Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Printed from chabad.org
All Departments
Jewish Holidays
TheRebbe.org
Jewish.TV - Video
Jewish Audio
News
Kabbalah Online
JewishWoman.org
Kids Zone

Should I Convert to Judaism?

Should I Convert to Judaism?

Is Judaism For Everybody?

 E-mail

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.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 E-mail
1000 characters remaining
Email me when new comments are posted.
Sort By:
Discussion (419)
August 14, 2015
His name
I don't understand why God is spelled G-d.
chubbena
canada
July 20, 2015
RE: How can you discover it in a DNA test? How?
I took the 23andMe DNA test, and it showed up in my ancestry composition; they have a large sample of people who identify as Ashkenazi Jews and/or have fully Ashkenazi DNA parents and grandparents, and I even have just over 90 Jewish cousin matches- some 5th cousins and some are more distant. It appears it shows up on about two or three of my chromosomes. Someone explained to me that my percentage likely means that one of my Great-great-great-great grandparents. I also match with a few people with the Cohen family surname. Most of my Jewish cousins have grandparents from Ukraine, Romania, Russia, Poland, Germany and Hungary.

23andMe haven't identified properly Sephardic DNA, as Ashkenazi Jews are a more closely related population. However, my combination of Middle Eastern/North African and Southern European DNA, as well as my family background (being of Jamaican decent) suggests that I could have Sephardic Jewish ancestry as well.
Leanne
The UK
July 19, 2015
There are many people who may very well have Jewish ancestry and yes, how do you find that out? I simply don't have enough information about my ancestry. In my parents' generation, everything was kept a secret. It was only after I married that i found out how my parents met! I'm not keeping anything from my grown children, that's for sure!
JDV
Paramus
July 17, 2015
How can you discover that in a DNA-test, I am very curious
Now really, you have discovered it in a DNA-test? How?

I have thought many times the same, most of all, since I have been also drawn to Judaism being a child. When I went to church (my family is protestant), I enjoyed to study the "old testament" of the Bible, but each time we arrived to the new one, I thougt, what a mess, who could possibly believe anything written here?

I have often thought to have Jewish ancestors from my father´s side, first since protestantism is a very recent religion and they have been converted for sure, and because they are from the territory around Danzig/Gdansk, where many Jews felt forced to adapt to the Prussian culture if they didn´t leave to America.

That´s very interesting, could you explain that further?
Julia Schmidt
Düsseldorf
July 14, 2015
Converts having Jewish sparks/a Jewish soul
I feel that this notion is very true; I recently took a DNA test, and was surprised to find out that I have some Jewish ancestry- Ashkenazi, but with probably some Sephardi in there too...Although it is a small amount, it is still a part of my genetic make up, and therefore a part of me as a person.

I find this so strange, especially when I have been mysteriously drawn towards Judaism and the Jewish people since I was a child. This makes me feel so happy; once I convert and will be saying some of the prayers, "the G-d of our forefathers" would take on even more of a special meaning for me. :)
Leanne
The UK
July 8, 2015
To anonymous (July 6th 2015)

A book titled "To be a Jew" will also be helpful. Sabbath observance for example is one of the major ones in orthodox Judaism.
You'll also be expected to move to and live in an observant community .
Anonymous
July 6, 2015
Converting to Judaism
It depends the level of observance you want and whether this is practical. What if the other members of your family do not share your enthusiasm. You don't want to do this all alone, right? Do you live near a Jewish community that can be supportive.However, there is great support from Chabad.org on so many levels. good luck to you. don't get discouraged!
JDV
July 6, 2015
Hi I am thinking of becoming Jewish, but I'm uncertain of what it means for my life and my responsibilities.
Anonymous
June 25, 2015
converts are trapped Neshamas, wanting to come home
That is a very encouraging story from the anonymous Chossid, I have had similar feelings and experiences in the past and now realise that perhaps it is not so unusual which is comforting. Thank you for sharing your story.

For Mark Jones (June 18);
there are very eloquent and knowledgeable people that can answer your question far better , but an important part of Judaism is Kiddush Hashem and what you're doing about it in a concrete and practical way , not only in faith but in one's daily life and actions. This is only one aspect of it , from an outsider looking in, but hopefully you will find the answer to your valid question.
Anonymous
June 23, 2015
Converts are trapped Neshamas, wanting to come home
I was always different. As a child I was very much in love and connected with G-d. I would talk to him everyday, and as a child my room was filled with religious items. I grew up Catholic and always hated church. Everytime I went I felt like I was pretending. I also started getting panic attacks there and did not understand the logic. Growing up also I used to pray in my own language that I made up. I started looking into religions that spoke other languages because I was convinced that my soul needed that as weird as it sounds. Even as a child I was delighted by just seeing a Chossid. When on my own as a young adult I began to research different religions to find my path and when I read about Judaism it stopped me in my tracks, everything I read was everything I always believed and held sacred. After discovering this one miracle after the next brought me to Judaism and learning Hebrew, living in Israel, and conversion. I am now a very dedicated Lubavitcher, A jew for 8 years
Anonymous
Show all comments
Load next 50
This page in other languages
FEATURED ON CHABAD.ORG