The sin of disparaging converts to Judaism then and now

One of the great talents of our sages who were Midrash makers is the ability to take something bad and derive a good lesson from it.

It is recorded in 2 Samuel 21 that in order to end a three year long famine, King David allowed the people from Gibeon who had been attacked unjustly by King Saul, to punish his descendants by killing seven of them and publicly exposing their dead bodies.

Rabbi Simeon ben Yehozadak made the following Midrash to derive a dramatic lesson from this terrible event. In his spirit I have embellished his insightful Midrash:

Some Non-Jewish strangers who came into the Town Square of Gibeon were shocked to see seven dead bodies lying there. They asked the local people who the dead people were. The Gibeonites told the strangers that they were princes, the sons and grandsons of Saul, the King of Israel. They had been lying in the town square for many days.

The strangers thought to themselves that the crime of the princes must have been very terrible because to leave their bodies unburied was a sign of great contempt and disrespect. They asked the townspeople if the seven had killed many people or stolen lots of gold and silver. The Gibeonites replied that the princes had indeed done something very bad. They attacked us because we were strangers who…

The strangers suddenly looked frightened because they knew that in most countries people who are strangers are attacked. The Gibeonites told them they didn’t have to worry about being attacked by Jews because the Jewish Torah commanded all Jews to love strangers and to treat them the same way they treated those born in their own home. These princes attacked us because we are Jewish.

The strangers were surprised. It didn’t make any sense. Why would Jewish princes attack other Jews? The Gibeonites explained that they were the children and grandchildren of non-Jewish strangers who had converted to Judaism. Almost all Jews accepted the Gibeonites as faithful Jews except for these seven princes and their followers.

The strangers thought that every Jew should be happy that non-Jews wanted to join their people. But the Gibeonites told them that these seven princes felt that the Gibeonites had converted to Judaism due to improper motives.

Also the princes, who felt they were ultra religious, thought the Jews who had converted the Gibeonites had not been strict enough with them, and had not taught them that they had to follow every little detail of the oral Torah.

Of course, that wasn’t true. The oral Torah itself said that if a person wanted to become Jewish, he or she is to be received at once and instructed at once in some of the minor and some of the major Mitsvot. It also says that one should take care not to impose too many Mitsvot on non-Jews who want to become Jewish, nor go into small details about the Mitsvot. (Talmud Yevamot 47a-b)

“If that is what the oral Torah says why did the princes not accept you as faithful Jews?” the strangers asked. The Gibeonites replied that the princes thought most of them had converted just so they could marry Jews.

It is true that many non-Jews fall in love with Jewish people because Jewish people are very lovable. David, who is now the King of Israel, had a great grandmother named Ruth who was a non-Jew who married a Jew and afterward converted to Judaism.

But marriage was not the only reason that non-Jews become Jewish since the majority of non-Jews who marry Jews do not become Jewish.

There are always other reasons beside marriage why people convert to Judaism. Also, in the days of Joshua when the first Gibeonites had become Jewish, Joshua himself had questioned why the Jews should make an effort for the sake of these converts.

God told him, “Joshua, if you keep away those who have been far off, you will end up keeping away those who are near.” (Numbers Rabbah 8:4)

So, if you rebuff non-Jews married to Jews who want to come into the Jewish community you will drive away their Jewish mates who are now part of the community.

When the strangers realized that the seven had been publicly punished for attacking converts to Judaism, even though the seven were princes and ultra religious, they stayed with the Gibeonites and studied Judaism.

According to Rabbi Simeon ben Yehozadak, who told this story in the Talmud (Yevamot 79a), the strangers all became Jewish. More than a thousand years later their descendants had added over fifty thousand Jews to the Jewish people, none of whom would have been Jewish if those who attacked converts had not been publicly punished and disgraced.

How much more so today, when there are over 200,000 converts to Judaism, plus their children and grandchildren who are faithful members of the Jewish People.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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