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I don’t accept converts

  • Rabbi Aaron Rose
Many years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I still had more hair on my head than on my pillow, I met a Jewish professor in Canberra who proudly told me that he doesn’t accept converts.
by RABBI AHARON ROSE | May 25, 2017

He explained that he is proudly Jewish and we are an elite nation and, as far as he is concerned, a Jew comes from a Jewish mother and that’s it; there are no other options. I looked at him blankly. “Seriously,” he said, quite seriously, “I don’t accept converts. They’re not Jewish.” Finally finding my voice, I said, “Then you’re not Jewish either.”

He looked at me with the type of anger one usually reserves for taxi drivers. Ready to duck, I repeated myself: “If converts aren’t Jewish, then neither are you.” He looked as if he was about to explode and said: “How do you work that out?” (Actually he said a lot more, but this article might be read by children…)

“Well”, I explained patiently, “the entire Jewish people converted at Mount Sinai. So, you, me and every Jew alive today, we are all descended from converts.”

“What about Abraham? Wasn’t he Jewish?”

“Abraham actually proves my point. Abraham’s parents weren’t Jewish and he found the One G-d in a world of idolatry. So, he became the first Jew and the first convert. But he wasn’t a Jew in the sense that we are - he kept the Torah voluntarily.

“Those of his descendants who followed in his spiritual footsteps, remained Jew-ish. Those who didn’t, like Yishmael, could leave. And those outsiders who joined him, became Jew-ish.

“At Mount Sinai, our great-great-... grandparents went through a process of conversion. The entire Jewish people accepted the Torah. From that moment, joining the Jewish people required a supervised process, and leaving the Jewish people was impossible.”

I may have mentioned to him that the Jewish people today are like the Hotel California… “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

“Thank you, wise rabbi,” he said. At least that’s the way I chose to remember it.

The Midrash teaches that Adam and Eve knew the Torah, handed it down to future generations, and those who wanted to do so, studied it and lived by it.

But there was a boundary between the physical and the spiritual. Those who learned Torah before it was officially given at Mount Sinai could only comprehend it according to his/her intelligence and spiritual ability.

When G-d officially gave us the Torah, the boundary between the physical and spiritual worlds was broken (the deeper meaning of Moses ascending Mount Sinai and G-d coming down there to meet him). When used to serve G-d, a physical object could become holy and a Jew could comprehend Torah without limitations.

And so today, when we learn Torah, or do a mitzvah, each Jew connects to the infinite Essence of G-d; whether the person is the child of a Jewish mother, or someone who bravely decided to join.

Every Shavuot, G-d does what He did on the first one: He gives us the Torah. And every Shavuot, we hopefully accept it, with simcha, to change, inspire and uplift us.

 

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