By Ariela Pelaia, About.com Guide to Judaism
Can Evil People Convert to Judaism?
Sunday July 5, 2009
Over the past couple weeks several Jewish newspapers/websites have featured a story about former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, who is currently awaiting trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Where is the Jewish connection? Well, apparently, Taylor has converted to Judaism. His wife Victoria told the BBC that he "is now a Jew. He's practicing Judaism." Of course, this "conversion" is in the eyes of Taylor and his family alone. Among other things, conversion to Judaism usually entails studying with a rabbi, meeting with a beit dein (rabbinic court) and immersion in a ritual bath known as a mikveh. In the case of men, circumcision (brit milah), or symbolic circumcision if the man is already circumcised, may also be required. According to reports, Taylor has done none of these things - and to top it all off, his wife claims that Taylor still believes in Jesus' divinity. As Forward writer Rebecca Daube aptly remarked: "the former warlord seems to be as unclear on the basic tenets of Judaism as he is on the principles of international human rights."
Still, Taylor's declaration does beg the question: What if he sincerely wanted to convert? Can someone be too evil to convert to Judaism? Daube posed this question to a number of rabbis and found that the answer is not a straightforward one. Some rabbis felt that a person who has committed atrocities should not be allowed to convert to Judaism. "The Jewish community is not a recovery house," said Modern Orthodox Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg. Reform Rabbi Robert Levine felt similarly, noting that although repentance and forgiveness are important concepts in Judaism, if a person has committed horrifying acts they cannot be allowed to convert. "Judaism is an interlocking system of rituals and ethics," Levine said, "There is a small group of people whose total lack of ethics and morality would dismiss them at the outset."
Others, such as Rabbi Avi Shafran, who is the Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America, did not agree with Wohlberg or Levine. "The whole idea of conversion is that one is changing radically, [and] an intelligent beit din would have to see some evidence of him wanting to change his ways, but crime in and of itself is not a bar to conversion."
You can read the entirety of Daube's article on The Forward's website, but before you go, what are your thoughts? Can an evil person convert to Judaism?