Rabbinic views … on what it means to be Jewish

There has been a widely held view within Judaism that there is an innate, intrinsic difference between the souls of Jews and non-Jews. It was widely believed that for a non-Jew to convert to Judaism requires more than a change of faith or conviction — it would be a transmutation of essence.

Rabbi Mordecai Jaffe (1530-1612) prefaced the section on proselytes in his halakhic compendium with the words: “Our scholars have said that it may be assumed that in the case of the proselyte who, on becoming a Jew, has accepted the yoke of the Torah and the commandments and the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, there is planted in him a holy spirit and a new soul from on high, and he becomes another man; and that it was as if he was created and born anew on that day, as if his entire former life had never been.” The Talmud says that, “the stranger who becomes a Jew is like a new-born infant.”

Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Rabbi Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?” Jesus replied, “You are Israel’s rabbi and do you not understand these things?” (John 3: 6-10).

Rabbi Mordecai Jaffe understood the concept of man needing to be “born again” through the creative work of the Spirit of God, but he applied this concept only to Gentiles wishing to convert to Judaism. He failed to see that, because of Israel’s unfaithfulness and disobedience of the Torah, God promised to regenerate even His chosen people by giving them a new heart and putting his Spirit in them. The Lord said, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, …because they broke my covenant,…I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; …I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Extracts from Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36).

Instead of coming to Jesus in humility to receive a new Spirit, according to the promise given in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, many Jewish people remain under the yoke of the Torah that they are unable to fulfil. The Lord warned Israel not to become proud in their own righteousness lest he confound them, and provoke them to jealousy by calling those who were called “not my people,” “sons of the living God” (cf. Deut 32:21, Hosea 1:10 and Romans 9:26). Many Gentiles, will, through the work of the Holy Spirit, be counted as if they were “born in Zion” (cf. Psalm 87).

The Jewish soul, which had been steeped in the teaching of Moses, was likened to a cultivated olive tree, while the souls of those from other nations, which had not known the Torah, were likened to a wild, uncultivated olive tree. However, both have to be reconciled to God through the work of the Holy Spirit. Israel was called to be a light to the nations and this calling has been fulfilled through Jesus the Messiah and his apostles. Through faith in the Jewish Messiah, a wild olive branch has been grafted into the cultivated olive tree.

God has fulfilled His promise of creating a new heart and of imparting his Holy Spirit to those whom he has called from both Israel and the nations. Many Jews, who were believers, underestimated the reality of the law written upon the heart and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform Gentiles into the people of God and attempted to bring them under the yoke of the Torah. The apostle Paul wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Messiah and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).

Through the death and resurrection of Messiah, God has removed the dividing wall. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them [Jew and Gentile] to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. In Messiah there is neither Jew nor Greek.

In “Ten Vital Jewish Issues”, Rabbi David Eichhorn is quoted as follows: “The phenomenon which converts an individual from one religion to another is completely absent in Judaism. The Hebrew word which we use for convert – because we have to go along with the language of the country in which we reside – is ‘gair.’ The Hebrew word ‘gair’ comes from the root ‘goor’ which means ‘to live with,’ and when a non-Jew becomes a Jew he does not change over from one religious point of view to another. He approaches, he becomes part of, he comes to live with a group of people and becomes a member of a religious fellowship with whose point of view he has agreed for a long time, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. He has found a group of people whom he considers very worthwhile. …. In the Bible this is very clear; the word for ‘sojourner,’ the word for ‘stranger,’ the word for ‘convert’ are all in the word ‘gair.’ In the Bible there are a number of types of ‘gairim’ depicted. There is the type of ‘gair’ who simply comes to live with the group, and there is the other type of ‘gair’ who comes not only to live with the group but also to become completely of it.” 1

Ruth was a Moabite by birth, but in simple faith she consciously and decisively declared to Naomi her mother-in-law, “Your God will be my God and your people will be my people.” Ruth returned to the land of Israel with Naomi. Many native born Israelites may very well have regarded Ruth as a complete foreigner. The Torah did not permit a Moabite from joining the assembly of Israel for ten generations. Ruth was redeemed through her marriage to Boaz and she became the great-grandmother of King David.

Through their faith in Jesus the Messiah and Redeemer, all who may previously have been regarded as foreigners to the people of Israel, have been fully accepted by the God of Israel to the extent that they are to be regarded as fellow citizens. Their incorporation into the assembly of God’s people exceeds that of any other laws of conversion which may have been established by men. Their circumcision is one done, not by the hands of men, but done by the Spirit of Messiah. Paul, a Jew by birth, declared his faith in Jesus in perfect unity along with those who were formerly Gentiles by birth, but who had been engrafted into the people of Israel through their faith in Jesus the Messiah. The most orthodox conversion to the faith of Israel is a complete, miraculous change of heart, which is done by the God of Israel Himself.

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Messiah Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh; … (Philippians 3:3). In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Messiah, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2:11).

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Messiah Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-20).


1. “Ten Vital Jewish Issues” Edited by Rabbi William Berkowitz page 111 published by Thomas Yoseloff – 1964