Gittin 54

Convert son of a convert.

Judaism is built on cycles of seven. Six work days and a day of rest (Shabbat). Six years of working the land, and then it too gets to rest (the sabbatical or Shemita year). But resting can be difficult and inconvenient. In ancient times, as now, not all Jews were equally punctilious about observing these pauses. But which was a more difficult pause or less observed pause? Was it the break from labor once a week, or going a whole year without planting crops? In other words: Do more Jews observe Shabbat or the Shemita? 

According to a tradition attributed to Rabbi Meir:

Jews are suspected of the sabbatical year, but they are not suspected of Shabbat.

Why does it matter? The Gemara is going to go on to discuss the penalties for desecrating either, but more practically: If it’s a sabbatical year and you’re in the land of Israel and someone offers you a salad, the question is whether you can assume that the vegetables were picked according to the laws of Shemita. According to Rabbi Meir, we should be suspicious. 

The Gemara goes on to discuss regional variation in observance. In Rabbi Meir’s community, more Jews may have observed Shabbat than the sabbatical year, but:

In Rabbi Yehuda’s community the sabbatical year was regarded as serious.

Rabbi Yehuda’s community, it turns out, was much more invested in observing the sabbatical year. And what is the proof? The Gemara continues with a conversation that took place there:

A certain man said to another: Convert, son of a convert. 

The other man said to him: At least I don’t eat produce of the sabbatical year as you do.

The Gemara takes this interchange — two men insulting each other — as proof that accusing someone of not observing Shemita was a big insult in Rabbi Yehuda’s town. With this proof, the Gemara moves on to a completely different discussion. 

Let’s pause for a minute on these two insults. The second man accuses the other of not following the laws of the sabbatical year, sure. But the original “insult” is that the man is a convert. And not only that, but the son of a convert, too. From the context, it’s clear that the first man means it as an insult and the second man hears it as such. 

We will learn when we get to tractate Bava Metzia 59b that Jews are prohibited from shaming those who convert to Judaism: 

The sages taught: One who verbally mistreats the convert violates three prohibitions, and one who oppresses him in other ways violates two.

The man on today’s daf is part of a lineage of people choosing to be Jewish, generation after generation. In his own time and place, naming that he is a Jew by choice is seen as insulting, and indeed, even today, in many communities, those born Jewish are cautioned against separating out converts in their speech and actions.

But according to the Talmud, the first man is out of line. The Talmud’s own math bears this out, as not observing the Sabbath violates one prohibition, but disrespecting those who are Jewish by choice violates three.

Read all of Gittin 54 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on July 9th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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