Thursday, October 16, 2008
Judaism DOES Have a Place for Attracting Converts
I just learned (from my rebbe) of sources that indicate that Yiddishkeit not only welcomes sincere gentiles who want to convert to Judaism, but even indicates that we out to encourages it.
In the Parsha of Hakhel (the gathering of the entire Jewish people during the Sukkos after the Shmita year, just like this Sukkos) in Parshas Vayelech, the Torah says that one of the kinds of people who must be brought to Hakhel are "gercha asher b'sha'arecha," "strangers in your gates." I always understood this to refer to Gerim, converts to Judaism. However, many meforshim learn that this refers to Gerei Toshav, Bnei Noach, gentiles who have committed to observing the Sheva Mitzvos Bnei Noach. This, alone, is interesting enough. It's not just that a Ger Toshav has a special status in that they are gentiles who are allowed to continue living in the land of Israel. They are even invited to come to Hakhel, the once-every-seven-years gathering of the Entire Jewish people to listen to the King of Israel read Mishna Torah, Deuteronomy, which is an experiential reenactment of the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai!
But this is not all. The Ibn Ezra there says that the reason why Bnei Noach are encouraged to attend Hakhel is so that they will be so impressed with this re-experiencing of the receiving of the Torah that "Ulai Yisyaheid," "hopefully they will convert!"
I had always heard that we welcome converts but never engaged in any activities to attract converts. Here, there's an example right in the Torah of the fact that we are commanded in the Torah a certain mitzva for the purpose of encouraging Bnei Noach to take it to the next level!!
(Picture courtesy of 7kanal.com)
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