Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Converts and Blessings

A convert is not technically descended from Jewish ancestors. Therefore, the Mishnah (Bikkurim 1:4) says that when a convert brings his first fruits to the Temple (i.e. Bikkurim), he does not recite the formula specificied in Deut. 26:3, 5-10 because it contains the phrase "I have come to the country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us" (Deut. 26:3). Since, technically, this convert's fathers did not receive this vow from God. Therefore, even though he is a fullfledged memeber of the Jewish people, he cannot state an untruth.

However, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Bikkurim 4:3) rules like R. Yehudah in the Talmud Yerushalmi, who states that a convert can recite this passage. The Rambam writes:

A convert brings [the first fruit] and recites [the formula] since it says to Avraham "I have made you a father of many nations" (Gen. 17:5), which means that he was the father of all those who enter under the Divine canopy. The vow [referenced in the formula] was originally said to Avraham, that his descendants would inherit the land...
This Rambam is also the reason why a convert can recite the beginning of the Shemoneh Esreh prayer that refers to God as "The God of our fathers." Since converts are spiritually descended from Avraham, they may state this in full truth.

However, every morning we recite a blessing thanking God for making us Jewish and obligated in all of the many commandments, rather than being a Gentile and having to search on our own for a way to reach out to God. Can a convert thank God for not making him a Gentile? After all, God did make him a Gentile!

The Rema (Orah Hayim 46:4) writes that a convert may not recite this blessing. The Ba'er Hetev (ad loc. 8) quotes four opinions on exactly what a convert should say: 1) He should recite a blessing thanking God for making him a convert, 2) He should recite a blessing thanking God for allowing him to enter into the Divine canopy, 3) He should not recite any blessing on this subject, 4) He should recited the standard blessing thanking God for not making him [permanently] a Gentile.

My impression is that the standard practice is like the fourth view above. If anyone has information to the contrary, I would appreciate your leaving a comment.

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