"A convert may not hold a position of Jewish communal authority." (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 1:4)

In light of the Rambam above and the answers here, which discuss the prohibition on appointing a woman or a convert to certain positions of power, would it be permissible to make an adult female convert a leader of non-convert women, for example as the rebbetzin of a community, a mikvah lady, or the menaheles of a women's yeshiva? (May not be the best examples, but I can't think of a perfect one now.) Why or why not? Preferably, please bring sources.

Hypothesis: Since a woman is able to take the positions of power in my and any other examples, it would seem that the examples do not fall under the prohibition on women and converts taking positions of authority. Therefore, I think--though I am definitely not sure--a convert ought to be able to take these positions, too. However, there may be evidence that the prohibition on women and on converts taking positions of authority are two separate concerns, and therefore must be treated individually -- in which case it is not at all clear that converts could take power over born-Jewish women.

1 Answer 1


The emphasis of the Rambam in your citation is not about being in a position of communal authority. It is about being the head of the community, meaning the one who determines policy and direction just like the King. A convert is permitted to act as an authority within the chain of command.

The most obvious example comes from Pirkei Avot 5:21-22 which quote as Torah authorities, Ben Bag-Bag and Ben He-He. They were both Tannaim of the first century and converts to Judaism. Their true names were concealed because of Roman persecution against Jewish converts at the time. Both their names hint to the letter 'Heh' which is a sign of the 'Heh' added to Avraham and Sarah's names. They were both Ben Avraham.

Ben Bag-Bag was a student of Rabbi Hillel. In the case of Ben Heh-Heh, he is the authority quoted for Hilchot Talmud Torah in regard to when to begin each type of study, five for Chumash, ten for Mishnah, fifteen for Gemara, etc.

In regard to your examples for women, a Rebbetzin is not an appointed position. It is a consequence of her marriage to the community Rav. A mikvah lady is under the direction of the supervising Rav. The question of a Menahelet of a womens yeshivah is dependent upon what her authority is. If she is the final word in making decisions for the yeshiva, it would seem inappropriate. But if she consults with others in committee, it would be fine.

Leadership has many different levels in the chain of command. Both the convert and women are the idea of vessels (keilim) which primarily receive influence. Like water from the tap filling the pitcher. But once the vessel is filled, it conveys the water from the tap to the mouth of the one who is thirsting. The most important criteria to being an effective vessel is that it be empty in order to receive from the source.

  • What's your source that Ben Bag Bag was in the chain of command altogether? Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 18:26
  • What's your source that Ben He He said anything about when to study Torah? In Avot he's quoted as saying לפום צערא אגרא
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 18:34
  • @DoubleAA There are different textual versions of Avot, as others have pointed out to you before. If you check the Avot version found in Siddur Tehillat HaShem, you will find it makes the statement in the name of Ben Heh-Heh in 5:22. There are versions that attribute that teaching to Yehuda ben Teima in 5:21. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 18:45
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    @YaacovDeane So why are you choosing to take a position on the matter at all? Seems like an unforced error. And especially taking a position against a Lubavitcher Rebbe judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/33524/…
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 19:01
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    @YaacovDeane What does his paskening like it or its being printed in his siddur have to do with anything? It's a later text which no reason to attribute it to Ben He He. We can still paskin like it or include it as an addendum to Avot if we want.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 19:40

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