Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ran, Beit Yosef rule: Conversion is Desirable, for the sake of the Convert

One of the major questions in the battle pitting R’ Avraham Shirman’s rabbinical court against R’ Chaim Druckman’s conversion courts is this: Is Conversion a Jewish value? Is it something we should pursue, for the good of Jewish society – particularly for the many thousands of non-Jews who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union, and particularly in an age of rampant intermarriage?

R’ Shirman does acknowledge that the gemara calls conversion a mitzvah, and he discusses two views as to the nature of this mitzvah:
1) Love of Gd (as one increases the love of Gd), or
2) Love of the Convert (because the convert already deserves special love once [s]he has declared an intention of abandoning other beliefs and accepting Judaism, even pre-conversion).

Various judges on R’ Druckman’s conversion courts have contended that conversion is important for the future of the Jewish community.

Among them, R’ David Bass has written eloquently that closing the doors to a convert today is an act of opening gates to assimilation, and therefore conversion is a public need. He recently added to that, saying, “Conversion should not be seen solely as the interest of the non-Jewish immigrant looking to integrate into Israeli society, it is also an existential imperative of the State of Israel as we enter the 21st century.”

In the former, Conversion is a value because it helps us, the convert’s enablers, to fulfill our imperatives. In the latter, Conversion is a value because it helps Jewish society. Neither of these approaches, though, looks at Conversion through the eyes of the Convert.

The Ran (Gittin, 49b בדפי הרי"ף), cited by the Beit Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 1 ומסקינן), presents a third approach: Conversion is of value for the גר - and that value is also of halachah importance to us.

The Ran introduces this into a discussion of the status of judges today: The original סמיכה, the original form of ordination, no longer exists – it ceased to exist somewhere around the 5th century. However, unordained judges are able to continue to serve in roles which should require ordination, acting as the proxies of the original, ordained judges (אנן שליחותייהו עבדינן). The basic rule is that judges can function as such proxies in cases which are (1) common, and (2) of great value.

The Ran argues that this is the basis for post-ordination conversion, even though conversion is not considered a common circumstance. He writes, “להכניס אדם תחת כנפי השכינה אע"ג דלא שכיח עדיף טפי ממונא דשכיח” – “Introducing a person beneath the wings of the Shechinah, even though it is uncommon, is of greater value than restoring financial loss.” And the simple read of his comment is that it is of greater value to the convert, personally.

We see, then, that the Ran – cited by no less than Rav Yosef Karo – recognizes that we are able to function as judges, only because we are helping the גר to convert.

It seems to me that this source should enter today’s Conversion controversy.


  1. is also an existential imperative of the State of Israel as we enter the 21st century.”

    This concept has zero impact on the halachik rulings of the Chareidi world view.

  2. Its not an issue of Tziyonut, it's about responsibility for Klal Yisrael, and living in a ghetto.

    Ploni Almoni knew the halachot of yibum perfectly well -- that Ruth was permissible to marry into the Jewish people.

    Yet what does he say?

    לא אוכל לגאול-לי--פן-אשחית, את-נחלתי


    So Boaz does the nationally responsible action for Am Yisrael and marries Ruth.

    Good thing he did as well.

  3. But rabbi, it would seem that in the Orthodox view, the conversion is only good for the ger if he/she is able and willing to fulfill the mitzvot. Isn't one of the main arguments in this case that converting someone who has no intention of fulfilling the mitzvot is not only invalid, but that it would be bad for both klal Israel and the ger him/herself, if allowed to stand? Since the convert is then accruing sin that he or she need not have, as a Noachite?

  4. Jameel-
    What makes you say Ploni Almoni knew it perfectly well? Per the gemara, it was still very much subject to machloket until the days of Dovid, when Shemuel took a stand. (Also note that Ibn Ezra has an entirely different approach to why P.A. refused.)

    Yes, that is the argument from the R' Sherman/R' Attiyeh side. However, there certainly is room to suggest that - assuming the conversion is valid at all - they are better off even with Gehennom than they were beforehand.

  5. 1. Isn't it questionable if it was yibum or not? Boaz praised Ruth for not marrying other younger men, which implies that she had marital options at that time. If she was bound by a zikah bond to someone else, then she could not have married out until chalitzah was performed.

    2. I'm not sure if Boaz or Ploni Almoni knew if was the nationally correct thing to do. There were a lot of "Boruch Hashem" type greetings in the sefer, but very little (if any) actual intervention from above; also not clear if people knew that this union would have any national significance.

    3. However the issue in the sefer seems to be more about redemption than inheritance of land--there was some kind of inheritance mechanism when there were no surviving male offspring (eg. daughters of Zelophchad, but I'm not familiar with the issue).

    Ok I have really skittered away from the main point of the post.

  6. Rivkayael-

    1. It seems fairly clear that this was not yibbum at all - after all, neither Boaz nor PA were Ruth's brother-in-law. Rather, it was closer to Ramban's גאולה (which is reflected in the language of the text itself) - a way for a family to take care of its widows.

    2. I'm with you on this.

    3. That's Ibn Ezra's take on the pasuk, too.