Prayers of Converts
May a Convert Say the Blessing, “You Did Not Make me a Gentile?”
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In the Torah portion of Beha’alot’cha, we read the section about the Pesach Sheini, the second Pesach for those who could not bring the Pesach sacrifice on the regular Pesach (Numbers 9:1-14). Regarding this sacrifice, the Torah says (verse 14), “If a ger (convert) dwells with you, and he makes a Passover sacrifice to the L-rd, according to the statutes of the Passover sacrifice and its ordinances shall he make it. One statute shall apply to you, to the ger, and to the native-born citizen.”
Since converts are generally obligated to fulfill all of the mitzvot, the commentaries offer several interpretations as to the necessity of this verse. Here are some of them:
- Wait until Pesach
Rashi says that if not for this verse, one would think that a convert should offer a Pesach sacrifice as soon as he converts (since he missed the previous Pesach). The verse therefore tells us, “One statute shall apply to you, to the ger, and to the native-born citizen,” to teach us that he should bring this sacrifice at the same time as the rest of the Jewish people.
- Not Part of the Miracle
The Ramban points out that the Torah already says in Exodus 12:48 that a convert should bring a Pesach sacrifice. But that verse was referring to the converts who left Egypt with the Jewish people and experienced the Exodus. As such, people who converted later and were not part of that experience were not explicitly included in the obligation to bring a Pesach sacrifice. The Torah is now including them in this mitzvah since they are part of the Jewish people and must celebrate this seminal event in the Jewish people’s formation.
The Ohr HaChaim adds that the soul of a convert is a “branch” of the same spiritual “tree” from which the souls of the Jewish people emanate. At the time of the exodus, all of the holy “sparks” (energy) were redeemed from the impure forces. As such, the converts, too, were redeemed during the Exodus since had the exodus not occurred, the souls of the converts would have remained “trapped” in the unholiness of Egypt.
- Don’t Skip to Pesach Sheini
Another interpretation offered by the Ohr HaChaim is that by comparing the convert to a born Jew, the Torah teaches us that just as a born Jew brings a Pesach Sheini only if he missed the first Pesach, so, too, a convert only brings a Pesach Sheini if he was Jewish at the time of the first Pesach and he missed it. But if he converted between the first and second Pesach, he does not bring a Pesach Sheini.
- Skip to Pesach Sheini
The Bartenura on the Torah says the exact opposite. By writing that the convert must also bring a Pesach Sheini, the Torah is alluding to the fact that one who converts in between the first and second Pesach must bring a Pesach Sheini.
These opposing opinions are sourced in two opinions of the Talmud (Pesachim 93a). The Rambam rules in accordance with the latter view (Hilchos Korban Pesach 5:7).
The rest of this article will discuss how converts should recite various prayers and blessings and whether or not they may serve as a Chazzan.
The Mishnah in Bikkurim (1:4) rules that when reciting the Amidah, a convert should say “אֱלֹקֵי ,אֲבוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל G-d of the fathers of the Jewish people” instead of “G-d of our fathers” since he or she is not a descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. When praying as a Chazzan (leading the services), the Mishnah says he should say “אֱלֹקֵי אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם, the G-d of your fathers.”
The Jerusalem Talmud (on the above Mishnah) quotes Rabbi Yehudah who says that converts are considered to be descendants of Avraham Avinu who is called the father of a multitude of nations (Gen. 17:5), and as such they should recite the standard words of the Amidah. The Talmud says that Rabbi Avahu ruled according to Rabbi Yehudah.
In addition, the Mishnah in Nedarim (31a) seems to follow the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah (see Pirush HaRosh there).
The Halacha (Jewish law) follows the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah (Orach Chaim 53:19), that a convert should say the standard text of the Amidah.
Grace after Meals
The above ruling also applies to the second blessing in the Grace after Meals where a convert says “על שהנחלת לאבותינו, that you have given to my forefathers” (O.C. 199:4). As such, a convert is allowed to lead the Zimun (communal recital of the Grace after Meals (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 199:4). In addition, even though converts had no portion in ancient Israel, they are obligated to recite the Grace after Meals, which is in part a thanksgiving for the land, since they are part of the nation that inherited the land (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 186:1).
(See Rashi on Numbers 10:32 that the descendants of Yitro had a temporary portion in the land of Israel.)
Responsibility for Other Jews
The Pri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 53:19) rules that a convert is obligated to ensure that his or her fellow-Jews observe the mitzvot just as it is incumbent upon a born Jew to do. This is called Arvut (shared responsibility). He infers this from the fact that a convert can lead the prayers which includes saying the repetition of the Amidah. (See the Mishnah quoted above as well as O.C. ibid.) The repetition of the Amidah was instituted so that people who did not know how to pray on their own could listen to the repetition and fulfill their obligation. The idea that one who has already recited a certain prayer can repeat it on behalf of someone else is based on the fact that all Jews are Areivim (responsible) for one another. Therefore, if a convert can repeat the Amidah for others even though he already prayed, it must be that he is considered responsible for other Jews as well.
This is also the opinion of the Maharit (Rabbi Yosef Trani 1568 – 1639) on Kiddushin 70b.
Some say that converts do not have Arvut (Tosfos D.H. Kashim Gerim on Kiddushim ibid and Rashi D.H. Kesapachat on Niddah 13b).
[For more on this topic see this Hebrew article.]
Rabbi Shlomo Drimmer (1800 – 1872 of Skolia, Ukraine) writes (Bais Shlomo, O.C. 14) that even according to the opinions that converts do not have shared responsibility, a convert may be a chazzan.
Chazzan for the High Holidays
Some say it is preferable not to appoint a convert as a chazzan for the High Holidays, because the chazzan for the Days of Awe should, in the first place, have righteous parents (Responsa Mishkenot Yaakov by Rabbi Yaakov Baruchin, O.C. 69). As the Talmud says (Yevamot 64a) “the prayers of a Tzadik, the son of a rasha (wicked person), are not the same as those of a tzadik, the son of a tzadik.” (See also Rashi on Gen. 25:21.) (See Rama on O.C. 581:1 that we try to find a most appropriate Chazzan for the High Holidays.)
[Although the convert’s parents may be fine people, they are not considered to be of the same spiritual stature as their son.]
Others disagree and say that a convert may serve as a chazzan on the High Holidays even in the first place. (Birur Halacha by Rabbi Yechiel Silver, Mahadurah Tinyana, O.C. 53.)
Several reasons are given for this opinion:
Some disagree with the premise that the prayers of a person whose parents are wicked are inferior (Taz O.C. 53:3). They say that, quite the contrary, the prayers of a tzadik, the son of a wicked person, are preferred as he will pray in a humbler manner.
Spiritually speaking, the convert’s parents are no longer his parents, for when a person converts, he is considered to be like a newborn child (see Yevamot 22a and in many places).
Every convert has very righteous parents since, spiritually speaking, his father is our patriarch Avraham and his mother, our matriarch Sarah. As the Shulchan Aruch HaRav writes (53:22), “Converts can also say ‘the G‑d of our ancestors,’ as implied by the phrase [addressed to Avraham], ‘I have made you the father of a multitude of nations’ — that is to say, ‘From now on, you (Avraham) are the father of all gentiles who will convert.” See also the introduction to Mamar Eim Kol Chai by Rabbi Menachem Azariah of Pano [1548 – 1620 of Italy] that Sarah is the mother of converts.
Who Did Not Make Me a Gentile
One of the morning blessings that we say is “Shelo Asani Goy – that He did not make me a gentile,” in which we thank G-d that we are part of the chosen people. It would seem that a convert should not recite this blessing since he or she was, in fact, created a gentile. Indeed, the Rama rules (O.C. 46:4 in the name of the Avudraham) that “he [a convert] should not say ‘who did not make me a gentile,’ for, behold, he was a gentile previously.” The poskim (halachic authorities) have differing opinions as to what a convert should do about this blessing.
- No Blessing
Some say he should skip this blessing (Bach, Shela, and Pri Chadash).
Who Has Made Me a Convert
Some say that a convert should say “She’asani Ger – who has made me a convert” (Darkei Moshe). Others question this wording since G-d did not make the person a convert, rather they converted of their own volition (Magen Avraham). In defense of those who recommend this wording, it can be understood to mean that the convert is thanking G-d for His assistance in enabling him to be “reborn” as a convert (Taz 46:5 and Shulchan Aruch HaRav 46:4).
Who Has Brought me Under the Wings of the Shechinah
Some say he should say “She’hichnisuni tachat Kanfei HaShechinah – Who has brought me under the Wings of the Shechinah (Shiyurei Knesset HaGedolah, quoted in Ba’er Heitev 4 on O.C. ibid).
- Who Did Not Make me a Gentile
According to the Kabbalists, a convert should say the same blessing as a born Jew: “Shelo Asani Goy, that He did not make me a gentile,” since the blessing is thanking G-d for giving us back our G-dly soul every morning(Magen Avraham 46:10). In addition, according to the Kabbalists, every sincere convert is born with a spark of a Jewish soul which (subconsciously) inspires them to convert. As such, this blessing is thanking G-d that they were born with that soul rather than the soul of an ordinary gentile who does not have that spark (Hagahot Nezirut Simshon on the Taz).
In terms of actual practice, some recommend that a convert say the blessing of Shelo Asani Goy but should not utter G-d’s name when doing so, i.e., they should say Baruch Shelo Asani Goy (Kaf HaChaim 46:36). Others say that one can rely on the opinion of the Kabbalists and say Shelo Asani Goy with G-d’s name (Piskei Teshuvot 46:11).
One whose mother converted while he was in utero may certainly say Shelo Asani Goy (Piskei Teshuvot note 142 based on Pri Chadash).
May G-d Inspire Us All To Appreciate the Daily Gift of our G-dly Souls!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!