By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, May 21, 2009

Ruth, whose story we read next week on Shavuot, is the prototypical convert to Judaism. The rabbis use her pledge (Ruth 1:16-17) to follow Naomi as the proof-text for many of the laws of conversion. A male convert is called a ger; a female convert is called a giyoret.

On Shavuot, we stood before Mt Sinai as gerim from a life of slavery to freedom in the light of Torah.

The biblical word ger means stranger, temporary resident, or resident alien. When the Torah teaches us to be compassionate toward the ger, it is referring to non-Israelites who have renounced idolatry and accepted the seven Noahide laws. They are welcome as neighbours.Jews must be sensitive to the situation of the stranger, who is so easily marginalised.

When Abraham sought to bury Sarah, he appealed to the Hittites, who then dominated the land near Hebron. He said to them, “I am a ger and a resident among you.” Rashi reads this verse as Abraham’s admission of complete vulnerability before the Hittites. He left it to them to decide whether they saw him as a ger — an outsider — or as a resident.

Last updated: 2:33pm, May 21 2009