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Why Do Rabbis Discourage Conversions?

Why Do Rabbis Discourage Conversions?



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.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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Discussion (282)
October 30, 2015
Hanalah and others. I always felt perfectly at home and warm and secure with Jews - unlike with any other group - except for the Muslims. I never understood why they seemed to want to keep me at a distance. Having familiarized myself with the culture and history a bit, I have a better understanding of that now. People, outsiders no matter how fun and nice can really upset the apple cart - I think that's the fear anyway. It is with me.
October 29, 2015
Thank you, Chaya Golan.
It is true that we have somewhat of a variety of folks in Houston. But not as much of a variety of Jews as there are in New York or Israel.

Still, I should have emphasized your point and said, "If you cannot find any group you like at United Orthodox, try another congregation, or try another city. We have quite a variety of folks.

But please do make sure you find folks you like somewhere. I know a man who converted even though, as he told me, he does NOT like the people. And the old Jewish proverb says, "Life is with people."

The principles are simply not enough all by themselves. If you convert on the basis of ideals, and then find that (of course) the people fail to perfectly live up to the ideals...oy oy oy.

And yes, I mean well. I love to welcome people home to us.
October 27, 2015
Well done, Aaron, I like your statement. Living in Israel though, I should tell you that the word for conversion is "Giyur" - גיור.
To Kirstin and Hanalah: Hanalah, I think you mean well, but I need to remark on your line: "If you do NOT like the folks, then be one of the Bnai Noach. There is no use trying to be one of us if you do not enjoy us." Who exactly is "us"? There are so many different streams of Judaism, and so many different Jews, that don't even follow a certain stream! My advice to Kirstin is: If you don't like what you find in one place, go to another! In the end you'll find the one that is right for you. People will be people, even if you should think in the beginning that every Jew you meet is a fateful encounter, they are only individuals whom you might like or not, and therefore should not be crucial to your decision. Godspeed finding your crowd!
chaya golan
October 26, 2015
To Aaron
Re your statement:
" 'conversion' - (a word for which there is actually no Hebrew word per se),"

The Hebrew for "conversion" is "gerut."
Kate Gladstone
Albany, NY, USA
October 22, 2015
Great article
It is really good that I am reading this article. I can relate a lot. I have been dealing with severals obstacles to convert..I have been resisting for years. I have been observing shakos for 3 years now ..on my own with my husband and pets, I learned how to cook challah online, do the blessings in hebrew..I live in jewish area of New Jersey, but it is hard to find a Rabbi to talk to, and I feel shy to approach a rabbi or others jews (i have many jewish friends, in the dog community and we do celebrate festivities together with our dogs) however, shakos became very important to me, every shabbos, I ask g'd to help me to have a jewish soul to become jewish to have the strength to follow though to become jewish..when i close my eyes and ask the almighty that, i look to my self and feel that there is a long way to go it is painful . but it is more painful to go on in life without carrying jewish values , the jewish ethics, most of all my purpose in life .
new Jersey
June 2, 2015
Silliness and childishness
The rabbis might choose to invest less energy in creating obstacles for conviction-motivated converts (beyond the first three rejections) and more in making Judaism viable and practice for all Jews. Judaism is not viable until there are more Jews. End of report. These rejections are like hard questions in a job interview-they only exist for a simple and short purpose. Judaism does not have the luxury of playing games with people's lives. G-d has already mandated a protocol for conversion. He wants converts, rabbis. Sorry if that disturbs your status quo and comfort level. Therefore, the need for all the articles on not mistreating the converts and the extra commandment to love the convert.
Much, much more emphasis needs to be placed on the mind-numbing numbers of secular and intermarrying Jewish majority. Jews for nothing. A 56% intermarriage rate! Double emphasis needed.
Perhaps Mashiach would have come earlier, would have been a descendent of one of those converts. I suspect so.
May 1, 2015
To Kristen in Houston
Go to United Orthodox. Ask people to invite you to Shabbos dinner. Attend Torah classes if you like. Get to know the folks.
If you enjoy being with these folks, tell the rabbi you'd like to be a Jew. I suspect you can get it done in less than two years, IF you really want to. That is the tradition at that synagogue.

Please keep in touch. Let us know how it is going.

If you do NOT like the folks, then be one of the Bnai Noach. There is no use trying to be one of us if you do not enjoy us. That's only common sense.

Oh, let me remind you: the rabbi is duty bound to refuse you three times. If you give up, it means you don't really want it that much and it is not for you. It is very difficult to live a Torah lifestyle, much harder than you think. Your friends may reject you. Your parents may reject you. And some people may behave hatefully to you. So you must avoid becoming a Jew unless you really want very much to be a Jew. Otherwise you're stuck. Once you're a Jew you can't undo it.
March 22, 2015
I'm not Jewish but Shabbat tables, mezuzah, and all Jewish practice feels very very natural to me and feels like I have arrived home.
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.
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.
Houston, Texas