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Is it OK for Jews to proselytize?
A terrific new article in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles tackles the question by looking at the Reform movement’s “Taste of Judaism” program. “Taste” is a three-part class that teaches the basics of Judaism to anyone who is interested–Jewish, non-Jewish, interfaith partner, whatever. Since its launch in 1994, more than 75,000 people have taken the class at 450 synagogues around the country. “Taste” is typically marketed through ads in secular newspapers.
While Orthodox Judaism still discourages converts, the Reform movement has been in favor of seeking converts for decades. In 1949, Leo Baeck established a “missionary center” to train Reform leaders to teach Judaism. In 1978, Rabbi Alex Schindler called on Reform Jews to offer Judaism to those unaffiliated with a particular Christian church.
In modern America, an increasing number of Jews understand that Judaism needs to market itself. With geographic mobility, assimilation, intermarriage and the weakening of communal and family ties, Jews can no longer expect people to stay with Judaism simply because their parents were Jewish. Judaism must compete in the free market of ideas, like every other religion and philosophy. In today’s world, every Jew is a Jew-by-choice. Understood in that lens, “Taste of Judaism” is just a form of marketing.
Steve Arnold, a reporter with the Hamilton (Ont.) Spectator, converted to Judaism although his attraction went far beyond seeing an ad for “Taste for Judaism.” In a fascinating first-person piece, Arnold details his 40-year journey to Judaism, beginning with his high school reporting assignment where the baptized Christian attended services at a synagogue. He writes eloquently about all the joys and hardships of being a convert, from the inchoate longing for Judaism he felt for years to the bonding with fellow Jews-to-be to the sense of loss over some cherished Christian rituals. Here’s his poignant explanation of how he finally got to the place where he had to make a decision about what faith to adopt:
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