Should a Gentile Convert to Judaism?

Posted by on Jan 30, 2023

There are gentiles who convert the Rabbinic Judaism to serve Elohim in a better way, as they see it. While there are others who convert to Judaism for the purpose to emigrate to the State of Israel and be one with the chosen nation. The former is a religious while the latter is a political decision; they both have nothing to do with what YHVH Elohim says to those who desire to join themselves YHVH. 

In the following, we would like to posit another way to look at this controversial topic, specifically in reference to the conversion, because when we examine the matter closely, we will find that it is far from being religious.

Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab, William Blake, 1795.

Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab, William Blake, 1795. Ruth would be still waiting for an entry visa, if she had decided to convert to Judaism.

And while saying this, we want to make it clear to the reader that there is a direct message from YHVH to these gentiles, who want to become a part of His people, and this study is meant for them: the righteous gentiles.

It is the object of this work to explain the Hebrew text of Isaiah 56 and certain obscure words which occur in the prophecy but not distinctly explained by the commentators. This work has also a second object: to interpret its plain meaning and expose certain misconceptions that still exist in the translations. We will explain the reason for this in due course.

As we will advance in the course of this work, we will see that the prophecy in Isaiah 56 does not speak of any conversion to a man-made religion (whether Judaism or Christianity) but of a conversion to YHVH Himself.

But why should gentiles desire to convert to YHVH? “Will not He separate us from His people when the time comes to gather Israel in the Land?”, they ask. They ask this question because when reading the prophecy in Isaiah 56, the reader is left with the impression that the righteous gentiles who keep the Sabbath of YHVH, would have doubts that the Lord would accept them despite their faithfulness and obedience to His words.

The blessing for observing Sabbath

But thus said Yehovah,

Guard what is right and do righteousness, for near is My deliverance to come, and My righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who becomes strong in it, guarding the Shabbat lest he profane it, and guarding his hand from doing any evil. (Isa 56:1-2)

The prophecy begins with the admonition to observe the Sabbath enforced with especial emphasis on righteousness of life. Hold the laws of the Torah, wherein the Sabbath day takes a special place, and do charity with each other is the main unifying idea of the message to the non-natives.

The significance of the Sabbath day is affirmed here, because it is a sign of the Covenant between Him and those who keep it, on account of the Creator having rested on it. We should recall that the Sabbath is the first commandment given to Israel before the Torah was even given. According to the Word of YHVH, this special day is the basis of our faith and is equated with all other commandments in the Covenant combined. The observance of this day establishes our belief that YHVH Elohim created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, so that we should also rest on this day.

YHVH has objective standards in the covenantal relation into which His people have entered, and they are: מִשְׁפָּט mishpat, literally “right” or “judgment “, which is the practice of observing the Covenant and צְדָקָה tsedakah, “righteousness” or the moral principles on which the Covenant stands. 

The reason for the admonition is given immediately after the heading of the prophecy: “My salvation will be near to come, and my righteousness will be close to being visible to all”. Here, יְשׁוּעָה yeshuah, “salvation” is the promise of YHVH to those who will be faithful to His Covenant.

As far as the Hebrew text is concerned, there is beautiful wordplay seen only in Hebrew above. It is between the words יְשׁוּעָה yeshuah, deliverance, salvation, and the name of Mashiach ישׁוּע Yeshua; two different words yet connected.

A similar play of words is found in the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, which say, “And she will bear son, and you will call his name ישׁוּע (short form of  יְהוֹשֻׁעַ Yehoshua, He saves), for he will save (yoshia, יושיע) my people from their iniquities”. (Shem Tov Hebrew Matthew 1:21).

We should recall in the Torah that Mosheh changed the name of his close follower from Hoshea (the son of Nun) to יְהוֹשֻׁעַ “Yehoshua” (see Num 13:16). The medieval Tanak commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040–1105) understands the name change as a form of prayer: Yah Yoshia-cha, which means in Hebrew, “May Yah save you.” [The name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ is a compounded form of יָהּ Yah, the short version of the Set-apart Name of the Creator and the verb יוֹשִׁיעֲךָ, Sotah 34b]

That the prophecy in Isaiah 56 is considered messianic by the rabbis is seen in the comments on Isaiah 56:1 by Radak. Furthermore, Ibn Ezra on Isaiah 56:1,

You know that God will redeem you, and that He will bless you with all these benefits; keep, therefore, His judgments, for, if you do this, salvation is near to come. We may learn from this verse that the coming of Messiah is delayed because of our sins.

What the rabbis teach on Isaiah 56 is that the grace of YHVH is always ready and does not change (see also Isa 55:11). It depends only on the preparation of the recipients according to their actions, as it is said to remember the Sabbath day to distinguish it from the rest of the days.

The doubt of the dry trees

It all began with the two verses in the prophecy in Isaiah 56, to which we now turn.

And neither the son of the stranger who has joined himself to Yehovah speak, saying, Yehovah has certainly separated me from His people”, nor let the eunuch say, “Look I am a dry tree”. For thus said Yehovah, “To the eunuchs who guard My Shabbats and have chosen what pleases Me, and are holding onto My covenant: (Isa 56:3-4)

Hebrew grammar: the word above for “to join” is לָוָה lava. It means to twine, to unite, to cleave, and join (self). From this root the name לֵוִי Levi, “joined to”, the son of Ya’akov, is derived (see Gen 29:34).

The blessing in Isa 56:2 is now extended to those who might imagine that they had no right to comfort themselves with the promises which it contained.

Those who say, like the Jewish grammarians, that “eunuch” is a correct translation are giving the Hebrew word a meaning that it does not have.

They and the rabbis have translated and therefore interpreted the above two verses to mean that the eunuch (a castrated man incapable of reproduction) would say that since he has no sons after he converted to Judaism, he will be excluded from the chosen nation on account of being incapable of contributing to the commonwealth of Israel, saying, “what am I in the world because I do not have a son, and God does not desire me? After all, I am like a dry tree that brings out no fruits. Why should I better my ways and my deeds?” This interpretation works for the rabbinic Judaism but contradicts the Torah for the common sense does not allow us to say that aa childless person will be rejected from the commonwealth of Israel.

Regrettably, such a translation is easy to read nonetheless extremely inaccurate. In these verse, there are two words (neikar, stranger, and saris, eunuch) that need special attention to properly understand the message here. According to the rabbinic tradition, which is not well established, the Hebrew word saris is interpreted and translated here as “eunuch”. However, even this translation is unsatisfactory at the level of contextual interpretation.

The word saris is not found elsewhere in Scripture with the meaning of “castrate”. Hence its meaning can only be ascertained from the context it has been used in.

This interpretation of saris, therefore, is problematic, as we argued in a separate work to which we will turn at the end this study. At present, however, we are interested precisely in the subject of joining to YHVH.

Thus by the use of the word “eunuch” it is implied that those of the non-native people, who professed their faith in YHVH and had joined themselves to Israel, are afraid of separation from His people because they have not received full citizenship, when Israel would be restored to the Land.

Those neikar and  saris, who had left at their will the gentile lifestyle in the foreign lands, might think they would be pronounced unworthy of standing in the congregation of YHVH and therefore be cut off as unfruitful (dry) trees, foreign to the natural trees, expressed by the hopeless fear in “Look I am a dry tree”. But YHVH blocks this fear of the coverts with the following affirmation that leaves little room for doubts:

to them I will give in My House and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters. I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. (Isa 56:5)

Literally, YHVH promises that He will give the converts  יָד וָשֵׁם, yad va’shem, “arm and name”. In the ancient times, a city was often associated with the name of its founder. We find such an example in the Scripture associated with the name of Kain who founded the very first city, which he named after his son’s name (see Gen 4:17). Thus, the word shem came to signify not just a name but also the memorial in recognition of a person.

The Hebrew word yad (literally “arm”) therefore here means a monument, as Shaul built one (1Sa 15:12), as did Avsalom (2Sa 18:18). We read thus,

And Shemuel rose early in the morning to meet Shaul, and it was told to Shemuel, saying, “Shaul went to Karmel, and see, he set up a monument (yad) for himself, then turned and passed over, and went down to Gilgal. (1Sa 15:12)

The word yad (arm) brings the imagery of an upraised arm, while shem (name) is a memorial (as a name of a person brings memories). Combined yad va’shem means a large monument, a metaphor for a signpost to the person upon whom it is placed or everlasting monumentation, literally and figuratively. Hence, the phrase in question is understood to mean a standing monument (like the museum in memory of the Holocaust: Yad VaShem). Learn more from the source Yad Vashem. The World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

With that said, we read verse 5 anew, in which the converts are assured that if they guard the Sabbath day dearly, they will not be excluded from the nation of Israel,

to them I will give in My House and within My walls a remembrance better than that of sons and daughters. I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.

This assurance with a condition is further reenforced in the following verses, as we read,

Also the sons of the stranger who join themselves to Yehovah, to serve Him, and to love the Name of Yehovah, to be His servants, all who guard the Shabbat, and not profane it, and hold onto My covenant: even them I shall bring to My set-apart mountain, and let them rejoice in My House of prayer. Their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted on My altar, for My House is called a house of prayer for all the peoples. (Isa 56:6-7)

Compare this promise to the converts to the prayer King Shlomo said in the inauguration of the Temple of YHVH in Jerusalem,

And also, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far land for Your Name’s sake, for they hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm. And he shall come and pray toward this House, hear in the heavens Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, so that all peoples of the earth know Your Name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and know that this House which I have built is called by Your Name. (1Ki 8:41-43)

Here the נָכְרִי nokriy, foreigner, who has not joined Israel, unlike the neikar, stranger, can come to the House of YHVH for His Name’s sake, because he has heard of the great wonders YHVH has done. In the case of nokriy, there is no need for going through a conversion to come to the House of YHVH to bring his prayers and thanksgivings.

Thus, the fears of נֵכָר neikar, the stranger, from among the gentiles are removed. The strangers, who were once estranged from the Covenant but now have attached themselves to YHVH with the pure intention of serving Him with love, are not to be left behind in the foreign lands for YHVH will bring them along with His people to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and there they will rejoice, and their sacrifices in the new Temple will be accepted in a most gracious way. The new Temple here is called a house of prayer for all nations, as it is affirmatively declared further in the prophecy in the scroll of Isaiah,

For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make stand before Me, declares Yehovah, so your seed and your name shall stand. And it shall be that from New moon to New moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me, declares Yehovah. (Isa 66:22-23)

Therefore, there is nothing here left for the converts to continue in their doubting; the wall of partition, which they thought had been built between them and the nation of Israel by both religions (Judaism and Christianity), will be broken down, and they will enjoy the full fellowship in the nation of Israel.

The gathering of the lost tribes

A solemn confirmation therefore is thus established that there is no ground for supposing that the non-natives who love YHVH will be excluded from Israel, for it was really His plan to gather Israel with some out of the nations and add them to become one nation. Thus, YHVH answered to the fears of the converts: “Do not say that I have separated you from My people, for I shall make you all one nation under Me”.

And the prophecy concludes with the promise made this time to the children of Israel,

The Master Yehovah, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I shall gather still others to him besides those who are gathered to him”. (Isa 56:8)

YHVH here declares that He will gather the outcast of Israel besides those who had been gathered already to him. The “him” here refers to the patriarch of the nation Ya’akov-Israel, after whose name all Israelites are called.

We cannot possibly overlook the reference to the words of Mosheh our teacher in his last address to the children of Israel at Mount Nebo. He said,

And not with you alone I am making this covenant and this oath, but with him who stands here with us today before Yehovah our Elohim, as well as with him who is not here with us today. (Deu 29:14-15)

“But with you and with those who come after you, your sons and your sons’ sons, with the generations that will be in future that will come after us”: these last words of Mosheh make it clear that the Covenant at Sinai, which was confirmed here at Mount Nebo, was not made exclusively with the people present at that time. The whole intention of Mosheh was to obligate the people present at that time to commit their children to observe the Torah, forever. Thus, the Torah makes it unmistakably clear that the admonition to keep the laws of YHVH applies not only to the generation present at the mountain, but even to the future generations that they should also do so.

With the above in mind, we may now understand the statement the Good Shepherd made when the time came for the Covenant to be renewed. Yeshua said,

I am the good shepherd. And I know mine, and mine know me, even as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold, I have to bring them as well, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one flock, one shepherd. (Joh 10:14-16)

The prophetic meaning of this statement is clear, and from it, also, the meaning of the whole phrase “other sheep I have which are not of this fold” is not difficult to perceive. He said this to his disciples to go out and bring to fold the lost sheep of the House of Israel: the lost tribes of Israel, so that all must be fulfilled of what it was said in Zec 14:9, “In that day there shall be one Yehovah, and His name one”, in order to raise the hopes of the entire nation.

Continue to Who is “the Eunuch” in Isaiah 56?

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