The ger toshav (pl. geirei toshavim), according to the Torah, is a Gentile who is a “resident alien”, that is, one who lived in the ancient kingdoms of Israel under certain protections of the system, considered a righteous Gentile.
“A ger toshav, or settler convert, also called a ger ha-sha’ar (or proselyte of the gate, as in Exodus 20:10),”
…but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord, your God; you shall perform no labor, neither you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, your beast, nor your stranger who is in your cities.
A ger toshav “…was a resident alien given permission to live in land controlled by Jews if he or she did not worship other gods or engage in idolatry of any kind or blaspheme God. The ger toshav agreed in the presence of three scholars to follow these Jewish principles. In addition, a ger toshav had to observe the Noahide laws. The ger toshav did not have to perform work on the Sabbath, but was not required to join in worship or perform specifically Jewish religious commandments. Maimonides called them righteous gentiles. They were clearly not full converts to Judaism.”
There are two kinds of gerei toshavim. A formal one is a Gentile who has made certain legal statements in a bet din (Jewish rabbinical court). There are three opinions (Avodah Zarah 64b) as to what those statements promise:
1. To abstain from idolatrous practices.
1. Do not entertain the thought that there exists a deity except Hashem. (Exodus 20:3)
2. Do not make any graven image. (Exodus 20:4)
3. Do not make idols for use by others. (Exodus 20:4)
4. Do not make any forbidden statues. (Exodus 20:20)
5. Do not bow to any idol. (Exodus 20:5)
6. Do not worship idols in any of their customary manners of worship. (Exodus 20:5)
7. Do not cause your children to pass [through the fire] in the worship of Molech. (Leviticus 18:21)
8. Do not practice sorcery. (Leviticus 19:26)
9. Do not practice fortune-telling. (Leviticus 19:31)
10. Do not turn to idolatry. (Leviticus 19:4)
2. To uphold the seven Noahide Laws:
1. Prohibition of Idolatry
2. Prohibition of Blasphemy
3. Prohibition of Theft
4. Prohibition of Murder
5. Prohibition of Sexual Misconduct
6. Prohibition of Eating Live Meat
7. Prohibition of Failing to Establish Courts of Justice
3. To uphold all the 613 mitzvot, except for the prohibition against eating neveilos (kosher animals that died by means other than ritual slaughter).
“The Gemara cites an argument between Rebbi Meir and Rebbi Yehudah in order to demonstrate the source for Rebbi Avahu’s principle. Rebbi Meir says that any type of benefit may be derived from a Neveilah (that is, it may even be sold in exchange for money, as well as given to a Ger Toshav (who does not worship idols) or to a Nochri (who does worship idols)). The verse that permits one to derive benefit from a Neveilah is unnecessary (because we would have known, without a verse, that one may derive benefit from Neveilah, since no verse forbids it). The Gemara explains that according to Rebbi Avahu, the verse teaches that one is permitted to have benefit only from Neveilah, but not from any other item which is forbidden to be eaten.”
The definition used by all authorities is the second. In all cases, the statement is a formal sign that the Gentile is on a righteous path, and as such, they must by law receive certain legal protections and special charity/financial aid from the community.
The second kind of gerei toshavim is an informal one, namely someone who has not sworn anything to a bet din (Avodah Zarah 65a). In this case, they are not formally entitled to financial aid by law, but the attitude of a religious Jew to someone who has forgone idolatry is supposed to be much more welcoming (from the perspective of Jewish law) than to someone who has not. Furthermore, the restrictions that pertain to an idolater (in terms of business and doing things that might be aiding idol worship) are forgone.
In Rambam‘s Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 14:7 the following question is asked: “What is meant by a Ger Toshav (resident alien)? A Ger Toshav is a gentile who makes a commitment not to worship false deities and to observe the other six universal laws commanded to Noach’s descendants. He does not circumcise himself nor immerse. We accept this commitment and he is considered one of the pious gentiles. Why is he called a resident? Because he is permitted to dwell among us in the land of Israel.”
In Rambam‘s Hilchot Melachim 8:10 we learn “Moses was commanded by the Almighty to compel all the inhabitants of the world to accept the laws given Noah’s descendants. If one does not accept these laws, he should be executed. A person who formally accepts these laws is called a resident alien (Ger Toshav). This applies in any place. This acceptance must be made in the presence of three Torah scholars.”
In Rambam‘s Hilchot Melachim 8:11 we learn that “anyone who accepts upon himself the fulfillment of these Seven Mitzvot and is precise in their observance is considered one of the Pious among the Gentiles (ChasideiUmot HaOlam). They will merit a share in the World to Come. This applies only when one accepts these mitzvot and fulfills them because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah and informed us through Moshe, our teacher.
Previously, Noach’s descendants were commanded to fulfill these mitzvot. However, if a person fulfills these mitzvot out of intellectual conviction, they are not considered a Ger Toshav, resident alien, nor of the Pious among the Gentiles. They are simply considered wise.”
In Rambam‘s Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 14:8 we learn that “we accept resident aliens only during the era when the Jubilee year is observed. In the present era, even if a gentile makes a commitment to observe the entire Torah with the exception of one minor point, he is not accepted.”
In Rambam‘s Hilchot Avodat Cochavim 10:6 we learn “The laws concerning the sale of property and support of the poor, et cetera, mentioned in this chapter apply only when the Jews are exiled amongst the nations, or when they are attacking the Jews, but when we are attacking them it is forbidden to have them in our midst. Concerning temporary residence or moving from one rented house to another; we may not allow a gentile into our land unless he has accepted upon himself the Seven Commandments of the Sons of Noah, for it is written, „They shall not dwell in your land‟, even for a single hour. If a gentile accepted upon himself the Seven Commandments then he is classed as a settling stranger. Settling strangers are accepted only at a time when the Jubilee is observed, but a righteous stranger, i.e. a convert, is accepted at all times.”
“Ger Toshav.” wikipedia.org. Wikipedia, n.d.
Epstein, Lawrence. Conversion History: Talmudic Period. My Jewish Learning, n.d.
“Insights into the Daily Daf: Pesachim.” dafyomi.co.il. Dafyomi Advancement Forum, n.d.
“The Seven Universal Mitzvot” toratreva.org. Torat Reva Yerushalayim, n.d. (old link)
“Ger Toshav.” noahide.net. Noahide.Net, n.d.
ben Maimon, Moshe. Mishneh Torah: Issurei Biah. Chabad, n.d.