafos to

Yoma 5b, Chagigah 6b, and Sanhedrin 15b. See also Maharitz Chayes to Yevamos 86b.

39 See Avodah Zara 7a; Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 4:2; Sofrim 16:5; Rif, Sanhedrin 12b; Rosh, Sanhedrin 4:6; Mevo HaTalmud. See also Tur, Choshen Mishpat 25; Shach, Choshen Mishpat 25:9; Teshuvos Rashba 1230.

40 See Chullin 11a.

41 See Shmuel HaNagid Mevo HaTalmud.