Ethics in Proselytizing: A Jewish View
Within the last decade there has been increased discussion in certain segments of the American Jewish community about the desirability of seeking converts to Judaism from among the �unchurched� of our society. That no major efforts in that direction have resulted is not surprising. Jews, resentful of being specifically targeted by some proselytizers, have hesitated to do unto others what we resent being done unto us. The inertia of our tradition is against missionizing, as well. Throughout most of post-biblical history Jews were prevented from proselytizing by religious and secular authorities and by fears of arousing anti-Semitism. Judaism has in the past, and does today, accept converts who are willing to study our ways and pledge their loyalty to Judaism and Jewry. However, our attitude has been, and overwhelmingly remains, that we accept individuals who come to us, but do not actively recruit would-be converts.
If I had my �druthers,� other religious groups would take the same approach, providing religious instruction for those who seek it, rather than aggressively proselytizing. Jews recognize, however, that spreading the �good news� is an essential component of many faith groups. Often this is done for idealistic reasons, and if done in a proper manner need not be unethical. This goes doubly in a pluralistic society where we have reason to be proud of our �free marketplace of ideas.� But free markets need rules to be fair markets. One question I would address, then, is what constitutes ethical proselytizing? I shall attempt to answer that from a Jewish - and I dare say Judeo-Christian�ethical perspective.