If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week David Young, chair, cheder and proselyte teacher at Bedfordshire Progressive Synagogue selects: Ruth 1:16-17
“Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me.”
For me, these verses from the Book of Ruth encapsulate the essence of the search for the one God.
Ruth, the Moabite girl, stranded and alone with her mother-in-law refuses to quit and give in to self-pity or despair. She is a true proselyte, a wonderful example. It is a pity that her example is not looked at more seriously by certain religious authorities when dealing with would-be converts.
Certainly, people must be sincere and have a certain level of knowledge before acceptance. But is there really any need for all the jumping through hoops that some rabbinical courts make candidates do, especially in Israel and some communities in the United States?
These long tortuous processes leave people feeling vulnerable and isolated and on some – thankfully rare – occasions, open to abuse. If I were stranded on a desert island, it would comfort me to think of Ruth’s determination and God’s loving acceptance of her. God even makes her great-grandson a king over Israel.
We in the progressive Jewish community should be proud of our readiness to accept sincere converts. Many of them have proved to be great assets to our synagogues. Making life difficult for them hurts both them… and ourselves.