Q. With Jewish communities in a state of flux, isn’t it time for Judaism to become a missionising religion?
Not that the people who ask about Judaism necessarily have conversion in mind, though some do. It is simply that there is a fascination, a mystique about Judaism; and if a person is Christian, he recognises that he cannot understand Christianity without acknowledging Jesus’s Jewish milieu.
Most Jews are happy to have an opportunity of presenting a positive picture of Jews and Judaism – a welcome contrast to all the centuries of the teaching of contempt.
Sometimes, though, as we explain our heritage to the outsider, we wonder how anyone can possibly manage to live without being Jewish. Living all your life without a Jewish Friday night, a Seder, a sukkah, Kol Nidrei, or Ne’ilah, Purim or Chanukah or Tishah B’Av – it is almost inconceivable!
And a further question: how can the world find anchorage and meaning without the Jewish idea – either transmitted in altered form through the daughter religions, or in its authentic fullness as faithfully preserved in Judaism?
There are those who say that it is time for a Jewish mission to the world. Certainly, increased numbers would be good for us; Jews are demographically an endangered species. But the idea of Jewish missionising evokes mixed reactions.
“Missionary activity isn’t Jewish!”… Yet it used to be, and could be again.
“A convert will never be really Jewish”… But Jewish identity grows on you.
“They’ll dilute Judaism!”… But surely it’s born Jews who do the diluting.
“So far we have managed without big numbers!”… But a culture needs a basic critical mass to survive.
“What we should be doing is working on the Jews we have!”… True, but one task does not rule out the other.
“You’ll encourage mixed marriages!”… I am not so sure. By making more Jews who believe in Judaism, we will make more Jewish marriages.
“People will still get to heaven without being Jewish!”… But I am more concerned with their well-being in this world: the next world will look after itself.
“Why wish Jewishness upon them? Why punish them?”… True, being Jewish is hard – but it’s good, too!
The big problem in a Jewish mission is less conceptual than practical. Any form of missionising smacks of spiritual bullying. And in any case, how would we implement, administer and monitor the conversion of largish numbers?
The fact is, though, that Judaism is too good not to be shared. Should we deny the opportunity to those who can cope with the full commitment of conversion to Judaism and its concepts and commandments?
Not everyone who finds meaning in the Jewish message needs to become officially Jewish. At the very least, we should be entering the marketplace of ideas more energetically, making the Jewish idea more accessible, allowing it to filter through society and contribute, even indirectly, to the redemption of mankind.