Second Class Converts?
I am 28 years old, born in Italy to a Catholic family with Jewish origins on my father's side. I decided to become Jewish, and after a long process, I converted in Israel three years ago. To this day, those who know me call me the "Ger Tzedek" (righteous convert).
This is my problem! I hate this word "Ger!" I am Jewish just like any other Jew. I believe in every letter of my beloved Torah but I cannot understand how the Torah permits me to suffer so much. I even read that there are restrictions in appointing converts to certain leadership positions – just like in America where only someone born in the USA can become president. What does this mean? Is this proof that other Jews consider me a second class citizen?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
First of all, the Torah does not view you in any way whatsoever as a second class Jew. You are as much a Jew as Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah – who were all converts!
As for leadership positions, the fact is that I am also restricted, because – although I was born Jewish – I am not a priest (kohen), and am not descended from the royal line of King David.
Maimonides (Laws of Torah Study 3:1) explains:
Three crowns were conferred upon the Jewish People: the Crown of Torah, the Crown of Priesthood, and the Crown of Royalty. Aaron merited the Crown of Priesthood, as it says (Numbers 25:13), "And it will be an eternal covenant of priesthood for [Aaron] and his descendants after him." David merited the Crown of Royalty, as it says (Psalms 89:37), "His seed will continue forever, and his throne will be as the sun before Me." But the Crown of Torah is set aside, waiting and ready for each Jew, as it says (Deut. 33:4), "Moses taught us the Torah, it is an inheritance for the entire congregation of Jacob."
As proof of this principle, the great rabbis Shemaya and Avtalyon were converts. The greatest Talmudic sage, Rebbe Akiva, was descended from converts. And Onkelos, who wrote the Aramaic translation which is printed in virtually every Hebrew Bible, was himself a convert.
As for people calling you "Ger Tzedek," the Talmud clearly states (under the mitzvah of "onat devarim" – hurting others with words) that it is forbidden to remind a convert of his past. If somebody does so, you can gently point them to the sources, as recorded in the Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 63).
May your Jewish life be forever rich and sweet.
Regarding the convert who complained about being called "Ger Tzedek" (righteous convert).
I too am a "Jew by Choice" and my greatest dream is to be regarded as a "Ger Tzedek." Rather than bemoan one's fate, one should consider what an inspiration being a Ger can be to others who maybe take their heritage for granted. I now teach Hebrew school in addition to my regular job and I always tell my students that I "chose" to be a Jew. I hope a lifetime of learning and deeds will someday truly qualify me for the title of "Ger Tzedek!"