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‘Ger Toshav’: Obstacles and Aspirations

The Torah’s vision is that in the Land of Israel, besides the Jewish nation, only those who share in Israel’s mission of being a ‘light unto the nations’ may live here * The controversy surrounding the issue of non-Jews residing in the Land of Israel today, when the status of ‘ger toshav’ (resident alien) does not apply * The Druze meet the conditions of ‘ger toshav’, as opposed to those Arabs who support terrorists, and do not recognize Israeli sovereignty * Presently, fulfilling the mitzvah to expel the hostile minority is impractical * In spite of this, the concept of ​​’ger toshav’ should be studied in depth, and aspire to implement when possible * Once we delve deeper into the moral logic of the mitzvah, it will serve as a model for all countries coping with immigrants

Non-Jews Residing in the Land of Israel

The grand vision of the Jewish nation in its land is for the land to be inhabited by the Jewish people, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem the Holy Temple will stand, all forms of national life will be conducted according to the teachings of the Torah morally and with holiness and the people of Israel will be a light unto the nations who will come to visit Israel and receive inspiration for their nations’ betterment and that of the world, as expressed in the words of the prophet: “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of all— the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship. People from many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.’ For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem. The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2: 2-4).

In order to achieve this vision, the entire land must be inhabited by Jews, and only non-Jews wishing to be part of Israel’s grand vision will be able to join the Jewish people in the status of a ‘ger toshav‘, or technically, a ‘resident alien’. While the road to realizing the vision is still long, we should nevertheless strive to the best of our ability to achieve it.

Consequently, we need to study the two prohibitions mentioned in the Torah regarding the residence of non-Jews in the Land of Israel. The first prohibition is a general one obligating the people of Israel, as written in the Torah: “Do not allow them to reside in your land, since they may then make you sin to Me. You may even end up worshiping their gods, and it will be a fatal trap to you” (Exodus 23:33). The second prohibition is directed to each and every individual not to sell land to a non-Jew so as not to give him a resting place in the Land, as it is written: “When God your Lord places them at your disposal and you defeat them, you must utterly destroy them, not making any treaty with them or giving them any consideration (in Hebrew, ‘lo techonem’, which is interpreted by our Sages as ‘do not give them a resting place’). Do not intermarry with them… [If you do], they will lead your children away from Me, causing them to worship other gods” (Deuteronomy 7: 2-4).

Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) are of the opinion that these prohibitions apply to non-Jews who are not worthy of being considered a ‘ger toshav’; however, one who is worthy of being considered a ‘ger toshav’, i.e., one who observes the Seven Noahide Laws out of belief in the Lord, the God of Israel, and accepts the sovereignty of the Jewish people in its Land as decreed by the Torah, may reside in the Land of Israel (Kesef Mishneh in his commentary to Rambam (Maimonides) ‘Mizbach Adama’).

Others say that any non-Jew who was not actually accepted by a ‘Beit Din’ (rabbinic court) as a ‘ger toshav’, we are commanded not to settle in our Land, and not to give him a resting place in the Land of Israel. And when ‘Yovel’ (Jubilee year) does not apply, rabbinical courts lack the authority to accept a ‘ger toshav’ and thus today, there is no ‘heter’ (rabbinic allowance) to permit non-Jews to reside in the Land of Israel. The reason for this opinion is that the Torah sought to guide us in establishing a holy nation in the Land of Israel, and as long as a non-Jew does not accept in an official and orderly manner to live according to the principles of the Torah of Israel, he can adversely affect society (this is the opinion of Rambam according to ‘Magid Mishneh’ and ‘Minchat Chinuch’, and also Ritva and the Netziv).

The Halakha’s Attitude towards Arabs Residing in the State of Israel

At the time of the establishment of the State, the foremost Rabbis of the time discussed the status of the Arabs, and the question of whether we are commanded to actively work towards their expulsion from our Land, or to encourage their emigration. Several rabbis, led by Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, regarded the Arabs as observing the Seven Noahide Laws, and since they already lived in Israel and recognized the right of the Jewish people over their land, there was no mitzvah to expel them. Conceivably, even the poskim who adhere to the second opinion would agree that the prohibition is only in allowing a person who was not accepted as a ‘ger toshav’ before a ‘Beit Din’ to immigrate to the Land of Israel, but someone who already lives here, if in practice he is on the moral level of a ‘ger toshav‘, there is no need to expel him, or encourage his emigration.

Over the past decades it has become clear that the majority of the Druze community in practice, fulfill the Seven Noahide commandments, recognize the right of the Jewish people to their Land, and assist the Jewish people in its war against its enemies, and therefore, should be regarded as ‘gerim toshavim’ (plural).

On the other hand, however, many of the Arabs living in Israel do not accept Israel’s sovereignty over our Land. Additionally, many of them do not fulfill the Seven Noahide commandments – some, by assisting the terrorists who transgress the prohibition of “You shall not murder,” and others, by doing nothing to bring the terrorists to trial, as they are instructed to do in the seventh commandment of the Noahide laws – to establish a righteous, judicial system (see, Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars 9:14). It emerges then, that many of them are not considered ‘gerim toshavim’, and it is a mitzvah to expel them from the Land. When international and ethical reasons prevent us from expelling them, at the very least, we should encourage their immigration.

In addition to the question of which foreigners we are commanded not to settle in our Land so as not to be swayed after their way of life, when it comes to a national group liable of claiming sovereignty over the land, there is an additional consideration for them not to reside in our Land – so that we are able to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz’ (settling the Land of Israel).

Can the Halakha be Fulfilled?

For many reasons we are unable to expel the non-Jews who do not accept the Seven Noahide laws as commanded by the Torah.

First, the commandment is obligatory only when we have the power to fulfill it, but when ‘yad ha’goyim tikifa aleinu’ (when the Gentiles predominate), under duress, we are prevented from fulfilling the mitzvah (Rambam, Laws of Avodah Zara 10:6). Also, the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz’ does not require us to rely on miracles and fight the entire world alone. It seems that today when the strongest countries in the world oppose it, and the State of Israel’s security and economic status to a large extent is dependent upon them, we are regarded as ‘yad ha’goyim tikifa aleinu’, and lack the power to expel Arabs who openly fight against us from the land – and undoubtedly, we lack the power to expel their families, and the Arab population hostile towards us.

‘Darchei Shalom’ (For the Sake of Peace)

Apart from this, we are also unable to expel the hostile Arab population because of “darchei shalom“, because such an action would violate the endorsed peace in international relations, and we have found that at times, mitzvot are overridden because of ‘darchei shalom’ (Gittin 59a; Rambam Matnot Aniyim 1: 9).

Chilul Hashem‘ and ‘Kiddush Hashem

Moreover, in recent generations thanks to the moral influence of Israel’s Torah, the nations of the world have undertaken laws protecting the rights of minorities, and because of ‘Chilul Hashem’ (desecration of the Name of God) it is forbidden for us to expel Arabs not defined as ‘ger toshav’. There is a halakhic rule that there is nothing permitted to a Jew, yet forbidden to a ‘B’nei Noach’ (non-Jew) (Sanhedrin 32a), and if according to the laws enacted by most civilized nations of the world it is forbidden to expel members of a minority population even if they are hostile, Israel must also take into account, to the extent possible, this moral position – all the more so in the case of binding international treaties.

The Mitzvah is Not Nullified

Nevertheless, the basic mitzvah of course is not nullified, and we must strive to find a way to fulfill the commandments of the Torah within the framework of the currently accepted moral perception. To this end, we must delve deep into the moral values ​​in such a way that it will be understood how the fulfillment of the mitzvah will lead to a moral, just, and improved situation for the entire world, and thus, we will find the appropriate ways to fulfill the mitzvah.

The Advantage of the Capitalist Position

The principle of the mitzvah must also influence our position on socio-economic questions. For example, there are different views regarding the responsibility of the state for the welfare of its residents, both morally, and economically. This issue is debated by theorists and economists. The capitalist position minimizes the responsibility of the state and emphasizes the responsibility of the individual for himself, his family, and his friends; on the other hand, the socialist position broadens the state’s responsibility, and minimizes the responsibility of the individual to himself, his family and friends. Additionally, some of them stipulate several of the rights granted by the state on the acceptance of obligations such as military service, while others don’t.

With the idea in mind that it is desirable for non-Jews who do not fulfill the Seven Noahide Laws to emigrate from Israel, the capitalist position which conditions most of the rights granted on the acceptance of obligations should be preferred, so that Arabs who are unwilling to serve in the army will receive less benefits from the state, thereby reducing their incentive to remain in Israel, and increasing their motivation to emigrate to countries whose identity suits them better.

The Jewish National Fund

This holds true with regard to the debate over the status of the Jewish National Fund as well. Since the state is being hindered from giving preference to Jewish settlement, the Jewish National Fund, which belongs to the Jewish people, should be strengthened as much as possible, so that it can encourage Jewish settlement to its fullest extent.

Military Policy Plans

We hope for peace, but we may still have to go through wars and crises. If, however, we keep in mind the goal of fulfilling the mitzvah, we can work to ensure that the outcome of the wars and crises will be the expulsion of hostile foreigners from our country, and the encouragement of emigration of those who do not support the State of Israel’s Jewish identity.

A Vision for Many Nations

Finding a profound solution to the fulfillment of this mitzvah and to the challenges of the identity and security of the State of Israel, will bring healing and blessing to many countries that are struggling with similar problems. The model of the mitzvah of ‘ger toshav’ can serve as a moral means for preserving their national identity, along with a fair and respectful attitude towards immigrants. A ‘ger toshav’ is required to accept upon himself two principles: The first is to recognize the national and religious identity of the native citizens, and to bear the burden of national challenges vis-a-vis the enemy or competing cultures. The second is the acceptance of the Seven Noahide commandments, which includes proper moral behavior.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

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