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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 (319)
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
August 31, 2014
Should i convert to Judaism
There was a comment in a previous post about the ongoing conflict between Christians and Jews. What about the ongoing conflict between Jews and Jews? Let's get it together folks!
JDV
August 29, 2014
Shalom

I find this very informative. I am a non Jew. I read the Torah in English and attempting to learn Hebrew. My genealogy is English, Scottish, Maori (Native New Zealand) and German Jewish (Great Grand Father). I have always had a difficulty with the Christian view on religion. I believe fully in our creator but not sure how to show it. I have visited a shull and found the experience fulfilling as was my wife and myself's visit to aretz . Who am I in the context of this discussion. I welcome your views

Russ
NZ
Russell Rodgers
August 27, 2014
Hi Miera
Hi Miera,
I don't see your point of comparing Jews living in the diaspora ( presume your talking about predominantly Christian countries ).
We seem to be straying off the point. I thought you were talking about Goy ? My concern is for safety in the present situation. And I am certainly not suggesting anyone should hide.
I agree with the anonymous writer here who suggests that doing Mitzvah would be more in keeping with a real test of spirit.

G-d bless
Cliff
London
August 27, 2014
Conversion experience
The request to convert is taken seriously and the push back is a kindness, just because, it is very painful to leave everything familiar. The Rabbi looked me in the eye and said "You do know that you will need to leave them and join us". I thought. I want to change religion not family. But soon found out the Rabbi was right. Just living in a Jewish way makes BIG changes. People you thought were nice were no longer nice and others would respect but think you strange. And yes the questions! Lots of them. Some were to "save the soul", but others were because the nations really do look to the Jews to bring them light. Either way you must be prepare to deal if displaying the look or symbols of Jewishness.
The most anti-Semitism I experienced was from Jews while walking among them dressed in a modest fashion. I learned three Jews, six opinions. Your family killed them. Even if they went to the camps to protect them. This is the world of the Ger.
Anonymous
Southern California
August 27, 2014
In my studies of scripture I find this one truth repeated, The Israeli's, Hebrew's, Jew's, are God's chosen people, "I have chosen you as a nation unto Myself", Awesome, chosen, commissioned to show the whole world how God wants to bless them too by blessing Israel over and above every other nation. The Jews were told to teach the rest of us God's ways, as with Job, so we could also join in the worship, praising and gift offering that pleases God so that our offerings could also be accepted, Leviticus 23. I love God, and all that He has to offer, I love Israel and the people of Israel. As a christian believer, I know not to convert Jews to christianity, that is a lie from the church of rome, we are 2 separate 'paddocks of sheep', one is chosen First, the other is invited Second, His plans are for us to live in unity peace and love, One God, One faith in Him One baptism into Him, simple
Andy
Brisbane Au
August 26, 2014
Conversion
I enjoyed this article and I think Rabbi Freeman brought up some great points. First and foremost people need to understand that the decision to convert is to be taken seriously. The last thing that someone should do is undergo the process then don't remain committed to living a Jewish life. That being said; I have considered converting, but I have had some issues arise with non-Jews and Jews alike. I understand Jews don't actively seek- converts, but when someone inquires sincerely they should be taken at face value and treated with kindness and respect. Be welcoming and friendly not snotty or forever suspicious. As it is; one would be leaving everything familiar for an unknown (despite chosen) new way of life. That in itself is a huge deal!

What discourages me the most is seeing the conflict between Jews and Christians that seems neverending. I think there should be more attempts made to understand and promote cohesiveness between the two. It would greatly improve relations.
Anonymous
August 25, 2014
To those who have gone in the mikveh and are now Jews: Welcome Home!
That's it!
Hanalah
Houston
August 25, 2014
Should i convert?
Again, the conversation is heating up! Meira suggestion is interesting but I think one's religion is personal and shouldn't be advertised. Also, because of my very Nordic appearance, total strangers in the past have thought they had a right to ask me the most personal questions in the world which i found offensive. Would they do that to Christians? I hardly think so!
JDV
August 24, 2014
"to blatantly flaunt"
Cliff, do Christians blatantly show off because they are wearing crosses? Or crossing themselves in restaurants before eating? Or blasting Christmas and Easter everywhere? Or getting special privileges for days off from school for their holidays when Jewish children cannot?

Are Christians blatantly showing off by exhibiting a dead Jew on a cross?

Cliff, there is something VERY wrong with your thought process if you truly believe Jews should hide. It's historic facts that Christians and Hitler found Jews and murdered them.

It's for sure I'm never going to hide! Jewish is not a crime! Jewish is not a religion that makes it a practice to murder those who refuse to convert.

Non-Jews have every right to ask me questi

I've got more than one drop of Jewish blood - and don't blatantly show it off. I'm a Jew. Period.

My post was for anyone considering conversion to Judaism -- they should wear a Star of David. See how they are treated. Then make the decision. Simple and Easy.
Meira Shana
San Diego
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