I am a recent convert to Judaism and I was wondering about my prospects for finding my zivug soulmate. I’m not asking from a social point of view, but rather based on the teaching that G‑d decrees matching souls at conception. According to this teaching, the soul of a non-Jew who later converts would not have been decreed for a Jew since at that time the soul of the convert was not Jewish. Does this mean that from a spiritual point of view, converts may only marry fellow-converts?
This is a fascinating question.
You are correct. The Sages taught (Sota 2b), “Forty days before the formation of the fetus (i.e., at conception) a voice from Heaven proclaims, ‘the daughter of so-and-so is destined for so-and-so’”. And it makes sense that for Jews, this proclamation is relevant only for other Jews whom they’re permitted to marry. This would seem to exclude those born as non-Jews who later convert.
However, even if converts do often marry each other, that’s not always the case. Converts also marry people born Jewish. Indeed, your namesake, the righteous convert Ruth, united with Boaz, the leader of Israel at that time, who thus became the ancestor of none other than King David.
But how does this fit into the Divine decree of who’s for whom?
One possible explanation is based on the idea of reincarnation where, for certain reasons, a Jewish soul may be reincarnated into a non-Jewish body. While the soul is Jewish, from an halachic point of view, the person is not. It is the inner yearning of the Jewish soul which compels this non-Jew to convert. Perhaps G‑d decrees a Jewish soulmate for this displaced Jewish soul which is “destined” to convert.
Another possibility is that while every person has free-will, G‑d knows in advance that a particular non-Jew will eventually convert. G‑d may thus decree from the outset a Jewish soulmate for this initially non-Jewish soul which will eventually become Jewish and fitting for its mate.
A third possibility is based on the idea that although one has a primary soulmate, for several reasons (such as wrong decisions, death, etc.) one may miss his or her main soulmate. In such cases, in His infinite wisdom, G‑d compensates for these misses and unites unpaired, compatible souls whose union also has great potential as secondary soulmates. Converts may also be a part of this re-shuffling and re-pairing of available soulmates.
This would seem to be the dynamic at work behind a particularly interesting story related to your question:
There was a young man who was an accomplished Torah scholar, of goodly appearance and from an upstanding, well-to-do family. Yet despite his promising prospects, for many years he could not find his soulmate. In despair, he finally consulted one of the greatest rabbis of recent times, the “Steipler” who told him that his soulmate had not been born yet, but refused to provide further explanation. Initially dismayed by the thought that even if she were to be born then he’d still have to wait another twenty years, he actually found her within a year!
He married a convert, about whom the Sages taught (Yevamot 62a), “A non-Jew who converts is like a new-born child”. Since a convert receives a new soul at the time of conversion, it is as if he is born anew as a Jew at that time. Thus, when the young man consulted the rabbi, this woman had not yet converted and had thus not yet been “born”. Only after several months when she converted was she “born” as a Jew, and proclaimed by a heavenly voice to be the soulmate of this available, exceptional young man!