In memory of my mother, Devorah Golinkin z”l on her fourth yahrzeit
Question from a rabbi in Jerusalem:
I am officiating at the wedding of a young couple in the near future. In preparing the ketubah [marriage contract], I learned that the groom’s father was born Jewish, but the groom converted at age four, along with his mother. The groom would like his name to appear in the marriage contract as “X the son of the names of his two parents,” since they are all Jewish now; but his father would like it to appear as “X the son of Abraham and Sarah,” since that is how his son was named at his conversion. What is the halakhah in this case?
Since this issue comes up in various contexts, we will relate to it first more broadly — the name of the father or mother of a convert to be used in a ketubah, in a get [divorce document], and when being called up to the Torah—and then I will address your specific question.
Much has been written throughout the generations about how to refer to a convert, but aside from Rabbi David Frankel, very few have dealt with this issue systematically. We will try to present the facts and the approaches in a systematic fashion, from the Talmudic period until today.
1) The names of converts in ancient times according to extra-Talmudic sources in various languages
Below is a list of converts mentioned in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin burial inscriptions, according to the works listed in the bibliography at the end of this responsum.
Greek and Latin burial inscriptions in Rome, according to Leon’s book:
Number 21 in Greek: Irene, foster child, proselyte, her father and mother Jewish, an Israelite, lived 3 years, 7 months, 1 day. (Cf. Figueras, No. 8).
Number 68 in Latin: Cresces Sinicerius, Jew and proselyte, lived 35 years, laid to rest. His mother did for her sweet son what he should have done for me…. (Cf. Figueras, No. 11).
Number 202 in Greek: …Jewess, proselyte…
Number 222 in Latin: Mannacius, to his most sweet sister, Crysis, aproselyte. (Cf. Figueras, No. 13)
Number 256 in Latin: To Nicetas, a proselyte worthy and well-deserving, his patroness Dionysias set up [this stone]. (Cf. Figueras, No. 12).
Number 462 in Latin: Felicitas, a proselyte of 6 years, named[after her conversion] Peregrina [=stranger, proselyte], who lived 47 years. Her patron, in grateful memory. (Cf. Figueras, No. 10).
Number 523 in Latin: Veturia Paulla, consigned to her eternal home, who lived 86 years, 6 months, a proselyte of 16 years, named Sara [=after her conversion]. Mother of the synagogues of Campus and Volumnius. In peace her sleep. (Cf. Figueras, No. 9).
Additional burial inscriptions:
Figueras No. 1, from the Mount of Olives, in Hebrew: Shalomhagerit [Salome the female proselyte].
Ibid., No. 2, from Jerusalem, in Hebrew: Maria hagerit hadoleket[Maria the burning proselyte; there are various interpretations of “burning”].
Ibid., No. 3, from Jerusalem, in Greek: Diogenes the proselyte[son of] Zena.
Ibid., No. 4, from Jerusalem, in Greek: Yudan [Judah] theproselyte fromTyre. (Cf. Roth-Gerson, pp. 176, 184-185).
Ibid., No. 5, from Jerusalem, in Greek: …of Judah son of Laganion, the proselyte.
Ibid., No. 6, from Venosa, Italy, in Greek: Here lies Anastasis [or: Anastasia], the proselyte.
Ibid., No. 14, from Cyrenaica, Africa, in Greek: …Sara theproselyte, eighteen [years old].
In the Aramaic dedication inscription of the famous synagogue in Dura-Europos from 245 CE, one of the patrons of the project is listed as: [V’Arshakh] giyora [=and Arshakh the proselyte] (Naveh; cf. Figueras, No. 15).
A burial inscription from the Kidron Valley, first century CE:
Ariston Apami [of Apamea] (Hebrew)
Yehuda hagiyyur [Judah the proselyte] (Hebrew)
(Roth-Gerson, p. 133, 34; Ilan, pp. 150, 154-155).
Shimon bar Giora [the proselyte] was one of the leaders of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 66-70 CE (Josephus, The Jewish War, 2, parag. 521 et al.; EJ, s.v. “Bar Giora, Simeon,” vol. 4, cols. 220-222).
The sources above teach us that Jews in ancient times referred to converts as proselytes, Giora, Hagiyur or Hagerit, and did not believe that the were insulting these converts.
2) The names of converts in Talmudic literature
There wasn’t a uniform custom in Talmudic literature. Some converts were referred to as hager [=the convert] and the like:
Yehudah Ger Ammoni [the Ammonite convert] – Mishnah Yadayim4:4.
Binyamin Ger Mitzri [the Egyptian Convert] – Tosefta Kiddushin5:4, ed. Lieberman, p. 295.
Onkelos Hager (Megillah 3a; Bava Batra 99a; Avodah Zarah 11a) is referred to in Avodah Zarah 11a as Onkelos bar Kalonymus; inGittin 56b as Onkelos bar Kalonykus; and in the Talmud Yerushalmi and in the midrash as Aquilas Hager (see Aaron Hyman, Toledot Tannaim Ve’amoraim, London, 1910, pp. 108-110 and Bereishit Rabbah 70:5).
Yehuda ben Gerim [the son of converts] was the disciple of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai (Mo’ed Kattan 9a = Bereishit Rabbah 35:3, ed. Theodor-Albeck, p. 330 where he is called Rabbi Yudan barGiyori; Shabbat 33b-34a).
Issur Giyora – Bava Batra 149a; Avodah Zarah 70a.
Some of the converts had other names:
Rav Shemuel bar Yehudah attests that he is a convert: “And I am a convert, I am” (Yevamot 101b at bottom; according to Rashi, he and his father converted).
Yehudah Hindoah – Kiddushin 22b).
Keti’a bar Shalom (For an interesting suggestion regarding this name, see Howard Jacobson, AJS Review 6 (1981), pp. 39-42). – Avodah Zarah 10b.
Yohanan ben Tortah – Pesikta Rabbati, Piska 14, Parah, ed. Meir Ish- Shalom, fols. 56b-57a. According to that story, he is named for the cow which was the cause of his conversion.
It is clear from these sources that the term “ben Avraham/son of Abraham” or “ben Avraham Avinu/son of Abraham our Forefather” were not used in the Talmudic period. We also learn from them that the Sages were of the opinion that the terms Hager, Giyora, Giyori, ben Gerim are not offensive and do not violate the prohibition ofona’at hager [verbally abusing the convert], which we will discuss below.
3) The names of converts in the Middle Ages
Rabbi Ovadiah Hager [the convert] – Maimonides sent him several famous responsa regarding conversion and treated him with the utmost respect – ed. Freimann, Nos. 42, 345, 369; ed. Blau, No. 293; ed. Shilat, Igrot Harambam, Vol. 1, No. 12).
Ovadiah Hager from Normandy copied a prayer book in the year 1102 (Ya’ari, p. 246, citing a Genizah fragment).
Rabbi Maurice Lamm (p. 186) lists several famous converts from the Middle Ages:
Abraham son of Abraham, who was burned at the stake as a martyr in Augsburg in 1264.
Abraham son of Abraham, who was burned at the stake as a martyr in France in 1270.
The Polish Count Walenty Potocki, Abraham son of Abraham, who was burned at the stake as a martyr in Vilna in 1746 (cf. Rabbi Prouser’s book).
The English Catholic priest Count Charles Bucks, who converted in 1911 and changed his name to Abraham son of Abraham.
Rabbi Reisner maintains in his responsum, based on a book about the history of conversion, that there were converts who worked as printers who were not called son of Abraham, but, it appears that that book was not accurate. The well-known bibliographer Avraham Ya’ari listed many converts who worked as printers from 1650 onwards, and every single one of them without exception referred to himself as: “son of Abraham”, “son of Abraham our Forefather”, or “from the family of Abraham our Forefather”:
Yitzhak ben Avraham published the book Zera Yitzhak in Amsterdam, 1781.
Avraham Hager, Saloniki, 1651.
Moshe ben Avraham Avinu also known as Moshe Bacher Ya’akov ben Avraham Avinu,Constantinople, 1743.
Avraham ben Avraham Avinu,Constantinople, 1755.
Yosef ben Avraham Avinu ,Constantinople, 1748.
Ya’akov bar Avraham Yisrael Hager,Amsterdam, 1664.
Moshe ben Avraham Avinu,Amsterdam, 1686.
His son Yisrael ben Avraham Avinu,Amsterdam, 1713.
Yisrael bar Avraham, various cities in Ashkenaz, 1717-1750.
Avram bar Ya’akov mimishpahat [from the family of] Avraham Avinu made the copper engravings for the famous Amsterdam Haggadah in 1695, as well as for many other books.
Ya’akov bar Avraham Avinu,Amsterdam, 1707-1730.
Two brothers, Shimon bar Gedalyah and Ya’akov bar Gedalyah,mimishpahat [from the family of] Avraham Avinu,Amsterdam, 1763-1765.
Yosef ben Yitzhak mimishpahat [from the family of] Avraham Avinu,Amsterdam, 1763-1765.
Avraham ben Avraham from Safed, printed a book inAmsterdam, 1723.
Yitzhak ben Avraham Hager from Breslau, printed a book in Dyhernfurth,Poland, 1774.
Avraham ben Avraham Avinu Ger Tzedek [Righteous Convert], from Safed, mentioned in an epistle, 1821.
Yitzhak ben Avraham Ger Tzedek, from Safed.
This list teaches us that the term Hager [the convert] was not regarded as derogatory by Maimonides or by the righteous convert from Normandy, and that all of the converts who worked in printing referred to themselves as son of Abraham, son of Abraham our Forefather, or from the family of Abraham our Forefather.
4) Ben Avraham [son of Abraham] in halakhic literature
In addition to all the evidence above, a number of major halakhic authorities cited the custom of referring to converts as “ben Avraham” from the twelfth century until today:
This responsum is important for a number of reasons. 1) It cites the custom ca. 1300 to denote the convert in ketubot and gittin as ben Avraham. 2) In contrast to Rabbi Gershom Hagozer, the Rosh explains that the convert is referred to as ben Avraham not because Abraham was the first convert, but because Abraham was the father of all nations. This idea comes from well-knownmidrashim on Genesis 17:5: “No longer will your name be calledAvram, but your name will be Avraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” – “In the past, you were the father of Aram [=Avram, av aram], but from now on you are the father of a multitude of nations [=Avraham, av hamon, the father of multitudes] (Yerushalmi Bikurim 1:4, fol. 64a; Tosefta Berakhot 1:12 and elsewhere; and see especially the responsa of Maimonides cited above).
5) Ben Avraham Avinu in halakhic literature
On the other hand, there are many halakhic authorities who transmit the custom or require that the convert be referred to asben Avraham Avinu [the son of Abraham our Forefather].
These opinions that one must write “ben Avraham Avinu” or“hager” are cited by many halakhic authorities who ruled thus in practice (“And I found in Ashkenazic responsa” in the Bet Yosef toEven Ha’ezer 129, in Arba’ah Turim Hashalem, p. 120, parag. 20. Darkhei Moshe Ha’arokh to Tur Even Ha’ezer129, parag. 27; Levush to Even Ha’ezer 129:20; Nahalat Shivah, 45, 23, 4, ed. Warsaw, p. 196; and Bet Shmuel toShulhan Arukh Even Ha’ezer 129, subparag. 39 — all ruled according to the Maharzakh. And cf. the discussion of Rabbi Moshe ibn Haviv, Get Pashut, Even Ha’ezer 129, subparag. 112).
Likewise, there are many contemporary English-speaking rabbis from all across the denominational spectrum who ruled that the convert should be called ben Avraham Avinu:
6) It is permissible to use another name when calling someone up to the Torah, but for ketubot and gittin, one must write “ben Avraham Avinu” or “ploni the convert”.
This was the ruling of Rabbi David Frankel in the responsum he wrote for the Va’ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel in 2001 and of Rabbi Barry Leff, with the consent of eleven members of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly in 2010. Rabbi Frankel argues vehemently that anyone who calls up the convert to the Torah asben Avraham Avinu, violates many commandments: the mitzvah to love our fellow Jews, ona’at devarim [verbal abuse], halbanat panim [public shaming], kevod haberiyot [human dignity], loving the stranger, and ona’at hager [verbally abusing the convert].
Rabbi Leff prefers the traditional term “ben Avraham Avinu” and prefers to write either this or “hager” [the convert] in ketubot andgittin. But when it comes to being called up to the Torah, he permits the convert to choose the name “son of ploni” if it bothers the convert to be called “ben Avraham” or “ben Avraham Avinu”, in light of the prohibition of ona’at hager [verbally abusing the convert].
With all due respect, it is hard to understand how the terms ben Avraham or ben Avraham Avinu could possibly violate the prohibition of verbally abusing the convert. First of all, as we have seen, these terms are based on the fact that Abraham was the first convert, or that he was the father of a multitude of nations. We have also seen that during the Talmudic period, they referred to converts as Onkelos the Convert, Yehudah ben Gerim, and Issur Giora, etc.; Maimonides addressed Ovadiah the Convert as such with great affection; and from the twelfth century onward, allconverts were referred to as ben Avraham or ben Avraham Avinu. Anyone who contends that this constitutes verbal abuse of the convert and the like is essentially arguing that for 2000 years, our ancestors violated explicit prohibitions in the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the Codes of Jewish law! That is simply not possible. Rather, as five rabbis from various denominations have already explained in our own day (Rabbi Ouziel, Rabbi Felder, Nahalat Zvi, Part I, p. 112; Rabbi Allen, Rabbi Washofsky, and Rabbi Wachs), there is absolutely no prohibition of saying that a convert is a convert.
And so we have learned in the Mishnah (Bava Metzia 4:10): “If he is the son of converts, they should not say to him: ‘Remember the deeds of your ancestors’ ”. Similarly, a baraitarules (Bava Metzia 58b): “Do not say to him: Shall the mouth that ate unclean and forbidden food, abominable and creeping things, come to study Torah, which was uttered by the mouth of the Omnipotent!” And so ruled Maimonides (Hilkhot Mekhirah 14:13) and the Shulhan Arukh (Hoshen Mishpat228:4). It is indeed forbidden to remind the convert of his improper deeds or of his ancestors’ improper deeds, but there is no prohibition on calling a convert “convert”! On the contrary, Rabbi Ouziel writes that the terms “Giora” in the Talmud and “ben Avraham Avinu” in the codes are complimentary rather than derogatory. Rabbi Washofsky says that “to ascribe a person’s spiritual lineage to Abraham and Sarah is among the highest compliments we can pay him or her”. And Rabbi Felder writes, “And the term giyoret [female convert in a ketubah or get] is not derogatory to her; on the contrary, it honors her, for it indicates that she sought shelter under the wings of the Shekhinah [Divine Presence]”.
Furthermore, it is very problematic to give the convert one name for aliyot to the Torah, and another name ketubot and gittin. Our Sages understood that people need uniform standards, and thus they established halakhic principles such as “lo plug rabbanan” [the Sages do not divide] and “im ken, natata devarekha l’shiurin” [if so, your rule would vary according to circumstances]. If a convert were to be called up to the Torah for twenty years using a name that he invented, this is most likely the name that they will write in his get, and this will invalidate the Get (Rabbi Frankel maintains following Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer, Part 6, No. 41) who quoted from Responsa Bet David (Even Ha’ezer, No. 10), that the name in theketubah and for aliyot does not influence the get, but with all due respect, people are people, and there is no doubt that one does influence the other).
7) It is permissible to give converts any name they desire, since it is only a custom.
This was the brief ruling given by Rabbi Avram Reisner in a responsum of the CJLS in 1988 regarding the conversion of adopted children. He ruled leniently, since it is simply a custom and since there were “many historical converts who did not carry the name ben Avraham (son of Abraham)”. Rabbi Walter Jacob is also of the opinion that it is just a custom and there is no obligation use the term “ben Avraham”. With all due respect, they ignored most of the sources cited above. This is a 900-year-old custom, and there are good halakhic reasons to preserve it, as emphasized by the Maharzakh and many halakhic authorities cited above.
8) Discussion of the specific case in the question
Until this point we have seen that generally speaking there is a 900-year-old custom among Klal Yisrael [the collective Jewish people], which was also codified by many halakhic authorities, to refer to a convert as ben Avraham or ben Avraham Avinu, and there is no reason to alter this custom. However, the majority of converts throughout the generations were “righteous converts” who converted for the sake of becoming Jewish, and not for the sake of marrying a Jew. In our own day, the situation is completely different, and most converts convert for the sake of marrying a Jew. This brings us to the specific question at hand: If a boy converts along with his mother, may he use the name of both his parents, such as Reuven son of Yitzhak (the Jewish father) and Rivkah (the convert)?
As we have seen, Rabbi Yitzhak Ya’akov Weiss was asked about such a case, and he ruled that one must call him to the Torah asben Avraham Avinu, as for every convert. But four halakhic authorities ruled otherwise in a similar case – when the convert was the son of a convert. They ruled that in such a case, the son may refer to himself as “ploni the son of his father” instead of “ben Avraham Avinu”. (Rabbi Ouziel; Rabbi Felder in both of his books; Rabbi Lamm; Rabbi Walter Jacob). And if this is the case when the father is a convert, kal vahomer, how much the more so should it be the case if the father is a Jew from birth. Rabbi Ouziel bases his ruling on the Talmudic precedent cited above about Rabbi Shmuelbar Yehudah, who was called by the name of his father, who was also a convert.
Rabbi Gedaliah Fielder accepted Rabbi Ouziel’s view in both of his books. Rabbi Lamm gave the same ruling in his book on conversion on the basis of Rabbi Shmuel bar Yehudah, without citing Rabbi Ouziel. Rabbi Walter Jacob, a Reform rabbi, also prefers to refer to a daughter who converts along with her mother as the daughter of the mother, and not as the daughter of Avraham Avinu. If this is the law if the parent is a convert, kal vahomer, how much the more so should it be the case if the father is a Jew from birth.
9) Practical Halakhah
Therefore, generally speaking, in the case of a “righteous convert” who converts for the sake of becoming a Jew, without any connection to marrying a Jew, it is preferable to use the term ben Avraham Avinu for aliyot, ketubot and gittin, as has been the custom for 900 years and according to the ruling of many halakhic authorities. However, if there is a convert who prefers to be calledben Avraham so as not to emphasize his conversion, there are sufficient grounds for using this term instead.
On the other hand, if the convert is one who converted with his mother yet his father is a Jew, he may refer to himself as, for example, Reuven son of Yitzhak (the Jewish father) and Rivkah (the convert), based on Rabbi Ouziel and the other halakhic authorities who ruled this way in a similar case.
And may it be God’s will that we will succeed in treating all converts with the honor that befits a child of Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu who came to seek shelter under the wings of the Shekhinah[Divine Presence].
27 Tevet 5776
I would like to thank Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch who sent me a page from the book by Rabbi Wachs and Profs. Shamma Friedman and Tal Ilan who helped me locate a number of the books listed below.
I) The Names of Converts in Ancient and Medieval Times
Cohen — Shaye Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness, Berkeley, 1999, pp. 161-162
Figueras — Pau Figueras, “Epigraphic Evidence for Proselytism in Ancient Judaism”, Immanuel 24/25 (1990), pp. 194-206
Ilan — Tal Ilan, “New Ossuary Inscriptions from Jerusalem”, Scripta Classica Israelica XI (1991-1992), pp. 149-159
Leon — Harry Leon, The Jews of Ancient Rome, Philadelphia, 1960, pp. 254-256 and the Appendix
Naveh – Yosef Naveh, Al Pesifas Va’even, Tel Aviv, 1978, No. 88, pp. 127, 131
Prouser — Rabbi Joseph Prouser, Noble Soul: The Life and Legend of the Vilna Ger Tzedek Count Walenty Potocki, Gorgias Press, 2005
Roth-Gerson – Leah Roth-Gerson, Yehudei Suriya Bir’i Haketovot Hayevaniyot, Jerusalem, 2001, pp. 133-134, 176, 184-185, 311-312
Ya’ari – Avraham Ya’ari, Mehkirei Sefer, Jerusalem, 1958, pp. 245-255
II) The Names of Converts in Modern Responsa and Halakhic Works
Adler – Rabbi Binyamin Adler, Hanissuin K’hilkhatam, second edition, Jerusalem, 1985, p. 523
Allen — Rabbi Wayne Allen, Perspectives on Jewish Law and Contemporary Issues, Jerusalem, 2009, No. 18
Bulka — Rabbi Reuven Bulka, The RCA Lifecycle Madrikh, New York, 1995, pp. 60-61
Felder – Rabbi Gedaliah Felder, Yesodei Yeshurun, Part 2, p. 192 = Nahalat Tzvi, Part 1, p. 124; and also see p. 112
Frankel — Rabbi David Frankel, a responsum written for the Va’ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, 2001 (unpublished)
Harlow — Rabbi Jules Harlow, Likutei Tefillah: A Rabbi’s Manual,New York, 1965, pp. 74-75, 79
Jacob — Rabbi Walter Jacob, Questions and Reform Jewish Answers,New York, 1992, No. 115
Klein — Rabbi Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice,New York, 1979, p. 445
Lamm — Rabbi Maurice Lamm, Becoming a Jew, New York, 1991, pp. 186-188
Leff — Rabbi Barry Leff, “May a convert use a name other than Ploni ben/bat Avraham Avinu?”, www.rabbinicalassembly.org, CJLS, YD269:1, 2010a (approved by a vote of 11-6-1; with a concurring opinion by Rabbi Elliot Dorff and a dissenting opinion by Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz)
Ouziel – Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Ouziel, Mishpitei Ouziel,Mahadura Tinyana, Part II, Yoreh Deah, Vol. 1, No. 59
Polish — Rabbi David Polish, ed., Ma’agalei Tzedek: Rabbi’s Manual,New York, 1988, p. 208
Rank and Freeman — Rabbis Rafi Rank and Gordon Freeman, eds., Moreh Derekh: The Rabbinical Assembly Rabbi’s Manual, New York, 1998, Vol. II, J-23
Reisner — Rabbi Avram Reisner, Proceedings of the CJLS 1986-1990,New York, 2001, pp. 168, 174
Steinberg – Rabbi Moshe Steinberg, Hukat Hager, Jerusalem, 1971, p. 22
Wachs – Rabbi David Wachs, Sefer Taryag Mitzvot Hashalem,Lakewood,New Jersey, 2013, p. 545
Wagschal – Rabbi Shaul Wagschal, Sha’arei Bet Haknesset, Gateshead, 1986, p. 97 (quoted by Rabbi Allen, p. 92)
Washofsky — Rabbi Mark Washofsky, ed., Reform Responsa for the Twenty-First Century, Sh’eilot Ut’shuvot, Volume 2, 1999-2007, New York, 2010, pp. 85-91
Weiss – Rabbi Yitzhak Ya’akov Weiss, Responsa Minhat Yitzhak, Part I, No. 136[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
All four volumes of Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin’s Responsa In A Moment – Halakhic Responses to Contemporary Issues as well as other books by the author are available for purchase from the Schocken-JTS Press Bookstore.
David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.