Converts & Conversion to Judaism

Another book in my not read books category is Converts & Conversion to Judaism by Rabbi Josef Lifland. I did quickly skim it to see if it were something that would be more immediately useful. It deals with a lot of interesting detailed and practical questions about conversion. For example, if a Jew is charging a non-Jew interest and the non-Jew converts, what happens? And, if conversion is a new birth, can a converted Jew curse his or her non-Jewish birth parents (as they are no longer family)? All of this is primarily derived from Talmud and rabbinic materials, obviously, so not directly of interest to those outside the Jewish faith.

Based on my quick survey, I think it is interesting to see how seriously they take conversion (in contrast to much of contemporary Christian discussions). Conversion really changes things and the practical implications are worth thinking about. A couple of specific things that I found interesting:

The discussion of private conversions is quite clear; there really is no such thing. This certainly has been the case in some of Christian history (e.g., Augustine had to deal with this issue). But in an era of privatized faith, private conversions seem to make sense.

Conversion with ulterior motives are not acceptable. The most common situation in the Jewish context appears to be conversion to facilitate marriage. It does raise the question about how we evaluate the sincerity of conversions when people potentially have some incentive to be called Christian.

Related to this, the tradition (during at least some of Jewish history) to discourage conversion (asking “What has led you to desire to convert? Don’t you know that Israel is presently afflicted, oppressed, attacked, and preyed upon, and that misfortunes befall Israel?”). This doesn’t always apply; when conversions are culturally difficult, it can be assumed that they are genuine; when they are easy, barriers are added. It seems some similar trends may sometimes have occurred within the Christian tradition.

Finally, though not directly related to converts, the question of Grace After Meals is addressed. Claiming explicit biblical sanction (a blessing of biblical origin), Deut 8:10 says: “Whey you have eaten and are full, they you shall bless the L-rd your G-d for the good land that He has given you.” I wonder why Christians have been so fixed on prayer before meals? There must be a historical reason. A puzzle for another day.

Putting it down and moving on. Too many other books to read.


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