Parshas Nitzovim
Deuteronomy 29:9 - 30:20

Conversion To Judaism? ©

By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

You are standing this day, all of you before Hashem your G-d, your Chieftains, your tribes, your elders and your judges, all men of Yisroel, your little [ones], your wives, and your convert that is from within your camp from your wood cutter to [the one who] draws your water for your [willing] slavery into the covenant of Hashem your G-d and in His oath that Hashem your G-d is establishing with each of you today. Deuteronomy 29:9-11

To begin with, this passage says: AhTem, “You”, as in all of you. “You” is defined as you Chieftains, you tribes, you elders, you officers, all of you men of Yisroel, you little ones, you wives, and your convert that is from within your camp from your wood cutter to [the one who] draws your water... The you is plural. It is all-inclusive. This is important!

Next we observe the special ending for all of the words that “You” represents. Notice the endings for your Chieftains, your tribes, your elders, your officers, your little, your wives. Each of these has a plural ending. The reference to “all men of Yisroel” also represents plural because of the “All”. However the Vi Gay Ree Chaw, meaning “Your Convert” is not plural. Your convert is singular. Why is the word “your convert” stated as singular? Does this mean there was only one convert? Does it mean all converts are as one? Does it imply one specific convert from among many? Why does the Torah say Vi Gay Ree Chaw?

Dr. J. H. Hertz, former Chief rabbi, connects the word Vi Gay Ree Chaw with “your wood cutter” and “[the one who] draws your water...”. So his interesting explanation defines the Vi Gay Ree Chaw as non Israelite strangers which included slaves and former prisoners of Mitzriam. The Midrash supports Dr. Hertz’s explanation. Now that being the situation, it still does not explain the singular usage. However it is evident that the usage of Vi Gay Ree Chaw was understood because no additional explanation was required in Torah. So it appears that Vi Gay Ree Chaw includes the lowest, most undesirable slaves, prisoners and Canaanim who specifically requested to be included as converts. It was to them that this passage was directed.

That being the situation, the span of individuals that the Torah includes as desiring to receive slavery into the covenant of Hashem reaches from the highest, most respected levels of your chieftains and your judges to the Vi Gay Ree Chaw representing the lowest, most undesirable slaves, prisoners and Canaanim. Now the term Vi Gay Ree Chaw was not included as a means of insult or degradation but only in honor of a request of the Vi Gay Ree Chaw that they be included. Now, holy reader, when one understands the impact of this request one understands the great versatility for conversion into Judaism. And when one understands the great versatility, one must wonder why more people don’t convert to Judaism. Let’s explore this.

Before one converts to Judaism they MUST meet the necessary requirements. Not only MUST the potential convert meet these requirements but they MUST demonstrate their understanding and 100% commitment to total observance. This is why frequently after a short time, those who thought they wanted to be Jewish change their mind.

Story of Deception
Many years ago there was a Jew who paraded as an observant rabbi. He sent his son to an observant Yeshiva. {I must note that his actions were entirely his actions. One must not perceive his actions as a poor reflection on his relatives!!} He gave the appearance of an observant Jew. Yet he was entangled with Messianics. He gave many phony conversions to Judaism. He preyed upon Christians / Messianics. For a fee of up to five thousand dollars per person he taught a conversion course. People who paid his fees and completed his course actually believed they were authentic Jews. Some of his pseudo conversions included Christian and Messianic leadership. Many who participated in these pseudo conversions attempted to move to Yisroel. Their conversions were examined and they were denied citizenship. They were deported! Some were angry!

Eventually this pseudo rabbi was exposed for what he was. Jewish newspapers carried stories with pictures. The observant community denied his ordination. They exposed him to be a phony. Yet he continued his rabbinic claim and his phony conversions. People continued to pay. They paid less but they paid. He claimed that he was being persecuted by the Jewish community. This story goes on and on.

Dear reader, the point is that conversion to Judaism is not a simple walk down the aisle to the front of a shul. It is not simply expressing that one believes or accepts Judaism in the front of the shul. It is NOT simply shaking the hand of a rabbi and being welcomed into Judaism. It is much, much more!!

No conversion to Judaism can include belief in Jesus as G-d or as the son of G-d or as the messiah. Judaism does NOT teach this! These doctrines are NOT Jewish! Even though a person may be born Jewish if they believe Jesus is G-d or believe Jesus is the son of G-d or believe that Jesus is the returning messiah, then that person is NOT practicing Judaism. Most Jews do not acknowledge this person as being Jewish because their beliefs contradict the Torah.

Dear reader, when I was an administrator at a Yeshiva a young woman in her 30’s dropped by. The secretary showed her to my office. She desired to convert to Judaism. She said that she had this burning desire to become Jewish EVEN WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT WAS INVOLVED. Almost 100% of the time this is the situation. At JewishPath we receive many, many requests from people who want to convert or who think they may be Jewish.

Dear holy reader, let’s examine what being Jewish actually is. One cannot convert to Judaism without knowing what is required. We will only touch on a few points to give an idea of what is necessary.

When asked by a non Jew about conversion, the first question I ask is, “Are you presently married?” If the answer is “Yes” I ask, “Is your present spouse Jewish?” If their answer is yes I explore to determine if the spouse is indeed Jewish. Over 90% of the time the answer is, ‘Yes I am married and my spouse is not Jewish.’ Usually I follow these two questions with, “Have you discussed your desire to be Jewish with your spouse? Does your spouse also want to be Jewish?” The answer to both is most often “NO”!

Dear reader, a Jew can only marry another Jew. Unlike other religions Judaism does not permit a non Jew to convert when their spouse is not Jewish. Why? One cannot be an observant Jew if one is married to a non Jew. One cannot accept all 613 of the Torah mitzvahs required for conversion if one is married to a non Jew. Conversion to Judaism does not allow for sub par acceptance. One must accept ALL Torah Mitzvahs. Being married to a non Jew is not accepting all Torah Mitzvahs as required in conversion. One cannot say I will accept all but these Mitzvahs. That is NOT being Jewish. That is not converting to Torah Judaism!!

Frequently, as in the situation of the woman who entered my office, children are involved. One does not have to deny their children but this presents certain issues. One cannot eat at a non kosher home. So the convert cannot eat at any non Jewish home or at the home of non observant Jews. The convert cannot bring non kosher food into their home. All food purchased from the grocery store must be kosher. Most grocery stores, especially in smaller Jewish communities, do not stock many necessary items like meat, poultry and other important foods. One cannot eat at just any restaurant. Most restaurants are not kosher. Converting to Judaism requires that the convert observe the Mitzvahs of kashrus.

These are only a few of the issues non Jews do not understand about Judaism. Remember the potential convert MUST meet all Torah requirements, MUST demonstrate their understanding of Torah observance and MUST make a100% commitment to total Torah observance.

Holy reader, one cannot convert to Judaism with the idea of working out marital issues or kashrus issues after conversion. They must be resolved before conversion. Now we return to what the Torah refers to in this week’s parsha as the lowest, most undesirable slaves, prisoners and Canaanim who converted to Judaism. These converts who were once the lowest, most undesirable slaves, prisoners and Canaanim converted. They CHANGED! By requesting that Moshe include their conversion in the Torah they were making a most incredible statement. They were saying, ‘We who were once the lowest... we who were once the lowly, unlearned slaves... we who were once the prisoners... and we who were once the Canaanim are now Jews. We are no longer what we once were! We have taken on a new direction. We have taken on a new way of life. We are Torah observant Jews!’ They were making a statement for all to read. That statement is that even the very worst can become the very observant if they truly want to be. Thank G-d!

Wishing you the best!

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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