8

I am under the impression that a person can be received into Judaism from a gentile nation. My question is whether or not that person could conceivably then become a Rabbi?

Please indicate whether your answer has always been the case, or whether this (non/)requirement has always been consistent within Judaism.

13

Shemaya and Avtalyon, two great rabbis from the 1st century BCE, are identified in the Talmud (Gittin 57b) as converts. So it seems that converts can become rabbis, and even important ones. I know of no sources that imply the law on this matter was different before that point.

See also this question: Can a convert be a prophet?

  • 2
    The Gemera says they were descendants of Gerim. מבני בניו של סנחריב למדו תורה ברבים מאן אינון שמעיה ואבטליון היינו Since they led the sanhedrin, they couldn't have been gerim themselves. A modern-day rabbi is a separate question though. – Ariel K Apr 14 '13 at 14:01
  • 1
    This answer ignores the halakhic problem of כל משימות שאתה משים לא יהו אלא מקרב אחיך (Kiddushin 76b, Yevamos 45b). For a teshuvah on this question, see e.g., שו"ת אגרות משה יורה דעה חלק ד סימן כו – wfb Apr 14 '13 at 16:05
  • 1
    I'm pretty sure there's no issur שררה over עבדים. However, you probably cannot appoint a גר as the רב over your Jewish workers. – wfb Apr 15 '13 at 0:17
  • 1
    OK, so maybe your answer should acknowledge that it may depend on the role of the rabbi and whether he has authority? Especially since the question asks for changes over time, and rabbis in the past had real authority. Also, maybe consider updating the info about Shmaya & Avtalyon – wfb Apr 15 '13 at 15:33
  • 1
    @ArielK Ritva and Meiri on Yoma 71b say they themselves were Gerim, as does Rambam and Bartenura to Eduyos 5:6. – Double AA Apr 18 '13 at 16:09
5

Don't forget Unkelos - another Sage who was a convert. His translation of the Torah is found in every Observant Jewish home.

Nowadays, I know of several prominent rabbis who are converts, but I will not name them here for fear of lashon hara.

In other words, there is absolutely no impediment to a convert becoming a rabbi or Jewish leader.

  • 3
    Hey Naomi, welcome to Mi Yodeya and thanks for this answer! I'm not sure I agree that naming someone as a convert is lashon hara (else surely the Talmud wouldn't have). That being said, I don't think it's necessary either. Either way, welcome, and I hope to see you around the site! – HodofHod Apr 12 '13 at 6:59
  • 2
    @HodofHod, I don't think it's lashon hara, but we are forbidden (citation needed) to ask someone if he's a convert because of "reminding him of his (idolatrous?) past", so I would think that publicly naming a convert as such would be the same problem. (Obviously sometimes it does happen or we wouldn't know about Onkelos, Shemaya, and Avtalyon, but I sure don't know how to decide when it's ok.) – Monica Cellio Apr 12 '13 at 13:21
  • @MonicaCellio Definitely "citation needed"( for it being "forbidden ... to ask someone if he's a convert")! I was unaware such a Halakhah exists, and still don't think it does. – Tamir Evan Apr 12 '13 at 14:09
  • @TamirEvan, it's something I was taught (as part of leadership/outreach/etc training), but I don't know where it comes from. And obviously there are "need to know" exceptions (e.g. marriage involving a kohein), but I understand it to be a general "don't talk about it". Maybe after Shabbat I'll go digging. – Monica Cellio Apr 12 '13 at 14:21
  • 2
    @TamirEvan on the other hand, why wait? – Monica Cellio Apr 12 '13 at 16:25
5

Although there is no problem with a convert being a great Torah scholar, as the examples of Shmayah and Avtalyon as well as Onkelos ha-Ger and many others amply demonstrate, there may be a problem with appointing a convert as the rabbi of a community. This question is addressed directly by R. Nosson Gestetner, who concludes that a convert cannot receive the title "Rav" although he may be the one to whom the community turns to answer their questions.

This issue was also addressed by R. Herschel Schachter, in a responsum about women rabbis. Rabbi Schachter cites Rema (Yoreh De'ah, end of siman 245) and Gra (Yoreh De'ah 245:38) that being the rabbi of a city is a position of serarah. This would mean that it would not be permitted for a convert. In the words of Rabbi Schachter:

Based on the interpretation of the Torah she’Be’al Peh, the pesukim tell us that we may not appoint a ger to serve as King or in any capacity of serarah, as, for example, to serve as a rabbi of a community, or (as mentioned by the Talmud) as president of a labor union. A ger may not serve as a dayan in a din Torah involving a Yisrael, but may serve as a dayan in a din Torah involving other geirim. Obviously it is possible to confer semichah on a ger, otherwise he would not even be able to serve as a dayan for a case involving other geirim. Although a ger may not serve as a rabbi in a kehillah of Yisraelim, we still allow geirim to join the semichah program in the Yeshiva and to receive semichah upon successful completion of their studies, because years ago real semichah was sometimes conferred on geirim.

R. Moshe Feinstein does not address this exact question. Nevertheless, in addressing a similar question about whether a convert can become a Rosh Yeshiva, he expresses a lenient inclination. Here is a free translation of what R. Moshe Feinstein says (Iggeros Moshe YD 4:26):

The simple answer, based on the Gemara in Kiddushin 76b... and Yevamot 45b... and the Rambam Hil. Melachim 1:4... is that it is forbidden to appoint a convert for a position of authority for Jews... But you [the questioner] wanted to prove based on Shmayah and Avtalyon and others [that it is permitted]--however, besides for the fact that we don't know exactly what their lineage was [whether their mother was a born Jew], one cannot bring a proof from them because they were the greatest of their time...and who knows if it was not a temporary exception [hora'at sha'ah], like the case of the prophet Devorah who was a judge (see Tosafos Bava Kama 15a...and Yevamot 45b...) and how can we compare our case to theirs.

But practically, one must know that the commandment to love the convert (Deut. 10:19) obligates us to bring them close, and to be lenient in all these types of issues. Therefore, after much consideration, it seems that we only consider [forbidden] appointments in our time to be those that have [real] authority, but the role of a Rosh Yeshiva is to teach students who want to learn...

  • This is interesting information, but I don't understand what your answer is. – Jas 3.1 Apr 14 '13 at 17:38
  • The answer is it's complicated – wfb Apr 14 '13 at 17:53
  • Are you sure you got that reference right? Gra 245:38 discusses inheriting a position from one's father. – Double AA Oct 4 '13 at 15:51
  • Anyone else find it funny that R Schacher is basing his argument on R Shaul Lieberman? – Double AA Oct 4 '13 at 15:53
  • Yes, that is what R. Schachter quotes. The Gra quotes the Sifrei and Tosefta in Shekalim which learns from the pasuk הוא ובניו בקרב ישראל (about kings) to all "parnasei yisrael," applies it to communal rabbis, and says that כל הקודם לנחלה קודם לשררה applies to communal rabbis. – wfb Oct 4 '13 at 15:56

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .