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Saturday, 15 November 2014

Why converts sometimes slip back

Daf Yomi Yevamos 42

When Ruth was going through the conversion process, she was super-committed.  She was always the first in shul on Shabbos morning.  She attended every shiur (Torah class) possible in town.  She was praying three times a day and had a Torah partner over the phone twice a week.

Now she’s Jewish and she feels she’s lost all motivation.  It’s an effort to get out of bed on Shabbos morning.  She has no time for shiurim.  Keeping kosher feels like a burden.  
“What’s happened to me, Rabbi?” she asked me one day, full of frustration. 

The Mishnah states: All women who remarry may not do so until they wait three months following their previous relationship.
Rabbi Nachman provides an explanation offered by Shmuel:  G-d promises Abraham, “to be G-d for you and your offspring after you,” which means that we must be able to distinguish between the offspring of the first man and the offspring of the second.

Rava asks: The Beraisa teaches that a married couple who converted to Judaism must likewise wait three months.  In this case, what need is there to distinguish whose offspring, since it is the same man?
The Gemara answers: Here too, we must distinguish between offspring that was conceived in holiness (i.e. post-conversion) to offspring that was conceived pre-conversion. 

Tosfos teaches: From here it is clear that a male convert may marry a female convert, unlike the opinion that forbids them to get married so that they do not run the risk of reverting to their original behaviour together.

While Tosfos makes it clear that there is no problem of converts marrying one another, the point they make about ‘reverting to original behaviour’ is telling.  Converts run a great risk of slipping back after their conversions and despite all the best efforts of the converting rabbis, no beth din (court) has 100% success rate of maintaining converts’ commitment to observance.   That’s why some communities, like the Syrian Jews, have simply said it’s not worth it and avoid conversions completely.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that the Talmud and the Tosfos were clearly aware of the risks of converts slipping back, the Talmud still teaches that ‘Israel was only exiled amongst the nations in order to receive converts.’   The implication is that if we are here in exile to find converts, evading our duty will only delay the ultimate redemption!

Ruth’s issues are not uncommon among converts.  They’re all fired up while they’re going through the process and then once they’re in, they suddenly lose interest.  Why?  The reason, as I explained to her, is that until you’re Jewish, you have no yetzer hara (tempter) striving to keep you from your performance of mitzvos.   Since you’re not obligated to perform the commandments, there’s no reason for the yetzer to dissuade you from your activities.  He doesn’t bother with you.

Once you’ve converted, however, you’ve now joined the ranks of all other Jews who are faced with Satan’s temptations.   Now you face the real challenges of being a Jew.   But commensurate with the effort is the reward – now that you have to struggle to do mitzvos, rest assured that G-d will reward you handsomely! 

In fact, as Tosfos points out, your challenge is even greater than the average observant Jew who has never tasted sin.   Despite being spiritually ‘born again,’ you come to your new life with all the emotional and psychological baggage of your former life.  Every time you overcome the seduction of the yetzer, you get doubly rewarded, since you are consciously choosing not to ‘revert to your original behaviour.’


It’s not easy to be an observant Jew.  It’s especially challenging when one has tasted alternatives in life.  If it feels like a burden, don’t give up!  That’s a sign that the yetzer hara (bad inclination) is trying his hardest to make you slip back.  But you can and will overcome!  Your yetzer tov (good inclination) is on your team and will fight back to make you victorious in the service of the Almighty!  And we all are rooting for you – after all, you’ve brought us all one step closer to the final redemption!