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Why is a potential convert asked to join a community or else he can’t undergo conversion?

Question:

It is written in the Rambam (Laws of Forbidden Relations chap. 14, 2) that when the potential convert comes to convert “we notify him regarding a small number of weighty mitzvot and a small number of light mitzvot and we may not prolong this matter”. So we see that we should merely notify them regarding a small number of mitzvot and not to teach them the intricacies and finite details. And this is partly because we find written in the talmud (Sanhedrin 59) and codified in the Rambam (Laws of Kings 10, 9) that a non-Jew is forbidden to learn Torah and if he does so he is liable to death. This is also borne out from the gemara (Shabbat 31a) that we find that the great sage Hillel the elder taught the converts Torah only after he converted them and not before. Thus it is forbidden to teach them the intricacies of Jewish law until they have converted since prior to conversion they are considered completely as non-Jews. Thus, one who teaches them in such a manner is certainly causing them to sin. Also we find that it is forbidden to prolong this process since we do not wish to overly discourage and frighten them.
Moreover, teaches the Rambam there (ibid. 5) that if he accepts this we must convert him immediately and it is forbidden to delay this. Explains the Bet Yosef (268, 2) the reason for this that we are forbidden to delay a mitzva and must do it promptly. And writes the Rambam there that we should not be exacting on the convert and this clearly signifies that we should not give him a test to see how much he has memorized about Jewish law etc. And off course all the above mentioned is learned from the words of the Talmud (Yevamot 47a) and is brought in the Tur and the Jewish code of law the Shulchan Aruch (268, 2) as the undisputed halacha.
Additionally, we do not find anywhere in the Torah or talmud or the Rambam or the Shulchan Aruch that a convert must move to a Jewish community prior to conversion and on the contrary the Rambam himself writes (Laws of Kings 5, 7) that a Jew is allowed to live anywhere in the world that he wishes except for Egypt and off course this includes the converts as well since we must treat them as full fledged Jews in every way like it is written many times in the Torah (Lev. 16, 29, ibid. 18, 26, Numbers 15, 14, ibid, 15, 29). It follows that if one rejects a potential convert due to this he is acting contrary to halacha since we may not be overly exacting on them and overly discourage them or delay them as mentioned above since we are thereby delaying a mitzva without any halachic justification. Also we are thereby preventing the potential convert from studying Torah and doing mitzvot and thereby robbing from him his portion in the world to come.
Thus, in conclusion we find that according to Jewish law it is forbidden to teach potential converts the intricacies of Jewish law and likewise it is forbidden to draw out their conversion process for years. Also, one may not require them to be tested regarding this. And one may not obligate them to move to a Jewish community prior to conversion as a prerequisite. And all this stands in stark contrast to the tradition passed down to us from Mount Sinai as taught in the Talmud and the Rambam and the Jewish code of law the Shulchan Aruch.

Why then is a potential convert asked to join a community or else he can’t undergo conversion?

Answer:

While I am not aware of such a requisite, we must understand that the Bais Din that is doing the conversion, i.e. the Israeli Rabbanut, has to be confident that the conversion is done halachically correct, and that the conversion will be a successful one.

When a person converts, he has to accept to fulfill all of the biblical commandments, rabbinic injunctions and even the customs of the Jewish people. If he isn’t really serious about keeping all of the halachos, then the first condition of conversion- kabolas mitzvos has not been fulfilled. Nowadays unfortunately there are many conversions (conservative, reform etc.) that are done when the “convert” no intention of keeping all of the mitzvos. Additionally, statistically, a large percentage of converts who were serious and sincere in their conversion, revert back to their old way of life. Truthfully, a person that does not live in a Jewish community, does not have the needs that a Jewish person has, shul, mikvah, schools, kosher food, etc. will have a very hard time actually keeping the mitzvos. If the convert doesn’t have the communal, and emotional support it will be very hard for him to keep all of this up all on his own. (It was VERY hard on Avrohom Aveinu to be the only Jew around, and that is why he was awarded the term Avrom Hivri- that he was on one side and the whole world on the other.)  Therefore, although technically, the Bais Din make a person a ger if he claims that he is sincere, however from a practical angle, if he is going to find it too hard, which happens often, the convert will end up being a Jewish rasha, instead of a righteous gentile. Again, it is not a condition that is a requisite, but on the other hand this is the practical reason why they might want it.

Best wishes

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