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The first five books of the Hebrew Bible, which include; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers are referred to as the “Torah.” The Torah is a series of laws that were given to the Israelites by the supreme God through their leader at the time who was Moses. The laws were meant to guide the Israelites on how to live with each other and with their neighbours. It was essential for the Israelites to follow these laws and there was punishment for anyone who did not follow the laws. The priests who were appointed and ordained by the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the almighty God administered the punishment. These laws still guide the Israelites even in the modern society that has slowly but gradually been neglecting biblical teachings and embracing modernity. The Israelites are considered as God has chosen people, and it was for this reason that God gave them the laws even after being disobedient to his teachings.
Humanitarian and political activists have in the recent years highlighted the issue of injustices that are suffered by the resident aliens in Israel. According to these groups such as “World Vision” and “The Micah Challenge” have been on the spot over the allegations that are being made by them concerning how people are being treated in the Israelite community. They are of the opinion that the laws provided in the Torah are
Subjective and do not coincide with the modern age society. They believe that there should be a change in how the resident aliens are treated to give them rights of speech and movement in and around the Israelite community. The essay below is meant to discuss the provisions of the Torah concerning the lives of the resident aliens and the debate that the western countries have brought up concerning immigration issues.
The Torah provision on resident aliens
When the Israelites were brought out from Egypt, they were promised a land of their own in which they were to live in for the remainder of their lives. It took them 40 years to get to their promised land, which was Canaan. In their waiting to enter the land of Canaan, they were given laws that were to guide their stay in their promised land, and that was also to help them in defining how to live with their neighbours. The land of Canaan was however not an empty place but had its people living in the place.1 The Israelites had to get them out and conquer their land before they could settle in Canaan. It is for this reason that the Israelites found themselves living with aliens in their land. Some people did not want to fight and had nowhere to go, so they decided to have an agreement with the Israelites to allow them to live in their midst.
As they continued to conquer their enemies who were occupying the land of Canaan, they saw the need to have rules to guide them on how to live with the aliens. The priests also saw a need for the rules to be available with the help of the almighty to ensure that the Israelites did not sin in the way they interacted with the strangers in their midst. That is why the Israelites were called together and told how they were to live in peace with their neighbours who were not Israelites. In spite of the good intentions of the laws, there was still a feeling that the aliens were undermined and that they were given inferior rights compared to the Israelites. It is for this reason that the western countries have been bringing up the issue of immigration rights and the Israelite laws on the same.
There were two categories of strangers in ancient Israel. These were those who were there temporarily and were still in connection with their motherland who was referred to a sari. They were mainly present in Israel to do business and where to stay for a short period before they left for their original countries. The laws that were governing Israel at the time did not apply to them because they were not members of the Israelite community. The other category of aliens were the resident aliens. These were the people who were not originally Israeli but lived among the Israel communities. All the laws that governed the people of Israel applied to them because they were part of the society.
Foreigners were not allowed to ascend to power in Israel despite the fact that they were allowed to worship the God of the Israelites. Solomon made a prayer to God for him to listen to the prayers of the strangers in Israel. Despite the fact that they were not bound by some of the laws of the land especially those that were touching on the way the Israelites worshipped. All the foreigners who had decided that they wanted to follow the way of worship of Israelites were required to be circumcised according to the laws of Israel, and these were the only way for them to worship the god of Israel.
According to Deuteronomy, the Israelites were allowed to charge usury to the foreigners in their land. They were however not allowed to do the same to their fellow Israelites. Usury is the act of lending money at unusually high rates, and this was something that was happening in Israel. The laws in Deuteronomy also did not allow for the pardoning of debts owed by strangers even though it was allowed for the Israelites to forgive each other of their debts. There was a law that provided for a period when people could be forgiven of their debts. These were laws that were applied to the nonresident strangers.
The resident strangers were however treated like guests despite the fact that they did not enjoy the same privileges that were enjoyed by the Israelites. They were somehow protected from some of the exploitations that were happening to the nonresident strangers. The expectation from them was that they should follow the laws of Israel and be loyal to the Israelite community because these were their protectors.
The gerims, who were the resident aliens in Israel, were mostly the people who escaped death during the takeover of the land of Canaan and were not turned to total slaves according to the provisions of some of the laws in Israel. There were those resident aliens who came to Israel to seek refuge due to droughts and even unrest in their original countries. They, however, made the decision to stay in Israel for one reason or another. The Israelites were also at some point gerims when they lived in Egypt, and they knew how it felt to be a foreigner in a land in which one was not welcomed. Tre the fact that they understood this made it a bit easier for the gerims in their midst.
The property laws were that all the land in Israel belonged to the Israelites and the gerims were not allowed to own land. They were mostly inferior citizens who had the menial jobs in the community. They mainly worked as artisans and laborers. It is for this reason that the majority of them were poor and were only allowed to feed on the leftovers and the fallen fruits from the vineyards. They were also allowed a share of the tithe after a particular period. Very few of the gerims managed to acquire wealth in the Israelite community.
God is always there to defend the weak, and it is for this reason that the Israelites were always reminded of how they were brought out from Egypt in case they wanted to take advantage of the vulnerability and the defenselessness of the gerim. The laws in Israel were supposed to be applied equally to both the natives and the foreigners. The aim of this was to ensure that the Israelites do not mistreat or even blackmail the foreigners into being punished for the crimes they did not commit. The safe towns that were set aside for people to seek refuge in case of an accidental homicide were also opened to the foreigners, and the laws and penalties for crimes committed in the land of Israel were same for everybody. “For the Lord, your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the stranger residing among you, giving them food and clothing. You are to love those who are strangers, for you yourselves were strangers in Egypt”. (Deut 10:17-19) The Israelites were encouraged to be friendly to their neighbours and foreigners to help maintain peace and help the foreigners feel welcomed unlike how the Israelites felt when they were in Egypt.
Unlike the zerims who were not bound by the laws of the land, the gerims were with time assimilated into the Israelite culture. They were required to observe the Sabbath just like the Israelites and also participate in religious ritual practices such as fasting and observing the food taboos. They were allowed to offer sacrifices as long as they were circumcised and this made them feel more welcomed in the society. Both the Israelites and the foreigners were expected to be loyal to YHWH.
Social differences were still very evident in Israel. Some people were treated better than others were, and this was witnessed in the fact that the Ammonites and the Moabites were not to be accepted and assimilated into the Israel community even to the tenth generation. However, the Egyptians and the Edomites could be admitted in their third generation. The differences are seen especially where a stranger has a Hebrew slave, the slave can be redeemed immediately or can serve until the jubilee year when they are set free. The contrast in this is the fact that a slave belonging to the Israelite had no chance of redemption and was supposed to serve until the jubilee year. A Hebrew could work for an Israelite as a bound or hired laborer but only work as a hired laborer to a stranger. The strangers were constantly reminded of the fact that they were in the land that belonged to the Israelites.
Because there were Israelites who were poor and destitute and there were also strangers who were able to acquire wealth and land and it possible for assimilations to take place. The issue of intermarriages started taking place because the only prohibited intermarriages were between the Israelites and the aboriginals who were the Palestine’s. The Palestine’s were regarded as unclean people because of their idol worship, and it was for this reason that they were not allowed to intermarry with the latter. It was a belief that if the marriages took place, then they would easily convince the Israelites to worship their idols and forget their God. The religious assimilations also took place, and many foreigners were allowed to worship the God of Israel.
We can do it today.
Western Debate on Immigration about The Torah
In the war that lasted six days in 1967, Israel conquered West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. These were lands that were originally belonging to the Palestine’s. In spite of rightfully defeating them in the battle and being allowed to occupy the land, the Israelites in their good will have been willing to give back the land and even the livestock that they took at the time. The mediation talks that are going on that are led by the American mediation peace talks. The reason for their willingness is the fact that they are advocating for peace with their neighbours who have witnessed years of unrest.
Despite the fact that the Palestinians are the enemies of the Israelites and have met them on the battlefield several times since their occupation of Canaan, the Israelites are still willing to have a peace treaty with them and have been trying to ensure that they have a good peaceful relationship with each other as neighbours. This is despite the fact that the Palestinians are adamant in their quest and their ideas against Israel.
According to the fact that Christianity is one of the biggest religions in the world. It is clear to see that many people who are discussing the immigration issues are trying to incorporate the teachings and laws of the Torah in bringing sanity in the immigration debate. There have been cases of mistreatment of immigrants to the point of being left to die, and it is for this reason that the debate has been raging on how immigrants should be treated. The fact that some countries have closed their borders to immigrants has been a cause of concern over how much the world has forgotten how to treat each other and the fact that there is lack of empathy for resident aliens in many countries.
The issue of illegal immigration has been a problem for many western countries. There has been an influx in the cases of illegal immigrants being found in different countries. There have been cartels who are benefitting from trafficking the illegal immigrants into the different countries. It is for this reason that questions have been asked on where the Torah laws should be applied whether the illegal immigrants should also be given the same privileges as those written in the Torah over the treatment of the resident aliens.
The fact that the illegal immigrants have broken the law of the land makes it clear that they cannot be rewarded for their misdeeds because of even the Torah advocates for the punishment of the sinners. There are questions of what should be done to the illegal immigrants who decide to turn themselves in and whether they should be deported even though they have been able to abide by the laws of the countries in which they live in. The other topic of discussion is what should be done to children who are helped to cross the borders by their parents and are therefore not directly liable for the crime that was committed.
Most of the time when immigrants move to a certain country, their main aim is to find peace and greener pastures. It is for this reason that the Torah advocates for the foreigners to be able to have the best interest of the country at heart. “Also seek peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to God for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”. The statement is meant to encourage the aliens always to be loyal to their country of refuge. The western debate is that there have been cases of immigrants who are the source of destruction and insecurity in the countries in which they have been assimilated.
Just like any other citizen in your country, the foreigners are supposed to be treated fairly. The justice system should not be biased in the way they offer the judgments to the people who are not natives of the countries. It is because the foreigners also have something to offer in the growth of the community and the economy. The Torah provides for equal rights for both natives and residents, and this is what should be emulated to ensure that there is peaceful coexistence between people and their neighbours. The fact that the first person who can come to your rescue in case of an emergency should be reason enough for there to be a good relationship between neighbours even if the latter is a foreigner. Countries should have the best policies in place to guide on how the foreigners are treated and received in the particular borders.
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- Jones, Clive A. Soviet Jewish Aliyah, 1989-92: Impact and Implications for Israel and the Middle East. Routledge, 2013.
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