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Why Do Rabbis Discourage Conversions?

Why Do Rabbis Discourage Conversions?

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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.
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children’s books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London.
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Discussion (274)
August 31, 2014
Judaism Finds You
I wonder how that would work? To summarize on my experience, I feel like it has followed me around my whole life. I went from barely noticing the whole movement and the people as well, to noticing that numerous people of great influence in my life were Jewish. Then, (blushing beet red now) I found I very often fell hard for men, whom I only discovered were Jewish after the fact. It was certainly never something that I noticed first about Jews of either gender. After this happened enough times, I developed a deep curiosity and fascination for the people and the culture. After a number of years I discovered my adopted mother was a Christianized Jew, who completely renounced that part of her culture. For my part, it took surprisingly little exposure before I felt the culture seeping into me and seeming to fuse with my identity.
anonymous
ottawa
August 29, 2014
Rabbis dissauding potential converts
I myself have been wanting to convert to Orthodox Judaism. I have wanted this for three years. When the rabbi turns me away to test me how do I know when to return a second and then third time? I know during that time I am turned away I keep on studying.
Bethany
Houston, Texas
May 13, 2014
conversions (May 12 2013)
Aaron's post was encouraging , thank you for your post.
' Judaism finds you, not the other way around ' - quite true.

Anonymous
May 12, 2014
Conversions
So much attention about who is IN and who is OUT; what "form" of Judaism is real; what sort is a "knock-off." Just be cautious of anyone that "judge" your path, regardless of their "position," "title," or organization. Only YOU know your intention. This is a path by choice. A path of attraction. Judaism finds YOU, not the other way around. The mere fact that one is searching and considering a path of study, worship, ritual, and mitzvot is in itself, kadosh, or holy. Those brothers and sisters that are contemplating "conversion" - (a word for which there is actually no Hebrew word per se), please consider that when you are truly ready, the right teachers and community will appear. Those that turn you away may not be worthy of your heart intention,
Aaron
San Francisco
May 9, 2014
Conversation (Convertion :o)
Chuck, that was a great post. I speak very little in life. There were practical reasons at first, but at some point, the reasons became more mystical. There is power in words and there is so much more to be said about this, than can be said here. A few weeks ago I was engaged in conversation, and I was amazed and somewhat unpleasantly surprised by the stupid, thoughtless things that came out of my mouth, despite years of practice and meditation with regards to silence and speaking judiciously. Just goes to show you how easy it is to forget to use discretion and better judgement before using words. The next time, I feel like I should wear a string tied around my finger or something so that I don't forget.
anonymous
May 6, 2014
Conversation
Why is there an angel of trouble ? The presentation of problem causes trouble . It is cause and effect . When G-d gives trouble in Jewish tradition we say he , not the Devil order this trouble . This is in the Haggadah . If the application of //a is wrong this is an act of evil- so says G-d in the T-rah . This become very complex , that is , the act of speaking and its effects . The act of speaking for most Judges does not deal with the law -Law , in most case directly but it does so indirectly ,
most of the time Personally , if one watches every word out his or her mouth ,
he or she trains as a Prophet especially as to their future effect of ones words .
Since most people , including the Rabbi writing this does not think about the effects of their words and sometimes about the T_rahs words which equal G-ds "swords " Words are swords . The point is that there is never a equality in conversation if one of the parties is not weighing ones words.
Chuck
April 29, 2014
There is such a thing as ethnic prejudice and we are not immune, but you can avoid it.
You can avoid ethnic prejudice. Find a community FIRST, before converting. Find one whose members you LIKE.

Become a part of that community. Let them invite you home. Let them like you. Let THEIR rabbi be the one to advise you what courses to take and to choose the members of the Bet Din (the religious court) which will perform the ceremony and will witness your immersion in the mikveh. You will be part of their community even BEFORE you complete the conversion process. Community is everything.

You are not merely adopting a philosophy or a belief, and if you try to do that, you will become judgemental and unpleasant and disliked. Nobody's perfect, after all.

You must first be compatible with a community, and you must join a community. That way your supposed conversion will not be a conversion at all. It will be a homecoming.
Chaim
Santa Barbara
April 28, 2014
To Anonymous

Whose Answer are your comments directed to?
The Torah in Parshat Ki tzeitzei discusses the basis of who is a Jew. The torah Defines all the laws in the written Torah, and explains it in detail in the Oral tradition that in the 2nd and 3rd Century CE had to be written down due to the severe persecution by the Non Jews at that time. This persecution as continued right up until this very day. It is not an ethnic prejudice, but a response by non Jews who do not accept the Torah as binding on them. The Jews are wary of any conversions done for convenience. So we must make sure you are converting for the right reason and not because you hate pork chops. I pointed out the case previously and also am Aware of the full implications of the tragedy of mixed marriages.
David Aharon Lindzon-Lindsay
Toronto Ontario, Canada
April 28, 2014
Conversion
His answer to the question on conversion, i.e., גרות, does not reflect the Torah and is a common answer to hide the fact that tragically and mistakenly ethnic prejudices often plays a role in the answer. No I do not expect this comment to be posted. Please, stop giving such a poor and shallow answer to non-Jews who want to follow the way of Judaism.
Anonymous
December 25, 2013
Answer to anonymous
I did a search and found the article under Chabad in search of Jewish Roots ...which has the information I told you about?
type the following in your search '"Shlach amee" and you'll get the her information.
David Aharon Lindzon-Lindsay
Toronto Ontario, Canada
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