Entering the Congregation of Israel

Over the years, I have entered into many a debate about gerim and their admittance into the people of Israel; there have been many theories promoted for and against this concept. I have studied countless hours the ideas, concepts, and meaning of ger, toshav, ezrah, etc. I have come to the conclusion that there is no such concept of conversion- at least not from the point of view of Torah.

Conversion, as a religious concept of adoption of a creed, does not exist in Tenakh. The word conversion came from the Latin convertere [to change direction]. In the original sense of the word, it would be close to the Hebrew teshuvah [תְּשׁוּבָה to return] which is understood by the modern term repentance- itself derived from the Latin paeniteo [to feel sorry]. Since Torah was given to Israel, the only people required to perform teshuvah are Israelites; teshuvah is performed by returning to keeping Torah as is explained by the Psalmist:

תֹּ֘ורַ֤ת יְהוָ֣ה תְּ֭מִימָה מְשִׁ֣יבַת נָ֑פֶשׁ

YHWH’s Torah is perfect, causing a person to return. Psalm 19:8

“Repentance” is caused by learning and understanding Torah. According to the Hebrew Text and understanding, a person can only make teshuvah who had once kept the Torah- this means conversion- to change direction- is not a concept for a person seeking to adopt the Torah.

The non-Israelite who wished to adopt the Torah and become part of the people of Israel must join the people of Israel; this is accomplished by adopting the Torah and attaching themselves to the people of Israel and dwelling among them- the literal understanding of the clause הגרים הגרים בתוככם HaGerim HaGarim betokhekhem [the residents dwelling among you]. The ger became part of the Israelite society in upholding the Torah and serving YHWH- the ger never became the physical descendant of Israel, but a resident among them. A great example of how gerim became part of the Israelite society can be understood by such men as Uriyah the Hittite. Uriyah was a believer in YHWH- as demonstrated by his name Uriyah which meant YHWH is my Light. Although he was a part of the Israelite social structure, he was always known to be a Hittite. There is no record of any ger being called or considered an Israelite.

There is no official process for a ger to “join” the people of Israel; there are, however, a few passages which explained how a ger may partake in the sacred services- such a pesach [Exodus 12:48]. These scattered passages explained that the gerim, which left Egypt with Israel, entered into an oath alongside the Israelites at Sinai- to serve YHWH as the only deity and keep the Torah as delivered to Moshe.

These are the words of the covenant, which YHWH commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.

You are standing today, all of you, before YHWH your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and your gerim that is in your camp, from the cutter of your wood to the drawer of your water; so that you should enter [le’ovrekha- literally, for your passing over] into covenant [בְּרִית berith] with YHWH your God, and into His oath [אָלָה alah], which YHWH your God makes you today; that He may establish you today as a people to Himself, and that He may be a God to you, as He has said to you, and as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Nor do I make this covenant and this oath with you only, but with him standing here with us today before YHWH our God, and also with him that is not here with us today.

Deuteronomy 29:1, 10-15

When Israel left Egypt, a mixed multitude made aliyah with them:

וְגַמ־עֵ֥רֶב רַ֖ב עָלָ֣ה אִתָּ֑ם וְצֹ֣אן וּבָקָ֔ר מִקְנֶ֖ה כָּבֵ֥ד מְאֹֽד׃

And a mixed multitude also went up [עָלָה ‘alah- made aliyah] with them; as well as flocks and herds- an exceeding great possession. Exodus 12:38

The mixed multitude [עֵרֶב רַב erev rav] in this verse is speaking of the mixed marriages between the Israelites and the Egyptians, Cana’anites, etc. The only other place that this term is used- in a similar context- is in Nehemiah 13:3; in that context, it concerned the mixed marriages between the Israelites and the foreign nations when they returned from the Babylonian captivity:

And it happened when they had heard the Law, they separated all the mixed [עֵרֶב erev] from Israel.

This last verse leads into another part of my study- entering into the Congregation of YHWH. The clause Qehal YHWH is used only 10 times in 8 verses of the Tenakh [Numbers 16:3; 20:4; Deuteronomy 23:2, 3, 4, 9; Micah 2:5; 1 Chronicles 28:8]- in each case, the clause qehal YHWH is equivalent with all of Israel. For instance, in the second place that the phrase is used

And why have you brought up the congregation of YHWH [קְהַל יְהוָֹה qehal YHWH] into this wilderness, so that we and our cattle should die there? Numbers 20:4

The last place it was used in Tenakh

And now in the sight of all Israel, the congregation of YHWH [qehal YHWH], and in the hearing of our God, keep and seek for all the commandments of YHWH your God, so that you may possess this good land and leave it for an inheritance for your sons after you forever. 1 Chronicles 28:8

According to Torah, a man wounded in the testicles or having his penis cut off is not allowed to enter into the qehal YHWH; a mamzer may not enter into the qehal YHWH; an Ammonite or Moabite may not enter into the qehal YHWH. The question arises, what does entering into the qehal YHWH constitute?

According to Nehemiah 13, people entered the congregation of YHWH through intermarriage with Israelites and having children with them.

Speaking of same passages in Torah:

On that day they read in the book of Moses in the ears of the people. And in it was found written that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God [qehal HaElohim] forever, because they did not meet the sons of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them so that he should curse them. But our God turned the curse into a blessing. And it happened when they had heard the Torah, they separated all the mixed from Israel.  Nehemiah 13:1-3

Although Torah did not stipulate how and when a ger might enter into marriages with Israel, it did stipulate that an Edomite and an Egyptian may only enter into the qehal YHWH in the third generation- that is, the great-grandchildren of the ger may enter.

You shall not despise an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not despise an Egyptian because you were a stranger in his land. The sons that are born [בָּנִים אֲשֶׁר־יִוָּלְדוּ לָהֶם banim asher-yiwwaledu lahem] to them shall enter into the congregation of YHWH in their third generation. Deuteronomy 23:8-9

That this could be a general rule applied to all gerim can be understood by the apportioning of inheritance as defined by Ezekiel

And you shall divide this land for yourselves by the tribes of Israel. And it will be, you shall make it fall by lot for an inheritance to yourselves, and to the gerim residing among you, who shall beget children among you. And they shall be to you as native-born among the sons of Israel. They shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. Ezekiel 47:21-22

The clause “who shall beget children among you” is written, in Hebrew  אשׁר־הולדו בנים בתוככם. The verb הולדו is written as a hophal, but it is vocalized as a hiphil. As a hiphil, it would be written properly as הוֹלִידוּ. It could be a hiphil written defectively but it could also be a hophal incorrectly vocalized. If the latter is correct and the verb is a hophal, it would mirror the verse in Deuteronomy 23:9 as the niphal yiwwaledu was used; the difference being that the niphal is a simple passive while the hophal is a causative passive.

This would indicate that the ger did not immediately marry into the people of Israel- aside from those who stood at Sinai. Although a ger may live alongside the Israelites and participate in the ritual life of the Israelites, the ger would not become an immediate member of the people of Israel; on the contrary, it was the children third generation which would become a member of the qehal YHWH. This, upon reflection, makes sense. It would be after the third generation before anyone would become eligible for an inheritance- as this gives the ger, his son, and grandson time to become integrated into Israelite society.

Intermarriage, according to the Tenakh, was accomplished by taking the women of foreigners; this was how marriage alliances were made. In the first instance recorded, in conjunction with marriage alliances, it was explained that by exchanging daughters, the two people would become one.

And make ye marriages [וְהִֽתְחַתְּנ֖ו] with us and give your daughters unto us and take our daughters unto you. Genesis 34:9

The point of this type of arrangement is to preserve the paternal lineage- thus keeping the various people pure. The alliance would become a strong pact because the women produced offspring with ties to both peoples- while retaining the paternal identity of the people into which he/she was born.

The Torah forbade such intermarriages with the people of Cana’an- the people of the land which the Israelites were to dispossess and inherit.

neither shalt thou make marriages [תִתְחַתֵּן] with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. Deuteronomy 7:3

It was this intermarriage which was the root of the problem that Nehemiah and Ezra faced when the Judeans returned from exile.

should we again break thy commandments and join in marriage [וּלְהִתְחַתֵּן] with the people of these abominations? Would thou not be angry with us until thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escape? Ezra 9:14

It was these sort of marriage alliances- intended to strengthen the people- which YHWH warned would be snares to the people.

Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and make marriages [וְהִתְחַתַּנְתֶּם] with them, and go in unto them, and they to you; know for a certainty that the LORD your God will no more drive these nations from out of your sight; but they shall be a snare and a trap unto you, and a scourge in your sides, and pricks in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you. Joshua 23:12-13

This was, ultimately, the downfall of King Solomon which Ezra and Nehemiah wished to avoid

And Solomon made a marriage [וַיִּתְחַתֵּן] with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh’s daughter, and brought her into the city of David, until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the LORD, and the wall of Jerusalem round about. 1Kings 3:1

Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, and he was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless even him did the foreign women cause to sin. Nehemiah 13:26

It was for this reason, that only the children of the 3rd generation of gerim- those who had lived among Israel until their 3rd generation- were allowed to enter into the congregation of YHWH through intermarriage; even then, it was only the women of the gerim who would be taken to the children of Israel and thus preserve the paternal lines. The male gerim would always remain gerim- being called after their various nationalities. The female gerim, likewise would always remain gerim- case in point if Ruth who remained a Moabite. However, the children of these women who were born to Israelite men were Israelites.