The passage in Yevamot 46a-47b is the locus classicus tor the procedures to be adopted when a Gentile is admitted into the Jewish fold as a proselyte. Of the procedures discussed two are debated—circumcision and immersion in the ritual bath, the mikveh. As finally established, a male proselyte is required to be circumcised before his admission and he must have immersion, while a female proselyte requires immersion alone, but there is considerable prior discussion regarding these requirements.
From the historical point of view, there was no such thing as conversion to Judaism in the Biblical period. The Biblical ger, ‘sojourner’, is the foreigner who throws in his lot with the people of Israel, sojourning with them on a permanent basis and enjoying equal rights with the homeborn. But from early post-Biblical times the ger is the person converted to Judaism. It is consequently assumed in the Rabbinic literature that whatever conversion procedures were to be adopted belonged in the law right from the beginning, hence the search by the Rabbis for the Biblical warrant for these procedures. Three opinions are mentioned in the Tannaitic sources quoted in our passage: that for a male proselyte circumcision on its own is sufficient; that immersion on its own is sufficient; that both circumcision and immersion are required.
Our passage opens with a Baraita which reads: ‘If a proselyte has been circumcised but has not had immersion: R. Eliezer says: He is a proselyte [i.e. his is a valid conversion]. For thus do we find that our forefathers [at the time of the Exodus, who, as it were, became ‘converted’] were circumcised but had no immersion [thus proving that immersion is not essential]. If a proselyte has had immersion but has not been circumcised: R. Joshua says: He is a proselyte. For thus do we find that our mothers [the females at the time of the Exodus] had immersion but were [obviously] not circumcised. But the Sages say: Whether he has had immersion but has not had circumcision or whether he has been circumcised but has not had immersion he is not a proselyte until he has had both circumcision and immersion’.
The Talmud now asks the obvious question: why does R. Joshua not derive it from the fathers and why does not R. Eliezer derive it from the mothers. As for this last question, the Talmud continues, you might argue that one cannot derive the possible from the impossible i.e. perhaps R. Eliezer holds , while it is true that the mothers became converted by having only immersion, this does not allow us to conclude that for a male proselyte immersion on its own is sufficient. With regard to females circumcision is meaningless since women do not have a foreskin to be removed by circumcision. For men who do have a foreskin circumcision is required and either immersion may not be required at all or, if required, only in addition to circumcision. But this cannot be since we have another Baraita from which it emerges that R. Eliezer does derive the possible from the impossible.
This Baraita reads: ‘R. Eliezer says: How do we know that the Paschal lamb of the later generations can only be brought from non-sacred animals [i.e. and not from a ‘second tithe’ animal; an animal bought with the money with which the ‘second tithe’ had been redeemed and brought to Jerusalem, see Deuteronomy 14: 22-27]? The word Pesah (Paschal lamb) is mentioned in Scripture in connection with the Exodus [i.e. when the Paschal lamb was offered in Egypt, Exodus 12: 21-28] and in connection with the generations [i.e. in connection with all the other Paschal lambs offered later in the Temple]. Just as the Paschal lamb at the time of Exodus could only have been brought from non-sacred animals [since, at that time, there were no ‘second tithe’ animals; the laws of the ‘second tithe’ only coming into operation when they came into the Holy Land] so, too, the Paschal lamb of the generations can only be brought from non-sacred animals. Said R. Akiba to him: Can one then derive the possible from the impossible? He replied: Even though it was then impossible it is still a powerful indication and one can learn from it’. That is to say, we see from the Paschal lamb offered in Egypt, the prototype of all subsequent Paschal lambs, that it was non-sacred, since there were no sacred animals at that time. Are we justified in arguing that since the prototype was a non-sacred animal the law must be the same for all subsequent Paschal lambs or can it rather be argued that if there had been sacred animals in Egypt they might well have been allowed to choose these animals as the Paschal lamb? R. Akiba holds that we are not justified in deriving the possible from the impossible but R. Eliezer states explicitly that we can derive the possible from the impossible. Since this is R. Eliezer’s principle, he should have been ready to derive from the mothers that immersion on its own suffices even though, in the case of the mothers, circumcision was impossible whereas in the case of males circumcision is possible.
The Talmud, therefore, concludes that indeed both authorities, R. Eliezer and R. Joshua, agree that since the possible can be derived from the impossible it follows from the case of the mothers that immersion on its own suffices even for a male proselyte. The debate between R. Eliezer and R. Joshua concerns the case of a male proselyte who has been circumcised but has not had immersion. R. Eliezer holds that in that case circumcision on its own is sufficient whereas R. Joshua holds that immersion is still required. Thus, it is now suggested, when R. Joshua states that immersion on its own is sufficient this opinion is not disputed by R. Eliezer.
The Talmud now proceeds to examine R. Joshua’s view that circumcision on its own is not sufficient. Why does R. Joshua not derive that it is sufficient from the case of the fathers who were circumcised but had no immersion, as does R. Eliezer? The reply is given that R. Joshua holds that the fathers were not only circumcised but they had immersion as well (i.e. and, as we have established, we learn from the case of the mothers that this is sufficient even on its own). How does R. Joshua know that the fathers had immersion? It is possible, states the Talmud, that R. Joshua derives it from the verse: ‘Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments’ (Exodus 19: 10). This was, evidently, the purification rite for the purpose of enabling the people to be in a state of purity from seminal emission (see verse 15) when God spoke to them at Sinai. Now in the ordinary case of seminal emission purity is effected by immersion alone (Leviticus 15: 16). Thus there is an a fortiori argument: If immersion is required even where washing of the garments is not required, how much more is immersion required where even the garments have to be washed. Since the fathers were required to wash their garments they were obviously required to have immersion, which shows that, as R. Joshua holds, the fathers did have immersion. But this argument only holds good if the washing of the garments was a purification rite. If that were so then, indeed, the a fortiori would apply. But it is possible that the instruction to wash the garments had nothing to do with purification but was simply an instruction for them to see to it that their garments were clean. The proof, therefore, that the fathers had immersion, according to R. Joshua, is from the verse: ‘And Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people’ (Exodus 24: 8). ‘We have a tradition that wherever sprinkling is required there immersion, too, is required.’
To round of this section of the discussion, the Talmud observes, until now we have been assuming as axiomatic that, as R. Joshua states, the mothers had immersion. What proof is there for this (since the verse regarding ‘sprinkling’ may refer only to the men, Tosafists)? The reply is that it is a matter of commonsense (sevara) i.e. it is quite obvious that the women must have had immersion and no special verse is required for the purpose. This is because if the mothers did not have immersion (and circumcision is inapplicable to them) how did they ‘enter under the wings of the Shekhinah’? That is to say, some ritual must have been required and it can only have been immersion.
We now have three opinions: R. Eliezer holds that either circumcision or immersion on its own suffices; R. Joshua holds that only immersion, not circumcision, on its own suffices; the Sages hold that both circumcision and immersion are required and neither suffices on its own for males. The ruling is quoted of the third century, Palestinian Amora, R. Hiyya bar Abba, in the name of R. Johanan: ‘He is not a proselyte until he has had circumcision and immersion’. The Talmud objects that this ruling is superfluous since the established ruling always follows the majority opinion against that of an individual so that we would, in any event, follow the opinion of the Sages, the majority opinion. To this the reply is given that the view quoted in the Baraita in the name of the ‘Sages’ (implying that it is a majority opinion) is, in fact, only the view of R. Jose. Consequently, R. Johanan has to state explicitly that this opinion is followed even though it, too, is only a minority opinion. In order to demonstrate that the opinion of the Sages’ is actually that of R. Jose another Baraita is quoted.
This Baraita reads: ‘If one [a man who claims that he has been converted to Judaism] comes and says: “I have been circumcised but have not had immersion” he should be immersed and that is that [i.e. there is no need to verify that his circumcision has been carried out for the purpose of conversion since immersion on its own suffices for the conversion to be valid]. These are the words of R. Judah. R. Jose says: He should not be immersed [before there has taken place a token letting of the blood as the ritual circumcision which R. Jose deems essential, Rashi]. Consequently, it is permitted to have a proselyte immersed on the Sabbath. These are the words of R. Judah. [Since R. Judah holds that immersion on its own is sufficient he must also hold that circumcision on its own is sufficient. Hence, if a proselyte has been circumcised as a conversion ritual the subsequent immersion has no significance and can be performed even on the Sabbath]. R. Jose says: He may not be immersed. [Since, according to R. Jose both circumcision and immersion are essential the immersion has great significance in changing the status of the man from that of Gentile to Jew and such a significant act of metakken , ‘putting right’, may not be carried out on the Sabbath]. Thus it can be seen that R. Jose holds that both circumcision and immersion are required and the identification of the ‘Sages’ with R. Jose has been established.
The Talmud now proceeds to analyse this second Baraita. R. Judah states that it follows from his first ruling that the immersion can take place even on the Sabbath. But, the Talmud asks the conclusion is so obvious that it is hard to see why R. Judah has to draw it explicitly: ‘Surely it is obvious for since R. Judah holds that one is sufficient it follows that where the proselyte has been circumcised in our presence [i.e. where we know that the circumcision has been carried out for the purpose of conversion] he can be immersed on the Sabbath. Why, then, is it necessary for R. Judah to say: “Consequently”?’ It is at this stage assumed that since R. Judah holds that immersion on its own is sufficient. He also holds that circumcision on its own is sufficient. Since this is the case, it is quite obvious that where there has been a proper circumcision for conversion purposes the immersion has no significance and can be carried out on the Sabbath. To this the reply is given that the conclusion is by no means obvious and we would not draw it had R. Judah himself not done so. We might have supposed that while R. Judah does hold that immersion on its own suffices it does not follow that he holds that circumcision on its own suffices. Hence we might have supposed that the immersion is an essential requirement, even after a proper circumcision had taken place and, as such, mould be forbidden on the Sabbath. Therefore, R. Judah has to add his ‘Consequently’ to demonstrate that he holds circumcision on its own is sufficient.
The Talmud now subjects R. Jose’s ‘Consequently’ to a similar analysis. Why does R. Jose have to draw his conclusion explicitly? For since R. Jose holds, as above, that both circumcision and immersion are essential it follows automatically that the immersion is of high significance and, as such, cannot be carried out on the Sabbath. To this the reply is given that if R. Jose had not stated it explicitly we might have supposed that according to R. Jose it is circumcision that is determinative. It is possible to understand R. Jose’s demand for the token blood-letting as applying only where the original circumcision had not been performed for the purpose of conversion. But where it has been performed for that purpose, we might have supposed, R. Jose would hold it to be sufficient and hence the immersion after the circumcision would have no significance and may be performed on the Sabbath. By his ‘Consequently’ R. Jose informs us of his true opinion, which is that both circumcision and immersion are essential and hence the immersion cannot be carried out on the Sabbath.
An actual case of conversion is now recorded. Rabbah (third to fourth century Babylonian Amora) states that the case came before R. Hiyya Beribbi (early third century Palestinian Amora). R. Joseph (Rabbah’s contemporary) said that the case came before R. Oshea Beribbi (i.e., as is clear from the discussion, R.Oshea was present together with R. Hiyya) and R. Safra (another contemporary of Rabbah) said that the case came before R. Oshea son of R. Hiyya (i.e. he, too, was present). The case was of a proselyte who had been circumcised (in the proper manner for conversion) but had not had immersion. The teachers said to him: ‘Wait here until tomorrow and we will see to your immersion’. On this the Talmud comments that three rulings can be deduced from the episode. We can deduce that three persons are required to supervise the conversion (constituting a court). We can deduce that both circumcision and immersion are required. And we can deduce that the immersion of a proselyte cannot take place at night (otherwise why did they tell him to wait until the daytime?). But, the Talmud, asks, why not deduce, too, that the ‘court’ for conversion has to be composed of ‘experts’ (mumehin, men mho have been officially ordained) since these three teachers were ‘experts’? No, the Talmud replies, it may have been purely coincidental that the three happened to be experts but the ‘court’ can be composed of any three men. The verse is then quoted: ‘One law and one ordinance shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you’ (Numbers 15: 16). Here the term ‘ordinance’ (mishpat) is used in association with the ‘stranger’ (ger = ‘proselyte’). Now in a civil case three judges are required. Hence the saying is quoted of R. Johanan: ‘A proselyte requires three since the term mishpat is used’.
A Baraita is now quoted: ‘If one comes along and declares: “I am a proselyte” I might have thought that he is accepted [without requiring the conversion procedures of the token blood-letting and immersion] therefore Scripture states: “find if a stranger [ger] sojourns with thee” (Leviticus 19: 53)—“with thee” means only if he is known to thee [i.e. his own word that he has been converted is not accepted]. How do I know [that he is accepted forthwith] if he comes along with witnesses [who testify that he has been properly converted]? Because Scripture states: “And if a stranger . . . in thy land” [i.e. in the Holy Land]. How do I know that this applies even outside the Land? Because Scripture states: “sojourn with thee”, wherever he is with thee. Since this is the case why does Scripture state “in thy land”? To teach you that in thy land he is obliged to provide proof [that he has been properly converted] but outside the land he is not obliged to provide proof. These are the words of R. Judah. But the stages say: Whether it is in the land or outside the land he is obliged to produce proof.’ Thus far the Baraita, which presents a number of difficulties now to be considered.
The first difficulty is why a Scriptural text is required to teach that the man is believed where he has witnesses. The Talmud asks: Is a verse required for where he has witnesses? After all the Torah always accepts the testimony if two witnesses and we would know that he has to be accepted forthwith even if there were no Scriptural verse. The Talmud replies that, indeed, if he brings along witnesses who testify that he has been properly converted, no verse is required and we would know of our own accord that he is accepted. The verse is required where the witnesses testify that they had heard that he had been converted by such-and-such a court. Here their testimony is only on hear-say and we might have supposed that such testimony is not accepted. Hence the verse is required to teach that he is accepted even where the testimony is one of hear-say. (That is to say, the verse informs us that for purposes of conversion even hear-say testimony, usually rejected, is here accepted).
The next difficulty raised by the Talmud is that the Baraita appears to use “with thee” for two different derivations: 1) that he must be known to be a proper convert before he is accepted; 2) that he is accepted outside the Holy Land. But the general principle is that one cannot use the same Scriptural verse for two different purposes. The reply is, there is another Scriptural ‘with thee’ (Leviticus 25: 47). Thus there are two verses, not one, and two rulings can be derived, one from each.
The final clause of the Baraita is now examined. R. Judah has derived from ‘in thy land’ that proof of conversion is only required in the Holy Land but elsewhere any man can come along to claim that he has been converted to Judaism and his word is accepted without him having to produce any proof. The logic of this is that, in the Holy Land, where there are advantages in being a Jew, a Gentile might pretend that he has been converted whereas outside since there are no material advantages why would a man claim to have been converted unless it was true. The Sages, however, derive from Scripture that proof of conversion is required in all cases. In that case, the Talmud asks, how will the Sages understand the reference to ‘in thy land’? To this the reply is given that, according to the Sages, the meaning of the verse is ‘even in thy land’ and its purpose is to teach us that conversions can take place even in the Holy Land. For it might have been argued that no conversions at all may take place in the Holy Land since there is always the possibility that the proselyte is not sincere, only converting in order to enjoy the ‘land flowing with milk and honey’. And even ‘nowadays’ when the goodness of the Land is no longer with us, there may still be the ulterior motive, if the man is poor, that, as a Jew, he will enjoy the various benefits enjoyed by the poor there, that is, the gleanings (Leviticus 19: 9); the forgotten sheaf (Deuteronomy 24: 19); the corner of the field (Leviticus 19: 9); and the poor man’s tithe (given every third year). Hence ‘in thy land’ teaches us that would-be proselytes are accepted for conversion even in the Holy Land and suspicions of their insincerity are not to be entertained.
The Talmud now records a further ruling of R. Hiyya bar Abba in the name of R. Johanan, according to which proof of conversion is required both in the Holy Land and outside it. To this the Talmud objects, what need is there for this ruling we would know that it is the law from the general principle that the majority opinion is always followed and in the Baraita this opinion is that of the Sages, in a majority against R.Judah. The reply given is that R. Judah’s argument is particularly strong in that his interpretation of the verses seems more convincing and we might have supposed that an exception is here made to the general rule and a minority opinion, that of R. Judah, accepted. Hence it was necessary to state the ruling explicitly.
Another Baraita is now quoted which reads: ‘And judge righteously between a man and his brother, and the stranger (ger) that is with him’ (Deuteronomy 1: 16). From this verse (which is understood as implying that the acceptance of proselytes into the fold is a matter of ‘judgement’) R. Judah deduced that a proselyte who has been converted by a court is a proselyte (i.e. his conversion is valid) but one converted of his own accord (without the conversion procedures supervised by the court) is no proselyte (his conversion is invalid). The story is told of a man who came before R. Judah saying: ‘I was converted of my own accord’. R. Judah said to him: ‘Have you witnesses?’ (that the conversion was of his own accord). ‘No’, he replied. ‘Have you children?’ ‘Yes’, he replied. Whereupon R. Judah said to him: ‘You are believed to disqualify yourself but you are not believed to disqualify your children’. To this the Talmud objects, did R. Judah really say that the man was not believed to disqualify his children? A Baraita is quoted in which R. Judah interprets the verse: ‘but he shall acknowledge the first-born’ (Deuteronomy 21: 17) as teaching that the father is given the right to ‘acknowledge’ to others the status of his son i.e. he is believed when he declares that his son is a first-born. He is also believed, if he is a priest, that his son is the offspring of a divorcee so that the son is disqualified from the priesthood. This shows that R. Judah does accept the testimony of a father to disqualify his children. Why, then, is the man who declares that he has not been properly converted not believed to disqualify his children? To this R. Nahman b. Isaac gives the reply that when R. Judah said to the man that he was not believed he intended it to mean: On your own testimony you are a Gentile and a Gentile is not believed (i.e. although a Jewish father is believed to disqualify his children this man’s testimony cannot possibly be accepted since the very testimony that is to disqualify the children automatically disqualifies the father from testifying). Ravina gives a different reply. What happened, according to Ravina, was this. R. Judah said to the man: ‘Have you children?’ ‘Yes’, he replied. ‘Have you grandchildren?’ ‘Yes’. Whereupon R. Judah declared: ‘You are believed to disqualify your children but not to disqualify your grandchildren’. This is because the verse speaks of children not of grandchildren. Thus, according to Ravina, the meaning of R. Judah’s ruling is (Tosafists) if the man had had only children and no grandchildren he is believed to disqualify his children. But if he had had grandchildren then since he is not believed to disqualify his grandchildren, he is not believed at all, not even to disqualify his children (since it is illogical to believe the father that his son is disqualified and yet treat that son’s children as qualified). A Baraita is quoted as in full accord with the opinion of Ravina. This Baraita reads: ‘R. Judah says: A man is believed with regard to his son who is a minor but not with regard to his grown-up son’. This was explained by R. Hiyya bar Abba in the name of R. Johanan that a minor does not mean literally a minor nor does a grown-up mean literally a grown-up. But a minor (katan, meaning ‘small’ or ‘young’) who has children is termed a grown-up whereas a grown-up who has no children is called a minor. Thus the Baraita, as interpreted by R. Hiyya bar Abba, lends support to Ravina.
There are two different solutions to the problem of how R. Judah can state that the man is not believed to disqualify his children and yet state that a father is believed to disqualify his children. R. Nahman b. Isaac’s solution is that while a Jewish father is believed to disqualify his children the man, on his own testimony, is a Gentile who is not believed. Ravina’s solution is that it is only where the man has grandchildren that he is not believed. Thus the practical difference between R. Nahman b. Isaac and Ravina is whether a man who, on his own testimony, seeks to disqualify his children is believed. The Talmud states that the law is in accordance with the view of R. Nahman b. Isaac. But, asks the Talmud, what of the Baraita which has lent support to the view of Ravina? To this the reply is given that the Baraita deals with ‘acknowledgement’ i.e. where a Jewish father testifies he is not believed where there are grand children (and R. Nahman b, Isaac would agree) but so far as a Gentile is concerned the Baraita would agree with R. Nahman.
There is now introduced a Baraita, dealing with more general conversion procedures. This reads: ‘When a proselyte, nowadays, comes to be converted, we say to him: “What have you seen that you wish to be converted? Do you not know that the people of Israel, nowadays, are tormented, persecuted, oppressed and confused and that they are visited by suffering?” If he replies: “I know this full well and am still unworthy” he is accepted at once. He is informed of some of the light precepts and some of the severe precepts and he is informed of the sin of withholding the gleanings; the forgotten sheaf; the corner of the field and the poor man’s tithe. And he is informed of the penalty for transgressing the precepts. We say to him: “Know that before you had arrived at this stage if you had eaten forbidden fat you would not have deserved the penalty of extirpation and if you had profaned the Sabbath you would not have been liable to the penalty of stoning. But now if you eat forbidden fat you deserve the penalty of extirpation and if you profane the Sabbath you are liable to the penalty of stoning” and just as we inform him of the penalties for transgressing the precepts so, too, we inform him of the reward for keeping the precepts. We say to him: “Know that the World to Come was made for no other purpose than for the righteous. And Israel at this time are able to receive neither an abundance of goodness nor an abundance of suffering”. We do not make excessive demands of him nor do we go into too much detail. If he accepts, he is at once circumcised. If any shreds, which prevent the circumcision being effective, remain, he is circumcised again. As soon as he is healed he is at once immersed, two scholars standing there at the time to inform him of some of the light precepts and some of the severe precepts. As soon as he emerges from the water he is an Israelite for all purposes of the law. In the case of a female proselyte, women place her in the water up to her neck, two scholars standing outside to inform her of some of the light precepts and some of the severe precepts. The same law applies to a proselyte and to an emancipated slave. A proselyte and an emancipated slave may only be immersed where a menstruant may be immersed (i.e. in a properly constituted ritual bath) and whatever constitutes an interposition (hatzitah between the body and the water) with regard to immersion (i.e. for the purpose eating sacred food) constitutes an interposition with regard to a proselyte, an emancipated slave and a menstruant. Thus far the Baraita on each clause of which the Talmud now comments.
On the first clause of the Baraita, that the prospective proselyte is to be informed of some of the light precepts and some of the severe precepts, the Talmud asks why has he to be informed of this and replies that it is to inform him of the heavy responsibility that he will have as Jew so that if he finds it too heavy he will give up his attempt at conversion. In other words he is to be discouraged from converting at first and this is said to be in accord with the saying of R. Helbo: ‘Proselytes are as hurtful to Israel as a scab’.
On the clause in the Baraita that the proselyte has to be informed about the laws of the gleanings and the other gifts to the poor, the Talmud asks why these laws in particular. To this the reply is given, because R. Hiyya bar Abba said in the name of R. Johanan: ‘A Noahide is killed for the theft of even less than a penny and it cannot be returned to its owner’. Rashi understands this rather cryptic section to mean that according to the law for Gentiles, the seven laws of the sons of Noah, there is the death penalty for stealing even less than a penny and such an amount, if stolen, has no monetary value so that to give it back to the victim is no ‘restoration’ to make good the theft. Consequently, when he knows about these laws he may not see their value and may look upon the poor as robbers for taking that which belongs to others. (Rashi adds that he may even kill the poor if he is not informed that what they take in this regard is a right given to them by the Torah).
On the next clause in the Baraita, which suggests that too heavy demands should not be made once it is evident that the proselyte is sincere, the Talmud quotes R. Eleazar (third century Palestinian Amora) who gave as the Scriptural proof for this: ‘And when she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, she left off speaking unto her’ (Ruth 1: 18).Naomi said to Ruth: We are forbidden to go beyond the Sabbath limits (but Ruth replied) ‘wither thou goest I will go’ (Ruth 1: 16). In our law men and women must not be closeted together: ‘where thou lodgest I will lodge’ (Ruth 1: 16). We have been commanded 613 precepts: ‘Thy people shall be my people’ (Ruth 1: 16). Idolatry is forbidden to us: ‘And thy God shall be my God’ (Ruth 1: 16). Four modes of death penalty were given to the Courts: ‘Where thou diest I will die’ (Ruth 1: 17). Two sets of graves were given to the Court (for different types of criminals): ‘And there will I be buried’ (Ruth 1: 17). There and then: ‘And when she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, she left off speaking unto her’. R. Eleazar’s homily is obviously intended to show that while the Court receiving a proselyte has, at first, to ‘pile on the agony’, if the proselyte still persists there must no longer be any attempt at discouragement. It is not Biblical exegesis that we have here—as if R. Eleazar is suggesting that the dialogue between Naomi and Ruth actually took place—but Midrash pure and simple.
On the next clause in the Baraita, which states that as soon as the proselyte accepts his obligations he is circumcised at once, the Talmud comments that the reason why this must be done ‘at once’ is because a mitvah must not be postponed.
A Mishnah (Shabbat 19: 6) is now quoted in order to elucidate the clause in the Baraita a regarding the ‘shreds’: ‘These are the shreds which render the circumcision invalid: Flesh which covers the greater part of the corona and he (a priest who has been circumcised in this invalid wag) is forbidden to eat terumah.’ R. Jeremiah b. Abba is quoted as saying in the name of Rav that it means flesh which covers the greater part of the height of the corona.
The Baraita states further that he is immersed ‘when he is healed’. The Talmud comments that the reason why he has to be healed before he is immersed is because the water irritates the wound.
The Baraita states that two scholars stand beside him. To this the Talmud objects that, as above, R. Hiyya bar Abba has said in the name of R. Johanan, that three, not two, persons must be present to constitute a ‘court’. The Talmud, replies that, indeed, when a tanna (the functionary who rehearsed Tannaitic sayings) repeated this Baraita in the presence of R. Johanan, the latter instructed him to emend the Baraita to read ‘three’ persons not ‘two’.
The Baraita states that as soon as the proselyte emerges from the mikveh he has the status of an Israelite for all purposes of the law. The Talmud is puzzled by this statement. Surely it is obvious that once the conversion procedures have been carried out in full he is a Jew and what is the meaning of ‘for all purposes’? To this the reply is given that even if he reverted later on to his former pagan state this not revoke the conversion retrospectively but he retains his status as a Jew. Therefore, if he betrothed a Jewish woman, even after he had returned to his former way of life, it is as if a Jewish apostate had betrothed a Jewish woman and the marriage is valid.
It can readily be seen that, while me have in this whole passage a kind of summary of the laws and procedures of conversion, these are not presented as in a Code of Law but in the dramatic way typical of the Babylonian Talmud in which material from different periods and different countries has been recast by the editors to form a complete literary unit.
 There is an element of artificiality in the whole argument here. Since in the case of R. Joshua it is said that he hold that immersion on its own is sufficient and yet circumcision on its own is not why is it obvious from the case of R. Judah? See the Tosafists to this section. It is probable that the final editors were fully aware of the artificiality of the argument and have only put it all together in this way in order to lead to the conclusion that it is R. Jose who holds both to be necessary and thus to lead on further to the ruling by R. Johanan.
 See Rashi and Tosafists that the same cannot be said about the requirement of three since if two are sufficient to form a ‘court’ for this purpose what need was there for R. Safra to state that a third person was present.
 Thus Rashi, another version, see notes of Vilna Gaon in the Vilna, Romm ed., “with you”, Leviticus 19: 34.
 This is the very same question raised above on the other ruling of R. Hiyya bar Abba in the name of R. Johanan. But here the same reply, that the ‘Sages’ are R. Jose cannot be given since there we have a statement of R. Jose but here, in the absence of such identification it has to be assumed that the ‘Sages’ are a number of scholars and hence in a majority.
 See Tosafists that the disqualification o the children is on grounds of mamzerut, ‘bastardly’, and R. Judah holds, contrary to the general opinion, that the child of a Gentile father and a Jewish mother is a mamzer, otherwise the children would not be disqualified as Gentiles since the mother was Jewish.
 The fact that these names occur frequently throughout is probably best accounted for by supposing that these two were known especially for their interest and expertise in the laws regarding conversion.
 M. Maimonides, Yad, Issurey Viah adds, in accordance with his general philosophical views, that before the proselyte is accepted he has to be informed of the main principles of the Jewish religion. For a comprehensive account of the laws of conversion see ET, vol. 6, pp. 626-649. For a full-scale treatment of Rabbinic attitudes to conversion see B. J. Bamberger: Proselytism in the Talmudic Period and W. F. Braude: Jewish Proselytising in the First Five Centuries, NY, 1940.
 See Bamberger and Braude, op. cit., that this saying of R. Helbo is late so that it is inadmissible to quote it, as is often done, as typical of the Rabbinic view, see the interesting comment of ‘Rabbi Abraham the Proselyte’ in Tosafists to Kiddushin 70b that the reason why proselytes are so hurtful to Israel is because they are so punctilious in their Jewish observances that they show up born Jews. R. Helbo was a third to early fourth century Babylonian Amora who emigrated to Palestine.
 This might mean that it is a mitzvah to arrange for people to be converted to Judaism. But it is also possible that the meaning here is, once the man is determined to be a Jew he has the mitzvah of circumcision and it is this mitzvah that must not be postponed.