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I've read that Avraham Avinu proselytized to anyone he encountered, encouraging them to acknowledge HaShem as the Master of the Universe and express gratitude to Him. Yet, it is generally understood that Judaism is not a proselytizing religion. Are there any rabbinic explanations as to why Judaism doesn't proselytize even though its great progenitor actually proselytized?

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    He was informing them of the existence of G-d, he wasn't telling them to join the Jewish religion - it didn't exist?!
    – Dov
    Nov 19, 2023 at 22:41
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    @Dov True. Then shouldn't it be so that, to honor what made Avraham Avinu beloved to HaShem and consequently establish a covenant with him, there should be a regular effort made to teach non-Jews about HaShem and the 7 Laws?
    – ddas91600
    Nov 19, 2023 at 22:50
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    We do make an active effort - it is called being an אור לגוים - "a light unto the nations". This plus also making a kiddush Hashem.
    – Dov
    Nov 19, 2023 at 22:58
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    @Dov If you found the cure to cancer would you keep it to yourself only and not share it with the rest of the world?
    – Turk Hill
    Nov 19, 2023 at 23:48
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    We don't want the whole world to be Jewish, we want the whole world to be ethical monotheists. The latter is what Avraham was pushing.
    – Shalom
    Nov 20, 2023 at 10:35

3 Answers 3

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I think there is a subtle difference.

To proselyte is to ask/convince someone to convert to a religion. In the case of Avraham there was no Jewish religion, it was just an acknowledgment of G-d's existence.

Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Avodah Zara 1:3 explains that everyone worshipped idols until Avraham came on the scene. Avraham had this life-changing epiphany whereby he came and called Hashem "Lord" (See Berachos 7b)

It was a sincere desire to bring the awareness of G-d into the world that drove Avraham. The midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 39:16 says precisely this:

וַיִּקְרָא בְּשֵׁם ה', מְלַמֵּד שֶׁהִקְרִיא שְׁמוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בְּפִי כָּל בְּרִיָה

"And he called the name of Hashem" - this teaches that he caused the Name of G-d to be called upon by all people.

Indeed, the Gemara in Menachos 53a writes equally,

אמר לה טובתי בל עליך איני מחזיק טובה אלא לאברהם יצחק ויעקב שהודיעוני תחלה בעולם

G-d said, "I give credit to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, who were the first to make Me known in the world.

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The conversion that it is written that Abraham converted is not the same conversion that we are talking about today.

Abraham our father according to the book of the Khazari he belongs to a holy seed from which came the people of Israel, but it is clear that all those who converted during his time did not become Jews, and that is because there was no Judaism yet, and the only thing that existed was the 7 mitzvot of the sons of Noah, and indeed even today it is of great importance to spread the 7 Mitzvah of the sons of Noah according to Judaism. (And it is true that there are Sage midrashi who say that Abraham our father fulfilled the mitzvot of Sages, but it is clear that it is only him and not the one who converted)

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya. If you want to take this angle, then may I recommend the Rambam in Hilchot Melachim that Moshe was commanded to enforce the 7 Noahide Laws among non Jews?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 20, 2023 at 12:26
  • I barely understand English so I'm using a translation and maybe that's why I don't understand what you mean to ask. And if you mean to ask whether today's rabbinic halacha is as written by Maimonides So the answer is that rabbinic Judaism does see this as an important value even today (Chabad Chassidim have special plans for this)
    – Eli
    Nov 20, 2023 at 12:43
  • אמרתי שטוב שתשובתך תכלול את הלכות מלכים רמב"ם ח' י' "וכן צוה משה רבנו מפי הגבורה לכף את כל באי העולם לקבל מצות שנצטוו בני נח"
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 20, 2023 at 13:12
  • This is broadly correct - in principle it is good to enforce/encourage non-Jews keeping the 7 mitzvos, but not acceptance of Judaism. I would caveat that whether this should be carried out in practice today is another question to which different approaches are taken.
    – AKA
    Nov 20, 2023 at 21:13
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Maimonides wrote that we should imitate Abraham. And, what did Abraham do? Abraham proselytized. He made converts. He sat in the front of his tent, waiting to teach about God to anvone willing to listen.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Jews used to proselvtize. In fact, it got so bad that Rome banned Jews from seeking converts. Everyone was proselytizing; there were even Buddhist in the city of Alexandria.

Nothing in Judaism is against proselytizing. So, why don’t Jews seek converts today? One reason is that Jews are taught that one not need to be Jewish to have a share in world to come. This is true. However, Maimonides makes it clear that non-Jews must observe the Noahide laws and, for the right reasons. There is another reason why Jews stopped making converts. Once mysticism was introduced into Judaism some Jews began to fancy that they were biologically superior to non-Jews. They feared bringing in non-Jews into their community may dilute the “blood.” Lastly, Jews didn't proselvtize out of fear. Not because not allowed.

My own personal view is that Jews should activity be seeking converts purely for academic reasons. Academically, you will agree that 2+2=4, and not 5. It is the same with the Torah. If your convinced that the Torah is true then why not share that wisdom with everyone else? If you found the cure to cancer you would publish it for all. It behooves you to want to share God’s Torah with the world.

Judaism is not a race. Judaism is a religion. The Torah is clear that there is one law for the convert and the born Jew. Abraham was a Gentile. Abraham was not a Jew, but a Noahide. God never "recreated" man since Adam (making a superior one called the Jew); all humans are identical. We all come from Adam and Eve. We are all identical. Both King David and the messiah descend from Ruth the convert. Ruth was a gentile who converted and Kings David and Solomon, as well as the Messiah descend from her. We see from here that gentiles have the same capacity to become the greatest leaders as those who are born to Jewish parents. We are all identical.

Thus, Jews should proselytize. Put differently, we are never commanded not to proselytize. There is no Torah law or rabbinical law barring us from proselytizing non-Jews.

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  • Wonderful answer.
    – ddas91600
    Nov 19, 2023 at 23:58
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    @ddas91600 Thank you. I’m glad you liked what I wrote.
    – Turk Hill
    Nov 20, 2023 at 0:02
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    Thank you for sharing it. You resoundingly made your point when you wrote, "If you found the cure to cancer you would publish it for all. It behooves you to want to share God’s Torah with the world."
    – ddas91600
    Nov 20, 2023 at 0:06
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    @ddas91600 I'm glad we agree. Yes, I do think that if we are convinced that we have the Word of God, we should share it with the world. If we are convinced that the Torah is the cure to all the troubles in the world, if it can make the world a better place, we have a religious duty to spread Torah. We do this by setting an example and teaching Torah to non-Jews. Even making converts.
    – Turk Hill
    Nov 20, 2023 at 2:20
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    I upvoted because I agree that in the past, there were Jews who did seek converts. Historical sources attest to this, to my knowledge. However, that doesn't mean we should do so today. It has become considerably more difficult to differentiate between honest converts and those who convert for various material incentives.
    – Harel13
    Nov 20, 2023 at 11:35

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