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QUESTION: The Rambam unequivocally states that a Jew by choice should be treated as an equal to any other Jew in all respects. In our synagogue we had a serious rift regarding this issue and many members left the synagogue. What happened was that a proselyte, a ger, ran for the position of president of the congregation. He had served as the secretary of the congregation and he was respected and liked by the members of the congregation. The rabbi of the congregation ruled that since he was not a Jew from birth, he could not run for the position of president of the congregation or occupy a position as an officer of the congregation. I would like to know, from your perspective, what the halacha is on this important issue.
Name withheld by request
(Via E-Mail)
ANSWER: The Rambam’s rule that you cite is found in Hilchot Mechira (14:13-15). Rambam is essentially quoting the Gemara (Bava Metzia 58b) and he states the following in regard to fraud and deception as it applies to sales and purchases and more specifically wrongs that are committed verbally: “How [do we explain ‘aggrieving with words’? If he (the individual with whom you deal) is a ba’al teshuva, one who has repented from his previous, non observant ways, you shall not say to him, ‘Remember your past behavior.’ If he is a child of gerim (converts) you shall not say to him, ‘Remember your father’s ways.’ If he is a ger and he comes to study Torah, you shall not say to him, ‘Does the mouth that ate slaughtered carcasses and non-kosher animals, now come to study the Torah which was given from the mouth of the Holy One?’ If you deal with an ailing person, or one who has buried his children, you shall not speak to him as Job’s friends spoke to him (Job 4:6-7) saying, ‘Behold, is not your fear (of G-d) your foolishness, and your hope the integrity of your ways?’ [Rashi ad loc. explains that he now appears to be lacking in fear of G-d, which is at odds with his previous behavior and statements.] ‘Recall, now, which innocent person ever perished? Where have upright people ever been obliterated?’Rambam continues: “If one comes upon a driver of donkeys who seeks grain [for his animals], he shall not say to him, ‘Go to so-and-so,’ if he knows that particular party never sold grain. If one is asked a question regarding a specific area of knowledge, he shall not in turn ask of one who is not proficient in that topic, ‘What would you answer in this case?'”

Rambam concludes by stating that any and all who mistreat a ger, whether it be or in monetary dealings, verbally violates three negative commandments. First, as it states (Leviticus 25:17), “Velo tonu ish et amito [veyareita meElokecha ki Ani Hashem Elokeichem] – You shall not aggrieve one another [and you shall fear your G-d because I am Hashem your G-d.]” Rashi ad loc. explains that this command refers to ona’at devarim, verbal aggrieving.

Second, one is also in violation of the following prohibition: “[Vechi timkeru mimkar le’amitecha o kanah miyad amitecha] al tonu ish et achiv – [And when you sell goods to your brother or when you buy from the hand of your brother] you may not defraud (or aggrieve) one another” (Leviticus 25:14). Rashi explains that this command refers to monetary fraud, ona’at mammon.


Third, the wrongdoer transgresses the words of Exodus (22:20), “Ve’ger lo toneh [ve’lo tilchatzenu, ki gerim heyitem be’eretz mitzrayim] – You shall not do wrong to a stranger, nor shall you oppress him [for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.]” Rashi ad loc. derives from this statement the prohibitions of both ona’at devarim and ona’at mammon in dealing with a ger.

Thus it is clear that a convert and one who was born a Jew are to be treated equally, except that we find somewhat of a modification to that rule in another statement of Rambam. The second statement is found in Hilchot Isurei Bi’ah (12:17), where Rambam cites the Talmud (Kiddushin 69a and Yevamot 76b-77b) stating, “All gentiles, who convert and accept upon themselves the mitzvot of the Torah, or slaves when they are emancipated, are [considered] Jews in all matters, as the verse states (Numbers 15:15), ‘Hakahal chukah achat lachem [vela’ger hagar, chukat olam le’doroteichem, kachem kager yihyeh lifnei Hashem] – There shall be one law for your congregation [both for you and for the proselyte who dwells (with you), an eternal law throughout your generations, like you shall be the proselyte before G-d].’ They are permitted to enter the congregation of G-d immediately.”

This refers to a convert and an emancipated slave being able to marry a Jewish woman, or a giyoret and an emancipated bondswoman being able to marry a Jewish man, with the exception of converts from four specific nations. Converts from the nations of Ammon, Moab, Egypt and Edom are considered Jews in all matters, but they are not allowed to enter the congregation of Israel in marriage [as Rambam explains in further discussion].

Thus we see that the convert may be subject to restrictions to which the born Jew is not subject. However, even then we must treat the ger as we treat other Jews in social and financial matters, and Rambam did not intend to contradict any halacha found in the Gemara.

(To be continued)