Sunday, December 21, 2008


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Converts are like Sapachas

Rabbi Chelbo said (Kiddushin 70) : Converts are as harmful to the Jewish people as sapachas (a type of tzara’as).

Rashi explains that this is because converts are not so meticulous in the performance of mitzvos, and those Jews who observe this behavior will become influenced by them.

Tosfos writes that each and every Jew is a guarantor for his fellow, and if converts do not perform mitzvos meticulously, they will be punished on account of them.

Tosfos rejects this explanation, for he proves that when the Jewish people accepted to be guarantors for each other, they did not accept to be guarantors for the converts as well.

Tosfos brings another explanation: They are harmful to the Jews, for it is impossible that someone will not bother them, and the punishment for this will be severe, for the Torah in twenty-four places warn the Jewish people not to bother the converts.

Tosfos brings another explanation: It is because of the converts that we are still in exile, for the Gemora says that Klal Yisroel are scattered all over the world much more so than other nations in order for there to be additional converts.

Rabbeinu Avraham the convert explains differently: It is because the converts are meticulous in their performance of the mitzvos. This shows the shortcomings of ordinary Jews.

The Rambam (Issurei Bi’ah 14:2) writes that we inform the prospective convert the essentials of the faith, which is the unity of God and the prohibition of idolatry, and they go on at great length about these matters.

The Machaneh Chaim (Y”D II, 45) asks: Why isn’t this forbidden on account of a gentile studying Torah? The Gemora in Sanhedrin (59a) states explicitly that a non-Jew who studies Torah is liable for death.

He answers by citing a Medrash Tanchuma in Parshas Vayelech: The numerical value of Torah is six hundred and eleven. The remaining two mitzvos which complete the six hundred and thirteen are the two mitzvos which were given by Hashem directly at Har Sinai. This is the explanation of the verse: The Torah that Moshe commanded us to observe. Moshe instructed us regarding six hundred and eleven mitzvos; the other two were from Hashem.

The prohibition against teaching an idolater Torah is only applicable to the six hundred and eleven mitzvos that Moshe taught us. The other two, I am Hashem your God and the Unity of God; one would be permitted to teach to them. This is where the Rambam derived his ruling from; we can go on with great length discussing the unity of God and the prohibition of idolatry.

The Maharsha (Shabbos 31a) writes that it is permitted to teach Torah to an idolater who wishes to convert. He proves this from the incident with Hillel and the convert.

Reb Akiva Eiger (41) disagrees and maintains that it is forbidden to teach Torah to an idolater even if he is planning on converting. Hillel taught the convert Torah only after he converted.

At that time, the plaintiff spoke up and said to Rav Yehudah, “Is it me that you call a slave, when, in fact, I descend from the Chasmonai family!” Rav Yehudah responded, “Shmuel has said that whoever says that he is from the Chashmonai family is in truth a slave (for Herod had killed them all out).

Rav Nachman said to Rav Yehudah, “Do you not hold of that which Rabbi Abba said in the name of Rav Huna, who said in the name of Rav: Wherever a scholar issues a halachic ruling (that was previously unknown) and such a point comes up for a practical decision, he is obeyed if he made the statement before the incident occurred, but if the statement was made only after the incident occurred, he is not obeyed (and therefore, we do not have to accept this ruling which you stated in the name of Shmuel)!?

Rav Yehudah replied, “But there is Rav Masnah who holds like me as well?” Rav Masnah was not seen in Nehardea for thirteen years, but just that day, he came before them. Rav Yehudah asked him, “Does the master remember that which Shmuel said while he had one foot on the bank of the river and the other foot was on a boat?” Rav Masnah replied, “Shmuel said, ‘whoever says that he is from the Chashmonai family is in truth a slave, for no one remained from their family except for one maiden who went up on the roof and called out with a loud voice, “whoever says that he is from the Chashmonai family is in truth a slave.” She then threw herself off the roof and died.’”

Rav Nachman declared that the man was indeed a slave. That day, they ripped up many kesuvos in Nehardea (all the married woman from that man’s family lost their kesuvos).

From Rashi’s commentary (Yevamos 77a), it would seem that the reason we do not accept the scholar’s statement is because we are concerned that he might deliberately falsify the halachah.

The Ritva forcefully disputes this. Heaven forbid that a Torah scholar would deliberately falsify the ruling. Rather, the reason why we don’t believe him in these situations is because he might make a mistake; in the excitement of the moment, it would appear to him that he remembers the tradition in one manner, when in fact, it is really the opposite.


Michael said...

In Mesechtes Avodah Zara Tosfos points out that it is meritorious for a non-Jew to learn Torah applicable to the 7 laws. I don't see how this can be reconciled with the "two mitzvos" only approach, as the Noahide commandments encompass more than just those two.