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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Vayigash

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The Torah portion of Vayigash lists the members of Yaakov’s family who descended with him to Egypt (Gen 46:8-27). Although only 69 names are listed, the Torah writes that there were 70 who went to Egypt. The Talmud and commentaries discuss this apparent discrepancy at length.
The Talmud (Bava Batra 123b and cited by Rashi on Gen. 46:15) says that Yocheved, the daughter of Levi, was born just as the Jewish people were crossing the border into Egypt, and she completed the number 70. Her name isn’t listed as she wasn’t alive when they left Israel for Egypt. Rashi (on Numbers 26:59) understands this to mean that she was literally born at the entranceway into Egypt. The Rashbam (on Bava Batra ibid), on the other hand, holds that Yocheved was actually born in Egypt.
According to one explanation of the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 94:9), it was Dan’s son who completed the number 70. Some of the commentaries (Matnot Kehuna and Etz Yosef) say that this is referring to Chushim, son of Dan, who was the patriarch of an extremely large family and was therefore counted like two people. Others say that the Midrash is referring to another son of Dan’s whose name is unknown. The Torah alludes to this son by writing (in plural) וּבְנֵי דָן חֻשִׁים – And the sons of Dan were Chushim. The reason this son’s name is not given is that he died childless. Despite this, he still counted towards the number of 70 (Pirush Maharzu).
The Midrash says that in the Torah of Rabbi Meir, it says (in the singular), וּבְן דָן חֻשִׁים – and the son of Dan was Chushim.  (This is referring to notes that Rabbi Meir write on the margin of his Torah scroll (Matnot Kehunah on Bereishit Rabbah 9:5) or to a book that he wrote in which he expounded on the Torah (Etz Yosef on ibid).
The Pardes Yosef explains that it is significant that Rabbi Meir did not count the son of Dan as the 70th family member for the following reason:
As explained above, according to the Rashbam, Yocheved was in utero when the Jewish people entered Egypt. The opinion in the Midrash which counts the son of Dan as the 70th does not count Yocheved because they subscribe to the view that a child in utero is considered a mere limb of the mother and not an independent entity. In Talmudic terminology this is called עובר ירך אמו. The Talmud (Chullin 74a) states that Rabbi Meir is of the opinion that a fetus is considered to be an independent entity within its mother (עובר לאו ירך אמו). As such, Rabbi Meir counts Yocheved as the 70th family member and has no need to count the son of Dan. It is therefore appropriate that in his opinion the verse about the son of Dan should be (undertood to be) in the singular tense.
The rest of this article will focus on the conversion of a pregnant woman and how that conversion takes effect on a baby in utero.
Immersion of a Pregnant Convert
The Talmud (Yevamot 78a) says that if a woman converts to Judaism while pregnant her child need not be immersed in the Mikvah after he or she is born because the immersion of the mother is effective on the child as well. This is true even though when the mother immersed in the mikvah her baby was completely within her and the mikvah waters didn’t touch the baby at all. The mother’s body is not considered a chatzitzah (interposition) between the baby and the Mikvah waters because the mother’s body is necessary for the well-being of the baby.
Tosfot explains that this explanation of the Talmud is only necessary according to the opinion that a fetus is considered a separate entity (עובר לאו ירך אמו see above) and as such needs its own conversion. Whereas the opinion that a fetus is considered part of the mother (עובר ירך אמו) would say that the immersion of the mother automatically includes the baby as part of the mother. See Y.D. 268:7
(A Rabbinic court witnesses the immersion of a female convert in the following manner, (Y.D. 268:2) “Other women sit her in the water up to her neck while the members of the court are outside and they teach her some of the easy mitzvot and some of the more stringent mitzvot as she sits in the water. (While reviewing the mitzvot the court can be in the room and facing away from the woman.) Afterwards, she immerses before them and they turn their faces and leave in order that they not see her when she is getting out of the water.” In addition, the female convert wears a loose sheet over her body so that they not see her while witnessing the actual immersion.)
Ability to Protest
A child who undergoes conversion either with or without his or her parents (e.g. a non-Jewish baby that is adopted and converted) has the ability to protest and “opt out” of that conversion when they come of age, i.e., at the age of 12 for a girl and 13 for a boy.
According to the opinion that an unborn child is considered part of the mother, a baby who was converted in utero is considered a born Jew and does not have the right to protest when he or she comes of age (Aruch HaShulchan Y.D. 268: 11). According to the opinion that a fetus is a separate entity, however, such a baby is considered a being an independant convert and as such may protest (See Avnei Milu’im 13:4).
Knowledge of the Court
Since it is possible that the fetus is considered an independent entity and needs to go through a separate conversion, the Jewish court (Beit DIn) that is witnessing the conversion of a pregnant woman must be aware that she is pregnant and bear in mind that the conversion includes her unborn baby (Dagul MeRevava on Y.D. 268:6).
Twins are Siblings
If a family converts to Judaism, by Torah law the members of the family are not considered related to each other as the conversion renders them like (halachically) new people. Despite this, by Rabbinic law, they may not marry certain close biological relatives (e.g., a mother and a maternal sister or a father or a maternal brother). (See Y.D. 269.) If, however they are twins who converted in utero, they are considered to be siblings on their mother’s side even by Torah law. Despite this, in a case where two male twins converted in utero and after growing up and getting married one of them dies childless, the other one need not perform chalitzah on his brother’s widow. This is because they are not considered to be paternal siblings and the obligation of chalitzah is only for paternal siblings (Shach 6 on ibid), and in this case there is no halachic father.
In regards to testimony, a family that converts is not considered to be related to each other. As such, two brothers who converted may act as two witnesses to give testimony although usually witnesses may not be related to each other (Choshen Mishpat 33:11). This even applies to twin brothers. In a case where twins were converted in utero, however, they are considered related by Torah law as mentioned above and may not act as a pair of witnesses.
In a case where a baby was converted in utero and the mother later had more children, it seems that the child who converted in utero may be considered to be a maternal sibling to the later children by Torah law according to the opinion that a fetus is part of the mother (see Shach ibid).
No Conversion without the Mother
A gentile pregnant woman who immerses in a mikvah for the sake of converting the unborn baby that is in her womb but is not converting herself does not accomplish a conversion for that baby. The baby will have to be immersed in the mikvah again after being born for the conversion to be effective (Tiferet LeMoshe, quoted in in Pit’chai Teshuvah on Y.D. 268:6). The reason for this is that the immersion of the unborn baby is only effective if the mother is immersing for the sake of her own conversion.
This would be relevant in a case of a surrogate mother who is carrying a fetus which the parents (or adoptive parents) wish to convert. If the surrogate is not converting (whether because she is a gentile who doesn’t wish to convert or because she is, lehavdil, a Jewish woman who doesn’t need to convert), she cannot immerse while pregnant for the sake of converting the baby. Rather, the baby must convert separately after it is born.
Brit Milah after Immersion
Normally a male convert must undergo circumcision (brit milah) before immersing in the mikvah. In the case of a baby converting in utero this is obviously not possible. Rather, the circumcision takes place after the baby has been immersed in utero and after it is born.
Some say the baby’s conversion is considered complete once the mother immerses (as a part of the mother, see above). As such, the brit milah of the baby is considered to be the brit of a Jewish baby. (See Tosfot D.H. Matbilin on Yevamot 47b as explained by the Keren Orah See Responsa Binyan Tziyon 95.)
Others say that the conversion is not complete until the baby is circumcised after birth (Ramban on Yevamot 47b).
In practice, it would seem that a Beit Din should be present at the circumcision as is necessary for the circumcision of a convert. The blessing at the circumcision of a convert differs from the blessing at the circumcision of a born Jew. As such, it remains unclear which blessing should be recited in this case.
If the eighth day from the birth of the baby is Shabbat, it is questionable if the brit should override the Shabbat (as it does for a born Jewish baby) or not (as is the law regarding the circumcision of a convert). In practice, the brit may be performed on Shabbat (Achiezer 4:44).
Pidyon HaBen
If a pregnant woman converts and then has a baby boy which is her first baby, that baby must be redeemed from the Kohen (Bechorot 46a). (See Achiezer ibid regarding how to reconcile this law with the opinion that considers the baby an independent convert.)
Since the baby does not have a halachic father, he should be redeemed by the Beit Din.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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