The Place of Gentile Godfearers within the Talmidi Community

 

Introduction

 

Modern rabbinical Judaism has done away with the place of the Godfearer in Judaism, but Talmidaism, which maintains cultural links with ancient Judaism and the Israelite religion, still recognises the status of the Godfearer.

 

Basically, a Godfearer is a Gentile who practises Israelite customs, follows Torah, worships YHVH and acknowledges YHVH as one and indivisible, but retains his/her Gentile identity – he/she does not go through the full process of conversion (and as such, male Godfearers are not circumcised). They are connected to the Covenant by choice, whereas Israelites (native born and converts) are subject to the terms of the Covenant by obligation.

 

In the Hebrew bible, the Hebrew word geir sometimes refers to Godfearers. A geir is a foreigner who is resident in the land of Israel, and within the Jewish community in general. There have been foreigners living among Israelites since the very beginning; when Israel left Egypt, ‘a mixed multitude went with them’ (Ex 12:38).

 

And God promises that when Israel and Judah are restored, He will add foreigners to their number:

 

‘Sovereign YHVH declares – He who gathers the exiles of Israel – “I will gather still others to them, besides those already gathered” (Isa 56:8)

 

‘But YHVH will pardon Jacob, and will again choose Israel, and will settle them on their own soil. And foreigners will join them and shall cleave to the House of Jacob’ (Isa 14:1)

 

Geirim as part of the House of Israel

 

Those Gentiles who revered YHVH and bound themselves to YHVH were seen as part of the House of Israel:

 

All Israel – resident foreigners and native born alike – with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of YHVH, facing those who carried it — the priests, who were Levites. Half of the people stood in front of Mount G’rizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of YHVH had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel. . . . There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the resident foreigners who lived among them. (Joshua 8:33, 35)

 

‘Let not any foreigner who has bound themselves to YHVH complain, “YHVH will surely exclude me from His people”. (Isa 56:3)

2Chr 6:32 speaks of a ‘foreigner who does not belong to your people’, as opposed to ones who do, who are subject to the same law and covenant. There was, to some extent, a difference between a foreigner (nekhar) and a resident foreigner (geir);:

 

‘Do not eat anything you find already dead. You may give it to a resident foreigner living in any of your towns, and he may eat it; or you may sell it to a foreigner.’ (Deut 14:21a)

However, these resident foreigners cannot be the same as complete converts, because if resident foreigners wanted to eat the Passover lamb, they had to be circumcised (Ex 12:48), and then were viewed as having the same status as native born Israelites anyway (Ezek 47:22). Ultimately though, the same Torah was to apply to both Israelite and resident foreigner / Godfearer:

 

‘The community is to have the same rules for you and for the resident foreigner living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the resident foreigner shall be the same before YHVH; the same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the resident foreigner living among you.’ (Num 15:15-16)

’Assemble the people— men, women and children, and the resident foreigners living in your towns— so that they can listen and learn to revere YHVH your God in awe, and follow carefully all the words of this Torah.’ (Deut 31:12)

Legal difference between Godfearer and Israelite

 

The only difference between a Godfearer and a native born Israelite, is his/her connection to the Land of Israel. The Covenant to give the descendents of Jacob the Land of Israel forever only applies to native born Israelites and full converts. A Godfearer cannot inherit land in Israel, or own land outright in Israel.

In addition, a Godfearer cannot become a leader of Israel:

 

‘……Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite.’ (Deut 17:15b)

A male Godfearer, not being circumcised, cannot eat the Passover offering (the meat eaten with unleavened bread and bitter hearbs), but can attend a seder.

Within the Talmidi community

 

There is no practical difference made between Godfearers and Israelites within the Talmidi community. Godfearers are entitled to the same spiritual and temporal rights and pastoral care as any Israelite. Any Godfearer who wishes to become a meshareit (minister of God and the community) is required to comply fully with Torah anyway, so that his/her Gentile status becomes academic (ie he/she would have to fully convert anyway).

 

The only practical restriction is that a Godfearer cannot participate in decisions that involve the future of Israelites in connection to the Land. Also, because of the principle of not placing a foreigner as leader over Israelites, therefore synagogue leaders, tribal leaders, sect leaders and any prospective Nasi (religious President) would be expected to fully convert.

In communal life, a Godfearer would not be called up to the bimah (podium) to read from Torah, or be involved in spiritual or organisational decisions for the community. However, a Godfearer can assist in the general administrative process of the community. They can also act in an advistory capacity on synagogue boards to represent the interests of other Godfearers.

 

 

Godfearers and their descendents in the Talmidi community

 

If a Godfearer wishes to commit all his/her descendents to spreading the reputation of YHVH, and to representing YHVH’s holiness, then a Godfearer may wish to have any subsequently newborn children born into the Covenant, and raised in the Israelite religion. Such children and their descendents are viewed as native born Israelites.

 

Summary

 

There have always been foreigners resident within the Israelite community. The same law was intended to apply to both resident foreigner and native born Israelite. The only difference is that these geirim retain their Gentile status, and male geirim are not circumcised. For all intents and purposes, Godfearers and native born Israelites are not treated any differently within the Talmidi community.



   
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