Monday, May 26, 2008

Shavuos I -The beginning of the Jewish people

While I have posted much material regarding the nature of conversion and the problem with conversion - the fact remains that Judaism and the Jewish people are the result of conversion. While there is much discussion whether the essential act of conversion was that of Avraham or the mass conversion at Sinai - everyone agrees that the mass conversion at Sinai was creation of the Jewish people we have today. Therefore I will be devoting a number of postings from the classic sources regarding the creation of the Jewish people.

This issue of the origin of the Jewish people is not merely of historical interest - but how the beginning came about determines the halacha for present day conversions. That is because the conversion process itself is a replication of this original process.

Conversion process is same at that which created Jewish people

Kerisos(9a): Bamidbar (15:15): As you are, so shall the ger (stranger) be. He is compared to you but not completely concerning your sacrifices. Rebbe said, “As you” means as your ancestors. In other words, just as your ancestors only entered into the covenant with G‑d by means of circumcision, immersion in mikve and sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifices, so shall the ger enter in to the covenant with G‑d circumcision, immersion in mikveh and the sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifice.

Yevamos(46a): Our Rabbis taught: If a candidate for conversion was circumcised but not immersed in a mikveh – R’ Eliezer said he is still a valid ger because our ancestors [who left Egypt and came to Sinai - Rashi] were circumcised but had not been immersed in a mikveh. If he were immersed in mikveh but was not circumcised – R’ Yehoshua said that he is a valid ger because our female ancestors immersed but were not circumcised. Our Sages said that if he were only immersed in mikveh but not circumcised or if he were only circumcised but not immersed in mikve – he is not a valid ger. He must have both circumcision and immersion in mikveh [to be a valid ger]

Rambam(Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:1-4): With three things Israel entered into the covenant with G‑d – circumcision, immersion in a mikveh and offering a sacrifice….So it is for all generations when a non‑Jew wants to join the covenant and get sheltered under the wings of the Shechina and accept upon himself the yoke of Torah he needs circumcision, immersion and the offering of a sacrifice. For a non-Jewish woman to convert she needs immersion and the offering of a sacrifice…

When did the Jewish people become Jews?

Ramban(Vayikra 24:10:): … I don’t agree with the French commentators. Once Avraham was circumcised and made a covenant with G‑d he was considered a Jew and was not considered belonging to the nations. We see this concerning Esav (Kiddushin 18a) that he had the status of a Jewish sinner….

Rav Tzadok( Parshos Shemos): There is a well known dispute amongst the rishonim as to whether the Patriarchs were still considered Bnei Noach and “all are the words of the living G‑d” (eilu v’eilu). In fact they had left the status of Bnei Noach as we see in Chagiga (3a) that Avraham was called “the beginning of gerim.” However they were not complete Jews until the Giving of the Torah which was a type of marriage (kiddushin) as is stated in Sanhedrin (59a) regarding Devarim (33:4) that Torah is considered a betrothal. Avraham had been promised this with an oath which is a form of engagement and betrothal through an oath. Nevertheless it was possible to break the commitment prior to marriage which is the completion of the betrothal. Concerning this Shemos (23:9),”You know the soul of the ger because you were gerim in Egypt.” They were in fact gerim in Egypt because they were just called Israel. And this that it says in Bereishis (15:13), “And your descendants will be gerim (strangers)… Because they were slaves to the Egyptians they were not yet called “servants of G‑d” and “children of G‑d”. Because of the slavery they merited being redeemed afterwards and also to receive the Torah. That is because their affliction was not like the affliction of other peoples which is to cause them to be destroyed. In regards to Israel it was like that of the punishment that a father gives his son which is out of love and kindness for the son’s own good so that he can receive a greater good. Therefore the son has to be reprimanded and punished and through this is capable to receive much benefit afterwards.

Tztizt Eliezer(20:44 7): The Turei Even (Chagiga 3a) writes about Avraham being the begining of gerim and deals with many gemoras which seem to be contradictory concerning whether the Jews left the status of Bnei Noach prior to Sinai. He cites Yoma (28b), Yevamos (100b), Kiddushin (18a) and Chullin (100b) as well as others. He also discusses Amram marrying his aunt and Avraham saying that Sarah was his sister (which is true if he had the statuts of Ben Noach). He writes that the Patriarchs had a partial status of being a Jew - even though it was not complete – but they definitely left the status of Bnei Noach in the days of Avraham. Thus it makes sense why Chagiga (3a) describes him as the beginning of gerim. That means that he was the first one who left the status of Ben Noach and entered into a state of holiness. This fits in with Yevamos (100b) which explains Bereishis (17:7): “ And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a G‑d to you, and to your seed after you” to mean that they should not marry a non‑Jewish woman so that his descendants shouldn’t be influenced to follow in her ways.

Igros Moshe(Y.D. 3:112): It appears that the reason of Tosfos (Yevamos 45) in his first answer which concerns the first view is that the 3 people of the beis din are for the sake of the acceptance of mitzvos by the ger. That is because the acceptance of mitzvos is not an activity of the geirus process because we don’t find that there is any discussion in the gemora about how this is derived – even though it could have been learned from the fact that our ancestors said “We will do and then we will understand” (na’aseh venishma) at Sinai. Nevetheless we don’t find in Yevamos (46a) in the braissa where the details of the conversion process are learned from the actions of our ancestors (i.e., circumcision and immersion in mikveh) that it shows how we know that the mitzvos must also be accepted. Rather it appears that the acceptance of mitzvos is not an activity which is part of the ritual of conversion but rather someone who does not accept the mitzva is not fit to become a ger. [Thus it is the essential precondition for conversion – but does not cause the conversion]. Tosfos holds that only the acceptance of mitzvos requires a beis din and also states something new that the declaration that this man or woman is fit to become a ger needs to be done in front of three because the word mishpat (laws) is associated with conversion. Therefore when the ger accepts the obligation to do mitzvos before three and also to be circumcized and immersed in mikveh – they render the decision that he is now fit to become a ger. Therefore after this decision he is circumcised and immersed - even if it isn’t in the presence of beis din – he still becomes a valid ger since he did the this according to their instructions. This can also be seen from an inference that can be made in the language of the Ramban which is brought by the Magid Mishna (Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:9), “But if he accepts on himself before three to be circumcized and to immersed in mikveh and he is instructed in some of the mitzvos according to their details, and then he goes and is circumcized and immersed even not in the presence of beis din – he is a valid ger.”… This indicates that the beis din needs to instruct him that he needs to accept the mitzvos in their presence and then to be circumcized and immersed in mikveh. They render a decision that he is valid to become a ger – which is then accomplished through circumcision and immersion in mikveh

No comments :

Post a Comment

please use either your real name or a pseudonym.