Jewish Journal

The Real Reason to Seek Converts

by Susan Esther Barnes

June 11, 2014 | 1:30 am

Photo from Wikimedia

I was, briefly, quite pleased when I saw that Rabbi Shmuley Boteach had written a blog post in the Jewish Journal called, “Jews should seek converts.” I say “briefly” because I was quite disappointed when I read his reasoning.

Sadly, his reasons for seeking converts to Judaism were all self-serving. He writes about the “puny size” of the Jewish community, and the desire to increase our numbers. He writes about the desire to defend Israel against its enemies, and the need to pressure and influence governments to support it. He writes about economic influence, and he writes about alliances.

For a moment, in paragraph eight, he finally mentions the Jewish mandate to be a light unto the nations, so I thought maybe he was finally getting around to something a bit less selfish. But then in the next paragraph he falls back into talking about the need to increase our numbers.

As a Jew, I find these arguments to be incredibly sad. It seems all converts are to the rabbi is a means to give ourselves more power. It is as if Judaism itself is all about taking from these converts, and is nothing but an empty, voracious vessel with nothing to give.

If I were a convert, I would be insulted. Why would anyone want to join any group that only wants to take from them, while giving nothing in return? Who would want to join a bunch of people who see them only as a warm body and a source of power? Any potential convert with any sense would want to run for the hills.

I reject the rabbi’s reasons for seeking converts. Although some people may agree with him, not for a moment do I believe that the majority of those doing Jewish outreach are doing so for the reasons he states, God forbid.

No. I will tell you why we should seek converts. We ought to seek converts not for what we can get from them, but for what Judaism can give to them.

If a person is happy in their religion and way of life, if they feel close to God and feel they are living a life of meaning, then that’s great. They don’t need Judaism, and we can leave them to live the life that works for them.

But, in much of the US, where the vast majority of the religious people are Christian, it is natural for people to think Christianity is the only portal to a relationship with God. As a result, many people for whom Christianity does not work therefore conclude that no religion will work for them and they cannot have a relationship with God. A good example of this is this blog post in which the author writes he is an atheist because of his bad experience with Christianity.

When people believe that their choice is between Christianity or nothing, or any other religion or nothing, we Jews are failing them. Just as Christianity doesn’t work for everyone, Judaism doesn’t work for everyone, but I know from experience it does work for at least some people who reject Christianity.

Therefore, we ought to seek converts because there are people in the world who want to have a relationship with God but who aren’t finding it in the dominant religion of their family and/or country. We ought to seek converts because we have a deep, rich heritage we would like to share with the world.

We ought to seek converts because Judaism can make the lives of so many people so much better. We ought to want to share our community with others who can benefit from it. We ought to recognize the deep, meaningful rituals and customs we have, and we ought to want as many people as possible to benefit from them.

That is why we ought to seek converts.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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