Medieval Texts

This section covers texts from the medieval period, including commentaries and legal codes. Each commentator brings his own unique reading of rabbinic tradition. Taken together, they show the diversity of opinion surrounding issues of conversion.

 

Ephraim of Bonn, 13th c. England

In a certain city where there were many proselytes—twenty two men forming a congregation of proselytes—they slew them all.  Not a single one soiled himself with the waters of baptism, but they all died “for the sanctivication of God’s Name.”

 

Comment on Numbers 15:14-16, Don Isaac Abravanel, 15th c.

There are three reasons why the Bible makes converts and born Jews completely equal in the observance of all the commandments.  Reason No. 1:  Israel is a religious congregation, “one people in the world.”  … Reason No. 2: Our God is One and therefore it is incumbent upon those who believe in God to form a perfect unity… Reason No. 3:  Our Torah sets down one pattern of life, one law; and all who obey its tenets must be regarded as equals.

 

“Letter to Obadiah the Proselyte,” in A Maimonides Reader by Twersky, pp. 475ff

You ask me if you [a convert] are allowed to use the worlds of blessing:  “Our God and God of our ancestors…” "You have brought us out of the land of Egypt”… Yes, you may say all of this in the prescribed order and not change it in the least.  In the same way that every Jew-by-birth say prayers and blessings, you, too, may pray and bless… Do not consider your origin as inferior, while we are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you derive from God through whose word the world was created.

 

“Letter to an Inquirer, Twersky, A Maimonides Reader, p. 477

In response to a convert who was ridiculed by his teacher, Maimonides also wrote:  “He called you a fool?  Astounding! A man who has left his mother and father, his birthplace, his country and his power, and attached himself to this lowly, despised, and enslaved people who recognized the truth and righteousness of this people’s Law, and cast the things of this world from his heart—shall such a one be called a fool?  God forbid!”

 

Rashi to Ex. 18:1

יתרו: שבע שמות נקראו לו רעואל, יתר, יתרו, חובב, חבר, קיני, פוטיאל. יתר, על שם שיתר פרשה אחת בתורה (להלן פסוק כא) ואתה תחזה. יתרו לכשנתגייר וקיים המצות הוסיפו לו אות אחת על שמו. חובב שחבב את התורה. וחובב הוא יתרו, שנאמר (שופטים ד יא) מבני חובב חותן משה. ויש אומרים רעואל אביו של יתרו היה, ומה הוא אומר (שמות ב יח) ותבאנה אל רעואל אביהן, שהתינוקות קורין לאבי אביהן אבא. בספרי:

Yitro: He was called by seven names: Reuel, Jether, Jethro [i.e., Yithro], Hobab, Heber, Keni, [and] Putiel (Mechilta). [He was called] Jether (יֶתֶר) because he [caused] a section to be added (יִתֵּר) to the Torah [namely]: “But you shall choose” (Ex 18:21). [He was called] Jethro (יִתְרוֹ) [to indicate that] when he converted and fulfilled the commandments, a letter was added to his name. [He was called] Hobab (חוֹבָב) [which means lover] because he loved (חִבָּב) the Torah. Hobab was indeed Jethro, as it is said: “of the children of Hobab, Moses’ father-in-law” (Jud. 4:11). Others say that Reuel was Jethro’s father. [If so,] what [is the meaning of] what it [Scripture] says [referring to the daughters of Jethro]: “They came to their father Reuel” (Exod. 2:18)? Because [young] children call their grandfather “Father.” [This appears] in Sifrei (Beha’alothecha 10:29).

 

Maimonides Mishneh Torah, Laws of selling 14:13

כל המונה את הגר, בין בממון בין בדברים--עובר בשלושה לאוין:  שנאמר "וגר לא תונה" (שמות כב,כ), זו הונית דברים; "ולא תלחצנו" (שם), זו הונית ממון.  הא למדת שהמונה את הגר, עובר בשלושה לאוין--משום "לא תונו איש את עמיתו" (ויקרא כה,יז), ומשום "אל תונו, איש את אחיו" (ויקרא כה,יד), ומשום "וגר לא תונה

Anyone who defrauds a convert, whether through money or through words, transgresses three negative commandments, "you shall not defraud a convert" (Ex. 22:20), this is defrauding through words. "Don't oppress him" this is fraud through money. Thus you learn that one who defrauds a convert transgressed three negative commandants, "a person should not defraud his neighbor" (Lev. 25:17), "a person should not defraud his brother" (Lev. 25:14), and "you shall not defraud a convert" (Ex. 22:20).

 

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilhot Hagigah 3:6

וגרים שאינן מכירין חייבין להכין לבם ולהקשיב אזנם לשמוע באימה ויראה וגילה ברעדה כיום שניתנה בו בסיני, אפילו חכמים גדולים שיודעים כל התורה כולה חייבין לשמוע בכוונה גדולה יתרה, ומי שאינו יכול לשמוע מכוין לבו לקריאה זו שלא קבעה הכתוב אלא לחזק דת האמת ויראה עצמו כאילו עתה נצטוה בה ומפי הגבורה שומעה, שהמלך שליח הוא להשמיע דברי האל.

As for proselytes who do not know the Torah, they must make ready their heart and give ear attentively to listen in awe and reverence and trembling joy, as on the day when the Torah was given on Sinai.

 

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilhot Milah 3:4

המל את הגרים מברך, ברוך אתה יי' אלהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו למול את הגרים ולהטיף ממנו דם ברית שאלמלא דם הברית לא נתקיימו שמים וארץ שנאמר אם לא בריתי יומם ולילה חקות שמים וארץ לא שמתי.

When circumcising converts, one should recite the blessing: Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to circumcise converts and to extract from them the blood of the covenant, for were it not for the blood of the covenant the existence of the heavens and the earth could not be maintained, as [Jeremiah 33:25] states: "Were it not for My covenant, day and night, I would not have established the laws of heaven and earth."

 

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Issurei Biah 15:3

עכו"ם ועבד הבא על בת ישראל הולד כשר בין פנויה בין באשת איש בין באונס בין ברצון, עכו"ם ועבד הבאים על הממזרת הולד ממזר, וממזר הבא על העכו"ם הולד עכו"ם, נתגייר הרי הוא כשר כשאר גרים, ואם בא על השפחה הולד עבד, שחררו הולד כשר כשאר עבדים משוחררין ומותר בבת ישראל.

When a gentile or a servant enters into relations with a Jewish woman, the child is acceptable. [This applies] whether the woman is unmarried or married, whether she was raped or engaged in relations willingly. When a gentile or a servant enters into relations with a female mamzer, the offspring is a mamzer.When a mamzer enters into relations with a female gentile, the offspring is a gentile. If [the child] converts, he is fit to marry within the Jewish people like other converts. If [a mamzer] enters into relations with a maid-servant, the offspring is a servant. If he is freed, the offspring is acceptable like other freed servants. He may marry a Jewish woman.

 

 

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Isurei Biah 15:8

גיורת שנשאת לגר והולידו בן אע"פ שהורתו ולידתו בקדושה הרי זה מותר בממזרת, וכן בן בן בנו עד שישתקע שם גירותו ממנו ולא יודע שהוא גר ואח"כ יאסר בממזרת ואחד הגרים ואחד העבדים משוחררין דין אחד לכולן.

When a female convert marries a male convert and gives birth to a son, he is permitted to marry a female mamzer even though he was both conceived and born in holiness. This also applies to the son of his grandson [- or any other descendant -] until his connection with conversion is forgotten and it is not known that he [descends from] converts. Afterwards, he will be forbidden to marry a female mamzer. Converts and freed servants are bound by the same laws.

 

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Nedarim 9:23

הנודר מישראל אסור בגרים, מן הגרים מותר בישראל, הנודר מישראל אסור בכהנים ולוים מן הכהנים ומן הלוים מותר בישראל, הנודר מן הכהנים מותר בלוים, מהלוים מותר בכהנים, הנודר מבניו מותר בבני בניו, ובכל הדברים האלו וכיוצא בהן דין הנודר והנשבע אחד הוא.

When a person takes a vow not [to benefit] from the Jewish people, he is forbidden [to benefit] from converts. [When a person takes a vow not to benefit] from converts, he is permitted [to benefit] from natural born Jews. When he takes a vow [not to benefit] from Israelites, he is forbidden [to benefit] from priests and Levites. [When he vows not to benefit] from the priests and the Levites, he is permitted to benefit from an Israelite. [When he vows not to benefit] from the priests, he is permitted to benefit from the Levites. [When he vows not to benefit] from the Levites, he is permitted to benefit from the priests. [When he vows not to benefit] from his sons, he is permitted to benefit from his grandchildren.In all these and analogous matters, the laws regarding those who take a vow and an oath are the same.

 

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Edut 13:2

הגרים אינן בדין הקרובים אפילו שני אחים תאומים שנתגיירו מעידין זה לזה, שהגר שנתגייר כקטן שנולד הוא חשוב.

Converts are not considered as relatives. Even two twin brothers who convert may testify on each others' behalf. For a convert is considered as a newborn child.

 

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Melachim 1:4

אין מעמידין מלך מקהל גרים אפילו אחר כמה דורות עד שתהיה אמו מישראל, שנאמר לא תוכל לתת עליך איש נכרי אשר לא אחיך הוא, ולא למלכות בלבד אלא לכל שררות שבישראל, לא שר צבא לא שר חמשים או שר עשרה, אפילו ממונה על אמת המים שמחלק ממנה לשדות, ואין צריך לומר דיין או נשיא שלא יהא אלא מישראל, שנאמר מקרב אחיך תשים עליך מלך כל משימות שאתה משים לא יהו אלא מקרב אחיך.

A king should not be appointed from converts to Judaism. This applies even if the convert's ancestors had been Jewish for many generations, unless his mother or father is a native-born Israelite, as Deuteronomy 17:15 states: 'You may not appoint a foreigner who is not one of your brethren.' This does not apply to the monarchy alone, but to all positions of authority within Israel. A convert may not serve as an army commander, a leader of fifty, or as a leader of ten. He may not even supervise the allocation of water from a stream to various fields. Needless to say, a judge or a prince should only be a native-born Israelite, as it is stated (ibid.): 'Appoint a king over you from among your brethren.' This implies that all appointments must only be 'from your brethren.'

 

Rabbi Eliezer ben Natan, Sefer ha-Ra-aban, Yevamot Chap. 2

ומסקנא דאע"ג דמתגיירא לשם איש היא גיורת, וכן איש שנשתחרר לשם אשה, ולכתחילה אין מקבלין אותן משום הסר ממך עקשות פה ולזות שפתים הרחק ממך, ות"ר אין מקבלין גרים לימות המשיח כיוצא בו לא קבלו גרים בימי דוד ובימי שלמה ואמר ר' אלעזר מאי קרא מי גר אתך בעניותך יפול עליך בעשירותך, ומיהו אם מתגיירי מיתגיירי והוו גרים דהא בימי מרדכי נתגיירי והוי גרים.

The conclusion is that, although she underwent conversion for the sake of a man, she is a convert, and the same is true of a man who did so for the sake of a woman. Ab initio, however, they should not be accepted, because [it is written]: 'Put away from thee a dissembling mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee' (Prov. 4.24). And our rabbis taught, 'no proselytes will be accepted in messianic times'...nevertheless, if they underwent conversion, it is a fait accompli, and they are proselytes. For in Mordecai's times they underwent conversion, and they were proselytes.

 

Maimonides Commentary to the Mishnah, on Nezikin (translation found in "transforming Jewish identity" by Sagi and Zohar, pg 24

And when a person has all these elements [namely: the principles of faith], and truly believes in them, then he has joined the community of Israel, and it is our duty to love him and be compassionate toward him, and to manifest towards him all norms of love and brotherhood that God has commanded each of us toward his fellow...but when a man doubts any one of these elements, he has removed himself from the community...and we are obligated to hate him and destroy him.

 

 

Yehudah Gaon found (translation found in "transforming Jewish identity" by Sagi and Zohar, pg 30)

A man who underwent conversion for the sake of a woman, as well as a woman who underwent conversion for the sake of a man, and so too those who did so for the sake of a royal table, or for the sake of joining Solomon's servants, and the lion proselytes, and the proselytes of Mordecai and Esther - the halachais that all of them are proselytes.

 

Tur Yoreh Deah 268:12

אחד איש שנתגייר לשם אשה ואחד אשה שנתגיירה לשם איש ושנתגייר לשם שלחן מלכים ואחד גרי אריות וחלומות כולם גרים

A man who underwent conversion for the sake of a woman, as well as a woman who did so for the sake of a man...and someone who underwent conversion for the sake of a royal table, as well as lion proselytes and dream proselytes - all are proselytes.

 

Rashi on Gen. 36:3

(ג) בשמת בת ישמעאל - ולהלן קורא לה (כח ט) מחלת. מצינו באגדת מדרש ספר שמואל (פרק יז) שלשה מוחלין להן עונותיהם גר שנתגייר, והעולה לגדולה, והנושא אשה, ולמד הטעם מכאן, לכך נקראת מחלת שנמחלו עונותיה:

Basemath, daughter of Ishmael: elsewhere [Scripture] calls her "Mahalath" (above 28:9). I found in the Aggadah of the midrash on the Book of Samuel (ch. 17): There are three people whose iniquities are forgiven:  One who converts to Judaism, one who is promoted to a high position, and one who marries. "The proof [of the last one] is derived from here" (28:9). For this reason she was called Mahalath because his (Esau’s) sins were forgiven.

 

Rashi on Ex 12:19

בגר ובאזרח הארץ - לפי שהנס נעשה לישראל, הוצרך לרבות את הגרים:.

both among the strangers and the native born of the land: Since the miracle [of the Exodus] was performed for Israel, it was necessary to [explicitly] include the strangers [who were proselytized but are not descended from Israelite stock].

 

Rashi on Ex 12:49

תורה אחת וגו' - להשוות גר לאזרח אף לשאר מצות שבתורה:

There shall be one law: [This verse comes] to liken a proselyte to a native also regarding other commandments in the Torah.

 

Rashi on Ex. 22:20

(כ) וגר לא תונה - אונאת דברים, קונטרליי"ר בלעז [לקנטר], כמו (ישעיה מט כו) והאכלתי את מוניך את בשרם: ולא תלחצנו - בגזילת ממון:  כי גרים הייתם - אם הוניתו, אף הוא יכול להונותך ולומר לך אף אתה מגרים באת, מום שבך אל תאמר לחברך. כל לשון גר, אדם שלא נולד באותה מדינה, אלא בא ממדינה אחרת לגור שם:

And you shall not mistreat: By taunting with words, contralier in Old French, [meaning] to vex, like “And those who taunt you, I will feed their flesh” (Isa. 49:26). "Nor shall you oppress him: by robbing [him of his] money." For you were strangers in the land of Egypt. If you taunt him, he can also taunt you and say to you, “You too emanate from strangers.” Do not reproach your neighbor with a fault that is also yours. Every expression of a stranger means a person who was not born in that country but has come from another country to sojourn there.

 

 

Rashi on Ex. 23:9

וגר לא תלחץ - בהרבה מקומות הזהירה תורה על הגר מפני שסורו רע: את נפש הגר - כמה קשה לו כשלוחצים אותו:

"And you shall not oppress a stranger." In many places the Torah warns about the stranger [convert] because he has a strong temptation [to return to his former bad ways]

"The feelings of the stranger:" How hard it is for him when people oppress him.

 

Rashi on Num. 5:8

להשיב האשם אליו - כשנמלך זה להתודות על עונו. ואמרו רבותינו וכי יש לך אדם בישראל שאין לו גואלים או בן או אח או שאר בשר הקרוב ממשפחת אביו למעלה עד יעקב, אלא זה הגר שמת ואין לו יורשים:

To whom to make restitution: when this one decided to confess his sin. Our Sages say: Is there any man in Israel who has no kinsman-either a son, a daughter, a brother, or some other relative from his father’s family-all the way back to our father Jacob? Rather, this is [referring to] a proselyte who died, leaving no heirs. — [since a proselyte is judged as a newborn, without relationship to those born prior to his conversion.]

 

 

Rashi on Num 15:15

ככם כגר - כמותכם כן גר וכן דרך לשון עברית, (בראשית יג, י) כגן ה' כארץ מצרים, כן ארץ מצרים, (מ"א כב, ד) כמוני כמוך כעמי כעמך:

Just as [it is] for you, so [it is] for the proselyte:, lit., like you like the proselyte, just as it for you, so it is for the proselyte. This is the style of the Hebrew language; “like the garden of Adonai, like the Land of Egypt” (Gen. 13:10) [meaning] so was the Land of Egypt [like the garden of Adonai] (Compare Rashi on Gen. 13:10);“like me, like you, like my people, like your people” (I Kings. 22:4) [meaning, I am like you, and your people like my people].

 

Rashi on Dt. 16:11

והלוי והגר והיתום והאלמנה - ארבעה שלי כנגד ארבעה שלך, בנך ובתך ועבדך ואמתך, אם אתה משמח את שלי, אני משמח את שלך:

"The Levite… the stranger, the orphan, and the widow": [God says:] These are My four, corresponding to your four, [namely,] “Your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant.” If you shall gladden Mine, I will gladden yours.

 

Rashi on Dt. 26:11

והגר אשר בקרבך - (שם מכות יט) מביא ואינו קורא, שאינו יכול לומר לאבותינו:

"And the stranger who is among you": [I.e., the proselyte.] He brings [his firstfruits], but he does not recite the declaration, since he cannot say “to our fathers” [in the introduction to the declaration (verse 3): “I have come to the land which Adonai swore to our forefathers to give us”].

 

Rashi on Ps. 66:16

כל יראי אלהים - הם הגרי' שיתגיירו:

Come, hearken and I shall tell all you who fear God what God did for my soul. Rashi: all you who fear God: They are the proselytes who became converted.

 

Rashi on Is. 56:3

הבדל יבדילני ה' מעל עמו - למה אתגייר הלא הקב"ה יבדילני מעל עמו כשישלם שכרם:

Now let not the foreigner who joined Adonai, say, "Adonai will surely separate me from God's people," and let not the eunuch say, "Behold, I am a dry tree." “Adonai will surely separate me from God's people,”: Why should I become converted? Will not the Holy and Blessed One, separate me from God's people when God pays their reward.

 

Radak on Is. 56:7

והביאותים - כמו שיכניס אורח בביתו ומקבלו בשמחה כן אמר אצוה לכהנים שיקבלו בשמחה כשיבאו להתגייר

"I will bring them to My holy mount, and I will cause them to rejoice in My house of prayer, their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon My altar, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." Just as you bring a guest into your house and receive him/her with joy likewise God said, I will command the priests to receive those to come to convert with joy.

 

Nachmanides on Yevamot 45b (translation found in "transforming Jewish identity" by Sagi and Zohar pg. 186)

Three are needed for acceptance of the commandments, even ex post facto...But if he was notified about some of the rewards and punishments for the commandments, and accepted upon himself in court to be circumcised and to immerse, then: if he went and was circumcised and immersed without the presence of a court, he is a valid Jew and we do not disqualify his children. However, we do not permit him to marry a Jewish woman until he has immersed before three because, ab initio, three are required both for acceptance and for immersion.

 

Rabbi Gershom ben Jacob, Klalei Milah (translation found in "transforming Jewish identity" by Sagi and Zohar pg. 183)

He is never considered a proselyte until he is circumcised and has immersed: circumcision first, followed by immersion. Once, in Mainz, a proselyte immersed and was then circumcised, and all the sages of Mainz required another immersion, as we hold that circumcision must be first.