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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 (301)
July 23, 2014
What about we are all brothers and sisters regardless of where we live, colour of skin, or title we worship G-d with. My understanding of scripture is this, G-d wants to be Our Heavenly Father, He wants us to become His sons and daughters, no borders, no boundaries. G-d's desire for us to be one with Him. I know He chose Israel as a nation unto Himself, His people living in such a way that all the world would come to know Him through His people. To know Him as we are known by Him. He fashioned us in our mothers womb, He created us for His delight, in return, He wants us to delight in Him. G-d is so loving, so kind and gracious. We can all be ONE in Him, God Almighty, Hashem, The Lord G-d bless you all in your journey into Him. Micah 6v8 "He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?" May we all learn to walk together in unity and love for each other
Andy
Brisbane au
July 21, 2014
I have studied various religions, attended church, prayed in Buddhist temples, studied with an Orthodox rabbi, prayed in a masjid, studied scriptures at the university and read the Greek philosophers and never have I read or more commonsense approach to faith.
Richard Ryan
Phoenix
July 8, 2014
James_ July 7
James I will be praying for you .
perhaps we are meant to feel torn until we complete that voyage.
Anonymous
July 8, 2014
Hello to all, well this subject is interesting as I stated on my past comments. On my 3rd Beis Din visit, my wife was ask lots of stuff (she know it all), but when I was called in, the Rabbis didn't know where to start, the only question they ask was:" what about Jesus" which they asked twice before in the prior interviews. So I replied with Talmud. They said Ohhhh ok. Thanks l, we will call you.
My point us that they really don't care much if I've observers fully the last 7 years or how much you know of Halacha and so on. They test even your pacience!!! Lol thanks Hashem we are almost done with the process. Laws for converts and how we are treated by Beis Dins should be re-evaluated seriously. We are humans and we deserve respect. Thanks for reading !!!
Anonymous
Boca
July 7, 2014
Re Simon
I am going to contact a Rabbi about 70 miles from me. Perhaps I will be allowed a visit. I will also contact the Chabad house in the same city. You are right. I forgot there is such a thing as a phone in my house, silly me. The greatest voyage of my life and to think Simon was the one who shoved me away from the shore. I am very thankful for your loving kindness. Three days ago, I had to bury the one I have loved most. I cannot describe my loneliness except for Gd, Simon, Janice and Chabad.org. Gd has loved me through you. Gd bless you.
James Babb
NE Arkansas
July 4, 2014
Should I convert......
Regarding what i had said previously, about there needing to be some sort of term for people who convert to Judaism from other traditions, those interested in doing this, etc. how about an "adopted Jew?" You adopt us and we adopt you.
JDV
July 3, 2014
James Babb--use the web and use the phone. Ask for help.

You deserve better than to be sick and alone when you could have Jews praying for you.

Gd bless you.
Simon
Cleveland
June 27, 2014
Ask a Rabbi (Orthodox) but also ask a Ger (Orthodox)
Then if you are still interested, live as a Jew for a few years. Learn Hebrew, learn Rambam Mitzvot, be absolutely honest with yourself, your Rabbi and the Bais Din--remember you are not just joining a people/family you are making HaShem your G-d. Even if you are absolutely certain that you have a Jewish soul, it will be fine if you do not live as a Jew, but not so fine if you do not live as an honest and good person. IYR
Baruch
USA
June 20, 2014
JDV, I have a FB group called "The 13th Tribe, Strangers in Their Midst". In it, I repost many of Rabbi Tzvi's stories and Chabad.org content and more from other relevant sources. I'm in desperate need of members. I thought I was relatively alone in this... I have many frum friends who are members - but none are posting. Everyone in this discussion is more than welcome! Please stop by? Good Shabbos!
Darah
Hawaii
June 20, 2014
JDV
I like your suggestion JDV. It would be kind of helpful to meet some of you guys without pressure.
Anonymous
UK
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