From the Desk - Proselytizing
Shalom Friends! I hope that you’ve all had a great week. On Tuesday evening, we held a special Pizza Pita supper to thank all those who support our weekday minyanim. We are privileged that our synagogue is still able to sustain two weekday Shacharit services as well as Mincha and Maariv each evening, throughout the year. Our prayer services take place more regularly (by far!) than any other activity in our synagogue and function as a reminder to us all of the faith and commitment that lies at the heart of Jewish life. It is also very important to us as a community that we thank those who give of their time for the good of the community. We are very grateful to all our volunteers who ensure that there is a minyan at Beth Ora so Kaddish and the other public prayers can be said and so we can pray together as a community. At the same time, we do sometimes struggle to find enough men to make up a minyan. I appeal to the men of our community to please find one day a week on which they can join us for a service, particularly the 8 o’clock Shacharit when we have sometimes been struggling. Of course, praying with a minyan is something special for everyone and I encourage all of our members, men and women, to attend our services and enjoy the privilege of communal prayer. Speaking of volunteers, Raffle season is upon us and I want to commend the volunteers and office staff who are already working very hard to ensure that this important fundraising venture will be successful. As you know, next week is The Rise Together Project – the project I have initiated across the Montreal Jewish community to inspire us all to be better people. Here are the things happening at Beth Ora:
Friday May 24th, Shabbat dinner with Rabbi Cary Friedman of the FBI – if you haven’t yet registered for this, call the office now on 514-748-6559 to reserve your place
Saturday May 25th, Rabbi Friedman will be speaking twice: After Kiddush on how being a better person improves our relationships and in the evening on character insights from Batman
Sunday May 26th is our big climax to the project with learning and activities of kindness and gratitude for all ages including making salads for MADA and gifts for nurses at the Jewish. We will be joined by our MP, Mayor and City Councillors and look forward to a proud and meaningful morning, together as our community, putting our values into practice.
In the meantime, all of us can do something in our own lives in honour of The Rise Together Project. Please see this video at 5 minutes and 40 seconds to learn how you can rise together with the Montreal Jewish community!
Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami
What’s the Deal with… Proselytizing? George Gross asked me why Jews don’t try to persuade non-Jews to convert to Judaism. What’s the deal? In answering this question, I benefited from an article by Rabbi Professor David Berger. The lack of proselytizing on the part of Jews has deep historical roots. The Talmud instructs Jews approached by a gentile expressing an interest in conversion to basically suggest that the prospective convert urgently seek out a psychiatrist! Why would anyone in his or her right mind join a defeated and persecuted people?! Only one who persists despite this effort at discouragement is eligible to pursue the goal of becoming a Jew. Nevertheless, some understand that this passage doesn’t express a principled opposition to conversion but is rather the reaction of Jews who had not succeeded in attracting pagan adherents and decided to make a virtue out of their failure. Indeed, the Book of Matthew claims that Pharisees (the rabbinic sages and their followers) travel across land and sea in order to find even one person to convert to Judaism. It should be mentioned that it is plausible that there were different approaches to seeking converts in the classical rabbinic period. Maybe some Jews were in favour and others less so. In the Middle Ages, Jews were reluctant to proselytize because it was dangerous to do so in both the Christian and Muslim worlds. Another reason is that the Jews were a small, relatively powerless minority and it was not seen as realistic to suppose that they could win over large numbers of people to convert to Judaism. Yet another reason for not trying to convert people was that many Jews hated their persecutors. They weren’t interested in helping their tormentors to get salvation. Rather, they looked forward to their damnation! There may, however, have been more profound reasons for not seeking converts. To become a Jew is to join a people, not just a faith. The idea of huge numbers of people converting to be part of the Jewish People may have been seen as problematic. A final reason is the Jewish belief that non-Jews have an avenue of salvation without joining the Jewish People. The mainstream Jewish belief is that non-Jews who observe the seven Laws of Noah merit the Afterlife (though Maimonides seems to say that they must accept these laws because Hashem commanded them, not out of their own rational conclusions). In medieval times, rabbinic authorities tended to believe that Christians do not merit to go to the Afterlife because Christianity was considered to be absolute idolatry. In more modern times, significant authorities have ruled that Christianity is not considered idolatry when practiced by non-Jews. Those who followed this view, had less of an incentive to proselytize to Christians because they believed that Christians don’t need to convert to Judaism in order to gain salvation.