Our friend Ray asked:
I have often wondered about that question. As I’m sure you are aware, Christians feel compelled by these verses to proselytize:
He [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16But I must confess I have never seen Jews going out into the world trying to convert people to Judaism. Curiously, in today’s edition of I365, a rabbi addresses this question:
Do you, and perhaps more broadly observant Jews in general, agree with his sentiments? Do you have anything to add to this? Just curious that’s all.
Thanks for asking Ray!
I have thought about this question often. I never committed those thoughts comprehensively to writing, so here’s my try:
1. Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people, and neither the people nor the religion see a benefit in trying to bring more people from outside inward. This is as opposed to Christianity and Islam, and probably other (maybe most?) religions, which are not connected to specific people/nation groups, and therefore must proselytize in order to grow and even to exist.
2. Because Judaism is the religion of a single nation, it can recognize other religions (within certain boundaries) for other nations and individuals. For other religions, when “truth” and “absolute truth” are such good and attractive ideas to attach to your religion, for internal retention purposes as well as marketing purposes, the idea that another religion can be acceptable does not fit in well with [earlier] marketing theory.
3. The history of the Jews made us a xenophobic people, a very defensive people, trying to fend off the attempts of others to win us over to their religions or even worse, kill us. While it has been said that the best defense is a good offense, the Jews have chosen the tactic of staying under the radar.
4. Judaism is a very commandment-heavy religion, and those commandments have been augmented by halacha, details of those commandments, that span numerous law codexes and countless responsa by rabbis. Christianity, on the other hand, in its popular versions, has only two commandments: believe in the Gospel of Jesus’ salvation and convince others to adapt that belief. When you only “have one job,” then it naturally seems that all other people in the same field should focus on it too.
5. There is a famous idea (among the hundreds of famous ideas) in the Talmud (the main source of Jewish law and lore) that says “Converts are bad for the Jews like a kind of skin disease(!)” That is one of many ways of understanding that passage, but it has no competing passage that encourages conversion, so it “stuck.”
6. In modern times, certainly since the raising of the Jews‘ profile and pride with the establishment and thriving of the State of Israel, there are more sincere convert candidates to Judaism, so what the future will bring is yet to be seen.
7. Judaism has a tradition that there is a “religion” for non–Jews called the “Seven Commandments of the Children of Noah,” namely: do not kill, do not engage in sexual promiscuity, do not worship false gods, do not eat a limb torn from a live animal, do not curse God, do not steal (or kidnap), and establish courts of law. Personally I do not think this can be satisfying for someone who wants a relationship with God, and others are working to expand this Noahidism to be more fulfilling. (Some rabbinic sources say that Christianity can be recognized as a Noahide religion, especially in light of the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15.)
I probably have a lot of other thoughts on this question:-) What do you think?