Converts to Judaism: France and Germany
1. R. Joel b. Isaac of Bonn on a convert known to him:
. . . This man, R. Abraham b. Abraham our father was inspired to draw near to the
service of God, to seek God and to study the holy books and the holy tongue. He dwelt with
us many days, and he was a simple man, living in tents (cmp. Genesis 25:27). One day, I
found him . . . sitting and translating the Pentateuch from an improper book of the monks,
and I said to him, "what is that in your hands?" And he answered and said to me,
"I know the tongue of the monks (i.e. Latin) and I do not know the holy tongue (i.e.
Hebrew), so I am using it as a commentary; the sages of Speyer even lent me the books of
the monks to copy and they did not object to my using them, but if you disapprove, I will
repent; tell me and and I will not continue." And I said to him "know that this
act seems very bad to me." He asked me to write to the Rabbis of Speyer; perhaps they
would permit it. I knew his intention was for the best, and I dared [to put the matter]
before my masters; perhaps I was in error.
Translated from Sefer Ra'aviah, II:53f.
2. An affair of conversion
According to Rabeinu Tam [12th century, France], having sexual relations with a
gentile does not forbid [a married woman to her husband, although normally, an adulterous
woman may not return to her husband]; the principle that "one should die before
transgressing" [the commandment; this principle applies only to adultery, murder, and
idolatry] does not apply in such a case. . . .
In this context, he made a legal decision [pasaq] about a married woman who had
apostacized [i.e. converted to Christianity] and cohabited with a gentile, then later
returned [to Judaism], and was divorced from her Jewish husband, that she could marry her
gentile husband. Even though we hold that just as [an adulteress] is forbidden to her
husband, so she is forbidden to her lover, nevertheless, sexual relations with a gentile
are not [legally] sexual relations. . . . Rabeinu Yehiel ruled the same way as Rabeinu
Tam, but with a different rationale, although it is legally sexual relations . . . he
considered that a convert who converted is like a newborn child and at that moment there
is no prohibition (cmp. BT Ketubbot 3b).
Translated from Mordecai, Sanhedrin, para. 720.
Translated by Elka Klein email@example.com
© Elka Klein, 1998. The text may be used for non-commercial educational
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Paul Halsall, November 1998