Friday, May 18, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 007

Exodus 20:8-11
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant (ebed), nor your female servant (amah), nor your cattle, nor your stranger (ger) who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it."

What Does It Say?

This passage is of course from the Ten Commandments and is the only commandment that deals with foreigners. In short, all who were in the land and attached to an Israeli household were required to keep the Sabbath. This extends not only to ebed (the kinda-sorta slaves) and any foreign nationals staying with an Israeli family, but also to any animals owned by the Israeli household.

Also, bear in mind that the "your"s in this passage are inferred - that is to say, they are added to the text to make it more readable in English. So what we read as:
"you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your ebed, nor your amah, nor your cattle, nor your ger who is within your gates"

Originally reads:
"son, daughter, ebed, amah, cattle, ger gate"
And if you're wondering why I left out "you" from the original, it's because the Hebrew word for "you" (את at, but it depends on gender/number) doesn't appear in the text. It's implies by the context, but Hebrew doesn't require an explicit subject here.

All of that is to say, the text would be ambiguous as to if this is your stranger or not. In my (still limited) opinion, it could refer to any ger in your gates (as we might say, under your roof), whether they are a member of your household. This sheds an interesting light on Jewish customs like the Shabbas Goy, the non-Jew hired to do simple tasks Jews are forbidden to do on the Sabbath.

Now, if you ask three Rabbis what type of work Shabbas Goy are allowed to do you'll get five answers, but in my conversations with observant Jews, Shabbas Goy are used for simple tasks like turning on light switches and so on.

At any rate, we meet our old friends ebed and ger in this passage, but we also find amah. Amah is basically a female version of ebed, a female kinda-sorta slave. For example, Sarah's slave Hagar is called amah in Genesis 21. There is, however, an idea that Israeli women can become amah, for example Exodus 21:7.

Again we see that non-Israelis who are part of an Israeli household are required to live by aspects of the Law, like previous passages requiring circumcision for ebed. This again leans against religious plurality as being sanctioned in Scripture. 

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