Blog Yomi – Yevamos #46

An event evocative of Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” introduces today’s Daf, on דף מ״ו עמוּד ב, ten lines from the bottom:

אָמַר רַבָּה: עוֹבָדָא הֲוָה בֵּי רַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר רַבִּי, וְרַב יוֹסֵף מַתְנִי רַבִּי אוֹשַׁעְיָא בַּר רַבִּי, וְרַב סָפְרָא מַתְנֵי רַבִּי אוֹשַׁעְיָא בְּרַבִּי חִיָּיא, דַּאֲתָא לְקַמֵּיהּ גֵּר שֶׁמָּל וְלֹא טָבַל. אָמַר לֵיהּ: שְׁהִי כָּאן עַד לִמְחַר וְנַטְבְּלִינָךְ

Rabba said: There was an incident in the house of Rabbi Chiya Beribi, and as Rav Yosef teaches it, Rabbi Oshaya Beribi was also present, and as Rav Safra teaches it, a third Sage, Rabbi Oshaya, son of Rabbi Chiya, was also present, in which a גֵּר came before them who was circumcised but had not done טְבִילָה. They said to the גֵּר: Remain here with us until tomorrow, and then we will טוֹבֵל you.

שְׁמַע מִינַּהּ תְּלָת. שְׁמַע מִינַּהּ: גֵּר צָרִיךְ שְׁלֹשָׁה. וּשְׁמַע מִינַּהּ: אֵינוֹ גֵּר עַד שֶׁיָּמוּל וְיִטְבּוֹל. וּשְׁמַע מִינַּהּ: אֵין מַטְבִּילִין גֵּר בַּלַּיְלָה

It appears from this incident that there are three laws involved:

  1. Conversion requires a mini בֵּית דִין of three people.
  2. Conversion requires both בְּרִית מִילָה and טְבִילָה.
  3. A גֵּר does not do טְבִילָה at night.

The Gemara adds, perhaps there may be a fourth law of גֵירוּת here. That the בֵּית דִין has to be convened with three experts on the matter: וְנֵימָא: שְׁמַע מִינַּהּ נָמֵי בָּעֵינַן מוּמְחִין After all, those were three formidable גְדוֹלִים at the Garden Party. R’ Oshaya was a great student of R’ Chiya, and together they redacted the Tosefta. The Gemara in חוּלִין says (141a/b) that “any Baraisa not taught in the academies of R’ Chiya or R’ Oshaya is inaccurate”. Heady stuff. Nevertheless our Daf opts to say that it was just happenstance that these three authorities were there (“דִּלְמָא דְּאִיקְּלַעוּ”), and any מְזוּמָן would suffice.

How do we know you need three דַיָנִים to preside over גֵירוּת?

אָמַר רַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר אַבָּא אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: גֵּר צָרִיךְ שְׁלֹשָׁה, ״מִשְׁפָּט״ כְּתִיב בֵּיהּ

Rashi elaborates: משפט כתיב ביה – משפט אחד יהיה לכם ולגר (במדבר ט״ו:ט״ז) ואין משפט פחות מג (The complete פָּסוּק is: תּוֹרָ֥ה אַחַ֛ת וּמִשְׁפָּ֥ט אֶחָ֖ד יִהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם וְלַגֵּ֖ר הַגָּ֥ר אִתְּכֶֽם.) So three people is the minimum any time that legal judgment is involved.

The Gemara continues: תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: מִי שֶׁבָּא וְאָמַר ״גֵּר אֲנִי״, יָכוֹל נְקַבְּלֶנּוּ — תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר: ״אִתְּךָ״, בְּמוּחְזָק לְךָ. בָּא וְעֵדָיו עִמּוֹ, מִנַּיִן — תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר: ״וְכִי יָגוּר אִתְּךָ גֵּר בְּאַרְצְכֶם״

With regard to someone who came and said: I am a גֵּר, one might have thought that we should accept him unquestionably. Therefore, the פָּסוּק states: “And if a convert sojourns with you in your land, you shall not oppress him” (Leviticus 19:33). The emphasis on “אִתְּךָ (with you)” suggests that only someone who was already vetted as a valid גֵּר should be accepted uncritically. If he’s from out of town, but brought witnesses to his גֵירוּת with him, how do we know that he is to be accepted? From the beginning of that פָּסוּק, which states: “וְכִי יָגוּר אִתְּךָ גֵּר בְּאַרְצְכֶם”.

We’re now up to דף מ״ז עמוּד א, as our מְגַיֵיר plot thickens. The discussion centers on the extent to which the גֵּר needs to carry his convert passport with him, or if he is believed at face value. And, does that depend on whether we’re talking about in ארץ ישראל or חוץ לארץ? At the 8:54 mark of the video, Rabbi Stern notes that the complete process of גֵירוּת is reviewed in the Rambam.

For your reference, here is the hyperlink to Rabbi Stern’s citation regarding גֵירוּת in the Rambam’s אִיסוּרֵי בִּיאָה פֶּרֶק י״ד. To give you a flavor of it, here is the first passage:

כֵּיצַד מְקַבְּלִין גֵּרֵי הַצֶּדֶק. כְּשֶׁיָּבוֹא אִחָד לִהִתְגַּיֵּר מִן הָעַכּוּ”ם וְיִבְדְּקוּ אַחֲרָיו וְלֹא יִמְצְאוּ עִלָּה. אוֹמְרִים לוֹ מָה רָאִיתָ שֶׁבָּאתָ לְהִתְגַּיֵּר. אִי אַתָּה יוֹדֵעַ שֶׁיִּשְׂרָאֵל בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה דְּווּיִים וּדְחוּפִים וּמְסֻחָפִין וּמְטֹרָפִין וְיִסּוּרִין בָּאִין עֲלֵיהֶן. אִם אָמַר אֲנִי יוֹדֵעַ וְאֵינִי כְּדַאי מְקַבְּלִין אוֹתוֹ מִיָּד:

“What is the procedure when accepting a righteous convert? When one of the gentiles comes to convert, we inspect his background.  If an ulterior motive for conversion is not found, we ask him: ‘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,’ we accept him immediately.”

The Gemara relates an incident for which we’re going to need the help of תּוֹספוֹת to understand. Here is the passage:

מַעֲשֶׂה בְּאֶחָד שֶׁבָּא לִפְנֵי רַבִּי יְהוּדָה, וְאָמַר לוֹ: נִתְגַּיַּירְתִּי בֵּינִי לְבֵין עַצְמִי. אָמַר לוֹ רַבִּי יְהוּדָה: יֵשׁ לְךָ עֵדִים? אָמַר לוֹ: לָאו. יֵשׁ לְךָ בָּנִים? אָמַר לוֹ: הֵן. אָמַר לוֹ: נֶאֱמָן אַתָּה לִפְסוֹל אֶת עַצְמְךָ, וְאִי אַתָּה נֶאֱמָן לִפְסוֹל אֶת בָּנֶיךָ

There was an incident involving one who was presumed to be Jewish who came before Rabbi Yehuda and said to him: I converted in private, and therefore I am not actually Jewish. Rabbi Yehuda said to him: Do you have witnesses to support your claim? He said to him: No. Rabbi Yehuda asked: Do you have children? He said to him: Yes. Rabbi Yehuda said to him: You are deemed credible in order to render yourself unfit (פָּסוּל) to marry a Jewish woman by claiming that you are a gentile, but you are not deemed credible in order to render your children unfit.

The Gemara continues:

אָמַר רַב נַחְמָן בַּר יִצְחָק, הָכִי קָאָמַר לֵיהּ: לִדְבָרֶיךָ גּוֹי אַתָּה, וְאֵין עֵדוּת לְגוֹי. רָבִינָא אָמַר, הָכִי קָאָמַר לֵיהּ: יֵשׁ לְךָ בָּנִים? הֵן. יֵשׁ לְךָ בְּנֵי בָנִים? הֵן. אָמַר לוֹ: נֶאֱמָן אַתָּה לִפְסוֹל בָּנֶיךָ, וְאִי אַתָּה נֶאֱמָן לִפְסוֹל בְּנֵי בָנֶיךָ

Rav Naḥman bar Yitzcḥak said that this is what Rabbi Yehuda said to him: According to your statement you are a גּוֹי, and there is no testimony for a gentile, as a גּוֹי is a disqualified witness. Consequently, you cannot testify about the status of your children and render them unfit. Ravina said that this is what R’ Yehuda said to him: Do you have children? He replied: Yes. He said to him: Do you have grandchildren? He replied: Yes. He said to him: You are deemed credible in order to render your children פָּסוּל, but you are not deemed credible in order to render your grandchildren פָּסוּל, as the פָּסוּק affords a father credibility only with respect to his children.

For your reference, here is the explanation from תּוֹספוֹת:

ואין אתה נאמן לפסול בני בניך – אומר ר”י דה”פ נאמן אתה לפסול בניך פי’ כשאין לו אלא בנים ואין לו בני בנים ואי אתה נאמן לפסול בני בניך כשיש לו בני בנים אין נאמן לפסול אפי’ בניו דאין סברא לומר שיהיו בניו פסולים ובני בניו כשרים וכן משמע בסמוך דקאמר ואין אדם נאמן על בנו גדול ומפרש כשיש לו בנים משמע דאבנו נמי לא מהימן

We’ll now zoom ahead to a passage that begins:

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: גֵּר שֶׁבָּא לְהִתְגַּיֵּיר בִּזְמַן הַזֶּה, אוֹמְרִים לוֹ: מָה רָאִיתָ שֶׁבָּאתָ לְהִתְגַּיֵּיר? אִי אַתָּה יוֹדֵעַ שֶׁיִּשְׂרָאֵל בִּזְמַן הַזֶּה דְּווּיִים, דְּחוּפִים, סְחוּפִים וּמְטוֹרָפִין, וְיִסּוּרִין בָּאִין עֲלֵיהֶם? אִם אוֹמֵר: יוֹדֵעַ אֲנִי, וְאֵינִי כְּדַאי — מְקַבְּלִין אוֹתוֹ מִיָּד

Rabbi Stern paused to ask why we refer to the individual who presents himself as a גֵּר who comes to convert. Should he not be referred to as עַכּוּם? Through a story he heard via his son Yitzy, as related by a Puerto Rican גֵר צֶדֶק R’ Avraham Goldstein, Rabbi Stern made the point that as differentiated from an עַכּוּם, the soul of a גֵּר was present at מַתַּן תּוֹרָה. At some point in the life of the גֵּר, a spark is lit that ignites the transformation נְשָׁמָה to Yiddishkeit.

The video above is a clip I found of Rabbi Goldstein related to his personal journey. But the story that Yitzy heard at another time from Rabbi Goldstein was that his sister was not having success raising her children. Seeing how well his children were turning out, she approached him to take in her 12 year-old son, convert him, and raise him as a Jew. The Rabbi was conflicted and told his sister that he would have to consult with people about accepting that responsibility with his nephew. That evening the child was killed in a car accident. The story is as poignant as it is tragic, and provides the framework to understand that in order for an individual to be convertible, the נְשָׁמָה had to be “cable ready” by being present at מַתַּן תּוֹרָה. Otherwise, גֵירוּת cannot take hold.

As an aside, one of the greatest sages of all time, Onkelos (author of תַּרְגוּם אוּנְקְלוּס), scion of a prominent Roman family (and according to the Midrash was the nephew of the Roman emperor Hadrian) is referred to in the ArtScroll Introduction to the Talmud (p. 175) as “אוּנְקְלוּס הַגֵר”.

Next comes a famous passage in the Gemara, containing background on why the process of גֵירוּת is made so rigorous:

אָמַר מָר: גֵּר שֶׁבָּא לְהִתְגַּיֵּיר, אוֹמְרִים לוֹ: מָה רָאִיתָ שֶׁבָּאתָ לְהִתְגַּיֵּיר? וּמוֹדִיעִים אוֹתוֹ מִקְצָת מִצְוֹת קַלּוֹת וּמִקְצָת מִצְוֹת חֲמוּרוֹת. מַאי טַעְמָא? דְּאִי פָּרֵישׁ — נִפְרוֹשׁ. דְּאָמַר רַבִּי חֶלְבּוֹ: קָשִׁים גֵּרִים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּסַפַּחַת, דִּכְתִיב: ״וְנִלְוָה הַגֵּר עֲלֵיהֶם וְנִסְפְּחוּ עַל בֵּית יַעֲקֹב״

With regard to a potential convert who comes to בֵּית דִין in order to be מִתְגַיֵר, they say to him: What did you see that motivated you to pursue conversion? And they inform him of some of the lenient mitzvos and some of the stringent mitzvos. The Gemara asks: What is the reason to say this to him? It is so that if he is going to withdraw from the conversion process, he should do so at this stage and not be convinced to continue, as R’ Chelbo said: גֵרִים are as harmful to the Jewish people as a leprous scab [sappacḥas] on the skin, as it is written: “And the convert shall join himself with them, and they shall cleave [venispecḥu] to the house of Jacob” (Isaiah 14:1. The complete פָּסוּק is: כִּי֩ יְרַחֵ֨ם יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶֽת־יַעֲקֹ֗ב וּבָחַ֥ר עוֹד֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְהִנִּיחָ֖ם עַל־אַדְמָתָ֑ם וְנִלְוָ֤ה הַגֵּר֙ עֲלֵיהֶ֔ם וְנִסְפְּח֖וּ עַל־בֵּ֥ית יַעֲקֹֽב). This alludes to the fact that the cleaving of the convert to the Jewish people is like a scab. (To the point, by the way, that Sephardim will not condone marriage to גֵרִים, whereas Ashkenazim are more lenient.) Why the apprehension?

  1. Rashi comments: לשון ספחת שאוחזין מעשיהם הראשונים ולומדים ישראל מהם או סומכין עליהם באיסור והיתר. In other words, they may lapse into their old ways and be a bad influence.
  2. Tosafos comments: דקשים גרים לישראל לפי שמתערבין בהם ואין שכינה שורה אלא על משפחות המיוחסות שבישראל וי”מ לפי שביותר הוזהרו ישראל על הגרים ואין יכולין להזהר מאונאתן. As we encountered earlier in Yevamos, the Shechina is reluctant to dwell among those of questionable lineage. Also, and this is a left-handed compliment to גֵרִים – they are so exacting in their observance of mitzvos that they make the rest of us look bad!

The Gemara then reconstructs the original dialogue in which נָעָמִי attempted to dissuade רוּת from converting, resulting in the iconic verse: וַתֹּ֤אמֶר רוּת֙ אַל־תִּפְגְּעִי־בִ֔י לְעזְבֵ֖ךְ לָשׁ֣וּב מֵאַחֲרָ֑יִךְ כִּ֠י אֶל־אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֵּלְכִ֜י אֵלֵ֗ךְ וּבַאֲשֶׁ֤ר תָּלִ֙ינִי֙ אָלִ֔ין עַמֵּ֣ךְ עַמִּ֔י וֵאלֹהַ֖יִךְ אֱלֹהָֽי. “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”

About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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