Shabbat Parashat Lech Lecha| 5771
P’ninat Mishpat: Steps of the Child of a Woman Who Returned to the Faith(condensed from Shurat Hadin, vol. IX, pp. 423-426)
Case: A woman who had lived with an Arab man, converted to Islam, had a son, and later returned to Judaism, appeared before beit din. Her son, (age 11) possesses an identity card that has him listed as Moslem. She claims that soon after her son was born, she stopped living with the Arab man and arranged a normative brit milah for her son. She presented documentation that she underwent before a beit din the conversion-like process of returning to the faith of kabbalat chaveirut (declaration of the intention to keep mitzvot scrupulously) and tevilla (immersion). Now the woman wants her son to undergo a process of return to Judaism, to the extent necessary, and that he should have his identity card changed to list him as Jewish.
Ruling: The source that a Jewish apostate who wishes to return to proper Jewish practice requires kabalat chaveirut and tevilla is the Rama (Yoreh Deah 268:12), based on the Nimukei Yosef. This is not a fundamental law but a rabbinically prescribed step to properly deal with the situation. Certainly, even before this process, the person in question has a status of a Jew.
We must determine Rav Yosef Karo’s view on the matter, as the woman is of Sephardic origin, for whom his rulings are binding. The Beit Yosef (YD 268), written by the aforementioned, cites the Nimukei Yosef’s opinion but then cites the Tur who says that it is unnecessary to subject a halachic Jew returning from a period of sin to undergo a conversion-like process. The Beit Yosef does not state a preference between the opinions but, in a parallel discussion (Yoreh Deah 267:3), he accepts the Tur’s opinion, upon which the Rama (ad loc.) argues. Therefore, according to letter of the law, this family should not be required to go through the re-initiation process.
Granted, the common practice is that even returning Jews of Sephardic origin go through the process. However, when it is not possible, e.g., when it involves a young child who cannot be expected to significantly do kabbalat chaveirut, we can excuse him and allow him to be listed as Jewish immediately so that he can study in Jewish schools. There is logic to request tevilla, which can be done at any age, although, again, it appears not to be halachically required for Sephardim.
What would the halacha be for the child of an Ashkenazi family, who wanted to return to the fold? Avot D’Rabbi Natan, cited by the Gra as a primary source in this matter, attributes the need for the process to the fact that the person was involved in all sorts of foreign practices and stresses eating and drinking. It appears that it is not an intrinsic outcome of the “conversion out,” which has no halachic standing. Therefore, in our case, where the child was returned to a Jewish lifestyle before becoming entrenched in an Islamic one, there should be no need for tevilla. Regarding kabbalat chaveirut, it also appears that if the mother has been accepted, her small son does not require a separate process (see Rambam, Mishkav U’Moshav 10:5).
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