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Proselytes (law of conversion)

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From The Encylopaedia Judacia 13:1183-1184

The procedure, established by the tannaim, according to which a non-Jew may be into the Jewish faith, was elucided as follows: “in our days, when a proselyte came to be converted we say to him: ‘What is your objective? Is it not known to you that the people of Israel are wretched, driven about exiled, and in constant suffering?’ If he says : ‘I know of this and I do not have the merit’ we accept him immediately and we inform him of some of the lighter precepts and some of the severer ones… We inform him of the chastisements for transgression of the precepts and we also inform him of the reward for obcepts… and we also inform him of the reward for observing these precepts… we should not overburden him nor be meticulous with him.” (Yev. 47a: CF. Ger. 1 in: M.Higger, Sheva Masskhott Ketannot (1930, 68-69)

R. Eliezar and R. Joshua disagreed as to whether someone who immersed himself but was not circumcised or vice versa could be considered a proselyte. According to R. Eliezer, he is a proselyte, even if he performed only one of these commandments. R. Joshua, however, maintained that immersion was indispensable. The halakhic conclusion is that “he is not a proselyte unless he has both been circumcised and has immersed himself” (Yev.46) The act of conversion must take place before a betdin, consisting of three members; a conversion carried out the proselyte when alone is invalid (Yev. 46b -47a).

There is a suggestion that the three members of the bet din must be witnesses only to his acceptance of the precepts but not the immersion. Maimonides however decided (Yad, Issurei Bi’ah 13:7), that a proselyte who immersed himself in the presence of two member only is not a proselyte.

The schools of Shammai and Hillel differed on the issue of proselyte who had already been circumcised at the time of his conversion: “Bet Shammai states ‘One need not draw the blood of circumcision from him” (Tosef., Shab 15:9 TB, Shab. 135a; Maim. Yad. Issure Bi’ah 14:5 Sh. Ar YD 268:1) and “who have sanctified us with your commandments and have commanded us to circumcise proselytes and to draw from them blood of the covenant.” (Shab. 137b)is said in the circumcision benediction of the proselytes. A proselyte must observe all the precepts that bind Jews. The statement: “There shall be one law for the citizen and one for the stranger that dwells amongst you” (Ex. 12:29).which refers to the paschal lamb, the sages interpreted to mean that the stranger (proselyte) was the equal of the citizen concerning all precepts of the torah (Mekh. Pisha, 15) They tried to equalize the status of the proselyte and that of the Jew; Certain differences stemming from the origin of the convert, however, remained.

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