By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I underwent an Orthodox conversion just less than a year ago and have a couple of questions which my rabbi wasn’t sure how to answer. First, I was taught that a convert receives a new, Jewish soul. If so, what happens to the “old” gentile soul I had before? On one hand, it’s invigorating to know I’m receiving something new, which makes me into a “new person” in a way, but somewhat disconcerting to think that there’s nothing left of my old self. After all, it was my old self that was first inspired to take the steps to convert. Is that “original me” who made that decision gone forever?
Secondly, a practical question: Every morning should I be reciting the blessing shelo asani goy (who has not created me a gentile?) On one hand, I was “created” a gentile, on the other hand, if I have a new Jewish soul, perhaps it’s like I’m “newly created” and could recite the blessing? Thanks for your input.
— Timothy (Moshe) Jackson
Dear Timothy Moshe,
Great questions. And congratulations on your conversion.
The answer to your first question is yes. You received a new soul and retain the “old soul” as well. There are many sources that confirm this, and the meaning is as follows: Every Jew, at certain times, experiences what is called the “expansion of the soul.” For example, on Shabbat, we all receive a nashama yeseira (expanded soul) in order to have a receptacle worthy of receiving all the spiritual energy showered upon us on Shabbat.
This does not mean our “weekday soul” is replaced by another soul. Rather, our weekday soul is expanded more toward its original glory, before it was confined into a physical body. Shabbat, which contains a bit of the next world, allows for that expansion as the soul feels the entry into the next-worldly space of Shabbat.
The entire Jewish nation received permanently expanded souls at Mount Sinai, where the Jewish people all converted to Judaism. The Abrahamic souls of the original Israelites were expanded to be a suitable receptacle to receive the immense spiritual energy within the Torah.
Every gentile who converts to Judaism experiences a private Mount Sinai experience at the moment of conversion. The souls of those who decide to convert are considered unique, even before conversion, as they have a spark of the Jewish soul, which was the impetus to take this step.
Some explain that those souls belonged to individuals of the different nations who were approached by God to offer them the chance to receive the Torah before Sinai. When the nations turned it down, those individuals wanted to accept it but couldn’t. Those souls were just waiting for the time they could make good on their desire to join the Jewish people. That spark would not let them rest until it was fanned into a full flame.
That original soul that brought all this about is still there and intact, just fully expanded into a “Sinai soul” at the time of conversion so they can receive, contain and retain all the holiness of the Torah.
Although the original soul is present, the newness is sufficient for the Talmud to consider the convert as katan shenolad (like a newly born person). This has many ramifications in halachah, Jewish law. For this reason, some authorities rule that a convert should recite the blessing you mentioned because you have been “remade” as a Jew. Others disagree, but my feeling is to side with the authorities; you should recite that blessing and not to do anything different than the rest of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.