QUESTION: Jews do not believe in proselytizing, so why do you try to convert everyone to your way of thinking?
ANSWER: The often-made statement that Jews do not proselytize” may reflect the contemporary trend in the Jewish community, but it hardly summarizes the Jewish attitude of the past. The Encyclopedia Judaica states:
There is ample evidence of a widespread conversion to Judaism during the period of the Second Temple, especially the latter part of the period…Unique, as the only case of forced conversion in Judaism, was the mass conversion of the Edomites by John Hyrcanus. In addition to these outstanding figures, however, it is obvious that proselytism was widespread among the ordinary people.…The near pride which the rabbis took in the claim that some of their greatest figures were descended from proselytes…points to an openhanded policy toward their acceptance.*
What is usually meant by the statement “Jews do not proselytize” is that no one truth is binding on anyone, arid people should be left free to believe whatever they wish. While it is true that people should be free to choose what they will or will not believe, it is not true that no absolute truth exists! That idea is completely foreign to the Jewish way of thinking. It reflects the trend of the larger Gentile culture, which has come to this conclusion in the last few years.
We believe that there is a binding truth, and that it is incumbent upon us who know it to share that truth with others. After all, did not God thousands of years ago require Israel to share his truth with the foreign nations of the world? In a remarkable series of passages in Isaiah, the prophet speaks of Israel as God’s “servant.” He then goes on to say that Israel has not fulfilled this mission. The “servant” then is narrowed down to one particular individual within Israel. The very first of these passages reads:
Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my Spirit upon him; he shall bring forth justice to the nations…And the coasts shall wait for his law.…(I) will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations (Isaiah 42:1-6).
That is the idea behind the term “chosen people.” Israel was chosen for a mission and a purpose, to make God’s way known to the nations. Unfortunately, this sense of mission has decreased more and more over the years. Today it is virtually a foregone conclusion that we Jews just do not bother with proselytism.
But for those of us who are believers in Jesus, what better news could there be to spread than the fact that the Messiah has come and has provided atonement and abundant life for Jews and Gentiles alike? We do not try to “convert” anyone. That is not up to us. It is God’s responsibility. But we can—and will continue to—tell the message of the Messiah to our own Jewish people and to everyone else who cares to listen.
* Encyclopedia Judaica 13:1182-3.