Conversion in Judaism – Part I: History

December 6, 2010 at 12:30 am (Judaism)

Contrary to what people may think, Judaism had a pretty active missionary program at one point in time. Egypt was a major hub of Jewish culture and activity – they weren’t all descendants from people born to Jews: many were converts or children of converts.

The Talmud discusses conversion to Judaism – it would discuss it if it weren’t a phenomenon worth discussing. (For that matter, the Talmud’s views on conversion are interesting, but that will be discussed on Wednesday.) Furthermore, there is the phenomenon of the God-fearers – a group of people who agreed, to one degree or another, with the claims, beliefs, and practices of Judaism but did not fully convert.

Perhaps the most famous convert was Ruth (from the epynomous book from the Bible) who was a Moabitess but then essentially converted to Judaism.

But conversion to Judaism no longer occurs at the pace it once used to. People don’t really complain today, as they did then, that people joined for mercenery reasons or corrupted Judaism. The reason that is often given is because of the persecution Jews experienced: people didn’t want to convert, and then Jews began discouraging conversion to avoid claims that they’re out to convert the world. One reason many people were taught not to trust Jews or associate with them was because one would be seduced into their ways.

But now, the phenomenon of conversion to Judaism is increasing. A lot of it is in the modern movements (such as Reform Judaism and Conservative (Masorti) Judaism), but it’s rising in Orthodox Judaism as well. (More on the differences between forms of Judaism will be discussed on Friday.)

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