Yevamot 104 - 110
What is the connection between the exorbitant fee of an expert surgeon and the chalitzah of a yevamah? It all begins with the story of Rabbi Papa's wife's sister whose husband died childless. The husband's brother, upon whom it was incumbent to marry her in performance of the mitzvah of yibum, was an unsuitable mate for her but was unwilling to free her through chalitzah. When the case came before the Sage Abaye, Rabbi Papa suggested that they lure him into doing chalitzah by offering him the generous sum of 200 zuz. After the chalitzah was performed Abaye asked the woman to give the fellow the money she had promised.
Even if she would not give the money, Rashi points out, the chalitzah would be valid. Only something which can be done through an agent is subject to conditions imposed by the parties and is nullified upon non-fulfillment of a condition. Since chalitzah cannot be performed through an agent, the failure to fulfill a condition attached to it does not nullify its effectiveness. Since the woman, however, had "hired" the services of her yavam, it was Abaye's opinion that she was legally obligated to pay the sum to which she had agreed.
Rabbi Papa contested this claim by comparing this case to that of an innocent man fleeing from dangerous pursuers whose only hope for freedom is a ferry which will take him across the river. In desperation he offers the uncooperative ferry man a sum of money much larger than his usual fee. After he reaches safety, says the halacha, he has no obligation to pay more than the regular fee and can dismiss his offer as not being a serious one. This is so because the ferry man has a responsibility to save him and can therefore not demand an exorbitant fee. The yavam who is unfit for the yevamah similarly has a responsibility to free her through chalitzah, and since he loses nothing in doing so, the woman is not bound to fulfill her promise of money.
Ramban extends this concept to the case of a sick man who can only acquire the medicine he needs by promising the one possessing it an exorbitant sum of money. Not only is it wrong for the medicine's owner to demand such a price, but even if the sick man consents to promise him the money, he is not obligated to later fulfill his promise, and all he must pay is the market value of such medicine. When it comes to a physician charging for his services, however, there is a difference of opinion amongst the commentaries. Ritva contends that since the physician, like the medicine owner, is obligated to save the life of the patient, he can charge only for the time spent attending him. Ramban, however, rules that since it is his wisdom which the doctor is selling, there is no definable price tag and whatever they agree upon must be paid. (The latter opinion is upheld in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 335:3.)
Welcome the Convert
What is the Torah community's attitude towards conversions? The answer to this very topical question is a simple one: Conversion to Judaism is not encouraged nor is there acceptance of a candidate for conversion before there is ample evidence of his or her sincerity. It goes without saying that the conversion process itself must be handled by a qualified rabbinical court according to halacha.
A first glance at the statement of Rabbi Yitzchak in our gemara would seem to indicate a total policy of hands off from conversion. "Evil after evil," he declares on the basis of a passage in Mishlei (11:15), "will come upon those who accept converts."
This warning against accepting converts, explains Tosefot, is directed towards situations in which the candidate for conversion is persuaded to make this move, or in which he is readily accepted without properly determining his sincerity. Where the candidate, however, genuinely strives to join the Jewish nation, we are required to accept him. Tosefot then lists historic examples of famous conversions: Yehoshua accepted the conversion of Rachav, the Jericho woman who hid the Israelite spies; Naomi encouraged the conversion of the Moabite Ruth, from whom King David was descended.
While both Rachav and Ruth positively demonstrated their sincerity, there are examples of conversion in which the Sages relied on their penetrating evaluation of human character. The Sage Hillel accepted the conversion of a person who made his conversion dependent on being taught the entire Torah while he stood on one leg (Shabbat 31a). Although such a proposition smacks of insincerity, Hillel's reading of the man convinced him that he would be a genuine convert -- and his judgment was indeed vindicated.
The most powerful argument for accepting converts presented by Tosefot is the gemara (Sanhedrin 99b) about the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov suffering at the hands of Amalek as a punishment for the forefathers' rejection of Timna's bid for conversion. After this heathen princess was turned away by the patriarchs, she became the concubine of Elifaz, son of Esav, because she preferred being a maidservant to the nation of the patriarchs to being a princess in another nation. From her was descended Amalek who made so much trouble for Israel. This was a punishment for rejecting his mother in her bid for conversion.