Israel entered the covenant [with God]1 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.2 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,3 he must undergo circumcision,4 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.5 In the present age, when there are no sacrifices,6 [a convert] must undergo circumcision and immersion.7 When the Temple is rebuilt, he must bring a sacrifice.8
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.9 Since a court is required, he may not immerse on the Sabbath or on festivals, or during the night.10 If, however, they had him immerse [at night], he is a convert.11
We immerse a minor who seeks to convert based upon the guidance of the court.12 For it is an advantage for a person [to convert].13 When a pregnant woman converts and immerses herself, her child does not require immersion.14
When [a convert] immerses himself alone and converts alone - or even if he does this in the presence of two persons15 - his conversion is not valid.16 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 people17 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,18 but not with regard to the disqualification of his children.19 He must immerse himself again in the presence of a court.20
[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,21 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.22
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.23 [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.24
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,25 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.26 Instead, since he immersed himself, he attains his freedom.27
For this reason, [when having the servant immerse,] the master must push him into the water28 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 time29in the presence of three men during the day,30 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.31
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.32
One should not think that Samson who saved the Jewish people, and Solomon King of Israel, who is called "the friend of God,"33 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,34 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].35 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."36
For this reason,37 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 people38 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.39
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 Tanach40 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 mitzvot41 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,42 and it is a mitzvah to return his lost object.43 For since he immersed himself he became a Jew. For this reason,44Samson and Solomon maintained their wives even though their inner feelings45 were revealed.
For this reason, our Sages said:46 "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.47 Similarly, most of [the complaints in the instances when] our people tried God were instigated by the mixed multitude.
Tosafot, Keritot 9a, refer to this as the covenant which separated the Jews from the other nations. The Rambam is emphasizing that all of these acts where performed in preparation for the Giving of the Torah when the covenant took effect.
Implied is that together with these ritual acts, the gentile must also accept the yoke of Jewish observance. As Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 268:3) emphasizes this is a fundamental element of the conversion process.
The Rambam mentions the two acts in the desired order: circumcision and then, immersion. Nevertheless, if a convert immerses before circumcision, there is a difference of opinion among the later Rabbis if the immersion is acceptable or not [Rama (Yoreh De'ah 268:1)]. Hence he should immerse again because of the doubt (Siftei Cohen 268:2).
Yevamot 46a quotes an opinion which requires the convert to actually set aside the money. The Talmud's conclusion, however, is that it would be undesirable to do so, lest the funds be used for other purposes which is a transgression.
It must be emphasized that even before the convert brings a sacrifice, he is considered as a full-fledged member of the Jewish people.
Numbers 15:16 states: "There will be one judgment for you and the convert." Since the verse uses the term judgment, Yevamot 46b states that like in a judgment, three judges are necessary.
There are opinions that emphasize that this is merely an asmachta, a Rabbinic ruling that uses a Biblical verse as a support. Kin'at Eliyahuexplains the rationale for this view. Were the concept to have its source in Scriptural Law, judges possessing semichah, the unique ordination that ceased in the Talmudic era, would be required and thus it would be impossible to accept converts in the present age.
For a court does not hold sessions at these times. Another reason why the immersion should not be performed at this time is that it amends the person's state, and that is not permitted on the Sabbath. Nevertheless, the Rambam considers the first rationale of primary importance (Kessef Mishneh).
Conversion, a change in status, must be brought about through a conscious decision by the convert. A minor is not considered as able to make mature decisions and is not held responsible for his conduct. Therefore he cannot make the decision to convert. Nevertheless, the Jewish court makes this decision on his behalf.
The converted child, however, has the option of refuting the conversion when he comes of age. If he protests his conversion at that time, he is considered a gentile and need not observe the mitzvot. If, however, he accepts his conversion when he comes of age, but regrets afterwards, he is bound by his original decision.
A person cannot act on another person's behalf unless it is considered to his benefit, but our Sages consider becoming part of the Jewish people a benefit sufficient enough to justify their actions. The Maggid Mishneh explains that although the Torah and its mitzvot compel a person to restrain his conduct, as long as he is young and has not become habituated to forbidden conduct, he will be able to accommodate himself to the Torah's guidelines.
For as mentioned in the previous halachah, three judges must be present.
The Rambam's perspective is not accepted by all authorities. Rabbenu Asher maintains that the requirement applies only at the outset. After the fact, even if a gentile circumcised himself and immersed on his own, the immersion is acceptable, provided he accepted the mitzvot in the presence of three Jews. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 268:3) mentions both opinions, but appears to favor that of Rabbenu Asher.
As indicated by Halachah 10, this refers to a situation where previously, we know that the person was a gentile. If not, different laws apply. In all instances, the person must observe the mitzvot because of his statements. We, however, do not rely on his word alone with regard to marriage.
And he is not allowed to continue living with his wife until he performs the conversion rites again.
The Siftei Cohen 268:22 quotes Rabbenu Asher who rules that his statements are of no consequence whatsoever. For example, if he enters into relations with a married Jewish women. If he was a gentile, the woman would be able to continue living with her husband, but if he was Jewish (i.e., his conversion was acceptable), the relations are considered as adulterous and she is forbidden. According to Rabbenu Asher, his word is not accepted and she is not forbidden.
The Maggid Mishneh questions how is it possible to disqualify his children. Even if he was indeed a gentile, the children would be Jewish. He explains that there is a halachic difference in a situation where both the parents converted privately. In that instance, were we to disqualify the children because of their statements, there would be a change in status.
According to the authorities that, after the fact. do not require a convert's immersion to be performed in the presence of a court, this immersion also could serve as the immersion for the sake of conversion.
I.e., we knew nothing of the person's identity before he came before us. He was the one who raised the doubt whether he was Jewish - by saying that he was a convert - and he resolved it - by saying that he converted in a proper court. This follows the principle of miggo, if he desired to lie, he could have told a more effective lie, saying that he was a native-born Israelite.
The Ra'avad differs with the Rambam, explaining that there are two Talmudic opinions: one that accepts the convert's word both in Eretz Yisrael and in the Diaspora and one that requires him to bring proof in both places. Similarly, the Ramban and the Rashba differ and maintain that the convert's word is accepted in all places. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 268:10) mentions the Rambam's view, but appears to follow that of the Ramban and the Rashba. Today the custom is for a court to be careful and investigate a convert's conversion before allowing him to marry among the Jewish people.
Yevamot 45b-46a explains the rationale for this law: The gentile owner who sold the servant does not own his physical person in the same manner as a Jew does. That ownership is a new factor established through immersion. Hence, if the servant takes the initiative, he can avoid being acquired.
See Hilchot Mikveot which elaborates at length concerning both concepts mentioned in this halachah: what makes a mikveh acceptable and which substances disqualify an immersion when they intervene between a person's flesh and the water. For this reason, a servant or a convert should trim his nails and hair [Rama (Yoreh De'ah 268:2); see also Siftei Cohen 268:7].
Tosafot cites the narrative (Shabbat 31a) which relates that a gentile came to Hillel and asked him to convert him on the condition that he become the High Priest. Hillel agreed. Later the convert discovered the error of his ways and accepted Jewish practice genuinely. Tosafot explains that from the outset, Hillel recognized his potential sincerity and therefore accepted him even though originally, his motives were self-oriented. The Bayit Chadash and the Siftei Cohen 268:23 state that Hillel's example may be emulated and the Jewish courts have the prerogative of making a decision to accept a convert even though at the outset, he seeks to convert for ulterior motives.
For as the Rambam continues to explain, a convert's lack of observance could have a negative effect on the entire people. There is no obligation to convert. A gentile who observes the seven universal laws commanded to Noah and his descendants is on a very high rung. Hence unless a gentile is motivated by a very sincere commitment, it is preferable for him not to change his status and serve God in his present state.
I.e., would they accept Jewish practice genuinely.
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 268:12) interprets this to mean that the conversion was effective. They are Jews and have all the privileges and responsibilities of the Jewish people. Nevertheless, as an initial and preferred option, our Sages would not allow them to marry within the Jewish people and the like until they had established their sincere commitment to the Torah and its mitzvot.
It must be emphasized that, according to the Shulchan Aruch, we are speaking about people who convert for ulterior motives, but still accept the yoke of the Torah and its mitzvot. When a person "converts" without accepting the Torah and its mitzvot at all, the conversion is invalid, even if he becomes circumcised and immerses in a mikveh. For that reason, non-halachic "conversions" are unacceptable. See the notes to Halachah 18.
The Maggid Mishneh states that even if the court does not notify the potential convert of the mitzvot, the conversion is effective. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 268:12) when quoting this law, changes the text to "the reward for the mitzvot," implying that the gentile must accept the mitzvot before immersion. As the commentaries to the Shulchan Aruch explain, according to the Shulchan Aruch, if a convert does not accept the observance of mitzvot, the conversion is not acceptable even if he becomes circumcised and immerses. This concept is particularly relevant in the presence age when there are many non-halachic "conversions."
The basic concept is that a convert who sins is considered as a Jew who sins. Even if he or she commits serious transgressions, the conversion is not revoked. The Kessef Mishneh maintains that if the convert intentionally worships false deities, a lost object that belonged to him is not returned, as indicated by Hilchot Gezeilah ViAvedah 11:2.
Yevamot 47a. It must be emphasized that sincere converts are given the highest praise. In a renowned letter to a convert named Ovadiah, the Rambam states: "We [i.e., native-born Jews] share a connection with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Your connection is with the One who spoke and created the world."
Our Sages explain that in both instances, it was the erev rav, the mixed multitude of converts who accompanied the Jews out of Egypt, who enticed the people to perform these sins. Kivrot HaTa'avah refers to the incident, Numbers, ch. 11, where the people complained because they desired other food in addition to the manna.
Translated by Eliyahu Touger
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