Tosefta Qiddushin 5:1-2

The convert and the freedman – the status of newcomers in Judaism.
3d CE
Syria Palaestina
Literary genre: 
Legal text
Title of work: 
Qiddushin 5:1-2

This Tosefta presents a debate regarding the status of converts (in Hebrew gerim, singular ger; for more about the term ger and conversion see the commentary for Mishnah Bikkurim 1:4-5). The debaters are fourth generation tannaim who were active in the second century CE, especially after the Bar Kokhba revolt. According to the words attributed to Rabbi Meir there are at least six classes that are not permitted to “be admitted to the congregation,” namely to marry those who are considered as part of the “congregation” (qahal). According to Rabbi Meir, these classes are:

1)      Converts – The procedure for converting to Judaism developed during the Second Temple period and was “a fully established institution among the Jewish people by the time of the Rabbis” (Novak, “Gentiles in Rabbinic Thought,” p. 660). Some scholars trace the origin of conversion to the Babylonian exile, while others suggest that it originated in the Hasmonean period or even later.

2)      Freed slaves: In rabbinic texts, a freed non-Jewish slave holds a status similar to the ger (a convert), for he had to be circumcised in order to serve within a Jewish household. Slavery of non-Jews within Jewish households was considered an opportunity for slaves to join Judaism. Yet, the process of conversion was concluded only after the slave became a freedman (Hezser, Jewish Slavery, p. 36-39). Converts and freed slaves are often paired together in rabbinic texts, and their status is often similar. The rabbinic process of manumission resembles Roman practices in which freedmen of Roman citizens received Roman citizenship after their manumission. Yet, 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.” According to Natalie B. Dohrmann, “manumission of Gentile slaves is part of rabbinic law when it had no obvious place in the Bible.” Thus, rabbinic laws of manumission reflect the Roman model (“Manumission,” p. 56).

3)      mamzerim (singular mamzer): according to Mishnah Yevamot 4:13 and Qiddushin 3:12, mamzerim are those children who were born to adulterous women (most of the prohibitions are listed in Leviticus 18 – 20), or children who were born out of incestuous sexual contact. Deuteronomy 23:3 states: “A mamzer shall not be admitted to the congregation (qahal) of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord” (based on v. 2 in NRSV).

4)      netinim (singular natin) are descendants of Second Temple foreign servants. In the book of Ezra, the netinim are listed among those who came from Babylonia: “All the netinim and the descendants of Solomon’s servants were three hundred ninety-two” (Ezra 2:58, based on NRSV). According to the Jerusalem Talmud Qiddushin 4:1, 65b, and Babylonian Talmud 78b-79a, the netinim are descendants of the Gibeonites mentioned in Joshua chapter 9. The origin of the name is based on Joshua 9:27: “But on that day Joshua made them (va-yitnem) hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, to continue to this day, in the place that he should choose” (NRSV). In rabbinic texts, the natin is often paired with the mamzer in issues related to marriage.

5)      shtuqim (“silenced ones”) are children of whom the identity of the father is unknown.

6)      ’asufim (singular ’asufi) are children of whom the identity of the father and mother are unknown. The origin of this term is based on Psalms 27:10: “Though my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will take me (ya’asfeni). The same Hebrew root ’/s/f which denotes ‘to gather’ or ‘to be picked up’ is used in rabbinic texts to refer to those who were abandoned by their parents (more about this category can be found in Catherine Hezser, Jewish Slavery, p. 137-138).

Whereas in Mishnah Qiddushin 4:1 converts and freed slaves hold an intermediate station when considering lineage, since they are permitted to marry above their own, Levites, Israelites (but not priests), and those below (mamzerim, netinim, shtuqim and ’asufim) according to Rabbi Meir clearly belong to lower classes and do not belong to the “congregation.”

In contrast to Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehudah contends that the gerim are part of the “congregation” (qahal), although they form their own “congregation,” thus, there are four congregations (qehalot): the congregation of priests, the congregation of Levites, the congregation of Israelites, and the congregation of gerim (converts). All the others are permitted to marry each other and they are not defined as congregations. According to this view, converts may marry Levites and Israelites. Thus, while Rabbi Meir sees the status of converts as equivalent to the lower classes (mamzerim, netinim, shtuqim and ’asufeim), Rabbi Yehudah compares them to ḥalalim who were born to priests from women who were disqualified from marrying a priest, according to Leviticus 21:7 and Ezekiel 44:22. In Mishnah Qiddushin 4:6 and Tosefta Qiddushin 5:3, he explicitly compares a ger to a ḥalal:

“A daughter of a male ḥalal (the offspring of a priest and a woman who was ineligible to marry into the priesthood) is disqualified (psulah) from [marriage into the] priesthood for eternity. An Israelite who married a [female] ḥalalah – his daughter is suitable (ksherah) for [marriage into the] priesthood, but a [male] ḥalal who married an Israelite woman (lit. a daughter of Israel) – his daughter is disqualified (psulah) from [marriage into the] priesthood. Rabbi Yehudah says: ‘The daughter of a male ger is equivalent to the daughter of a male ḥalal’” (here, the Mishnah’s version).

According to Rabbi Yehudah, therefore, converts should marry upwards. Since the free slave is not mentioned here, it is possible that Rabbi Yehudah differentiates between gerim who belong to the “congregation” (qahal) and may marry Levites and Israelites, and freed slaves that belong to the lower classes. However, in the next passage, Rabbi Yehudah associates the convert, the freed slave, and the ḥalal with each other, ruling that they are permitted to marry a daughter of a priest (kohenet). Thus, it is not clear whether for Rabbi Yehudah a freed slave is included with the converts or with the lower classes.

At this stage, the Tosefta cites the sages. According to them, there are only three congregations (qehalot): priests, Levites and Israelites. This omission of gerim suggests that they are not part of a congregation (qahal), thus, they may belong to the lower stratum of Jewish society (see Christine E. Hayes, Gentile Impurities, p.168). The word qahal was associated with mamzerim, as Deuteronomy 23:3 states: “A mamzer shall not be admitted to the congregation (qahal) of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord” (based on NRSV verse 2). Thus, the issue of whether converts are part of the congregation (qahal) defines whether they can marry mamzerim (and other lower groups).

In Section Two, the Tosefta cites two opinions regarding the marriage of converts. First, according to Rabbi Yose, a male convert and a male freed slave may marry a mamzert (a female mamzer), and their offspring is defined as mamzerim. Thus, according to this ruling, both converts and freed slaves are not considered as part of the “congregation (qahal) of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:3). The offspring’s status, however, is transmitted in that case through the mother. According to Saul Lieberman, Rabbi Yose agrees with the opinion of Rabbi Meir that was mentioned above (Tosefta Ki-Feshutah, vol. 8, p. 963).

Rabbi Yehudah argues that a male ger is not permitted to marry a female convert (giyoret), perhaps to allow her to marry a Levite or an Israelite, and, therefore, permitting her children to join these classes. However, Saul Lieberman suggests that the correct version may be: “The ger (male convert) should not marry the mamzert,” following the printed edition (Tosefta Ki-Feshutah, vol. 8, p. 966). As mentioned above, Rabbi Yehudah also adds that a male convert, a male freed slave, and “ḥalal are permitted to marry a daughter of a priest (kohenet).” This statement confirms his approach which ties together the ger and the ḥalal (and perhaps the freed slave).

Whereas the Mishnah allows converts and freed slaves to marry all other classes (except for priests), and male ḥalalim are permitted to marry only Levites and Israelites, in the Tosefta we find two main views. The first sees converts and freed slaves as part of the lower classes: mamzerim, netinim, shtuqim and ’asufim,and the second, represented by Rabbi Yehudah, sees them as similar to ḥalalim. Thus, male gerim (and perhaps freed slaves) are not allowed to marry mamzerim, netinim, shtuqim, ’asufim and priests.

The fact that tannatic texts include several opinions regarding the status of converts is noteworthy. It shows that the rabbis debated the place of converts and freed slaves within the Jewish community, especially where lineage was considered. 

Bibliographical references: 

“Manumission and Transformation in Jewish and Roman Law”

Dohrmann, Natalie Barticle-in-a-journalJewish and Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Exchange: Comparative Exegesis in ContextNatalie B. Dohrmann , David Stern51-65“Manumission and Transformation in Jewish and Roman Law” PhiladelphiaUniversity of Pennsylvania Press2008

“Gentiles in Rabbinic Thought”

Novak, Davidarticle-in-a-bookThe Cambridge History of Judaism: Volume IV: The Late Roman-Rabbinic PeriodSteven T. Katz647-662“Gentiles in Rabbinic Thought” CambridgeCambridge University Press 2006
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