Why Messianic Jewish Conversion?
With the recent decision to allow Messianic Jewish Conversions in our Synagogue, some people have expressed confusion as to why we are allowing this. Others believe the practice may not be allowed in Scripture or creates a "middle wall of partition" and is thus divisive.
We'd like to take a moment to discuss what conversion (to proselytize) is, and is not.
To proselytize (conversion) means to become a Jew. All traditional sects of Judaism allow conversion. As a Messianic Jewish Synagogue, allowing conversion is a natural step consistent with our direction as a Synagogue. Additionally, the MBI Yeshiva and Messianic Bureau International (which we work actively with and is the Yeshiva Rabbi Gavri'el graduated from) both allow conversions. The Messianic Alliance of Metro Atlanta has discussed the issue, with 2 of the 3 Rabbis being in agreement that conversions be allowed.
No one has to proselytize, nor do we actively encourage proselytizing. Since Scripture teaches all Believers are equal before G-D through the sacrifice of Messiah, proselytizing is not required for salvation nor a relationship to G-D (this too is consistent with traditional Synagogue teachings as the Rabbis teach non-Jews are required to only keep the Noachide commands to have Eternal Life).
Scripture clearly does not require conversion, nor does it forbid it. Common passages about the "wall of partition" and "legalism" clearly do not apply as they were about forced conversion or conversion for salvation. Timothy was ½ Jewish and was circumcised by Sha'ul. I believe we all agree that was not legalism.
Thus in a real sense, proselytizing is not a religious decision. To proselytize does not save, does not make anyone a super (higher level) Believer, or make them more holy or righteous.
So why allow a person to proselytize? Three primary reasons come to mind: Heart, Identification, and Peoplehood. Let's look at each of these individually:
1. Heart - Some Believers feel a strong heart attachment and longing to be part of the Jewish people. Their heart's desire is not only to be grafted-in (similar to G-D-fearers in Yeshua's time), but to take that final step and become a Jew.
2. Identification - Closely related to Heart, Identification is the desire to identify with and be identified as part of the Jewish People.
3. Peoplehood - Peoplehood is the desire to become part of the Jewish people and adopt their ways, history, and if necessary, persecution.
If you say these all are the same, in many ways they are. It is looking at the same desire from 3 different prospectives. These can best be characterized by Rut (Ruth) of the Scriptures. Ruth said "Your people shall be my people, and your G-D shall be my G-D."
Some common reasons people choose to proselytize are: Marriage to a Jew (existing or future), Children are Jewish, Jewish Ancestry but was not raised a Jew, and the above described hearts desire.
Since this is not a religious decision, it should in no way be considered divisive. No current leadership position in the Synagogue requires one to proselytize.
This decision is a very personal one between the person and G-D. No one should make it lightly, nor should anyone be denied the right to fulfill the desire of their heart. The conversion process follows the Conservative model and will require approximately 1 year for study including 3-4 books. The person must have been participating in Messianic Judaism for at least 1 or more full Jewish yearly cycles. The final step is an interview by the local Beit Din, circumcision (if male), and Mikvah. Traditionally a special offering is made by the Ger tzedek (proselyte, this practice comes from the Korban or special offering given in the Temple by new converts). The proselyte will then be considered fully a Jew with no distinction between being born a Jew or conversion.
Will these conversions be accepted by others? Yes and No. They will be considered as valid as Reform conversions are to Orthodox sects (which are not considered valid). To many individual Jews, and to most others, the convert will be considered Jewish. These conversions are not currently eligible to make Aliyah to Israel. In the interest of full disclosure, both the MJAA/IAMCS & UMJC do not currently perform conversions.
I'd like to close by quoting Messianic Rabbi Derek Leman's article he recently had published in the Messianic Times - "Gentiles who are not called to live as Jews should not be treated as second-class or left out of leadership positions. Neither should Gentiles like myself be forbidden to have a ceremony formalizing in the community the way we are already living."
To that I say Ahmain!