Over the past fifty years, the Noachide movement within Judaism has really taken off, and, in turn, a number of books have been written to help initiate Gentiles into the world of Torah for non-Jews.
I have read quite a few of these books and, unfortunately, have found more than a few of them to be less than encouraging for my spiritual walk. In many of them, I have felt that the path suggested by the author would cause me to take a step back in my spirituality, Torah practice, and relationship with God. With a few exceptions, I would not recommend these books to others. But The World of the Ger by Rabbi Chaim Clorfene is a completely different story.
The title comes from the premise of the book, which explores the concept of a non-Jew coming to the God of Israel not just as a Noachide but as a ger toshav (resident alien). The Torah gives instructions not only for Israelites but for the stranger (ger), sometimes referring to the convert (ger tzedek), sometimes to the resident alien (ger toshav), and sometimes to both. The ger toshav was a non-Jew who had publicly renounced idolatry and accepted the Torah’s universal moral laws. He then lived in the land of Israel and received certain rights such as legal protection and charity when he was in need. Rabbi Clorfene seeks to demonstrate that while the legal status of the ger toshav is not in force today, since the Jubilee Year is not practiced, in principle the category of the ger toshav has a lot to teach non-Jews about their relationship with the Jewish people and the Torah.
He cites Rabbi Yosef Rosen:
Because the rabbinic courts are powerless to accept the ger toshav due to a snag in halachah, the Rogatchover Gan ruled that a Noahide can become a ger toshav on his own simply by accepting the Seven Laws of Noah, without any need for rabbinic approval. And even on this basis, the Jewish community is obligated to support him if he fell on hard times, and he may take a share of the agricultural gifts for the poor. And he is permitted to observe any or all the mitzvot of the Torah, including Shabbat and Talmud Torah. (33)
Unlike many books for the Noachide that rely heavily on an in-depth overview of the seven Noachide laws, The World of the Ger focuses on “parables, stories, and historical narratives that form the character and worldview of a people” (27). The result is a work that was not only encouraging in my own pursuit of a Torah life but quite inspiring as well.
One of the aspects of this book that caught my attention right away was the way the author sought to connect the ger not only to Noah, as is typically done, but to Abraham as well:
The truth is that before there was a Jew there was a ger. Abraham said to the men of Heth (Genesis 23:4), “I am a ger and a toshav with you” … Abraham called himself a ger because he was a Hebrew living among Canaanites, a foreign resident. Abraham is the father of all gerim, both Jewish converts and Noachide gerim. (29)
Noah is the biological father of everyone on earth. Abraham is their spiritual father. Noah brought them into this world. Abraham delivered them to the World to Come. (64)
Rabbi Clorfene uses language that sounds apostolic, even saying of Naaman after he denounced idolatry and recognized the one true God, “The foreskin of his heart has been circumcised” (83). He also argues that Torah and the knowledge of God were first given to Adam and passed on through the generations to Shem before they were delivered to Abraham and his descendants. Hence, without these faithful non-Jews, the Jewish people would not have risen to the level of Mount Sinai.
The World of the Ger has three chapters on righteous Gentiles that serve as models for the modern-day Gentile who is drawing close to the Torah: Naaman, Jethro, and the Queen of Sheba. The book also contains helpful chapters on Shabbat observance and kosher laws that allow Gentiles to explore Torah observance beyond the seven Noachide laws. Also included is a helpful appendix that lists the forty verses in the Torah that deal with the ger toshav. The book is a great resource for anyone wishing to study a non-Jew’s relationship to Judaism from a rabbinic and biblical perspective. I highly recommend it.