Talmud Tips

For the week ending 15 November 2014 / 22 Heshvan 5775

Yevamot 44 - 50

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Rabbi Chelbo said, “Coverts are as problematic for the Jewish People as ‘sapachat’ (a word found in the Torah to denote a physical skin disease due to spiritual lacking, such as speaking slander)."

This statement of Rabbi Chelbo is taught on our daf toexplain why we inform a potential conversion candidate of an assortment of mitzvot — some less severe and some more severe. If they choose to change their minds before conversion, let them and it is not our worry since they can be difficult for us as Rabbi Chelbo states.

Why does Rabbi Chelbo call them “sapachat” and in what way are they problematic? Many answers are offered in explanation. Here are a few:

The convert may continue to “hold onto” their initial ways that are forbidden to the Jewish People, and we might possibly be influenced to learn from their wrong ways and rely upon them to know what is right and what is wrong for us (Rashi). According to Rashi it seems that the word “sapachat” does not refer to the disease mentioned in the Torah, but is a word meaning “holders-on” or “clingers”. We are concerned they will hold onto their former non-Jewish behavior, and that they will cling to the Jewish People and be a negative influence.

One of the various answers in Tosefot here is that we are commanded to be especially sensitive to the needs and feelings of the convert. Since it is very difficult to fulfill this mitzvah correctly, we might be deserving punishment.

Another answer cited in Tosefot in Tractate Kiddushin (70a) is that righteous converts are often even more careful in their fulfillment of the Torah and its mitzvot, and this may cast the rest of the Jewish People in a negative light by comparison.

  • Yevamot 47b

Naomi said to Ruth, “If you convert to Judaism, idolatry is forbidden to us!” Ruth answered “Your G-d is my G-d.”

This is part of the test of sincerity that a prospective convert must pass in order to be accepted as a “ger tzeddek” — a righteous convert — as taught in our gemara. The Maharsha asks why Naomi informed Ruth, as part of the test, that if she converts she would no longer be allowed to worship idols. Even as a non-Jewess idol worship was forbidden to Ruth!

The Maharsha answers that Naomi was actually telling Ruth that if she converts she must accept upon herself not to leave the Land of Israel, despite of the great temptation to leave for her former land of Moav due to her status there as the “daughter of kings”. If she converts she must remain in the Land of Israel, since one who lives outside of the Land of Israel is considered “as without a G-d” (Ketuvot 110b). (In fact, Ruth would eventually become the “Mother of Royalty” for the Jewish People, with King David as her descendant.) Other commentaries teach that what was being emphasized is that while a non-Jew may receive benefit from an object that was worshipped, a Jew may not.

  • Yevamot 47b

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