I am a bit confused. I have many Jewish friends, but they are mostly indifferent, and sometimes even hostile, towards their own religion. I myself am not Jewish, but I have studied Judaism and love it, and am very excited about converting.
My confusion is this: when I went to speak to a rabbi about conversion, he discouraged me from converting, saying that it is more serious than I think, and that I can live a fulfilled life without becoming Jewish. I told him how excited I am about Judaism, but he still pushed me away.
What is going on? I am thirsty for Judaism and I am pushed away, while so many Jews are not even open to learning more about their own religion!
There is a Jewish belief that Judaism is not just good for the Jewish soul, it’s natural for the Jewish soul. The soul feels at home when it says Hebrew prayers, experiences a Shabbat table, or puts up a mezuzah. These acts are what makes the Jewish soul comfortable. A Jew has an innate affinity towards Judaism.
So, why do so many Jews not seem interested in their religion? Because there is another Jewish belief that every energy has a counter-energy. If the Jewish soul is attracted to Judaism, there must be an equal and opposite force that drives the Jew away from Judaism. Materialism, cynicism, laziness, apathy—all these, and more, conspire to drive the Jew away from connecting to his or her Jewishness. In fact, the more powerful the Jewish soul, the more intense this resistance will be.
And it must be this way. Otherwise the spiritual life would be too easy—a Jewish soul would just naturally fall into Judaism. And G‑d wants us to be challenged. When Jews engage in Judaism, they are taking upon themselves the lifelong challenge to overcome these internal obstacles and find their deeper self.
When a non-Jew approaches Judaism, it is a whole different story. He or she has no “baggage,” and is open to what Judaism has to say. He may be attracted, he may not be—but he doesn’t have the emotional resistance that a Jew does. This is why many non-Jews come to respect Judaism when they actually study it. They are coming with an open heart, unlike the Jew, who has an automatic resistance to anything Jewish.
This is fine—until the non-Jew considers conversion. She may feel that Judaism has a depth and warmth that she seeks; she may feel good going to synagogue and celebrating festivals; and this may lead her to think that it would be so easy to just become Jewish and make it her spiritual home. But there is one factor that she’s not aware of.
Now it all seems so nice and comfortable, because you’re just visiting. It's not yours yet, so you can look at it objectively and just enjoy it for what it is, without any resistance. But the minute you become Jewish, everything changes. Conversion means that not only do you receive the Jewish soul, but you also receive the Jewish baggage that weighs you down and tries to hold you back from being an active Jew (again, in order to retain balance and give you a challenge).
This is one reason why we push away converts. We set obstacles in their way so they can taste what it’s really like to be Jewish. So that it should be clear from the outset that a Jewish life is not an easy one. There will always be obstacles. The only difference is, before conversion the obstacles are from without—stubborn rabbis who tell you, “Don’t bother with Judaism.” After converting, those same rabbis will welcome you with open arms, and there will still be a voice telling you not to bother—but then it will be a voice from within you.
If you can overcome the resistance set up by the rabbis, then you have a good chance of being able to overcome the inner resistance that is the struggle of every Jew.