Should Jews welcome converts whose motivations are ‘strange’?

Matthias Goering a 59-year-old physiotherapist, and a descendant of Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler’s right-hand man, wears a kipah, with a Star of David pendant round his neck. After being brought up to despise Jews, he has embraced their faith. Goering also keeps kosher dietary rules, celebrates Shabbat and is learning Hebrew.

Actually Matthias isn’t a “descendant” of Hermann. “His great-grandfather and Hermann’s grandfather were brothers”, which makes him a second cousin once removed. After the war, his family’s anti-Semitic tradition persisted through his military doctor father’s imprisonment in and return from a Soviet prison camp.

When times were hard, Matthias says: “Our parents would say to us, ‘You can’t have that, because all our money’s gone to the Jews.'”

Things did not go well for Matthias. By 2000, his Swiss physiotherapy practice was bankrupt and his wife had left, taking their son. Broke and lonely, he was close to suicide, and says he prayed for the first time in his life. The same day a physiotherapy practice near Zurich offered him a job.

Mr Goering started attending Christian churches, but two years later began his journey towards Judaism. He says God told him “to guard the gates of Jerusalem,” despite his name and his family history. “I knew then,” he says, “I had to go to Israel.”

Other descendants of Nazis have trodden this path. Katrin Himmler, who published a book in 2005 about the war crimes of her great-uncle, the SS commander Heinrich Himmler, married an Israeli. “It was as if we were predestined to meet,” she says.

Then there is Monika Goeth whose father was Amon Goeth, the camp commandant in Schindler’s List, who shot Jewish prisoners from the balcony of his villa. She has spent years seeking rapprochement with camp survivors.

“I am completely drawn to Judaism,” she says. “Jews were the real heroes.”

If you think that these people are ‘undesirable or unstable nuts’ who should be pushed away, read the opening statement on conversion by Eliezer Melamed in his book on conversion, published as one of a popular Israeli Orthodox Judaism series “Pininei Halacha.”

“If a German or an Arab seeks to join the Jewish people, even if he is the son of a fierce anti-Semite, we should accept him and love him like any other Jew. Moreover, we should love him even more than other Jews, in keeping with the commandment to ‘love the convert, for you too were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 10:19).”

What if a convert is prepared in principle to accept the duty of the Torah and its commandments, but believes that from time to time he or she will have to transgress some of the commandments?

Strictly speaking, it is clear that there is no dispensation for desecrating the Sabbath, even occasionally; neither is it permissible even in difficult conditions to eat forbidden foods.

Nonetheless, the imminent Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodinski, holds that it is possible to convert such a person because he relates to the acceptance of Divine commandments in principle. In principle, the convert has agreed to take upon himself observance of the commandments, and it is only on occasion that he believes he will transgress.

(After all, no human, Jew or non-Jew, is perfect, and as Solomon advises us, “ Do not be overly righteous, and do not make yourself to be excessively wise.” Kohellet 7:16)

I think all rabbis should be at least as open minded as Rabbi Hiya about problematic potential converts because Rabbi Hiya decided to convert a well known harlot who wanted to marry one of his students. WOW.

This student of Rabbi Hiya had heard about a harlot in a faraway city who charged 400 gold coins for her services. He sent her the exorbitant fee and set an appointed time to meet her. When, after many days of difficult travel, the lust filled student arrived at the appointed time …the prostitute unclothed herself and sat on a king-size bed.

The student of Rabbi Hiya joined her on the bed. As he was undressing himself, his talit tzitzit slapped his face. He fell off the bed on to the floor, where he was joined by the woman.

“I swear by the Roman Caesar,” the harlot exclaimed, “I will not let you go until you reveal to me what flaw you have found in me!”

“I swear,” the student replied, “that I have never seen a woman as beautiful as you. However, there is a mitzvah commanded by our God, called tzitzit. Concerning this mitzvah it says, ‘Look at them and remember all the mitzvot.’”

(When I saw the tzitzit I knew I should not do this. Keep the money and let me go.)

“I will not let you go,” the prostitute said, “until you provide me with your name, the names of your city, rabbi and the school in which you study Torah.” He wrote down all she asked for, handed it to her, and left.

The woman sold all her possessions. A third of the money she gave to the government (to pay her taxes, or so they would allow her to convert to Judaism), a third she handed out to the poor, and the remaining third she took with her — and she proceeded to the school the rabbinical student had named; the yeshivah of Rabbi Hiya.

“Rabbi,” she said to Rabbi Hiya, “I would like to convert to Judaism.”

“Perhaps,” Rabbi Hiya responded, “you desire to convert because you want a Jewish man?”

The woman took out the piece of paper with the information and told the rabbi what happened.

“Go and claim that which is rightfully yours.” Rabbi Hiya proclaimed. (Talmud Menahot 44a).

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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