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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 (386)
April 16, 2015
alejo.
You seem to have missed the whole point of the article. The reason jews do not go around spreading their religion is, as mentioned in the article, that is not what G-D wants. he wants man to be moral and caring rather than following his base instincts, ie; choosing good over evil or to be a "giver" rather than a "taker". to use the free will bestowed unto man. the Torah was an extension given over to the jewish tribe to extend upon the ethics and morals which had previously been revealed to adam and noah as explained in the article. It is therefore clear that not the whole world is expected to adhere to the torahs commandment, but instead seek to do the best for there community.

regarding the resurrection, all good people will have a place in the world to come, which is the stage after the resurrection. the Torah was an extension given over to the jewish tribe to extend upon these ethics and morals which had previously been revealed to adam and noah.
morris jay
London England
April 3, 2015
Universalists?
Alejo, not sure what you're asking or what you mean to ask.

I'm glad that you have found the religion you need.

Do you wonder why you feel the need to post into a Jewish site? Not to incite, right?

Have you asked your priest these questions? His response would probably be more apropos to your needs.
Meira Shana
San Diego
March 29, 2015
So, are Jews universalists? Is everyone going to partake in resurrection? If Hashem has revealed his word to his people shouldn't they go and teach the world these truths? I once considered conversion to Judaism but most Jews and rabbis I approached seemed very disinterested in anyone joining the tribe. That's fine. I prayed more about it and became convinced of Christ's divinity. I confessed my sins and have been a practicing Catholic ever since.

My question is, are Jews universalists? It sounds that way from the way the Rabbi responded to this question.
Alejo
Orlando, FL
March 19, 2015
Many Jews have been exposed to a pale shadow of a Torah-true life. They abandon it without ever checking it out. They become totally secular, or they become Buddhist. A few become Hindus.

Surely members of various religious communities have also abandoned their ancestral traditions in a similar fashion, without ever checking them out thoroughly.

So it IS good to advise people to check out their own traditions before considering converting to become Jews.

It IS true that Jews lack the custom of going door to door trying to convert strangers. The only non-Jews whom we urge to convert are those women who want to marry our sons. That is because we want our grandchildren to be Jewish, which is only possible if their mothers are Jewish.

There is also another reason: unless the household is religiously united, the odds are that the grandchildren will abandon all worship, even if the mother is Jewish and it is the father who is not.
Larry
Kansas City
March 18, 2015
beautiful article!
Anonymous
March 17, 2015
Craig H - re: pressure to convert
My ex was Jewish and did not want to join a synagogue, until I mentioned divorce. We had a child and now or never.

My second husband was not Jewish and he wanted to join a synagogue! He chose to take Hebrew lessons and he chose to become the chair of the Tikkun Olam Committee.

Judaism does not condone converting people. That is not the goal of Judaism.

If a person wants to convert, that is entirely up to that person. S/He must figure out the way ... the path is probably bumpy. But anything worth having is worth the effort, IMNSHO.

As a born Jew, I do not follow all the rituals - and know people who have become Jews who follow just about everything. Some keep kosher. I do not although was raised orthodox and lived in a kosher home.

Yes, sometimes I'm a bit ashamed for not following the commandments. However, G-d knows that I do my best on many other levels.

One also does not have to convert to enjoy Judaism.

On my death bed I hope I will say my prayers as I do now daily.
Meira Shana
San Diego
March 17, 2015
No one has to do anything
Just think about it: had no one listened when G-d supposedly spoke, we were have no wars. We would not have hatred against Jews because there would be no Jews.

There would also be no Christians or Muslims.

There are still other religions available. B'Hai, Buddhism, Hinduism, and the good ole Sun and Moon and Stars.

Shouldn't religion have brought Peace to All?

Once a religion started, we are ALL converts to it. The Hebrews / Israelites who chose to listen became Jews. Those who chose to not follow all the given commandments made their own sects.

Once Christianity came into being, even they broke down into dozens of different sects. The only thing that holds them together is their belief in Jesus.

Jews chose to believe in G-d, no intermediary necessary.

We have that right - just as Christians or Muslims or other religions have the right to theirs.

Judaism is not about converting others.

Are all Jews friendly? No. Not even to other Jews. No difference than in churches.
Meira Shana
San Diego
March 15, 2015
Re: Meira Shana
"In my entire life I know not of any Jews who press people into converting to Judaism."
If people of separate religions find themselves in love/marriage, there is often much pressure for conversions. For Jews, Muslims, and Christians intermarriage is usually looked at as a terrible thing. Personally, there has been much pressure for me to become Christian, strangely not from my Christian wife's side, but from my Christian parents. When I was on what I thought was on my death bed many years ago, I decided that if I had to die that I believed in the Gd of the Jews and not Jesus. One does not have to convert to Judaism in order to find inspiration from the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs. To me being a son of Noah also means embracing Judaism, and the Jews.
Craig Hamilton
Sandwich, MA
March 15, 2015
Converting
To Alonda Parson in NC - you have a lot of guts and bravo to you. keep it up!
JDV
March 15, 2015
To Meira~ Gentleman's Agreement! :)
Pt. 2

Hardships. I know racism; anti-semitism, exists and while I can’t say that it won’t hurt I am prepared to acknowledge that I may experience it for being Jewish. I really appreciate you suggesting this movie; Meira. I’d recommend that anyone else considering conversion also watch it. It gets you thinking about how this decision will impact not only your life, but also the lives of your loved ones. And; with anti-semitism occurring throughout history and even rising today I am prepared for this commitment.

I very much agreed with your last comment where you noted that if someone wants and needs to become Jewish they must be willing to go through the process; Meira. There are rituals and rules that must be followed. I think that is what makes Judaism of interest to those wanting to convert. I love the traditions of Judaism, but for me the social aspect needs to be welcoming because I do have a shy nature. It has been my experience that Jews do not actively seek converts; which varies very much from other denominations.

I love the traditions of Judaism, but for me the social aspect needs to be welcoming because I do have a shy nature. It has been my experience that Jews do not actively seek converts; which varies very much from other denominations. I’ve personally never liked to be “preached at”, but I don’t mind discussing religion. However; just offering a warm and welcoming environment would help me keep my nerve in the conversion process. It isn’t that I need nerve for my decision to convert, but need to be in a supportive and welcoming environment where my desire to convert is met receptively and respectfully.

Be well; Meira, and thanks again for your positivity and encouragement here in this thread. :)
JBK
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