Monday, May 02, 2005

Countering the 'Judaism Is Super-Tolerant Brigade' - Part 1

There is out there among many a belief, that Rabbinical Judaism is tolerant of other religions and faiths. That Rabbinical Judaism is not all that elitist. That to be a 'good' gentile is perfectly acceptable.

This notion is all but wishful thinking and has been spun by interested parties. Over the next few posts I am going to counter what is as far as I can see a big myth.

One of the main 'proofs' that the 'Judaism Is Super-Tolerant Brigade' are always more than happy to bring is the halachic principle that Rabbinical Judaism is extremely reluctant to accept geirim (converts). This is indeed true but after examining these halachos within their proper context one sees that far from being an indication of tolerance they are symptomatic of a creed that is intolerant in the extreme. I shall expose this over the next couple of posts; I start here.

Rabbinical Judaism is fully aware of the difficulty of leading a halachic life. The list of laws is endless and creeps into absolutely every area of life. What and when to eat, when and how to pray, if and whom one may marry, when if and how one may have sex with ones own wife, how to go to sleep, how to get up etc, etc, etc, etc. Chazal (the rabbis who thought all this up circa 2000-2500 years ago) had enough problems in insuring the prevailing Jewish population kept all the tens of thousands of halachos; many couldn't keep up and they became an underclass of their own (the Am Haaretz - man of the land/peasant). Chazal were extremely suspicious of anybody wanting to join this sort of system. And right they were. The chances of people really prepared to comply had got to be small.

A major issue Chazal had to contend with when considering conversion and its consequences was the 'once a Jew always a Jew rule'. There is no way according to Rabbinic law for a Jew to lose his/her Jewish status. In fact the last person who managed this was Esau the brother of Jacob. We as the children of Jacob no longer have the right or ability to halchically opt-out. This is equally true for any convert to Rabbinic Judaism. Once the convert crosses that threshold and becomes a halachic Jew there is no way back. The ger is stuck with his/her new status and as importantly we the Jewish people are stuck with this new ger for eternity. When as is more than likely the initial enthusiasm of the ger wanes and the convert slips in his/her compliance of halaocho Rabbinic Judaism will inevitably be a loser. Chazal had no interest at all in recruiting Jews who’s Judaism will lapse sooner rather than later. They had enough as it was. They didn’t want more.

The Gemorrah (Talmud) expresses this argument with the following statement which it repeats often: ‘ Geirim are as irritating to the Jewish nation as is a plague of tzoraas.’

This essay is based on the Rambam Hilchos Issurei Biyah Perek 13. Please check it up before attacking me if you can.


Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


I've been able to find through searching three references in the Talmud Bavli to Ribbi Hhelbo's saying qashim geirim leyisra’eil kesapahhat — "converts are hard on Israel like sapahhat".

I wish i could find the exact references, but I remember learning two explanations of this statement — one, possibly Rashi or Tosafot if i remember correctly, explains it by saying that "converts, since they didn't grow up Jewish, are inexperienced and inexpert at performing commandments; therefore they make many mistakes, and God gets mad at the Jewish People in general."
The other explanation, on the other hand, by R' Avraham Geir, defends his people by saying that the problem isn't geirim's inexperience with mitzvot, but their expertise — "since converts had to study so much and learn actively how to be Jewish, they are more knowledgeable than many Jews who were born Jewish; when God sees how much better the converts are than the other Jews, God gets mad at those who should know better, who had more practice."

(all quotes are paraphrased from memory)

10:17 AM  
Blogger yoinoson schreiber said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:02 PM  
Blogger yoinoson schreiber said...

Thanks steg.

I shall get back to your points in a future post.


3:06 PM  
Blogger KlalYisrael said...

I don't really understand what you mean by super-liberal... but if you are talking only about Judaism's attitudes to non-Jews, then Chief Rabbi Sacks wrote a fantastic collection of articles, very well researched and backed up with pages of sources.
It is free, online available at

Perhaps the dignity of Kvod Habriot is more important than we think. Check out also in Talmud Yerushalmi - zeh sefer toldot adam, and the perushim there.

3:36 AM  
Blogger yoinoson schreiber said...

Klal Yisroel,

Thanks for your comment.

Well I read Rabbi Sacks book Dignity of Difference over Pesach. Although I certainly share his attitude to difference his misinterpretation of Rabbinic Jewry's approach to the issue is disgraceful. There is no doubt about it; chazal were intolerant to other religions and faiths. They were what we would call today fundamentalists. On my blog I am going to prove that although Rabbi Sacks might have his heart in the right place his selective choice of sources, quotes and interpretations must be countered. Continue reading my blog for more.


4:05 AM  
Blogger misnaged said...

What has a rational cocern over backsliding geirim got to do with whether or not it is perfectly acceptable to be a "good" gentile?

9:37 AM  
Blogger yoinoson schreiber said...


Good point.

For the moment I answer as follows:

We have been led to believe that Judaism does not look for converts because a gentile has no need to convert. God loves him the way he is etc etc...

The truth is that Judaism finds converts a pain and something the Jewish people could do without.

As for a 'Good' gentile. I challenge u to look up what being a good 'Gentile' really means.

It has to be seen in wider context. As I say in my post I have a lot more to say on the issue and this is only the first post on the matter.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Tamara said...

Given Chazal's views toward converts, it's surprising conversion was even permitted. Why didn't they simply not allow it?

3:47 PM  
Blogger misnaged said...

My reference to a "good" gentile was a quote from your post so maybe you will explain what you meant.I can't do that.

The attitude to converts is definately not relevant.Surely the only question is whether the unconverted gentile is threatened with dire consequences for failing to convert?

12:54 AM  
Blogger KlalYisrael said...

Hi, Thanks YS -

I am glad you read The Dignity of Difference - did you get the original or the version he was bullied into editing?

Either way - there is a jewish version online with sources up the wazoo.
I emailed you the wrong link to it... so for you and everyone out there... here is the correct link.

and... it's klal yisrael (not yisroel!) :-)

1:25 AM  
Blogger yoinoson schreiber said...

Tamar & Misnaged

Thanks for the comments. I will deal with both points. In a future post.

1:50 AM  
Blogger yoinoson schreiber said...


I got the new version. I would be happy if you could tell me where I can find the changes that were made and what they were.


1:52 AM  
Blogger KlalYisrael said...

i have no idea what the specific changes were sorry.
i think they didn't change the substance of the argument - maybe tweaked it a bit.
he talks about it in the intro...
i am sorry not to be more help

4:02 AM  
Blogger KlalYisrael said...

I have a question for you.
Why do you want to show that Judaism is not tolerant?
What possible good comes of showing it to be intolerant?

Usually tolerance comes with the humility to recognise that we may not have 100 % grasp on Ultimate Truth coz we are all only human.
So why try to show that Judaism is arrogant?

5:19 AM  
Blogger anonymous said...

"We have been led to believe that Judaism does not look for converts because a gentile has no need to convert. God loves him the way he is etc etc..."

Who led you to believe this? He has no need to, but they certainly thought that people were better off being observant jews than a ben noach. I have never heard anyone make such a silly suggestion (if R Sacks makes it, he's silly).

But the answer you give:

"The truth is that Judaism finds converts a pain and something the Jewish people could do without."

is not correct. Judaism finds converts who are *not serious about Judaism* a pain.

To rebut your view, just take one look at the Rambam's letter to R. Ovadaya hager.

You also do not take into account the mitzva to love the ger, which the Rambam interprets as an outgrowth of ahavas hashem, he says that anyone who doesn't appreciate the convert's appreciation for god,and the sacrifices he makes to be jewish, has no ahavas hashem, and he carries on at great length about the spiritual stature of converts.

You also don't take into account other legendary figures, such as the Gra, and their veneration of converts.

In short, this is simply not true. They *feared* converts who wouldn't be serious. Gerim themselves were more than tolerated, they were revered.

10:34 AM  
Blogger anonymous said...

Not to mention of course that Dovid Hamelech is (and the moshiach will be) the offspring of a ger, etc.

To say that rabbinic judaism takes a negative attitude to gerim, once they converted, is just twisting the truth.

10:35 AM  
Blogger avitoo said...

If there was danger of transgressiong, the Rabbis instituted the so-called 'fences'.
If what you wrote below is correct: "When as is more than likely the initial enthusiasm of the ger wanes and the convert slips in his/her compliance of halaocho Rabbinic Judaism will inevitably be a loser." I am compelled to ask why the Rabbis dind't forbade conversion altogether?
According to what you wrote above, a lot of aveiros could be avoided if only there were no gerim.

10:38 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home