Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Anybody can convert to Judaism if he/she wants, and if a person wants to do it then he should. The Torah tells us to love the convert and the Talmud, Jewish Law, tells us not to remind a person needlessly of his/her life before the conversion. Questions like, "You mean you used to try to convert Jews to Christianity," or "You once had three girlfriends at one time?!" should be out of the question. This is similar to how ba'alei t'shuva, Jews who've become obserant/religious, should be treated.

Myself personally, I think it's cool when a person becomes a Jew. Given that our religion does not actively seek converts, when a person makes the decision to become a Jew on his/her own, it's quite an amazing thing. When an "unexpected" person, or a person from a group of people that haven't been known to traditionally choose Judaism as their faith, such as black Americans, Mexican Americans, Christians, or Muslims, it is all the more shocking, and to me, a bit of a spiritual buzz.

And I think it's cool for a more important reason; when a person from "a different walk of life," a person relatively removed from Judaism decides to become a Jew it's a statement that Judaism is a religion compatible with universal notions of morality and truth. Usually the person converting chooses Judaism BECAUSE he/she sees Judaism as the source from which these things emanate.

Further, and closely related, converts to Judaism allow the Jewish people contact with the rest of the world in a very intimate way, through the Torah and its values and precepts. Seeing that a convert will not cut out family and friend from his/her life, converts to Judaism allow "the Torah opinion" to be disseminated to the world's nooks and crannies. Judaism is a people, but a people does not mean one "race," although we started out from our Father Avraham, a Hebrew. In the end, Judaism is a people with a religion; any type of person can become a Jew, and converts expand a Jew's horizon of how observance of Torah fits into every nut and bolt of the world.

However, there is also a potential "downside," one that I didn't give much credence to. The same with a ba'al t'shuva, a convert brings something new to the table of Judaism, a set of concepts and sentiments which he/she incorporates into the Jewish world view, while Judaism brings something new to him/her, or answers old questions. A convert is a human being with his/her own set of presuppositions and there is a possibility that he/she tries to steer Jewish values in a direction that will conform to his/her personal set of values, as true to the Torah as those values might be. The Torah contains all that is righteous in the world, but that doesn't mean that a person, a convert or a ba'al t'shuva, in the direction that he/she deems concordant with the values of the Torah. This would be a bit self-absorbed. Yes, it is perfectly valid to bring new insights to people born Jews, and this is incredibly important, but it needs to be done in a give and take manner, it can't be done in the manner likened to walking into a building and claiming a corner as yours, or by pushing people out of your way.


anonym00kie said...

i think what bt's or converts bring to the plate is invaluable in developing judaism and eventho negative or non-torah-true views may slip in, i think those will eventually be filtered out and the whole of the nation will be enriched by the elevating of those ideas that were brought in. good post!

jjew said...

Yashar ko'ach, thanks, and I agree.

Back when I was becoming observant, years ago, I kept hearing that Islam was the fasting growing religion in the world. I reasoned that it was good because it would mean that the new converts would bring their own things to the table and possibly moderate Islam. Now, years later, after seeing a certain influx of converts to Judaism and subsequently a religious left, I still see that Islam has not made much room for a religious Muslim left, which is disturbing. What it means is that the ranks of those who join Islam feel they have to conform to anti-Israel concepts. It's so bizarre and disgusting how one of the social tenets of Islam is to resent Israel, as if that has anything technical to do with being a Muslim. However, it IS how Muslims are currently defining the Muslim landscape and how they are presenting it to converts. There might be, and I don't say this like it's a statistic, something alredy a bit wrong with some of the people that convert to Islam, but this is a very general statement.

Anyway, years later I see converts coming to Judaism, but I am VERY happy by what I see, that converts to Judaism don't feel they need to follow the religious line of supporting Israel. Now, I LOVE Israel and am an ardent backer, a religious Zionist, but it's a good thing that (observant)Judaism doesn't forcefully expect a convert to change their political views. Clearly there is a leaning in one direction, but on the other hand, there is plenty of religious evidence to see how the awesome State of Israel needs a bit of improvement in the spiritual sphere. I haven't heard one Muslim say that Palestine is a non-Islamic notion or that it does not conform to the ideals of an Islamic state that Muhammad set down when he was alive. Judaism is YEARS, CENTURIES, ahead of Islam; it is mature enough to view its problems seriously and democratically, while Islam is on fire about everything, like a young and violent child that needs to be slapped from time to time. Mind you, I won't slap my kids, but this doesn't take away from the analogy. (:D That's a Jew with a kippah.