Andrew Connor was not born Jewish. He grew up in the Midwest, with almost no Jews around, so Judaism was the farthest thing from his mind. In the course of his military career, though, his unit was served by a Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Hillel. After being seriously wounded and coming close to dying, Andrew had numerous opportunities to discuss the meaning of life with Rabbi Hillel.
Andrew recovered and returned to civilian life. The spark ignited by Rabbi Hillel, though, led him to read about Judaism and have theological conversations with his Jewish coworkers.
At age 35 Andrew met Serena Thompson at a professional convention. She, unlike him, had grown up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood and was familiar with many Jewish practices. After knowing each other for two years they decided to get married.
Over the next few years, Andrew and Serena drew closer to Judaism. They decided to covert. Andrew contacted Rabbi Hillel and asked him for directions to begin the process. Rabbi Hillel connected Andrew and Serena with a rav in their neighborhood who was experienced in guiding potential converts.
After studying for two years and participating in Shabbos on a weekly basis with a host family, the guiding rav referred them to the beis din, which interviewed them and completed the conversion process. Andrew adopted the name Avraham, Serena the name Sara. Their young son Ike, who was also converted with them, was renamed Yitzchak, reflecting their new association with Judaism.
“I feel just like the family of our namesakes,” Sara said to Avraham. “The first Jewish family – Avraham, Sara and Yitzchak.”
Three years later, Avraham and Sara were blessed with another son. “Let’s call him Yisrael,” Sara suggested. Avraham willingly agreed. Yaakov was born four years afterward.
The three boys grew up aware of the special privilege of being part of the Jewish people. They were educated in yeshivas, sharing what they learned with their parents.
Some years later, Serena passed away due to illness, leaving Avraham with his three sons.
Avraham wanted his three sons to inherit his estate equally. He had heard a shiur about the importance of creating a will, and of the benefit in attaching documents to make the will halachically valid. He wondered, though, if there was any need for this, since he simply wanted his assets shared equally by his three sons.
He decided to consult Rabbi Dayan on the issue. He met with Rabbi Dayan and asked: “Now that I am survived only by my three sons – Yitzchak, Yisrael, and Yaakov – is there any halachic purpose in creating a will that the sons share the estate equally? Wouldn’t that happen anyway?”
“There certainly is a need,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “In general, a person who converted – such as you and Yitzchak – is considered as a newly born child. This means he no longer has any halachic lineage do his gentile relatives, including his biological father.” (Yevamos 62a)
“What does that mean in terms of inheritance?” asked Avraham.
“Following the logic that a convert is considered as a newborn child, the convert child should not inherit from his biological father,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “The child is not deemed his legal son, halachically.”
“So what happens with the father’s money if a son converted?” asked Yitzchak.
“If the father remained gentile, only his other, gentile children should inherit him,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, the Sages instituted that the converted, Jewish son also inherit his father, lest the son return to gentile ways to procure the inheritance.” (C.M. 283:1)
“And what if the father also converted, such as in my case?” asked Avraham. “Would his child who converted then inherit him?”
“In this case there is no concern of the child reverting back, so there is no need for this institution,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Thus, the Torah law remains intact, and the converted child has no halachic claim to his father’s estate. The father would be inherited only by the children he bore after he became Jewish, who are deemed his halachic sons.”
“So what does that leave me?” asked Avraham.
“Only Yisrael and Yaakov, who you bore after conversion, would have a halachic claim to your inheritance,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Yitzchak, who was born beforehand, has no halachic claim without a will.”
“Would Yisrael, who was first-born after conversion, be considered my bechor, then?” asked Avraham. “Should he be getting a double portion?”
“No,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “If a man had children before conversion his subsequent children do not have the status of bechor [C.M. 277:9]. However, if you want Yitzchak to share the estate, you should prepare an explicit will and attach the appropriate documents to make the will halachically valid. You can contact my office for help in procuring the appropriate forms.”
“Will do,” said Avraham, thanking Rabbi Dayan.
About the Author: Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail email@example.com.
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