The Religious conversion reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Apr-2004
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Religious conversion

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Religious conversion is the adoption of new religious beliefs that differ from the convert's previous beliefs; in some cultures (e.g. Judaism) conversion also signifies joining an ethnic group as well as adopting that group's religious beliefs. A person who has undergone conversion is called a convert or proselyte. Conversion requires internalization of the new belief system.

Table of contents
1 Conversion to Judaism
2 Conversion to Christianity
3 Conversion to Islam
4 See also

Conversion to Judaism


Jewish law has strict guidelines for accepting new converts to Judaism (a process called "giur"). According to Jewish law, which is still followed as normative by Orthodox Judaism and most of Conservative Judaism, potential converts must want to convert to Judaism for its own sake, and for no ulterior motives. A male convert needs to undergo a ritual circumcision, and there has to be a commitment to observe the 613 commandments and Jewish law. A convert must accept Jewish principles of faith, and reject the previous theology that he or she had prior to the conversion. Ritual immersion in a small pool of water known as a mikvah is required , and the convert takes a new Jewish name and is considered to be a son or daughter (in spirit) of the biblical patriarch Abraham, and a male is called up in that way to the Torah.

The Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism movements are lenient in their acceptance of converts. Many of their members are married to non-Jews, and these movements make an effort to welcome the spouses of Jews who seek to convert. This issue is a lightening rod in modern day Israel as many immigrants from the former Soviet Union are technically not Jewish.

Conversion to Judaism in History

See the main article: List of converts to Judaism

The most famous Jewish King, King David, was descended from the convert Ruth (who, according to the Talmud and Midrash, was a Moabite princess). Joseph, the father of the most famous sage of the Talmud, Rabbi Akiva, was a convert.

Christians were forbidden to convert to Judaism on pain of death during most of the Middle Ages. In the 1700s a famous convert by the name of Count Valentin Potoski in Poland was burned at the stake. He was a contemporary and a disciple of Rabbi Elijah, known as the Vilna Gaon.

Some Jewish people are also descended from converts to Judaism outside the Mediterranean world. It is known that some Khazars, Edomites, and Ethiopians, as well as many Arabs, particularly in Yemen before, converted to Judaism in the past; today in the United States, Israel and Europe some people still convert to Judaism. In fact, there is a greater tradition of conversion to Judaism than many people realize. The word "proselyte" originally meant a Greek who had converted to Judaism. As late as the 6th century the rump Roman empire (ie Byzantium) was issuing decrees against conversion to Judaism, implying that conversion to Judaism was still occurring.

Relationship with Converts

The Hebrew Bible states that converts deserve special attention (Deuteronomy 10:19). The Hebrew word for "convert", ger, is the same as that for a stranger. It is also related to the root gar - "to dwell'. Hence since the Children of Israel were "strangers" - geirim in Egypt, they are therefore instructed to be welcoming to those who seek to convert and dwell amongst them.

Since around 300 CE, Judaism has stopped encouraging people to join its faith. In fact, converts are often discouraged from becoming Jews and warned that being a Jew entails great risks such as becoming a victim of Anti-Semitism.

Differences between Jewish and Christian views

Judaism does not characterize itself as a religion (although one can speak of the Jewish religion and religious Jews). The subject of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) is the history of the Children of Israel (also called Hebrews), especially in terms of their relationship with God. Thus, Judaism has also been characterized as a culture or as a civilization. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan defines Judaism as an evolving religious civilization. One crucial sign of this is that one need not believe, or even do, anything to be Jewish; the historic definition of 'Jewishness' requires only that one be born of a Jewish mother, or that one convert to Judaism in accord with Jewish law. (Today, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews also include those born of Jewish fathers and gentile mothers if the children are raised as Jews.)

To Jews, Jewish peoplehood is closely tied to their relationship with God, and thus has a strong theological component. This relationship is encapsulated in the notion that Jews are a chosen people. Although many non-Jews have taken this as a sign of arrogance or exclusivity, Jewish scholars and theologians have emphasized that a special relationship between Jews and God does not in any way preclude other nations having their own relationship with God. For Jews, being "chosen" fundamentally means that Jews have chosen to obey a certain set of laws (see Torah and halakha) as an expression of their covenant with God. Jews hold that other nations and peoples are not required or expected to obey these laws, and face no penalty for not obeying them. Thus, as a national religion, Judaism has no problem with the notion that others have their own paths to God (or "salvation").

Christianity, on the other hand, is characterized by its claim to universality, which marks a break with Jewish identity. As a religion claiming universality, Christianity has had to define itself in relation with religions that make radically different claims about Gods. Christians believe that Christianity represents the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham and the nation of Israel, that Israel would be a blessing to all nations.

This crucial difference between the two religions has other implications. For example, conversion to Judaism is more like a form of adoption (i.e. becoming a member of the nation, in part by metaphorically becoming a child of Abraham), whereas conversion to Christianity is explicitly a declaration of faith. Depending on the denomination, this conversion has a social component, as the individual is in many ways adopted into the Church, with a strong family model.

Conversion to Christianity

In the times of Jesus, all of his disciples were Jews. On occasion, he performed miracles for Gentiles without requiring their conversion; in one conversation with a Samaritan woman, he downplayed the differences between Jews and Samaritans (John 4). Gentiles who sought to join the early Church were often required to undergo conversion to Judaism first including circumcision for men. This requirement was later dropped entirely after Paul forced the issue.

The origin of Christian Baptism in water is derived from the Jewish law requiring a convert to submerge themselves in pure water (of a mikvah) in order to receive a new pure soul from God. It was only many years after Jesus, that there was split in the movement and those seeking to convert to Christianity were not faced with the major obstacles that Judaism presented.

Christianity and Islam are two religions that encourage preaching their faith in order to convert non-believers. In both cases, this missionary property has been used as an excuse for religious wars (crusades) on other countries.

In the year 1000, the Viking age parliament of Iceland decided that the entire country should convert to Christianity, and that sacrifice to the old gods, while still allowed, should no longer be made in the open. Similar mass conversions in other Scandinavian countries were not as democratic.

Conversion to Islam

According to the Qur'an, a Muslim is anyone who believes that Allah is the only God and that Muhammad was His prophet. A person is considered a Muslim from the moment he makes this confession, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Muslims, however, generally do not use the term conversion. They believe that every person is born in a state of perfect relationship to God, already a Muslim, and becomes corrupted to other religions through the influence of parents and society. Thus, a person who becomes a Muslim is said to have "reverted" to Islam.

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See also