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    How to become Jewish – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. I am interested in becoming Jewish. Can I convert and if so how?

    A. Judaism always accepted sincere converts, though for many centuries ours has not been an outgoing missionary religion.

    Conversion was known in early Biblical times, before the set procedures we follow today had been developed. The Torah speaks of Abraham and Sarah “making souls” in Haran, and the rabbis say that Abraham converted the men and Sarah the women (Gen. 12:5).

    Ruth adopted Judaism when she said, “Your God shall be my God” (Ruth 1:16; the Midrash reconstructs the detailed conversation on the subject between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi).

    The equivalent of conversion took place when the sailors were awestruck at the power of the God of Jonah (Jonah 1) and when Haman was defeated and “many of the people of the land became Jewish” (Esther 8:17, though the verse might be interpreted as reading, “took the side of the Jews”).

    What motivates a person to want to become Jewish when it is such a difficult faith to follow? The best answer is that of Ruth, who wanted the Jewish God, the Jewish way and the Jewish people. In some cases, applicants for conversion have their interest first aroused by getting to know a Jew or a Jewish family, sometimes in a romantic way, and though the applicant must not have any ulterior motive (Yoreh De’ah 268:12), a genuine interest in Judaism for its own sake does often follow.

    There is a rabbinic view that the souls of sincere converts were already disposed towards Judaism from time immemorial; when the nations were offered the Torah and rejected it, there must have been some amongst them who disagreed and would have preferred to accept the Torah, and it is the descendants of those dissentients who one day find their way back to the principles their ancestors always wanted.

    Throughout rabbinic literature the sincere convert is praised highly. The Midrash says, “The Holy One, blessed be He, loves converts greatly… the convert left his family, his father’s house, his people, and all the gentile nations, and came to us… Can anyone be dearer to God than this person?” (Num. R. 8:2, Tanchuma, Lech L’cha).

    But this does not make Jewishness an easy way of life, and it is the halachic (Jewish law) obligation of the rabbi to point out all the drawbacks (Yev. 47a) so that the applicant is aware of the whole facts.

    Therefore, if you really do want Judaism, talk to a rabbi in the first instance, arrange an interview with a Beit Din (a Jewish ecclesiastical court) and become involved in Jewish life. Even if in the end you decide not to pursue official conversion, you are likely to find that you have become a Ben (or Bat) No’ach, a person who is not formally Jewish but lives by the Seven Noahide Laws for all humankind.

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