The Conversion of Shechem
And Waiting 91 Days
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In the Torah portion of Vayishlach we read how the brothers Shimon and Levi killed out the city of Shechem. The brothers did so by tricking them into circumcising themselves in the belief that they would then be able to intermarry into the family of Yakov. On the third day after the circumcision, when the men of Shechem were in pain, the brothers entered the city, killed all the adult male inhabitants, and took the women and children as slaves (Gen. 34).
Despite the fact that the city was wiped out, many commentaries say that the inhabitants had achieved a status of being (somewhat) Jewish through their Brit Milah and desire to join the Jewish people.
Here are some of the commentaries who mention this:
- The Ramban writes (Gen. 34:13 as explained by Chatam Sofer, Likutim al HaTorah) that the reason Yaakov was angry at Shimon and Levi is because he thought that the conversion of the people of Shechem may have been genuine and that it was therefore forbidden to kill them.
- The Ibn Ezra (on Gen. 49:5) writes that the people of Shechem had “entered the covenant.”
- The Arizal writes (Likutei Torah and Sha’ar HaPesukim on the verse) that when Adam HaRishon sinned, there was a mixture of holiness and unholiness in the world at large. So, although Shechem was a bad person, he had a spark of the holy soul of Adam in him. It is because of this holy spark that he desired the righteous Dinah. When he had a relationship with her, that spark was transferred to her. The correction of the holy spark continued when Shechem had a Brit Milah. After that, he was executed by Dinah’s brothers, Shimon and Levi, since there was no good left in him whatsoever (as it had all been transferred to Dinah)
In addition, according to the Arizal, Dinah was a reincarnation of Avraham’s mother, Amatlai bat Karnevo, who conceived Avraham when she was in a state of Niddah. (Dinah/ דינה has the same letters as Niddah/ נדה.) As a result of this, Dinah had some impurity in her. When Shechem violated her, that impurity was transferred to Shechem, leaving Dinah pure.
The holy spark that was transferred to Dinah was later reincarnated in Rabbi Chaninah ben Tradyon. This is alluded to in the verse where the father of Shechem proclaims (Gen. 34:21) that the land is רַֽחֲבַת יָדַ֖יִם, spacious. The word רַֽחֲבַת is an acronym for רבי חנינא בן תרדיון.
It seems that there was still some impurity attached to this soul, however, which is why the daughter of Rabbi Chaninah ben Tradyon was abducted and placed in a house of ill repute. This was a reenactment of what Dinah had gone through with Shechem. That story ended well, however, as the Talmud recounts (Avodah Zarah 18a) that her brother- in-law, Rabbi Meir, rescued her before she was violated. (See Nachal Kidumim by the Chidah on Gen. 34:1.)
In addition to the partial conversion of the men of Shechem, the women and children were taken into captivity by the sons of Yaakov and became their slaves (Gen. 34:29). As such, they became part of the Jewish nation, as the slave of a Jew must convert and accept the Jewish faith (Likutei Sichot 35:154).
Conversion before Sinai
The Chidushei Riz HaLevi al HaTorah by the Brisker Rav (Parshat Bo, Siman 51) brings several sources to prove that it was possible to convert and become part of the Jewish people even before the Torah was given.
Here are some of those sources:
- Pesach in Egypt
The Ramban (on Numbers 9:14, based on Ex. 12:48) writes that the multitude of nations that left Egypt with the Jewish people (Eirev Rav) were considered converts and therefore participated in the Pesach sacrifice of that year.
- Avraham’s Children
The Talmud (Yevamot 100b) says that when G-d said to Avraham (Gen. 17:7) לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לֵאלֹקִים וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ – “To be for you a G-d and your children after you” He meant that Avraham should make sure that his children do not marry a gentile or a maidservant. This indicates that there were people at that time who could be identified as Jewish rather than gentile. (Certainly, in this context, Jewish does not mean a descendant of Avraham as that would have left Yitzchak with no one to marry.)
- The Court of Shem
The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 36b) says that the court of Shem decreed that a Jewish person may not have relations with a non-Jewish person. This is the reason, according to the Talmud, that Yehudah ruled that Tamar be burned (before he realized that he was the father of her babies) as he thought she had relations with a gentile man. (See Gen. chapter 38.) It is clear from this discussion that Tamar was considered a convert to Judaism.
The Talmud says (Sotah 10a) that when Yehudah met Tamar at the crossroads he asked her if she was a gentile. To which she replied that she was a convert.
Concerning the time that Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, found the infant Moshe in the river, the verse says (Ex. 2:5), “the daughter of Pharaoh went to bathe in the river.” The Talmud (Sotah 12b) says that she went to cleanse herself from the idols of her father’s household. This can be understood to mean (see Rashi there) that she immersed in the river as an act of conversion to the Jewish (monotheistic) faith.
What did Conversion Mean at that Time?
Some question the concept of conversion prior to the Sinai revelation since the Torah and mitzvot were not yet mandatory even for the Jewish people (i.e., the descendants of Yaakov). As such, even the Jews had a (halachic) status of Noahides (Turei Aven by Rabbi Aryeh Leib Ginzburg (also known as the Sha’agas Aryeh) on Megillah 13a).
Rabbi Baruch Frankel Teomim explains (in his notes on the Turei Aven called Imrei Baruch) that even at that time there were specific mitzvot for the Jewish people such as Brit Milah and not to eat from the Gid HaNasheh (sciatic nerve). (See Rambam [Hilchot Melachim, 9:1] who adds the daily prayers and the mitzvah of tithing.)
The rest of this article will discuss the necessity (in some cases) of a convert waiting 91 days before being able to marry.
The Shulchan Aruch rules (Y.D. 269:9 and E.H. 13:5 based on Yevamot 42a) that if a gentile couple converts to Judaism they must separate for 90 days (besides the day of the conversion) in order to differentiate between a child that was conceived in holiness (after conversion) and one not conceived in holiness (before conversion), that is, if she is pregnant from before her conversion, this will become apparent during these 90 days.
This is similar to the rule that a woman who is widowed or divorced must wait 90 days (besides the day of divorce) before she can get remarried (E.H. 13:1).
Differences Between a Child Conceived before or After Conversion
The reason it is important to know as to whether a child was conceived before or after his mother’s conversion is because there are several halachic differences between the status of such children.
Whereas a child conceived after his mother converted is considered to be a halachic child of both his parents and a full sibling of all his siblings (that are born after conversion), a child conceived before the conversion has a slightly different status.
- He is considered a halachic relative to all his maternal relatives but not to his paternal relatives.
- As such, he does not inherit from his father.
- Nor can he perform Yibum or Chalitzah for his deceased brother’s wife. (This ceremony is only done for paternal brothers.)
(See Encyclopedia Talmudit, Entry Ger, ot 11 for more information and sources.)
If the woman is pregnant, it is not necessary for the couple to wait 90 days before remarrying since it is clear that the child was conceived earlier (Mishneh LaMelech on Hilchot Geirushin of the Rambam, 9:21).
If the woman is old and well beyond her child-bearing years, the couple need not separate for 90 days since she will not be having a baby obviously (Dagul MeRevavaon Y.D. and E.H. ibid).
The law of a Jewish woman who is widowed or divorced is more strict, and such a woman must wait 90 days even if she is old or otherwise unable to have children. The sages were concerned that leniency in that case might cause confusion which could lead to a young, fertile woman getting remarried within 90 days. This, in turn, could lead to a child who is unsure as to who his real father is. This is a more severe problem than a child who knows his true father and is only unaware as to whether he was conceived before or after his parents’ conversion.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein rules in accordance with the Dagul MeRavava (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 3:109 ot 2).
A Single Woman
An unmarried woman who converts need not wait 90 days before getting married as we do not suspect her of being pregnant (Responsa Achiezer 4:48). The reason for this is that a woman who is planning to convert will certainly make sure not to get pregnant in the time leading up to her conversion.
A Jewish Husband
If a Jewish man was (unfortunately) married (civilly) to a non-Jewish woman and she went through a conversion process, they must separate for 90 days before they can get (halachically) married (Igrot Moshe, ibid). This period of separation may also take place before the conversion.
Got her Period or had a Pregnancy Test
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote that if a convert got her regular period after conversion, she may get married without waiting the full 90 days as this is proof that she is not pregnant (Igrot Moshe E.H. 2:5). Similarly, if she took a pregnancy test, some authorities permit her to get married immediately as she will know whether or not she was pregnant at the time of the conversion.
Others are strict and say that a young woman must wait the full three months regardless of any periods or pregnancy tests (Rabbi Shmuel Wosner quoted in Geirut KeHalacha by Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Shtern, pg. 73).
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!