Issurei Biah - Chapter Thirteen
Israel entered the covenant [with God] with three acts: circumcision, immersion, and offering a sacrifice.
Circumcision took place in Egypt, [before the Paschal sacrifice, of which Exodus 12:48] says: "No uncircumcised person shall partake of it." Moses our teacher circumcised [the people]. For with the exception of the tribe of Levi, the entire [people] neglected the covenant of circumcision in Egypt. Regarding this, [Deuteronomy 33:9 praises the Levites,] saying: "They upheld Your covenant."
Immersion was performed in the desert before the Giving of the Torah, as [Exodus 19:10] states: "Sanctify them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their garments." Sacrifices [were also offered then], as [ibid. 24:5] states: "And he sent out the youth of the children of Israel and they brought burnt offerings." They offered them as agents of the entire Jewish people.
Similarly, for [all] future generations, when a gentile desires to enter into the covenant, take shelter under the wings of the Divine presence, and accept the yoke of the Torah, he must undergo circumcision, immersion, and the offering of a sacrifice. A woman [who converts] must undergo immersion and bring a sacrifice, as [Numbers 15:15] states: "As it is for you, so shall it be for the convert." Just as you [entered the covenant] with circumcision, immersion, and the offering of a sacrifice; so, too, for future generations, a convert must undergo circumcision, immersion, and must bring a sacrifice.
What is the sacrifice that a convert [is required to bring]? A burnt offering of an animal or two turtle-doves or two fledging doves. Both of [the doves] must be brought as burnt offerings. In the present age, when there are no sacrifices, [a convert] must undergo circumcision and immersion. When the Temple is rebuilt, he must bring a sacrifice.
When a convert is circumcised, but does not immerse himself, or immerses himself, but was not circumcised, he is not considered a convert until he perform both of these activities. He must immerse himself in the presence of three men. Since a court is required, he may not immerse on the Sabbath or on festivals, or during the night. If, however, they had him immerse [at night], he is a convert.
We immerse a minor who seeks to convert based upon the guidance of the court. For it is an advantage for a person [to convert]. When a pregnant woman converts and immerses herself, her child does not require immersion.
When [a convert] immerses himself alone and converts alone - or even if he does this in the presence of two persons - his conversion is not valid. If he comes and says: "I converted in the court of so-and-so and they had me immerse," his word is not accepted with regard to license to marry among the Jewish people unless he brings witnesses [who testify to the truth of his statements].
[The following rules apply if] he was married to a native-born Jewess or a convert and he already fathered children. If he says: "I converted alone," his word is accepted with regard to the disqualification of his self, but not with regard to the disqualification of his children. He must immerse himself again in the presence of a court.
[The following laws apply with regard to] a female convert who we see conduct herself according to the ways of Israel at all times, for example, she immerses herself after being a niddah, she separates terumah from dough, or the like, and to a male convert who follows the paths of Israel, for example, he immerses himself after a seminal emission, and performs all the mitzvot. These are considered as righteous converts even though there are no witnesses to testify before whom they converted. Nevertheless, if they come to marry among the Jewish people, we do not allow them unless they bring witnesses or they immerse themselves in our presence. The rationale is that their identity was originally established as gentiles.
If, however, a person comes and says that he was a gentile, but that he was converted by a court, his word is accepted. [The rationale is that] the mouth that forbade him was the same that permitted him.
When does the above apply? In Eretz Yisrael in the Talmudic era. For [at that time,] all the people there could be assumed to be Jewish. In the Diaspora, however, he must bring proof of his conversion. [Only] afterwards may he marry a Jewess. I say that this is an additional stringency adopted to protect the purity of our lineage.
Just as we circumcise and immerse converts; so, too, we circumcise and immerse servants which are acquired from the gentiles for the sake of servitude.
When a person acquires a servant from the gentiles and the gentile takes the initiative and immerses with the intent of becoming a free man, he acquires his own person, provided he says while immersing: "Behold I am immersing before you for the sake of conversion." If he immerses himself in the presence of his master, he does not have to make an explicit statement. Instead, since he immersed himself, he attains his freedom.
For this reason, [when having the servant immerse,] the master must push him into the water until he arises at which time he is in his servitude. He must tell him that he is having him immerse for the sake of servitude in the presence of the judges. A servant must also immerse only in the presence of three judges and during the day as a convert, for it is a partial conversion.
When a servant is freed, he must immerse himself a second timein the presence of three men during the day, for through this act, his conversion is completed and [his status] becomes that of a Jew. It is not necessary for him to accept the mitzvot and [for the judges] to inform him of the fundamentals of the faith, for they already informed him when he immersed himself for the sake of servitude.
Converts, servants, and freed servants must be immersed in a mikveh that is acceptable for a niddah to immerse in. All of the substances that [disqualify her immersion because] they intervene [between the water and her flesh] disqualify the immersions, of converts, servants, and freed servants.
One should not think that Samson who saved the Jewish people, and Solomon King of Israel, who is called "the friend of God," married gentile woman who did not convert. Instead, the matter can be explained as follows: The proper way of performing the mitzvah is when a male or a female prospective convert comes, we inspect his motives for conversion. Perhaps he is coming for the sake of financial gain, in order to receive a position of authority, or he desires to enter our faith because of fear. For a man, we check whether he focused his attention on a Jewish woman. For a woman, we check whether she focused her attention on a Jewish youth.
If we find no ulterior motive, we inform them of the heaviness of the yoke of the Torah and the difficulty the common people have in observing it so that they will abandon [their desire]. If they accept [this introduction] and do not abandon their resolve and thus we see that they are motivated by love, we accept them, as [indicated by Ruth 1:18]: "And she saw that she was exerting herself to continue with her and she ceased speaking with her."
For this reason, the court did not accept converts throughout the reign of David and Solomon. In David's time, [they feared] that they sought to convert because of fear and in Solomon's time, [they feared] that they were motivated by the sovereignty, prosperity, and eminence which Israel enjoyed. [They refrained from accepting such converts, because] a gentile who seeks to convert because of the vanities of this [material] world is not a righteous convert.
Nevertheless, there were many people who converted in the presence of ordinary people during the era of David and Solomon. The Supreme Sanhedrin would view them with skepticism. Since they immersed themselves, they would not reject them, but they would not draw them close until they saw what the outcome would be.
Solomon converted women and married them and similarly, Samson converted [women] and married [them]. It is well known that they converted only because of an ulterior motive and that their conversion was not under the guidance of the court. Hence the Tanach considered it as if they were gentiles and remained forbidden. Moreover, their conduct ultimately revealed their initial intent. For they would worship their false deities and build platforms for them. Therefore the Scriptures considered it as if [Solomon] built them, as [I Kings 11:7] states: "And then, Solomon built a platform."
When a court did not check a [potential] converts background and did not inform him of the mitzvot and the punishment for [the failure to observe] the mitzvot and he circumcised himself and immersed in the presence of three ordinary people, he is a convert. Even if it is discovered that he converted for an ulterior motive, since he circumcised himself and converted, he has departed from the category of gentiles and we view him with skepticism until his righteousness is revealed.
Even if afterwards, [the convert] worships false deities, he is like an apostate Jew. [If he] consecrates [a woman,] the consecration is valid, and it is a mitzvah to return his lost object. For since he immersed himself he became a Jew. For this reason,Samson and Solomon maintained their wives even though their inner feelings were revealed.
For this reason, our Sages said: "Converts are as difficult for the Jewish people to bear as a leprous blemish." For most converts revert for some reason or other and cause Jews to stray. It is difficult to separate from them once they have converted. Look at what happened in the desert at the worship of the Golden Calf and Kivrot HaTa'avah. Similarly, most of [the complaints in the instances when] our people tried God were instigated by the mixed multitude.
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