Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Conversion
To dedicate this lesson

Converts in Good Times and in the Army


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Tevet 23 5780
In the last few weeks, we have demonstrated that there were those not of Jewish lineage who served in David’s army. We saw that some of them converted to Judaism at some point. We will now look at the issues this raises in regard to the halachot of conversion and to insights on that matter, which we can learn from these historical occurrences.

The gemara (Yevamot 24a) states that, out of concern for insincere conversion, "they did not accept converts at the time of David and Shlomo." Beit din is to accept converts, says the gemara, in generations in which the Jews are not at such a high station on the international stage. The Rambam (Issurei Bi’ah 13:15) also states that they did not accept converts at the time of David, out of concern that he was doing it out of fear, and at the time of Shlomo, out of concern that he was doing so due to the glorious kingdom and the financial opportunities it provided. He writes that one who converts "because of a matter that is one of the vanities of the world is not a righteous convert." However, he continues, "nevertheless there were many converts who converted at the time of David and Shlomo in front of simple people…," and that the Great Rabbinical Court took a cautious attitude toward them.

We see also the respect that was shown at David’s time to converts from the story of the Givonim (see Yevamot 79a). The gemara tells of the extraordinary punishment of those who had caused the converts hardship, meted out by David after divine instruction. This was due to the chillul Hashem that would result from the treatment of the converts, and it allowed punishments in a manner that went beyond the normal rules of punishment. In any case, there appears to be a contradiction between the different approaches to the converts at the time of David, a time in which the general rule was to not accept converts at all.

The resolution to the contradiction is simple. There were many who joined David’s army or joined general Jewish society at that time, due to their enthrallment with David’s personality, his fine attributes, and the general high moral level of Bnei Yisrael at that time. Such people were welcome to join Klal Yisrael, whether to serve in the army or to be converted. There were others who were interested due to Bnei Yisrael’s financial situation or other ulterior motives. This was considered conversion not with noble intentions, and only simple people were willing to convert them (although it is evident from the Rambam their conversion took hold halachically).

In our times, the situation has similarities. We welcome with open arms those who want to join the IDF if they want to be part of the divine enterprise of the return of Klal Yisrael to its Land. In general we will welcome anyone whose joining our people is to the fullest extent, and certainly if they are willing to sacrifice their lives on behalf of the nation and the Land.
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