Islam Says Revert And Judaism Says Convert With Jewish Ancestors – OpEd


Many Muslims call conversion reverting but in Arabic, the term used is “aslama” which simply means “to become a Muslim” and literally means “to submit or surrender”. The term “revert” is used because in theory every individual is born as a Muslim; but is then raised by his or her parents in a specific religion. Reversion encapsulates the Islamic belief that all individuals are born with an innate inclination towards submission to Allah.

This explains why religion in general is universal, but does not explain why monotheism was very rare prior to Prophet Abraham the Hebrew. 
Many Jews call conversion ‘becoming Jewish’ because Orthodox Jewish law define’s all children born from a Jewish mother as being Jewish. Thus for Jews ethnicity precedes theology. Prophet Abraham was a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13) centuries before Prophet Moses and the Torah. This sometimes makes for complex identities and situations. 

For example, Rabbi Joe Black asked his peers: “A family (mother, father and daughter) who were involved in a Messianic Christian congregation for a few years. The mother and father were raised as Christians as children They stumbled upon a Christian pro Israel congregation, and liked the Jewish stuff but couldn’t deal with the Jesus stuff.  Then, they found out that both of them had Jewish ancestors. In the case of the mother — her maternal grandmother was Jewish – but her mother kept that a secret from her.  She learned of this only recently.  In the case of her father there was a paternal Jewish grandfather.

They come to us wanting to become part of the Jewish community.  I (Rabbi Black) said that since they were not raised in a Jewish home and were involved in a Christian community, they would have to go through the Introduction to Judaism class, conversion process-etc. — to which they agreed. Then the mother asked me if both her mother and grandmother were Jewish, wasn’t she Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish law; and wasn’t her daughter Jewish as well. So, is a person who was baptized Christian as a child — the daughter of a baptized Christian who had a Jewish mother — considered legally Jewish? And these are some of the replies from other Reform Rabbis. 

Another example. In 1983, at the age of 23 (in the UK) I discovered  that my ostensibly Anglican mother had been born Jewish to two Jewish parents.  Her father was a practicing Jew, her mother a social climber who felt that being Jewish would hold them back. My grandfather died in 1930 when my mother was ten.  My mother was baptized in 1936, aged 16.  My mother raised her children not telling us that we had Jewish origins. When I discovered the facts I went to an Orthodox rabbi who told me my mother was stupid.

This made me very angry.  I went to a Liberal rabbi who told me that my biological link to Judaism was an interesting fact, but nothing more -someone is Jewish who was raised in a Jewish household etc.  This made me feel both angry and deeply rejected and it is this that I want to focus upon in answer to Joe’s question.  Ultimately I went to the great British scholar Rabbi Louis Jacobs.he declared that I was indisputably Jewish by Jewish law, but talked to me in a deeply humane manner about re-finding Judaism through study, community and so forth.  

In 1988 I came to the USA and enrolled in the MA program at a Conservative Jewish Seminary. Again a rabbi there ruled that I was Jewish by Jewish law but recommended that I go through a conversion ceremony without saying the blessing for becoming Jewish by conversion.  I believe that this was the right ruling for me and 11 years later I became a Reform Rabbi. Roderick Young  N.Y. 99

I myself replied to Rabbi Black saying:  I would regard baptized people as non-Jews but since they have a  Jewish grandparent their souls probably are Jewish. Sefer HaPliyah states that many converts to Judaism are the reincarnated souls of Jews from previous generations that have been reborn and want to return home. I find this concept very helpful for many converts. I give several examples of it in a chapter of my book God, Sex and Kabbalah. They still both need to go through all the same requirements as any other convert but I would do the conversion service with a stress on returning home to their people. 

Millions of Spanish and Portuguese speakers are descendants of Jews who were forcibly baptized during the 15th century. Many of these people have Jewish souls and are now returning to the Jewish people. How would you know if you could be one of them?

Signs of a Jewish soul

1- You like to ask questions? But when you asked them as a child, you were told faith is a gift from God and you shouldn’t question it. This never satisfied you, although others didn’t seem to have a problem with this view. 

2- The trinity never made any sense to you even as a young child. You prayed to God the father more easily than Jesus the son of God, even though you were told to pray to Jesus. You could not believe that people who didn’t believe in Jesus wouldn’t go to Heaven.

3- You found you related well to Jewish people you met at work or at school even though they were culturally different from your own family.

4- When you first learned about the Holocaust you reacted more emotionally than did other members of your own family. 

5- When you started to learn about Judaism the ideas and values seemed reasonable and the traditions and heritage seemed attractive. You felt that at last you were coming home.

If most of these statements apply to you, you probably have a Jewish soul. If you can find a possible Jewish ancestor you definitely have a Jewish soul (see the chapter on Reincarnation in “God, Sex and Kabbalah” by Rabbi Allen S. Maller)

How did so many Jews end up in the Catholic Church?  In 1391 there were anti-Jewish riots in several Spanish cities. Thousands of Jews were forcibly baptized. The Church viewed these baptisms as valid because the Spanish Jews had freely chosen baptism over death, unlike the Jews of France and Germany during the first and second crusades, who chose to kill themselves rather than be baptized. Over the  next three generations there were additional riots that led to more forcible baptisms. 

Of course, Jews forced to be Christians didn’t stop believing in Judaism, but they had to practice it, and teach their children, in secret. The Church knew this but they thought that all the children and grandchildren of the Marranos (as the secret Jews were called) would be indoctrinated in the true faith and become believers. This did not happen. In 1480 the Inquisition began holding trials in Spain. Over the next two centuries thousands would be tried/tortured, and imprisoned or executed. 

In 1492 all unbaptized Jews in Spain were exiled. Over 100,000 Jews left Spain, most of them going to Portugal. In 1497, they were expelled from Portugal, but first all their children were forcibly baptized, so parents who didn’t want to lose their children had to freely choose baptism. 

Decades later many secret Jews, or their children, found freedom in the new world. When the Inquisition was established in Lima (1570) and in Mexico City (1571) secret Jews fled to all parts of central and south America to escape. Latinos who are drawn to Jews and Judaism have a Jewish soul from one of these ancestors. (see: A History of the Marranos by Cecil Roth)

The death of an individual only ends the life of that unique individual. The molecules of each individual are recycled into other life forms like worms or grass. The DNA of that individual, if he or she had children, are recombined to make new individuals who will have some of the same genetically influenced personality and character traits of that individual’s parents and grandparents. In addition, some of a childless person’s individual genes can be passed down by siblings who share them with him or her. 

Thus, the Kabbalah’s concept of Gilgul, the recycling of mind/soul/personalities, is part of a larger recycling of particles of matter and energy found throughout nature. 

Unlike Buddhism and Hinduism, Kabbalah does not teach that reincarnation (gilgul) occurs over the course of millions of years to millions of different sentient species. According to Kabbalah, only the mind/soul/personalities of self conscious moral creatures like human beings reincarnate; and they reincarnate only when they have not fulfilled in their own lifetime the purpose of their creation. 

Since Judaism is an optimistic religion, most Kabbalists teach that most people can accomplish their life’s purpose in one or two lifetimes. A few mind-souls may take 3-5 lifetimes or more. The bright mind/souls of great religious figures like Moses or Miriam can turn into dozens of sparks that can each reincarnate several times. The tragic mind/souls of Jews whose children have been cut off from the Jewish people, either through persecution or conversion to another religion, will reincarnate as one of their own no longer Jewish descendants. 

These descendant mind-souls will seek to return to the Jewish people. A majority of people who end up converting (or reverting) to Judaism and the Jewish people have Jewish mind/souls from one of their own ancestors.

Every human on earth has 8 great grandparents and 16 great great grandparents. Each of these 24 individuals contributes an equal amount of genetic material to their descendants. Nevertheless, brothers or sisters who share the same 24 ancestors do not have identical genomes. Unless they are identical twins their physical, mental and personality traits always differ, sometimes greatly, from siblings who share the same physical genetic heritage. 

This difference is the result of the unique physical combination of genes that occurs at conception; and the unique mind/soul that is formed in the body sometime during the later half of the second trimester.

Every year many hundreds of people find out that one or two of their 24 ancestors might have been Jewish.. For most of them this discovery is an interesting fact of little significance. For many of them it might be an embarrassment to be ignored. But for some of them it becomes a life changing discovery. 

They feel drawn to Jewish people and seek to learn about Jewish music, food, literature, culture and religion. They feel more and more attached in some mysterious way to the Holocaust and the struggle of Israel to live in peace in the Middle East. Many of these people eventually are led to become Jewish either by formal conversion or by informal reversion within Reform synagogues.

According to a mystical 14th century Jewish Kabbalistic teaching found in Sefer HaPliyah, those people who do feel this powerful attraction to Jewish things and Jewish people, have Jewish mind/souls that are reincarnations (gilgulim) of one of their own Jewish ancestors from 3-7 generations in the past. That explains why they react to the discovery of some Jewish heritage in such a unusual way. It also explains why some people who do not even know that they have Jewish ancestors follow a similar path; and only discover a Jewish ancestor years after they have returned to the Jewish people.

The Hebrew word for reincarnation is gilgul which means recycling. Prior to scientific discoveries in genetics and DNA studies people believed that there are people born with new souls who are here for the first time. Now we know that all the elements of our bodies, including our brains, have been recycled countless times. Yet we all are new because recycling always results in a new recombination. Many people do not reincarnate after their life on this earth is over. 

Most people who end up becoming Jewish, especially now, after the Jewish people have experienced several generations of assimilation, marriage to non-Jews, hiding from anti-semitism and outright genocide, are descendants of people whose children or grandchildren, in one way or another, were cut off from the Jewish People.

Among their non-Jewish descendants a few will inherit a Jewish soul that will seek to return to the Jewish people. A special few of those who are drawn to join the Jewish people are descendants of non-Jewish people who tried to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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