The “Zeal of the Convert”: Is it the real deal?

Did Abraham, Isaac and Jacob once discourage a non-Jewish woman who was interested in joining the Jewish people? YES. The Talmud states that “Timna‘ was of royal lineage … She wished to be converted (to Judaism). So she approached Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but none of them accepted her. Thereupon she went and married Esau’s son Eliphaz, declaring: ‘Better to be a servant in this nation than a mistress in any other’. From her came Amaleq, who was to become Israel’s enemy. Why so? Because they were wrong to turn her away”. (Sanhedrin 99b)

As the Midrash states: “God gave Torah to Israel in order that they should bring it to the (non-Jewish) nations.” (Tanhuma Deuteronomy 2). Why should Jews bring Torah to non-Jews? Jews do not believe we have to save other people’s souls.

Because most individuals who switch religions are more fervent about their new faith than those born into their religion. So converts help raise the spirit of the People of Israel. An analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life provides Quantitative support for this piece of conventional wisdom often referred to as the “zeal of the convert.”

The analysis finds that people who have switched faiths (or joined a faith after being raised unaffiliated with a religion) are indeed more religious than those who have remained in their childhood faith, as measured by the importance of religion in their lives, frequency with which they attend religious services and other measures of religious commitment.

However, the analysis also finds that the differences in religious commitment between converts and non-converts are generally not very large, and are more apparent among some religious groups than others.

One of the most striking findings of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by the Pew Forum in was the large number of people who have left their childhood faith. According to the survey, roughly half of all Americans say they have left the faith in which they were raised to adopt another faith or no faith at all, or if not raised in a religion, they have since joined one.

The new analysis finds that, overall, people who have switched religions consistently exhibit higher levels of religious commitment than those who still belong to their childhood faith, but the differences are relatively modest. For example, among people currently affiliated with a religion:

Slightly more than two-thirds of converts (69%) say religion is very important to them, compared with 62% of non-converts.

Half of converts (51%) attend worship services at least once a week, compared with 44% of nonconverts.

Of converts (82%) believe in God with absolute certainty, compared with 77% of non-converts.

Seven-in-ten converts (70%) pray every day, compared with 62% of non-converts.

About three-in-ten converts (29%) say they share their views on God with others at least once a week, compared with two-in-ten nonconverts (20%). This is a large difference.

And 27% say their new religion is the one true faith, compared with 22% of non-converts. This does not apply to Jewish converts but almost all converts do feel that they have come home because they were already in agreement with almost all basic Jewish values and they love the Jewish notion that the Jewish People were partners with God in working to improve our society.

I believe that the decade of the 2020s will see a steady rise in the number of converts to Judaism. Thus all Jews, religious or not, should encourage anyone they know who might be interested in Judaism by gifting them a basic Judaism book; and/or encouraging them to call a local synagogue and speak to its Rabbi.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 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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