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    Loving the convert – Ekev

    Naomi & Ruth - loving the convert (by Gustave Dore)

    Recent conversion controversies in Israel have caused great distress amongst large numbers of people whose acceptance of and into Judaism has been blithely brushed aside – without apology or courtesy – apparently because certain rabbis have decided that certain other rabbis don’t know what they are talking about.

    I can’t help but contrast the furore with a moment at an Australian rabbinic conference where a certain rabbi asked why we didn’t keep in regular touch with converts and make sure they were maintaining their religious observance.

    A veteran halachist whose rulings were widely respected objected strongly to the suggestion.

    “When a person becomes Jewish,” he said, “they are part of the community and we have no right to spy on them” – though his exact words were, “We don’t bodek anyone’s tzitzis, we don’t check anyone’s fringes”.

    The rule in the Torah is Va-ahavtem et ha-ger, “You shall love the ger” (Deut. 10:19).

    The original meaning of ger is “stranger” and in that sense it is basic to Jewish ethics that we love the alien, the foreigner, the outsider.

    In rabbinic Hebrew, ger means a convert, and many of our greatest assets have been people who came into Judaism through conversion.

    Having had some contact in Israel with classes that prepare people for conversion there is no doubt in my mind but that in most cases the convert gains from Judaism and Judaism gains from the convert.

    We are told to respect and love the convert because they have – often with considerable spiritual and moral courage – chosen to throw in their lot with the Jewish people (Num. R. 8:2).

    It seems to me that rabbinical decisors are duty bound to find the words to apologise to thousands of converts and assure them that they have indeed come under the wings of the Sh’chinah and are welcome in Judaism.

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