Modern Texts

This section includes ideas of modern thinkers about conversion. While most of these thinkers are no longer living, their rulings and writings have shaped much of what we believe today about conversion.

 

Constitution of K.K. Beth Elohim, Charleston, 1820

The congregation will not encourage nor interfere with making proselytes under any pretense whatsoever, nor shall any such be admitted under the jurisdiction of the congregation, until he, or she, or they, produce legal and satisfactory credentials, from some other congregation, where a regular chief, or Rabbi and Hebrew Consistory is established, and provided he, or she, or they, are not people of color.

 

Reform Rabbi Adoph Moses, Louisville, KY, 1896

We have long enough been hiding our light under a bushel.  We have, like Jonah, been fleeing from the presence of God and have refused to bring His message to the children of men.   Let us, even with our feeble power, begin to prepare the day of the Lord.  At best, it will take centuries and centuries to accomplish this task.  But ours is the duty to begin the work and to do it with all our heart, all our soul and all our might.  With the all-wise and omnipotent God is left the completion and diretion thereof.

 

Elisheva, Zionist, 1949

When I die, let them say:
“She was a stranger who left her birthplace,
For she loved so much the Jewish people…
May she find rest in the shadow
Of the eternal walls O Zion, our strength;
May she sleep a trustful sleep, be brightly blessed,
And from the heights of heave,
May Judea’s sun shine on her forever.”

 

Rabbi Benzion Uziel, Mishpatei Uziel, Vol. 2 Yoreh Deah 58 (Trans. Marc Angel)

If a convert accepts the Torah and the rewards and punishments of the commandments but continues to behave in the way he was accustomed before conversion, he is a sinning convert, but we do not hesitate to accept him because of this.

 

Rabbi Benzion Uziel, Mishpatei Uziel, Even Haezer 20 (Trans. Marc Angel)

For all that has been stated and discussed, the ruling follows that it is permissible and a mitzvah to accept male and female converts even if it is known to us that they will not observe all the mitzvot, because in the end they will come to fulfill them. We are commanded to make this kind of opening for them; and if they do not fulfill the mitzvot, they will bear their own iniquities, and we are innocent.

 

Rabbi Benzion Uziel, Mishpatei Uziel, Even Haezer 20 (Trans. Marc Angel)

And I fear that if we push them [the children] away completely by not accepting their parents for conversion, we shall be brought to judgement and they shall say to us: "you did not bring back those who were driven away and those who were lost you did not seek" (Ez. 34:4).

 

Eliezer Deutch, responsa P'ri haSadeh,Vol. II, Facs. 1909, #3

Even if it is known, that a Gentile became a Jew for the sake of a man or a woman. If it can further be considered that she was motivated not only 'for the sake of a man' . . . we presume in any case that she was also motivated 'for the sake of Heaven.'

 

Y. L. Zirelson, Responsa haLevanon (Klauszc, 1922)

Since these Gentile women have already married the Jewish men in a manner that is valid according to civil law, and are in a permanent relationship with them and have born them children, no clearer case of 'a pressing condition' can be envisaged. For, not only will those sinners not obey our command to divorce thier wives, in the situation noted, but also the realization of civil divorce is extremely difficult. In light of this, we apply the dictum 'Sh'at ha-D'hak k'Di'avad Dami'. . . and therefore, in the present 'pressing condition' we can without hesitation permit their conversion a-priori.

 

I. Isserlein, responsa Terumatha-Deshen (Warsaw, 1882), part II, #29.

Now that he has undergone conversion, his physical body is a different one.

 

George Foot Moore, Judaism, 1:342, 1927

Speaking generally, the tone of the utterances about proselytes is friendly though not unduly enthusiastic.  This is the more to be noted because the Jews' experience with proselytes must at times have been decidedly discouraging.   It can hardly be doubted that in perilous times many apostatized.  In the outside lands, at least, many went over to Christianity.   In the persecution under Hadrian they were under strong temptation to clear their own skirts by turning informers. It would be nothing surprising if under such circumstances the rabbis should have looked askance at all proselytes.  There is, however, little evidence of such a temper.

 

The Essence of Judaism, Leo Baeck 20th Century

"...the Jewish religion is intended to become the religion of the whole world...Every presupposition and every aim of Judaism is directed towards the conversion of the world to itself."

 

Mishpetei Uziel, 5698, no. 26

It is incumbent upon us to open the door of repentance; our sages of blessed memory did much for the benefit of those who would repent. Likewise in our case: this woman who wants to free herself from constant sin has brought her non-Jewish husband to convert, and she is bound by his authority. If we say they should separate [for the three month period], her husband will not listen and will stop from being converted. She will be assimilated among the non-Jews! ... I admit without embarrassment that my heart is filled with trembling for every Jewish soul that is assimilated among the non-Jews. I feel in myself a duty and mitzvah to open a door to repentance and to save [Jews] from assimilation by [invoking] arguments for leniency. This is the way of Torah, in my humble opinion, and this is what I saw and received from my parents and teachers.

 

Rabbi Joseph Engel, Beth Ostar, Part 2 (translation found in "transforming Jewish identity" by Sagi and Zohar pg. 282)

For a person to become a proselyte, two acts are required: removal of Gentilehood, and reception of Jewishness. And there is an interim reality between these two, as the Talmud writes (Sanhedrin 58b): 'He has been detached from the collective of heathens (klal 'akum), but he has not yet entered the Jewish collective (klal Yisrael).' And this is the significance of the circumcision and immersion of a proselyte, namely, the detachment of the foreskin removes Gentilehood, and the immersion bestows Jewishness.

 

 

Rabbi Noson Sternhartz, Likutei Halachot, Prika Ute'ina, 4:3

Through converts (geirim) and penitents (baalei teshuvah), the Oneness of God is revealed through the very multiplicity of creation. Since they, too, come forth in order to become incorporated into His absolute Oneness, this is most precious to God. Therefore, the Torah stresses that one should love and encouragethe proselyte. Similarly, our Sages greatly praised the spiritual levels attained by penitents, who, after having distanced themselves, strive to return to God.

 

Rabbi Noson Sternhartz, Likutei Halachot, Shilu'ach HaKan 5:17

"Peace, peace, to the far and the near" (Isaiah 57:19). Converts and penitents often feel the pain of their distance from holiness, due to their past sins and the extent to which they have not yet purified their bodies. Nevertheless, they must also realize how close they really are to God - just as they are right now - for God's love and mercy is limitless. When they grasp this, they can truly draw close to God. These two seemingly opposite perceptions are implied by the verse, "Peace, peace to the far and the near."

This principle is also reflected by the tradition that when a non-Jew comes to convert, he is initially discouraged (Yevamot 47a). This is a consequence of his distance from holiness. However, the entire purpose of this initial discouragement is only to strengthen his resolve and draw him closer. For if after everything, he says, "I know that I am unworthy," that is, he recognizes his distance from holiness, then he is immediately accepted.