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The Midrash says that Abraham and Sarah made many converts, presumably with God's blessing:

Abraham made converts, for it is written, "And Abraham took Sarai his wife... and all the souls that they had made in Haran." [Gen. 12:5] R. Eleazar observed in the name of R. Yosei ben Zimra: If all the nations assembled to create one insect, they could not give it life, yet you say, "And all the souls that they had made in Haran!" It refers to the converts. Then let [the Torah] say, "That they had converted". Why "That they had made?" That is to teach you that if one brings a convert near [God], it is as though he had created him. Now why does it not say "That he had made" instead of "That they had made"? Said R. Hunia: Abraham converted the men and Sarah the women. [Genesis Rabbah 84:4]

But elsewhere the Midrash says that God did not want converts to join the Israelites in the Exodus:

[The Torah says: The Lord spoke to Moses, “Hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted.” [Ex. 32:7]] [God said:] It does not say the people but your people. Moses exclaimed: Lord of the Universe! On what basis are they my people? God replied: They are indeed your people, for when they were yet still in Egypt, I told you that I will bring forth My legions, My people, the children of Israel [Ex. 7:4]. Did I not tell you not to allow a mixed multitude to be mingled with them? But you, being humble and righteous, responded to Me, “Those who repent must always be accepted.” Now, I knew what they would do [to Israel] in the future, but did I tell you that [to change your mind]? No, I fulfilled your wish, and the result was that it was just these people who made the [Golden] Calf, for they had been idol worshipers [before]. [Exodus Rabbah 42:6]

So which is it? Did God want converts or not before the Jews became a nation? Was God telling Moses, in effect, "Before you can teach others, you have to learn yourselves. Wait until I give you the Torah, wait until you live with it for a while and make it part of your lives, wait until you can stand firmly on your own two feet, and then you can bring strangers into the fold. Right now, the strangers are more likely to influence you than you are to influence them."

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    Avrohom and Sorah probably didn't convert anyone to Judaism per se but rather converted them from their idolatry to being worshippers of Hashem. – Schmerel Dec 24 '19 at 0:44
  • Become a worshiper of Hashem but don't stay close to the Jews until they are settled and secure? – Maurice Mizrahi Dec 24 '19 at 2:10
  • I see from your quotations that Abraham, Sarah, and the generation of Moses allowed converts. I don't see that Abraham's and Sarah's were approved of by God; I do see that the latter ones were disapproved of; so I think the most reasonable conclusion is that the earlier ones were also disapproved of. – msh210 Dec 24 '19 at 4:19
  • I think G-d accepts converts who have a sincere motive in joining the B”Y (they are protected as prescribed in the Torah against prejudice)in case of Erev Rav G-d knew of their motives. With Avrohom and Sarah coverts were considered in those days of knowing the one G-d or some like to refer it as the abrahamic religion. – Daniel Ross Jan 17 at 3:40
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The problem with Moshe's converts was that they were a foreign community grafted into the Jewish community. By that time the Jewish nation was well-defined and had its distinctive character, and that was compromised by bringing in the Erev Rav who brought their Egyptian culture into the Jewish nation.

In Avaraham and Sarah's case there was no Jewish nation, and their converts were not joining their clan. We never see any reference to them after they joined Avaraham in his journey to Canaan. (We probably should not call them 'converts' at all.) These people learned of Avraham's idea of the One God and His expectations of humanity, but they either formed their own community, or took these ideas back to their communities. Avraham was spreading the message of God and His Law, which was good, but without bringing the foreign culture into the Jewish nation, which is not desired.

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No, because the practice of conversion did yet not exist, not even in the days of Abraham.

Many rabbis cite 12:5, “and the nefesh that they had gotten in Haran.” True, the post-biblical translation of nefesh is “soul,” and so they are supporting the notion that the practice of conversion existed, when they say that “Abraham brought converts [the altered souls] that he converted in Haran.” Actually, the biblical word for nefesh does not denote “soul,” it is a “person.” Thus, it seems clear that nefesh in 12:5 refers to servants or slaves.

For example, Ruth did not convert. When she said in 1:16, that “your G-d is my G-d,” she was not talking about conversion. In those days, people felt that different gods held authority over different nations, and Ruth was saying that when she come to Israel she will be under the authority of a different G-d, the G-d of Israel; besides, she never undergoes any conversion ceremony. Additionally, around the fourth century BCE Ezra and Nehemiah told the Judeans to send their non-Judean wives away; if conversion existed there would have been no need to banish them; they could have converted. In fact, the first time we see conversions happening is around 150 BCE, with John Hyrcanus. Saying that the practice of conversion did not exist in the days of Abraham should not prompt Jews to dissuade converts seeking to join Judaism today.

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  • In Genesis 12:5, the focus is more on the word עשו, "they made." If it meant servants or slaves, the expected verb would be קנו, "they bought." || The Book of Ruth also doesn't mention a single word from Elimelech or his sons. Does that mean that they never spoke? Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. || The part about Ezra and Nehemiah and the non-Jewish wives is already in your post below, and has been refuted (by sabbahillel), so it is disingenuous to post it again without even acknowledging that. – Meir Jan 16 at 17:54
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    Oh, and also, the Torah very carefully distinguishes two types of ger ("stranger"): the kind to whom all of the Torah's laws apply - "there shall be one law for the native-born and for the ger" (Exodus 12:49 and Numbers 15:15-16) - and the kind who is not ("the ger who is a resident among you," Lev. 25:47; "the ger who resides in your gates," Deut. 14:21). The difference is that the former has converted and joined the Jewish people, while the second has not. If there were no such thing as conversion, the distinction would be meaningless. – Meir Jan 16 at 18:00
  • True, the book of Ruth does not mention Elimelech, but that's irreverent. Nice staw man, though. If you're going to suggest that Ruth converted and that this is the purpose of writing the book of Ruth, why is she called a Moabit but never an Israelite? Furthermore, Ruth calls herself a nokhria, a “foreigner." Additionally, why is no conversion ceremony recorded? This reminds me of the Mormon Church who claims Jews traveled to the Americas in 70CE. This is problematic, as a lack of evidence does not substitute evidence. Or to put it differently, extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. – Jonathan Jan 16 at 19:14
  • The Hebrew term today for a convert, ger, means “stranger” in the Bible. When the Bible says that the Israelites were gerim in Egypt (the plural form), it is not that they were converts but strangers in Egypt. The term appears thirty-six times in the Torah, commanding Jews to treat non-Jews well. When the idea of converts entered Judaism, the rabbis wanted to emphasize the correct treatment of converts. Since the Torah states that Jews should love the ger, “stranger,” the rabbis resolved to use ger to mean “convert”: one should love converts. – Jonathan Jan 16 at 19:20
  • Also, I mentioned Ezra and Nehemiah because sabbahillel did not refute it (see my latest comment there). Additionally, I was compelled to mention Ruth, too. – Jonathan Jan 16 at 19:35
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The popular practice of conversion probably didn't exist until 125 BCE when the Hasmonean King John Hyrcanus mandated a forced-conversion of the Edomites. It, therefore, follows that Ruth probably did not convert to Judaism. She is never called a convert nor a Jews. She is called a Moabit several times. She even refers to herself as a nokhria, a “foreigner." Additionally, there is no procedure or ceremony explained for the practice of conversion in the Torah. If there was a procedure, why did Ezra and Nehemiahfelt tell the Israelite men to send away their non-Jewish wives and children?

Abraham (himself a non-Jew) taught philosophy and the divine truth that G-d is one to anyone willing to listen at his tent. Although there is no mention of the practice of conversion in the Bible, this should not prompt Jews to abandon the ritual nor dissuade converts away from Judaism. Many famous rabbis were proselytes, including Rabbi Akiva.


Regarding Moshe, the Torah tells us that they left Egypt in a mixed-multitude. Persumbilly, these people, as well as the Hebrews, became Israelites at Sinai. This is the only reference I can find for a mass-conversion pre-Hyrcanus.

As for Midrash, they are parables, not to be taken literally. Rambam writes that those who take Midrash at face-value are fools while those who dismiss them are also fools. Midrash are parables and while not true, they are still true, in a sense, by the lessons they teach.

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