Every few weeks, I receive an email from someone interested in converting to Judaism. I love being Jewish, so it seems totally reasonable to me that other people might want to be Jewish, too.
When we meet, it turns out that they usually want to convert for one (or more) of three basic reasons: they have a Jewish girlfriend or boyfriend (who they may have dated for several years) and they like what they know of Jewish life; they have – or suspect that they have – Jewish ancestry and want to connect to this part of their heritage; they’ve been fascinated by Jewish history or thought for years and are finally acting on their interest.
Assuming their desire is sincere, we often go on to spend many more hours in conversation over a period of months. The initial presenting reasons for wanting to convert often give way to subtler and more profound explanations.
People like to belong and to feel that their individual contribution matters. Shuls make their values clear, so people feel that they can trust one another and this in turn supports the formation of meaningful relationships. People want meaning.
There’s a lot of Jewish wisdom but you’re not required to believe, and debate is encouraged.
Most people want to get off the merry-go-round but don’t have the nerve to make radical changes.
Shabbat allows a person to have it both ways – to both be in the world and to disagree with the idea that work is the only thing that matters.
I’m not saying you can’t get all of these things by joining a club, or signing up for evening classes, or volunteering, or going travelling. Of course you can. But you can find all of these things under one (metaphorical) roof if you simply become Jewish.
Although people imagine that conversion is a massive undertaking (which it is, of course), it’s also a pretty efficient way of vastly improving your quality of life. That’s why the emails keep coming, I suppose.
• Zahavit Shalev is a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College