הרב ג׳וני סולומון, אבן שמואל
I feel a great sense of privilege to accept the invitation to join with over sixty other Israeli Rabbanim and Rabbaniot to speak about וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר – ‘and you shall love the convert’ (Devarim 10:19) in support of גיור כהלכה.
Significantly, וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר is counted by the Rambam as one of the 613 commandments of the Torah. However, the very fact that Giyur KeHalacha has initiated this educational campaign about the mitzvah of וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר suggests that there is a need to strengthen our observance of this mitzvah and even suggests that there are some Jews who do not love at least some converts. The question I would like to address is how could this be?
To begin answering this question, let us examine the words of the Rambam in his Sefer HaMitzvot:
“The 207th mitzvah is that we are commanded to love converts. This is based on what God said to us: ‘and you shall love the convert’ (Devarim 10:19). And even though [a convert] is counted among the Jewish people and thereby included in what is said [in the Torah] that ‘you shall love you neighbour like yourself’ (Vayikra 19:18) given that this convert is a righteous convert (גר צדק), still, having now entered into [a covenant with] our Torah, God added a further mitzvah to love [the convert]…”
What we learn from here is that while there is a mitzvah to love other Jews as expressed by the instruction of וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, there is a further special mitzvah derived from the phrase וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר to love the convert, and on first glance, it seems that the Rambam requires that we love all converts, whom he describes as גרי צדק (righteous converts), not just as members of the Jewish people, but also as converts to the Jewish people.
However, as we shall soon see, there is another way to learn the Rambam, and according to this approach, there are some converts whom we do not need to love.
In general, it is understood that the term גר צדק is used in contrast the term גר תושב. However, as Rav Soloveitchik explains on the basis of Rambam’s Hilchot Issurei Biah , the term גר צדק is often used in contrast to a second category of convert, which means that according to Rav Soloveitchik there are two types of converts: i) those that are considered גרי צדק, ii) and those that are not.
In his Hilchot Issurei Biah Chapter 13 Halacha 14, Rambam rules that:
“When a male or a female prospective convert comes, we investigate their intentions. Perhaps [they wish to convert] for the sake of financial gain or in order to receive a position of authority, or perhaps he wishes to join the faith out of fear. If it is a man, we investigate whether he has set his eyes on a Jewish woman, and if it is a woman, we investigate whether she has set her eyes on a Jewish man. If no [ulterior motive] is identified, we inform them of the responsibilities of living a Torah life and the efforts required in performing its laws… If they accept all this…we accept them as it says, “and [Naomi] saw that [Ruth] was striving to continue with her and she therefore ceased speaking with [Ruth] about this” (Ruth 1:18).”
What we learn from here is someone who converts to Judaism without any ulterior motive is compared to Ruth who – it should be noted – is regarded by our Sages as the ultimate example of a sincere convert.
However, the Rambam proceeds with Halacha 15 by stating that:
“Given all this, the Beit Din did not accept converts throughout the reign of David and Solomon…[This is because] any non-Jew who seeks to convert because of the vanities of this [material] world is not a righteous convert (גר צדק). Still, there were many converts during the periods of David and Solomon [who were converted] by a court of laypeople. [When this happened], the Great Beit Din (i.e. Sanhedrin) would regard [such converts] with skepticism. However, having immersed, they would not reject them but neither would they would draw them close until they saw what the outcome would be.”
What this halacha teaches us is that there are other types of converts who seek to become Jewish for ulterior motives and who are not considered to be גרי צדק, and it is on the basis of this distinction that Rav Soloveitchik explains that there are two categories of convert: i) a גר צדק and ii) a גר בעלמא, and that….
“It would appear that the mitzvah of loving the convert as well as other similar laws only apply to someone who is a גר צדק and not to a גר בעלמא” (Reshimot Shiurim on Yevamot p. 481).
Thus, according to Rav Soloveitchik’s reading of the Rambam, those who convert for ulterior motives are kept are ‘not drawn close’ which means that other Jews are neither required to love them either as members of the Jewish people (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), or as converts to the Jewish people (וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר).
Perhaps by now you may be perplexed by the fact that rather than providing a support for fulfilling the mitzvah of וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר, I have seemingly provided a strong rationale for those who do not observe this mitzvah, and undoubtedly there are many today who seem to ‘hold’ like Rav Soloveitchik’s reading of the Rambam and who distinguish converts into two groups: i) those converts whom they regard as גרי צדק, whom they respect, whom they work hard to bring close to their community, and whom they love, and, ii) those converts whom they consider to be גרים בעלמא, whom they treat with skepticism, and whom – if they are honest with themselves – they do not love. Simply put, while all may agree that there is a mitzvah of וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר, there are some who think that this mitzvah does not apply to some converts.
However, just as Rav Soloveitchik drew his distinction from a close reading of the Rambam, it is crucial that we too read the Rambam with care, and if we do we will deduce that the only recognised religious body authorised to query whether a convert is a גר בעלמא (nb. while the Rambam speaks about querying the sincerity of the convert, he does not speak about deligitimizing the Jewish status of such converts!) was the Great Beit Din (i.e. Sanhedrin) which hasn’t existed for over 2,000 years!
Given all this it should be clear that none of us have the right to presume that a particular convert is anything other than a גר צדק, and none of us are exempt from fulfilling the Torah law of וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר towards every single convert. And if there are some Jews who do not love some converts, it does not mean that such converts are not legitimate converts. Instead, all it means is that those Jews are not good Jews!