Lady Kitty Spencer, a 29-year-old fashion model, is reportedly already taking preparatory classes on Judaism ahead of her wedding to South African businessman Michael Lewis. Lady Spencer is the youngest sibling of Princess Diana, the ex-wife of Prince Charles and mother of Prince Harry and Prince William.
Her conversion to Judaism should not be surprising because more than ten thousand people in G.B. and the U.S.A. move each year from a Trinitarian Christian Church to a Unitarian Islamic Mosque or Jewish Synagogue.
Academic studies in the United Kingdom have shown that, contrary to popular belief, conversions to Islam are not driven mostly by marriage, unlike Judaism where most conversions to Judaism do occur in connection with an impending marriage or childbirth, because Judaism is not a missionary religion.
Although each person’s path is unique, both Jews and Muslims should recognize several common factors that motivate most of these people who join their religion. These factors fall into two groups: push and pull. Push refers to the issues that push people to leave the church in which they grew up. Pull refers to the religious principles and personal experiences that attract people to religious life within a Mosque or a Synagogue.
For example, many ex-Christians leave a church that teaches that only believing Christians can feel confident that they are going to Heaven; and all those who do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God are going to Hell.
So Emma, at age 55, who lives in the Protestant “Deep South” of the United States, described her discontent with Christianity ever since childhood; “as feelings of dissatisfaction with the doctrine that her religion damned all the people of other religions to “Hell” for not believing as they do.
Reading the Torah opened a new world of the “greatness and unity of God”. She was able to leave behind her uncertainties about Christianity, due to her new found ‘guilt free’ assurance of God through Judaism.”
Others found that while they could easily believe in God, they could not believe that God had a Divine Son named Jesus. They may have enjoyed celebrating Christmas, but they could never pray to Christ. Michael Doyle writes in his blog chicagocarless (11/19/2010) “I was raised as a lapsed Catholic. I took religion class in elementary school, but it never really took to me. Even as a young child I never identified with Catholic doctrine.
I don’t feel spiritually homeless anymore. My lifelong sense of lacking wholeness just isn’t there anymore. As Christmas approaches, I’ve been realizing that the sense of wonder, awe, and gratitude–not to mention a deep, everyday connection with God–are all things I’ve been experiencing on a daily basis, through a new, Jewish lens.
My ritual practice (eating kosher food, saying blessings over food, keeping Shabbat–the Jewish sabbath, daily prayer, among others) has been like a get-into-the-spirit-free card, one that I can play over and over. It isn’t as if God has changed. I have, or more clearly, my new Jewish vocabulary has let me get in touch with who I really am–a person of faith with a need to honor that faith more than once a year. I just never had a framework to let that happen. Now I do, and I’m overjoyed to know that.”
Most people who become Jewish do not feel that they have converted. Rather, they feel that after years, and sometimes decades of aimless wandering, they have found their spiritual home. In many cases this is literally correct because these people actually are descendants of Jews who lost or abandoned their Jewish identity and loyalty to the Jewish community through assimilation and marriage into the majority community.
A very different example is Erkan is a 28 year old son of a Jewish father, whose parents were Romanian Jews who in the 1930s fled the Nazis for safety in Turkey. His mother is a Turkish Muslim. In the 1960s his parents emigrated from Turkey to Germany where his father practiced his Judaism secretly within the German Turkish Muslim community. Erkan identified with Judaism as his religion while his brother decided on Islam.
Until his father’s death he was unaware of his lack of a formal conversion process because he had always identified as being Jewish, even though his mother remained a Muslim. When his father had to be buried in an Islamic cemetery because his Jewish life was a secret; Erkan realized that it was necessary for him to make his commitment to Judaism official and public.
Then there is Yossi, who went from being a Protestant Minister to being an Orthodox Jew. He writes “I was born with a Jewish soul. From the age of 13, I read about the People of Israel and the God who is echad (one). With all of my heart I wanted to be a Jew, but at that time I believed it was not possible.
How could an Oklahoma-White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant change his spots? I buried that hope and became the best Christian I could be. It was all a small farm boy could imagine. Though my understanding was misguided, my heart never stopped its longing.
I graduated from a Southern Baptist University and became a minister. Through the years I earned my doctorate in Religion and Society and moved to larger staff positions in the university. At the same time, questions continued to grow in my heart. My religious system was clearly not in line with the holy scriptures that I read.
One might say I “studied” my way out of Christianity. No amount of learning and years of professional ministry could resolve the misgivings I had with the Christian tradition. It simply does not align with the Tanach (Hebrew Bible). As a result, my questions increased and my search grew deeper.
I want to give witness today that all of my searching has been fulfilled in the Torah. As Rabbi Celso Cukierkorn, taught me, my journey was not about answers, but the accumulation of more questions! My search has led to what my heart already knew – HaShem (God) is my life, and my hope of the world to come. It is my prayer that in my remaining journey I will always be a light to the nations.”
Yet there are difference in the processes of conversion between Islam and Judaism. Unlike Buddhism, Christianity and Islam; Judaism, (like Zoroastrianism) does not have much of a missionary impulse. That is why there are so few Jews and Zoroastrians in the world.
Mormons, who very actively seek converts, already outnumber Jews and Zoroastrians combined, even though Mormons have been in existence for only 200 years, compared to more than 3,000 years for Jews and Zoroastrians
Judaism lacks a strong missionary impulse because Judaism is a pluralistic religion. Judaism teaches that the Jewish way is right for Jews and those non-Jews who want to join the Jewish Community.
But Judaism also teaches that good and kind people in other religions, who follow the teachings of their own religion, also have a place in the world to come. As the Qur’an says, “ To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race [compete] to [be] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. (5:48)
According to Jewish teachings, correct behavior in society is more important for all human beings than correct beliefs about God, although for Jews, as for Muslims, correct beliefs about God are also vital. Thus, while Jews welcome non-Jews to join our community, we do not have a urgent motive to ‘enlighten’ or ‘save’ them.
Lacking the missionary impulse of the more active proselytizing universalistic religions, most non-Jews have to push their way into Judaism. Once in, they are fully accepted, except among the Orthodox, who are usually suspicious about why anyone would want to join a small minority religious community, that has been shunned and persecuted in previous generations.