The Midrash of the Female Converts
One of the female converts stood before the witnessing rabbis.
She said to them: convert me, for I have studied my lessons and kept the laws and customs. And my partner has done as I have.
They said to her: You have spoken well, my daughter. Today you are a Gentile, and tomorrow, a kosher and modest Jewess. Immerse yourself in this mikveh and we will stand above you, observing.
She said, I cannot.
They asked her, why not?
She said, because of the immodesty of it.
They said, here, take this robe and cover yourself.
Rabbinic Advocate Rivkah Lubitch is one of the founders of the "Nigun Nashim" Beit Midrash at Oranim Academic College of Education. She has represented many agunot and converts on behalf of the Center for Women’s Justice.
The midrash, translated by Dr. Yehuda Mirsky and Susan Weiss, will be published in the second volume of: Dirshuni: Israeli Women Writing Midrash, edited by Tamar BIala (forthcoming).
She said, the robe may be too short, and I may be tall; it may be sheer, and the waters clear. The robe is made of fabric that floats.
And I, where shall I place myself?
They said to her, we will not gaze upon you.
She said to them, cannot a woman supervise?
They said, we do not recognize the supervision of women.
Gathering up her courage, she said, you taught me the laws of modesty, and it is immodest to immerse before men.
They said to her, my daughter, converting women have immersed themselves this way in all the generations.
She said, the nature of things has changed.
They said to her, explain.
She said, if you will – the nature of things has changed since today there is no woman who can immerse herself before men without the embarrassment of the matter overwhelming her, and we will find women accepting the mitzvot while their hearts are preoccupied with issues of modesty. And if you will – the nature of things has changed since today there is no man who can witness women immersing themselves without immodest thoughts arising from within him, and we will find men hearing her blessings while preoccupied with controlling those thoughts. Either way, they sin.
They said to her, “Blessed are you to God, my daughter. Your last kindness was greater than the first.” That very day they appointed a female agent of the court who would stand above the women and observe as they immersed for conversion.
And Tanot laughed, and said, you had but to learn from our father Abraham and mother Sarah, of whom it was said “Abraham would convert the men, and Sarah, the women.”
Your last kindness – Ruth 3, 1.
Appointed a female agent – See Michal Tikochinsky, 'And the Woman Immerses the Women,” Akdamot 21 (Elul 5768), pp. 65–82.
Tanot – See midrashim of Bat Yiftach, in N. Weingarten-Mintz & T. Biala (eds.), Dirshuni: Israeli Women Writing Midrash, Tel-Aviv 2009, p. 100.
Abraham would convert – Breishit Rabbah, VaYeshev 84, 4.