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Shabbat Parashat Bo| 5767
Conversion of a Mature Child Under Thirteen - Based on Piskei Din Rabbaniim - vol. XVI, pp. 345-348
Case: A non-Jewish child, under the age of thirteen, underwent a geirut (conversion) process which is appropriate for a child but not an adult. Specifically, he did not declare his acceptance of (kabalat) mitzvot before a beit din. Was the geirut valid?
Ruling: We have to consider whether the age of thirteen has halachic relevance for a non-Jewish child who is converting or whether he has the rules of an adult once he is sufficiently mentally mature to make decisions.
Rashi (Nazir 29) says that the source that thirteen is the age of adulthood (for a boy) is the Torah’s description of both Shimon and Levi as ish (man) during the battle with Shechem. Chazal established that at that time, Levi, the younger of the two, was thirteen. In contrast, the Rosh (Teshuvot 16:1) says that it is a halacha l'Moshe miSinai (an uninterrupted tradition from Sinai) that one becomes obligated in mitzvot and is fit to make binding decisions at thirteen. According to many poskim (including the Chatam Sofer, YD 317), the Rosh’s source applies only to a Jew, whereas a non-Jew is treated as an adult when he can make reasonable decisions. According to Rashi and others, the age of thirteen is the cut-off for non-Jews as well.
However, perhaps even according to the Chatam Sofer’s position, geirut should be different, and a child’s geirut is done by the authority of beit din,without kabalat mitzvot, until thirteen. The logic would be that since he becomes Jewish as an immediate result of the geirut, it should follow the rules of a Jew. In describing the circumstances under which beit din will decide to convert a child, a few possibilities are given. One is when the child’s parent(s) requests beit din to do so. Tosafot Shantz (Ketubot 44a) and others give the example of an older child who asks beit din to do so. That example shows that even for a child whose actions and decisions are of the nature that can be taken seriously, the process used for the geirut is still one of a minor.
There is logic to say that regarding milah (circumcision), which is a preliminary step in the geirut of a male, we should apply the rules of a non-Jew to the mature child under thirteen. This is because milah is done when the child still remains non-Jewish. However, the Ritva (Ketubot 11a) says that even in regard to milah the authority of beit din is employed even for a child with understanding. The logic is apparently that any process which is involved in turning the child into a Jew, whether immediately or after another process, employs the rules of a Jew.
Therefore, the geirut in question was a valid one. The child has, according to the opinions we accept, the opportunity to reject the geirut done on his behalf. This needs to be done right after he becomes thirteen, before he acts in a manner that indicates that he is interested in continuing to be a Jew.
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