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The Convert and the Disciple: A Shavuot Lesson

Question:

I attended synagogue services on the holiday of Shavuot morning, and we spent a half-hour reading the Book of Ruth. Is there any special connection between Ruth and Shavuot?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah and prophetic reading on Yom Tov always relate to a deeper theme of the day.

In this case, Ruth is the ancestor of King David, who was born on Shavuot, and died on Shavuot.

Another reason is because Ruth is the quintessential Jewish convert, and on the very first Shavuot – when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai – each Israelite essentially became a “Jew by Choice.” That’s why the Talmud and Code of Jewish Law use the Sinai experience as a basis for determining the requirements of all future converts:

1) Mikveh – All converts must immerse in a Mikveh (ritual bath), as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:14, 24:8).

2) Milah – Male converts must undergo circumcision, as the Israelites did before leaving Egypt (Exodus 12:48 and Joshua 5:5).

3) Mitzvot – All converts must accept to observe all 613 mitzvot of the Torah, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:3).

Interestingly, the Torah intimates that the souls of eventual converts were also present at Sinai, as the verse says: “I am making [the covenant] both with those here today before the Lord our God, and also with those not here today.” (Deut. 29:13)

From “Ruth and Shavuot”
the Aish Ask the Rabbi column
Aish.com

In my recent review of the Mark Nanos essay “The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates” as found in the book Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition), citing Nanos, I commented that the Apostle Paul was very much against the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) converting to Judaism, frankly, because it was unnecessary. In Messiah, Gentiles have an equal communal status with the Jewish disciples, the same indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the same promise of the resurrection.

mikvahThe other major reason that Paul discouraged Gentiles from converting is that it would undermine God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father to many nations. If we all converted to Judaism as a means of accessing a covenant relationship with God, then God’s promise that not just the Jewish people but all peoples would bow to Him, would be null and void. And as I hope you realize, it’s impossible to thwart the plans and promises of Hashem, God of Israel.

So is there any good reason for a Gentile in Messiah to convert to Judaism? There must be, because some few such converts exist (I have no statistics as to exactly how many there are or where they can be found and only personally know of one such person).

I also know that some critics of Messianic Judaism in the Hebrew Roots space believe that the practice of conversion is not presupposed in the Torah and thus is unbiblical, not to be recognized by those Gentiles who believe the Torah applies equally to all, Jew and Gentile alike.

However, as we see above, the Jewish people certainly do believe there is a precedent in the Torah that allows for ritual conversion of Gentiles, bringing them into Israel as (Jewish) children of Abraham.

Neither Christianity nor any branch of Judaism believes that Gentiles must convert to Judaism and indeed, Christianity sees converting non-believers to themselves is the desirable outcome, not becoming a member of the tribes, so to speak.

I also mentioned before that both in the late Second Temple period and today, those of us, that is, non-Jews who have some sort of connection with Judaism in general and Messianic Judaism in particular, often suffer from an identity crisis. More than once, the dissonance of who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do given my rather unique outlook on the Bible, has stirred a great desire in me to “throw in the towel” and stop associating with religious people altogether, both face-to-face and over the web.

It’s not an easy life.

Orthodox JewsSome non-Jews entering Messianic community have shot out the other end, so to speak, and converted to (usually Orthodox) Judaism as a way to end that dissonance and secure a religiously and socially acceptable identity within Judaism. To do so however, they had to surrender all fealty to Yeshua as Messiah and King, thus, from Christianity’s point of view, becoming apostates.

I believe, both in ancient and modern times, that God gave the Jewish people the ability to be “gatekeepers” into their realm. Nanos spoke of a “chronometrical gospel”, that is, a time-related good news event or set of events, a good news that entered our world heralding the advent of the New Covenant promises with the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Master, the Messiah.

Prior to Yeshua, there was a mechanism in place whereby Gentiles who were drawn to the God of Israel could undergo a ritual allowing them to join Israel and thereafter be considered indistinguishable from the born Israelite. It was the only real option for such Gentiles, apart from the status of God-Fearers who had no covenant status relative to God (unless you count the Noahide covenant).

The process of conversion seemed to morph over time and was likely different in some manner to the process we see Ruth undergoing to convert to Judaism and become the eventual ancestor to King David and ultimately, Yeshua.

No one should question the authenticity of David’s let alone Yeshua’s Judaism because a convert was their ancestor.

But as I said before, if converting to Judaism were the only way for Gentiles to apprehend the blessings of the New Covenant (let alone Sinai), then as I said above, God’s promise to Abraham would fail.

two pathsSo through Messiah, another avenue was created, one that does not require we convert and become Israel. We are permitted now to come alongside Israel, not being them but being at the same table with them, partaking in the same blessings without being responsible for the same obligations. This makes it possible for the whole world to come to God, to be blessed by God, to attain the companionship of the Holy Spirit of God, and to receive the promise of a life in the world to come, all without conversion and all while remaining fully Gentile citizens of the nations.

In another Aish Ask the Rabbi column, the Rabbi states in part:

Being culturally Jewish, without belief in God, is compared to a cut flower. While it still retains much of its vitality, the flower has been cut off from its source of nutrition, and within a short time will wither and die. The ideals which have kept the Jewish people alive and thriving over the millennia – despite all odds – can only be transmitted with the framework that the Torah provides.

I’ve mentioned in this blog post and several others including this one, that we “Messianic Gentiles” actually have a very specific duty, that of encouraging and supporting Jews in Messiah (any Jew we may encounter, actually) to return to Torah and to more fully observe the mitzvot.

Without Jewish devotion to Torah, as the Aish Rabbi states, what God has preserved in the Jewish people will eventually fade…and without Israel, we Gentiles have no hope, because 100% of the promised blessings we receive God made with Israel, not us!

That’s why Yeshua is the King to the Jews first and only after, the King of the nations of the world. Whether the realization is comfortable or not, Israel is the gatekeeper, it guards all the doors, it holds all the keys, all through God’s covenants with Israel, and all through the person of Israel’s King, King Messiah, Son of David.

There may well be some valid reasons for Gentiles converting to Judaism, but they are all minimized within the Messianic Jewish realm simply because, as Paul pointed out repeatedly, it’s not necessary in order for a Gentile to have an authentic relationship with God. Particularly for the Gentile but also for the Jewish people, the cornerstone, the lynchpin to that relationship is Messiah. He opened the door that let the Gentiles into a full relationship with God, and he brought the very beginnings of what will someday be the completion of God’s New Covenant promises to Israel, and only through Israel, to the world.

aloneWe non-Jews should not dismiss or denigrate converts to Judaism, regardless of which branch they convert into, but we should rest assured that it is not a requirement either. This may be confusing relative to Gentile identity in Messianic community (which is why I suspect such Gentiles either covert to Judaism, return to the Gentile Church, or just give up on religion completely), but what Jews and Gentiles don’t yet understand about the non-Jew’s role and function among Israel, is well understood by God.

If I, as a non-Jew who studies within a Messianic Jewish framework, am never accepted as who I am, either by Gentiles or Jews, I can take comfort that in the privacy of my prayers and studies, I am still accepted by God. I can be a disciple and a Goy. I can be who I am. I don’t have to become someone else or pretend to possess another’s responsibilities to stand in the presence of the Almighty.

Chag Shavuot Sameach!

The Cheated Convert

The 252nd prohibition is that we are further forbidden from verbally causing emotional distress to a convert, i.e. ona’as devarim.

The source of this prohibition is G-d’s statement (exalted be He), “Do not wrong a convert.” In the words of the Mechilta: “The verse ‘Do not wrong a convert’ means doing so with your words.” This prohibition is repeated a second time, in the phrase “[When a convert comes to live in your land,] do not hurt his feelings.’ “

In the words of the Sifra: “You should not tell him, ‘Yesterday you were an idolater and now you have entered under the wings of the Divine Presence.’ “

Sefer Hamitzvot in English
“Hurtful Words to a Convert”
Negative Commandment 252
Translated by Rabbi Berel Bell
Chabad.org

The Interior Ministry has rejected an application for permanent residency by an Orthodox convert, after the Chief Rabbinate informed the ministry it did not recognize her conversion.

After the rabbinate’s decision, the ministry first rejected her aliya application. She does not want her name published.

The woman converted in 2005 under the auspices of the rabbi of one of the oldest established Orthodox synagogues in the US (located in New York). The rabbi is a well-respected Orthodox religious leader.

-by Jeremy Sharon
“Orthodox convert from US ordered to leave Israel”
12-23-2011
The Jerusalem Post

I know I’m probably interpreting this all wrong in a Rabbinic sense so I don’t doubt I’ll get some Jewish folks pushing back on my opinion, but I’m getting just a little annoyed at the state of Jewish converts who want to make Aliyah (emigrate to Israel). I’ve never understood the perspective of the Rabbinate on this matter. OK, I understand that they don’t want to grant the “right of return” to a person who may be only marginal in their Judaism and even have ulterior motives for conversion and Aliyah, but once the conversion has been examined and the convert has established some sort of track record of “being Jewish”, isn’t that enough? Beyond a certain point, isn’t the Rabbinate violating the 252nd prohibition (not that it would be seen that way from their viewpoint, of course)?

Besides, there’s another matter to consider.

The decision by the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority to consult the Chief Rabbinate violates a June agreement between authority director Amnon Ben-Ami and Knesset Committee for Aliya, Absorption and the Diaspora chairman MK Danny Danon (Likud).

The agreement stipulated that the ministry would consult with the Jewish Agency regarding the eligibility of Orthodox converts for aliya, instead of the Chief Rabbinate.

This was due to a series of aliya applications by Orthodox converts that were rejected by the rabbinate because it did not “recognize” their conversions.

I guess violating an agreement is different than violating a law or a Torah commandment, but it doesn’t speak well of you if you agree to something and then go back on your word, even if it’s less than an iron clad law written into the penal code. Of course, it’s not like everyone in Israel has suddenly turned against this woman.

She turned to ITIM: The Jewish- Life Information Center, for help, which subsequently appealed the decision to the Interior Ministry. She has been allowed to remain in the country while the case is under consideration.

“We have reached a new low for converts,” ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber said. “The insensitive attitude of the Interior Ministry is unconscionable and counters Jewish tradition which forbids Jews from persecuting converts.

“Converts are exceptionally vulnerable and have nowhere to turn. The Torah mentions being kind to the convert 36 times! “ITIM sued the ministry in June, and we will be forced to do so again if they won’t abide by the agreement. In the past 24 hours ITIM has reached out to Amnon Ben-Ami – who signed the agreement – and has given them the opportunity to rectify the situation without having to involve the court.”

According to a 1988 Supreme Court decision, the criteria determining the aliya eligibility of converts are that the community and rabbi through which they converted must be recognized as legitimate, and that in turn, the community and rabbi recognize the convert as a Jew and a community member in good standing.

Ironically, part of the problem is that this woman converted to Orthodox Judaism. According the the news story, unlike the Reform and Conservative movements, there is no central authority for the Orthodox, which makes it more difficult to confirm the conditions of their conversion and their eligibility for Aliyah. However, this woman’s conversion would seem to be open and above board as I previously quoted from this news report.

The woman converted in 2005 under the auspices of the rabbi of one of the oldest established Orthodox synagogues in the US (located in New York). The rabbi is a well-respected Orthodox religious leader.

Somewhere between God, Moses, the Torah, and the mess of politics and religion in the modern state of Israel (and I admit, I am far from familiar with the maze of its inner workings) lies not just one Jewish convert, but many who either have their applications to make Aliyah reversed or who have their applications completely rejected before they even have a chance to pack their bags and buy a one-way ticket on El-Al to Tel Aviv. I fully confess that this blog post is written with more emotion than information, but I see a great deal of injustice being done in the name of who…God?

Given modern Israeli politics, would even Ruth be admitted to the Land today? What happens when the Mashiach comes? Will he not be Jewish enough for the Chief Rabbinate? He’ll certainly be more Jewish than the vast majority of Christians imagine him to be.

I’ve explored the idea of converting in the past and I’ve even fantasized about living in Israel (even if I never converted, since my wife is Jewish, if she made Aliyah, I could go with her), but something is wrong in Israel today. When is a Jew good enough to be a Jew in Israel as opposed to the rest of the world? God knows, but does the Chief Rabbinate?

Following God isn’t easy for anyone. Certainly making the commitment to convert to Judaism and making Aliyah, committing to living in the Land (which is not always a comfortable place to live) isn’t easy. In fact, it’s fraught with challenges, setbacks, and disappointments as well as the immeasurable rewards for every Jew, convert or not. But to borrow from some of the best that Judaism has to offer, I present this quote from Rabbi Tzvi Freeman (who, for all I know, might agree that the convert mentioned in this story should not be allowed to make Aliyah), who almost always provides me with encouragement by citing the teachings of the Rebbe.

Ultimately, Darkness will meet her end. Our choice lies only in the form of her demise:

If we meet nothing but success at every stage of our mission, Darkness will helplessly surrender, delivering to our hand all the sparks of G‑dliness that she has so jealously held.

When we fail, however, we have taken upon ourselves to wrestle Darkness face-to-face to her utter annihilation. She will not surrender, but no trace will be left of her. She herself will be transformed to light.

And there is no greater light than Darkness herself transformed to light.

Like I said at the beginning of this “extra meditation”, I expect some push back from folks who disagree with my rant and that’s OK. I don’t pretend to understand everything about Israeli politics or the whole process of Jewish conversion and Aliyah. It just seems to me from my generic Goy point of view, that the woman who is the focus of this news article is being treated unfairly. I know the news media isn’t always the best and most accurate source of information (ironically), but it’s all I have to go on.

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