Jewish Converts Seeking Converts


| 1/21/2008 2:14:00 PM


Tags: Conversion, black church, Reform Judaism, interfaith, evangelical,

Last spring, at a service of the Reform Congregation Beth Jacob in Carbondale, Illinois, the Jewish Shema prayer was given a new treatment: It was sung in black gospel style. Jennifer Siegel reports in the Forward that the unique version of the prayer was offered by congregation’s newest members: 55 African American converts to Judaism from nearby Cairo, a predominantly poor, rural, and African American town of fewer than 4,000 people.

The Cairo group’s conversion process began when Phillip Matthews, a local resident who grew up Baptist, developed an interest in Judaism. Matthews formed Torah study group and eventually contacted St. Louis Rabbi Lynn Goldstein, who agreed to accompany the members on their journey toward conversion. Matthews told Siegel that he and his fellow converts “didn’t just want to read what was in the book; we wanted to live out what we were reading.”

Matthews and his fellow converts haven’t abandoned all areas of evangelical emphasis, however. In fact, they’re now actively seeking more members. “Our job as a newly converted Jew is to show the people that there is a better way of life,” Matthews said. “Right now, we’re just taking a simple message to our people: If you’re seeking, what you’re seeking for you’ll find, and if you’re looking for truth, I believe in my heart that Judaism is a better option.”

The belief that one’s primary spiritual responsibility is converting others is common in evangelical circles but hardly a central tenet of Judaism. In my experience, the subject of conversion is a sensitive one in Christian-Jewish relations. Rabbi Goldstein, however, argues that the evangelical undertones to Matthews’ rhetoric are a natural part of the conversion process. Goldstein said, “Doesn’t everyone who comes to Judaism have their own understanding of what it is?”

Steve Thorngate



contemplatingconversion_2
4/16/2008 12:34:22 PM

I was raised Baptist. As a kid and adult I took Jesus to be the Messiah. After doing research I began wondering where Jesus fit into the Old Testament. Also, the Old Testament was never really focused on or understood as a part of my faith. It was like a part of the bible used to confirm New Testament belief. Anywho, the major tenet of the faith is that Jesus is the Messiah. How could I know this for sure if we never really delved deeply into the Old Testamaent? In my own understanding, I can't find Jesus linked from the Old Testament to the New. As a result I've come to question the real significance he should play in my life as a believer in God. So, I am on a quest to gain the answers. In my readings of the Old Testament I have sought to understand it in its own right setting the New Testament aside. After reading it and a New Tanahk that I've purchased I've found some contrasts and similarities. Mostly similar. I've found the Tanahk to be more inline with what should've been a focus of our faith. The more I read of it the more I seem to be loosing belief in Jesus as being the Messiah. I am continuing to read, however. One of the main concerns about the Christian faith to me was that there was not enough reading and really understanding the scripture before trying to witness to others. I hope to really gain the answers I seek.


contemplatingconversion_1
4/16/2008 12:30:10 PM

I was raised Baptist. As a kid and adult I took Jesus to be the Messiah. After doing research I began wondering where Jesus fit into the Old Testament. Also, the Old Testament was never really focused on or understood as a part of my faith. It was like a part of the bible used to confirm New Testament belief. Anywho, the major tenet of the faith is that Jesus is the Messiah. How could I know this for sure if we never really delved deeply into the Old Testamaent? In my own understanding, I can't find Jesus linked from the Old Testament to the New. As a result I've come to question the real significance he should play in my life as a believer in God. So, I am on a quest to gain the answers. In my readings of the Old Testament I have sought to understand it in its own right setting the New Testament aside. After reading it and a New Tanahk that I've purchased I've found some contrasts and similarities. Mostly similar. I've found the Tanahk to be more inline with what should've been a focus of our faith. The more I read of it the more I seem to be loosing belief in Jesus as being the Messiah. I am continuing to read, however. One of the main concerns about the Christian faith to me was that there was not enough reading and really understanding the scripture before trying to witness to others. I hope to really gain the answers I seek.


Kensley_2
3/19/2008 12:03:41 PM

In response to Sarah Pumroy: It's true Jews don't "seek out" converts. The tradition of turning down a potential convert 3 times probably comes from the middle-ages when a convert AND the convertor would be killed. The Rabbi was actually tried to protect the life of the goy.