By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
We are commanded to be loving to those who convert to Judaism: those who adopt our faith with sincere conviction. Maimonides emphasizes that this love is over and above the obligation to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mitzvot, Positive Commandment #207).
Conversion to Judaism is, however, all too often a highly contentious and politicized area of contemporary Jewish life. Which rabbis (or others) are qualified to accept converts? At what point in their spiritual journey have candidates for conversion attained sufficient knowledge, piety, and faith to join the Jewish People? How do we determine that they have sincerely and unambiguously renounced previous religious identities? How do we administer authentic conversion with the love demanded by our Tradition?
The Sages attribute to King David a critical observation on conversion standards. The Jewish People, he said, “is distinguished by three character traits: They are compassionate (rachmanim), they are humble and diffident (baishanim), and they perform acts of kindness (gomlei chasadim)…. Anyone who demonstrates these three characteristics is worthy to join our People” (Yevamot 79A).
These character goals represent an excellent beginning to any conversion curriculum. More importantly, they are indispensable qualities in those rabbinic authorities who authorize conversions… or who presume to pass judgement on others who do so… and on those they welcome to our People.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)