9

Disclaimer: I am already Jewish. This question for curiousity only. Obviously it is always the best idea to convert to Judaism with a proper, official beit din.


Three Jewish males over the age of bar mitzvah constitute a beit din, and we know that in order for a non-Jew to convert they need to be converted by a beit din.

My question is, theoretically, could a non-Jew convert to Judaism under the direction of three Jewish men, as long as these men were upright, Torah observant Jews? Or is there some process in which batei dinim need to be initiated somehow?

Assuming a non-Jew converted with such a "un-official" beit din, along with the official acceptance of the mitzvot, brit milah, and immersion in a mikvah, would they be considered a full convert?

5

Most dinim of Gerut are in the fourth chapter of Yevamot.

A convert needs three [talmide Chachamim, added following Berayta 47a and the correction of Rabbi Yochanan on the berayta in 47b] (46b)

ש"מ תלת: ש"מ גר צריך שלשה, וש"מ אינו גר עד שימול ויטבול, וש"מ אין מטבילין גר בלילה.‏

It may be inferred that the initiation of a proselyte requires the presence of three men; and it may be inferred that a man is not a proper proselyte unless he had been circumcised and had also performed the prescribed ablution; and it may also be inferred that the ablution of a proselyte may not take place during the night.

one who convert alone is not a convert (47a)

ת"ר: (דברים א') ושפטתם צדק בין איש ובין אחיו ובין גרו - מכאן א"ר יהודה: גר שנתגייר בב"ד - הרי זה גר, בינו לבין עצמו - אינו ג‏

Our Rabbis taught: And judge righteously between a man and his brother, and the proselyte that is with him; from this text did R`Judah deduce that a man who becomes a proselyte in the presence of a Beth din is deemed to be a proper proselyte; but he who does so privately is no proselyte.

Gemara 45b:

Cases that we know that a woman goes to Mikve for Nidda and a man goes to Mikve (a Mikve Kosher for Nidda) for Keri.

עבדיה דרבי חייא בר אמי אטבלה לההיא עובדת כוכבים לשם אנתתא, אמר רב יוסף: יכילנא לאכשורי בה ובברתה בה, כדרב אסי, דאמר רב אסי: מי לא טבלה לנדותה? בברתה, עובד כוכבים ועבד הבא על בת ישראל - הולד כשר. ההוא דהוו קרו ליה בר ארמייתא, אמר רב אסי: מי לא טבלה לנדותה? ההוא דהוו קרו ליה בר ארמאה, אמר ריב"ל: מי לא טבל לקריו?‏

The slave of Rabbi Hiyya Bar Ammi once made a certain idolatress bathe for a matrimonial purpose. Said Rav Joseph: I could declare her to be a legitimate Jewess and her daughter to be of legitimate birth. In her case, in accordance with the view of Rav Assi; for Rav Assi said, 'Did she not bathe for the purpose of her menstruation'? In the case of her daughter, because when an idolater or a slave has intercourse with a daughter of an Israelite, the child [born of such a union] is legitimate. A certain person was once named 'son of the female heathen'. Said R`Assi, 'Did she not bathe for the purpose of her menstruation'? ' A certain person was once named 'son of the male heathen'. Said Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi, 'Did he not bathe in connection with any mishap of his'?

Rambam ruled this Gemara in Isure Bia 13.9

גִּיֹּרֶת שֶׁרְאִינוּהָ נוֹהֶגֶת בְּדַרְכֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל תָּמִיד כְּגוֹן שֶׁתִּטְבּל לְנִדָּתָהּ וְתַפְרִישׁ תְּרוּמָה מֵעִסָּתָהּ וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָּזֶה. וְכֵן גֵּר שֶׁנּוֹהֵג בְּדַרְכֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁטּוֹבֵל לְקִרְיוֹ וְעוֹשֶׂה כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת. הֲרֵי אֵלּוּ בְּחֶזְקַת גֵּרֵי צֶדֶק. וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵין שָׁם עֵדִים שֶׁמְּעִידִין לִפְנֵי מִי שֶׁנִּתְגַּיְּרוּ. וְאַף עַל פִּי כֵן אִם בָּאוּ לְהִתְעָרֵב בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל אֵין מַשִּׂיאִין אוֹתָם עַד שֶׁיָּבִיאוּ עֵדִים אוֹ עַד שֶׁיִּטְבְּלוּ בְּפָנֵינוּ הוֹאִיל וְהֻחְזְקוּ עַכּוּ''ם: ‏

The Rambam understands from this Gemara that since they live with Jewish customs and practice all mitsvot, we believe that they did convert regularly.

But in Rashi says that the Tevila for purpose of Niddah has a value of Tevila for Kabbalat Mitsvot, because this act is a testimony of Kabbalat Mitsvot. According to this view, in the cases of the Gemara, no Rabbis were formally implicated in the process of converting.

ה כדרב אסי. דאמר בשמעתין ההוא דהוו קרו ליה בר ארמייתא שלא טבלה אמו לשם גירות ואמר רב אסי מי לא טבלה לנדותה אלמא טבילת נדה סלקא לה לשם גירות

Tosfot understand as Rashi, because he try to understand how is it equivalent to three Dayanim, and for Niddah, there is no men around the Mikve, and the accreditation by Dayanim needs to be on Day, not at night. He answers that since everybody know that she goes to Mikve, there is as if Dayanim are present. And since her Jewish custom is known, there is as if the Kabbalat Mitsvot is on day.

ומה דאמר לקמן (דף מו:) דגר צריך שלשה דמשפט כתיב ביה ואפילו למאן דאמר בריש סנהדרין (דף ג.) דבר תורה חד נמי כשר מכל מקום אין דרך נשים להביא איש עמהן בשעת טבילה ואשה אינה ראויה לדון כדתנן (נדה דף מט:) כל הכשר לדון כשר להעיד ובהדיא איתא בירושלמי דיומא מעתה שאין אשה מעידה אינה דנה ודבורה לא היתה דנה אלא מלמדת להן שידונו אי נמי על פי הדיבור שאני וי''ל האי דבעינן שלשה היינו לקבלת המצות אבל לא לטבילה אף על גב דאמרינן לקמן (דף מז:) דשני ת''ח עומדים מבחוץ היינו לכתחלה דעדיף טפי. ויש מפרשים דכיון דידוע לכל שטבלה כאילו עומדים שם דמי ומיהו קשיא דטבילת נדה בלילה ולקמן (דף מו:) אמר אין מטבילין גר בלילה אבל אי לאו כתיב משפט אלא אקבלת מצוה אתי שפיר והא דאין מטבילין היינו לכתחלה מדרבנן:‏

See the very interesting comment of the Or Sameach on the Rambam op.cit.

The Shulchan Aruch YD 268.3 seems to rule as Rashi and Tosfot.

All matters of the convert from making known to them the mitzvot, receiving them, the circumcision and the immersion, it must be with three who are fitting to judge, and during the day. But after the fact if he only was circumcised or immersed at night or in front of [the convert’s] relatives [which is invalid], or even if one did not dunk with the intention of conversion, rather a man who dunked for a seminal emission, or a woman who dunked for menstruation, they are still converts and he is permitted to [marry] an Israelite woman. So this all applies to the immersion and the circumcision but it does not apply to receiving the mitzvot, which prevents [conversion] unless it was during the day and in front of three [witnesses]. However, the Rif and the Rambam [say that] even after the fact [one who] immersed or was circumcised before two [witnesses] or at night prevents [conversion], and [marrying] an Israelite woman is forbidden. But, if he is married to an Israelite woman and she has borne him a son, we do not invalidate him [the son].

conversion for a deviant purpose

See Yevamot 24b

Mishna

If a man is suspected of [intercourse] with a slave who was later emancipated, or with a heathen who subsequently became a proselyte, lo, he must not marry her. If, however, he did marry her they need not to be parted.

Gemara

This implies that she may become a proper proselyte. But against this a contradiction is raised. Both a man who became a proselyte for the sake of a woman and a woman who became a proselyte for the sake of a man, and, similarly, a man who became a proselyte for the sake of a royal board, or for the sake of joining Solomon's servants, are no proper proselytes. These are the words of Rabbi Nehemiah, for Rabbi Nehemiah used to Say: Neither lion-proselytes, nor dream-proselytes nor the proselytes of Mordecai and Esther are proper proselytes unless they become converted at the present time. How can it be said, 'at the present time'? -Say 'as at the present time'! -Surely concerning this it was stated that RIsaac BSamuel B`Martha said in the name of Rab: The halachah is in accordance with the opinion of him who maintained that they were all proper proselytes.

See the whole text in Gemara.

Rambam, Issurei Biah - Chapter Thirteen, 16-17:

16

וּלְפִי שֶׁגִּיֵּר שְׁלֹמֹה נָשִׁים וּנְשָׂאָן. וְכֵן שִׁמְשׁוֹן גִּיֵּר וְנָשָׂא. וְהַדָּבָר יָדוּעַ שֶׁלֹּא חָזְרוּ אֵלּוּ אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִיל דָּבָר וְלֹא עַל פִּי בֵּית דִּין גִּיְּרוּם חֲשָׁבָן הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ הֵן עַכּוּ''ם וּבְאִסּוּרָן עוֹמְדִין. וְעוֹד שֶׁהוֹכִיחַ סוֹפָן עַל תְּחִלָּתָן שֶׁהֵן עוֹבְדוֹת כּוֹכָבִים וּמַזָּלוֹת שֶׁלָּהֶן וּבָנוּ לָהֶן בָּמוֹת וְהֶעֱלָה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ הוּא בְּנָאָן שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלכים א יא ז) "אָז יִבְנֶה שְׁלֹמֹה בָּמָה": ‏

Solomon converted women and married them and similarly, Samson converted [women] and married [them]. It is well known that they converted only because of an ulterior motive and that their conversion was not under the guidance of the court. Hence the Tanach40 considered it as if they were gentiles and remained forbidden. Moreover, their conduct ultimately revealed their initial intent. For they would worship their false deities and build platforms for them. Therefore the Scriptures considered it as if [Solomon] built them, as [I Kings 11:7] states: "And then, Solomon built a platform."

17

גֵּר שֶׁלֹּא בָּדְקוּ אַחֲרָיו אוֹ שֶׁלֹּא הוֹדִיעוּהוּ הַמִּצְוֹת וְעָנְשָׁן וּמָל וְטָבַל בִּפְנֵי שְׁלֹשָׁה הֶדְיוֹטוֹת הֲרֵי זֶה גֵּר. אֲפִלּוּ נוֹדַע שֶׁבִּשְׁבִיל דָּבָר הוּא מִתְגַּיֵּר הוֹאִיל וּמָל וְטָבַל יָצָא מִכְּלַל הָעַכּוּ''ם וְחוֹשְׁשִׁין לוֹ עַד שֶׁיִּתְבָּאֵר צִדְקוּתוֹ. וַאֲפִלּוּ חָזַר וְעָבַד עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה הֲרֵי הוּא כְּיִשְׂרָאֵל מוּמָר שֶׁקִּדּוּשָׁיו קִדּוּשִׁין. וּמִצְוָה לְהַחֲזִיר אֲבֵדָתוֹ מֵאַחַר שֶׁטָּבַל נַעֲשָׂה כְּיִשְׂרָאֵל. וּלְפִיכָךְ קִיְּמוּ שִׁמְשׁוֹן וּשְׁלֹמֹה נְשׁוֹתֵיהֶן וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁנִּגְלָה סוֹדָן: ‏

When a court did not check a [potential] converts background and did not inform him of the mitzvot41 and the punishment for [the failure to observe] the mitzvot and he circumcised himself and immersed in the presence of three ordinary people, he is a convert. Even if it is discovered that he converted for an ulterior motive, since he circumcised himself and converted, he has departed from the category of gentiles and we view him with skepticism until his righteousness is revealed.

Even if afterwards, [the convert] worships false deities, he is like an apostate Jew. [If he] consecrates [a woman,] the consecration is valid, and it is a mitzvah to return his lost object. For since he immersed himself he became a Jew. For this reason, Samson and Solomon maintained their wives even though their inner feelings were revealed.

Yes someone who convert without an expert Rabbi who checked the reasons for conversion is actually converted but this is not a good practice. There are cases of conversion without direct implication of Rabbis according to Rashi and Tosfot

Shulchan Aruch Yore Dea 268, 12:

‏ ____ כְּשֶׁבָּא הַגֵּר לְהִתְגַּיֵּר, בּוֹדְקִים אַחֲרָיו שֶׁמָּא בִּגְלַל מָמוֹן שֶׁיִּטֹּל אוֹ בִּשְׁבִיל שְׂרָרָה שֶׁיִּזְכֶּה לָהּ אוֹ מִפְּנֵי הַפַּחַד בָּא לִכָּנֵס לַדָּת. וְאִם אִישׁ הוּא, בּוֹדְקִין אַחֲרָיו שֶׁמָּא עֵינָיו נָתַן בְּאִשָּׁה יְהוּדִית. וְאִם אִשָּׁה הִיא, בּוֹדְקִין אַחֲרֶיהָ שֶׁמָּא עֵינֶיהָ נָתְנָה בְּבַחוּרֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאִם לֹא נִמְצֵאת לָהֶם עִלָּה מוֹדִיעִים לָהֶם כֹּבֶד עֹל הַתּוֹרָה וְטֹרַח שֶׁיֵּשׁ בַּעֲשִׂיָּתָהּ עַל עַמֵּי הָאֲרָצוֹת, כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּפְרְשׁוּ. אִם קִבְּלוּ וְלֹא פֵּרְשׁוּ, וְרָאוּ אוֹתָם שֶׁחָזְרוּ מֵאַהֲבָה, מְקַבְּלִים אוֹתָם. וְאִם לֹא בָּדְקוּ אַחֲרָיו, אוֹ שֶׁלֹּא הוֹדִיעוּהוּ שְׂכַר הַמִּצְוֹת וְעָנְשָׁן, וּמָל וְטָבַל בִּפְנֵי ג' הֶדְיוֹטוֹת, הֲרֵי זֶה גֵּר אֲפִלּוּ נוֹדַע שֶׁבִּשְׁבִיל דָּבָר הוּא מִתְגַּיֵּר, הוֹאִיל וּמָל וְטָבַל יָצָא מִכְּלַל הָעוֹבְדֵי כּוֹכָבִים, וְחוֹשְׁשִׁים לוֹ עַד שֶׁתִּתְבָּרֵר צִדְקָתוֹ; וַאֲפִלּוּ חָזַר וְעָבַד עֲבוֹדַת כּוֹכָבִים, הֲרֵי הוּא כְּיִשְׂרָאֵל מוּמָר שֶׁקִּדּוּשָׁיו קִדּוּשִׁין. יִשְׂרָאֵל מוּמָר שֶׁעָשָׂה תְּשׁוּבָה, אֵין צָרִיךְ לִטְבֹּל; רַק מִדְּרַבָּנָן יֵשׁ לוֹ לִטְבֹּל וּלְקַבֵּל עָלָיו דִּבְרֵי חֲבֵרוּת בִּפְנֵי ג' (נ''י פ' הַחוֹלֵץ) . ‏

Translation of the bold characters: If the Beth Din did not examine him, or did not explain him praise and punishment of Mitsvot, but he did circumcise and immerse himself, and did circumcision and immersion in front of a tribunal of non specialists, he already is Jewish and ... even if he come back to idolatry he is considered as a Jew who changed religion and remains a Jew.

The problem is that a Bet din of non-sages is not able to decide if it is right to convert this person, and perhaps did not explain the essence of Jewish being.

What is the right behavior with such a convert: "חוששין לו עד שתתברר צדקתו" said the Shulchan Aruch, you are not sure that he is Shomer Mitsvot.

But clearly to convert with Beth Din of non-sages is not advised. The rule explained above is for BediAvad situations.

2

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein says "three kosher, adult Jewish males" -- though it is good to have someone knowledgeable thinking carefully as to whether the Jewish people would really benefit from having this person join. Rabbi Yonah Reiss has an mp3 about this where he said back in the day, in many towns the panel consisted of the rabbi, the chazan (cantor), and one Sabbath-observing fellow in town (doctor/lawyer/butcher/baker/candlestick-maker). According to this, better to have at least one expert rabbi ... if you had three laypeople who somehow knew what they were doing, uncomfortable but still kosher.

Rabbi Reiss then quotes some opinions that perhaps a more official beis din is needed, because of shlichusayhu ka'avdinan. (Certain laws were only entrusted to a classically-ordained panel before the year 600 or so, or any panel that they would want to act in their stead.) For that reason he says today many prefer that all three be rabbis ... but he certainly can't discount the opinion of Rabbi Feinstein and what had been common practice for quite some time.

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