Conversion

by Barry Drogin

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The Torah's concern for the people of Israel cannot be denied: as part of our covenant with G-d, we are commanded to carry the Torah and keep all its commandments (in return, we will be "multiplied"). However, G-d has given the Torah to the people of Israel with the hope that others will listen and, of their own free will, become Jews. The Torah specifically addresses conduct toward converts; thirty-six times the Torah commands:

"Love ye therefore the stranger (Heb., ger); for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."

The Hebrew word ger is better translated as "proselyte," a "man or woman who voluntarily joins the ranks of Judaism." Maimonides comments on the Torah's command:

"How great is the duty which the Torah imposes on us with regard to proselytes. Our parents we are commanded to honour and fear; to the prophets we are ordered to hearken. A man may honour and fear and obey without loving. But in the case of 'strangers,' we are bidden to love them with the whole force of our heart's affection."

There is a Midrash which puts the sentiment even stronger:

"The Torah was revealed not only for Israel, but for all the world; and a proselyte who studies the Torah is no less than a high priest."

You may also wish to consult the prophet Isaiah, LVI, 3-8, for G-d's specific mention of a kind of covenant with proselytes.

I am sorry if there are any members of the congregation who unintentionally may make you self-conscious of your conversion. Listen to the Midrash, and consider yourself as another rabbi in our midst; take pride in your status. If any member intentionally criticizes you, take pity: they don't know their scripture.

This letter to a converted Jew written many years ago was not just a gesture - it has been a deeply held conviction of mine for years. When I turned fifty, a very close friend of mine who discovered that she had Jewish lineage and was slowly going through the process of conversion wrote this.

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