Mishnah Qiddushin 4:6-7

A daughter of converts and marriage with a priest – are converts full members of the Israelite community?

200 CE to 220 CE
Syria Palaestina
Literary genre: 
Legal text
Title of work: 
Qiddushin 4:6-7
These passages from the Mishnah open by presenting the status of a ḥalal's daughter. The term ḥalal denotes a child of a priest who has wed a woman considered unqualified for marriage into the priesthood, such as a divorcée (following Leviticus 21:7, 14). For the most part, however, this text focuses on the eligibility of a daughter of a convert for marriage to a priest. 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). This material allows us to look at the rabbinic institution of conversion and examine the extent to which gerim were considered full members of the Israelite community. In this case, marriage into a priestly family is at issue, with special attention to lineage. Priestly status was hereditary, transmitted from father to son, and priests were permitted to marry women who were from Israelite, Levite or priestly families (Mishnah Qiddushin 4:1; addition restrictions applied: no priests were permitted to marry divorcées and high priests were further prohibited from marrying widows, following Leviticus 21:7, 14). Whereas the prevailing assumption in rabbinic texts is that priests may not marry female converts, there is no consensus regarding the eligibility of their daughters.

This Mishnah presents three views regarding marriage between a ger's daughter and a priest:

Section A begins with a discussion of the suitability of a marriage between a priest and a daughter of a male ḥalal who, according to this mishnah, is eternally prohibited from marriage with a priest. Not only she, but all offspring of a ḥalal are perpetually barred from marrying into a priestly family. The Mishnah elaborates by stating that this law is only applicable in a case where the father of this daughter is a ḥalal; however, if the mother is a ḥalalah (i.e. herself the daughter of a priest and an unsuitable mother) and the father is an Israelite, their daughter is qualified to marry a priest. At that point, the text cites Rabbi Yehudah, who states that “The daughter of a male ger is equivalent to the daughter of a male ḥalal.” Thus, according to Rabbi Yehudah, the daughter of a male ger cannot marry a priest and, moreover, no offspring from that line will be permitted to marry a priest. Yet, a daughter of a giyoret (female convert) who married an Israelite man is suitable to marry a priest. Here lineage seems to follow the father. As Shaye J. D. Cohen states: “According to R. Judah the status of convert (ger) is inherited in precisely the same way as the status of priest (kohen), Levite, and Israelite: just as the status of priest, Levite, and Israelite is inherited from the father, so too the status of convert is inherited from the father. The legal and social disabilities that apply to the convert father also apply to the offspring” (Beginning of Jewishness, p. 310). Thus, the daughters and sons of a ger and their offspring, male and female alike, are forever prohibited from marriage into priestly families (unless the father is an Israelite).

Section B presents an opinion attributed to Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya‘aqov. Two tannaim were known as Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya‘aqov: the first was active during the Second Temple period and had priestly relatives (Mishnah Middot 1:2), and the other was active in the second century CE. We cannot be certain which one is cited here and whether he came from a priestly family but, since the two other sages mentioned in these passages (Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Yose) were active in the second century CE, the later Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya‘aqov is probably quoted here. In any case, according to this Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya‘aqov, one Israelite parent is sufficient to allow a daughter to marry a priest (namely one parent is a ger and the other is an Israelite). However, if both parents are gerim, their daughter cannot marry a priest. This applies not only to a daughter of two gerim but also to her progeny, for up to ten generations. Thus, in order to become fully integrated into Israel – with respect to marriage into a priestly family – a convert had to wed an Israelite. Otherwise, a very long process was required. The teaching that states: “unless their mother is an Israelite (lit. from Israel),” could be read two ways: first, these words might emphasize the role of the mother in transmitting lineage; second, this statement could apply to a case where the father is an Israelite. The latter reading seems more likely because of the preceding sentence. According to this understanding, the author of this text seems only to mention the mother, since it is clear that the father transmits lineage.

This law also applies to a freedman. 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). Here, however, according to Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya‘aqov, the next generation was not fully regarded as Israelite in terms of their eligibility to marry priests.

Section C transmits an opinion that is attributed to Rabbi Yose. In his view, even if both parents are gerim, their daughter may marry a priest. Thus, according to this teaching, daughters of gerim are considered Israelites without qualification, even regarding a marriage into priestly families.

We see, therefore, three opinions on the issue of marriage between a daughter of gerim and a priest. 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. 

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