Jewish, Jewish, Everywhere, & not a drop to drink
Sunday, January 26, 2003
Judaism as the primary source of the two other major monotheistic faiths, is based on the notion that Abraham and his wife Sarah were converts to the belief in one God. They were the founders of the Hebrews, that became the Children of Israel and later the Jews of Judah down to the present.
The Bible is very clear that converts deserve special attention and extra measures of love.The Hebrew word for "convert", ger ,is the same as that for a stranger . It is also related to the root gar - "to dwell'. Hence since the Children of Israel were "strangers" - geirim in Egypt, they are therefore instructed to be welcoming to those who seek to convert and dwell amongst them.
According to Jewish law known as the halakha in the codes of the Shulkhan Arukh , there are very strict guidelines for accepting new converts to Judaism. According to the Orthodox Judaism position, potential converts must want to convert for no ulterior motives such as wanting to marry a Jew. A male convert needs to undergo circumcision , and there has to be a commitment to observe all the commandments known as the 613 mitzvot . Ritual immersion in a small pool of water known as a mikveh is required , and the convert takes a new Jewish name and is considered to be a "son" of Abraham who is called the "Father of Converts". According to Maimonides converts will not be accepted once the Jewish Messiah arrives.
The most famous Jewish King , King David was descended from the convert Ruth a princess from Moab . The father of the most famous sage of the Talmud , Rabbi Akiva , was a convert. Christians were forbidden to convert to Judaism on pain of death during most of the Middle Ages. In the 1700s a famous convert by the the name of Count Valentin Potoski in Poland was burned at the stake. He was a disciple of Rabbi Elijah, known as the Vilna Gaon .
The Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism movements are very lenient in their acceptance of converts. Many of their members are married to non-Jews , and the movement make every effort to welcome the spouses of Jews who seek to convert. This issue is also a lightening rod in modern day Israel as many immigrants from the former Soviet Union are not Jewish.
Over the ages, Judaism has not encouraged preaching or proseletysing people to join its faith. In fact, converts are discouraged from becoming Jews and warned that being a Jew entails great risks such as becoming a victim of Anti-Semitism .
In the times of Jesus , gentiles who sought to join him were required to undergo conversion to Judaism first including circumcision for men. The origin of Baptism in water is derived from the Jewish law requiring a convert to submerege themselves in pure water in order to receive a new pure soul from God. It was only many years after Jesus, that there was split in the movement and those seeking to convert to Christianity were not faced with the major obstacles that Judaism presented.
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