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Why Not Make it Easier to Convert?

Why Not Make it Easier to Convert?

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Question:

I often hear rabbis complain that the Jewish people are shrinking due to intermarriage and assimilation. But it is you rabbis who are the major obstacle to Judaism growing! If you would make conversion a bit easier, many more non-Jews would join us. Why do you stubbornly insist on a long and difficult conversion process, when you are closing the door to many potential converts?

Answer:

I would like to nominate you to be the next prime-minister. You have come up with a brilliant formula that could greatly benefit the world.

You argue that the Jewish people would grow if only it were easier to become Jewish. If we apply your logic to some other scenarios, most of society's problems could easily be solved. We could reduce the number of people living below the poverty line by simply making the poverty line lower. And we could have many more millionaires around if you didn't need so much money to be one! The crime rates would drop dramatically if we just legalize criminal activity. And if we dropped the average life-expectancy people would live so much longer!

Either Judaism is truth, or it is not. If it is truth, then truth can't be saved by diluting it. And if it isn't, why bother saving it at all?

The road to conversion is a challenging one. I have seen the hard work sincere converts put in to become Jewish. They inspire me and I am proud to know them. And I have seen the sad consequences of "quickie" conversions too. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, how could someone respect a religion that bent the rules to let them in?

Perhaps the conversion system isn't perfect. That is something that the rabbis should indeed be working to improve. But we can only fight assimilation by presenting pure, unadulterated Judaism in an accessible and relevant way. That is a Judaism that can be respected - by Jew and non-Jew alike.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Anonymous Texas via m.chabadoncampus.org June 19, 2016

The process is not as hard as one would think......BUT The process of learning and applying is very easy. Or maybe for me someone who grew up with zero religion in the home and has only known Judaism through years of individual learning and this awesome website. I never had to reprogram my thought process, I never had to pull way from family, but trying to fit in. But finding a community welcoming has been the hardest. This is not true for the Reform community or most of the Conservative community where I live but completely true for much of the Orthodox community near me. So one tends to go to the friendliest community only to be consistently told that conversion would never be "real". And I get it trust me, weed out those who are not sincere. But when the community is so small and everyone questions or judges the other for not being authentic this pushes converts and other Jews even further away from everything even Torah. So no let's not make conversion easier by shortening the length or material. But it should be more welcoming. Reply

Anonymous Vista, CA February 28, 2016

Live as a Jew By all means, become a Jew. My suggestion is to first live as a Jew, make sure everyone you know knows you are now a Jew, wear symbols so people outside of your immediate family and friends will see that you are a Jew.

Then let us know if you notice a difference in how you are treated - and, if so, how you feel about that difference.

Just curious. Reply

Anonymous Honolulu, Hawaii February 26, 2016

In reply to John S, (Practicalities) To be Jewish is to be included in the convenantal relationship the Jewish people have with the Almighty. Potential converts to Judaism should not worry too much about rabbis, a beth din, or study and practice. Rather, one should begin talking directly with the Almighty - just as one would discuss things with his or her closest friend. Talk with Him in the morning upon waking up. Talk with Him in the afternoon. And talk with Him in the evening, before going to bed. And if one can remember the Almighty before and after every meal, then that's a tremendous accomplishment. Ultimately, Jew or not, one is alone in his or her encounter with G-d. Each of us is forever alone in that awesome, enduring confrontation. Reply

John S USA via chabadofalabama.com February 25, 2016

Practicalities If a person dedicates him or herself to the study and practice of Judaism, the it would follow that the person is Jewish- religiously speaking. On the other hand, unless they are officially 'welcomed into the tribe' though whatever process, it follows that they are not 'a Jew'.

Can a person be Jewish but not be 'a' Jew? Objectively, one would think so, although there would obviously be a great issue with not being allowed to participate in various functions and activities with (tribal) Jews.

In going this route, one could plausibly point to Ruth and just 'be Jewish' by declaration and then proceed to live as the Torah commands. I know this flies in the face of centuries of Jewish practice of the Beit Din- but for all practical purposes, if a person subscribes to and follows the tenets of a faith then they are OF that faith, whether they belong to a specific social group or not. Reply

Rabbi Aryeh Moshen Brooklyn, NY February 11, 2016

Standards I have worked with several Batey Din and would like to add:

Even if a Beith Din were to publish its academic and social requirements, there are still personal issues that can sway them to require more or less from a given candidate. Thus publishing exact standards might lead to other issues. The main questions include asking themselves if the candidate is ready for conversion and ready to dedicate her/his life to Torah and Mitzvoth.

That said (and would make the following a bit more difficult) it would be nice for the various Batey Din (both RCA and Haredi) to unite on establishing a minimum standard which would then be published. Batey Din will have to option to require less on an individual basis but would be bound to report the percentages of their candidates who got a pass. It would also be published that this is the lowest common denominator and that virtually all Batey Din have additional requirements. There is something like this in "The Gerus Guide". Reply

Meira Shana San Diego June 5, 2015

Easy? Of no value. If we are to hold dear the Hebrew bible, then where does G-d say things will be easy and, therefore, with value?

I have learned that when someone doesn't work for something, they don't value it, even as a gift. The value comes from far deeper than 'easy.'

How many people here who have children made their children's lives easy and without problems and responsibilities? Reply

Rabbi Aryeh Moshen Brooklyn, NY May 7, 2014

To Preston As I wrote earlier - call Rabbi Zvi Romm. Don't assume. Reply

PRESTON M. NEW YORK CITY May 6, 2014

CONVERSION I am a 71 year old male who has been trying to convert to judaism for a number of years! it is totally impossible! the reason being is that at my age it is totally impossible to absorb all the books that you expect people to learn! i was no good at studying in my younger days let alone all this! other jews have told me that even they don't know all these things you would expect a convert to know. Reading the torah and believing in G-d the way i do should be more then enough! in other religions it usually is. why not this one? Eventually i will find a no frills Rabbi to convert me with little or no fanfare. I Will get a certificate and that will be it like 3 people i know. if anyone has any insight on this i would love to hear from you. G-D bless you all!!!!! Reply

David apo May 6, 2014

19+ years so far.. I have been trying to convert for 19+ years. I have been welcomed into the extreme liberal groups with open arms. I have even been acting (the only one there willing to do it even if unofficial) layleader for Bagram airfield for the US troops.

I don't live in an active Jewish community and probably never will be able to. But that don't change how Jewish I feel every day and my efforts to keep as frum as I can and follow the mitzvot.

I'll never give up.
I just wish I could get orthodox to throw me a bone.

Sigh... Reply

Anonymous USA April 29, 2014

To Preston Friend, forget about conversion. It's like falling hopelessly in love with someone who is never going to love you back. It will break your heart in the end and will leave your soul hurt and alone. You say you cannot read and retain information. I tell you truly it would not matter even if you knew everything there is. It would not help you. It would not make you a Jew. No one will help you. Your destiny is a burning loneliness - an unbearable abode. They say there you may encounter the Lonely One - blessed be He. They say it is a covenantal privilege, an exacting and sacrificial role. Reply

Rabbi Aryeh Moshen Brooklyn, NY April 28, 2014

To Preston Rabbi Zvi Romm leads the RCA Beith Din for New York. Look him up and speak to him. I have seen the impossible happen and rabbis do make allowances for senior citizens. Reply

Preston M. New York City April 23, 2014

Converting To Judaism well i guess its going to be impossible for me to convert then. i am 71 and at this age it is impossible to learn everything there is thats required. someone who is younger and can retain information i can understand. if someone has any ideas feel free to comment, I still want to convert if anyone has any information. if it involves reading a lot of books then i cannot do it. thank you all for listening to me. Reply

Anonymous Yardley Pa February 7, 2014

A Convert's response. I converted because I felt at home with the Jewish faith. At first, I went through a Reformed conversion, but after 10 years decided to do a second conversion (Orthodox) so there should never be a question of my sons' Jewish authenticity. I continue to study, and truly enjoy it! There is so much to learn that I will probably never stop reading and learning. The conversion process was never a problem...finding a religious husband was my difficulty! He refuses to go to Temple, and he is from a long line of Orthodox Rabbis from Poland. His religious training was also Orthodox....go figure! Reply

Rabbi Aryeh Moshen Brooklyn July 30, 2013

Up To A Point No one whose read my guide would think of accusing me of wanting to make conversion easy. However there is a big difference between easy and jumping through hoops. A Ger must know how to live as an Orthodox Jew. This includes the basic laws of Shabbat, Kosher food, family purity, and a few others. It also includes the ability to pray and especially how to "fit in". It includes living in a Jewish Community. It includes (especially for males) attendance at public services. But it stops there. We need not insist that every Ger become a carbon copy of ourselves. And on the flip side, a Ger who is serious about conversion should not appear with a ton of hardware attached to his body. The Ger must show that s/he is serious. When a Beit Din asks something, implement asap. Reply

k. Germany July 29, 2013

I'm under the impression that the number of persons who convert has increased lately. I met other converts on here who say the same thing: they can't explain it but feel they have no choice and feel pulled towards conversion. This is because, and I firmly believe this, this is because the time has come. The Name is about to collect His people from the four corners of the world, and since converts need a bit longer (as they have to go through this process first) he calls them first. Then, when these people will have joined the Jewish people, The Name will continue to collect the others. I'm a hundred percent certain that our generation will witness the Temple being rebuild. I'm very excited about this. Reply

Reb Yehonatan Tel Aviv/Chicago/Reno January 22, 2013

RE: Jacob Miller Some of the converts to Judaism in the Torah - who had to deal with MUCH more than spending time studying.... Yitro - coverted, and lost his position as both a consultant to the Paro of Mitzrayim and all the wealth and power afforded him as chief high priest of all idolatry in Midian. look what Rut had to suffer through, picking the corps as a poor beggar would, yet that showed she knew the Laws of Israel... the young man in Shemot who tried to join the tribe of Dan... etc...
However I do agree that while some make the process too difficult, there are those who don't do enough to properly prepare and educate what being Jewish really means... Reply

Rabbi Aryeh Moshen Brooklyn January 17, 2013

To Charles (and others) I'm sorry that I did not notice your question earlier. I spent a year working (without any income) on a proposal for a type of Geruth half-way house. A residential institution of Jewish learning where those who are truly interested in conversion could finish their pre-conversion prep while working, attending university, etc. My partner (he is a Ger who converted several years ago) and I tried various sources, some who had direct connection with Gerim. We received encouragement from some very impressive rabbis but could not obtain any funding. Eventually I returned to my day-job. I constantly call or email rabbis and dayanim to ask them to help members of my group. I sometimes act as an advocate. And I've also told a Beith Din that a candidate was not worthy of conversion when I felt that she was not. Geruth work is hard, tedious, and sometimes thankless. But I know that I can rely on Avraham Avinu when my life is over to act as my advocate and justify the time I spend Reply

Nicholas Detroit January 17, 2013

The question misses the mark I doubt that most serious converts would ask a rabbi to make conversion "easier." What does that mean? It seems to me that is a silly request after little research. If a higher level thinking individual knew the first thing about Judaism would they ask such a stupid question? That would defeat the entire point of becoming a Jew in the first place-observing the law in its entirety.

Certainly, Judaism has a problem with converts. The convert has to take on mind-numbing lifestyle changes while, embarrassingly, the vast majority of Jews today do not live by these precepts. What sense does that make? That Judaism pushes away too many born Jews with its baggage and attracts a small number of gentiles?

So the convert has to become a 'better' Jew than most Jews-observing Shabbat, etc.- while being questioned about their motivations ad nauseam and condescendingly reminded that "you don't have to do it; there's no obligation for you to be a Jew to have a place in the world to come." Reply

Yohanan Birmingham, AL via chabadofalabama.com January 10, 2013

Study Until the End of the Course, and Then...? All the stories I read of 'the tyranny of the Beit Din' are indeed daunting, but as I come from Islam I am used to having to deal with all elements of faith, from the most slack brother to the most ultra-hard-core sisters. A conversion court must do what it must do, of course, and although there is no such thing in Islam I am preparing myself through study as much as possible. What I am afraid of is that, due to my history, I will go through this long conversion process only to be told at the end, "NO!" While it would not dampen my fiath or love of G-d in any way, I'm sure it would be a great disappointment. In light of this, once a Rabbi accepts a student for conversion is that student "on track" as long as the marks are hit and the classes and studies are satisfactorily completed? Or is it a 'come on and do all of this and pay this or that and then we'll talk about it" situation? I hate to think of it in those terms, but I'm a realist about such things. Reply

Charles K., Honolulu, HI Honolulu, HI September 12, 2011

To Rabbi Moshen I've got a question for you. When would you say our father Abraham starts teaching a proselyte - as a father teaches his child?
Do you think he waits until a Beit Din says this child is now a Jew? To tell you the truth, I think he starts earlier than you might think. May I suggest to you that our father Abraham walks every step of the way through the conversion process hand in hand with the proselyte. This includes up the steps to the Beit Din and forever after, win or lose.
I agree to a large extent with what you say. But, I ask each Beit Din to do every thing in its power to not turn anyone away. Reply