Today is the (postponed) fast of the 17th of Tammuz which commemorates five tragic events that occurred on this date (as recorded in Mishna Ta’anit 4:6):
1) The first set of luchot (tablets) were smashed by Moshe upon seeing the Egel Hazahav (the Golden Calf), 2) The offering of the Korban Tamid (the twice daily sacrifice) was suspended during the time of the first Beit HaMikdash (Temple) either due to government edict or because of internal conflicts within the Jewish people, 3) The authoritative Torah scroll kept in Jerusalem was deliberatively burned by the Greek minister Apustamus, 4) An idol was placed in the Beit HaMikdash (nb. some say this refers to the idol of Menashe during the first Temple period, and some say it was done by Apustamus during the Second Temple period), & 5) The protective city walls were breached in Jerusalem leading to the destruction of the second Beit HaMikdash).
As we know, the Jewish people have sadly experienced much persecution, and while some of the events commemorated today and on the 9th of Av were sadly ‘self-inflicted’ (i.e. they occurred because of flawed decisions taken by members of the Jewish people such as the making of the Golden Calf), many of them were expressions of vile forms of antisemitism directed to us by our enermies. It is for this reason that when an adult converts to Judaism they are first challenged by the Beit Din and told (see Yevamot 47a): ‘Don’t you know that the Jewish people at the present time are anguished, suppressed, despised, and harassed, and hardships are frequently visited upon them?’. It is only if they respond and say that they nevertheless wish to be Jewish does the Beit Din perform the conversion.
Having explained this rule, I’d like to refer to today’s daf (Ketubot 11a) which speaks about the law of the ‘ger katan’ (literally, ‘the minor convert’ which refers to the laws of conversion for a child aged under bat/bar-mitzvah), because when a minor converts, rather than they themselves making the decision to become Jewish, the decision is made by the Beit Din on their behalf which they can revisit when they become bat/bar-mitzvah. Yet unlike the conversion process of an adult who is told about the challenges of being Jewish, the underpinning of the ‘ger katan’ process – as explained by Rav Huna in today’s daf – is the presumption that זכות הוא לו, meaning that it is beneficial to be Jewish.
If we stop to consider this difference, it actually seems very strange. How is it that we consider the conversion of a minor to be a זכות (merit), while we consider the conversion of an adult to be a burden? Admittedly, this is a much more complex question than meets the eye. Still, what it suggests is that though Jewish adults need to be aware of some of the challenges of being Jewish, Jewish youth should feel that it is a זכות (merit) to be Jewish – with those who raise and/or educate Jewish youth needing to fulfil their task within the spirit of how it is a זכות (merit) to be Jewish.
Today, many Jews know about the holocaust and about antisemitism. Still, as we see the rising numbers of assimilation amongst Jews in their 20’s & 30’s including those who don’t even want to identify as Jews, is seems clear that what is missing is not awareness of Jewish persecution, but instead, awareness of Jewish pride. So as we recall the tragedies of our past, let us take some time to think about how we can halt the tragedies of our present, and ask ourselves what we can do to help foster Jewish pride – both amongst Jewish youth and Jewish adults – for the sake of our collective Jewish future.