The Jewish Tradition


The Jewish Tradition


Traditionally, the Jewish tradition was weaved around various beliefs. The views defined the Jewish people, and they alienated them from other traditions. They had great beliefs that created the boundaries, and one could easily differentiate them from others.  Although there was a boundary people were free to join the religion, and this called for them to adopt the Jewish faith and their tradition[1]. However, as other continued to adopt the Jewish faith, the boundaries started to change. Some of the factors that highly contributed to these changes included politics, Ethnicity and culture. In this paper, I am going to highlight on the Jewish tradition and what it entailed for a gentile to convert to a Jew and also the changes that occurred in the Jewish boundaries.   

What makes a Jew and Jew

Historically, the Jews had erected a barrier between themselves and the rest of the people both in mind and their actions. They had various traditions that defined them and separated them from others. For instance, Circumcision was paramount to the Jewish traditions[2]. Another thing that separated Jews from others is that they believed in one God[3]. The Jews also observed the Sabbath day, and they regarded it as a holy day[4]. However, although there was a boundary one could still cross the border and become a Jew. For instance, a Gentile could become a Jew through various ways that include:

How Gentiles would become Jews

One way that a gentile would become a Jew is if their master converted into a Jewish. A conversion of the master would lead to the transformation of their entire family and also slaves[5]. Although, initially they would convert involuntary they would become attached to the religion with time. A gentile could also become a Jew through the acquisition of a gentile slave by the Jews. The gentile slave would go through various Jewish traditions such as circumcision, and they would be given a status of a proselyte[6]. A female gentile would also go through the process of manumission and be converted into a Jew. Mostly, the master converted the Gentiles for their religious convenience. In this case, also the Gentiles would be converted into the Jewish religion involuntarily. However, at times the Gentiles would turn voluntarily by being circumcised.  Circumcision was the initial step in transforming into Jewish. After a person had accepted the Jewish laws and commandments they were immediately circumcised in a ceremony that had two Sages[7].  The two groups, also known as Sages played a significant role in the whole process. For instance, they instructed the Gentiles and also made sure that the right process was followed.  After they had been circumcised, they would then be immersed a process that was familiar to both male and female conversion. The Gentiles would choose to join the Jewish religion for their convenience. 

A Gentile could also be converted into Jews through marriage. Conversion through marriage mainly applied to women and the children. According to Jews tradition, a woman was to leave their household and join the man’s home, and this meant that a woman was to adopt the man’s culture[8]. According to the Jewish tradition, a child was supposed to adopt the father’s culture. However, a man could decide to convert to Jews so as to get married to a Jewish woman. A Gentile could also convert into Jewish religion by practicing Jewish laws. Some of the practices the Gentiles adopted is abstaining from work on the seventh day. According to the Jewish traditions, the seventh day was regarded as a holy day and therefore, no one was allowed to work on that day[9]. Hence, when Gentiles observed the seventh day they were believed to have crossed the boundaries and become Jews. Gentiles also adopted fasting that was a Jewish tradition during the Sabbath day.

A Gentile would also become a Jewish by being devoted to the God of Jews. In this case, they would decide to alienate themselves from their gods and devote their life to worshipping the Jewish God[10]. It was argued that any person who renounced idolatry became a Jew. In this case, if Gentile destroyed their idols they were automatically regarded as Jews, and it brought a lot of joy to the Jewish community.  However, before converting into Jews, a person could go various examinations so as to determine their motive. For instance, a person would be taken through the Jewish laws[11]. The Gentiles would also be enlightened on Jewish lesser and major commandments, and they were also told of the punishments in case the violated the commandments. 

Why the Jewish boundaries changed

Initially, the Jewish boundaries were strong, especially where it concerned circumcision. However, as time went by the boundaries started changing, and they started becoming an issue. The changes started appearing when a vast number of Gentiles converted to Jews. According to the Jews tradition circumcision was significant as it defined their religion. However, as the Gentiles started converting into Jewish, the tradition seemed to fade as some of the Gentiles could adapt other traditions and leave out circumcision[12]. The felt that circumcision was not the only defining factor of becoming a Jewish, for instance, some of the Gentiles could choose to believe in one God. The Gentiles believed that the God of the Jews was powerful, and they decided to leave the worship of idolatry.  They believed that what was important is what was in the mind and the alienation from the worship of idols[13]. Boundaries also started to appear due to other people’s beliefs depending on various interpretations of what relationship with God meant. For instance, the Gentiles believed that they never needed physical circumcision; however, what was important was their heart. They believed that their belief in God was much significant than being circumcised.

The Gentiles also affected the conversion to Jewish culture through marriage. Earlier, it was considered that a woman was required to convert to Jewish on marrying a Jew. However, as time passed the tradition seem to change, and it was not compulsory for the woman to leave their tradition after getting married. A gentile woman would choose to remain in their culture, and the children would also adopt the mother’s culture[14]. The principle was contained in the rabbinic law; the law stipulated that the child of a Gentile mother and Jewish father was Gentile. On the other hand, the child of a Jewish mother and Gentile father was Jewish. Therefore, it meant that a woman could choose to convert to Judaism at their rights. Their religion was never dependent on their Jewish husbands, and their children would become Jewish after they converted.  However, the matrilineal principle was challenged in 1983. The policy was challenged by the Reform movement as it adopted Patrilineal Resolutions[15]. According to the new resolutions any child born to parents of different races, they would become Jews. It highlighted that the new status would be established after the children publicly manifest an active and independent Jewish identity. They could accomplish the manifestation by observing the commandments that commit the child and their parents to the Jewish religion. The new resolution also introduced new requirements for membership for children with Jewish mothers and Gentile fathers. 

Culture played a significant role in the changing of the boundary formation. For instance, the Gentile culture assimilated the Jewish cultures.  The Gentiles had their beliefs, and they chose to continue holding some of the beliefs and they incorporated them in the Jewish culture. For instance, according to the Gentiles their inner self-was more important than their physical self. Therefore, they believed that circumcision was not as much important as their belief in Jewish God[16].  Politics also played a vital part in the changing boundary formations. For instance, the Patrilineal Resolution was used for the Jewish.  For example, a father was not allowed to be a member of the Congress if their children were not Jewish. In this case, the children had to be converted into Jewish so as their father could be permitted to join the Congress. Such move would be considered as against the Jewish law, as it highlighted that all Jewish belonged to God no matter what. However, the new law seemed to contradict the law in such that it was perceived to emphasize that the Jewish could choose to believe in God[17]. The changes were also ethnically motivated in such that they aimed to break the Jewish law. For instance, previously, according to the Jewish law a man was perceived to be superior to the woman, and he was the only one allowed to go through circumcision. However, with time the boundaries between the statuses of the man started to change.


Initially, the Jews had created a boundary between themselves and other people both in mind and their actions. The Jews had their beliefs that defined them including the belief in one God. They believed in the worship of one God, unlike the Gentiles, who believed in various gods. The Jews also believed in circumcision as they perceived that it was a form of cleansing, and it was only performed on a male child. The Jews also believed in Sabbath day, and they considered it holy. Although, they had built a boundary Gentiles were free to cross the boundary. However, they were various traditions that they had to adopt. For instance, they had to alienate themselves from idolatry and embrace the worship of Jewish God. Circumcision was also paramount in the conversion process as it defined the Jews. However, as more Gentiles converted to Jewish, the boundaries started to change. The change was caused by various factors including culture, whereby, the gentile culture assimilated with the Jewish culture. For instance, the Gentiles believed that their inner belief was more vital than the physical belief and therefore, they opted to skip circumcision in the process of conversion. The change was also attributed to politics and also ethnicity.  For instance, there was the need to balance the status of the man and the woman in the society.

Work cited

Cohen, Shaye J. D. The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties.

Berkeley, Calif. [u.a.: Univ. of California Press, 1999. Print.

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