Observing myriad silly rites doesn’t make one a Jew. Giyur doesn’t include studying theology or living in the territories, or clashing with neo-Nazis in street protests. Long giyur is related to the fact that the Jews are ostensibly not persecuted, and so the rabbis must establish the proselytes’ strong will. Do so by sending them to live in the territories.
The Talmud says, “A Gentile who studies the commandments incurs the death penalty” (Sanhedrin 59). The idea is to convey the illegitimacy of treating the Torah as a philosophy, of curiosity about our religion. But then, how can a prospective convert study the laws? Evidently the notion of long preparatory study before conversion was alien to sages.
Many Gentiles otherwise ready to convert to Judaism, who would make good Jews and good spouses of Jews, refuse conversion after they begin to experience its idiocy, such as tearing toilet paper in advance of Shabbat or having sex through a hole in your underwear. Consequently, some Jews marry unconverted Gentiles, and others abandon what would otherwise become good marriages.
Unable to differentiate between real converts and fake ones, beth din rabbis haunt the prospective proselytes with years-long conversion in a truly humiliating process. The conversion ought to test, not humiliate. A person who by now fully identifies with Jews is treated as Gentile for the years of her conversion. The Rabbinical High Court’s decision on Druckman theoretically opens the way for simple, very short conversions as it establishes that the converts who lapsed in their observance originally had a fake conversion—and nullifies it. If practiced consistently, such policy would drive away fake proselytes and allow the rest to convert relatively quickly.
Not all converts are alike. Whatever the rabbis say about the impropriety of pressing someone into conversion or even dissuading him, historically the situation has been the opposite: Jewish husbands took Gentile wives and converted them in order to marry, no questions asked. Judging by the similarity of Jewish mtDNA to those of local populations, the female conversion was massive. Now too, we need to distinguish marriage conversions and full-family giyur. Those who convert in order to marry Jews, or because they are already married and want to lead Jewish lives should be welcome. They don’t have to convert: in practice; interfaith marriages are accepted. Therefore their desire to convert is probably sincere. That is especially so if they live in Israel, where their children would be fully integrated into the Jewish nation. To push such converts away is absurd. But whole-family conversions should be viewed with extreme suspicion because they have the potential to flood Israel with economic immigrants with only a nominal connection to Judaism. Curiously, the immigrants may even become decent Jews. Undoubtedly, paupers from many countries could become devoted citizens of the advanced Jewish state, just as Japanese, Irish, and German immigrants accept the American identity. It is a serious question whether we want an influx of potentially good Jews who by their sheer mass might dilute our cultural identity, and frankly, might be an economic burden.
Gentile spouses of assimilated Jews are often genuinely interested in Judaism. The Gentiles see Judaism as a treasure, a culture dear to Christians. Assimilated Jews view their heritage with distaste and want to be like everyone else—Gentiles. Jews often come to Judaism through their Gentile spouses. Jews want to look modern and non-Jewish, but will follow their Gentile spouses who lean toward Judaism. Gentiles are more normal also in the nationalist sense: they support a Jewish Israel free of Arabs and not burdened with leftism. The rabbinical conversion procedures stress that the mixed family leads a Jewish life—often frustrated by Jewish spouses. It makes sense to ease the conversion for Gentiles who have joined the people of Israel and do not require their Jewish spouses’ religious observance. Gentile spouses could be converted on their own merits without regard to their assimilated Jewish partners. Gentiles who live comfortably in Israel but convert are likely honest and faithful people, good members of the People of Israel.