Question: Is there a prohibition of yichud when a male convert is secluded with his mother?
Short Answer: This is a major dispute amongst contemporary poskim. The vast majority, though, are lenient, as there still is a familial connection between the convert and his mother.
I. A New Person
The Gemara in numerous places (e.g., Y’vamos 22a, 48b, 62a) refers to a halachic principle called “Geir she’nisgayeir, k’katan she’nolad dami” – that a convert is like a baby that was just born. This principle is applied in many different contexts. For example, there is an opinion (Y’vamos 62a) that a convert who only has children before he converts does not fulfill the mitzvah of “P’ru u’R’vu” (to have children), as he is not “related” anymore to his children.
Additionally, based on this principle, the Gemara (Y’vamos 22a) writes that a convert is fundamentally permitted to marry his mother or a daughter who was born to him before he converted (assuming, of course, that they likewise converted). Since the convert is a “new person” after he converts, his mother and daughter are no longer related to him and should be permitted to him. Practically, though, he is rabbinically forbidden to marry either of them, as we don’t want it to seem that his conversion lowered his “k’dushah” level by allowing him to do “sins” that he otherwise could not have done.
The question is whether this principle of “Geir she’nisgayeir...” prohibits the convert from now having yichud with his mother (or daughter, if she was born pre-conversion). While we previously explained (Article #1) that a man is generally permitted to have yichud with his mother or daughter, this case of the convert should be different. Now that the convert is no longer halachically “related” to his mother or daughter, they should be like any other female, with whom yichud should be prohibited?
II. The Strict Opinions
The D’var Halachah (p. 103) addresses this question. He suggests that perhaps a convert may have yichud with his mother, as the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 269) rules that a convert is rabbinically prohibited from marrying his mother. This is similar to the leniency of yichud with a person’s grandmother; although a grandmother is only rabbinically an “ervah” to him, yichud is permitted. Moreover, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 103b) says that Amon (David HaMelech’s son) defiled his mother, who rebuked him by asking him what “benefit” he receives from his abhorrent act. Because there is no “benefit,” the D’var Halachah suggests that perhaps there should be no prohibition of yichud between a convert and his mother, regardless of whether they are halachically “related.”
However, the D’var Halachah subsequently challenges this suggestion. Perhaps yichud with a grandmother is more lenient than a convert with his mother. He thus concludes “tzarich iyun,” that he is unsure how to rule on this issue.
Citing the D’var Halachah, the B’Tzeil HaChochmah (4:14) rules stringently. He first posits that maybe a convert may have yichud with his mother because the familial connection prevents anything improper from occurring. Indeed, many Rishonim and Acharonim (cited therein) reason that a man is permitted to have yichud with his mother or daughter because there is no yeitzer ha’ra for such an aveirah. However, the B’Tzeil HaChochmah ultimately rules that the yeitzer ha’ra and the reasons behind the prohibition are irrelevant, as yichud with a woman is otherwise d’Oraisa unless explicitly stated otherwise. We do not rule leniently on d’Oraisa prohibitions simply based on the inapplicability of the perceived reason of the prohibition.
The B’Tzeil HaChochmah thus concludes that a convert may not have yichud with his mother or daughter unless they are single or there is another woman in the room, in which case the prohibition of yichud is only rabbinic.
III. The Lenient Opinions
The Igros Moshe (Even HaEzer 4:64:1), on the other hand, expressly permits a convert to have yichud with his mother or daughter, regardless of whether they are married or not. He proves from the above-referenced Gemara of Amon that a son has no desire to do anything improper with his mother. Similarly, he proves from Lot’s daughters, who had to get Lot drunk in order to live with him, that a father has no desire to do anything improper with his daughter. This was the opinion of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, as well. See sefer N’kudos Or (Kiddushin, p. 254).
The Sheivet HaLevi (9:260) cites the Igros Moshe and concurs with this leniency. He notes, though, that perhaps this question is dependent on the query of the Aruch LaNer, whether “Geir she’nisgayeir” means that the convert is viewed as a new “guf” (body) or as if he is “born again.” If he is “born again,” he has no connection at all to his pre-conversion relatives. [As an aside, the Nit’ei Gavriel (Yichud 4:9:14) cites the Sheivet HaLevi as ruling strictly in oral communication. This appears to be in contradiction to this written ruling].
The V’Darashta V’Chakarta (3:17) also relies on the leniency of the Igros Moshe but concludes that a convert who refrains from yichud with his mother is “kadosh.”
Similarly, the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (1:776) rules leniently, as we see that a convert has some halachic connection to his daughter even after he converts. Indeed, the Gemara in Y’vamos (ibid) cites an opinion that a convert does fulfill the mitzvah of P’ru u’R’vu based on his daughter from pre-conversion. Thus, there is no prohibition of yichud either.
Moreover, the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos attacks the reasoning of the B’Tzeil HaChochmah. Yichud is not d’Oraisa for a convert with his pre-conversion daughter, as she is not his “daughter” and not an “arayos” to him, and thus there is no reason to forbid seclusion between them.
New Series Next Week: T’vilas Keilim. Next Week’s Topic: Does one violate a Biblical prohibition by using a non-toveled utensil?