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Opening the Gates of Judaism

The high rates of intermarriage among people who have been raised as Reform or Conservative Jews are well known.  Less well known, but statistically demonstrable, is the decline in the number of American Jews who continue to belong to non-Orthodox denominations.  In a recent essay on Jewish Ideas Daily, Andrew Apostolou warned that intermarriage threatens to bring about the demographic collapse of the Reform and Conservative movements. 

Relevant Links
Is Judaism a Proselytizing Religion?  Shlomo M. Brody, Jewish Ideas Daily. Nowadays few think of Judaism as a proselytizing religion—but was that the case in antiquity?
The Conversion Conundrum  Yehudah Mirsky, Jewish Ideas Daily. Israel’s latest conversion fracas has sparked a tortured and highly emotional debate—for good reason.

While Apostolou himself did not propose a solution to the problem he identified, many other people in the Jewish community have launched projects designed to promote Jewish education and outreach in order to keep the younger generations of Jews involved and engaged.  Unfortunately, these “inside the box” efforts have met with only limited success. I think that it is therefore time to think “outside the box.”  I want to make an argument for opening the gates of Judaism to enable mass conversion.  With the demographic and spiritual decline among “biological” Jews in America, the most promising solution for keeping Judaism alive lies with the acceptance of converts.  They are the future of American Jewry. 

Experienced observers of non-Orthodox congregations in the United States today know that converts are assuming major roles in their congregations.  I myself am familiar with many converts who have become the most dedicated members of the congregation.  They are often among the few who bother to come to services.  Their children fill the ranks of emptying Sunday school classes. They volunteer to serve on committees.  Generally speaking, they are very engaged. 

It is widely assumed that spousal demand is the reason for most conversions to Judaism in this country.  But from what I have seen, this is not the case.  In most non-Orthodox congregations, non-Jewish members of interfaith couples can belong to the community without converting, and their children will receive the same treatment as others who have the right “biological” origin.  Converts become Jews because they want to: because they couldn’t find a spiritual home elsewhere.  This is why they care.  One should be very wary of misjudging them. 

There are, of course, good grounds for arguing that Judaism is opposed to proselytizing.  One can cite, for instance, the talmudic statement from tractate Kiddushin, “Converts are as hard on Israel as a tumor,” and one can point to a centuries-long history of discouraging conversion.  However, there is also abundant evidence of the conversion of entire nations to Judaism in central Asia, North Africa, and Yemen.  Alongside Jewish communities in the ancient world there were “Judaizing” communities that accepted the monotheistic ideas of Judaism without fully converting to it. 

In late antiquity, Jews and Christians competed for the same pool of people, but when Christianity took the lead and became the official religion of the Roman Empire, conversion to Judaism became illegal and dangerous.  In the Muslim world as well, conversion to Judaism was against the law.  The rabbinical restrictions on conversion are a response to these prohibitions, not a reflection of the essential nature of Judaism.  Today, in the United States, where society views religion as a personal matter and changing one’s religion and becoming Jewish is an acceptable act, these restrictions are no longer relevant.    

Not very long ago, in the late 1970s, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, the longtime president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, made the case for encouraging the conversion of non-Jews.  Although he was mostly concerned with the partners in mixed marriages, he also considered America’s masses of “unchurched” people to be fair game.  At the time, there was a lot of positive response to his proposals, but it amounted in the end to little more than passive approval.  I believe it is time to move to a more active phase.  

We may already be on the brink of such a phase in Israel.  Intermarriage is rare there, but the Jewish population’s lower birth rate than that of the surrounding population has made Jews a steadily diminishing proportion of the people living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.  Until fairly recently, immigration has helped to shore up the Jewish population.  But there is no realistic prospect of immigration’s continuing at comparable rates in the years to come.  The most recent mass immigration, from the former Soviet Union, has in fact brought to Israel hundreds of thousands of people who are related to Jews but who are not Jewish, either halakhically or biologically.  The Orthodox establishment in Israel is facing growing pressure to accept a more flexible approach to mass conversions, and some prominent religious Zionist rabbis, including Chaim Drukman and Yoel Bin-Nun, have begun to respond to this pressure.  Rabbi David Stav, the leading candidate for the Ashkenazi chief rabbi in the elections that will take place in a few months, has declared that he intends to solve 70 to 80 percent of the problem in “creative” ways, whatever they may be.  Meanwhile, private rabbinical courts are converting more and more Israelis outside the framework of the chief rabbinate.   

The situation is, of course, more complicated in the United States.  How, we must ask, would the Christian community react to a major Jewish outreach campaign?  Would it lead to more anti-Semitism?  Can Judaism allow itself to be compared with other proselytizing religions like evangelical Christianity, Mormonism, and the Hare Krishna movement?  How would the Israeli religious establishment react?  These and many other questions must be addressed before taking any action on the proposal I have broached.  Now, I believe, is the time for us to do so.    

Motti Inbari is an assistant professor of religion at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. His most recent book is Messianic Religious Zionism Confronts Israeli Territorial Compromises.

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EF on February 20, 2013 at 4:20 am (Reply)
1. Usually, whenever someone announces that they have an "out of the box" idea, I stop reading. This time I read the whole thing, but should have listened to the little voice in my head. Utterly conventional.
2. The "kiruv" industry is already incredibly distasteful. The way to attract converts is by building welcoming, attractive, desirable communities that others will want to join. If Judaism were to attract converts, even masses of them, that way, it would be beautiful. Inbari seems to suggest going door to door, actively pursuing the unaffiliated. He works at a university - perhaps he can inquire at Hillel about the organizations that proselytize AMONG UNAFFILIATED JEWS and see how successful they are, and how much emotional wreckage they leave in their wake. Inbari wants to put "kiruv" on steriods.
3. Proselytization generally results in syncretism, as proselytes inevitably retain aspects of their original culture. Individuals can assimilate into another community, but when an entire community converts, it ends up with a modified and syncretic version of the adopted religion. Given the current Christian fascination with Judaism in America, it would not take but a few generations for the lines between Judaism and Christianity to be completely effaced.
4. Accepting patrilineality was the last big attempt to resolve this issue. How did that work out?
5. There is no such thing as an a priori, top-down "decision" by "Judaism" to adopt a different attitude on conversion. If it's a compelling idea, some rabbi will eventually do it (in practice, not by writing a position paper), and others either will or will not follow suit.
    Juuda on February 20, 2013 at 12:22 pm (Reply)
    Opening the Gates of Judaism means more then ever, make an ALIYAH,
    your home is in Israel.
      TheBigJ on February 23, 2013 at 6:10 am (Reply)
      Bad idea, and impractical. Israel is already overcrowded and its social and ecological systems are straining to bear the burden.
Eliyahu Konn on February 20, 2013 at 6:47 am (Reply)
It is of course past time to proselytize but not to late. If it is the covenant of Har Sinai undiluted by illogical and medieval apostasies how can it fail? Ours is the only discrete mathematically logical understanding of Torah. We are the only keepers of the covenant. We have the goods, the others don't.
    julea bacall on February 21, 2013 at 4:02 pm (Reply)
    The absolute worst thing about Christianity & Islam is the conversion idea. Please don't go that way. Don't join the insane idea to "take over the world" by prostylizing. (your right, I cannot spell but I can Think & it will make Israel look as guilty as the rest)
David Sher on February 20, 2013 at 9:00 am (Reply)

Read the article on the cover. This is not just about Reform and Conservative Jews. Orthodoxy is in the same boat. The only difference is that their hermetically sealed neighborhoods let in less information.
Ellen on February 20, 2013 at 9:35 am (Reply)
Even in Orthodox communities outside of Greater New York, many of the most devoted members are converts. Their children make up a small but significant portion of Jewish day school enrollment in some of these communities.

However, the real problem for most Reform and Conservative congregations is that, unlike the Orthodox, they have no attractive and functional community to offer a potential convert as an alternative to isolation and anomie, which is the fate of most secular Americans. People who have a spiritual interest in life are not going to be attracted to moribund congregations that have driven away their committed members to Orthodoxy and their uncommitted members to the shopping malls for decades now.

In other words, for the liberal movements - especially the Conservatives who preserved more of the spirit of traditional Judaism - to attract converts they would first have to display the depth and communal life that would keep more of their own members inhouse.

The main point to be recognized here, of course, is that the liberal movements over the past 60 years when they were dominant, have produced a mass of secular Jews who exhibit a level of spiritual hollowness and shallowness that serves as a warning of how hollow and shallow liberal Judaism turned out to be in America. Unless it changes itself to be less hollow and shallow, why would anyone of intellectual or spiritual depth want to belong to its dying synagogues? Especially now, when revitalized Orthodox synagogues are everywhere in America, including in places that one would never assume (eg, Chabad of northwest Arkansas, Eugene Oregon, etc), people have that option as an alternative.

Reform and Conservative had their chance when the traditionalists were down and out, and they didn't produce much of lasting value. It's probably too late for them, except a small Conservadox wing that would serve as a satellite to modern Orthodoxy. That's really all that exists today in Teaneck, NJ, which used to be a bastion of liberal Judaism. Teaneck is the model of the future.
    טוביה on February 20, 2013 at 2:32 pm (Reply)
    I am afraid Ellen is right. Many non-Orthodox converts move on to Orthodoxy once they realize that Reform/Conservative shuls are big, empty places. Orthodoxy, despite all its issues, is passionate about Judaism, it's honest and unapologetic. Reform and Conservative Judaism have given up authenticity in order to please non-observant Jews and non-Jews alike. What's left? Most liberal Jews are not committed to Judaism beyond the holidays and the occasional visit on Friday nights. Fine. Those who remain loyal are few and many younger Jews either become Orthodox (my shul is full of non-Orthodox people who nevertheless love the shul) or move on to things like Renewal Judaism which is hardly Judaism in the traditional sense. Judaism has never been about numbers. Is this case quantity does not trump quality. Recognizing patrilineal descent across the Jewish spectrum would lift the numbers, but how many of these Jews will become committed, practicing Jews?
Jankel on February 20, 2013 at 10:50 am (Reply)
This is an evidence, Jews, Orthodox and Traditionalists refuse since I am able to think about : I am 73...

Jews in the USA, are 50% from europeans converted People to Judaism from Julius Caesar times to the late High middle Age....and mostly a "Concentration" of european Genes. (I am pure polish frummer Yidden child and gran,d child and have 99,6% strict European genes.....(at 23 and
I promoted a Civilization-Cultural Judaism 55 years ago...a few years after my bar Mitzvah and while studying Tanach Guemara and Dinim and Pirke Aboth etc etc once a week, on Oneg Shabbat...)
No success.....
It is coming...!!! Now..I am Happy to have seen it coming before my death...The way remains hard against our Catholic-like Dogmatist Jewish Clerics called rabbis... who pretend to BE THE JUDAISM as they are the Contrary of that "Hermeneutical Constant Progressive Work which near doesn't need a belief in anything else than the DEFINITION OF NON IDOLATRY... (I shall not use the name of Gd who is useless IN FACT. Abstraction of Deity is the base nobody in the world, invented and kept in Mind like Jews did.
More than 9 millions US Citizen claim they are "Jewish" but the tragedy JTA is talking about isn't the vanishing of "Jews" who "Feel" Jewish but that THEIR congregations and Synagogues are emptying drastically...and consequently, the Money running in...! Religion as such, has no future...A Kulturkampf is on the contrary the way to save Humanity.
art.the.nerd on February 20, 2013 at 11:17 am (Reply)
To David Sher:

The top story on that page is "International thief who stole Dali drawing arrensted". So I have no idea what point you were trying to make.
Dave on February 20, 2013 at 11:40 am (Reply)
Do you really think there are an awful lot of Gentiles out there who really want to become Jews?

And while there are converts from the heart among the intermarried, most intermarriage converts are seal-the-deal types.
    Robert Marmorstein (@dudestein1958) on February 20, 2013 at 6:33 pm (Reply)
    I was raised Catholic by an Italian Mother and a holocaust survivor Father. I rejected Catholicism and chose Judaism from life's experiences.
Helen L. King on February 20, 2013 at 11:49 am (Reply)
How does one prosyltize in a small community. Let's look at 7day Adventists who come knocking & are ready to discuss their religion & why you should join them. As a Jew I don't think I could do this. My Synagogue relies, of course, on volunteers to accomplish & complete most projects & the congregation is diminishing & the presumed reason is the cost of the dues. In hard economic times Judaism congregations are depleted & we question ourselves as to why. We need to provide more spiritual incentives but somehow that is not the answer either, our population will become history, archelogical artifacts.
Michael Ben Av on February 20, 2013 at 11:53 am (Reply)
This kind of recruitment initiative debases Judaism. In authentic Judaism, non-Jews can adhere to Judaism without becoming Jewish by observing the 7 laws of Noah. That is a model that respects multi-culturalism while providing for a core of common human decency. We should get serious about promoting that model in the world. Understanding the beauty of that model will inspire both Jews and non-Jews with respect for Judaism. Inviting mass conversions to recruit more Jews will do the opposite and engender disrespect.
Adam on February 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm (Reply)
As has previously been mentioned by several posters, I think the answer is being more warm and inclusive of people who genuinely want to join the K'lal Yisrael, rather than actively trying to missionize people away from some other faith. Moreover, and without trying to engage in gratuitous "Orthodoxy-bashing", I doubt traditionally-minded Jews will shift their skeptical approach to converts unless something radically changes, if ever. It therefore falls to the more self-consciously "liberal" streams of Judaism to try to welcome people who would otherwise get a cold shoulder. And there are lots of people in that category. There are hundreds of thousands of post-Soviet immigrants to Israel, the US, etc, who are not Jewish according to traditional halakha, but who passionately identify as Jews. There are anusim communities, particularly in the Western hemisphere, who are trying to rejoin the Jewish people. And there are new or "Lost Tribe" peoples throughout the world who are adopting Jewish religious practice. Many of the bona fide groups are very small, but the Jewish people as a whole is small. Why, pragmatically OR ethically, would we do anything other than accept them?
Dawn Kepler on February 20, 2013 at 1:24 pm (Reply)
Converts are indeed, often the most active Jews in a congregation. But they came to Judaism with a longing, not from a push from the community. We do need to be more clear that Judaism accepts converts, we need to offer entry point classes and programs. Having offered a number of what I consider toe-in-the-water programs I can say that there are many spiritual seekers who find Judaism to be the answer to their longing.

Proselytize? We don't need to. Welcome, teach and embrace - a good idea that still often eludes the Jewish community.

Our different branches, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, add to our appeal. I work with rabbis & congregations of all types and find that each attracts individuals who respond to their view of Jewish tradition.
Abby Schachter on February 20, 2013 at 1:29 pm (Reply)
Well said. But I would start with a focused and deliberate campaign to have those who have chosen to marry Jews to convert before turning our attention to those who have shown no demonstrable interest in Judaism. I suggest a big splashy celebrity campaign. I'd call it "Drew: We want you to become a Jew"
Drew Barrymore has expressed an interest in converting to Judaism now that she has found so much to like about her new Jewish husband's family. Why not a public appeal to her and all those who have chosen to marry Jews to embrace their spouse's traditions and unify their families?
Dr. Stephen Starlight on February 20, 2013 at 2:04 pm (Reply)
I congratulate Motti Inbari for taking this posiion: it is the ONLY route for the survival of Judaism other than the hideous alternartive: the ind of anti-Semitism that returns Jews to the ghetto. In response to the piece published recently by Andrew Apostolou, I made every one of the points Inbari articulates persuasively here. Those who have engaged in the Jewish institutional effort called "Jewish Continuity" have utterly failed in their efforts. One reason is their insularity and biological supremacism, a weird reflection of the Master Race theory. American Jews -- the most secular and least spiritual of all Americans (according to poll after poll) are the worst candidates to maintain Judaism. But lapsed Christians should be the targets for conversion. As things already stand, Evangelical Christians are far more dependable lovers of Zion than are left-liberal Jews. Christianity is also failing institutionally in the US -- whether in a withering Mainstream Protestantism or a Roman Catholic Church that has betrayed its adherents through the scandals of recent years. Our post-Christian friends and neighbors are longing for RELIGION -- and Judaism can answer that need if it emphasizes its spiritual side rather than presenting itself as the left-liberal wing of the Democratic Party at prayer. Judaism always won converts, especially in the Roman world. It could do so again. The moment has come for Jews to renounce tribal racism and save Judaism by reaching beyond the usual hopeless suspects -- they can't be saved from themselves -- and finding those ready to embrace the Jewish religion.
Dan on February 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm (Reply)
A terrible idea, that if implimented, would make the situation it pretends to fix a lot worse.
Sadder But Wiser on February 20, 2013 at 3:41 pm (Reply)
Unfortunately, converting masses of non-Jews to Reform Judaism will delay the demise of the Reform Movement for perhaps one more generation. The statistics bear out the fact that children of intermarried couples are unlikely to remain Jewish. What compels a Reform Jew to remain Jewish and what will induce a Reform convert to remain Jewish? Individuals perhaps yes but large groups, no! In essence, cultural Judaism, be it the Yiddish speaking movement, Zionism, Reform Judaism, or Holocaust study does not and will not have a lasting effect on retaining Jews within the fold. Non-Orthodox Israelis who emigrate to the United States are prone to losing their Jewish identity. Whether or not one believes in Torah Judaism, with its Day-School movement and barriers to mixing with outsiders, it is the only thing that is effective in retaining Jews within the fold when immersed in this powerfully attractive secular culture of the United States. Sadly, the Reform and Conservative cannot last.
Jerry Blaz on February 20, 2013 at 5:15 pm (Reply)
When Mordecai M. Kaplan defined Judaism as the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people, he appreciated the fact that Judaism is more than a prayerbook, a synagogue, and a set of rituals and religious regulations. None of our holidays with the exception of Yom Kippur is strictly a religious commemoration. The subtlety of culture, language, common history, cuisines, etc., are in tacit ways important aspects of being a Jew. So becoming a Jew is not just a ceremony. A conversion ceremony has meaning, but it doesn't mean that a person is a Jew in the same sense that a person is a Jew by birth. But it can also be argued that a born Jew may lack some civilizational attributes of Judaism. So-called "powers that be" in the American Jewish community decided to define Judaism as a religion back in mid-20th century based on the belief that a religious group in America has a better opportunity to remain distinct and not get lost in the American melting post. It is true that a religion, as separate as it is from government in the U.S., is also privileged with the tolerance of its separateness and distinctiveness, and it gets tax-benefits. So while there is no biological reason for someone to be denied the privilege of becoming a Jew, it takes a great deal of common experience to carry around our thousands of years of Jewish history, and it is even more difficult to demand the same folk-knowledge of a person wanting to identify with us when so many of us who are born Jewish are ignorant of how we are Jewish.
Michael Lerman on February 20, 2013 at 7:12 pm (Reply)
From the Time of Exodus a Jew is person born of a Jewish Mother, and this is how it should be
    David Naas on February 25, 2013 at 9:41 am (Reply)
    So, King David was not Jewish, since he had a Moabite grandma? Not to mention Rahab's genes?

    From the time of Ezra, maybe, but not from the time of the Exodus.
Hannah on February 20, 2013 at 8:15 pm (Reply)
The first thing that American Jews could do to shore up the non-Orthodox share of the the Jewish population is to stop the mistreatment of non-Jewish spouses. I was treated miserably by my husband's family. My children, who were given a Reform education and became Bar/Bnai Mitvah, were told when they went off to their college Hillel societies that they "weren't really Jewish." When they went on birthright trips and student visits to Israel they were treated differently.We need to clean up our act before we try to welcome anyone else into the tribe---we have enough to do just making sure the spouses and children of intermarriage who are trying to be part of the tribe are truly welcomed.
    Michael Bev Av on February 25, 2013 at 5:24 pm (Reply)
    Sounds like you were misled (possibly by good people who did not know better).

    From an authenic Jewish (Torah) perspective there is no shame at all in not being Jewish. On the contrary. A non-Jew who keeps the 7 laws of Noah is considered like the Kohen Gadol (High Priest).

    What is the point of leaving a noble religious life as a fully observant non-Jew (observing the 7 laws of Noah) to become by choice(!!) a non-observant Jew?
AbigailCohn on February 20, 2013 at 9:48 pm (Reply)
My friends niece, a Jew married a Catholic .So you think their children are Jewish because born to her? She nor her family taught them anything Boy 12 says he is Catholic even though father non practicing .So what will it mean to him when he is td he is a Jew? Will he understand anything? No.
Jacques on February 20, 2013 at 11:53 pm (Reply)
Jerry Biaz seems the lonely smart objective knowledge full non fanatical religious idiotic Jew writing here.....
All others are stubborn conservatives condemned to vanish with the History of mental evolution; or at least, remain some bizarre future tiny Reservation of Foolish psychotic truth believers.
M. Archer on February 21, 2013 at 2:26 am (Reply)
The key ingrediant to a genuine interest in practicing Judaism, for me. has been the "devakut" that Judaism affords that can't be gotten through Christianity. A passion for engaging in service to the Master of the Universe is what continues to draw those who are willing to put in the work of nullifying the human nature.In the various manifestations of "Churchianity" the compelling need to know HaShem is preemted by work already done by their messiah which is deflating to all but the purist. The leadership of the churches engender this lethargic lifestyle by reinforcing "just have faith" approach to lifes challenges and building social programs to keep the congregation occupied so that they don't succumb to the allure of the world. Many in Churchianity recognize the this lack of passion and enthusiasm in their flocks but are at a loss to know how to tap into the heart beat of true passion. The Reformed shuls are in similar straights in my opinion and the Conservative are as well: both having struggles with the "weight" of Rabbinical requirements to conform to what is Jewish enough, so to say. I have been inspired personally with the Chasidic teaching, principles of practice and the applications the Rabbi's make of the Torah in everyday practice. I am able to percaive with my heart the devekut they practice and it is inspiring. However the hurdles of Orthodox practice and requirement in the catagories of marriage,alliah, and acceptance without bias as to my not being born Jewish is daunting. I think that a large number of people now involved in the socially acceptable church congregations, who also do not have a liturgical format are hungery for meaningful, passionate learning experience that makes the revelation at Mt.Sinai dynamic as a catalyst for an enlarged understanding of how they can connect with HaShem directly will bring out the best in the new students. Armed with this "vision" the initial objections to the perceived "controlling methods" of Judaism as it is perceived from the television exposure most non Jews are subjected to by the media, will fade in the glow of finding the true path to the G-d of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. Peace upon Israel.
Dr. Stephen Steinlight on February 21, 2013 at 9:43 am (Reply)
I have no doubt, but then my work takes me into the Heartland, especially Texas and throughout the Southwest. The answer is that many would embrace Judaism, and not, as is frequently the case -- and you are right to point it out -- in order to "seal the deal." My guess is that the Jewish attitudes reflected here are articulated by people close to Jewish communal life either as members or else as professionals. I'm neither, though I was brought up in an observant (Conservative) home and a fervently Zionist one. I am guessing that the insularity I am feeling in many of the responses here (and many are insightful despite that)are from Jews from parts of America that have large Jewish populations, especially the coasts. Religion has retained its power mostly in the country's Heartland, where many Christians, Evangelicals and those close to Evangelical, have an intense attraction to all things Jewish -- and NOT, let me repeat that, and NOT in order to convert Jews. The comments made about that are mostly simplistic and paranoid. There is, in fact, a huge market out there and we have a magnificent product. Our problem is that we have no marketing department, and I fear that some of the reason is an unkind and ugly stance of superiority towards the "stupid goyim." Let's remember that the Targum, the equivalent of the Guttenburg Bible, was the work of Onkeles, a Greek monk that converted to Judaism, translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek and gave the Hebrew Bible to the classical world.
Troy Zukowski on February 21, 2013 at 10:17 am (Reply)
I am a 49 year old and majored in religion (1985) at a state university. I was attracted to Judaism more than any other religion because of its monotheism, respect for education, tolerance, and emphasis on improving the world here and now. However, I did not start the conversion process until recently because I previously viewed the Jewish community as somewhat closed to newcomers. My impression was probably overblown, but I felt it nonetheless.

Jews do not have to go door to door "witnessing" about Judaism. Simply getting into the news more about desiring and welcoming converts would be a huge leap forward. There are a lot of people out there who are unknowingly Jewish in spirit.
    Natasha on March 2, 2013 at 7:04 pm (Reply)
    As someone who has thought about converting for the past 16 years, and have so much respect for Judaism , I am relieved that the topic of "opening the gate" is becoming a discussion among the Jewish people. I have waited for the same reason Troy in this discussion list waited to formally begin the Conversion process. I also agree with Dawn, prospective converts are sincere and come with a deep longing. On the other hand, I also agree with those who say that the last thing the Judaism should do, is to become a proselitizing Religion like the other major faiths. It is true that the only thing Judaism needs to do is just to be welcoming, because Judaism is so civilized , great religion and a way of life that it will attract converts on its own merit. The one other thing that will help is to have a support system for people who want to convert but need to bring in their spouse and children with them into Judaism, so that they are not creating an intermarriage , or feel that they are not able to take the step to approaching a Rabbi because this seems daunting. They may need someone who can help them through this process even before the formal conversion process begins. But No, please don't become a proselitizing group, Judaism does not need to convince people to believe in all of the goodness that it has. I also realize that antisemitism and the centuries of oppression that the Jewish people suffered are still causing some
    apprehension about whether or not to openly invite people into Judaism.
    I hope that time will gradually change this and Judaism will be able to open the gates to sincere converts and continue long into the future.
Ellen on February 21, 2013 at 10:27 am (Reply)
Dr. Stephen,

Your observation is spot on that religious life is very strong and highly influential in the broader culture in the heartland of the US, which is not the case in the Northeast. Liberal Jews in the northeast have amazingly ignorant and terribly out-of-date stereotypes of Christian views of Judaism in the Bible Belt. I once listened to a harangue from an older woman in her 70's who assured me that they were anti-Semites, in spite of their strong support for Israel, because 50 years when her husband served in the military in Texas that is the way they were.

Would she compare the attitudes of any other group of people to what they were 50 years ago? No, of course not. Many liberal Jews in the Northeast have dinosaur views of religious life in America and the believing Christian population, specifically. This is partly because they live in a region where believing Protestants are close to extinct and practicing Jews are the sort of people who live in different neighborhoods than one's own. This is the Pauline Kael problem. Nixon won the 1968 election but she didn't know of anyone who voted for him in the fashionable districts of Manhattan. How could it possibly happen then?

Provinciality comes in all types. The most provincial people in the world are those in the chic districts of the New York area, who can't imagine why everyone doesn't think the way they do.
Jacques on February 21, 2013 at 11:20 am (Reply)
Bravo dear colleague Dr Stephen Steinlight. (lovely Feuerstein...)
I agree so much.
Ghetto-like ways of thinking are the way most Humans are using their brain...WE feel Insular in such a world, for sure...
Hopefully, it will take some time until Messiah is coming...? So we will have the leisure to our Tikun Olam...
About it I have an old galician Witz: a Wiener Kaiser's engineer is on a stay for Great Works supervising for a few weeks (let's say in Brody) he is informed there is a wonderful tailor the Master of the trousers...He orders one and comes back two weeks later but the pair of trousers isn't yet ready.
He says he left to Vienna and doesn't know when he comes back and leaves the undone trousers.
When he comes back a year later, he go for his trousers. It is ready and unbelievable wonderful.
Nice! , says the engineer.. but he adds: 0ne year for trousers when The Good Lord made the World in 6 days!!!!????
Yes Sir, answers the Jewish tailor, but please, look at my trousers.... and look at the World.......!!!!
David Naas on February 25, 2013 at 9:59 am (Reply)
The Judaism of the ghetto was not the same as the Judaism of King David. The Judaism of today should not be the same as the Judaism of the ghetto.

It is a capital mistake to allow yourself to be defined by your enemies. -- The Ghetto Jew.

Being a member of an enclosed tribal culture may be most comforting, but to demand everyone adhere to that judgment is not wise. To be a Jew is to be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Obviously, not necessarily in the flesh. Obviously, necessarily in the spirit. If being born of a Jewish woman is necessary to be jewish, why do not the insist-ers emphisize Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel (and the two concubines) rather than the Patriarchs?

Proselytizing is good, for it makes anchors in the culture. It may be the way to repair the world that has been chosen by G-d.

Those who insist on only one way -- their way -- may be pious, but are they truly faithful?
Michael Bev Av on February 25, 2013 at 5:27 pm (Reply)
See comment from Hannah below for an example of the kind of disrespect that easy conversion naturally engenders.
ben on March 5, 2013 at 4:53 am (Reply)
The mistake of American Jews is apparently to think that Jews are a religion. Jews are a Nation. Other people can join the Jewish nation if they prove that they are really interested to be Jews but we won't try to persuade them to come.

There is only one way to save US Jewry - Aliyah. Make Aliyah or disappear or live in a ghetto. That's your only choices. There is no future for you.

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