Ger Tzedek

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Conversion to Judaism (Hebrew גיור, giur, "conversion") is the religious conversion of a previously non-Jewish person to the Jewish religion. The procedure for conversion depends on the sponsoring denomination, and hinges on meeting the ritual and substantive requirements for such conversion. A convert to Judaism is referred to as a ger tzedek (Hebrew: "righteous proselyte" or "proselyte [of] righteousness") or simply ger ("stranger" or "proselyte"). However, the Torah makes clear that one should not distinguish a full convert from Ezrakhim and so calling them Ger Tzedek no matter how complementary does not agree with the letter of the law. It is likely the term once was just a synonym for Ger Toshav but took on a different meaning over time. Template:Jew

In Chullin 92a, Rav Yehuda uses the term tzadikei umos ha-olam צדיקי אומות העולם meaning Righteous of the Nations, in his interpretation of Zecharia 11:13. Rav Yochanan in the name of Rav Shimon Ben Yehotzadak says that it refers to the righteous of Israel. See Maharsha and Rashi with the Hagahos HaBach.


In Biblical Hebrew, the word ger denotes a proselyte (and גר הגר —"sojourning stranger"—is interpreted as ger tzedek by the Talmud) or a half-convert—a non-Jewish inhabitant of the Land of Israel who observes the seven Noahide Laws and has repudiated all links with idolatry. The word ger tzedek was used to denote a full convert. In post-Talmudic times, the word ger has become synonymous with ger tzedek, likewise its English counterpart (proselyte), has come to mean a convert to Judaism.

Motivations for conversion

A mystical interpretation of conversions to Judaism is that a convert is someone with a Jewish neshama (soul) who is simply trying to find his/her way home.

In general terms, anyone who commits to living a religiously observant life is an acceptable candidate for conversion. For a variety of reasons, rabbis have traditionally discouraged people from converting to Judaism, and most will insist that the candidate for conversion demonstrate his/her commitment in word and deed before the conversion is undertaken.

A number of reasons for converting exist: some have theological convictions consistent with Judaism; others are attracted to elements of Jewish religious life; some wish to belong to a particular Jewish community. A significant portion wish to convert because they want to marry someone who is Jewish. This latter reason (see secondary conversion) is in itself considered to be insufficient by most rabbis.

Traditional requirements

The requirements under halakha for conversion to Judaism are that a beth din witnesses and approves:

After confirming that all these criteria have been met, the beth din issues a Shtar Giur ("Certificate of Conversion"), certifying that the former gentile is now a Jew.

Pre-Majority conversion

Someone who was converted to Judaism as a child has an option of rejecting this after reaching the age of majority. The only thing he or she needs to do is publicly violate a Jewish commandment, or conversely publicly state, or demonstrate his commitment to remaining a Jew. See the book the Bamboo Cradle for a true example of this.

Variations and controversy

The requirements for conversion to Judaism are intended to avoid any uncertainty about a convert's true status. The certification by a beth din was based on events the completeness of which were carefully defined.

Both the Conservative and Orthodox movements require that all halakhic requirements be met, but they differ on what constitutes a competent beth din. Orthodox rabbis generally do not accept the authority of non-Orthodox rabbis. And because Orthodox rabbis are reluctant to accept the credentials of non-Orthodox rabbis, there is a presumption that a person who converts under the guidance of a non-Orthodox rabbi will have an incomplete or erroneous understanding of the law he or she is taking upon him or herself.

Therefore, Orthodox rabbis generally do not accept conversions under Conservative (or Reform, or Reconstructionist) auspices. In suburban areas where there is not a very high Jewish population, cooperation between Modern Orthodox and Conservative rabbis is somewhat more common. Many Conservative rabbis report cooperation in joint conversions with both Orthodox and Conservative rabbis.

Since the Orthodox movement is not unified, Orthodox rabbis often will not automatically accept each other's authority. This has led to a general reluctance in the Orthodox communities to prepare and perform conversions.

This issue recently released a crisis point when the (Orthodox) Chief Rabbinate of Israel changed its requirements for conversion without informing American Orthodox rabbis, and began systematically rejecting most Orthodox Jewish conversions done outside of Israel. Also, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel now rejects all American Orthodox Jewish conversions done by any Orthodox rabbi except those on a short list of rabbis, numbering less than 50, and this list includes deceased rabbis.

Rabbi Seth Farber, the director of ITIM, an organization in Israel that helps potential converts navigate the bureaucracy of the Chief Rabbinate, said that body “is marginalizing the American Modern Orthodox rabbinate. “By not recognizing the legitimacy of conversions approved by the Beth Din of America, they’re intimating that the Beth Din of America has no legitimacy whatsoever,” Rabbi Farber continued. “It’s a slap in the face to American converts and American Orthodox rabbis.”
(Chief Rabbinate Barring Conversions From Top U.S. Orthodox Rabbis, The Jewish Week)

One of the major groups behind this change is “The Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur”. They believe that Orthodox Judaism has not had a unified standard of conversion, and that many Modern Orthodox and Haredi Orthodox conversions done in the last century are suspect, and not in accord with halakha. They have strongly criticized as being too lax the Chief Rabbinate of Israel; the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Jonathan Sacks, and many others. Most of their complaints are directed against Modern Orthodox Jews; they attack them as "so-called Orthodox". Orthodox rabbis who attempt to cooperate with non-Orthodox Jews are labeled as "orthodox", in quotes with a lower case "o", while Haredi rabbis are called Orthodox rabbis, with no quotes and no lower case letters. (About Cooperation with Conservative, Reform -- and So-called Orthodox)

In contrast, the Modern Orthodox community in Canada has been increasing opportunities for people to convert to Judaism. All Orthodox conversions to Judaism have until now been supervised by the Jewish Community Council of Montreal, the Vaad Hair. However, with the cooperation of the Vaad and Rabbinical Council of America potential converts now have a second way to convert

potential converts have had the option since earlier this year of using another geirut (conversion) committee made up of four congregational member rabbis from the Rabbinical Council of Canada, Quebec region (RCC). The program provides a way to convert according to the rigorous rules of Halachah while making the process more “user friendly” for non-Jewish individuals seeking a more “hands-on” or “modern Orthodox” approach a religious level, the “standards and expectations” regarding conversion procedure are the same as the Vaad’s. The differences lie in curriculum and delivery of the program....All conversion candidates – who could include singles, non-Jewish couples and adoption cases – must have a sponsoring rabbi and undergo a rigorous screening process.
(New modern Orthodox conversion program launched, Canadian Jewish News)

Attempts to solve the "Who is a Jew?" issue

Main article: Who is a Jew?

In the 1980s Orthodox Rabbi Norman Lamm, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University, along with other American and Israeli Orthodox rabbis, worked with Conservative and Reform rabbis to come up with solution to the "Who is a Jew?" issue. In 1989 and 1990 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir speaheaded an effort to create a solution to the "Who is a Jew?" issue.

A plan was developed by Israeli Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubenstein, who negotiated secretly for many months with rabbis from Conservative, Reform and Orthodox Judaism, including faculty at Yeshiva University, with Lamm as Rosh Yeshiva. They were planning to create a joint panel that interviewed people who were converting to Judaism and considering making aliyah (moving to the State of Israel), and would refer them to a bet din that would convert the candidate following traditional halakha. All negotiating parties came to agreement:

  • (1) Conversions must be carried out according to halakha
  • (2) the bet din (rabbinic court) overseeing the conversion would be Orthodox, perhaps appointed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and
  • (3) there would be three-way dialogue throughout the process.

Many Reform rabbis took offense at the notion that the bet din must be strictly halakhic and Orthodox, but they acquiesced. However, when word about this project became public, a number of leading haredi rabbis issued a statement denouncing the project, condemning it as a "travesty of halakha. Rabbi Moshe Sherer, Chairman of Agudath Israel World Organization, stated that "Yes we played a role in putting an end to that farce, and I'm proud we did." Norman Lamm condemned this interference by Sherer, stating that this was "the most damaging thing that he [Sherer] ever did in his forty year career." (Landau, p.320)

Lamm wanted this to be only the beginning of a solution to Jewish disunity. He stated that had this unified conversion plan not been destroyed, he wanted to extend this program to the area of halakhic Jewish divorces, thus ending the problem of mamzerut. (Landau, p.320)

In 1997 the issue of "Who is a Jew?" again arose in the State of Israel, and Orthodox leaders such as Lamm publicly backed the Neeman commission, a group of Orthodox, Masorti (Conservative) and Progressive (Reform) rabbis working to develop joint programs for conversion to Judaism. In 1997 Lamm gave a speech at the World Council of Orthodox Leadership, in Glen Springs, N.Y., urging Orthodox Jews to support this effort.

Lamm told his listeners that they should value and encourage the efforts of non-Orthodox leaders to more seriously integrate traditional Jewish practices into the lives of their followers. They should welcome the creation of Reform and Conservative day schools and not see them as a threat to their own, Lamm said. In many communities, Orthodox day schools, or Orthodox-oriented community day schools, have large numbers of students from non-Orthodox families. The liberal movements should be appreciated and encouraged because they are doing something Jewish, even if it is not the way that Orthodox Jews would like them to, he said. "What they are doing is something, and something is better than nothing," he said in his speech. "I'm very openly attacking the notion that we sometimes find in the Orthodox community that `being a goy is better'" than being a non-Orthodox Jew, he said in an interview.
(Source: Cohen, 1997)

The plan has been effectively rendered non-existent due to denunciations from haredi rabbis, causing some other Orthodox rabbis to back out, and causing the Israeli Chief rabbinate to not support this program.

Reform Jewish views

In America, Reform Judaism rejects the concept that any rules or rituals should be considered necessary for conversion to Judaism. In the late 1800s, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the official body of American Reform rabbis, formally resolved to permit the admission of converts "without any initiatory rite, ceremony, or observance whatever." (CCAR Yearbook 3 (1893), 73-95; American Reform Responsa (ARR), no. 68, at 236-237.)

Although this resolution has often been examined critically by many Reform rabbis, the resolution still remains the official policy of American Reform Judaism (CCAR Responsa "Circumcision for an Eight-Year-Old Convert" 5756.13 and Solomon Freehof, Reform Responsa for Our Time, no. 15.) Thus, American Reform Judaism does not require ritual immersion in a mikveh, circumcision, or acceptance of mitzvot as normative. Appearance before a Bet Din is recommended, but is not considered necessary. Converts are asked to commit to religious standards set by the local Reform community. As such, all Reform conversions are rejected as not being conversions by Orthodox Judaism.

Progressive and Reform Judaism in Israel and a few other countries reject this approach; many Reform rabbis in these countries hold that it is absolutely necessary for a man to have a brit milah or brit dam, that both men and women require immersion in a mikveh, and that the conversion must only be allowed at the end of a formal course of study, before a Bet Din. This is a common view of many Reform rabbis in Canada, as well as a small but growing number of Reform rabbis in the USA.

In response to the tremendous variations that exist within the Reform community, the Conservative Jewish movement has attempted to set a nuanced approach. Their Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has issued a responsum (legal opinion) stating that Reform conversions may be accepted as valid when they include the minimal halachic requirements of milah and t'vilah, appearance before a Bet Din, and a course of study. (Proceedings of Committee on Jewish Law and Standards: 1980-1985, p.77-101.)

Consequences of conversion

Once undergone, a religious conversion to Judaism is irreversible (from a Jewish perspective), unless there are convincing grounds to believe that the convert was insincere or deceptive during the conversion process. In such cases—which are exceedingly rare—a beth din may determine that the conversion was void.

A public and clear violation of Jewish law immediately following the formal conversion may give grounds for considering such an annulment if it can be demonstrated that such a violation proved that the conversion was fraudulent to begin with. A few isolated cases of annulments have been vigorously debated within the Jewish community, with several rabbinical authorities holding the practice to be in violation of halakha.

Place in religious life

Halakha forbids reminding a convert that he/she was once not a Jew and hence little distinction is made in Judaism between "Jews by birth" and "Jews by choice".

According to Orthodox interpretations of halakha, converts face a limited number of restrictions, e.g. female converts cannot marry Kohanim (members of the priestly caste). These restrictions apply only to the converts themselves; children of a female convert born after conversion are not affected by them in any way. Converts can become rabbis (and some have).

A convert chooses his or her own Hebrew first name upon conversion but is always known as the son or daughter of Abraham and Sarah, the first patriarch and matriarch in the Torah, often with the additional qualifier of "avinu" (our father) and "imanu" (our mother). Hence, a convert named Akiva would be known as "Akiva ben Avraham Avinu" for ritual purposes in an Orthodox synagogue and "Akiva ben Avraham Avinu v'Sarah Imanu" in egalitarian non-Orthodox congregations.

(It should be noted that for purposes of a prayer for recovery from an illness, the mother's name is traditionally used, so in an Orthodox congregation one would hear "Akiva ben Sarah Imanu").

"Jews by Choice"

The term "Jew by choice" is often used to describe someone who converted to Judaism, and is often contrasted with such terms as "Jew by birth" or "Jew by chance."

For purely rhetorical purposes, some polemicists elicit that every Jew is a Jew by choice, because the worldwide Jewish community is so small and the pull of assimilation is so great. So it is very easy for someone who was born Jewish to abandon Jewish traditions and customs in adulthood, absent a conscious choice to stay Jewish. This perspective is not part of Jewish law or social custom.

For purely philosophical purposes, a convert is not considered by many to be a "Jew by Choice" at all. In fact, many traditional Jews take offense not only at the word "convert" but also at this more politically-correct term. The reasoning for this is the notion that everyone has a Jewish soul, and that those who were not born Jewish, and elect to go through the conversion process, have returned to the nature of their soul through true teshuva. Therefore, this person is not to be known as a convert, or any derivation of the term.

Proselyte, from the Koine Greek προσήλυτος/proselytos, is a term employed generally, though not exclusively, in the Septuagint as a rendering for the Hebrew word ger, designating a convert from one religion to another. The original meaning of the Hebrew is involved in some doubt. Modern interpreters hold it to have connoted, at first, a stranger (or a "client," in the technical sense of the word) residing in Palestine, who had put himself under the protection of the people (or of one of them) among whom he had taken up his abode. In later, post-exilic usage it denotes a convert to the Jewish religion. In the Septuagint and the New Testament the Greek equivalent has almost invariably the latter signification [1], though in the Septuagint the word implies also residence in Palestine on the part of one who had previously resided elsewhere, an implication entirely lost both in the Talmudical ger and in the New Testament προσέλύτος. Philo applies the latter term in the wider sense of "one having come to a new and G-d-pleasing life"[2], but uses another word to express the idea of "convert"—ήπηλυτος. Josephus, though referring to converts to Judaism, does not use the term, interpreting the Biblical passages in which ger occurs as applying to the poor or the foreigner.

Biblical References

Whatever may have been the original implication of the Hebrew word, it is certain that Biblical authors refer to proselytes, though describing them in paraphrases. Ex. xii. 48 provides for the proselyte's partaking of the paschal lamb, referring to him as a ger that is "circumcised." Isa. xiv. 1 mentions converts as "strangers" who shall "cleave to the house of Jacob" (but comp. next verse). Deut. xxiii. 8 (Hebr.) speaks of "one who enters into the assembly of Jacob," and (Deutero-) Isa. lvi. 3-6 enlarges on the attitude of those that joined themselves to Yhwh, "to minister to Him and love His name, to be His servant, keeping the Sabbath from profaning it, and laying hold on His covenant." "Nokri" (ξένος ="stranger") is another equivalent for "proselyte," meaning one who, like Ruth, seeks refuge under the wings of Hashem [3]. Probably in almost all these passages "converts" are assumed to be residents of Palestine. They are thus "gerim," but circumcised. In the Priestly Code "ger" would seem to have this meaning throughout. In Esther viii. 17 alone the expression "mityahadim" (= "became Jews") occurs.

According to Philo, a proselyte is one who abandons polytheism and adopts the worship of the One G-d[4]. Josephus describes the convert as one who adopts the Jewish customs, following the laws of the Jews and worshiping G-d as they do—one who has become a Jew [5]. By many scholars the opinion is held that the phrase "yir'e Adonai" denotes either proselytes in general or a certain class ("ger toshav"; see below). This interpretation is that of the Midrash [6]. While this construction is borne out by some passages [7], in others the reference is clearly to native Israelites [8]. For the value of the term in the New Testament (in the Acts) see Bertholet[9], and O. Holtzmann.[10] According to Schürer[11], the phrase "those who fear the Most High G-d" designates associations of Greeks in the first post-Christian centuries, who had taken their name and their monotheistic faith from the Jews, but still retained many of the elements of Greek life and religion .[12]

Historic Conditions

The attitude of ancient Israel to proselytes and proselytism is indicated in the history of the term "ger" as sketched above, which, again, reflects the progressive changes incidental to the development of Israel from a nation into a religious congregation under the priestly law. (For the position of strangers see Gentile.) Ezra's policy, founded on the belief that the new common wealth should be of the holy seed, naturally led to the exclusion of those of foreign origin. Still, the non-Israelite could gain admittance through circumcision.[13].

Pre-exilic Israel had but little reason to seek proselytes or concern itself with their status and reception. The "strangers" in its midst were not many [14]. As "clients," they were under the protection of the community. Such laws as refer to them in pre-exilic legislation, especially if compared with the legislativeprovisions of other nations, may justly be said to be humane. [15] That the aboriginal population was looked upon with suspicion was due to their constituting a constant peril to the monotheistic religion. Hence the cruel provisions for their extermination, which, however, were not carried into effect.

During the Exile Israel came in contact with non-Israelites in a new and more intimate degree, and Deutero-Isaiah reflects the consequent change in Israel's attitude (see passages quoted above). Even after the restoration Ezra's position was not without its opponents. The books of Jonah and Ruth testify to the views held by the anti-Ezra pleaders for a non-racial and all-embracing Israel. Not only did Greek Judaism tolerate the reception of proselytes, but it even seems to have been active in its desire for the spread of Jewish monotheism.[16] Philo's references to proselytes make this sure.[17]

According to Josephus there prevailed in his day among the inhabitants of both Greek and barbarian cities [18] a great zeal for the Jewish religion. This statement refers to Emperor Domitian's last years, two decades after Jerusalem's fall. It shows that throughout the Roman empire Judaism had made inroads upon the pagan religions. Latin writers furnish evidence corroborating this. It is true that Tacitus [19] is anxious to convey the impression that only the most despicable elements of the population were found among these converts to Judaism; but this is amply refuted by other Roman historians.[20]

Roman Proselytes

Among converts of note are mentioned the royal family of Adiabene—Queen Helena and her sons Izates and Monobazus[21], Flavius Clemens [22], Fulvia, the wife of Saturninus, a senator.[23] Women seem to have predominated among them.[24]

In Palestine, too, proselytes must have been both numerically and socially of importance. Otherwise the Tannaim would have had no justification for discussing their status and the conditions of their reception. Common prejudice imputes to Phariseeism an aversion to proselytes, but perhaps this idea calls for modification. That aversion, if it existed, may have been due to the part taken in Jewish history by Herod, a descendant of the Idumeans whom John Hyrcanus had compelled to embrace Judaism—a fate shared later by the Itureans.[25] The "proselyte anecdotes" in which Hillel and Shammai have a central part[26] certainly suggest that the antipathy to proselytes was not shared by all, while R. Simeon's dictum that the hand of welcome should be extended to the proselyte[27], that he might be brought under the wings of the Shekinah, indicates a disposition quite the reverse.[28] There is good ground also for the contention of Grätz (l.c. p. 33) that immediately after the destruction of the Second Temple Judaism made many conquests, especially among Romans of the upper classes. Among the proselytes of this time a certain Judah, an Ammonite, is mentioned. Contrary to the Biblical law prohibiting marriage between Jews and Ammonites, he is allowed to marry a Jewess, the decision being brought about largely by Joshua's influence.[29]

Other cases in which Biblical marriage-prohibitions were set aside were those of Menyamin, an Egyptian[30].

At this epoch, too, the necessity for determining the status of the "half-converts" grew imperative. By "half-converts" is meant a class of men and women of non-Jewish birth who, forsaking their ancestral pagan and polytheistic religions, embraced monotheism and adopted the fundamental principles of Jewish morality, without, however, submitting to circumcision or observing other ceremonial laws. They have been identified with the "yir'e Adonai" (the ρηβόμενοι τὸυ Θεόυ). Their number was very large during the centuries immediately preceding and following the fall of Jerusalem; Ps. xv. has been interpreted as referring to them.


In order to find a precedent the Rabbis went so far as to assume that proselytes of this order were recognized in Biblical law, applying to them the term "toshav" ("sojourner," "aborigine," referring to the Canaanites; see Maimonides' explanation in "Yad," Issure Biah, xiv. 7; see Grätz, l.c. p. 15), in connection with "ger" [31]. Another name for one of this class was "proselyte of the gate".[32] In order to be recognized as one of these the neophyte had publicly to assume, before three "ḥaberim," or men of authority, the solemn obligation not to worship idols, an obligation which involved the recognition of the seven Noachian injunctions as binding.[33] The application to half-converts of all the laws obligatory upon the sons of Jacob, including those that refer to the taking of interest, or to retaining their hire overnight, or to drinking wine made by non-Jews, seems to have led to discussion and dissension among the rabbinical authorities.

The more rigorous seem to have been inclined to insist upon such converts observing the entire Law, with the exception of the reservations and modifications explicitly made in their behalf. The more lenient were ready to accord them full equality with Jews as soon as they had solemnly forsworn idolatry. The "via media" was taken by those that regarded public adherence to the seven Noachian precepts as the indispensable prerequisite.[34] The outward sign of this adherence to Judaism was the observance of the Sabbath.[35]

Influence of Christianity

The recognition of these quasi-proselytes rendered it obligatory upon the Jews to treat them as brothers.[36] But by the third century the steady growth of Christianity had caused these qualified conversions to Judaism to be regarded with increasing disfavor. According to Simeon b. Eleazar, this form of adoption into Judaism was valid only when the institution of the jubilee also was observed, that is, according to the common understanding of his dictum, during the national existence of Israel.[37] A similar observation of Maimonides[38] is construed in the same sense. It seems more probable that Maimonides and Simeon ben Eleazar wished to convey the idea that, for their day, the institution of the ger toshav was without practical warrant in the Torah. R. Johanan declares that if after a probation of twelve months the ger toshav did not submit to the rite of circumcision, he was to be regarded as a heathen[39]; the same period of probation is fixed by Ḥanina bar Ḥama in Yer. Yeb. 8d).

In contradistinction to the ger toshav, the full proselyte was designated as "ger ha-ẓedeḳ," "ger ha-berit".[40] The common, technical term for "making a convert" in rabbinical literature is "ḳabbel" (to accept), or "ḳareb taḥat kanfe ha-Shekinah" (to bring one near, or under the wings of, the Shekinah). This phrase plainly presupposes an active propaganda for winning converts.[41] In fact, that proselytes are welcome in Israel and are beloved of G-d is the theme of many a rabbinical homily.[42]

Views Concerning Proselytes

Eleazar b. Pedat sees in Israel's dispersion the divine purpose of winning proselytes.[43] Jethro is the classical witness to the argument of other proselytes that the "door was not shut in the face of the heathen".[44] He is introduced as writing a letter to Moses [45] advising him to make the entry into Judaism easy for proselytes. Ruth and Rahab are quoted as illustrating the same lesson .[46] Emperor Antoninus also is mentioned as a proselyte[47] whose conversion illustrates the desirability of making converts. The circumstance that Nero[48], and, in fact, most of the Biblical persecutors of Israel, are represented as having finally embraced Judaism[49], the further fact that almost every great Biblical hero is regarded as an active propagandist, and that great teachers like Shemaiah and Abtalion, Akiba and Meïr, were proselytes, or were regarded as proselytes or as descendants of proselytes[50], go far to suggest that proselytes were not always looked upon with suspicion. According to Joshua ben Hananiah, "food" and "raiment" in Deut. x. 18 refer to the learning and the cloak of honor which are in store for the proselyte .[51] Job xxxi. 32 was explained as inculcating the practise of holding off applicants with the left hand while drawing them near with the right.[52] Modern researches have shown positively that Judaism sent forth apostles. Jethro was a type of these propagandists.[53]

Sincerity of motive in the proselyte wits insisted upon. Care was taken to exclude those who were prompted to embrace Judaism by the desire to contract an advantageous marriage, by the hope of wealth or honor, by fear or superstitious dreams.[54] The midrashic amplification of the conversation between Naomi and Ruth[55] reveals the kind of conduct the Rabbis dreaded in proselytes and what admonitions, with the penalties for disregarding them, they thought wise to impress upon the candidates. Attendance at theaters and circuses, living in houses without mezuzot, and unchastity were among the former. The same spirit of caution is apparent in a midrashic illustration to the story of Adam and Eve, in which the proselyte wife is warned by her husband against eating bread with unclean hands, partaking of untithed fruit, or violating the Sabbath or her marriage vow.[56] From Ruth's experience the rule was derived that proselytes must be refused reception three times, but not oftener.[57]

Mode of Reception

The details of the act of reception seem not to have been settled definitely before the second Christian century. From the law that proselyte and native Israelite should be treated alike[58] the inference was drawn that circumcision, the bath of purification, and sacrifice were prerequisites for conversion.[59] The sacrifice was to be an "'olat behemah"[60]; but to lessen the hardship an offering of fowls was accepted as sufficient. Neglect to bring this offering entailed certain restrictions, but did not invalidate the conversion if the other conditions werecomplied with. After the destruction of the Temple, when all sacrifices were suspended, it was ordained that proselytes should set aside a small coin in lieu of the offering, so that in case the Temple were rebuilt they might at once purchase the offering. Later, when the prospect of the rebuilding of the Temple grew very remote ("mi-pene ha-taḳḳalah"), even this requirement was dropped.[61]

Nor was it, at one time, the unanimous opinion of the authorities that circumcision was absolutely indispensable. R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus carried on a controversy on this subject with R. Joshua, the latter pleading for the possibility of omitting the rite, the former insisting on its performance.[62] The point seems to have remained unsettled for the time.[63] For Rabbi Joshua the "ṭevilah" (bath of purification) was sufficient, while his antagonist required both circumcision and bath.

The bitterness engendered by the Hadrianic persecution undoubtedly prompted the Rabbis to make conversion as difficult as possible. It is more than a mere supposition that both at that period and earlier Jews suffered considerably from the cowardice and treachery of proselytes, who often acted as spies or, to escape the "fiscus Judaicus"[64], denounced the Jews to the Romans. An instance of this kind is reported in connection with Simeon ben Yoḥai's sufferings.[65] This circumstance explains the reasons that led to the introduction into the daily liturgy of a prayer against the "denunciators and slanderers" [66] Yet the true proselytes were all the more highly esteemed; a benediction in their behalf was added to the eighteen of the Shemoneh 'Esreh, and later was incorporated with that for the elders and pious.[67]

Influence of the Hadrianic Persecution

After the Hadrianic rebellion the following procedure came into use. A complete "court," or "board," of rabbinical authorities was alone made competent to sanction the reception. The candidate was first solemnly admonished to consider the worldly disadvantages and the religious burdens involved in the intended step. He, or she, was asked, "What induces thee to join us? Dost thou not know that, in these days, the Israelites are in trouble, oppressed, despised, and subjected to endless sufferings?" If he replied, "I know it, and I am unworthy to share their glorious lot," he was reminded most impressively that while a heathen he was liable to no penalties for eating fat or desecrating the Sabbath, or for similar trespasses, but as soon as he became a Jew, he must suffer excision for the former, and death by stoning for the latter. On the other hand, the rewards in store for the faithful were also explained to him. If the applicant remained firm, he was circumcised in the presence of three rabbis, and then led to be baptized; but even while in the bath he was instructed by learned teachers in the graver and the lighter obligations which he was undertaking. After this he was considered a Jew.[68] The presence of three men was required also at the bath of women converts, though due precautions were taken not to affront their modesty. This procedure is obligatory at the present time, according to the rabbinical codes.[69] The ceremony should be performed by a properly constituted board of three learned men, and in the daytime; but if only two were present and the ceremony took place at night, it would not therefore be invalid. The ceremony of conversion could not take place on the Sabbath or on a holy day .[70] Proper evidence of conversion was required before the claimant was recognized as a proselyte, though to a certain extent piety of conduct was a presumption in his favor. If the convert reverted to his former ways of living, he was regarded as a rebellious Israelite, not as a heathen; his marriage with a Jewess, for instance, was not invalidated by his lapses. The conversion of a pregnant woman included also the child. Minors could be converted with their parents, or even alone, by the bet din, but they were permitted to recant when of age.

Unfavorable View

The proselyte is regarded as a new-born child; hence his former family connections are considered as ended, and he might legally marry his own mother or sister; but lest he come to the conclusion that his new status is less holy than his former, such unions are prohibited.[71] This conception of the proselyte's new birth [72] and of his new status with reference to his old family is the subject of many a halakie discussion[73] and has led to certain regulations concerning marriages contracted either before or after conversion.[74] That many of the earlier rabbis were opposed to proselytes is plain from observations imputed to them. R. Eliezer is credited with the opinion that the nature of proselytes is corrupt, and that hence they are apt to become backsliders).[75] Jose ben Judah insists that any candidate should be rejected unless he binds himself to observe not only every tittle of the Torah but all the precepts of the scribes, even to the least of them.[76]

Sad experience or personal fanaticism underlies the oft-cited statement—in reality a play upon Isa. xiv. 1—that proselytes are as burdensome to Israel as leprosy[77]; or the dictum that proselytes will not be received during the days of the Messiah.[78] While evil upon evil is predicted for the "meḳabbele gerim"[79], the proselytes themselves, notwithstanding their new birth, are said to be exposed to intense suffering, which is variously explained as due to their ignorance of the Law[80], or to the presence of an impure motive in their conversion (e.g., fear instead of love), or to previous misconduct[81]. Nevertheless, once received, theywere to be treated as the peers of the Jew by birth.

According to R. Simeon b. Laḳish, proselytes are more precious at Sinai than Israel was, for the latter would not have taken the "kingdom" upon himself had not miracles accompanied revelation, while the former assume the "kingdom" without having seen even one miracle. Hence an injury to a proselyte is tantamount to an injury to G-d.[82] The proselyte might marry without restriction.[83] The descendants of Ammon, Moab, Egypt, and Edom formed an exception: the males of Ammon and Moab were excluded forever, though no restriction existed against marriage with their women. Descendants of Egyptians and Edomites of either sex were proscribed in the first and second generations; the third enjoyed full connubial rights. But these restrictions were assumed to have been rendered inoperative by Sennacherib's conquest, and therefore as having no authority in later times.[84]

Besides the proselytes already mentioned, all belonging to the Roman period, there are records of others later. Among these were the kings of the Jewish Himyarite empire; Arab tribes (before the 6th cent.); Dhu Nuwas; Ḥarith ibn 'Amr; the Kenites; Waraḳah ibn-Naufal; the Chazars. Many also must have come from the ranks of the Christians; this would be the natural inference from the prohibition of conversion to Judaism issued by the Councils of Orleans, repeating previous prohibitions by Emperor Constantine. The code of Alfonso X. made conversion to Judaism a capital crime.[85]

Female Proselytes

Certain restrictions regulating the status of women proselytes are found in the Mishnah. Girls born before the conversion of their mothers were not regarded as entitled to the benefit of the provisions concerning a slanderous report as to virginity set forth in Deut. xxii. 13-21[86]; and if found untrue to their marriage vows, their punishment was strangulation, not lapidation. Only such female proselytes as at conversion had not attained the age of three years and one day, and even they not in all cases, were treated, in the law regulating matrimony, as was the native Jewish woman.[87] Proselytes were not allowed to become the wives of priests; daughters of proselytes, only in case one of the parents was a Jew by birth.[88] R. Jose objects to the requirement that one parent must be of Jewish birth.[89] On the other hand, proselytes could contract marriages with men who, according to Deut. xxii. 3, were barred from marrying Jewish women.[90] While a proselyte woman was deemed liable to the ordeal of jealousy described in Num. v. 11.[91], the provisions of the Law regarding the collection of damages in the case of injury to pregnant women were construed as not applicable to her.[92]

In these passages the strict interpretation of the Pentateuchal texts, as restricted to Israel, prevails, and in a similar spirit, in the order of Precedence as laid down in Hor. iii. 8, only the manumitted slave is assigned inferior rank to the proselyte, the bastard and the "natin" taking precedence over him. On the other hand, it should not be overlooked that it was deemed sinful to remind a proselyte of his ancestors or to speak in disrespectful terms of them and their life.[93]


  • Hastings, Dict. Bible
  • Hamburger, R. B. T.
  • Grätz, Gesch.
  • Kalisch, Bible Studies, vol. ii. (the Book of Jonah), London, 1878.J. E. G. H.

See also


  • Norman Lamm, Seventy Faces: Divided we stand, but its time to try an idea that might help us stand taller, Moment Vol. II, No. 6, June 1986 - Sivan 5746
  • Debra Nussbaum Cohen, Orthodox leader speaks out on Jewish unity, breaking long silence, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 5, 1997
  • David Landau Piety & Power, 1993, Hill & Wang, NY

External links

  • but see Geiger, "Urschrift," pp. 353 et seq.
  • Duo de Monarchia, i. 7
  • Ruth ii. 11-12; comp. Isa. ii. 2-4, xliv. 5; Jer. iii. 17, iv. 2, xii. 16; Zeph. iii. 9; I Kings viii. 41-43; Ruth i. 16
  • "De Pœnitentia," § 2; "De Caritate," § 12
  • "Ant." xx. 2, §§ 1, 4; comp. xviii. 3, § 5; for another description see the Apocalypse of Baruch, xli. 3, 4; xlii. 5
  • Lev. R. iii.; Shoḥer Ṭob to Ps. xxii. 22
  • Ps. cxv. 11-13, cxviii. 4, cxxxv. 20
  • Ps. xv. 4, xxii. 23-25, xxv. 12-14, et al.
  • "Die Stellung der Israeliten und der Juden zu den Fremden" pp. 328-334
  • "Neutestamentliche Zeitgesch." (p. 185)
  • "Die Juden im Bosporanischen Reiche," in "Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie," 1897
  • see Jacob Bernays, "Die Gottesfürchtigen bei Juvenal," in his "Gesammelte Schriften," ii. 71-80
  • see Ex. xii
  • II Chron. ii. 16 not widthstanding
  • see Deuteronomy; Gentile
  • comp. Schürer, l.c.
  • comp. Renan, "Le Judaïsme en Fait de Religion et de Race"
  • "Contra Ap." ii., § 39
  • "Hist." iv. 5
  • Dio Cassius 67, 14, 68), Cicero ("Pro Flacco," § 28), Horace ("Satires," i. 9, 69; iv. 142), and Juvenal (xiv. 96)
  • "Ant." xx., ch. 2-4
  • Dio Cassius, l.c.
  • Philo, "Contra Flaccum," ed. Mangey, ii., § 517; "Ant." xiii. 9, § 1; 11, § 3
  • Josephus, "B. J." ii. 20, § 2; "Ant." xviii. 3, § 5; Suk. 23; Yer. Suk. ii. 4; 'Ab. Zarah 10; comp. Grätz, "Die Jüdischen Proselyten im Römerreiche," Breslau, 1884; Huidekoper, "Judaism in Rome"
  • "Ant." xiii. 9, § 1; xv. 7, § 9; comp. xiii. 9, § 3
  • Shab. 31a
  • Lev. R. ii. 8
  • In this connection the censure of the Pharisees in Matt. xxv. 15 is significant. Grätz (l.c. p. 30), it is true, argues that the verse refers to an actual incident, the voyage of R. Gamaliel, R. Eliezer b. Azariah, R. Joshua, and R. Akiba to Rome, where they converted Flavius Clemens, a nephew of Emperor Domitian. But the more acceptable interpretation is that given by Jellinek ("B. H." v., p. xlvi.), according to which the passionate outburst recorded in the Gospel of Matthew condemns the Pharisaic practise of winning over every year at least one proselyte each (comp. Gen. R. xxviii.).
  • Yad. iv. 4; Tosef., Yad. ii. 7; comp. Ber. 28a
  • on the authority of R. Akiba; Tosef., Ḳid. v. 5; Yer. Yeb. 9b; Sifre, Ki Tissa, 253; Yeb. 76b, 78a; Soṭah 9a), Onḳelos, or Akylas (Aquila), from Pontus (Tosef., Dem. vi. 13; Yer. Dem. 26d), Veturia Paulla, called Sarah after her conversion (see Schürer, "Die Gemeindeverfassung der Juden in Rom," p. 35, No. 11, Leipsic, 1879
  • see Ex. xxv. 47, where the better reading would be "we-toshav"
  • "ger ha-sha'ar," that is, one under Jewish civil jurisdiction; comp. Deut. v. 14, xiv. 21, referring to the stranger who had legal claims upon the generosity and protection of his Jewish neighbors
  • 'Ab. Zarah 64b; "Yad," Issure Biah, xiv. 7
  • Gerim iii.; 'Ab. Zarah 64b; Yer. Yeb. 8d; Grätz, l.c. pp. 19-20
  • Grätz, l.c. pp. 20 et seq.; but comp. Ker. 8b
  • see 'Ab. Zarah 65a; Pes. 21a
  • 'Ar. 29a
  • "Yad," Issure Biah, xiv. 7-8; ib. 'Akkum, x. 6
  • 'Ab. Zarah 65a
  • a sincere and righteous proselyte, one who has submitted to circumcision; see Mek., Mishpaṭim, 18; Gerim iii.
  • comp. Cant. R. v. 16, where G-d is referred to as making propagandic efforts
  • Ruth R. iii.; Tan., Wayiḳra [ed. Buber, 3]; see also Mek., Mishpaṭim, 18; Tosef., Demai, ii. 10; Bek. 32a
  • Pes. 87b
  • Pesiḳ. R. 35
  • Mek., Yitro, 'Amaleḳ, 1
  • Shoḥer Ṭob to Ps. v. 11
  • Yer. Meg. 72b, 74a
  • Giṭ. 56a
  • Sanh. 96b
  • see Bacher, "Ag. Tan." i. 5-6
  • Gen. R. lxx.
  • Yer. Sanh. 29b
  • see Bacher, "Ag. Tan." i. 210; Harnack, "Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums," pp. 237-240, Leipsic, 1902; Grätz, "Gesch." 3d ed., vol. iv., note 21; S. Krauss, "Die Jüdischen Apostel," in "J. Q. R." xvii. 370
  • R. Nehemiah, in Yeb. 24b; comp. 76a
  • Ruth R. i. 16; Yeb. 47b
  • Ab. R. N. i.
  • Ruth R. ii.
  • Num. xv. 14 et seq.
  • comp. "Yad," Issure Biah, xiii. 4
  • a burnt offering of cattle; ib. xiii. 5; Ker. ii. 1; 8b, 9a
  • comp. Ker. 8a; R. H. 31b; Gerim ii.; Tosef., Sheḳalim, iii. 22
  • Yeb. 46a
  • see Grätz, "Die Jüdischen Proselyten," p. 13
  • see Grätz, l.c. pp. 7 et seq.
  • Shab. 33b
  • "mesorot," "minim"; see Joël, "Blicke in die Religionsgesch." i. 33.
  • Tosef., Ber. iii.; Yer. Ber. 8a; Ta'an. 85c; comp. Grätz, l.c. p. 11
  • Yeb. 47a, b
  • see Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 268; "Yad," Issure Biah, xiv.
  • ib.
  • see Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 269; "Yad," Issure Biah, xiv. 13
  • Yeb. 62a; Yer. Yeb. 4a
  • Yeb. xi. 2; Yer. Yeb. l.c.; et al.
  • "Yad," l.c. xiv. 13 et seq.; with reference to the first-fruit offering see Yer. Bik. 64a; Tosef., Bik. i. 2
  • Mek., Mishpaṭim, 18; B. Ḳ. 59b; Gerim iv.
  • Tosef., Dem. ii. 5; Sifra 91a, to Lev. xix. 34
  • Yeb. 47b, 109b; Ḳid. 70b; 'Ab. Zarah 3b; Ket. 11a; Niddah 13b
  • "Yad," Issure Biah, xiii.-xiv.; ib. 'Abadim, ix.; Yoreh De'ah, 268
  • propagandists; Yeb. 109b
  • Yeb. 48b
  • Yeb. 68b
  • Tan., Lek Leka, beginning; Ḥag. 5a
  • "Yad," Issure Biah, xii. 17
  • "Yad," l.c. xii. 17-24
  • Graetz, "Hist." ii. 562; iii. 37, 595
  • see Ket. iv. 3
  • ib. i. 2, 4; iii. 1, 2
  • Yeb. vi. 5; Ḳid. iv. 7; see Cohen
  • Ḳid. l.c.
  • Yeb. viii. 2
  • 'Eduy. v. 6
  • B. Ḳ. v. 4, but consult Gemara; "R. E. J." xiii. 318
  • B. M. iv. 10