It happens. But under normal circumstances, the Jewish community does not seek converts. Here's why:

  1. Membership in a Jewish community is much more like tribal affiliation than assent to a creed or doctrine. "Conversion" is a process that is similar to adoption into the tribe. Religious observance is only one aspect of membership in the tribe, albeit a major aspect, but it is much more difficult to integrate new members into a tribe than to change someone's religious convictions, and most tribal cultures don't have the incentive.

  2. The Jewish communities have historically had a deep respect for "righteous Gentiles." These are non-Jews who have found favor with God. Although there is very little consensus among Jewish people about the existence or nature of "the life to come," the tradition teaches that all righteous persons, Gentile or Jewish will partake in it. This is another reason that there is little incentive to seek converts; lack of membership in the Jewish community is not seen as a bar to righteousness or redemption.

So why would anyone convert to Judaism?

  1. Family reasons. Perhaps an individual is planning to marry a Jewish person, and wants the children of the marriage to be raised as Jews. Or perhaps the individual has a Jewish father and a Gentile mother, and wishes to be fully accepted by Orthodox Jewish community.

  2. A deep personal longing. Some individuals who are born or raised as Gentiles have a profound desire to live and worship as members of the Jewish community. There are various folk tales about why this happens, relating to gilguls of Jewish souls that have been accidentally separated from the community and who have transmigrated so that they have an opportunity to rejoin it. These should be taken with a grain of salt, but in any case, conversion is sometimes an option for such individuals.

Please note that this is just one person's point of view. Other Jewish people may disagree. After all, where you have two (or more) Jews, you have three opinions.

I've heard that some Jews consider that a person has not so much converted (i.e. changed themselves), but rather has realized that they *are* Jewish, and go through a mikvah and other stuff simply as a way of acknowledging this newly discovered fact.

I'm rather fond of this way of seeing things. I'm not sure whether I'm a Jew or not -- more of my religious education was Jewish than anything else, but I was never bar mitzvah (or confirmed in any religion). If I should decide that I really am a Jew, I certainly won't refer to it as a conversion.

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