Daniel Keren • The Jewish Connection
In my last column, I discussed a book (“180 Degrees” by Abraham Leib Berenstein) that foucsed on the profiles of 25 Baalei Teshuvah, Jews from secular or assimilated backgrounds who were inspired to make a major life change and embrace a lifestyle based on Torah-true values. The subject of this week’s column is a book that deals with Jewish law for those who were born gentiles and against greater odds and often opposition from family and close friends to convert to Judaism.
Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, a professor of law at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion has published a book that paints an intriguing explanation of how gairim or converts to Judaism are treated by Jewish law.
Rabbi Broyde brings to this sefer his experience of many years as a dayan (religious judge) in the Beth Din of America and as its director; as well as having served as the Yoshev Rosh (chair) and dayan for the Southeast Rabbinical Court for Conversion. In addition, the author was the founding rabbi of the Young Israel of Atlanta where for many years he was the spiritual leader.
Perhaps with the first time that a President of the United States has not only a Jewish son-in-law, but a Jewish daughter who became so as a result of a valid Orthodox Jewish conversion and consequently legitimate Jewish grandchildren; the subject of gairim or converts to Judaism has gained major attention of even the non-Jewish medium.
The author explains his reason for writing the book was a couple of Tosafot in the Gemara [Yevamot 47b and Kiddushin 70b-71a] that highlight the special status of each and every convert “with two very important observations… First, acceptance of converts imposes a particular duty on born-Jews, since one who causes any anguish to a convert violates fundamental precepts of the Jewish tradition. Secondly, converts seems to be especially knowledgeable and scrupulous about mitzvah performance. Their enthusiasm implicates those born-Jews who are less careful in their own observance.”
Rabbi Broyde focuses on the first half of his book on collecting those laws in the Shulchan Aruch that relate to converts, beginning with the Orach Chaim section that focuses on a gair’s responsibility with regards to Daily Laws and Prayers and Blessings; Sabbath Laws: and Holiday and Festival Laws.
Culling from Yorech Deah section of the Shulchan Aruch, the author finds appropriate laws for the convert with regards to kashrut and idolatry, loan interest, nidda, vows, honoring one’s parents and the elderly, charity, circumcision of sons, conversion, sacred writings, agrarian living and mourning.
From the Even Haezer section of the Jewish Code of Law, Rabbi Broyde picks obligations that the convert has with the mitzvahs of procreation, laws dealing with permitted and forbidden marriage partners, celebrating weddings, marital obligations and rights, divorce, and levirate marriage.
And in the Choshen Mishpat area of Jewish law, the author selected appropriate laws on gairim with regards to rabbinic courts, loan debts, inheritance and the prohibitions against oppressing, cheating and overpricing converts.
Rabbi Broyde includes at the end of his book a collection of four supplemental essays such as for those who always wanted to know, can a convert be a member of a rabbinical court for conversion.
Among some of the laws relating to gairim one can read in the “Concise Code of Jewish Law for Converts,” is the following: “Although a convert has the status of a new person in some ways, the first Jewish child born to a giyoret who has had children previously is not considered the first of her womb – such a son is not redeemed as a firstborn.”
“One who converts Purim morning after dawn but before sunrise is not obligated in the previous nighttime’s reading of Megillat Esther. However, the convert is obligated in the daytime megilla reading, as they were a Jew by the time the obligation became activated (sunrise).”
“A convert must give firstborn kosher animals of their flock to a Kohen only if they were born after the conversion. If there is some doubt as to when the animal was born, it should be left to become blemished somehow and may then be kept by the convert.”
“A Concise Code of Jewish Law for converts” by Rabbi Michael J. Broyde can be found in Jewish bookstores.