Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

Why Do Rabbis Discourage Conversions?

Why Do Rabbis Discourage Conversions?

 Email

Question:

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!

Answer:

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.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
309 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Nena Hari Chicago via chabadandfree.com May 6, 2017

I found out via genetic testing that I have Ashkenazim bloodlines in my on my mother's side. Plus most of my friends are Jewish and going Kosher put my Crohn's in remission. The Rabbi at the Synagogue I started going to told me that I would be a good fit and a wonderful asset. I guess it's the difference of Rabbi? Reply

Harry London November 6, 2016

So, Guillermo, this man has suffered pogroms. That means that non-Jews have murdered his friends and relatives. And this has made him dubious about the motives of non-Jews, even about sincere people such as you.

And because of that, you think it is a good idea to murder Jews?

That is an amazing response. One insult from one Jew and you decide that all Jews should be murdered?

It sounds as if you do not like Jews.

It is not enough to love Torah. To be a Jew, you need to love Jews. You certainly cannot be a Jew if you dislike Jews, much less if you think Jews should be murdered in pogroms.

What did you say to him that revealed your true feelings about Jews? Reply

Myrna Solganick middleton October 30, 2016

Guillermo, that is pretty harsh. I can understand your feeling perturbed at the Rabbi's response but his response is not a justification for progroms. It is the opposite, in fact: progroms, and centuries of persecution are WHY the rabbi chose such discouraging words. It is not easy to be a Jew. Reply

Guillermo October 27, 2016

Rabbis arrogance I am of spanish roots and all my life in study if judaism my son and me when he became 19 years old we finally decide to join Judaism and hebrew people... We always supported economically Israeli organizations ; in the day we were ready the rabby asked my son question after question , everything about Judaism , history , hebrew, Torah we pass all the questions he was amased, but said " how is that a goyim wants to become Jew and immigrate to Israel , economical interest?, why at this age better go back with your people," of course his words were more degrading then the short phrase I wrote here, in me being upset , I told him I love torah I love HaShem and israeli people, but I couldn't stand in front of a man that said to represent Him that way... That's no Judaism that's no Torah .. If that was his attitude and the lack of respect for non jewish people who love them and that was the same attitude they had in Germany and Spain and France and other countries, now I understand progroms Reply

Anonymous July 20, 2016

Barbara, Craig and Phillip - re: Pilate we also don't really know how much of that passage in the christian bible was written after Constantine's decree. I've always felt the so called "trial" and the events leading up to is it written in a very theatrical fashion but it is dogma and so we were not supposed to question it. Reply

Phillip Pittsburg April 6, 2016

Barbara and Craig It seems to me, Craig, that Barbara is saying that crucifixion is a Roman (not a Jewish) method of execution.

Permit me to add that Pilate, in particular, had hundreds of Jews crucified. He loved looking out his window at them hanging on crosses. He was cruel and sadistic and was eventually recalled by the Romans because he exceeded even the cruel standards of the Romans.

Pilate is depicted in one or more gospels as being reluctant to crucify Jesus. This scene fails to accord with what is known as Pilate's typical behavior. He would have been glad for an excuse to crucify yet another Jew. Crucifixion was even more typical for Pilate than for Rome in general.

Thus, contrary to the literal sense of at least one gospel, Pilate is the one to be blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus. Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA April 5, 2016

Re: Barbara - Commonality of “Brutal Execution” in Rome At the time Jesus possibly lived, there were so many crucifixions that Rome’s Government complained about it. Rome was crucifying so many taxpayers to death that they were losing tax revenue!
Why make Jesus’ death by capital punishment seem special by the Roman standard? Reply

Anonymous Ottawa April 3, 2016

AAron, thank you. Anonymous Chabad convert - Why do you say that without your Chabad sponsors you would not have managed to convert?

Over the last few weeks after these discussions, one question in the forefront of my mind was "Can I become Jewish, and still be Scottish?" It seemed that I felt desperate to retain at least some thread of my previous identity.

And that question was answered this week, when the first Jewish tartan was minted in Scotland. What are the chances of this even happening, let alone happening just at the time I'm wondering if this is possible? There have been so many signs, and this one feels almost decisive.

I think if and perhaps even when I go through with this, I will really feel like it's coming home. Reply

Benjamin Brooklyn March 29, 2016

I used to be approached by Xians trying to them that there are many paths to the truth.
But I saw that they thought I was trying to wiggle out of their "real" truth. I told the next one that I really think that Jewish truth is the truest truth.

He did not like it, even though I said "Gd loves you." He never spoke to me or even looked at me, ever again, though we worked in the same office.

Nobody, ever again, tried to "save" me into becoming a Christian. When "Jews for Jesus" knocked on every door with a mezuzah, I answered the door & they backed away from me. I told them a reason to disbelieve in their message. When they "explained" it, I refuted their explanation. Now they walked away. I walked down the driveway after them. They ran away.

A Jew needs to know One thing: Gd came down to us as we stood at Sinai. Gd gave us the Torah. We promised to be faithful to One Gd without any intermediary. Gd never said to change the covenant so we remain faithful.

Anyone who really wants to, can join that Covenant. Welcome Home! Reply

Anonymous March 29, 2016

At Annonymous Ottowa I converted and consideer myself Chabad. I follow their minchagim etc. The rabbi that sponsored my conversion was a Chabad rabbi. Without him agreeing to be my sponsor/guardian per say, I wouldn't have been able to convert. However there are many who do not believe in conversion. I could have picked any orthodox rabbi, I just happened to go to chabad and like this rabbi and his wife. They are an amazing family. Chabad usually doesn't get involved in conversions. I wish you much luck and srength in your journey. Reply

Barbara Canada March 29, 2016

To Chuck in Florida When you read the Bible you see that it was actually the Romans who killed the Messiah. Worse yet, Pilot knew he was innocent but ordered a brutal execution for political expediency. Further reading tells us that Jesus said he laid down his life and that no man took it from him. Thus "no man" is who is guilty there. So few people actually read what they claim to believe. Reply

Aaron Indianapolis March 22, 2016

We are encouraged to marry because it is a mitzvah to produce two childen.

You must do what you feel is right for you.

Another option is to become one of the bnai noach (children of Noah) and keep the seven noachide mitzvot. These are:
No stealing.
No blasphemy.
No murder.
No adultery.
No idolatry.
No eating flesh taken from a living animal.
And, finally, DO live in a place with courts to punish murder and robbery.

There are many details of Noachide law which I am unfamiliar with. But you can find Noachide online and learn what to do to join them. Reply

anonymous ottawa March 17, 2016

We just never know Hahalah, I had no idea that converts were destroyed. I do believe that if I persist, I will be accepted, and probably if I were to commit at the point, I'd have a lot more understanding and a lot more tolerance for those who resist and don't accept. There's just so many problems with converting. Like the fact that I don't want to get married. I'm under the impression that Jews are very much encouraged to marry. It isn't any different for myself, as a heathen, there's still a lot of pressure on me to marry, but my single position seems more tenable in this situation. I so much appreciate all the feedback I've been getting and I will always be an active friend of Chabad.org. Reply

Yochana March 17, 2016

At this point; I am 100% I want to be stuck with all jews; and live with purpose; When moses brought the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt to Israel; He told his wife; that that was his people ; and g'd gave the commandments so they can be organized and live in peace in that precious land. I have been trying for years to understand the laws ; the meaning; the traditions; even learned how to cook all the tradition food; such as every shakos; when I make Challah ; and say a blessing; it makes me feel close to g'd and close to all jews ; when I light the shakos candle I feel that I am illuminating my home; and sending light to all jews . I have visited Israel while I was at the Bialik school; at 11 years old ; since then I had always wanted to be jewish, When i visited Israel with my Grandparents ; I cried at 11 years old; I felt I was there before; I want to go back . I want go though convention .I was told by a rabbi i have a soul Reply

Chuck Florida March 16, 2016

I am basely alone , so are you. I who am alone have been approached by many Christians who
believe they and their Minister interpretation of the original Bible is right , and we as Jew , who supposedly killed their Christ , have to be evil . They wish to convert everyone to
their beliefs . The real truth is by being this accuser they
learn that a knowledgeable Jew knows the truth so if as alone person you engage with them the different structure of Jewish belief they are hit with the truth , and then they shut down , or listen in disbelief ready to tell the Jew what I would consider so bad a mist-rue as to poison the Lords function and Name . The process of learning that which offers no material reward in faith is not easy. For a none Jew to convert one has to have faith not just in love for G-d ,but in conviction
that His words especially in the first five books are His words written down by His appointed scribe . This is the beginning of a complex process of learning where each person may choose to grow in faih Reply

Hanalah New York March 16, 2016

The custom of discouraging Christians from becoming Jews began when European laws condemned such converts to death, often at the stake. The Talmud says "The righteous of all nations have a place in the World to Come"--which in Christian terms means that all people who behave decently go to Heaven, and you don't have to be a particular religion. So we warn you to stay alive and safe, because you can get to heaven without being a Jew. "Righteous" doesn't mean "perfect"--it means your deeds are decent. You don't murder. You don't steal. You don't persecute minorities.

Today, Christians who become Jews are at lesser risk, but you are still at risk. You risk alienating your Christian friends and kin. You risk alienating your employer. And you are making an eternal commitment and losing your chance to change your mind later. If you truly are meant to live a Jewish life, you will persist and you will be accepted. But meanwhile, it is important to stop and think long and hard about whether you really want to be stuck with us. If you do want to be with us, you are welcome! Reply

anonymous ottawa March 8, 2016

SanFransisco, Barbara SanFran, Thanks so much for your words of encouragement. Barbara, somehow I hear your mother's words resounding in my head too... "The Jews have suffered enough. *snort* Reply

Sarah Brooklyn March 6, 2016

Barbara Black I will say to you the same as to anyone else.

The same as I see being said by Anonymous in San Francisco.

The same as I said to a Hasidic Rabbi.

I do not "believe" in Gd. I know for a fact that Gd is real, that Gd is the ONLY reality, that Gd lives in us and among us and that we live in a universe that is surrounded by Gd. I have experienced many small but amazing miracles brought about by my own prayers, despite my unworthiness. Just to recall the healings of myself and others brings tears to my eyes. I refuse to put on blinders in order to conform to the beliefs of supposed "ratonalists" but I do not argue with them either. I simply know that GD is the only reality. Everything else, as I once read somewhere, is Gd playing hide-and-seek with Gd's self. Gd loves us all. Getting over a feeling of unworthiness is the main barrier to accepting Gd's love.

May Gd bless you on your path. The choice is yours. Reply

Barbara Black Canada March 5, 2016

I was raised in an atheist/agnostic home and only came to believe after I asked God if the Bible was really his word. I was 99% certain it wasn't and was stunned to receive an answer. I was only twelve so it took me a long time to read through that Bible. For about a year, I was a quasi Jew and still cannot eat pork. But some things did not line up. Also, my Mom would not let be become Jewish. She said the Jews had suffered enough! Reply

Anonymous san francisco March 2, 2016

"Believing" in G-d is not the requirement. Even our sages teach us this. Believing is different than "knowing." Believing is conceptual; knowing is experiential. Knowing G-d begins at uniquely different places for each of us. There are rituals, practices, and study that gives rise to our fuller "knowing" - that are different from other traditions. Coming to the experiential engagement with G-d is our unique way of hearing the call at Sinai. No other human being can possibly define "your path." Judaism is still in the throes of survivalism, and those that would discourage you in anyway to explore Judaism, or choose this path, may be speaking from a 'survivalist' perspective. Do not be put off. I do not think G-d would in any way discourage your relationship with Him, nor encourage any teacher to dissuade you. There are traditions of Judaism that are more inclusive and welcoming than others. Don't call off your search! Reply

This page in other languages