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Medieval Sourcebook:
Converts to Judaism: France and Germany

1. R. Joel b. Isaac of Bonn on a convert known to him:

 . . . This man, R. Abraham b. Abraham our father was inspired to draw near to the service of God, to seek God and to study the holy books and the holy tongue. He dwelt with us many days, and he was a simple man, living in tents (cmp. Genesis 25:27). One day, I found him . . . sitting and translating the Pentateuch from an improper book of the monks, and I said to him, "what is that in your hands?" And he answered and said to me, "I know the tongue of the monks (i.e. Latin) and I do not know the holy tongue (i.e. Hebrew), so I am using it as a commentary; the sages of Speyer even lent me the books of the monks to copy and they did not object to my using them, but if you disapprove, I will repent; tell me and and I will not continue." And I said to him "know that this act seems very bad to me." He asked me to write to the Rabbis of Speyer; perhaps they would permit it. I knew his intention was for the best, and I dared [to put the matter] before my masters; perhaps I was in error.

Translated from Sefer Ra'aviah, II:53f.


2. An affair of conversion

 According to Rabeinu Tam [12th century, France], having sexual relations with a gentile does not forbid [a married woman to her husband, although normally, an adulterous woman may not return to her husband]; the principle that "one should die before transgressing" [the commandment; this principle applies only to adultery, murder, and idolatry] does not apply in such a case. . . .

In this context, he made a legal decision [pasaq] about a married woman who had apostacized [i.e. converted to Christianity] and cohabited with a gentile, then later returned [to Judaism], and was divorced from her Jewish husband, that she could marry her gentile husband. Even though we hold that just as [an adulteress] is forbidden to her husband, so she is forbidden to her lover, nevertheless, sexual relations with a gentile are not [legally] sexual relations. . . . Rabeinu Yehiel ruled the same way as Rabeinu Tam, but with a different rationale, although it is legally sexual relations . . . he considered that a convert who converted is like a newborn child and at that moment there is no prohibition (cmp. BT Ketubbot 3b).

Translated from Mordecai, Sanhedrin, para. 720.


Translated by Elka Klein

©  Elka Klein, 1998. The text may be used for non-commercial educational purposes, including use course packets.  Further publication in other forms (including by university presses) requires permission. Do not reproduce this text on other websites.

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Paul Halsall, November 1998


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