Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Ki Tavo 5763/ Sept, 13,

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Parashat Ki Tavo 5763/ Sept. 13, 2003
On Proselytes

Arnon Kimelman, Advocate
The Old City, Zefat

In the ceremony accompanying the bringing of the first fruits to the Temple, the bearers of these fruits were required, upon entering the Temple Court, to read the section Miqra Bikkurim that appears in our parasha (26:1-12). The Mishna (Bikkurim 1:4) teaches: "These [people] bring [first fruits] but do not recite: a proselyte brings but does not recite because he is not able to say (Deut. 26:3) 'Which the Eternal swore to our ancestors to give unto us'.

However, despite this Mishnah, Rabbeinu Yitzhak mi-Baale ha-Tosafot (see Tos. Baba Bathra 81b), thinks that the halakha is otherwise. He bases himself on the baraita in the Jerusalem Talmud in the name of R. Judah saying that the proselyte can certainly recite 'Which the Eternal swore to our ancestors to give unto us', because God said to Abraham (Gen. 17:5): "But your name shall be Abraham for I make you the father of a multitude of nations", making Abraham the father of all proselytes as well. Rabbi Yitzhak's opinion is also the halakha as cited by Maimonides (Hilkhot Bikkurim 4,3). In this example we see the great sensitivity of our rabbis to preserve the honor of the proselyte.

A further example of this halakhic sensitivity to proselytes is reflected in the question of the adoption and conversion of minors. There is no doubt that the heavy emotional burden associated with the adoption procedure demands maximum sensitivity on the part of all those involved. On the one hand, the child's knowledge of his adoption could upset and traumatize his new and fragile world. On the other, adoption has ramifications on such matters as forbidden marriages (i.e. is the adopted person a forbidden relative of his fiancé) and the right of a potential partner to know about the background of his or her intended partner. [1] Some think that there are halakhic opinions on which the adoptive parents can lean in their efforts to withhold from their adopted child the fact of his gentile birth and subsequent conversion. Thus, for example, Rabbi Azarya Berzon points out a number of views which may be relied upon when circumstances make it difficult to disclose the truth to the proselyte.[2]

His claims are based on an interpretation of Maimonides's ruling in Hilkhot Avadim (8,20): "If an Israelite seizes a heathen who is a minor, or finds a heathen boy and immerses him with the intent that he become a proselyte, he becomes a proselyte; if for the purpose that he become a slave,...a slave; if for the man, man."[3]

According to Berzon, the source of this halakha is the Jerusalem Talmud, Yebamoth (8, 1): If one abandoned child...If they immersed him as a slave, you circumcise him as a slave; a free man... a free man." In this halakha Maimonides does not add "that he is entitled" (she-zekhut hi lo) as he did with regard to the minor convert who is immersed by order ('al da'at) of the Bet Din, in Hilkhot Issure Bi'a (13,7). From this we learn, says Berzon, that Maimonides's intention in Hilkhot Avadim was to give us a new halakha that he who captures a heathen minor may convert him forcibly.
In Berzon's view, Maimonides says that consent (da'at) is necessary for conversion to be valid. In the normal case of conversion of a minor, the consent of the court substitutes for the consent of the minor, by virtue of the principle of zakhin-we "acquire" the privilege of conversion for the minor without his consent, in the knowledge that were he an adult with the powers of consent and objection, he would want to acquire a good thing, Judaism. The court's consent thus "stands in" for the consent of the minor. But in the case of a minor captive, the Israelite captor's consent is sufficient and we do not need the consent of the minor at all. Therefore in this case, the usual rule that the proselyte can reject his conversion when he reaches adulthood would not apply!
As for accepting the commandments, which in the normal case is also based on zakhin and the consent of the court as a substitute, this does not mean that the captive proselyte is exempt. Rather, the Israelite who has seized him can accept the commandments in his name, because he has the power of coercion and can force the proselyte to observe them; and so the Israelite's acceptance is considered effective. Therefore Maimonides limited this halakha to the heathen minor specifically, who, not yet responsible or capable of making decisions, will be covered by the acceptance of the Israelite on his behalf. An adult captive, however, has his own opinion, and the Israelite's acceptance in his stead is meaningless.
This explanation of Maimonides, says R. Berzon, Rabbi J.B. Soloveichik told us in the name of his grandfather R. Hayyim of Brisk. We might add, says R. Berzon, that one must ensure the presence of the adoptive parents of the child at the time of immersion and that they declare their acceptance and responsibility for guiding this child in the ways of Torah and mitzvot. Since the adopters are his "captors" they must accept the commandments for him. Accordingly there is room for lenience regarding our original question-- there is no need to inform an adopted person of his heathen ancestry.

In light of the above, Rabbi Berzon thinks one may rely on the Rishonim who say there is no need to inform the minor when he becomes an adult that he is the son of heathens and was converted by order of the Bet Din. This is particularly true in view of Maimonides's view, which we just explicated above, and regarding this ruling we found no Rishonim who disputed Maimonides.[4]

It should be noted that this question frequently arises at a very late point in time, when the adopted child is on the verge of marrying, and withholding of this information from the adoptee or his/her intended spouse could lead to the cancellation of the marriage. In the Responsa Shevet Levi (Yod, Siman 149) Rabbi Sh. Wozner is asked if it is permitted to disclose to either the bride or intended bridegroom that the bride was converted before reaching the age of 3, when there is a suspicion that release of such information could cause the bride a shock that might lead to her total abandonment of Judaism. According to Rabbi Wosner, the converted person should be informed of his origins, even in face of the fact that the disclosure of such information could traumatize that convert. He points out that one is allowed to marry a minor who was converted (Ketubot 11a) on the principle that it is not usual for a convert to reject his conversion after being informed. Nevertheless, in his view, when dealing with an adult who has the power to say that, had he or she known of the conversion, they would not have consented to the marriage, one may not hide the fact of the conversion from the convert.

Further, the Ba'al Avne Nezer also thinks the "privilege" (zekhut) which the court undertook on behalf of the minor convert makes no sense unless the convert is finally made aware of his conversion. In his opinion, when the child is raised without informing him at all about the conversion, then the act of conversion has no validity, even after the fact (see Avne Nezer, Even Ha'ezer 194, 4). Also R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe Yoreh De'ah I, 161) is of the opinion that one should tell the minor convert that he is the converted child of non-Jews when he reaches the age of 13, because at this age he does not yet have great passions (desires) and one can trust that he will not protest, and because he does not protest then, he may not therefore protest at a later date. However, if he is not given this information, there is a concern that he will find out in his adulthood - when he has acquired far more passions and experiences - and will reject his conversion. Because of this doubt, lest he may protest later on when he reveals the truth, he cannot now be married to a Jewish woman.

Rabbi Hanoch Teller, in his biographical book[5] about Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, z"l, relates that the Rabbi was asked whether to tell a potential bridegroom that the young woman to whom he was to be betrothed was converted in her childhood, or to inform him at a later stage. Rabbi Auerbach was surprised by the very question because in his opinion there was no problem: "On the contrary, tell the bridegroom that he will have the privilege of performing the mitzva to 'befriend the stranger' (Deut. 10:19) every day of his life!"
May all of us have the privilege of fulfilling the commandment to befriend the stranger properly every day of our lives.

[1] Not by chance has the Israeli lawmaker swathed the adoption processes in secrecy and limited access to related information relating to those processes. Therefore, in accordance with Clause 21 of the Law of Child Adoption 5741-1981, every discussion about adoption takes place behind closed doors. But because the adoption processes are liable to affect third parties, for instance in cases where marriage is prohibited, the lawmaker established an "Adoptions Register". Here people registering for marriage can ascertain their degree of family relationship, if any, to avoid illegal marriage (Ordinances for the Adoptions Register, 5724-1964). Moreover, the lawmaker grants the adopted person the right to trace his origins once he has reached maturity. See, for example, Clause 30(B).
[2] Regarding the Minor Convert, in Barka'i, Vol. 7, Spring 5747-1987, 197-208.
[3] The source of the halakha on conversion of minors is Ketuboth 11a: From this we learn that conversion of a minor is based on the assumption that it is a privilege for him to take upon himself the burden of Torah u-Mitzvot. If only his mother is converting with him, he is converted by order of the Bet Din. See Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah, Conversion, 268, 1). There are Rishonim who think the Bet Din can convert a minor even without the consent of his biological parents. See for instance, Tos. Rid on Masekhet Ketuboth 11a.
[4] Rabbi Berzon also presents the views of Ritba and Rashba in Masekhet Ketuboth (11a). Ritba in his commentary says there that he who is educated from childhood to Torah and mitzvot will not likely protest and what is not common we do not have to suspect, even regarding Torah Law. Ritba's words refer to the minor convert who was converted by order of the Bet Din and was accustomed from childhood to fulfil the commandments. In his view, the convert will continue to practice the mitzvot even after discovering that he is a convert, and this assumption is valid also for de-Oreita. Rabbi Berzon also presents the view of Rif in Masekhet Yebamoth (16,2) where he notes in his commentary on the rule of Rabbi Huna that a minor proselyte is converted by rule of the Bet Din, but omits the ruling of Rabbi Yosef whereby he has the right to object in adulthood. In Rabbi Berzon's view, according to Rif and the Tos. Rid, the Bet Din has the same power as has the Israelite who has captured a minor, and the Bet Din can even convert him and guide him in the mitzvot and this convert has no right to object.
[5] See Hanoch Teller, And from Jerusalem His Word (N.Y.C. Pub. Co.,1995) p. 278.