Ger Tzedek & Ger Toshav (1)

Posted by in Topics in Judaism on Nov 13, 2013

After a long delay, I’m finally working with some regularity on a booklet which responds to the concerns Reb Zalman raised with us about three years ago. He voiced his worry that our conversions were short on requirements for observance and thus on the life-changing quality of becoming part of the Jewish people and enterprise.

I have been privileged to study this issue twice over the years. The first time was as a part of the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, where it was the subject of intense learning for an academic quarter. The second time was at the Spertus Institute, under the guidance of Rabbi Byron Sherwin (and when I still had hopes of earning of doctorate). In both instances, the issues revolve around prerequisites for converting and expectations of how life will be lived after mikveh. However, the limitations of classical halachic thinking mean that there are only two options: either become a Jew or not. No matter how much a non-Jew participates in Jewish life by attending shul or keeping kosher, those practices do not effect the person’s status vis a vis the Jewish people.

Reb Zalman offered the possibility of a third option by reviving and renewing the status of ger toshav (what might be called a resident alien in the U.S. and a permanent resident in Canada). His suggestions and our responses are detailed in this emerging booklet.

As I had promised, we convened an ad hoc committee (of anyone who chose to join) to hear Reb Zalman’s concerns, to study some relevant texts, and come to some suggested options to share with you all. In addition, the Issues in Integral Halachah course for senior rabbinic students that year also studied giyur and I’m planning to include two or three of the papers from that course in the booklet (the first that you will see is Jeremy Parnes’ which will be part of the Halachah Panel at OHALAH in January).

I have now reviewed four of the six session recordings and written about 20 pages, which I hope to begin sharing soon. In the meantime, since so many of us believe that the disruption of halachic unanimity is a modern phenomenon, I offer this responsum written by the Rambam in which he clearly states that, while he knows the halachah should be one way, he has decided to rule differently based on changed conditions and competing values. This is a wonderful example of both the value and limitations of the Codes, especially given that the writer of this responsum is also the author of a major code. I “discovered” it in a careful re-reading of another source, having missed it the first times around.

Also, there was a discussion some time ago on the OHALAH list around the question of whether a conversion can be revoked. Reb Sami sent me a link to an interesting responsum written on this question in relation to a rabbinic court decision in Israel. It is well reasoned and cites many of the same sources I have consulted (which makes me feel good!) and I recommend it to you:



Marrying a Maidservant•Rambam

PS: Readers of the Rambam text will notice a question mark following one of the abbreviations (roshei teivot). This is how it appears in both the printed texts I could consult, but it doesn’t appear in my book of roshei teivot nor could I figure it out. While I think I’ve still translated correctly, I would love to hear from anyone who thinks they’ve figured it out. You can post your idea as a comment and we can talk about it. And thanks.

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  1. Nov 13, 2013

    Dear Reb Daniel,

    Thank you so much for tackling this important issue.

    I just wanted to ask if you meant to title this page, “GER TZEDEK & GET TOSHAV (1)” or is it a typo 🙂

    • Nov 13, 2013

      For those who saw the original post, Chaim is right in pointing out the typo which I’ve now fixed: Ger Toshav and Ger Tzedek is how it should read.

  2. Nov 27, 2013

    I really appreciate your writing on this topic. I am a fellow traveler who would like to be connected in some way to the Jewish tradition but who would also like to maintain ties to other faith traditions (because I think God is too big to fit into any one religion).

    • Nov 27, 2013

      There is no doubt that God cannot be contained by any one religion, even the one I practice. Many of us in Jewish Renewal have ties to other traditions and practices which we maintain even when our primary practice is Jewish. I have practiced Tai Chi for many years and experienced and continue to value Insight Meditation. And I think the same can be true in the other direction, hence the interest in renewing the Ger Toshav option.

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