This text addresses a situation where a convert is about to inherit problematic items from his recently deceased father, who was not Jewish: idols (or other objects related to idolatrous practices) or wine, which could be used for libations. According to rabbinic law, Jews are prohibited from deriving benefit from such items (whether from direct use or by profiting from their sale). This mishnah therefore allows the convert to ask his non-Jewish brother to divide their father’s estate so that he may receive only the property that is permitted to him as a Jew. However, if the convert has already taken possession of such items, he may not retroactively make such an arrangement nor can he derive benefit from them.
This mishnah indicates that converts did not cut all ties with their non-Jewish family. In that regard, tannaitic literature seems to be inconsistent on this subject since a convert may not bequeath property to his non-Jewish children (Sifre Numbers 4; Mishnah Bava Qamma 9:11). Moreover, even if these children had converted with their father, they are unable to inherit his assets. This asymmetry complicates our understanding of the relationships between a ger and his family of origin. It is unclear whether the rabbis had a systematic legal concept of the relationship between converts and their non-Jewish relatives. Gary G. Porton states that the sages did “not rule that converts were prohibited from inheriting from their gentile parents … because this could make conversion unappealing” (The Stranger, p. 24). According to this reasoning, the rabbis would have preferred for conversion to end these family relationships; however, they permitted gerim to inherit from their non-Jewish relatives to remove a potential barrier to conversion. Although no explanation for this proviso is included, a convert may receive an inheritance from his non-Jewish father.