Our Gemara focuses on the question of a convert, and specifically of a child who is brought before the beit din to convert. Rav Huna teaches that the Jewish courts will accept a child as a convert, although Rav Yosef adds that when such a convert reaches maturity, he or she will have the option of rejecting Judaism.
Under what circumstances will the court actually convert a minor?
The Gemara offers one straightforward case – when a father comes before the court to convert and brings his children to convert, as well. In such a case, we assume that children are inclined to accept their father’s choices for them. In other cases, we work with the assumption that becoming Jewish is ultimately a benefit for the individual, and beit din will convert the child based on the rule that something which is beneficial can be done on another person’s behalf, even without his/her knowledge.
Rashi suggests that the case under discussion is one in which the family has no father and the child’s mother is bringing him before the court for conversion. Other rishonim object to this reading of the Gemara, arguing that this is the same case as the one where a father brings his child to the beit din; there is really no reason to distinguish between a mother and a father in such cases. The Ritva suggests that the case is where the parents bring their child to convert even though they have no intention of converting themselves. Others understand the case to be where a child – one who has clearly reached the age of understanding even though he is still a minor – appears before the Jewish court on his own.
According to all of these opinions, it appears that Jewish courts will consider converting a child who is brought before them or comes on his own. Under no circumstances, however, will beit din initiate such proceedings on their own. There is an opinion brought by the Ran, however, that if the court acted on its own initiative, the conversion will be acceptable bedi’avad (ex post facto).