Introductory Remarks - Noahide
Ger vs Noahide; Ger or Noahide; Ger and Noahide; which is it? Many people watching the discussions seem confused. Quite frankly I think many Ger people are also confused as to the relationship between Ger and Noahide. We certainly read many different views from disgust to kinship. I would like to define what ‘Noahide’ has come to mean to those who call themselves that; then why ‘Ger’ is not a good title for any movement, and especially how it is developing today.
To discuss this we need to first look at some important historical events that have led us to the situation we are now in. Everyone knows that 50 years ago there was no Noahide movement nor ‘Ger’ nor anything else. Discussions of what the Halacha is had real world implications, but with no one following these decisions. Occasionally a non-Jew would have a friendship with a Jew and would find out about the laws, but this was rare. Jews did not seek out non-Jews to teach them the laws. One of the reasons was that Jews were living in lands that had abandoned idol worship; respected and worshipped what they thought was the same god as the Jewish people. This meant, ignoring shituff, that they were essentially following the laws except for making a new religion. (We will discuss Shituff in the next article.) Also non-Jewish interest in Judaism usually led to conversion.
In the early 1980s the late Rebbe of Lubavitch ZT’L gave a call to his Chassidim to turn their attention to influencing the non-Jewish world to follow the 7 mitzvos. That was a total break from what Jews had done until then. In fact it was quite controversial then (and still is.) In a famous Sichah for parshas Yisro in 1983 he set out the justification for this campaign. (This Sichah is found in volume 26 and we will be referring to it a number of times in these articles. He also submitted to the journal HaPardes May 1985, the same ides in a more formal format.) One of the main implied principles (which all agreed to) was that following these laws was an individual activity. The idea of a ‘movement’ or structure of any kind, was unthinkable. (This has been confirmed to me by people in Lubavitch.)
As time went on many events occurred that effected the path this ‘Noahide’ movement would take. I think one incident exemplifies what happened. Rabbi Tovia Singer, a well-known counter missionary, was approached by a whole church in Texas that wanted to leave Christianity. He taught them the 7 laws and they continued in that path; making it a ‘Noahide church’. Many similar evens have occurred.
As time went on more and more non-Jews were attracted to the 7 laws, whether from Chabad; their leaving Christianity or the internet. This led to a serious problem: How do we deal with something that is not meant to be a ‘movement’ or organized group when it is becoming one? This led to private study groups and eventually to organizations of the new followers of the 7 laws.
As a group identification stated to grow, a name was needed. Bnei Noach would maybe be a good one, but it has a few problems. 1. It is Hebrew. Non-Jewish non-Hebrew speaking people using a Hebrew name could be problematic. This was a common thing among missionaries and no one wanted them to be associated with or mistaken for missionaries. 2. The name itself in Jewish literature is ambiguous. Sometimes it can mean all of humanity, sometimes all non-Jews, and other times non-Jews who keep the 7 laws. 3. Even when Bnei Noach refers to non-Jews keeping the law, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT’L says in that Sichah it does not mean that they do it BECAUSE of belief in the Torah and Jewish Rabbinic traditions. These new followers wanted a name that would indicate their attachment/relationship to Torah Judaism and the one true God..
From this was born the name of Noahide. Noahide means a non-Jew who has taken upon himself or herself to follow the 7 mitzvos specifically because of a belief in HaShem and Torah including the Rabbinic traditions. All the organizations and people who call themselves Noahides are Noahides because they believe in the truth of Torah Judaism and worship HaShem only.
From this we see one of the main claims against the ‘Noahides’ that they are really akum (believe in Shituff) is just false. Because of their approach where they follow the 7 laws because of Torah and Rabbinic tradition, they do not believe in Shituff. (In the next article I will discuss Shituff and what Rabbis are saying about it and Bnei Noach.)
Another complaint also falls away from the above. A Biblical (or Rabbinic) term could not be used, because in fundamental ways the modern Noahide is different from what appears in seforim and the Torah. Even the ‘god fearers’ of 2000 years ago were not the same; they were individuals who frequented the local synagogues. While Noahides do go to synagogues, they are loosely associated with others like them, which does not seem to be the case with the ’god fearers’. (God fearers itself is a non-Biblical term.)
So what is wrong with calling themselves ‘Ger’? It is clearly an ambiguous term in Judaism. What does ‘Ger’ mean? We know of Ger Tzedik (converts to all the mitzvos of the Torah) and also Ger Toshiv. Those calling themselves ‘Ger’ are not Ger Tzedik, and there is no Ger Toshiv today. Much of the confusion this movement makes with regards to verses in the Tenach is based on these ambiguities and misrepresenting Rabbinic tradition as to the meaning. (This will all be discussed in depth in later articles,)
The best way to see the problem is to give an illustration. Let’s say Bob who considers himself a ‘Ger’ travels to New York to see what a community with thousands of religious Jews living there looks like. He goes to one of the many very Orthodox synagogues. When there someone notices that a person is there that does not seem to fit in. This person comes up to him and asks him about himself. So he says he is ‘Ger’. It’s Monday so he wants to give this visitor an Aliya. What happens next? He can try taking an Aliyah violating the law. If he gives a Jewish sounding name and gets found out, how do you think they will react? Not very well. He could end up in jail. If he says he is a ‘Ger’ not a Ger Tzedik they will see him as a nut job. They will not even be interested in hearing anything. The only thing that will happen is that he will be seen as a non-Jew who for some reason is trying to deceive Jews, and may in actuality be a missionary.
Now let’s say Bob calls himself a Noahide. Same story. He visits that synagogue, and when asked says he is a Noahide. Most likely the guy will say he doesn’t even know what that means. So Bob can explain to him, that he is a non-Jew who believes in the Torah and the G-d of Israel. This fellow may have seen a recent article in Ami Magazine about just such a person and becomes interested in Bob. This leads to a long and friendly discussion.
Which is the best way? Which way better accords with Torah? Obviously the one where Bob says he is a Noahide.
Having read many posts from people who call themselves ‘Ger’ I think some of them will answer like this: ‘I don’t care what they think, what G-d thinks is more important’. This actually represents a very serious problem with many Noahides, but even more with those calling themselves ‘Ger’ because it represents non-Jewish thought patterns.
Most of the Noahides or Ger come from Christianity which they rejected. But just because they have rejected the idolatry of Christianity does not mean they have rid themselves of the falseness of non-Jewish ideas, or have adopted a Torah world outlook. Non-Jewish hashkofas are rampant in the Ger movement and no one there addresses it, nor are the members of the Ger movement even aware of it. Non acceptance by Orthodoxy of the ‘Ger’ (as opposed to the Noahide) should be a cause for concern. It indicates they have yet to fully understand what the Torah requires and how foreign they are to Judaism. The idea that they can make a new movement and that somehow the rest of Orthodox Judaism will have to accept then, is a fantasy, which can only lead to heartbreak and disaster.
Let me give another example of the problem. There are a lot of barbs being directed to the eight signers of letters about the Ger movement. A bit of resistance and attempts to minimize its meaning is understandable. But the total lack of introspection is telling. What is interesting is that those six represent totally different parts of Orthodoxy, and in many point they actually have strong disagreements among themselves. I can’t imagine all six of us sitting at the same table for anything. And yet they are united in the belief that there is something wrong with ‘Ger’. Why is that? Why have the Ger people not considered it?
Consider this; Rabbi Wiener wrote what now is probably the classic work on the subject of the Noahide Laws. Any work written after that looks into what he has said to either agree or disagree, but it cannot be ignored by any serious student of the subject. But what is being hidden from those in the ‘Ger’ movement is that his views come straight from the late Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT’L. One need only look at his notes to see that it is strongly based on the Sichos of the late Rebbe. It is the best representation of what he taught, and what is held in Lubavitch as the Halacha for non-Jews. It would not seem to me prudent to attack the only group within Orthodoxy who believes in active outreach to non-Jews with regards to the 7 mitzvos. Those people who are theoretically the most accepting of them. Everyone else either ignores it or is involved in passive outreach.
On the other hand I represent that part of Chassidic/Chereidi Judaism that is not Lubavitch. And each of us is another community. When taken as a whole we represent the views of the overwhelming majority of Orthodoxy, and I am certain that were we to discuss with anyone left out there would not be much support for ‘Ger’. While this may not seem much to those who call themselves ‘Ger’ because they are so unfamiliar with the Orthodox world, it should be sending red lights off in your heads.
Let me give another example. There is a fellow who is strongly involved with ‘Ger’. He is really a sweet guy, and seems to me very sincere in his desire to do what is right. But he gives classes in Kabballah, which I have heard a little of and had to laugh at. It’s not enough we have to have Madonna and the Kabbalah center cult, we now have him?
There has long been a prohibition of teaching non-Jews Kabbalah and of them learning it, and restrictions in the learning of Kabbalah for Jews. There are restrictions as to from whom to learn it and how and which works one may learn. All this from past experience. (Look up Shabbtzei Tzvi if you need one example.) But learning Kabbalah is encouraged by the ‘Ger’ movement, EXPLICITLY. This will not bring the geulah, but push it off.
If we really think about it part of the work involved with teaching the 7 laws to non-Jews is to help them to understand and be able to relate to Jews as those ancient god-fearers did. I think in some ways those of us who have been teaching the 7 laws have ignored that the goal is that the non-Jew who keeps the 7 should be looked upon as ‘normal’ and be acceptable to Orthodox society in general.
There are many things we are doing that hinders this goal. It is not just ‘Ger’ that is a problem in this sense, even though they are an extreme example. I see it as a problem that we, because of our training in yeshiva and post yeshiva, look at ourselves ONLY as teachers of Halacha and not also as guiders of people’s lives to make them better people living in accord with Torah and HaShem’s will. We need to be both. The one will not work without the other. I am going to try and point this out in future articles, but let me mention one serious area which needs to be taken in consideration when we teach and interact with Noahides.
Noahides (Ger) come out of a non-Jewish world, which has hashkofos foreign to Judaism. Most come out of Christianity where they have certain views of what they think should be the truth, and ways of looking at Torah and religion that they think are correct, but are in fact wrong and inconsistent with Judaism. We will see this many times in these articles, but it is important for us as teachers to have it in mind, and of course for Noahides (Ger) to be aware of them.
One concept is that as Christians they believed in a doctrine called ‘Sola Scriptura’. That basically said: that true doctrine is arrived by the INDIVIDUALS looking into the Bible and seeing what it says. Judaism has no such doctrine, and in fact does not support such a doctrine. In true Torah Judaism our understanding of what the Torah says comes to us through a tradition. We don’t make things up based on what we read, but based on what we have received as the truth. When an argument occurs as to the meaning of any passage or Halacha, it is not what I say or you say that means anything, but what the person meant based on tradition.
Also there is egalitarianism. The Torah is not egalitarian. Not all Jews are equal some have more rules and privileges than others. That is true of the human race as a whole. But many non-Jews don’t get that. Someone who is a learned Jew is not the same as a non-Jew in having a right to an opinion. This needs to be understood. Someone without formal training is not the same as someone who was formally trained and learned for 20 30 or more years.
A good example of these two is the sincere non-Jew I mentioned who for some reason was learning kabbalah seforim; clearly in English. He had it in his head that he actually knew what he was talking about (even more than I did.) But everyone knows that one can only learn this subject in the original languages and under the direct guidance of a qualified teacher who learned likewise, otherwise there is grave danger of spiritual damage. And even more to teach any subject in Torah one needs to have learned for many years from qualified teachers.
Similarly non-Jews seem to think the title of ‘Rabbi’ means something it does not. The Chofetz Chaim got his smichah a few years before he died, even though his halachic works and rulings were known and accepted long before that. The Chazon Ish never did. Lots of ‘Rabbis’ on the internet wouldn’t know ‘the blessing for a radish’. What is important is KNOWLEDGE. Do you really know what you are talking about? This comes from years of learning in addition to abilities that HaShem gives us.
Non-Jews can’t understand that differing views on Halacha are valid and that they can both be acceptable and that only views that are inconsistent or not based on the tradition are invalid. For example our argument with the ‘Ger’ leaders is not that we disagree on every and all points they say. I am sure in this series of articles people will see points of agreement. The problem is that their approach to Halacha and Judaism is just flat out wrong-headed. It is based on misunderstandings of texts, and at times just plain ignoring things said when they disagree with the desired conclusions.
For example, in a recent post on Facebook a view from Rabbi Avigdor Neventzahl that Ruth when she married the son of Elimelech was a Ger toshiv was mentioned. (I will not go into the problems with this view as they are not relevant, and the Rabbi also agrees that it has no effect on Halacha l’maasah.) But what is left out is that at the end of this discussion he states explicitly that there is no Ger toshiv today!!! Again no ‘GER’ today.
There are many more things I could add to this subject. In conclusion, it is clear that ‘Noahide’ is a valid term to be used, and in a real sense those who consider themselves ‘Noahide’ are closer to the true teachings of Torah than those calling themselves ‘Ger’. It is less of a problem then ‘Ger’. In fact the term ‘Ger’ will lead to discord with the majority of religious Jewish people.
In the next article I will deal with the issue of Shituff as I move into some of the texts and issues underlying the opposition to the ‘Ger’ movement. Again, I welcome any comments or questions. However personal attacks will be deleted. Unfortunately I cannot edit any comments, so if you place a personal attack in the middle of a long comment, all of it will need to be deleted. Please show respect. Thank you.