A Global Association of Orthodox Jewish Believers in Messiah Yeshua
Orthodox Conversion: A Biblical Perspective
I am relatively new to the Messianic Movement, having first visited a congregation on Shabbat a little less than six years ago. Slowly my understanding grew as I began to keep a basic level of kashrut and Shabbat observance, and eventually moving past that to a level of Orthodoxy, becoming shomer Shabbat and shomer kashrut. During this process, I began to look at converting to Orthodox Judaism, as did many others around me. I am writing this paper to give a response as to why I came to the conclusion that as a believer in Messiah Y’shua I could not follow that route, and to give those who have never even considered it an understanding as to why some people do follow that route.
What Leads People to Seek Orthodox Conversion?
Both from personal experience and from talking to those around me, I have come to the conclusion that the same basic motivations drive people to convert to Orthodox Judaism. Some do it out of misplaced zeal, believing that modern Orthodox Judaism is the true or biblical Judaism, and that Messianism (and thus the Messiah) is insufficient. Some do it out of hurt and un-forgiveness, rebelling against the systems of religion that they came out of that lied to them for so many years. Others do it because they have a lack of identity, and thus a lack of self worth. Often times this lack of identity and self-worth is because, as someone not born Jewish, they find a lack of acceptance by many within the Messianic community, let alone by those in the normative Jewish community. One of the above or a combination of such tends to push people towards conversion.
So where do these identity problems come from? From those congregations that teach a Two-Law position, or even some form of a modified One-Law position. Those who were not “born Jewish” are placed as lower than Jews, in deed even if not in word. Sometimes this division is blatantly obvious, while other times it is subtle and almost imperceptible. These groups ignore the fact that those who accept the Messiah of Israel become grafted into Israel, becoming a Jew. They teach that HaShem is partial to those who were the original laborers in the field, ignoring Y’shua’s teaching in Matthew 20:1-16 that those who enter the field later are equal to those who were called to enter the field from the beginning.
Our desire for acceptance by man soon becomes more important than acceptance by HaShem. We become like the teen who wants to become part of the in-crowd at any cost…and why? Because we’ve bought into the lie that the normative Orthodox Jewish community is right, that this group is the group. At first glance this seems true. What other group truly keeps the Shabbat, or truly keeps kosher? What other group follows HaShem’s commands regarding niddah, or keeps the shemitah year? We have a lot that we can learn from the normative Orthodox community and their passion for living the fullness of Torah, but we must not forget that they are missing the most important part of Judaism- the salvation that HaShem has provided!
By seeking the approval of the normative Jewish community we are also calling Y’shua a liar. He told us in John 16:1-4 that we would be kicked out of the synagogues. By trying to gain the approval, we are saying that we don’t think it has to be that way, that Y’shua just wasn’t smart enough to know how to gain their approval.
Maybe some are seeking conversion because of a belief that the Orthodox Jewish community is the only one with the authority to perform true conversions. The problem is, man is not the one who does the conversion, HaShem is. Man just serves as a witness to that conversion. Why would I go to people who have rejected the Messiah for my conversion, or for acceptance? Why do I think that their stamp of approval will make me more kosher in the eyes of HaShem? Would I go to an atheist for this same approval? It seems an absurd comparison, but it is the same- both have rejected HaShem, the only difference is that the atheist is more honest about it, while the unbelieving Jew has an appearance of righteousness. We should be going to those within the believing community to complete the conversion process. I have heard some claim that there isn’t anyone in the Messianic movement who has the scriptural authority to oversee such a process, but I know of several Rabbis who hold high levels of smichah.
The Conversion Process
So what does the conversion process entail? You must enter into the Orthodox Jewish community, living among them for a one to two year period, during which you must show yourself to be committed to living an Orthodox lifestyle, a lifestyle that cannot include a belief in Y’shua. You attend classes, you participate in community life, and you often have people from that community staying with you from time to time so as to make sure you are not playing a part. If you are a man you go through circumcision, and both men and women must go through the mikvah. At the end of this time, the Rabbi of the community will give you a paper that recognizes you as a convert, allowing you to fully enter the community. The problem is, the Orthodox Jewish community will not give you conversion papers if they know you are a believer, so how do you get around this? You may flat out lie, denying the Messiah when asked. Or you can try to simply avoid the issue of the Messiah, omitting this part of your faith from any conversation. The third option is to try to bypass the entire process by buying your conversion papers.
Let’s look at these first two options. Your preparation for conversion starts long before you enter into the normative Jewish community. If you have children, your preparation starts several months before, erasing every trace of the Messiah from your home. He must not be a part of your vocabulary and He cannot be the subject of your books, movies, or other forms of media. This is done so that when you enter into the community for the one to two year process your children don’t blow your cover. You must also cut off your friends and family, because your life will be under intense scrutiny, and you must not have any ties to those who profess a belief in the Messiah if your mission to convert is to be successful. By doing these things, you are indoctrinating your kids to reject the Messiah, even if you intend to return to the Messianic community afterwards. While all around the world people are being martyred just for the chance to proclaim the Messiah, you are doing everything in your power to conceal the Messiah in you life- ironic, is it not?
During this time of concealing their faith, many who started with the intention of returning to Messianism later end up walking away altogether. Why? Because they have placed the approval of man above their faith in the Messiah. Their belief in the Messiah is no longer their greatest treasure. As time goes on, the value of the Messiah will diminish in their eyes, especially as their new life in entrenched in a community that is openly hostile towards Him. They will begin to question why they even need a Messiah, as they are taught that every Jew has a place in the world to come, no strings attached. The longer that they play the character of someone who does not have the Messiah, the more real that character becomes to them. Their thinking patterns change, and they train themselves to live without the Messiah.
If you make it through this time without losing your belief in Y’shua, what do you do if you are asked if you believe in Y’shua? Some would say it is justifiable to lie, saying that HaShem knows their heart and that they don’t really mean it, but that is a dangerous position to be in. Matthew 10:33 states that those who deny Y’shua before men, He will deny before HaShem.
So what about those who say that they will just avoid the issue, omitting any reference to the Messiah? Is this even possible? I know those who entered into the process with the understanding given to them by the very Rabbi doing the conversion that they would never be asked about Y’shua. After going through the entire process, before they would be given their conversion papers, they were asked to sign a document that included a denial of Y’shua as the Messiah…This couple walked away without the conversion documents, as they were not willing to sign such a document, even after investing so much time into the process. But what if it were possible? Would it be acceptable in HaShem’s eyes to do this?
Imagine that you are a parent, and you have set specific rules for your children. One such rule is that they cannot play with a certain other child, maybe because of that child’s bad behavior or language. Your child then asks you if they can play at another friend’s house, and you agree. Later, you find out that the child they were forbidden to play with was at that other friend’s house at the same time as your child. What’s more, you find out that your child knew they would be there before asking your permission, and concealed that fact from you because they knew that information would change the outcome of their request. How pleased would you be? Your child has lied to you by omission. The same is true of the Believer who goes into the normative Jewish community for conversion. Their concealment of their faith is deception. If they are found out, they are considered a liar and a fraud, and their testimony is destroyed- how can anything they say be trusted?
The third option is to buy your conversion papers. People spend thousands of dollars per person to gain conversion documents without going through the long process of conversion, in essence trying to buy their identity and acceptance. These same people often condemn the Catholic church for their history of buying and selling indulgences, but isn’t this the same concept? Buying these papers from a Rabbi also causes the Rabbi to sin, as he is lying by saying he oversaw your conversion process and that you have met all the requirements before granting you these papers. You have made your faith into something that can be bought and sold, thus diminishing it’s worth.
Conversion: The Aftermath
So what happens once you have these conversion documents? Will you have gained the identity that you crave? If you have truly denied Y’shua and walked away, your final outcome is far from what you imagined. What if you still claim to be a believer, and hope to return to the Messianic community you left, hoping to now be accepted as a full member, as a Jew? Your conversion document proclaims your identity to be one of a fraud, one of a deceiver, as everyone is aware of what it takes to get that document; that you had to deny Y’shua in one way or another. The very thing that you thought would bring acceptance instead brings shame. You may have felt pride in making it through the process, but Proverbs 16:18 says that pride comes before destruction, and Proverbs 11:2 says that with pride comes shame.
Whatever your reasons for entering into Orthodox conversion, no matter how good they sound (“I want to make aliyah and this is the only way;” “I want to know the proper halachah;” etc.), they will lead to sin and death. When Korach led his rebellion, all his reasons sounded good, even Biblical, yet it was rebellion towards HaShem and the system that He had set into place, and this is the same.
More and more people are pursuing Orthodox conversion, so what can we as believers do to stem the tide, and thus avoid the hurt and destruction that comes along with denying Y’shua? We must begin by building up those in our own local communities. Our identity is not found in a piece of paper that declares that we are Jewish, but in the Messiah. We need to be emphasizing the importance each person has as a part of the community, and teaching each person to follow Torah more fully each day. We need to truly disciple those coming in, that they would not have to seek elsewhere to continue to learn and grow, and to help them to recognize false doctrines that look so appealing upon first glance. We can’t do this without community. We need to be supporting one another and lifting each other up, helping each other when one stumbles or begins to go astray. We need to keep the weightier issues of Torah, justice, faithfulness, and mercy, without neglecting the other aspects of Torah (Matthew 23:23).
I also believe that we need to create a way for those who are coming in to complete the conversion process as outlined in scripture. As I mentioned earlier, there are several Rabbis in the Messianic movement who have high levels of smichah, but they are scattered and isolated. I believe that we need to be uniting these leaders so that they can form a Beit Din to oversee the conversion process within a believing community, so that those who are seeking conversion out of proper motives can do it without denying their faith.