Converts and the Land of Israel

Part of the Torah-mandated declaration upon bringing First Fruits is to say "the Lord promised our fathers..." But what does a proselyte say?

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple, | updated: 20:21

 Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple

One of Nehama Leibowitz's essays on this week's Torah reading is headed "Eretz Israel: Proselyte's Homeland".

Examining the verse which tells the Israelite to bring the first fruits to the Temple and make a declaration, "I have come into the land which the Lord promised our fathers to give us" (Deut. 26:12-3), she cites Maimonides' Code, "A proselyte brings the first fruits and recites the declaration" (Bikkurim 4:3).

The halakhic issue was whether a convert to Judaism, when reciting the declaration upon bringing first fruits, could recite the words where the Israelites call Hashem "The God our fathers", when his or her fathers were not Israelites.

The answer, spelled out further in Maimonides' famous "Epistle to Ovadiah the Proselyte", is that a person who becomes Jewish not only adopts the Jewish people but the Jewish people adopts him.

A convert thus becomes a spiritual child of Abraham and can therefore say, "Our God and God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob".

Part of the package as it were is also the adoption of and by the Jewish homeland promised by God to Abraham and his descendants. Thence the offering of first fruits.

In modern terms we could say that a convert becomes a Jew and a Zionist at one and the same moment.

dayyan once said to me that a convert has to learn to talk like a Jew.

He must also learn to dream like a Jew, to agonize when the Jewish people are in pain, to rejoice when they feel joy, and to participate thoroughly in the Jewish destiny, especially in Israel.

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