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The Mishna, Bikkurim 1:4, speaks of converts to Judaism who bring their first fruits to the temple, or who pray within a synagogue:

אלו מביאין ולא קורין הגר מביא ואינו קורא שאינו יכול לומר אשר נשבע ה' לאבותינו לתת לנו ואם היתה אמו מישראל מביא וקורא וכשהוא מתפלל בינו לבין עצמו אומר אלהי אבות ישראל וכשהוא בבית הכנסת אומר אלהי אבותיכם ואם היתה אמו מישראל אומר אלהי אבותינו

The following people bring [the first fruits] but do not recite [the accompanying declaration]. A convert brings but does not recite, since he cannot say "[I have come to the land] that the Lord swore to my ancestors to give us" (Deuteronomy 26:3) - but if his mother is Jewish, he brings and recites.

When he prays to himself [ie: silently], he says "God of the ancestors of Israel" [instead of "God of our ancestors"], but if he is in a synagogue he says "God of your ancestors". And if his mother is Jewish, he says "God of our ancestors".

Given that this person is a convert, it stands to reason that prior to his conversion he was a gentile. How am I to understand the mishna's reference to a convert whose mother is Jewish?

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    I suspect that we're seeing a change of subject as Annelise says, but another possibility is that his mother also converted, but after he was born. That's pretty speculative, though, and I suspect not what was meant here. – Monica Cellio Aug 14 '13 at 13:23
  • I wanted to answer that "הגר" includes a son of two gerim, but couldn't find that in any mishna commentary. If that were correct (and I have no reason to think it is), then "ואם היתה אמו מישראל" makes sense as a contrast (especially because we might think such a person wouldn't say the paragraph, since his mother wasn't included in the referred-to oath, as mishna commentaries mention). – msh210 Aug 14 '13 at 17:27
  • See vbm-torah.org/shavuot/shavuot65-rmt.htm for a discussion of this and other related topics. I do not have time to summarise. – Avrohom Yitzchok Aug 14 '13 at 21:05
  • I don't think so, @MonicaCellio, since that still wouldn't enable him to mention his ancestors. – Shimon bM Aug 15 '13 at 3:23
  • Thanks, @AvrohomYitzchok, but that passage (as interesting as it is) nowhere mentions this specific issue. Instead, it focuses on the question of gerim and what they may and may not say, acc. to the Yerushalmi and subsequent codes. – Shimon bM Aug 15 '13 at 3:24
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According to the Kahati comment on that Mishnah, it should be read

A ger brings but does not read ...

If [he is not a ger but only] his mother is Jewish he brings and says ...

Kahati explains that this is put in because we might think that a person whose father is not a Jew but whose mother is a Jew would not be able to say the pasuk because the term אבותינו לתת לנו (Avoseinu lases lanu - our forefathers to give us) would not apply because he does not inherit any land (not having a father).

See Tosefta Baba Basra 81b

See Kahati further in the mishnah where he explains why the halacha is not according to this mishnah.

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I think it's possible that the final part is about someone who was born Jewish. That reading is supported by the way the Mishna elsewhere speaks about the child of a Jewish mother being Jewish, and I don't think that disputes about this are recorded.

The quote you gave is about converts... but the second half is also about which groups of people say what in the davening. So, the end might be summing it up by including also what non-converts would say. That said, it would be an unintuitive way of writing it.

Edit: with an emphasis on a person whose father is not Jewish, but can nonetheless still say this (not as a convert) because his mother is.

  • Actually, there are many disputes about that halakha in the early rabbinic literature (cf: Shai Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness, for a number of them), but I don't think you're right for another reason: aside from the fact that it seems strange that this mishna would also parenthetically record the ruling for born Jews (a ruling, by the way, that the rest of the tractate is devoted to discussing anyway), if it wanted to do so it would likely just refer to the person as an איש מישראל, rather than someone whose mother is Jewish. – Shimon bM Aug 14 '13 at 12:16
  • That said, your interpretation has precedent: it's brought (and rejected) in the Yerushalmi, in the name of Binyamin ben Ashtor (Bikkurim 1:4, 64a). – Shimon bM Aug 14 '13 at 12:17
  • What early rabbinic literature are you referring to? Also, you're much more familiar than I am, so you can talk better than I about what feels strange... but I don't think it's that weird to recap on what born Jews would say even in a tractate that discusses that. Anyway, I don't have books... can you tell me about what you referenced from the Yerushalmi? – Annelise Aug 14 '13 at 12:36
  • Sorry... me trying to answer your question naturally turns into me asking you questions :D You shouldn't have to answer so don't worry. – Annelise Aug 14 '13 at 12:50
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    I wonder if it could just be pointing out that a person with a gentile father is still able to say 'God of our ancestors' (especially, maybe, as the word is 'fathers'). – Annelise Aug 14 '13 at 13:27
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Ger is not always translatable by convert. Here the translation needs to be somewhat as stranger. Stranger means here "bloody not owner", stranger to the heritage.

It is very frequent in translation that we have not a whole equivalent, but several partial equivalents usable in restricted context only. So convert is a partial equivalent of Ger.

  • What do you mean by "bloody not owner"? Also, I think that you are wrong: ger translates as convert in the Mishna 100% of the time. – Shimon bM Feb 15 '17 at 0:41
  • @Shimon bM to be owned of the land by blood. Perhaps I am wrong. The word "convert" is itself the expression of someone who is stranger to the family and the way of which is voluntary versed towards the Jewish family. Most of those elements are present in a man that is issued from a Jewish mother, except for the act of the conversion – kouty Feb 15 '17 at 3:08

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