Saturday, December 09, 2006

Accepting Converts

Although this issue has been discussed at least twice on this blog (see here and here), I would like to bring out a point that I saw on another blog. The discussion is why the Talmud says that converts are as difficult to the collective Jewish nation as leprosy.

Perhaps one can explain that it is the reluctance to accept converts which is so dangerous for the Jewish nation. The Talmud relates[1] that Timna, a princess of the royal family of Seir, wanted to convert, but was rejected by Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. She was so desperate to become part of the Abrahamic family that she became a concubine to Eliphaz[2], the son of Esau. The Talmud says that because Abraham, Issac, and Jacob rejected this woman's request for conversion, they were punished by this woman's descendants, the Nation of Amalek. (Amalek was a son of Eliphaz and Timnah). The Alter of Slabodka, Rabbi Nosson Zvi Finkel (1849-1927), writes that Abraham—who was known for having helped many converts—obviously rejected Timna because he saw some bad character traits in her, yet nonetheless, his family was still punished for refusing her. Abraham reasoned that it was better to have these bad characteristics as an external threat to the Jewish Nation in the form of Amalek, than to have these bad traits grafted into the Jewish Nation should she have been allowed to convert. However, Abraham, Issac, Jacob erred because they judged her based on an internal personality which they saw in her rather than on something she herself actually did. Had she actually committed atrocities because of her evil qualities, then the forefathers would have been justified in not accepting her just as the Torah tells the Jews not to accept the Ammonites and Moabites into the nation because of they acted on their innate cruelty[3]. At a conference for the Jewish Eternal Family in Israel (in July 2006), Rabbi Reuven Feinstein explained that the difficulty in accepting converts is the punishment for rejecting potential converts or delaying their process (especially by not giving them their proper papers immediately) because the Talmud says[4] after certain inquiries, one should "accept him immediately."

[1] Sanhedrin 99b
[2] See Rashi to Genesis 36:12 who says that Timna was actually the daughter of Eliphaz who committed adultery with the wife of the King of Seir, and the Sifsei Chochmim says that she was nonetheless raised as a princess because people did not realize who her real father was.
[3] See Deuteronomy 23:4-5
[4] Yevamos 47a


yingerman said...

As far as I understood she was a child of znus, thats why the Avos rejected her.
Good call!

Reb said...

I'm sorry, but that is an unacceptable סברא because Chazal accepted Munbaz (son of Heleni HaMalka) as a ger even though he was a son of a relationship between two siblings, so I don't think that is a reason to not accept a ger.

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