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Giyyur

By Hakham Avraham Ben-Rahamiël Qanaï


Is Giyyur [conversion] permitted and is this a recent phenomenon or is there a historical precedent for it?

A letter was sent to Bita’on Benei Miqra with questions on whether or not the community receives into itself people from other communities; the possibility of Giyyur [conversion]; the law concerning whether the offspring of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother is a Jew or not; if considered a non-Jew, whether such a person can convert and be considered a Jew in all things; the law concerning whether the offspring of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother is a Jew or not; and. if considered a non-Jew, whether such a person can convert and be considered a Jew in all things. The answer to these questions was published in issue 21 (Nisan 5753/April 1993) of Bita’on Benei Miqra by Yosef Dvir, the editor and spokesman for the Karaite community in Israel. The following is a translation of what he wrote:

The community is not the utmost authority in regard to the authentication of Karaite Halakhah, the utmost authority belongs to HaShem, may His name be blessed, therefore anyone [i.e., any Jew] who keeps the written Torah, neither adding to it nor diminishing from it, is in the eyes of HaShem a Karaite Jew. The opposite is also true - if we have one of the members of the community that does not keep the Torah and the Halakhah according to the written Torah that person shall not be called a Karaite, even though he is descended from generations of Karaites.


And scripture says: “Lo’ BaShamayim Hi’ Le’mor Mi Ya‘aleh Lanu HaShamaimah WeYiqqaheha Lanu WeYashmi‘enu Otah WeNa‘asennah . . . Ki-Qarov Eleikha HaDavar Me’od BeFikha UViLevavekha La‘asoto [It is not in the sky that you may say ‘who will go up to the sky and take it for us so that we may do it’ . . . For the thing is very close - it is in your mouth and in your heart to do it]” (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 30:12 . . . 14).


Therefore anyone [i.e., any Jew] who keeps the written Torah conducts him/herself according to the Karaite understanding and needs no seal from any institution.


A Jew must be from both a Jewish father and a Jewish mother, despite the fact that the Torah always relates it to the fathers, as it is written “. . . LeMishpehotam LeVeit Avotam [according to their clans . . . according to their fathers’ houses]” (BeMidbar [Numbers] 1:2 etc.). Descent is patrilineal and this we see from the genealogy of the patriarchs.


* It is permissible for a non-Jew to convert and be considered part of the community of the Children of Israel, but not of any tribe of Israel.

In paragraph 145 of Murad Farag Elisha‘’s HaMa‘amad HaIshi (originally written in 1935, translated from Arabic into Hebrew and published by the National Religious Council and Beit Din [religious court] of the Karaite Jews in Israel in 1970) it states:

HaNolad MiZarah Zar Kemoha ‘Ad SheYeqabbelAlaiw Et HaDat [One born of a non-Jewess is a non-Jew like her until he accepts the religion upon himself].

In 14th century Hakham Aharon Ben-Eliyahu of Nikomedia’s GanEden, page 161a, on the subject of the laws of circumcision, chapter one, it says:

“. . . it appears to me that the Ger [resident alien] does not become obligated in observing the commandment except at the time that he enters the religion and the beginning of his entry into the religion is by way of three things: circumcision, washing, and the acceptance of [his] sacrifice. And before he enters he is not obligated in observing the commandments, but if he does so he is voluntarily observing the commandment of circumcision.”

In the same book, page 147b, on the subject of the laws regarding women, chapter, eleven, it says:

“However, if she converts she is permissible to marry like the law concerning a daughter of Israel and the witness to this is the [laws concerning] the captive woman where scripture says ‘WeRa’ita BaShivyah Eshet Yefat-To’ar . . . [And when you see among the captives a woman of beautiful countenance . . .]’ (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 21:11) that, after it explains the regulation pertaining to her in the matter of conversion (from the matter of the shaving of her hair, paring of her nails, and changing her clothing), it says ‘WeAhar Ken TavoEleiha UVe‘alta . . . [and after that may you come to her and marry her . . .]’ (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 21:13) teaching that the law regarding all female converts is thus.1

1 i.e., that she is permissible to marry after her conversion.

In 8th century Rabbeinu ‘Anan Ben-Dawid’s Sefer HaMiwot, in the section dealing with the laws of circumcision, he deals extensively with the circumcision of male converts.

In the TaNaKh we can see from Meghillat Rut [Book of Ruth] that even a Moabitess, normally forbidden, is acceptable as a convert if she is sincere. The 10th century Hakham Yefet Ben-‘Ali HaLewi wrote in the introduction to his commentary on Meghillat Rut [Book of Ruth] that

 nobility of faith ranks higher than that of descent”


and


“We find also that he who is converted to the Jewish faith sometimes reaches a high position because of his obedience to God”


and


“All this applies not only to men, but also to women”


and


“This is also true of the woman whose story we are about to explain, according to what is contained in the book bearing her name - meaning Ruth - wherein there is set for the excellence of her mind, conduct, and faith, because of which the Lord of the worlds joined her fate to that of that noble man, Bo‘az, who was the ancestor of King David, so that Ruth became his wife. It will thus be shown that nobility of faith takes precedence over nobility of descent. Blessed therefore is he who dedicates himself to faith and makes it his strength and refuge, as it is written: ‘Nashshequ-Var Pen-Ye’enaf WeTo’vedu Derekh Ki-Yiv‘ar KiMe‘at Apo Asherei Kol-Hosei Vo [Embrace purity lest you lose the way for His wrath is about to burn. Happy are all those that take refuge in Him]’ (Tehillim [Psalms] 2:12).”

Thus we see from all sources from the TaNaKh to ‘Anan to Yefet to Aharon Ben-Eliyahu to Murad Farag Elisha‘ to the official organ of the community in Israel that not only is the acceptance of converts permitted, but that they are to be praised for their joining the people of YHWH.