SOJOURNERS


   A Jewish convert is called in Hebrew "GER".  However, in the Torah the meaning of this Hebrew word is different.  It is a sojourner or a temporary dweller, but not a convert.  When Jacob and his family came to Egypt because of the famine in their native land, they told Pharaoh: "we have come to sojourn ..." -- "LaGOOR" in Hebrew (Genesis 47:4).  Indeed, in many occasions in the Torah we are reminded that we were sojourners ("GERIM") in Egypt, and, of course, nobody understands that we were converts there.  So the word "GER", which means a convert in later Jewish writings, has a different meaning in the Torah -- a non-Jew who is residing with us.
   The sages of the Mishna, who have used the word "GER" to mean a convert, introduced a distinction between a convert ("GER") and a person who lives amongst the Jewish people but has not converted to Judaism ("GER TOSHAV").  So, in truth, the latter is what the Torah refers to as "GER" -- a sojourner.
   How are we commanded to treat and accept these people into our Jewish community?  The Torah, in Numbers 15:1-16, discusses the manner of a voluntary worship (or voluntary offering) by people who wish to express their gratitude to G-d.  At the end of the paragraph the Torah says: "And when a sojourner sojourns with you ... and will offer an offering to G-d; as you do so shall he do.  The congregation, one ordinance shall be both for you and for the sojourner that sojourns with you ... as you are so shall the sojourner be before G-d. One Torah and one judgment shall be for you and for the "GER" that sojourns with you".  A clear answer to the question, in the simple words of our Torah.

 
Judah Ari-Gur

 

For additional columns: http://homepages.wmich.edu/~arigurj/Column_list.htm