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Why is a soon-to-be convert NOT ALLOWED to observe the Shabbat?

  

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Rabbi Shlomo Chein: Welcome. I'll be with you in a moment...what's on your mind?

Fruity: is it true that a person that is in the process of becomming a Ger - is NOT ALLOWED by all means to keep shabbta?

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: That is correct. Until he is a Jew he cannot keep Shabbat. THerefore, he is supposed to make sure to break the Shabbat at least once during the Shabbat. Many soon-to-be-converts carry something in their pocket, or turn on a light in their room etc. - while in public they keep Shabbat

Fruity: why is that the case?

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: Because only a Jew may keep the Shabbat. Shabbat is a special gift of G-d's exclusively to the Jewish people, and no one else may keep it.

Fruity: wow]

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: indeed

Fruity: say a soon to be convert is out in public say a bar on shabbat - and is seen by a member of the Shul where he prays - isnt that a chillul Hashem?

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: that is why he is supposed to break Shabbat secretly, as in the examples i gave above

Fruity: okay i see.

Fruity: thank you so much

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: sure

Ed. note: Also read "Why should I choose an Orthodox conversion?"

All names, places, and identifying information have been changed or deleted in order to protect the privacy of the questioners. In order to preserve authenticity, the chat sessions have been posted with a minimum of editing. Please excuse typographical errors, missing punctuation, and/or grammatical mistakes which naturally occur in the course of informal chat sessions.

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COMMENTS

This is interesting halakha

Posted by: William Haworth, West Vancouver, BC, Canada on Sep 18, 2005

So to avoid chillul h' a non-Jew when participating shabbos observance should break the shabbos in private. My question is that won't it make it seem that he is a Jew to those who don't know better? And couldn't it lead to Jews being offended by assuming wrongly that he is pretending to be a Jew when he is not? Is that not also a problem? If so, how can it be avoided? And if it were made obvious that he were not a Jew, then why would there be chillul h' in his breaking the shabbos in public?

Editor's Comment

Rabbi Chein responds: The point in the conversation wasn't really to avoid Chilul Hashem. The point was to devise a way in which a prospective convert can begin learning how to observe Shabbat while at the same time not breaking the law that only a Jew may keep Shabbat. The issue with the bar was brought up as a side point, and my answer was (meant) to point out that a prospective convert in that stage of the game should not be in a bar on Shabbat—and he should only be breaking it in private. Naturally there are different stages in the conversion process, and at the early stages one would not know how to observe Shabbat, and one would probably not be ready to observe Shabbat. However, there comes a point when the rabbinical court will want the prospective convert to begin integrating with a religious community so he can get accustomed to what life is like as a Jew. In my conversation I was assuming that was the stage we were talking about, and it was regarding this type of individual that I was referring to. At this stage you don't want a prospective convert to stick out for three reasons: 1) His sensitivity. You can't ask one to blend in and stick out. It is very uncomfortable for any newcomer to integrate in a religious community, and you don't want to make it more uncomfortable by having him break Shabbat in public and stick out like a sore thumb. (Sure the rabbi will know his situation and won't count him in the Minyan etc., but it is unfair to make him announce it or have him be in your face about it). 2) Practicality. As a Chabad Rabbi we are used to doing things different than the people around us, which often makes us stick out. Many times we WISH people would only ask for an explanation for our behavior because we are capable of offering a rational, and many times beautiful, answer. The reality is people DON'T ask, rather they draw their own conclusions and begin to stereotype (Askmoses plays a tremendous role here by giving people an opportunity to ask, and therefore receive correct answers). The same is true with a prospective convert in a religious community. The reality is not everyone can and/or will ask him. People will just draw their own conclusions and come to judgments about him and the community. Therefore he is expected to keep the standard of the community - but at the same time break Shabbat at least once a Shabbat in private because he is not yet a Jew. (Incidentally, I can just see myself getting a question on Askmoses something similar to the following: I was in an orthodox synagogue and I saw a man (not knowing he was the prospective convert) talking on his cell phone in the hall way, and the Rabbi walked by and did not say a word. I am not religious, and I am not part of that community; I was just passing by, and I couldn't believe my eyes). 3) Most importantly: defeating the purpose. The point of his integrating in a religious community is to get accustomed to the complexities of day to day Judaism. In Halachah there are many things we are forbidden to do on Shabbat, just so we don't get to used to something, and then come to accidentally breaking an actual law. Similarly regarding the laws of milk and meat we find stricter precautions than when dealing with actual Treif—because we are accustomed to eating milk and meat separately, we have a lifestyle in which they are permitted, and so we can easily make a mistake if we are not extremely careful and used to doing the right thing. Judaism is complex. There are many laws, and various situations one can find himself in. It is therefore not enough to just read a book, rather a person must get real life practice of being Jewish before actually becoming Jewish. Now imagine if someone is scheduled to convert on Monday; how can we expect him to still be driving to Shul that Shabbos!

How can a non-jew keep the shabbat?

Posted by: Daniela on Dec 02, 2005

While I think he should decide for himself to do some little work on shabbat, as a gesture of humility and acknowledgement that he does not yet belong to the Jewish people, I don't think it would change much if he didn't. How can a non-jew keep the shabbat? Suppose a non-jew does absolutely no forbidden activity for the day, having stocked the kitchen with cooked food and the bathroom with tissues. Good, he/she gets some rest :) But that doesn't mean keeping the shabbat, since by definition this mitzvah is for jews only. Thanks in advance for explaining the issue, and let me compliment the editor who with enormous sensitivity and intelligence has sketched the feelings of the man who is asking to convert, and to whom, perhaps, we too often don't pay enough attention. THANKS.

Editor's Comment

A person who is extremely busy and therefore neglects to eat on a particular day has not fasted -- he has just not eaten! Similarly, a non-Jew who happened not to do any work on Shabbat has not transgressed the prohibition against a Gentile observing the Shabbat.

RELATED CATEGORIES

Jewish Identity » Conversion

Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Shul
(Yiddish) Synagogue.
Hashem
"The Name." Out of respect, we do not explicitly mention G-d's name, unless in the course of prayer. Instead, "Hashem" is substituted.
Ger
A convert to Judaism.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.