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Should I Convert to Judaism?

Should I Convert to Judaism?

Is Judaism For Everybody?

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Question:

I came across your site and wow--I really want to become Jewish. My mother was a fairly devout Italian Catholic and my father an Anglican skeptic who never went to church. I was always so confused. But now your site has really turned me on to Judaism, a real coming home for me. What's my next step?

Response:

Your next step is to become a better person. Develop greater faith in your soul, in your destiny, and in your Maker. Do more good, reach out to more people. Learn more wisdom, apply whatever you learn, and make life worth living.

But you don't need to become Jewish to do any of that. Plenty of wonderful people doing beautiful things in the world are not Jewish, and G‑d is nonetheless pleased with them. And if you're worried about going to heaven, Jewish belief is that all good people have a share in the World to Come, as long as they connect their lives to the oneness of G-d and keep the Seven Laws of Noah.

You see, there's Judaism and there's Jewishness, and the two are not one and the same. Judaism is wisdom for every person on the planet and beyond. We call it the Torah, meaning "the teaching," and it's a divine message to all human beings containing the principles that much of humanity has already accepted as absolute truths. The idea that human life is beyond value is a teaching originating from Torah, as is the related concept that all human beings are created equal. So too, the right of every individual to literacy and education was brought to the world through Torah. And world peace as a value and goal was preached exclusively by the Torah and its prophets thousands of years before it became popular in the rest of the world. And of course, the idea that there is a single, incorporeal Being who creates and sustains all of reality, and is concerned over all that occurs with each individual, thereby giving each person, creature, event and object meaning, purpose and destiny--this is a core teaching upon which everything else rests, and the central teaching of the Torah.

This teaching was not only preserved, but unfolded, explained, illuminated and applied in so many different ways by Jewish sages since it was given, over 3300 years ago. They've applied it to serious matters of medical ethics, business ethics, politics, personal enlightenment--every facet of human life. Today it is all readily available for all humanity to partake of and learn from, as a beacon of light and an inspiration to all.

That's Judaism. Then there is Jewishness. To be Jewish means to belong to an ancient tribe, either by birth or by adoption (a.k.a. conversion). It's a strange and unique tribe, because it is the only one to have survived into modernity while retaining most of the characteristics of a Bronze Age tribe. Anthropologist Jared Diamond describes in his book, "Guns, Germs and Steel," how a New Guinea tribesman, when visiting a nearby village of the same tribe, will immediately start the conversation with an investigation of, "So, who are you related to? Do you know so-and-so?" to establish tribal relations. Well, that's exactly what Jewish people do today when they meet one another all over the world. Because, whether living in Manhattan or Joburg, Tel Aviv or Vladivostok, we are still all one tribe.

And for good reason: To preserve the teachings of an ageless Torah for the world, the Jewish People themselves need to be ageless, remaining outside of time, as it were, even while traveling within it.

Tribes have rituals. So do Jews. Males of the tribe wear particular items of clothing, such as tzitzit and kippot. Women keep a certain mode of modest dress and married women cover their hair. Men also wrap leather boxes containing parchment scrolls on the heads and arms every morning, while robed in woolen sheets with more of those tzitzit tassels. In our services, we chant ancient Hebrew and read from an ancient scroll. We have holidays that commemorate our tribal memories and establish our identity as a whole. Certain foods are taboo and other food is supervised and declared fit-for-the-tribe. Nope, you can't get much more ancient-tribal than any of that.

The point is, none of that ritual stuff was ever meant as a universal teaching, except perhaps in a more generalized way. Modest dress--yes, a good idea for all. Why should the human being be reduced to a body icon? A chat with your Maker every morning? How can a human being do without it? And injecting some spirituality into your food consumption--what a great way to transcend the mundane. But as to the particular rituals in their Jewish form, as meaningful as they are to us, there's simply no meaning in someone outside the tribe taking them on. (If you don't believe me, take a look in the source-text, where G‑d tells Moses, "Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them to...")

Now, what I'm saying is not very PC nowadays. We live in a world of hypermobility. Not just because we own our own cars and reserve our own tickets online to go anywhere, anytime--but because we imagine our very identities to be just as mobile as our powerbook. Pick me up and take me anywhere. Today I'm a capitalist entrepreneur, tomorrow an Inuit activist, and the next day a Californian bohemian. And we can mix and match--today, you can be Italian, Nigerian, Chinese and Bostonian all in the same meal. So who is this Freeman character to tell me which tribe I belong to and which not?

To be frank, because this Freeman character considers the hyper-identity scheme to be a scam, a mass delusion and a social illness. You can switch your clothes, your eating habits, your friends, your social demeanor, your perspective on life and maybe you can even switch to a Mac. But G-d decides who you are, and the best you can do is discover it.

Two friends of mine joined the Peace Corps back in the sixties and were posted in Southeast Asia. Together, they visited a little-known guru in the jungle to whom they announced, "We want to become Buddhists."

"Well, what are you now?" he asked them.

"Nothing," they replied.

"Where did you come from? What were your parents?"

"They were Jews."

"So why are you coming to me?" he asked. "Go and be Jews."

Now it's my turn to return the favor and tell the Southeast Asians, the Italians, the Nigerians, the Inuits and all the rest of humanity this little piece:

I believe that what G-d wants from each person is that s/he examine the heritage of his ancestors, discover the truths hidden there and live in accordance with them, knowing that this is what his Creator wants from her/him. The truths are there because all of human society was originally founded upon the laws given to Adam and to Noah, along with those laws that all the children of Noah accepted upon themselves. These truths are found by examining one's heritage through the light of Torah. The Jewish Tribe are the bearers of that light. But you don't need to become Jewish to partake of it. Light shines for all who have eyes.

Enjoy our site. Help spread the light.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
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Discussion (328)
October 21, 2014
Can I join to Jews If I am not Jew since birth and I do not have family neither relatives who are Jews?
CGS
September 28, 2014
converting so hard
As i expressed in my July 2014 post, there should be some special term or status to people interested in Judaism, maybe considering conversion in the future, etc. Read Rabbi Boteach's article in last Friday's Jewish Standard. a lot of people don't like him but I think he is very smart and he speaks to something similar to what I have said.
JDV
September 14, 2014
Sept 2 - Anonymous
It is true horrible things have been done to Jews over the years. But this is a narrow view as horrible things were also done to Christians (by other secs of Christians) and to others. Even as I write terrible things are happening to Christians that will not convert to another religion.

Thank you for helping to clear some of my questions.

You refer to the Jewish soul that reincarnates into a goy body being drawn back to it's Jewish family, seeking conversion because it feels an identity with them. What is missing here, is that a righteous soul in a goy body ALSO feels an identity with the Jewish people from childhood. It is not a new identity we seek but our "True identity". And we know why we are drawn to you, it is your "G_d"!
Kathleen
SC
September 9, 2014
Excellent! I've thought about conversion, but this totally makes a lot of sense to me. I'm studying Kabbalah (which is and can be very confusing for a non jew who doesn't have a background in Torah and the Kabbalists. However this website sheds light on what I am confused about in such a simple manner and for that I'm forever grateful. We all came from the same source...but when we arrive here we all become separate We change ourselves according to the light (the Torah)...we change the world.
Alba
September 3, 2014
Hi Kathleen,
Thank you for your contribution. I think you have put the conversation into its proper perspective and I totally agree with your views. I particularly note your distinction in the world of goy relating to anti-semites. I think we all know that anti-semitic hate can exist within.

Many Thanks,
Cliff
September 2, 2014
conversion & hide or not

People who seek conversion are not searching for a "new identity" , they find in Judaism what they identified with all along, from childhood. They see the Jews as a collective soul and are drawn to it without really being able to explain why.

With the crypto(hidden) Jews and those who had to convert to another religion in history, I don't think anyone should judge them because we'll never know how horrible it might have been for them. Will you not pretend to convert if someone was threatening to torture your own child or any members of your family? Really?
I don't think I could be one of those heroic people, especially after seeing the horrific inhumanity that is going on in some countries at the moment. Those kind of atrocities used to be not uncommon a few hundred or thousand years ago.
Anonymous
September 1, 2014
To Meira
Thank you for presenting Jewish points of view in this discussion. Your words remind me of a Jewish lady at a Sabbath lunch. She said "why do you want to become one of us, THEY hate us". I replied they don't all hate you. You only see the ones that hate you. The others are in the shadows and bow in respect when you pass.

Anti-Semitism comes from two sources (in the goy world), as I see it. Those who hate your (Jewish G-d) G-d. And those who are angry with you (Jews) for not doing what you are suppose to. The rest respect, love and try to learn from or join you.

I believe your point is that if we have a Jewish soul we will choose to suffer with the Jewish Nation. Suggesting how to make that commitment is not so simple as you say. We are in a world of disconnect. We must decide whether to follow the 7 Noahide laws or become Jewish. We are asking who are we and what does G-d require of us (examining our heart). We only know that your G-d is G-D! We love and must obey HIM!
Kathleen
SC
September 1, 2014
RE: Hide or not
I like that last response, Meira.

...Thank you. :)
Leanne
The UK
September 1, 2014
Conversion
Yes Miera, I couldn't agree more. But I agree with this who say there is no such thing as conversion only returning.
I have had plenty of remarks made to me and I think its good to remember that when someone undermines you, predicts your doom, or critzes you in any way they are telling you their story not yours.
Cliff
August 31, 2014
Hide or not
For anyone considering converting, just know your own heart. Look at all aspects of being a Jew, wherever you live.

Jews throughout Europe did not hide. They owned businesses and houses and lived as did non-Jews. Maybe their mode of dress was different and they attended synagogues instead of churches -- but were known. Once known, treated very poorly. Once known were made to wear a Yellow Star of David on their sleeves.

When given the decision to convert or die - some chose death or left their homes and businesses and countries. When their choice was to live but to do so as a Christian, some learned to be Christians and some still did their Jewish prayers and rituals in secret.

The world is heating up AGAIN - everywhere.

If you want to become a Jew do so because it's a huge part of who you are, in spite of what others say and do. Be prepared -- and then follow your heart.

Please don't put words into my 'mouth' ... the subject is about converting. Educate yourself.
Meira Shana
San Diego
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