Exodus 12:43 says that a "ben neichar" would not be able to eat the Korbon Pesach (the Passover offering) when the Temple is rebuilt, placing this category of persons in the same category as non-Jews. According to the Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative Commandment 128, explains this this mitzvah with reference to Targum Onkelos who says that a "ben neichar" is "any Jew who has converted" (Targum Onkelos, Ex. 12:43), and the Mechilta which says "[t]he phrase, 'Any ben neichar,' refers to a Jew who has converted and worshipped idolatry" (Mechilta D'Rashbi). See also Hilchos Korban Pesach 9:7, where the Rambam explains the expression ben neichar (literally, "son of a stranger") as meaning, "one who serves a strange god."

Given the fact that Christian censors often changed or removed phrases and sentences they deemed offensive to Christians, I would not be surprised if Onkelos was more specific and applied the term to Jews who converted to Christianity in his day. Is there any proof of this? Can we know from other sources if Christians were forbidden to register for the Korbon Pesach?

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    The fact that the Rambam quotes it without Christians seems like a good proof that it wasn't there, because he didn't live in Christian lands. Also Temani manuscripts of Onkelus don't mention Christians either. mechon-mamre.org/i/t/u/u0212.htm
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 20:19
  • @Double AA: Did you know that Rambam's manuscript of the Mishna Torah is in the Vatican's library? Rabbi Benjamin Blech was allowed to see it with some experts, and they concluded that it is authentic and, in at least two places, was significantly different than our known printed versions. The manuscript is currently being digitally photographed. Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 12:50
  • You mean they have a complete signed edition? We have a lot of manuscripts for different parts and have found many difference, but I suppose there could always be more.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 7:16
  • I heard Rabbi Blech lecture on this. From the lecture I gathered that the experts with him believed the manuscript to have been the original. Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 16:03

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I really doubt that picking a specific application of the halacha would have been Onkelos' job, not to mention he's estimated to have lived around the year 110, so Christianity per se was just barely getting off the ground.

All Onkelos is doing is rendering the Talmudic interpretation of the verse, as close to the wording as possible. The phrase is "ben nechar", "a foreign person." The Talmud's interpretation is that one who has become a foreigner from Judaism is included; thus Onkelos translates "one who has adopted a different faith."

  • I'm not sure I agree. Onkelos is understood to have lived from 35-120 CE placing him in adulthood before the destruction of the Temple and smack in the opening days of the Christian Church just as, or before, Paul and Simon/Peter were pushing the church (for whatever reasons) away from Jewish traditions. It was at that time the Church was especially dangerous to rabbinic Judaism. Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 16:09
  • "Meshumad" means "succumbed to the pressure of surrounding society and joined their faith." Someone who adopted Islam in the days of the Almohads was meshumad. Someone who converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition was meshumad. In Onkelos' time Christianity was just forking off of Judaism and had no political clout. The only religion a Jew at the time would be "persecuted into" would have been some flavor of paganism or maybe Zoroastrianism.
    – Shalom
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 16:22

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