The Jews did proselytize, at least before this was
outlawed when the Roman Empire became Christian. At the start of
the Christian era, 10%-12% of the Roman Empire were Jews, which is
hard to explain unless there were a lot of converts. Once the
restrictions against Jewish proselytization were lifted, doing
this never really caught on again. Also, for whatever historical
worth it might have, here is a quote from the New Testament,
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass
sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make
him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
It is true that, currently, people are discouraged from converting
to Judaism. While part of it might be because of kaballaistic
mysticism, most of it is due to the fact that Judaism holds that
you don't have to convert (or at least, convert fully) to lead a
righteous life. All of the religious laws that religious Jews are
supposed to follow aren't considered universal laws for everyone,
but laws for people who fall under a special covenant with God,
either through voluntary conversion, or by being a Jew through
matrilineal descent (the children of a Jewish woman are
considered Jewish for religious purposes). For people who don't
fall under this covenant, the only things required to lead a
righteous life come from the Noachide covenant:
- Don't lie, steal, murder, and so on.
- Love your neighbor, take care of widows and orphans, and so
- Worship Jehovah, not any of the false gods, and certainly
don't commit idolatry.
- Don't eat meat that has any blood left in it. (This was
a rule handed down to Noah after the flood, and thus
presumably binding on all humans).
Religious Jews have to follow that, plus a whole lot more;
and once you convert to Judaism, you can't change your mind,
you're under the new covenant for life. So why convert to Judaism
when you don't have to? Also, the Jewish religious leaders don't
want someone converting and then doing a half-hearted job of it.
So, when someone expresses interest in converting to Judaism, they
are discouraged. If they seem real serious, then they begin on
intensive religious study. This serves three purposes:
- It further weeds out anyone who isn't serious.
- It lets people know what they're in for, so they can still
back out before they fully convert and there's no turning back.
"I'd have to what?! Um, on second thought, I think I'll
stay a pagan."
- The person will know all of the various rules that they have
to follow once they complete their conversion.