This text discusses the status of a child whose mother is from an Israelite, Levitical or priestly family and whose father is a convert or freedman. This issue is significant for considering the status of gerim, the rabbinic Hebrew term for “converts” (singular ger; for more on the meaning of this word in the Tanakh, and on conversion in Judaism and its origins, see the commentary on Mishnah Bikkurim 1:4-5).
In this text, the freedman is mentioned together with the ger since, in rabbinic texts, a non-Jewish slave holds similar status to a ger, for he had to be circumcised to serve within a Jewish household. Servitude in a Jewish household was considered an avenue for non-Jews to join Judaism. Yet, the process of conversion was concluded only after the slave was manumitted (Hezser, Jewish Slavery, p. 36-39). This process resembles many Roman practices in which freedmen of Roman citizens themselves received Roman citizenship after their manumission. For, as Catherine Hezser writes: “Manumission did not automatically lead to Roman citizenship. Only those slaves who were manumitted in a particular way, by vindicta, by the census, or by a testament became Roman citizens.” She also adds that “The disqualification of servile origin would at least legally disappear with the second generation: the children born after manumission were considered freeborn and could become magistrates” (Jewish Slavery, p. 110-111).
This passage from the Tosefta teaches that, in the case of a woman from an Israelite, Levitical or priestly family who married a convert or a freedman, their child would be considered a convert or a freedman, respectively. Thus, according to this text, lineage is transmitted by the father. Even though some rabbinic opinions state that the children of such a couple are Israelites, meaning that the status of the father who is a ger or a freedman is not transmitted to their offspring, this tosefta prescribes that these children would inherit their father's subordinate standing. The text does not discuss the children of an Israelite man who had married a female convert or a freedwoman. According to rabbinic texts, converts and freedmen are equal to Israelites in most aspects of Jewish life; however, they are differentiated from other Jews in certain aspects of their status. These exceptions are all related to the subject of lineage:
1) According the Mishnah Bikkurim 1:4, the ger is among those who brings an offering of first fruits from their harvest, but may not recite the declaration. This mishnah explains that the ger is unable to recite this declaration since he cannot state: “I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us” (Deuteronomy 26:3, based on NRSV). Thus, although the ger is required to bring this offering to the Temple, he cannot refer to the patriarchs of Israel as his fathers since he has different ancestry. However, according to this mishnah, if the ger’s mother is an Israelite, he is required to recite the declaration. Thus, his matrilineal heritage effectively links him to the patriarchs of Israel. By contrast, our tosefta considers the child of an Israelite mother and a convert or a freedman to be identified as a convert or a freedman, and not an Israelite.
2) Mishnah Bikkurim 1:4 also states that a ger cannot say: “O God of our fathers,” whether in the context of public or private prayer. According to this text, in private prayer, a ger may say: “O God of the fathers of Israel,” whereas in synagogue, he may say: “O God of your fathers.” In both cases, the ger is excluded from Israelite lineage. Thus, although the ger participates in synagogue services, he should modify his prayers to acknowledge that he does not share Israelite lineage. This mishnah also states that, if his mother were an Israelite, he would say: “O God of our fathers.” In our tosefta, however, an Israelite mother cannot transmit Israelite lineage.
3) Eligibility for marrying into a priestly family is also at issue. There is no consensus regarding the ability of a daughter of a convert to marry a priest. Mishnah Qiddushin 4:6-7 presents three opinions on this subject: According to Rabbi Yehudah, if the father is a ger, his daughter (and her offspring) will never be eligible to marry a priest. In this case, the father transmits lineage since, if the mother is a convert and the father is Israelite, their daughter can marry a priest. According to Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya‘aqov, one Israelite parent, irrespective of gender, would enable a daughter to marry a priest; thus, in the case of children of gerim, having one Israelite parent is sufficient to be considered Israelite in all respects. However, Rabbi Yose contends that, even when both parents are converts, a daughter (who was born after their conversions) is considered Israelite in all respects and is suitable to marry a priest. The implication of our tosefta is that, if both parents are gerim or if only the father is a ger, the daughter cannot marry a priest. However, we do not know this text's position in a case where the father is an Israelite and the mother is a convert. According to Saul Lieberman, our passage from the Tosefta follows Rabbi Yehudah’s opinion (Tosefta Ki-Feshutah, vol. 8, p. 962). If this is correct, then the child of an Israelite father and a female convert or freedwoman would be considered an Israelite. Indeed, according to Tosefta Qiddushin 5:3, if the daughter of a ger and an Israelite woman marries an Israelite, their daughter can marry a priest; thus, the Israelite father transmits his lineage when marriage into a priestly family is concerned.We see, therefore, that tannaitic texts convey more than one perspective regarding the status of children of gerim and their acceptance as equal members of the Israelite community. Likewise, this corpus is multivocal with respect to which parent transmits the Israelite lineage that would enable their daughter to marry a priest.
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