Welcoming the Convert into the Family of Israel

Israel's responsibilities toward converts begin with equal protection, but ultimately require the full integration of the convert into the family of Israel.

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Later on, the midrash imagines non-Jews interrogating David concerning the execution of Saul's children. When the non-Jews find out that David killed the children of a king as punishment for Saul having killed seven of the Gibeonites, they exclaim:

"If this happens to princes, how much more certain is it that ordinary folk [would be punished for abusing converts]! If in the case of the Gibeonites, who did not convert for pure motives, God has so obviously exacted punishment for the shedding of their blood, how much the more so for one who converted with pure motives? Truly, there is no god like their God and no nation like their nation, and we can do no better than attach ourselves to this nation whose God is greater than all other gods!"

David's concern for justice for these converts should be seen against the unstated but obvious backdrop of his own descent from the Moabite convert Ruth.

Numbers Rabbah 8:9

The final section of this midrash is structured around a running exegesis of Psalm 128. Although the convert does not have Israelite ancestors or family, the descendants of converts take prominent roles in Jewish society:

"It is written, 'Your children are like olive plants' (Psalms 128:3). The olive tree produces olives for food, olives for drying, and olives for oil; its oil burns brighter than all other oils, and its leaves do not fall off in summer or in winter. So do the descendants of converts turn out; some of them are masters of Bible, some are masters of Mishnah, some are in business, some are scholars, some are sages, and some understand the right time for things."

Not every child of a convert ends up David, but overall, they do end up valued and valuable members of the Jewish people. Indeed, the midrash points out that ultimately, the entire Jewish people are descendants from the first Jews-by-choice:

"[Like the leaves that do not fall off,] converts will possess descendants that will endure forever… This, in fact, we find to have been the case with Abraham and Sarah, who were converts. Abraham, having been a God-fearing man, was blessed with an enduring line of descendants, and so will all converts be blessed who behave as Abraham and Sarah did."

The conclusion of the midrash returns to the contrast of the convert and the kohen. Although a convert may not marry a kohen, his/her daughter can, thereby finally bringing together the convert who lacks a pedigree and the kohen whose pedigree guarantees high status.

"'[May God bless you …] And may you see your children's children. Peace be upon Israel' (Psalms 128:5-6). Does the convert having grandchildren bring peace upon Israel? No, rather, this speaks of a convert who will be privileged to have his daughter marry a kohen, and her children, his grandchildren, will be priests and will bless Israel, saying, 'May God bless you and keep you. May God's face shine upon you. May God's face shine upon you and give you peace' (Numbers 6:24). That is why it says, 'Peace be upon Israel' (Psalms 128:6).

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Jeffrey Spitzer is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy, The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., and a member of the Institute's Tichon Fellows Program.