Ask The Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi - 312

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Ask the Rabbi

June 2, 2001 / 12 Sivan 5761; Issue #312



RB <> wrote:

Dear Rabbi,
Moses took a non-Jew as a wife. She said, "Your people are my people" � today we ask much more of our converts.


Thanks for writing. You seem to be mixing up Tzippora and Ruth. Moses married Tzippora the Midianite (Exodus 2). It was Ruth, the Moabite, who said to Naomi, "your people are my people" (Book of Ruth 1). But I think I understand the point you are trying to make.

The Torah forbids intermarriage, and the Torah sets certain guidelines for what is required in order to convert to Judaism.

Such guidelines shouldn’t strike us as irrational or excessive: To become a US citizen, you need to go through a certain process, the end of which is to "pledge allegiance to the flag" and to agree to abide by all the laws of the US. If a person were to say, "I accept all the laws except the one requiring that I pay income tax," or, "except for the law that I not discriminate against minorities," he is likely to be rejected for citizenship — and rightly so — no matter how otherwise loyal he has been or will be. This should be true for most countries.

So it is when becoming a member of the Jewish People: One needs to go through the process of circumcision (for a male), ritual immersion, and acceptance of the Torah’s 613 commandments. This process must be supervised by knowledgeable rabbis. But if someone were to say, "I’ll accept all of Judaism, except for the law to abstain from eating milk and meat together," or "except for the law to observe Shabbat," then he cannot be accepted as a member of our people.

[This is not true for someone born Jewish. Like US citizenship, a born Jew doesn’t lose his Jewishness for breaking the law.]

Note that Ruth said "your people are my people" only after Naomi tried three times to send her back and discourage her. From Naomi’s example, the halacha is derived that we try somewhat to dissuade potential converts in order to test their sincerity.

Note, too, that Moses married Tzippora before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai. The rules for conversion had not as yet been set down and commanded. Then it was enough to swear off idol worship, accept belief in G-d and basic morality. At Mount Sinai, G-d gave us the Torah and its 613 laws. Among the 613 laws are those dealing with conversions.

Yiddle Riddle

If ten animals are born to a person’s flock in one year, that person is required to separate one of the animals as ma’aser beheima, an animal tithe, and bring it to Jerusalem. If less than ten are born to his flock in a single year, he is exempt.

There was once a man who owned only one female animal, a sheep. One year this sheep gave birth to five lambs and to no more; yet, the owner was obligated to separate ma’aser beheima from these lambs. How can this be? (This man would never in his life buy, find, inherit, receive as a gift, or steal another animal, nor would he ever have joint ownership in any animal. A year in this context is from one Rosh Hashana to the next.)

Answer next week…

The Public Domain

Comments, quibbles, and reactions concerning previous "Ask-the-Rabbi" features.


Re: New Partner (Ohrnet Behar-Bechukotai):

I enjoyed Rabbi Wein’s article about Israel needing a "new partner."

I have to tell you, it reminds me of an old Jewish joke involving a poor schneider (tailor) whose business is always on the ropes. He asks his rabbi what to do, and the rabbi says, "You should take Hashem into your business as a partner." So, the schneider hangs up a sign in front of his shop saying, "Schneider and Hashem." But business gets no better. "Of course," says the rabbi, "you put yourself before Hashem." So the guy changes the sign to read "Hashem and Schneider." Sure enough, business gets better and better, he becomes a multimillionaire and eventually Anglicizes the name. And today, Lord and Taylor’s is…. [no longer what it was but survives as part of Macy's, owned by Federated].

Jeff Sokolow <>

Written by various Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
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