A reader wrote in and suggested that I discuss some reasons Gentile Messiah-followers should not convert to Judaism. They suggested I have made my journey sound too normative and I could give people the idea that every Gentile who loves Israel and Torah should convert.
So, the following is a partly serious, partly humorous attempt to expound . . .
IT IS NOT SUFFICIENT TO SEEK CONVERSION TO JUDAISM . . .
…because I love matzah ball soup and good fresh bagels with a schmear. Everybody loves matzah ball soup (proven, scientific fact) and, provided the bagel is made old-style (the dough must be immersed in boiling water or steamed before baking), who could resist an artery clogging combination of white flour and the fattiest cheese-substance known to man? This hardly makes you a candidate for conversion.
…because I love chopped liver and gefilte fish. On second thought, you may actually be a candidate for conversion!
…because I have an ambition to win the Nobel Prize. Most of us have seen the chain email that shows how Jewish people have disproportionately won the Nobel Prize. You are too old to get started on winning your prize already anyway.
…because the Bible is written in Hebrew and Jewish people use Hebrew at synagogue and in Israel. Assuming you are a Christian, why not learn Hebrew anyway and find a church where the whole Bible (and not just Paul’s letters) is read and studied. You could start a trend in your area and maybe others will learn Hebrew too. Plus, you can visit synagogues (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Messianic) from time to time anyway for an intensive Hebrew experience.
…because Jews are the Chosen People and I never got picked for teams growing up. Christians are chosen people too, chosen for redemption, reconciliation, resurrection, and glorification. How much more chosen do you need to be?
…because I fell in love with the land of Israel and I want to make aliyah (citizenship). Christians make pilgrimages to Israel too, you know. And unless your conversion is Orthodox, you’re not likely to make aliyah anyway (I’ve heard that people are now having success with Conservative and Reform conversions, can anyone confirm?). In most cases, conversion through the big three entails implicit or explicit denial of Yeshua.
…because I like the Sabbath and holidays and kosher chicken. Here we are in a controversial place. It is my opinion (I wonder if I will get slammed for this) that Christians who wish to keep Torah identity markers for Israel can do so in a humble manner, anticipating the age to come. By humble, I mean keeping them in a way that does not imply you are Jewish. But there are some strong traditions in Judaism that Torah observance by Gentiles is offensive. I don’t think these traditions are the final word and I believe there are dissenting voices in the tradition (but at the moment I cannot prove my point, so I am out on a limb here). Still, loving Torah practices is insufficient reason to seek conversion.
…because “Christian” is a bad word to me, Yeshua was a “Jew”, and I want to be one too. The labels “Jewish” and “Christian” are both late terms. “Jew” first shows up in the book of Esther and there is meant “of the tribe of Judah or the tribes that dwelt in the land of Judah.” “Christian” first shows up in Acts 11:26 and the term signified followers of the Anointed One (Christ, Messiah). It is true that Yeshua was not a Christian, but Acts 11:26 suggests that Paul and other apostles would also have been termed Christians (while not in any way losing their status as Jews). In other words, the terms Jew and Christian are not mutually exclusive. And we should not let the intervening history of enmity color our understanding if what Christian really means: a follower of Christ, who is the Jewish Messiah. One more point: Yeshua did not teach that to follow him one had to be everything he was. Can women follow a male Messiah? non-Jews a Jewish Messiah? Homeowners follow a homeless Messiah? Lawful citizens follow a condemned criminal Messiah? Humans follow a divine-human Messiah?
…because I have Jewish ancestors. Now we come to a tricky one. I am largely ignorant about the traditions here (I don’t mind admitting ignorance). I seriously doubt there is any tradition which demands conversion as a moral imperative for those with Jewish ancestors. But many factors come into play here, including in some cases restoring family relationships. Other cases involve distant ancestors and the issues are not as urgent. For now, I will say that having Jewish ancestry is not all by itself a sufficient reason to convert (please, someone correct me if I have misspoken).
So, what is a sufficient reason or what are sufficient reasons to convert?
I cannot give a complete answer. I can only say this: conversion is about relationships to the people of Israel (the Jewish people) and not about theology, social status, holiness, salvation, imitating Messiah, protesting Christianity, or a thousand other invalid criteria. Intermarriage is the only slam-dunk case (though some would argue that conversion is not necessary in intermarriage either, a good subject for exploration).