Halachos of Accepting Geirim
Knowing the Halachos
- As of late, there have been a number of problematic cases involving accepting geirim and related issues. Perhaps we need to improve our knowledge of the key halachos of accepting geirim. Although these halachos are only relevant to batei din and rabbanim, they are still included in the mitzvah of learning and knowing Torah, which does apply to every man. Perhaps if we learn these halachos, Hashem will save us from future pitfalls.
Purpose of Galus
- Bringing the geulah. The purpose of galus is to gather the neshamos of the geirim which are scattered among the nations, as Chazal say (פסחים דף פ”ז ע”ב), “Hashem only exiled the Jews among the nations for geirim to join them.” Batei din involved with accepting geirim strictly according to halachah are doing a tremendous mitzvah. They are helping bring the end of the galus with the gathering of all the neshamos fit to join Klal Yisroel (ראשונים יבמות דף ק”ט ע”ב).
- Preventing the geulah. Rabbanim and batei din that are involved in accepting geirim improperly and do not investigate meticulously, as well as those that are not careful with certain aspects of the geirus process [kabbalas mitzvos in particular], are breaking fences of kedushah and extending the galus. Regarding them it is said, “One evil after the next will come to those who accept geirim” (יבמות ק”ט:).
- The same is true of rabbanim involved in geirus who are subordinate to a government body regarding whether or not to accept geirim and do not have the freedom to rule according to the Torah and our mesorah. Unfortunately, this is the situation in many rabbanut batei din in Eretz Yisroel. The problem is compounded when blatant sinners who are trying to destroy every last vestige of kedushah of Klal Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel are the ones making the decisions and in control of geirus.
- Therefore, during these parshiyos, which teach us about the purification that came about when we left Mitzrayim after our first galus, we must reinforce these halachos; know them so that we can fulfill them; and bring brachah from Shomayim through them.
Who Can Be a Dayan for Geirus?
- The halachos of accepting geirim and the caution required in their fulfillment are very serious, as the purity and holiness of Klal Yisroel depend on them. Therefore, only righteous, virtuous dayanim who fear Hashem’s word may be involved in accepting geirim. They must know the halachos and the facts well and they must have the right instincts for investigating the sincerity of a potential ger’s desire to keep the entire Torah, along with its mitzvos and minhagim. They must have the ability to rule based on their decision alone in accordance with daas Torah, without interference from the authorities.
What Are the Steps in the Geirus Process?
Klal Yisroel Entering the Bris at Yetzias Mitzrayim
- The process of accepting geirim is derived from the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim and Klal Yisroel’s acceptance of the Torah. As the Rambam says (פי”ג איסו”ב ה”א-ג’): The Jews entered the Bris with three things: milah, tevilah, and korban. Milah was done in Mitzrayim, as the posuk says (שמות י”ב, מ”ח), “וכל ערל לא יאכל בו.” Moshe Rabbeinu performed their milos…; tevilah was done in the Midbar before Matan Torah, as the posuk says (שמות י”ט, י’), “וקדשתם היום ומחר וכבסו שמלותם”; and korban, as the posuk says (שמות כ”ד, ה’), “וישלח את נערי בני ישראל ויעלו עולות” – they brought the korbanos on all of Yisroel’s behalf.
- The Rambam continues: For all generations too, when a non-Jew wants to enter the Bris and find refuge in the Shechinah and he will accept upon himself the yoke of mitzvos, he requires milah, tevilah, and favor with a korban, or for a woman, tevilah and korban, as the posuk says (במדבר ט”ו, ט”ז), “ככם כגר” – just as you had milah, tevilah, and favor with a korban, so too future geirim require milah, tevilah, and favor with a korban.
- Today. Since we do not have the Beis Hamikdash today and cannot fulfill our full obligation, milah and tevilah are enough for a ger. When the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt [soon and in our days], he will bring his korban along with the rest of our obligations.
- In summary, geirus today involves three steps. They are [in order]: accepting the mitzvos, i.e., the firm decision to enter the Bris by accepting the yoke of Torah and all the Torah’s mitzvos without exception; milah for males; and tevilah. Each one of these is essential for the geirus process and must be done before kosher dayanim. We will go through them one by one.
- We only accept a ger into Klal Yisroel if his intentions in converting are pure (יבמות כ”ד:). Therefore, when a non-Jew comes to beis din requesting to be taken into Klal Yisroel, the beis din or their messengers must investigate properly (יבמות ק”ט:, שו”ע יו”ד רס”ח סי”ב).
- L’sheim Shomayim. A ger is only accepted if the beis din is convinced that his intention is to find refuge in the Shechinah, serve Hashem, and keep all the mitzvos deoraisa and derabanan as well as minhagim of Klal Yisroel.
- Not l’sheim Shomayim. Sometimes a person has insincere intentions in converting. When beis din senses a prospective ger has ulterior motives, they must reject him. Some examples: if it is clear he only wants to convert to marry a Jew, for financial reasons, or to gain power (שו”ע שם).
- Similarly, some people want to move to Israel and convert for that purpose. People who intermarried, ל”ע, also sometimes want to convert their spouse so that the religion in the home is uniform, but the prospective convert does not intend to keep Torah and mitzvos (שו”ת בית שערים יו”ד סי’ שס”א, שו”ת קרית חנה דוד ח”ב יו”ד סי’ י”ז). Especially when the Jewish spouse is not religious, it is clear that the spouse who wants to convert will not keep Torah and mitzvos. Obviously, these types of geirim may not be accepted.
Conducts His Life as a Religious Jew
- Strictly speaking, if a non-Jew wants to convert and after investigating, it turns out he is sincere and prepared to accept all the Torah’s mitzvos without exception even though he does not know what they are, he may be accepted even if he has never lived like a Jew before.
- Conducts his life as a religious Jew. In practice, today we only accept geirim who have been leading a Jewish life for some time; know the main principles of the mitzvos; know how to read, make brachos, and daven; and for women, dress like a Torah observant woman. Otherwise, it is impossible for beis din to know whether the prospective ger really knows and is prepared to accept all the mitzvos.
- Living in a religious neighborhood. Beis din also ensures that geirim live in or near a neighborhood with Torah observant Jews so that kosher food is accessible and it will be easy for them to keep the Torah and mitzvos where they are.
- Accompaniment of Torah observant Jews. Beis din also makes sure a prospective ger has a relationship with a religious family so they can see if the family is convinced that this person is sincere in his decision and acceptance.
Accepting the Mitzvos
Inform Him of Some Mitzvos
- Emunah, Yichud Hashem. After it is clear to beis din that his intentions are indeed sincere and he wants to attach himself to Hashem and His Torah, and they have resolved to accept him, the dayanim inform him of the main principles of Jewish belief: Hashem’s Oneness and that there is no other force that operates independent of Him. They teach him the severity of the issur of avodah zarah. They speak to him at length about these things, as they are the foundations of our religion (שו”ע סי’ רס”ח ס”ב).
- Some simple and some strict mitzvos. While a prospective ger does not need to know all the details of the mitzvos before converting, we teach him some simple mitzvos, e.g., leket, shichecha, and peiah (ס’ הל’ גרים לר”ג הגוזר) or mitzvos that only involve an asei or a lav (רמב”ם פ”א הל’ תשובה ה”ב), and some strict mitzvos, e.g., chillul Shabbos, which is subject to sekilah, or forbidden foods subject to kareis, e.g., cheilev.
The Actual Acceptance of the Mitzvos
- After informing him of all the above, the ger must say before beis din that he accepts the Torah and mitzvos, the deoraisa mitzvos, the derabanan mitzvos, and the minhagim of Klal Yisroel. He must declare that he believes in the Oneness of Hashem and the other fundamental Jewish beliefs, and he must also accept the mitzvos he does not yet know about, akin to our declaration of “naaseh v’nishma” at Har Sinai (תשובות והנהגות ח”ב סי’ תקט”ו).
- Lip service. If it is clear the ger is saying these things because he was taught to or he is just saying them as a ceremony but it is mere lip service, he has not actually accepted the mitzvos and his geirus has zero validity. Thus, if he does not intend to accept Torah, mitzvos, Shabbos observance, and precision in fulfilling the mitzvos, and it is clear he will continue to eat forbidden foods and be mechallel Shabbos, his geirus is invalid (שו”ת מנח”י ח”ו סי’ קז, מכתב מתשע”א שנחתם ע”י כל גדולי הדור ובראשם הגרי”ש אלישיב, והגר”ש ווזנר).
- All the mitzvos besides one. If a ger accepts all the mitzvos besides one – even a mitzvah derabanan (בכורות ל:) – it is a flawed acceptance of the mitzvos and we do not accept him (רמב”ם פי”ד איסו”ב ה”ח).
Accepting the Mitzvos Is Essential
- The consensus of all the poskim whose words we live by is that without a sincere acceptance of mitzvos, the geirus is not even valid even bedi’eved. Thus, if it is clear that the ger does not intend to accept all the mitzvos or to guard and fulfill the entire Torah, the geirus is one hundred percent invalid (שו”ת חמדת שלמה סי’ כ”ט, שו”ת הראנ”ח סי’ צ”ב, שו”ת בית יצחק יו”ד סי’ ק’, אגרות משה יו”ד סי’ ק”ס, שו”ת מנחת יצחק שם, ועוד). Sometimes this can be identified from his character, conduct, friends, place of residence, nature, mode of dress, or the like.
- Unfortunately, there are government bodies in Eretz Yisroel in charge of the geirus system that accept and approve geirim who continue to live like secular or “Masorti” Jews – certainly below the standard of acceptance of mitzvos required for geirus. These bodies require the batei din in charge of marriage registration to recognize these geirim as Jews without any inquiries. In doing so, they are destroying the kedushah of Klal Yisroel and engineering tragic assimilation in Eretz Yisroel and the rest of the world (מכתב מחאה שנחתם ע”י הסטייפלר, הגרשז”א, הגראמ”מ שך, הגריש”א).
Milah for Geirim
- After a ger accepts the yoke of Torah and mitzvos before beis din, the beis din must quickly execute the geirus process, as we do not delay mitzvos (גמ’ יבמות דף מ”ז ע”ב, שו”ע ס”ב). They give the ger a bris milah with intent that it is for geirus (שו”ת מהר”ם שי”ק או”ח סי’ קמ”ד, שו”ת מהר”ם בריסק סי’ כ”ו, ס’ הזכרון להגר”י אברבסקי עמ’ נ”ה).
“Hatafas Dam Bris”
- If a ger already had a bris, e.g., he was circumcised as a non-Jew; he initially converted through a beis din unfit to perform geirus; or he is undergoing an additional geirus due to a concern regarding the validity of an earlier one, the beis din must draw a drop of blood at the site of his milah (שו”ע סי’ רס”ח ס”א). No brachah is made on hatafas dam bris (שו”ע שם) because it is unclear whether it is strictly required and because Chazal did not institute any sort of brachah for this process.
- The poskim argue about the precise site of hatafas dam bris (שו”ת אבני נזר יו”’ד סי’ של”ד, חזו”א יו”ד סי’ קנ”ד ס”ג, ועי’ מש”כ שו”ת חוקי חיים ח”א סי’ פ”ט). Therefore, the minhag is to do it in two places. The minhag is also to ask for the ger’s forgiveness for the extra prick since if it is not a mitzvah, the one who drew the blood inflicted a wound on him.
- After the ger heals from his milah [this takes about three weeks], he toivels for geirus in a mikveh that is kosher for deoraisa tevilos (שו”ע סי’ רס”ח ס”ב).
- Preparing for tevilah. Since the tevilah of a ger is deoraisa, he must prepare himself by removing any possible chatzitzah. Therefore, he must bathe well, comb his hairs, and cut his fingernails and toenails (רמ”א שם). He must then closely inspect his body before going into the mikveh to ensure there are no chatzitzos (שו”ע שם, ש”ך סק”ו).
- Accepting the mitzvos when toiveling. While the ger stands in the water before the actual tevilah, we inform him again of the fundamental principles of Yiddishkeit and he accepts the yoke of the mitzvos. This is the main time to accept the yoke of mitzvos lechatchilah since when he comes out of the water, he is a full-fledged Jew (שו”’ע שם).
- Brachah on tevilah. Since a ger before his tevilah is not yet a Jew, he makes the brachah after the tevilah (גמ’ פסחים דף ז’ ע”ב). When his head emerges from the water while he is still standing in the water, he says the brachah “אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וצונו על הטבילה” (שו”ע שם).
In Front of Three Dayanim
In Front of Three
- The entire geirus process, i.e., accepting the mitzvos, milah, and tevilah, must be done before a beis din of three valid dayanim (שו”ע שם ס”ג). This is because the word משפט [court case] is used in the Torah with respect to geirim (גמ’ יבמות דף מ”ו ע”ב). Some of these steps are invalid even bedi’eved without a beis din of three dayanim, as we will explain.
- By day. Since geirus has the status of a משפט, it must take place specifically by day (שו”ע ס”ג).
- Lax about acceptance of mitzvos. Some dayanim are not careful to perform the geirus process according to halachah with a proper investigation to ensure the ger is fully accepting the yoke of Torah and mitzvos. They do not insist on a proper acceptance of the mitzvos, instead relying on a false or partial acceptance. These dayanim are totally disqualified from accepting geirim. Therefore, even if a ger did accept the mitzvos properly in front of them, it is like he accepted the mitzvos in the absence of a beis din since the dayanim are invalid (הגריש”א, תשובות והנהגות ח”א סי’ תר”י תרי”א).
Is a Three-Dayan Beis Din Essential?
- Acceptance of mitzvos. All poskim agree it is essential for the ger’s acceptance of the mitzvos to be done before a beis din. If he accepted the mitzvos alone or even before two witnesses, his geirus has no validity (שו”ע ס”ג) since accepting the mitzvos is the first, and main, action of geirus. It is also the element that beis din must use to decide whether or not to accept a ger (דברות משה יבמות סי’ ל”ה ענב ב’).
- Milah. The milah must also be done before three dayanim. However, some Rishonim say that unlike an acceptance of mitzvos without a beis din, a milah without a beis din is valid bedi’eved (תוס’ יבמות מ”ה ע”ב ובקידושין דף ס”ב ע”ב, רא”ש שם סי’ ל”א, עי’ ש”ך סק”ט). Others say a milah in the absence of a beis din is also invalid and the ger must have hatafas dam bris (בה”ג, סמ”ק, סמ”ג ל”ת קט”ז, שלטי גיבורים ט”ו ב’ מדפי הרי”ף, מאירי).
- Tevilah. There is also a machlokes whether tevilah in the absence of a beis din is valid bedi’eved (הראשונים הנ”ל). Some hold that since the tevilah is the completion of the geirus and causes the geirus to come into effect, the presence of a beis din is essential (ערוה”ש סי’ רס”ז ס”ז). Therefore, lechatchilah we are certainly careful to have a beis din present at all steps of a geirus.
Warning to Marriage Registrars
- Based on all this, marriage registrars must take heed not to certify a marriage without confirming the yichus of the two sides to make sure they may be assumed to be Jews. If there was a geirus involved, they must investigate the nature and validity of the geirus and make sure it was done by a valid, qualified beis din made up of G-d-fearing, virtuous dayanim who do not disregard the halachos of geirus.
Next Issue: Halachos of Geirim