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The Jewish Concept of Conversion

The Jewish Concept of Conversion


It is interesting to note the expression that the Talmud (Yevamot 48b) uses when referring to (authentic) converts: "Ger shenitgayer kekatan shenolad dami," meaning: a convert that has converted is like a recently born baby.

When the Talmud speaks about a slave that has been freed, it does not say "a freed man that has been freed," but rather "a slave that has been freed." Why, then, when speaking about a convert, does the Talmud use the expression ‘a convert that has converted’ instead of ‘a gentile that has converted’?

One of the explanations that we find, is the following:

An authentic convert is one that, although born of a non-Jewish mother, is born with a Neshamah, a Jewish soul. It is this Neshamah that pushes him or her to become a full-fledged Jew or Jewess. In other words, we may say that this individual was born (destined or with a propensity to become) a convert. That is why a convert is compared to a recently born baby. The difference between the moment before and after birth is that before birth the baby is not an independent being, whereas as soon as it is born, it becomes an independent being. Following this analogy, a convert before his conversion is comparable to a Jew in an ‘embryonic’ stage, and does therefore not yet have the responsibilities of a full-fledged Jew. Only after having gone through a proper conversion, does he or she becomes a full-fledged Jew or Jewess. But, as we stated before, in order for this transformation to occur, one must undergo an authentic conversion and not the sterile cosmetic versions that abound, masquerading as more liberal options.

There are those that ask: Why must a convert be more religious than all those Jews who do not observe the Mitzvot and are nevertheless considered Jewish? In other words: If a non-practicing Jew is considered Jewish, why should we not consider as Jewish, a non-Jew who has undergone a non-religious conversion?

The answer is very simple. A Jew by birth is Jewish no matter what he or she may think, say or do. The same Torah that establishes this rule regarding the Jew by birth also establishes that one who wants to convert to Judaism must accept to fulfill the Torah in its entirety in order for him or her to be accepted as a Jew. If one should say that he or she is willing to accept 612 of the precepts but there is one precept that they do not agree with and will not do, we tell them: Who is forcing you to become a Jew? It is preferable that you not convert and continue to fulfill your mission in life as a perfect non-Jew, rather than ‘convert’ and find yourself in violation of the Torah’s law!

When you think about it, it is a very understandable and accepted criterion. If somebody was born in the USA, the US Constitution considers him or her to be an American, no matter what he or she does in violation of the Constitution. If, however, a foreigner wants to acquire US citizenship, but says that they do not accept a certain clause in the US Constitution, will they be accepted as citizens? Certainly, not. If you don’t like the Constitution of the United States, then become a citizen in any other country whose Constitution you do approve of!

One who does not want to accept the Constitution of the United states in its entirety may be accepted as a legal resident, but not as a citizen. A naturalized citizen must accept the authority of the Constitution in its entirety in order to be accepted as a citizen.

Does anybody want to suggest that it be easier to become a Jew than it is to become a citizen of a country? Are G-d’s laws more negotiable than human laws?

Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov is the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Montevideo, Uruguay, and a contributor to
From Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her? - A Dialogue on Intermarriage by Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov. Click here to purchase online.
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Discussion (4)
November 13, 2011
Conversion issues
Dear Rabbi, I dont think I am very smart, but I am pleased to read that you used exactly my same words to give an exemple as to why any "bad" born Jew is still a Jew while so much more is demanded from a convert to Judaism: the becoming of a US citizen as an example.
Mark Bebernig
January 11, 2011
Shomeer in Smyrna
a. Please don't bring up the Kazar myth. It has been firmly debunked by linguists, geneticists, and everyone with a head on his/her shoulders, with the exception of the people who call into the late night radio shows claiming to be Moses, Jesus and Gandhi all rolled into one. Oh, and I forgot the Neo Nazis also like to repeat it as well.

b. The child of a convert is a full fledged Jew.
Masoud Belolo
January 8, 2011
If a baby is born of parents who were converts is that baby a natural born Jew?

If a Jew is a convert can he also convert others? Example: Before the Khazaars were converted to Judaism they was non-Jews. Now after their conversion to Judaism now their descendants are saying to others they must convert, even though they are children themselves of converts. Is this right?
Shomeer Yisrael
smyrna, Ga
September 25, 2010
Strict application of Torah's Laws is the best of all. There is no way to be a half jew.
Abidjan, Cote d''Ivoire