Conversion

Question

Rabbi, this is a personal question. Is it possible for a gentile to be a Jew? This question has a great deal of importance to me. I was raised a catholic but all during my life, I had mostly Jewish friends. I went through all the motions on being a catholic but never really practiced my faith. As I grew to adulthood, I gravitated towards no religion and felt lost. My best friends who are Jewish joke with me about how I am a “better” Jew than they are. I have worked for a Jewish Day School in the secular department for the past eight years and as soon as I started working there, I loved my job and always felt like I was home. I learned so much and became overwhelmed with the wonderfulness and prayers that we said during school. I have become voracious about wanting to know more and find that my interests lean towards reading all books about Israel and the Jewish people. I feel it in my heart and soul when I hear our students saying their brachas and singing to Hashem. I really cannot explain how much it means to me nor how important it is to me to follow the Jewish religion. I recently had an experience that I must explain. I had an animal that is very close to me get very sick and thought that if I said a prayer it would help. I tried to say a Catholic prayer but I just could not – no explanation. I did though pray to Hashem to give me the wisdom to handle the situation and I knew that this was to be. My heart felt at peace. I am afraid that I am not making myself very clear but hope that you, Rabbi in your wisdom can see to my heart and help me answer my question. The one thing that I neglected to tell you is that I was adopted at the age of two. I was born after the war ended and they told me that I am 59 years old (born October 1946). I was put up for adoption by Catholic Charities that is why I was raised Catholic. Is it possible that not all Jews are born as Jews?

15 years

Answers

  1. To answer the question you ask at the end: Yes. Not all Jews are born as Jews but undergo conversion. In a mystic way this is understood that their souls stood at Mt. Sinai with all Jewish souls who received the Torah – and for some reason we cannot really know (probably as a challenge or test) were born to a non-Jewish family.

    I read your letter carefully and sense your sincerity. I will send you some basic information about information that I hope you find helpful, but feel strongly that you contact an Orthodox Rabbi in your area or in New York (you can contact Gateways Organization which provides this Ask the Rabbi service at office@gatewaysonline.com) and ask for a referral. Besides that I also suggest you read a book that was just published by ArtScroll called Gateway to Judasim by Rabbi Mordechai Becher http://www.artscroll.com/linker/gategtj/home .

    Whatever you decide, I wish you a life of truth, success and happiness.

    Here is the essay:

    Before the giving of the Torah there was no strict legal definition of a Jew, because the law had not yet been given. This means that the people who came to Mt. Sinai were not Jews (in a legal sense) yet. In fact, the Revelation at Mt. Sinai can be viewed as a mass conversion to Judaism of millions of descendants of Abraham. In this sense, every Jew is descended from a convert; some go back to Sinai, and some later in history. The idea of conversion after Mt. Sinai is mentioned in the Torah itself and we are exhorted more than thirty times (!) not to oppress a convert. For instance, “And when a convert lives amongst you in your land do not oppress him. The convert shall be like one of your citizens and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt…” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

    We derive our obligation to welcome a convert from one of the most famous converts in history, Yitro, the father-in-law of Moses. As the Midrash states: “I am the One who drew Yitro near and did not reject him. You also, when a person comes to convert and does this for the sake of Heaven, draw him near and do not reject him.”

    What does the conversion process involve? It requires that the non-Jew go through a re-enactment of the revelation at Mt. Sinai. As Maimonides writes: “The Israelites entered into the covenant with three things; circumcision, immersion, and sacrifices. Circumcision was performed in Egypt, as it is written ‘and all uncircumcised (males) shall not eat of it (the paschal lamb).‘ Immersion (purification) was performed in the desert before the giving of the Torah, as it is written ‘and you shall sanctify yourselves today and tomorrow.‘ And at this time sacrifices were also brought…So too for all generations, a gentile who wishes to enter into the covenant, to find shelter under the wings of the Shechina (Divine Presence) and to accept upon himself the yoke of Torah, requires circumcision, immersion and acceptance of a sacrifice (at the time of the Temple).”

    There are three basic components to the contemporary conversion process: Circumcision (for males), immersion in a mikveh and as Maimonides mentions, the acceptance of the “yoke of Torah.” This is just like the Jews at Sinai who unconditionally accepted all the commandment when they said “We will do and we will listen.” All the above must be done in the presence of a Beit Din (Jewish court) because they are the representatives of Moses, the lawgiver.

    If any one of the above three things is omitted, the conversion is invalid. A convert to Judaism must be prepared to accept all the commandments of the Torah without exception. If there is no acceptance of the commandment

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team