You're sitting on a beit din. You're asked to pass judgement on a potential convert with an unusual belief. Will you convert him or not?
Here are a list of beliefs that may be problematic. Do any of them rise to a level that would disqualify the potential convert, who is otherwise committed to keeping all the mitzvot, from conversion?
#1. He believes the Chmelnitzki massacres did not happen on a large scale. Maybe a few hundred Jews died in them, he says, but not thousands, tens of thousands and certainly not 100,000.
#2. He believes the Holocaust did not happen. By this he means that Jews died in WW2 and the Germans certainly did commit atrocities against Jews. But 6 million Jews were not murdered. Maybe 100,000 Jews were killed, he says, and most of them died from disease or hunger.
#3. He believes Jesus is the messiah. He rejects Christian theology completely, however, and accepts 100% of Jewish law. He will certainly keep all the mitzvot and be a good Jew in every regard other than who he believes to be the messiah.
#4. He believes King Solomon will rise from the dead as the messiah. He will certainly keep all the mitzvot and be a good Jew in every regard other than this unusual belief about the messiah.
Which of these four potential converts would you accept? Which, if any, would you reject?
My answers after the jump in the extended post …
Cases #1 and #2
I think most of us would convert potential convert #1 without giving it a second thought, but we would reject potential convert #2 almost automatically.
Why the difference?
Because the Holocaust is so recent. Most of us know survivors or are children or grandchildren of survivors. To deny the scope of the Holocaust is to deny reality itself.
In contrast, the Chmelnitzki massacres happened 350 years ago, in the distant past. They are real, to be sure, but not personal. I think most of us would convert this man, viewing his take on Chmelnitzki as an unusual quirk.
Cases #3 and #4
In the same way, all of us would reject a potential convert, no matter how mitzvah observant, who believes Jesus is the messiah. Believing Jesus is the messiah is a fault line between Judaism and Christianity. This potential convert is on the wrong side of that line.
Yet most of us would probably convert a potential convert who believes King Solomon is the messiah. We'd view his belief as foolish, we'd explain why he's wrong. But we probably would still let him join the Jewish people. Being mistaken or a fool is not necessarily grounds for exclusion.
What if the potential convert's mistaken belief was not unique to him but instead was taught by an active school of Jews who err?
In this case, I see grounds to exclude the potential convert no matter which of the four mistaken beliefs he professes.
Because converting him grants a form of legitimacy to that mistaken school and confuses authentic Jewish beliefs with mistaken notions.
Further, if one like him is converted, why not ten or 10,000?
In other words, if we accept one convert with these mistaken beliefs, we would have no real reason to bar others. This would further confuse Jewish belief by increasing the number of Jews holding mistaken beliefs while at the same time causing existing Jews to view these mistaken beliefs as kosher or "not that bad." This would over time cause a dramatic shift in Jewish theology as non-normative beliefs are incorporated into normative Judaism.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments …