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Thought for the Day: Just When Did Ruth Convert (and When Did Orpah Not)?

My grandson (a recent nursery school graduate with the certificate signed by more people than signed my Ph.D) gleefully told me that once someone becomes a Jew he can never go back to being a goy.  He had been learning, of course, about Ruth before Shavuos.  (Sorry about using her goyish name, but I can't figure out a good transliteration of רות -- Rus/Ruhs/Rüs/Rʌs/...)  Since he is not quite five, we haven't taken that deep dive into his ייחוס (or lack thereof; we sometimes refer to it is our yechuss).  I just said, "Yes, honey, I know."

One of the problems of the whole story, though, is precisely when did Ruth convert?  It seems hard to imagine that Elimelech or (maybe "all the more so") his wife Naomi would allow their boys to marry non-Jewish girls.  Yet, if Ruth and Orpah did convert before marrying, then how does Naomi have the right to even attempt to send these two Jewish girls back to their family homes and religion of idolatry?  And if they only provisionally converted, then Ruth's conversion is good retroactively -- but Orpah's retraction is also retroactive and we are back to the one of the boys marrying a shiksa.

Based on a shiur I heard over Shavuos and later discussions with the magid shiur, I have a theory.

Here is what you already know about conversion to Torah Judaism: The convert must be accept upon himself as completely binding without reservation the entire Torah as understood and transmitted to use through the ages by our sages of every generation and that acceptance must be made formally before a kosher Jewish court.  There is also immersion in a kosher mikvah (no big deal) and for the male convert there is also circumcision.  You'll just have to take my word for it that even the circumcision is no big deal compared to the unconditional acceptance of Torah.

Here are two things you might not know about conversion to Torah Judaism.  If a person were to accept 612 of the 613 mitzvos -- demurring on only one mitzvah, no matter how "minor" -- then there is no conversion and he remains a goy.  If, on the other hand, a person has never in his life seen anything but the Reform Jewish religion and he thinks that is, nebbich, the real deal and he can find a kosher Jewish Court before whom to declare his unconditional acceptance of the Torah as he knows is -- then it is a good conversion!

How about this one: a convert is intentionally mislead and not told about one mitzvah.  Suppose, for example, their teacher intentionally left out the ban on pork.  Sometime later, maybe years later, he is informed that pork is actually forbidden.  It seems, then, that the convert should have the option to either remain Jewish or to recant and revert to being a goy.  While I have no proof of that, I do know that when a non-Jewish child is adopted by a frum family, then the child undergoes immersion (and circumcision, if a boy) and the parents accept to raise him as a Jew.  The child is Jewish.  However, at bar/bat mitzvah, the child is given the choice to remain Jewish or to opt out.  I believe the principle is that he was not in a position to make an informed, reasonable choice, so he gets this one time opportunity to reconsider.  The same would logically seem to apply to our poor convert who was mislead.

Who would do such a thing?  Machlon and Kilyon, that's who.  When they taught Ruth and Orpah everything about Torah Judaism, they left out the fact that a Moabite is not allowed to marry into the Jewish congregation.  (A Moabite can convert, he would just be forbidden to marry.)  They (Machlon and Kilyon, that is) left that "little" fact out, of course, because they were intent on marrying Ruth and Orpah, respectively.  Ruth and Orpah, believing that they had complete knowledge of what it meant to be Jewish, accepted the Torah unconditionally.  When the boys died, Naomi let them know that they had been led astray and were missing some key knowledge.  Naomi didn't send them back, she was just letting them know that was an option.  With that new knowledge, Orpah opted out; and who could blame her?  Ruth, on the other hand, remained steadfast.

As it turns out, of course, a woman of Moab ancestry who converts is permitted to marry; it is only the Moabite men who may never marry into the Jewish community.  To Ruth, however, the details were immaterial.  Ruth converted because she wanted to do רצון השם/the Will of HaShem.

Ruth teaches us a powerful lesson of what it means to be a Jew.  Some things are harder than others; but the bottom line is/was/will always be that a Jew accepts to do רצון השם; unconditionally.


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