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INCREASING ONE'S LIFESPAN
Shemu'el bar Yehudah, a rabbi in fourth century Babylonia who was a convert to Judaism, was asked to what he attributed his long lifespan. He replied that every single day of his married life he thanked God for giving him his wife, and he thanked his wife for giving him God.
If my wife hadn't influenced me to study Torah with the Rabbis I would not have become a Jew. She enriched my life in ten different ways. I have been blessed to see our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren raised to study Torah and to do Mitsvot.
When I sit at the table on Shabbat and Yom Tov and watch all the generations of pure and holy Jews who have issued from my union with her and with God, I know both a joy and a peace that surely prolongs my life.
Also, each day when I look at my wife, whose loving efforts brought me to Torah and Mitsvot, I see the face of God. My disciple, the great sage Abbayei, learned this from me and that is why he taught, "There are never less than 36 righteous men in the world who (daily) are vouchsafed the sight of the Shekhinah (the feminine presence of God)." Blessed is every man with a wife such as mine.
FOUR KINDS OF CONVERTS
The prophet Isaiah envisions a future time when God's spirit and blessings will pour out on the children of Jacob-God's servant: "This will say I belong to God, this will recite in Jacob's name, this his hand will write for God, and this will be surnamed Israel." Isaiah 44:5
Who are these four groups of people who will shall receive the spirit and blessing of God? The Avot d'Rabbi Natan says those who surname themselves by the name of Israel are non-Jews who convert to Judaism i.e. female converts who marry Jewish men and thus acquire Jewish names. What about the other three groups?
The second group, who long for and belong to God, could be converts who become Jewish all on their own without any romantic attachments.
The third group, who speak or read in Jacob's name, could be converts who are drawn to Jews and Judaism and then discover that they have Jewish ancestors. Their souls are gilgulim-reincarnated souls of Jewish ancestors who were cut off from the Jewish people several generations ago and yearn to return home. Their gilgul calls out to them to return.
The fourth group, whose hand (activities) writes for God, could refer to those non-Jewish men who actively support their Jewish wives in raising their children to be loyal and active members of the Jewish community. All four of these groups bring spirit and blessing into the Jewish People.
Attitudes Towards Converts by
Rabbi Allen S. Maller
Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, Judaism does not have much of a
missionary impulse. That is why there are so few Jews in the world.
Mormons, who very actively seek converts, already outnumber Jews even
though they have been around less than 200 years compared to more
than 3,500 years for Jews.
lacks a strong missionary impulse because Judaism is a pluralistic
religion. Judaism teaches that the Jewish way is right for us, but
good people in other religions also have a place in the world to
come. Correct behavior in society is more important than correct
beliefs about God. Thus, while Jews welcome non-Jews to join us, we
do not have a urgent motive to 'enlighten' or 'save' them.
the missionary impulse of more universalistic religions, Jews react
to potential converts in varied ways, ranging from wariness to
encouragement. Practical community concerns guided many of out Sages.
Some like Rabbi Helbo said that converts are an irritation like an
itch, a sore or a scab.
Perhaps Rabbi Helbo felt that the enthusiasm
and idealistic expectations of converts irritated too many born Jews,
who take their Jewishness much more casually.
Or maybe he agreed with
Rabbi Isaac who said “Evil after evil comes upon those who receive
converts”. Both these Rabbis lived in the early 4th
century when the Church was vociferously attacking pagans who choose
to become Jews rather than Christians. Perhaps they feared Christian
anti-anti-Semitism if Jews were openly receiving converts.
the other hand, Rabbi Simon ben Lakish proclaimed that a convert is
more beloved to God than all the Jews who stood at Sinai. This seems
rather extreme. Perhaps he was reacting to those who claimed
Jewishness was in their noble genes.
Equally amazing were Rabbi
Eleazar ben Pedat and Rabbi Johanan who both taught that the forced
exile of the Jewish people among the Gentiles, was really a God given
opportunity to influence Gentiles to become Jewish.
Rabbis tried to test the sincerity of potential converts by making
great demands of time and effort from them. Opposing this, Rabbi
Johanan advises that you should push potential converts away with
your left hand and draw them close with your right hand. Since most
people are right handed if you actually push away more than a few you
are being too negative.
the greatest of our Bible commentators, taught that Jews started
seeking converts from the very beginning, when he interpreted a verse
that states that Abraham made souls in Haran, to mean that Abraham
and Sarah made converts.
And the Talmud (Sanhedrin 99b) condemns
those who push potential converts away by relating that Isaac and
Jacob pushed away Timna the sister of Lotan who wanted to become
Jewish. She then married a son of Esau. One of her descendants was
Amalek who attacked Israel shortly after they escaped from Egypt. If,
instead of being pushed away, Timna had become Jewish, Amalek would
have been on our side, and not one of our enemies. A more practical
view is hard to imagine.
Rabbi Johanan says the Jews were oppressed and enslaved in Egypt
because Abraham didn't try to influence some captives that he rescued
to become Jewish. Even failing to encourage potential converts is
wrong according to Rabbi Johanan.
And several of our Rabbis felt that
discouraging converts in the past had brought troubles upon us. These
are practical, not theological, reasons to seek converts and not to
push away those who might be interested. Rabbis today should welcome
potential converts and not discourage them. We may not be saving
souls, but we should not be making future enemies by rejecting people
who want to be Jewish.
The recent attempt by some Haredi Rabbis in
Israel to retroactively dejudiaze thousands of Jews who were
converted according to Halakah is an shameful example of what not to
Two decades ago I met
a recent Russian immigrant who had started an introduction to Judaism
class in Boston. She had to leave the class to move to L.A. with her
husband for his new job. She was six months pregnant and wanted to be
Jewish before the baby was born, because she was the child of a mixed
marriage in the Soviet Union, and she did not want her child to have
a similar experience.
She told me that at age 18 everyone in the USSR
had to get an identity card. Since her father was Jewish, and her
mother was Russian, the government official told her she could pick
either one for her identity card, but she could not change it once it
was issued. She said she wanted her identity card to read: Jewish.
The official, and then his boss, spent over a half an hour arguing
with her that this was a very bad decision. She insisted and it was
done. When I heard that story, I told her that in my eyes she had
already become Jewish by that act alone. I was ready to convert her
next month. I did.
And I was at the circumcision of her son two
months later. The family joined my congregation, and were members for
several years, until they moved to another part of L.A.
DO NOT DISPARAGE CONVERTS
By Rabbi Allen S. Maller
One of the great
talents of our sages who were Midrash makers is the ability to take
something bad and derive a good lesson from it.
It is recorded in 2
Samuel 21 that in order to end a three year long famine, King David
allowed people from Gibeon who had been attacked unjustly by King
Saul, to punish his descendants by killing seven of them and publicly
exposing their dead bodies.
Rabbi Simeon ben Yehozadak made up the
following Midrash to derive a dramatic lesson from this terrible
event. In his spirit I have slightly embellished the Midrash:
strangers who came into the Town Square of Gibeon were shocked to see
seven dead bodies lying there. They asked the local people who the
dead people were. The Gibeonites told the strangers that they were
princes, the sons and grandsons of Saul, the King of Israel. They had
been lying in the town square for many days.
The strangers thought to
themselves that the crime of the princes must have been very terrible
because to leave their bodies unburied was a sign of great contempt
and disrespect. They asked the townspeople if the seven had killed
many people or stolen lots of gold and silver. The Gibeonites replied
that the princes had indeed done something very bad. They attacked us
because we were strangers who…
suddenly looked frightened because they knew that in most countries
people who are strangers are attacked. The Gibeonites told them they
didn’t have to worry about being attacked by Jews because the
Jewish Torah commanded all Jews to love strangers and to treat them
the same way they treated those born in their own home. These princes
attacked us because we are Jewish.
were surprised. It didn’t make any sense. Why would Jewish princes
attack other Jews? The Gibeonites explained that they were the
children and grandchildren of non-Jewish strangers who had converted
to Judaism. Almost all Jews accepted the Gibeonites as faithful Jews
except for these seven princes and their followers.
thought that every Jew should be happy that non-Jews wanted to join
their people. But the Gibeonites told them that these seven princes
felt that the Gibeonites had converted to Judaism due to improper
motives. Also the princes, who felt they were ultra religious,
thought the Jews who had converted the Gibeonites had not been strict
enough with them, and had not taught them that they had to follow
every little detail of the oral Torah.
Of course, that
wasn’t true. The oral Torah itself said that if a person wanted to
become Jewish, he or she is to be received at once and instructed at
once in some of the minor and some of the major Mitsvot. It also says
that one should take care not to impose too many Mitsvot on non-Jews
who want to become Jewish, nor go into small details about the
Mitsvot. (Talmud Yevamot 47a-b)
“If that is
what the oral Torah says why did the princes not accept you as
faithful Jews?” the strangers asked. The Gibeonites replied that
the princes thought most of them had converted for improper motives,
just so they could marry Jews.
It is true that many non-Jews fall in
love with Jewish people because Jewish people are very lovable.
David, who is now the King of Israel, had a great grandmother named
Ruth who was a non-Jew who married a Jew and converted to Judaism.
But marriage was not the only reason that non-Jews become Jewish
since the majority of non-Jews who marry Jews do not become Jewish.
There are always other reasons beside marriage why people convert to
Judaism. Also, in the days of Joshua when the first Gibeonites had
become Jewish, Joshua himself had questioned why the Jews should make
an effort for the sake of these converts. God told him, “Joshua, if
you keep away those who have been far off, you will end up keeping
away those who are near.” (Numbers Rabbah 8:4)
So, if you rebuff
non-Jews married to Jews who want to come into the Jewish community you will drive
away their Jewish mates who are now part of the community.
strangers realized that the seven had been publicly punished for
attacking converts to Judaism, even though the seven were princes and
ultra religious, they stayed with the Gibeonites and studied Judaism.
According to Rabbi Simeon ben Yehozadak, who told this story in the
Talmud (Talmud Yevamot 79a), the strangers all became Jewish. More
than a thousand years later their descendants had added one hundred
and fifty thousand Jews to the Jewish people, none of whom would have
been Jewish if those who attacked converts had not been publicly
How much more so today, when their are over 200,000 converts to
Judaism, plus their children and grandchildren,