Sunday, February 3, 2019

Biblical גר Ger, Stranger is Neither Convert nor Immigrant

One of my pet peeves is interpreting the Bible Tanach according to modern concepts. Pretty soon, as we're getting closer to Purim, I'll probably write reminding everyone that King Achashverosh and Queen Esther's "marriage" wasn't a marriage in the modern sense. They certainly didn't sit over morning coffee together discussing politics, weather and the children. I doubt if they ever had a meal together, but that's for later...

There's a real problem with how people interpret/translate the word גר Ger as it appears in the Bible, for example in the most recent Parshat Shavua, Torah Portion of the Week, Mishpatim, Exodus 21-24.
וְגֵ֖ר לֹ֣א תִלְחָ֑ץ וְאַתֶּ֗ם יְדַעְתֶּם֙ אֶת־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַגֵּ֔ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
Exodus 23:9 You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.
What did the writer of the Bible mean by גר Ger?

First of all, it wasn't a "convert," known today in Hebrew as a גר צדק, righteous ger. Four thousand 4,000 years ago there was no such thing as a formal conversion. The idea that someone "converts" to Judaism is much more recent. Even the iconic "conversion" of Ruth was no more than a statement of identification and oath to live and die according to however her mother-in-law Naomi does. People lived in clans and were expected to adopt the ways/religion/gods of the dominant clan.

A  גר Ger, if modeled on how Yosef and Yaakov's family/clan lived in Egypt, was one of a clan that didn't follow the dominant religion/gods of the society. When Pharaoh invited Yaakov to live in Egypt, he set them up in a "ghetto" of sorts in Goshen. Pharaoh's Egypt wasn't a 20th century American melting pot, which encouraged assimilation into the dominant culture/society.

The  גר Ger wasn't like modern immigrants; they were more nomadic. They followed the money and didn't own land. There was something intrinsically temporary about the life of a  גר Ger.

Think about it, please. I'd like your reactions.

I expect stormy reactions to this post.


Mr. Cohen said...

Batya Medad said:

"What did the writer of the Bible mean by גר Ger?"

my personal response:

Batya Medad, let me start by thanking you very much
for your important and highly-intelligent question.

When we Jews have questions about how to interpret
Biblical [Tanach] verses, we consult our
classic Bible commentaries:

Targum Onkelos, Targum Yonatan, Rashi, Ibn Ezra,
Ramban, Rashbam, Ohr HaChaim, Seforno, Baal HaTurim,
Kli Yakar, Halachic Midrashim (Mechilta, Sifra, Sifrei),
the Zohar, the Mishnah, the Jersalem Talmud,
the Babylonian Talmud, Midrash Tanchuma, Midrash Rabah,
Tanna DeBei Eliyahu, Redak, Rabbeinu Bachya, Mizrachi,
Chatam Sofer, Meshech Chochmah, Metrsudath David,
Yalkut Shimoni, Yalkut Meam Loez, etc.

Batya Medad, you also mentioned that Purim is coming soon.

In response to that remark, please allow me to remind
everyone about an important blog post that I made
about Purim, which is still very relevant:

Refuting the Fans of Vashti:

Batya said...

Thanks. I hope it doesn't bother you that I've added my opinion to all the famous ones.

Anonymous said...

You say, they weren't like modern immigrants. They followed the money and didn't own land.
I would say... this IS like modern immigrants! An immigrant is a person who moves to a new country... because they can. They don't own land, or physical pieces of property tying them to their old land or country. They *might* own land - but it is no longer theirs, for whatever reason. They may be refugees of political or natural disruption. But they are certainly no longer TIED to the land. Abraham bought land for his descendants.... but Jacob's 11 sons and their families could no longer make a living from that land and so they were eager to move to the fertile lands of Egypt, where their brother Joseph gave them protection. So yes... they followed the "money" of sustaining themselves and their families and giving them better opportunities. Just as modern, contemporary immigrants do - they seek better opportunities. Whether as migrant laborers in a safe land away from violence, or as international consultants in a penthouse with paid staff and private jets, immigrants DO follow the money, and I'm ok with that.

Batya said...

Jacob, Joseph and families weren't immigrants in Egypt. They were there until they could return home. Immigrants come to integrate, buy land be part of a new country/culture. You don't seem to understand what you've written.

Anonymous said...

My question:

Did Jacob and the rest of his family that were later 'enslaved' in Egypt, then rescued by God, go back to the same land they left because of the famine?
Or, did God take them to a 'new' land.

for it says that God said to Moses, that God would lead them to a 'land' that that God would show them?

So, how would you explain this... an thank you.


Anonymous said...

Of course, the Jews (Yaakov Avinu & the 70 souls) came down to Egypt for one reason only because of the great famine in the Land of Canaan. They were given the most fertile portion of land in Egypt by Joseph who was the Viceroy of Egypt, 2nd to Pharoah.
Moshe Rabbeinu was going to lead them to the Land of Israel (Canaan)but he could not enter as H' had so decreed. Yehoshua Bin Nun took over the leadership to conquer the Land of Israel, per H's Command. When our forefathers were living in the Land, it was still under the control of the people living there (Canaanites, etc.). When returning they were commanded to conquer the Land from these vile idol worshipers who sacrificed their children to their idols. This was the same Land when H' commanded Avraham Avinu to leave his father's homeland and come up to the Land of Israel (the land then known as Canaan). So, of course, annon, they returned to the same land, the Land of Israel which from hereon literally belonged to the descendants of our Patriarchs & Matriarchs.
In fact, our father, Yitzchak, was not allowed to leave Eretz Yisrael during his whole lifetime.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much Anonymous at 00.20

What i am now trying to understand is, (if i am remembering correctly)-is that Hashem said to Moses-- That Hashem would lead Moses and all the Israelites into a 'New Land'...

If i am correct, (perhaps i am not,then forgive an aged one).. If it was New Land... then it cannot be that old one from where Jacob left... nu?

Whoever you are, Anonymous... thank you and Hashem bless you.

Batya said...

They went back to the same land. The same cities are mentioned again, Hebron, Beersheva etc.

Anonymous said...

Batya just answered your question. anon - New land is said because they were slaves in the Land of Egypt for 210 years and did not know the Land of their forefathers which was promised to them by H' as an eternal inheritance -the whole Land of Israel!

Batya said...

Thanks a 2:28

Anonymous said...

Thank you Anonnymours at 2:28..

You explained it clearly.. Hashem bless you and yours. Amen.

Batya, i thank you too. Hashem bless you and yours. Amen.


Batya said...