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Ruth the Proselyte: Conversion versus Subversion

This weekend the Jewish community enjoys a double celebration: Shabbat as usual, followed immediately by the pilgrim festival of Shavuot. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai with a long night of learning known in Hebrew as ‘Tikkun Leil Shabbat’.

I have been invited to be scholar in residence at an Orthodox synagogue in Greater Manchester. The rabbi and his wife both come from Israel. In 1983-4 the rabbi’s father-in-law taught me at religious seminary in Jerusalem. It is not an exaggeration to say that most of what I know about my own religion stems from those two years spent on intensive sabbatical study with my family in Israel.

But living in Haifa much more recently also taught me what it is like for Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bahais, Druze and others dealing with everyday life in Israel.

I have come across many would-be converts in my life. There are the Jews who want to be Buddhists. Many of these ‘Jubus’ wander off to Dharamsala in India only to be informed by the Dalai Lama that they already have their own land and religion and should make Aliyah to Israel instead. The Dalai Lama is adamant about not converting Jews to Buddhism. Then we have the few Jews who still wish to convert from Judaism to Christianity. Paul was the first of these.

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