Bikkurim Brought by A Convert

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

  

The mishnayot towards the beginning of Masekhet Bikkurim discuss the component of the mitzva of bikkurim known as "keri'a," or "mikra bikkurim." In addition to traveling and bringing the fruits to the Temple, the owner must recite the passage from Ki Tavo known as "Arami Oved Avi" (Devarim 26:5-10). There are certain individuals who, though they own land and bring their first fruit as bikkurim, cannot recite this parasha. One such person is a convert, who, the mishna establishes, is "meivi ve-eino korei" (brings but does not recite).

The mishna (Bikkurim 1:4) disqualifies a ger (convert) from keri'a because he cannot recite the verse (Devarim 26:3) which refers to the land which God "swore to our ancestors to give to us" ("asher nishbata la-avoteinu latet lanu"). Obviously, a convert's ancestors were not included in the oath, and thus he cannot make such a reference to the land of Israel. Though the mishna issues a blanket disqualification, several other sources indicate exceptions. For example, the Tosefta claims that descendants of the "Keini" family (whom Moshe invited to dwell amongst the Jewish people) may indeed recite this passage, since they were included in this oath by virtue of Moshe's invitation that they join the Jewish destiny which stemmed from that oath.

This disqualification of a ger from mikra bikkurim is not universally accepted. The Yerushalmi (Bikkurim 1:4) cites the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda that any ger, regardless of his particular origin, may recite the bikkurim text, since Avraham was designated as "the father of all nations" (Bereishit 17:5), and hence as the father of all future converts. Seen from this perspective, every ger is included within that original oath to Avraham. Several Rishonim adopt this position. The Ri (cited by Tosafot in Bava Batra 81a) allows a ger to recite "Arami oved avi;" similarly, Ri allows a ger to recite birkat ha-mazon, even though he must refer to the land "which You bequeathed to our ancestors" ("asher hinchalta la-avoteinu"). The Rambam (Hilkhot Bikkurim 4:3) likewise rules that a ger can recite the bikkurim passage, following Rabbi Yehuda's position cited in the Yerushalmi.

One question may be posed against the Rambam's position from the subsequent mishna in Bikkurim. The mishna there rules that a woman cannot recite the mikra bikkurim, since she cannot recite the verse (26:10) that concludes with the phrase, "I have brought the first fruit from the land which you have given me" ("heiveiti et reishit peri ha-adama asher natata li"). Since women were not included in the original distribution of the land, this phrase is inappropriate. Why shouldn't the same concern apply to a ger? Why does the mishna disqualify him solely on the basis of the phrase in verse 3 - "asher nishbata la-avoteinu latet lanu" - and why does the Rambam ultimately rule that a ger can recite mikra bikkurim, whereas a woman may not?

The answer to this question may lie in the difference between the exclusion of a ger and that of a woman. A ger is someone who can conceivably acquire inheritance, but was not included in the original promise of Eretz Yisrael. As the Ramban in Bava Batra (81a) writes, "They are children of Avraham [based on Rabbi Yehuda's theory] and therefore deserve a share in Eretz Yisrael; however, the land was distributed only to the actual people who left Egypt." By contrast, a woman was included in that original promise, but is technically excluded from the inheritance process. Hence a ger can recite "ha-adama asher natata li" but cannot claim "asher nishba la-avoteinu." Rabbi Yehuda's concept – that Avraham is considered the father of all converts - validates this phrase and allows for its recitation by a ger. Conversely, a woman can recite "asher nishba la-avoteinu" but is completely disqualified from reciting the phrase, "ha-adama asher natata li," and she therefore cannot recite the entire passage.

A more vexing issue in the Rambam stems from an internal contradiction within the halakhot regarding a ger. While allowing him to recite mikra bikkurim, the Rambam disqualifies him from reciting "viduy ma'aserot." The very next section in Ki Tavo describes the process conducted every third and sixth year of the shemitta cycle, by which a person concludes the distribution of all his terumot and ma'aserot, and issues a declaration of his fulfillment of the mitzva. The final verse of the declaration reads, "Look down from Heaven and bless Your people, the Jewish nation, and the land which You gave us, just as You swore to our ancestors" ("Hashkifa mi-me'on kodshekha min ha-shamayim u-varekh et amekha et Yisrael ve-et ha-adama asher natata lanu ka'asher nishbata la-avoteinu"). Since a ger cannot declare, "the land which You gave us, just as You swore to our ancestors," he may not recite the entire passage. Why does the Rambam allow a ger to recite mikra bikkurim but not viduy ma'aserot?

The Kappot Temarim (written by Maharil Chaviv and cited by the Mishneh la-Melekh in Hilkhot Bikkurim) distinguishes between the two passages. In the phrase in the bikkurim section, the Torah speaks of the future: "the land which God swore to our ancestors to give to us." Theoretically, this could refer to the final delivery of Eretz Yisrael during the days of Mashiach. A section of Yechezkel (end of chapter 47, as interpreted by the Midrash Rabba to Kohelet) determines that those who converted to Judaism during the final exile will indeed receive a share in Eretz Yisrael. Hence, a ger can recite the clause in mikra bikkurim, "the land which God swore to our ancestors to give to us." By contrast, the phrase in the passage of viduy ma'aserot can only be read as referring to the original distribution during the first entry to Eretz Yisrael - "the land which you GAVE us" ("asher natata lanu"), and a ger was certainly not included in that original allotment.

A different explanation might focus on the different function which each phrase plays within the overall passage. In mikra bikkurim, the questionable phrase appears before the formal declaration begins, when the owner presents his bikkurim to the kohen. At that point, he must proclaim that he is a resident of the land which God swore to our ancestors to deliver to us. As he is communicating with the kohen and, as a ger, sees himself as part of the community, the phrase is accurate. The phrase "to give to us" refers to the Jewish people, to which the kohen belongs and to which this ger has attached himself. Conversely, the phrase in the section of viduy ma'aserot appears towards the end of the confession, when the owner prays that God will bestow His mercy on "the land that He gave us as He swore to our ancestors." As the owner does not address another member of the Jewish community, but rather prays to God, his words must have precise historical accuracy; since the ger was not included in this oath, he cannot recite this passage.

A third difference might rest upon the subtle grammatical differences between the two phrases. The phrase in the bikkurim section accentuates the oath and employs the actual delivery as the modifier. The owner of the fruits recites, "I have come to the land WHICH GOD SWORE TO OUR ANCESTORS to deliver to us." The delivery of the land merely provides the content of the oath; the focus, however, is on the oath itself, rather than the delivery of the land. By aligning himself with our people and adopting Avraham as his ancestor, the ger incorporates himself in the oath. However, the phrase in viduy maaser stresses the delivery: "bless … the land which YOU GAVE US as you swore to our ancestors." Since the ger did not actually receive land in Eretz Yisrael (during its original distribution), he cannot make this claim.

This final distinction highlights an interesting difference between the declaration of bikkurim and viduy ma'aserot. In the latter instance, the individual avows his fulfillment of his personal obligation to tithe his crops. Hence, as a landowner, he focuses upon his ownership and personal benefit stemming from God's original oath. Mikra bikkurim is much more historical in its outlook – as evidenced by the elaboration of "Arami Oved avi" (familiar to us from the Pesach Haggada). The delivery of the first fruits is merely an opportunity for the owner to celebrate God's role in shaping Jewish history. As such, he returns to God's oath itself, rather than focusing on his personal benefit from it. A ger can therefore refer to this oath, even though he did not reap direct benefit.