A Global Association of Orthodox Jewish Believers in Messiah Yeshua
Jewish Conversion: From Abram to Abraham
Conversion to Judaism is a confirmation of an already existing reality: that one is already Jewish before they come to convert.
The Sages recognized that every Jew that would ever convert to Judaism was present at Sinai in Deuteronomy 29:15. This is why Yevamot 47a-47b says a “convert who comes to convert” and not “a gentile who comes to convert” for one is already a convert to Judaism before they even go through the ritual of conversion, and this was also so, even before the person was born. To be Jewish, to be of the people of Israel, means to be a member of that Covenant that was made in Deuteronomy 29:14-15.
Where do we find in the Torah this idea that one already is a member of the Covenant before he goes through the ritual of conversion?
In how Abram became Abraham, before he was circumcised.
HaShem made the Covenant with him before he changed his name and told him to get circumcised or else be “cut off” from the Covenant. One can not be cut off from a covenant they are not a part of already. This Covenant is that which is explained in Deuteronomy 29:14-15.
Where do we find immersion in a mikveh as a requirement for conversion? When Abraham says to the three men who came to visit him, one of which is called HaShem, he says “let a little water be brought.” How do we know this is different than the immersion of a new believer from the nations? Since it was already written Abram “left Haran and came to Canaan,” as he would have had to have crossed the Jordan, and thus would have been considered an evrite – a Hebrew – one who has “crossed over.” This took place in Genesis 12. Abram was pronounced righteous (like Noach, like Enoch before him), by faith alone in the Word of HaShem, the Mashiach, per Genesis 15:6.
It is after his faith in Mashiach, HaShem makes a covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, which is the land promise for his offspring – specifically the “offspring” Messiah that he just placed his faith in.
HaShem waits 13 years and then approaches Abram in Genesis 17 to confirm the covenant he made with him, and changes his name from Abram to Abraham. This is true of all Jewish conversions, that the convert selects a Hebrew name before he goes through the ritual of conversion. This is something personal between the convert and HaShem.
In Genesis 17 G-d then confirms the covenant with Abraham, that HaShem made with Abram in Genesis 15.
That this confirmation is made by G-d in Gen 17:3 and not HaShem (as it was HaShem in Gen 15:18), teaches us that this is before a eloheim – judges, a beit din that the confirmation (conversion) of an already existing reality (covenant membership) is certified.
This “confirmation” process includes not only the previous promise of the land for his offspring, but also twelve additional blessings, all of them in relationship to the identity of the Messiah. It could be argued that that previous promise in Gen 15:18 is a 13th blessing that is reiterated in Genesis 17 in order to add to that promise the word “eternal.”
G-d is the one who defines the covenant for him. It is from this we learn the beit din is responsible for teaching the convert what he is accepting upon himself.
HaShem, then charges Abraham and his entire household to get circumcised to keep the sign of the covenant that he is already a part of, or else be cut off from the covenant. Abraham does this. He circumcises himself and his household. This teaches us that a beit din is not required to perform the circumcision.
Immediately following in the next chapter we see the beit din return, as HaShem shows up and Abraham sees “three men.”
He then asks them to bring forth water.
We understand from this that the immersion of a convert can be witnessed by any Jew – that is, any man who is later defined by Torah as those who meeting the qualification of those defined as “anshim” in the Torah. Such is one who can legally bring a dispute to a beit din of qualified judges (Eloheim) for resolution. To prevent a dispute, a beit din may provide a written documentation of the conversion for the anshim to sign so there is no dispute in the future concerning the status of the convert in case those witnesses are no longer available to be subpoenaed. What is the written documentation in Abraham’s case proving he’s a convert according to “Ha-Eloheim,” the judges? The very Torah you are reading, specifically when it mentions “Ha Eloheim” in Genesis 17:18 in his inquiry concerning whether or not Ishmael (who is not a convert) is a member of the Covenant.
Why did Abraham inquire of the judges about Ishmael? To teach us that only one born to a convert attains the status of a covenant member, but one who is not born must himself also go through conversion the same way as Abram did to become Abraham (faith in the Mashiach, and an immersion in a mikveh of conversion, then confirmed as a Covenant member by appearing before a beit din, getting circumcised himself if he isn’t already, and getting immersed in a mikveh and so publicly identify with the 12 additional blessings HaShem gave to Abraham).
There is so much detail in how Abram became Abraham, that his entire story must be central in any discussion on conversion to Judaism, which is, according this author’s understanding of the Torah, a legal confirmation of an existing covenant membership reality. The Torah teaches through Abram’s example that a member of the covenant that HaShem made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is made when a gentile places their faith in the Messiah and crosses over from death into eternal life. Circumcision and a mikveh then follows. It is interesting to see how modern Christianity has preserved the tradition of immersing a gentile upon their faith in Mashiach… and now it can be understood that HaShem also calls some of them at certain times to consider going through the full confirmation process like HaShem did with Abram 13 years later.