If God Didn’t Choose Me To Be A Jew Then Why Can I Choose It?

whycanichoosetobeajew

Dear Jew in the City,

I know you get a lot of questions about conversion, however, it’s something that I’ve been mulling over for a while. I would also like to say, that I’m fully aware of the serious nature of converting, as well as, “the righteous of all nations have a share in the World to Come,” and there being a much simpler path than converting.

However, for sometime now, I have been observing the Noahide Laws and while I feel this is ok now, I know that in the future I will want more (especially as I wish for children, and for them to be nurtured in a Jewish environment). But my issue is this.. Obviously in Judaism, there is the belief that you’re ‘chosen’ by G-d to be Jewish. So I feel lost when I try to explain to people why I feel called to be Jew, because I wasn’t chosen and put into a Jewish family as a baby. And by converting to Judaism, am I not going against His plan for me? Am I not undermining the fact He chose to place me in a non-Jewish family?

Many Thanks,

Dear Anon,

That’s a great question. Let me explain it to you as follows:

In Judaism, some things are obligatory. For example, I must shake the four species on the holiday of Succos. I have to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana. Other things are prohibited; I may not eat pork or shellfish. But the Torah is far more nuanced than “everything not prohibited is obligatory and everything not obligatory is prohibited.”

Some things are optional – women, for example, do not have to shake the four species (or eat in a succah or hear the shofar, etc.), but they may do so if they choose and it is a mitzvah if they do. Even obligatory mitzvos have an aspect of choice to them. For example, I am required by the Torah to donate a certain percentage of my income to charity, but I get to choose which charities I do and do not support.

Finally, some things are conditional. For example, I don’t have to live in a house. I could choose to live in a tent or on a boat. But if I choose to live in a house, then I am required to put a mezuzah on my door. Similarly, I don’t have to start a business, but if I do, I’m obligated to pay my workers on time and to follow other laws that pertain to running a business. It’s my choice that activates the applicability of the law.

That’s what’s going on with you and the possibility of conversion. You are neither required to do so, nor prohibited from doing so. The power to choose lies in your hands. It’s at your discretion. If you choose to do so, then it will trigger all sorts of requirements for you, like keeping Shabbos and keeping kosher. But it’s neither a requirement nor a prohibition on you, it’s an option.

You mention the seven universal (“Noahide”) laws and the idea that the righteous of all nations have a share in the Next World. This is actually one of my favorite things about the Torah! It doesn’t say “everyone must join us or be locked out of Heaven,” nor does it say “this is just for Jews and outsiders can’t get in.” There’s a basic path for all mankind – not to kill, not to steal, not to have sex with everything you want, etc. – but one can voluntarily accept upon himself (or herself) a greater set of responsibilities. What does G-d want from you? Today, He wants seven things. If you take the plunge (literally, since conversion includes immersion in a mikvah), then He will expect 613 things from you. The choice, however, is in your hands and G-d is good with that either way.

Have you ever heard the famous Midrash about how G-d offered the Torah to every nation but they all rejected it except for the Jews? I once heard a rabbi say that surely there must have been individual members of those other nations who wanted to accept it. He said that, over the generations, the souls of those individuals find their way to Torah through conversion. It’s a beautiful thought and it does explain why Torah calls to some more than others.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
JITC Educational Correspondent

The Catholic Jewish Fetus Who Learned Torah With An Angel
Seven Universal Laws (of Noahides)

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Allison Josephs About Allison Josephs

Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. modern orthodox yeshiva student says:

    Your answer while interesting does not seem to address the philosophical issue of whether or not God is being fair in not allowing Jews an exit strategy. While obviously if our Judaism is true than being Jewish is a positive thing why are some people given the option by God and some are not. Our ancestors all got to choose if they wanted to follow God’s laws or not but we do not have the choice. It seems that by being born into the religion you are forced into a position of greater risk/reward (there are more opportunities to do good but also more opportunities to be bad) while other get to make this choice for themselves. I look forward to your answer.

  2. Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

    The concept of an exit strategy (or lack thereof) is a different topic, one that Allison has addressed elsewhere on the site.

    I think that G-d is by definition fair but “fair” doesn’t mean that everyone gets the same thing. I saw a movie when I was a kid and one brother was complaining “Dad always liked you best” to the other. “How come you got the iron lung?” he accused. “I was the one who was sick!” his brother countered.

    Is it fair that you’re rich and I’m poor? Or that I’m gorgeous and you’re not? Or that brother A is healthy while brother B is sick? Or that we have internet with wireless connections but our ancestors worked in a coal mine? That’s not unfair, it’s life. Everyone’s hand is different and you play the hand you’re dealt. There are certain challenges that come with being rich, gorgeous, healthy and in the 21st century, while different challenges come with being poor, plain (or hideous), ill and in the 18th century. Not is unfair, it just is.

    Each of our souls is different and G-d arranges it so that our mitzvos are appropriate for us. A non-Jew has mitzvos in set A. A Jewish woman might have sets A and B. A Jewish man might have A, B and C. A kohein would have A, B, C, and D. (That’s an oversimplification, but you get the idea.) We have an idea of maalin b’kodesh v’ein moridin, that is, we go up in matters of holiness but not down. Hence, a non-Jew can voluntarily assume a larger portion of mitzvos but a Jew can not abdicate his responsibility.

  3. Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:
  4. Michael Makovi says:

    There’s a midrash about this. A Roman asks Rabbi Akiva, “Whose works are greater, man’s or God’s?” Rabbi Akiva knew that the Roman was trying to trick him, so he answered, “Man’s.” The Roman was stunned, and asked for an explanation. Rabbi Akiva asked him, “Which would you rather eat, an ear of wheat or a loaf of bread?” The Roman answered the bread.

    Rabbi Akiva’s point was to prove that circumcision is not damaging to the body, but perfects the body. (The Roman had been hoping that Rabbi Akiva would answer that God’s works are superior, and use that against Rabbi Akiva to prove that circumcision should be discontinued.) I think we can apply the same to conversion (assuming that the convert wants to convert; there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a gentile).

  5. ‘Love the convert’ (Deuteronomy 10:19)

    Keep in mind that Ruth was a convert and she is the great grand mother of King David.

  6. Yoel Ben-Avraham says:

    As someone who’s “been there and done that” and spent a good part of the past forty years since my conversion learning about “it” I’d like to say the following:

    Some people are blessed with musical talent and others have to work at it. The reality is, there are occasionally exceptional gifted musicians who willfully refuse to develop their talent. In the same way, there are Jews “blessed” with the opportunity to live full Jewish lives by right of birth while others, like myself, have to struggle and search and work exceedingly hard in order to attain that opportunity. In a similar fashion, there are those who have this opportunity given to them by birth, who reject it outright, more often than not without any serious evaluation of what it is and why it is important.

    Finally on a personal note: I think that anyone who is seriously thinking of becoming a Jew should seek professional counselling and encourage to find their challenges elsewhere. If none-the-less they go through with the process, they should know that they are my brothers and sisters as all converts are considered “son’s of Abraham” (hence my Hebrew name: Ben-Avraham) and as such my home is their home!

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      Wonderfully put! (I don’t necessarily agree that “if you want to be Jewish, you should have your head examined” but I loved your musical talent analogy!)

  7. Alannah says:

    This article has a great deal in common with what I am feeling atm. It seems strange that although I was not born a Jew or raised one, I have a strong desire to follow Judaism. From what I have read it seems like an amazing religion and the beliefs are strongly in conjunction to mine. I feel like I should be Jewish and I feel like I was one before. Its not something that I can really make any logical reason to (I don’t seem to have any Jewish ancestors that I am aware of) or just walk away from. I’ve felt this way for years. I don’t want to follow any other religion than the one I’m suppose to be. There is a connection that I have never felt with Catholicism and New Age spirituality that I was brought up with.

    The problem is that I don’t know any Jewish people (at least ones that I am close enough to talk to about it), nor does there seem to be any real community where I live where I can contact a rabbi. Can I still convert? Would I have to move to a city with a higher Jewish population?

  8. Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

    Conversion is a long process so relocating now would be premature but if you ever got to the point where you were ready to do so, then yes. You would need to live in an area with a Jewish support system in place. The reason is simple, but I’ll explain with a story because, you know, that’s what I do.

    I used to be director of admissions for a college and girl applied who had failed everything up to and including typing. Of course, we denied her application. Her high school guidance counselor called me up and said, “Can’t you just do her a favor and admit her?” I said, “If I admitted her, I wouldn’t be doing her a favor.”

    Similarly, a Jew – especially a convert – needs a Jewish support system. We would not be doing someone a favor if we converted them in a situation that we felt would not be conducive to success.

    But like I said above, you’ve got a long time before you need to cross that bridge. At this point, you should be reading and making overtures to people with whom you can develop relationships.

    Good luck!

  9. malachi40 says:

    @Rabbi Jack

    I don’t usually put Judaism on the Internet, but I make the occasional exception.

    The thought expressed in your last paragraph is attributed to the Ger Tzedek, Avraham ben Avraham [the Graf Potocki]. As I have heard it, it also includes a more ominous second half: There were some Jews who did not wish to accept the Torah. [These were apparently unborn souls, for all who were there said Na’aseh V’Nishma.] Over the generations, these souls found their way out of Judaism.

  10. Thank you for your great answer. I have been “living the Jewish life” for a few years now in silence, in the privacy of my home and the privacy of my thoughts and actions. I have been to websites where most bloggers condemn those who want to convert, therefore, negating the mitzvah of loving the convert. Your proposal that conversion is always an option finding favor in G-d’s eyes lights a big beacon of hope in my soul. Unfortunately, there are no synagogues anywhere near my part of the world where I can consult a live rabbi. I will continue to live my lone Jewish life of keeping and observing the Torah, lighting candles on Shabbat albeit living alone, and observing Jewish holy days and festivals to my heart’s content until that day where I can be pricked for a drop of blood and be called a true Jew.

  11. I too live in a small town with 22 christian churchs!! No Synagogue. I drive to Des Moines to a Conservative Synagogue. I have been in conversion classes since last Fall. It’s very lonely at times but I asked my Rabbi for a Jewish “sister”, he gave me names of 3 women. I read an listen to everything I can. I too live alone and am 66yrs old an in poor health. But SS doesn’t cover expenses an I work a part time job 5 days a week. If I had known I could convert I would have done it 40yrs ago!! It s difficult but I love Judism. I’m an Iowa girl and love my pork.. I am working on giving it up!!lol So even if your doing this on your own Don’t give up.. Hashem has called us to be nearer to him and will give us the stregth we need to carry on!! He knows His own!! was a christian for 62 years an never satiisfied. And now I know why. Find the nearest city to you and call a Synagogoue. Check out all sects of Judism. Decide for yourself. I never knew how anti semitic my friends and family was until I started to convert!! My children are all for it. So hang in there!!

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