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Parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy) 26:1-29:8

“All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you hearken
to the voice of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 28:2)

The furious global debate about nationalism, immigration, and refugees is really an argument about the answer to a simple question: who gets to be “in the club?” Parashat Ki Tavo provides a case study with a straightforward answer.

Parashat Ki Tavo opens with the offering of bikkurim, the first fruits of the land, and mandates the recitation of specific verses (one of only three times the Torah does so). It begins with this declaration: “I acknowledge this day before the Lord your God that I have entered the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to assign us.” (Deut. 26:3) That’s simple if you are born a Jew. But can a convert to Judaism (with no Jewish ancestors) profess a claim to an ancestral promise?

Maimonides (1137- 1204; preeminent medieval Spanish Jewish philosopher) provides an unequivocal response: yes. He cites the prophet Isaiah, who says converts should not consider themselves different from the people (Is. 66:3). Maimonides explains: Abraham, in his role as teacher of Torah to all humanity, becomes the father of all nations and of anyone who accepts God’s sovereignty and God’s Torah (Jerusalem Talmud Bikurim 1:4). In support he brings a proof-text from the Torah, stating, “One Torah and one judgement shall there be for you and for the convert among you.” (Num. 15:16)

Maimonides (and the rabbis of the Talmud) are clear: Judaism is not a biological, racial, or ethnic tradition. It is a spiritual inheritance. Anyone who consciously adopts that inheritance as their own is a legitimate heir to the entire history (and ancestry) of the tradition, a family member with full bragging rights.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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