Just as one cannot learn to drive, swim or perform surgery from reading a book, conversion candidates cannot understand how to experience Yom Tov by reading sefarim. Joining observant families for Yom Tov meals is an indispensable part of educating conversion candidates and helping them integrate into the Jewish community.
Cooking for and Inviting Nochrim for Yom Tov
However, there are considerable halachic challenges involved with extending such invitations. As is well known, the Torah (Shemot 12:16) permits us to cook on Yom Tov. The Torah presents this exception: “However, that which is done for eating purposes may be done for you (lachem).”
Chazal (Beitzah 20b) interprets the word “lachem” to teach us that we are permitted to cook “lachem” for Jews, but not for nochrim. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 512:1) codifies this rule as normative halacha—with no dissenting opinions voiced by the Shulchan Aruch or any of its commentaries. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 512:1) and Biur Halacha (ad. loc. s.v. Ein Mevashlim) agrees that cooking for a nochri on Yom Tov constitutes a Torah-level prohibition.
Chazal (Beitzah 21b) instituted that one is not permitted even to invite nochrim to a Yom Tov meal, lest one come to cook extra for him on Yom Tov. This rabbinic prohibition is also codified in the Shulchan Aruch (ad. loc.). Therefore, one who hosts candidates for conversion on Yom Tov should consult his or her rav for guidance. Minimally, the food served should be prepared before Yom Tov.
However, how can one host conversion candidates for Yom Tov without violating the rabbinic prohibition of inviting nochrim for a holiday meal?
Rav Michoel Zylberman cites various approaches to this issue, in an article archived at https://download.yutorah.org/2018/1065/918128.pdf. We shall present three of these solutions and suggest a new direction.
Solution Number One—Acquiring the Food on Behalf of the Nochri Guest
One solution is to cook all the food served to the nochri before Yom Tov and then arrange for the non-Jew to acquire that food halachically. This way, he is invited to eat his food, not the food belonging to his host. Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv is cited (in footnote 188, on page 21b of the Mossad HaRav Kook edition of the Rashba to Beitza) as recommending a similar solution. However, he requires informing the recipient of his acquisition.
Solution Number Two—Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach
Shulchan Shlomo (512:5) records that a rosh yeshiva consulted Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach about whether inviting a group of boys for meals on Yom Tov was appropriate, even though some of the boys were not Jewish, but were interested in converting. He responded that it was unnecessary to have the conversion candidates acquire their food before Yom Tov, as the concern that one may come to cook extra on behalf of a non-Jew is only relevant when extending an invitation for social reasons.
Interestingly, the Mishna Berurah (512:9) explains the permission to feed one’s nochri employees on this basis. Rav Auerbach argues that when inviting conversion candidates, one does so for educational purposes; therefore, the prohibition to invite nochrim for a Yom Tov meal does not apply.
Solution Number Three—Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz
Rav Zylberman cites Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz’s novel leniency in this matter. In addressing an individual who underwent milah before Shabbat, Teshuvot Binyan Tziyon (number 91) writes that such a person is no longer a full-fledged nochri—even though he is not yet a full-fledged Jew—and, therefore, may observe Shabbat. Based on this approach that a conversion candidate may have a slightly different status than a regular nochri, Rav Schwartz allows inviting conversion candidates for Yom Tov meals.
Rav Zylberman does not present a source for Rav Schwartz’s assertion that a conversion candidate enjoys a different halachic status than a nochri. However, the Maharsha (to Shabbat 31a) supports this practice, noting the Gemara’s recording of Hillel teaching Torah to conversion candidates pre-conversion.
As conversion candidates learn Torah pre-milah, inviting them for Yom Tov meals pre-conversion should be permitted. Indeed, hosting conversion candidates for Yom Tov meals is part of their learning Torah and how to live as a Jew.
Significantly, the Gemara in Shabbat 31a describes Hillel as “converting them” (gayarei), which the Maharsha interprets as teaching Torah before the formal conversion. Thus, accepting nochrim as candidates is a significant step toward conversion and changes their status regarding the prohibition to teach them Torah. The same applies—Rav Schwartz believes—regarding the ban on inviting conversion candidates for Yom Tov meals.
A nochri preparing for conversion has cast his lot with the Jewish people. His status is similar to the nochrim described in Avoda Zara 10b and 17a, who attained a special place in Olam Haba just for casting their lot with the Jewish people, even though they did not formally convert.
A New Suggestion—The Rabbinic Prohibition Does Not Apply in Case of Mitzvah
Chazal forbids bathing in hot water on Shabbat (Rambam Hilchot Shabbat 22:2). Nonetheless, by the 19th century, Rav Chaim of Sanz (Teshuvot Divrei Chaim, Orach Chayim 2:26) notes that the common practice was for women to immerse even on Shabbat evenings in fully heated mikvaot, with the approval of the leading rabbinical authorities. One reason to justify this practice is that the gezerah was not issued in the case of a mitzvah.
Similarly, we suggest that the rabbinic prohibition to invite nochrim for a Yom Tov meal does not apply to a mitzvah. Inviting conversion candidates for a Yom Tov meal is part of the mitzvah to accept geirim. When circumcising a convert, one recites a bracha, including the phrase, “Asher kideshanu be’mitzvotav ve’tzivanu lamul et ha’geirim,” (Shabbat 137b). The word “ve’tzivanu” (and you have commanded us) indicates a mitzvah to perform an appropriate conversion. Similarly, the Gemara (Yevamot 47b) states that beit din should conduct a conversion ceremony as soon as the candidate is ready, since “we do not delay mitzvah performance.”
Tosafot HaRosh (to Shabbat 137b) wonders what mitzvah is fulfilled when circumcising a convert. He answers, “We are commanded to love converts, and it is impossible (for a male) to convert without milah.” Therefore, the Rosh believes accepting geirim is part of the mitzvah of ahavat hageir (loving the geir).
Rav Yerucham Fishel Perlow (commentary to Rabbeinu Saadiah Gaon’s Sefer Hamitzvot, end of Aseh 19) suggests that the mitzvah to accept the convert is included in the mitzvah of ahavat Hashem (loving Hashem). The Sifrei (Vaetchanan, Piska 32) supports this idea:
“You shall love God, your Lord, project love of Him onto other people as your father, Avraham (did), as it states (Bereishit 12:5), ‘And the souls that they made in Charan.’” If the whole world attempted to create one small mosquito and give it life, they would not be able to. (How, then, did Avraham “make” people?) Rather, this teaches us that Avraham Avinu converted them and took them under the wings of the Shechinah.
Conclusion—It Is Permissible to Invite Conversion Candidates for a Yom Tov Meal
In my opinion, one may rely on Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Gedalia Schwartz, who rule that the rabbinic prohibition to invite a nochri for a Yom Tov meal does not apply to a conversion candidate. The alternative solutions to facilitate such invitations are awkward and cumbersome. One should consult his or her rav to see if he concurs.
However, as stated earlier, one must undoubtedly cook all the food to be served at such a meal before Yom Tov to avoid violating a Torah-level prohibition.
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.