Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Printed from
Contact Us
Visit us on Facebook

Issurei Biah - Chapter Fourteen

Issurei Biah - Chapter Fourteen

Halacha 1

What is the procedure when accepting a righteous convert? When one of the gentiles comes to convert, we inspect his background.1 If an ulterior motive for conversion is not found,2 we ask him:3 "Why did you choose to convert? Don't you know that in the present era, the Jews are afflicted, crushed, subjugated, strained, and suffering comes upon them?" If he answers: "I know. Would it be that I be able to be part of them,"4 we accept him immediately.

Halacha 2

We inform him of the fundamentals of the faith, i.e., the unity of God and the prohibition against the worship of false deities. We elaborate on this matter.5We inform him about some of the easy mitzvot and some of the more severe ones. We do not elaborate on this matter.6 We inform him of the transgression of [not leaving] leket, shichachah, pe'ah,7 and the second tithe.8 And we inform him of the punishment given for [violating] the mitzvot.

What is implied? We tell him: "Before you came to our faith, if you partook of fat, you were not liable for your soul to be cut off. If you desecrated the Sabbath, you were not liable to be stoned to death. Now, after you convert, if you partake of fat, you are liable for your soul to be cut off. If you desecrate the Sabbath, you are liable to be stoned to death."

We do not teach him all the particulars lest this cause him concern and turn him away from a good path to a bad path. For at the outset, we draw a person forth with soft and appealing words, as [Hoshea 11:4] states: "With cords of man, I drew them forth,"9 and then continues: "with bonds of love."10

Halacha 3

Just as he is informed of the punishment [for disobeying] the commandments; so, too, he is informed about the reward for [their observance]. We tell him that by observing these mitzvot, he will merit the life of the World to Come. For there is no completely righteous man other than a master of wisdom who observes these mitzvot and knows them.

Halacha 4

We tell him: "Know that the World to Come is hidden away only for the righteous; they are the Jews.11 The fact that you see Israel suffering difficulty in this world [reflects] the good that is hidden away for them. For they cannot receive an abundance of good in this world as the gentiles do. For they hearts may become uplifted and they will err and lose the reward of the World to Come, as [Deuteronomy 32:15] states: "Jeshuron became fat and rebelled."12

Halacha 5

The Holy One, blessed be He, brings upon them an abundance of retribution solely so that they will not perish. For all the other nations will perish and they will prevail. We elaborate on this concept to make them feel cherished. If [the prospective convert] retracts and does not want to accept [the mitzvot], he goes on his way. If he accepts [their observance], we do not have him wait, but instead circumcise him immediately.13 If he was circumcised, we draw the blood of circumcision from him.14 We wait until he heals entirely15 and then immerse him.

Halacha 6

Three [judges] stand over him and inform him about some of the easy mitzvot and some of the more severe ones a second time while he stands in the water.16 If the convert was female,17 women position her in the water until her neck while the judges are outside. They inform her about some of the easy mitzvot and some of the more severe ones while she is sitting in the water. Then she immerses herself in their presence. Afterwards, they turn their faces away and depart so that they will not see her when she ascends from the water.

Halacha 7

What is meant by a resident alien? A gentile who makes a commitment not to worship false deities and to observe the other [six] universal laws commanded to Noah's descendants. He does not circumcise himself or immerse. We accept this commitment and he is considered one of the pious gentiles.

Why is he called a resident? Because we are permitted to allow him to dwell among us in Eretz Yisrael, as explained in Hilchot Avodah Zarah.18

Halacha 8

We accept resident aliens only during the era when the Jubilee year is observed.19 In the present era, even if a gentile makes a commitment to observe the entire Torah with the exception of one minor point,20 he is not accepted.21

Halacha 9

When a servant is purchased from the gentiles, we do not say: "Why did you choose to convert?"22 Instead, we say to him: "Do you desire to enter the category of Jewish servants and become one of the observant of them?" If he agrees, he is informed about the fundamentals of the faith, about some of the easy mitzvot and some of the more severe ones, and the punishments and rewards [associated with them] as we notify a convert. [Then] we immerse him23 as we immerse a convert and inform him [of the mitzvot] while he is in the water.

If he does not desire to accept [the status of a servant], we are patient with him for twelve months. Afterwards, we sell him to a gentile. It is forbidden to maintain him for a longer period.24 If at the outset, he established a condition that he would not be circumcised or immersed, but instead would be a resident alien, it is permissible to maintain him in that status.25 A servant may be maintained in this status only during the era when the Jubilee is observed.

Halacha 10

The only sexual relations forbidden to a gentile are: his mother, his father's wife, his maternal sister, a married woman, a male, and an animal, as will be explained in Hilchot Melachim UMilchomoteihem.26 Other relations forbidden the Jews are permitted to them.

Halacha 11

When a gentile converts or a servant is freed,27 he is like a newborn baby. Any relatives whom he had as a gentile or a servant are no longer considered his relatives. If both he and they convert, he is not obligated for relations with any of them.

Halacha 12

According to Scriptural Law, a convert may marry his mother or his maternal sister after they convert. Nevertheless, our Sages forbade this so that [the converts] will not say: "We came from a more severe level of holiness to a less severe one. Yesterday, this [relationship] was forbidden and today, it is permitted."28

Similarly, when a convert engages in relations with his mother or his sister when they have not converted, it is considered as if he had relations with a woman with whom he was not related.

Halacha 13

What is the law that applies to converts with regard to relations with their relatives. As we explained, if one was married while a gentile to his mother or his sister and they converted, we separate them as explained [above]. If he was married to any one of the other forbidden relations and he and his wife converted, they are not forced to separate.29

A convert is forbidden to marry his maternal relatives after they convert according to Rabbinic Law. He may, however, marry his paternal relatives. [This applies] even when he certainly knows that these persons are his paternal relatives,30 for example, twins, in which instance it is clear that the father of one is the father of the other. Nevertheless, our Sages did not enforce a decree with regard to one's paternal relatives.

Accordingly, a convert may marry the wife of his paternal brother, the wife of his father's brother, his father's wife,31 and his son's wife. [This applies] even if they married his brother, his father, his father's brother, or his son after they converted.32 Similarly, his mother's paternal sister, his paternal sister, and his daughter who converted are permitted to him. He may not, however, marry his maternal sister, his mother's maternal sister, nor a woman who married his maternal brother after he converted. If, however, a woman married his brother while he was a gentile,33 she is permitted to him.

Halacha 14

When two twin brothers were not conceived in a state of holiness, but they were born in a state of holiness,34 each are liable [for relations with the other's wife] because of the prohibition against relations with a brother's wife.35

Halacha 15

When a man marries a female convert and her daughter who converted or two maternal sisters [who converted], he should remain married to one of them and divorce the other.36 If he married a female convert and she died, he is permitted to marry her mother or her daughter.37 For our Sages ordained their decree only during [the woman's] lifetime.

It is permissible for a man to marry two paternal sisters who converted, for our Sages did not ordain any decrees with regard to paternal relations, as explained.38

Halacha 16

[Our Sages] did not ordain any decrees with regard to shniot39 who convert. Therefore a convert may marry his maternal grandmother. Similarly, a person may marry a convert and the mother of her maternal grandmother40 or her and the daughter of her daughter's daughter. Similar laws apply with regard to the remainder of the shniot.

Halacha 17

A servant is permitted to marry his mother while he is a servant.41Needless to say, this applies with regard to his daughter, his sister, or the like. [Since] he has already departed from the category of gentiles,42 the intimate relations forbidden to the gentiles are not forbidden to him. And [since] he has not entered the category of the Jewish people, the intimate relations that are forbidden to the converts are not yet forbidden to him.

Halacha 18

It appears to me43 that if a servant engages in homosexual or Sodomite relations, they should be executed.44 For these two prohibitions are universally applicable.

Halacha 19

Servants who are freed are like converts. All of the relationships forbidden to converts are forbidden to them and all those permitted to converts are permitted to them.

A person may give his maid-servant to his own servant or to a servant belonging to his colleague. At the outset, he may give one maid-servant to two servants.45Nor must they follow any restrictions. Instead, they are like animals. There is no difference whether a maid-servant is set aside for a servant or not, for there is no concept of marriage except within the Jewish people or among gentiles themselves,46 but not among servants themselves or between servants and the Jewish people.


See Chapter 13, Halachah 14.


See Chapter 13, Halachah 14.


The halachah is quoted from Yevamot 47a. As early as the Talmudic era, potential converts were dissuaded in this manner.


Our translation is based on Rashi's commentary to Yevamot, loc. cit.


Because they are the fundamentals of our faith (Maggid Mishneh).


This law, quoted by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 268:2) indicates that even the opinions which require a convert to accept the observance of the mitzvot do not require him to accept all of the mitzvot individually. Instead, he must make a general commitment to confirm to Jewish practice.


These refer to different obligations from the crops that must be left for the poor. See Hilchot Matanot Aniyim, ch. 1.


Although this is the version in the standard published text of the Mishneh Torah, many manuscripts and early printings state "the tithe for the poor." This fits both the context and the Rambam's source, Yevamot 47a.

These mitzvot are mentioned because the giver has no control over them. When a prospective convert sees that Judaism places such financial obligations upon him, he may regret his choice (Rashi, Yevamot, loc. cit.).


This can be interpreted as referring to the warnings concerning the transgressions.


And this to the encouragement based on the knowledge of the reward for mitzvot.


The commentaries have questioned the Rambam's statements here noting that in Hilchot Teshuvah 3:5 and other sources, he states that the pious among the gentiles have a share in the World to Come. Among the resolutions offered is that "All of Israel have a share in the World to Come" (Sanhedrin 10:1). By virtue of the essential Godliness of the Jewish soul, they are granted a portion in this eternal good. A gentile must, however, earn his portion through his deeds. It is not "hidden away" for him.


I.e., the outcome of prosperity was not increased observance, but the opposite: rebellion against God's will.


For we do not postpone the performance of a mitzvah.


I.e., a small wound is made on his male organ to draw blood for the sake of the covenant. The expression "the blood of the covenant" is derived from Exodus 24:8. See also Zechariah 9:11.


For we fear that, otherwise, the immersion might cause the wound to become infected (Rashi, Yevamot 47b).

The commentaries ask: Why don't we have him immerse first and then circumcise himself? In this way, he will not have to delay his conversion any longer. The Ramban (cited by Turei Zahav 268:4) states that we fear that he might refuse to become circumcised. This will be problematic for the immersion will have completed the conversion process. Hence, we have him become circumcised before the conversion is irreversible.


Rashi (loc. cit.) explains that since the immersion completes his conversion, the convert must accept the yoke of mitzvot at that time.


And thus it would be immodest for her to enter the mikveh in the presence of the judges.


See Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 10:6 which states that in an era when the Jews have undisputed authority over Eretz Yisrael, they may not allow an idolater to dwell in the holy land. Only when a gentile accepts these seven universal laws is he granted this privilege. The rationale for the Rambam's ruling is derived from the prooftext he cites (Exodus 23:33): "They shall not dwell in your land, lest they cause you to sin against Me." Since gentiles may turn into a negative spiritual influence, they should be prevented from dwelling in the land. If, however, a gentile has made a commitment to the observance of these seven laws, he will not lower the moral climate of the land.

As explained by the commentaries to Hilchot Avodat Kochavim, the Rambam's opinion is not universally accepted. The Ra'avad interprets the prooftext as referring to the seven Canaanite nations alone. Never, he claims, were other gentiles prohibited from living among us.


The Jubilee must be observed only when the entire Jewish people are dwelling in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore when the tribes of Reuven and Gad, and half the tribe of Menasheh were exiled by the kingdom of Assyria (this took place approximately 150 years before the destruction of the First Temple), the laws of the Jubilee ceased to be observed according to Scriptural Law (Hilchot Shemitah ViYoval 10:8).


The Rambam's source ( Bechorot 30b) states: "one minor point of Rabbinic Law." The commentaries question why the Rambam omits this point.


As the Rambam states in Hilchot Avodat Kochavim, loc. cit., in the present era, we accept only full converts. Implied is that in the present era, were we to have the authority, we should prevent gentiles from living in Eretz Yisrael.

The Ra'avad differs with the Rambam concerning this point, explaining that with regard to certain matters the status of a gentile who accepts the observance of the seven mitzvot in the present age is more severe than that before the revocation of the Jubilee laws and in other matters, it is more lenient. According to his opinion, however, there is no reason why a gentile should be prohibited against living in Eretz Yisrael. In his gloss to Hilchot Avodat Kochavim, the Kessef Mishneh states that even the Rambam would agree. For since the gentile is living a moral lifestyle, there is no reason to fear that he will lead a Jew to sin. The Rambam's directive here is directed at the courts. They cannot formalize a resident alien's status in the present age.

In that vein, it must be emphasized that although the concept of a resident alien does not apply in the present age, we are obligated to teach the gentiles the seven universal laws commanded to Noah's descendants, as the Rambam states in Hilchot Melachim 8:10.


As we tell a prospective convert. We do not make this statement to a servant, for he is not coming to convert on his own volition.


A male servant is also circumcised before conversion. It is questionable why the Rambam does not mention this point.


He must be sold to the Diaspora or to a gentile (Hilchot Avadim 8:12).


The Rama (Yoreh De'ah 267:4) writes that in the lands where he lived (Central Europe), it was forbidden to convert a gentile to Judaism. Therefore it is taken for granted that the servant was purchased on the condition that his status not be altered. Hence, he may be maintained indefinitely as a gentile.


Hilchot Melachim 9:5.


See Halachah 17 which emphasizes that even while a servant, a servant need not show concern for these prohibitions.


I.e., it would appear that he was bound by more severe prohibitions before conversion.


This applies even to maternal relatives. Since they were married before, we do not force them to separate (Siftei Cohen 269:2). We do not fear that these converts will say that they entered a lower level of holiness, because there are relations - a mother and a sister - which they are forbidden. This makes it obvious that the distinction in the laws results from their change in status (Kessef Mishneh).


I.e, one might say that the reason for the prohibition is that one is certain that he is related to his maternal relatives. Those reputed to be his paternal relatives, however, might in fact not be related to him at all, because the man reputed to be his father may not be his parent. For the gentiles are known to be promiscuous. This is not the reason for the leniency. Instead, the Torah does not have any conceptual of paternal lineage with regard to a gentile (Maggid Mishneh).


There are opinions which forbid the wife of the convert's father [Tur, Rama (Yoreh De'ah 269:3)]. The Siftei Cohen 269:4 adds that the convert should also refrain from relations with the sister of his father.


For their conversion is of no consequence in this context. They are considered as having no family ties.


But was never married to the brother according to Jewish Law.


I.e., they were conceived before their mother converted and born after she converted.


For it is considered as if the two brothers are ordinary Jews and bound by the laws that apply to members of our people. Nevertheless, they may not fulfill the mitzvah of yibbum, for they are not brothers in the complete sense [Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 269:4)].


This is a Rabbinic decree. According to Scriptural Law, the marriages are valid. Nevertheless, our Rabbis were stringent and forbade this union, for were the women to be native-born Jewesses, this would be forbidden. Hence, formal divorce proceedings are necessary.


In this instance, as well, were the women to be native-born Jewesses, this would be forbidden. See Siftei Cohen 269:10 which cites opinions that maintain that the Rabbinic prohibition applies after the woman's death as well.


In Halachah 13. Note the contrast to the previous clause which speaks about relations with maternal sisters.


This term refers to relatives more distantly removed than those forbidden by Scriptural Law. Relations with them are forbidden by Rabbinic decree, as explained in Chapter 1, Halachah 8; Hilchot Ishut 1:6. Since the prohibition is a Rabbinic safeguard, our Sage's did not add a further safeguard with regard to a convert. For we do not ordain a safeguard for a safeguard.


Our translation follows the text of the authoritative manuscripts of the Mishneh Torah. The Siftei Cohen 269:12 justifies this reading, explaining that relations with a woman's maternal grandmother (the version in the standard published text of the Mishneh Torah) is a Scriptural prohibition, not a Rabbinic safeguard.


I.e., before he is freed.


See Chapter 12, Halachah 11.


This phrase points to a conclusion deduced by the Rambam for which he has no explicit source in previous Rabbinic literature. The Ra'avad, however, considers the concept as blatantly obvious.

The Maggid Mishneh adds that he is also executed for relations with a married Jewish woman and questions why the Rambam does not mention this transgression.


The word "executed" is plural. Both men or the man and the animal are executed (Or Sameach).


I.e., we do not enforce monogamy.


See Hilchot Melachim 9:5.

Published and copyright by Moznaim Publications, all rights reserved.
To purchase this book or the entire series, please click here.
The text on this page contains sacred literature. Please do not deface or discard.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.