Ger toshav (pl. geirei toshav, Hebrew: גר תושב, Arabic: صبغت الله, Greek: Θεοσεβεια), according to Judaism and the Torah, is a gentile who is a "resident alien," that is, one who lives in the Land of Israel under certain protections of the system, and is considered a righteous gentile.
Kinds of Ger Toshav
There are two kinds of Ger Toshav. A formal one is a gentile who has made certain legal statements in a Beth Din (Jewish rabbinical court). There are three opinions (Avodah Zarah 64b) as to what those statements promise:
- To abstain from idolatrous practices.
- To uphold the seven Noahide Laws.
- To uphold all the 613 Mitzvot, except for the eating of non-Kosher meat.
The definition used by all authorities is the second. In all cases, the statement is a formal sign that the gentile is on a righteous path, and as such, they must by law receive certain legal protections and special charity/financial aid from the community.
The second kind of Ger Toshav is an informal one, namely someone who has not sworn anything to a Beth Din (Avodah Zarah 65a). In this case, they are not formally entitled to financial aid by law, but the attitude of a religious Jew to someone who has forgone idolatry is supposed to be much more welcoming (from the perspective of Jewish law) than to someone who has not. Furthermore, the restrictions that pertain to an idolater (in terms of business and doing things that might be aiding idol worship) are forgone.
The procedure has been discontinued since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and hence, there are no formal gerei toshav extant today (although it can be argued that a great deal are "informal" ones). Nevertheless, Judaism warmly encourages non-Jews to adhere to the Noahide Laws, and some groups, notably Chabad Lubavitch, have set up classes and networks for gentiles who commit themselves to this legal system. In that sense, it is possible to be a "Jewish gentile".
Maimonides says not applicable today
Maimonides held that a Ger Toshav (Resident Alien) is a legal category of "Noahide" (i.e. a Righteous Gentile) which is not applicable during the times of Jewish exile.
- "One who accepts these [basic laws] is called: Ger Toshav in every place. It is necessary to receive him in front of three Torah Scholars." (Melachim 8:10)
- "And if he accepted upon himself the seven mitzvos, then he is a ger toshav, but we do not accept gerei toshav except when the Jubilee is observed, but when there is no Jubilee we accept only righteous." (Avodah Zara 10:6)
Maimonides held that the Ger Toshav status is only applicable during a time when the 12 Jewish Tribes are ingathered and settled in their Biblically assigned territories. (In such times, the Yovel, or "Jubilee," years are able to be observed by the Jews - see Lev. 25:8-13.) Under these conditions, which will not return until the Messianic Redemption, by Torah Law a Gentile will be allowed to settle as a resident in the Holy Land if he/she appears before a Jewish court (Beis Din) and takes an oath before them that he or she will observe the Seven Noahide Laws with proper intent and faith. The court then grants this Gentile the visa status of "Ger Toshav," which includes certain additional legal privileges.
Since the time that the 10 northern Tribes of ancient Israel were exiled and lost, before the destruction of the First Temple, the Yovel years have not been able to be observed, and it is not applicable to have the Ger Toshav status. It will only be possible to again observe the Yovel years and grant the Ger Toshav status after the Messiah comes and brings the True and Complete Redemption, speedily in our days. This will be when the Messiah gathers all the Jews back to Israel, including the Ten Lost Tribes, and identifies the Tribe which each Jew belongs to. Then each Jewish Tribe will reside in the region assigned to it by G-d, as these regions are described in the Torah (see Num. 34:1-15, Deut. 33:22-23, 34:1-4).
- Against this is quoted: ‘Who is a ger toshav? Any [gentile] who takes upon himself in the presence of three chaverim not to worship idols. Such is the statement of R. Meir; but the Sages declare: Any [gentile] who takes upon himself the sheva mitzvot which the sons of Noach undertook; and still others maintain: These do not come within the category of ager toshav; but who is a ger toshav? A proselyte [גר ger, i.e. non-Jew] who eats of animals not ritually slaughtered (nevelos). In other words, he took upon himself to observe all the precepts mentioned in the Torah apart from the prohibition of [eating the flesh of] animals not ritually slaughtered (nevelos). We may leave such a man alone with wine [i.e., he is not considered an idolater].”
- This section is partly based on the Chabad based AskNoah.org