The Jewish Community of Antioquia
April 28, 2016 7:03 PM   Subscribe

The Faithful. "René and Juan Carlos set out to convert their Colombian megachurch to Orthodox Judaism. This is what happened."
posted by zarq (27 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Jews of Bello are the best organized, but they are not the only group that has transitioned from Catholicism to evangelicalism to Judaism. There are at least 60 such communities at different stages of conversion in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Chile, and Bolivia. Even in Colombia, Bello is not unique. Thirty similar communities have emerged across the country. Some are just starting; others have been practicing for years.

This is so fascinating and crazy! I can't believe I've never heard this before. Thanks for posting!
posted by leesh at 7:32 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Great journalism. I'm really happy you posted this.

I'm Jewish and I feel somewhat ambivalent about this. It's pretty deeply ingrained in the communities I've been a part of that we're not supposed to encourage other people to become Jewish. But it sounds like nobody converted these people; they sincerely took it on themselves.
posted by escabeche at 7:49 PM on April 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


Man this is something I cannot understand. Like, people are just like, "Well, I thought THIS was the ineffable ultimate truth, but no, maybe THIS OTHER THING is the ultimate ineffable truth!"
posted by cmoj at 9:07 PM on April 28, 2016 [11 favorites]


I have two friends who ended up in Judaism, after respectively passing from Southern Baptist to Wiccan to Episcopalian to Reform, and Protestant to Catholic to Conservative. I don't quite get it either, but I wasn't raised in a religious household.
posted by tavella at 9:25 PM on April 28, 2016


As an atheist, it makes perfect sense to me that an adherent of a different Abrahamic religion would decide to adopt Judaism. I've always actually kind of been surprised that it doesn't appear to have happened more frequently in history.
posted by XMLicious at 10:28 PM on April 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm Jewish and I feel somewhat ambivalent about this. It's pretty deeply ingrained in the communities I've been a part of that we're not supposed to encourage other people to become Jewish. But it sounds like nobody converted these people; they sincerely took it on themselves.

Well, we shouldn't push people to be Jewish (because you shouldn't push people to be any religion), but we can certainly be encouraging. It's not the days of Constantine any more.

And if you like Judaism, it makes sense to support other people liking it, if they're interested.
posted by jb at 10:38 PM on April 28, 2016


Probably not much of a problem for Catholics, but wouldn't converting to Judaism require some men to have surgery? I suppose no-one would doubt your commitment.
posted by adept256 at 11:03 PM on April 28, 2016


Circumcision is mentioned in the OP article, men going to the surgeon's "in groups of 30". The rabbi who formally converted them "drew a drop of blood from the men’s circumcised penises to fulfill symbolically the Abrahamic covenant."
posted by XMLicious at 11:19 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


As an atheist, it makes perfect sense to me that an adherent of a different Abrahamic religion would decide to adopt Judaism. I've always actually kind of been surprised that it doesn't appear to have happened more frequently in history.

Christianity at least has explicit proscriptions regarding this - it's considered utterly regressive and heretical:
For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

Galations 2:18-19
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.
I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Galatians 5:1-4
So the movement of Iglesia Cristiana para la Familia away from Pentecostalism and toward Judaism proper is very much not on according to traditional Biblical Christianity. That's perhaps one reason this doesn't happen more often.

However, I often see within Pentecostalism the same disillusionment and discomfort with having to play a role. What that really stems from IMO is a focus on the emotional catharsis and outward "manifestations of the Spirit" (that Pentecostalism values too highly) at the expense of scholarship, service, and other good stuff. I have lots of friends who are roughly Pentecostal who have had leaders trying to physically push them over to fake being "slain in the Spirit", which is about as ridiculous as you think. For leaders, going around faking that kind of thing must be exhausting - no wonder a bunch of them spit the dummy.
posted by iffthen at 5:20 AM on April 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


I believe a Rabbi is specifically required to turn the convert away three times. I expect in most contemporary congregations that's mostly symbolic. Most conversions are spouses and there's a six month to a year of intro to judaism class. But other than the Habad sect evangelism is not part of the religion, and for that group it's only encouraging other jews to become more observant.
posted by sammyo at 5:53 AM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Man this is something I cannot understand. Like, people are just like, "Well, I thought THIS was the ineffable ultimate truth, but no, maybe THIS OTHER THING is the ultimate ineffable truth!"

One of the interesting things about Judaism is there are very few "ultimate ineffable truths" built into the religion. You're supposed to question what you're being taught and why, not follow the religion in blind faith. In addition, Judaism is not hierarchical, which allows for greater autonomy. See "A Tradition of Questioning Tradition" for more.
Inasmuch as the retreat threw into relief the Jewish openness to questioning, it also highlighted a number of areas that posed difficulties for many of the Jewish participants. It was impressive to see the Catholic educators’ fluency in speaking about their “faith” and its meaning in their work. When asked, “How does your faith inform your teaching?” many described themselves as “experiencing God’s love, being grateful for the gifts God has given me and wanting to share those gifts with others.” That these formulations were heartfelt, widely shared and readily accessible indicated habits of mind and heart springing from a very different religious experience.

In contrast, the Jewish educators found the question itself hard to comprehend. “What do you mean by faith?” came the initial response. This term doesn’t translate smoothly between the two traditions. It could mean “trust in God,” or the idea that God will take care of things, or the belief that God exists. And all this talk of God then raises the question, “God as defined by whom?”

The very concept of faith was sufficiently perplexing for some participants to begin calling it “the f-word” by midretreat. The questions came freely, but the answers were more elusive. Rather than speaking about faith and God as the source of their inspiration, these Jewish educators identified their feelings of belonging to the Jewish people, their connections to Jewish tradition as wellsprings for their work. So they could speak about aspects of their Jewishness that were meaningful and motivating for them, but the talk about faith and God was more problematic.

posted by zarq at 6:14 AM on April 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


Fascinating article! And I see that messianic Judaism (Christians who observe Torah) played a role in Juan Carlos' conversion to ordinary Judaism. There's a great essay by Paul Spinrad about that particular movement that's worth your time to read. One big takeaway from that piece that applies here is that, as Christianity continues to distance itself from anti-Semitism, you may see more interest among Christians in embracing the Jewish underpinnings of their faith. Some of that may be cynical -- in the US at least, at lot of evangelical love for Israel is rooted in a belief that its existence is setting the stage for the End Times -- but a lot of it comes from no longer viewing Judaism as something inferior, as the old way that Christianity has superseded (see: Supersessionism).
posted by Cash4Lead at 6:19 AM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Evangelicals first getting into Messianic Judaism and then a smaller subset then getting into actual Judaism is a definite trend here in the US as well. Not a huge trend, but not unheard of. I think for people searching for a purity of religious observance above all other things (above theology even), it's attractive. Judaism is OG monotheism, the first, and thus the most "pure".

In sort of casually following the internet presences of a few woo-woo sovereign citizen anti-vax fundamentalists, there's quite a bit of fetishizing of Judaism and full-on Messianic Judaism in that crowd.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:47 AM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Fascinating story. A trip to Israel, to "walk where Jesus walked", is the ultimate religious vacation for a lot of Pentecostals and other fundamentalists. It's the one holiday that you're allowed to talk about from the pulpit. (Double points if you tie it to the End Times, as Cash4Lead points out.) I guess that's been the case since at least since the First Crusade, and probably earlier, hasn't it? But this is the first time I've heard of someone going on the trip and then converting to Judaism, though there must obviously be many who do so.

What I found most interesting, though, was the reaction of his parents. They were horrified when he became a Pentecostal pastor. When he converted to Judaism, they thought, "Finally, something serious." I wonder if that played a larger part than the author or the family realized. It might be obvious to a lot of people, but I didn't realize how powerful a parent's attitude was until I watched a documentary on kids who joined the army after 9/11; the ultimate fate of each kid (stay in with determination and enthusiasm, drop out, hang on with ambivalent feelings) could be directly predicted by their parents' reactions when they joined. I wonder how much of his own soul-searching was, beyond feeling bad about losing all his Dad's money, subconsciously not being satisfied with himself until he had found his way to something his parents approved of.

I'm curious, zarq: Would Orthodox Jews be more likely to think in terms of "faith"? Could that be a reason that Orthodoxy would be a more attractive home for converts from Pentecostalism?

And proving your worth as a new convert by becoming as observant and orthodox and knowledgeable as possible is also such a new-convert thing - to the point of looking down (defensively, sometimes) on the people who were born into a religion and are ho-hum about it.
“Let’s get one of their children together with Baruj,” he said, “and ask him about the parsha” — the Torah portion — “of the week, about Jewish laws, and mitzvahs. Let’s see who knows more, and then let them tell me my son is not Jewish.”
That reminds me so much of the new-convert Amish (previously) who felt like they were never quite accepted as fully Amish and who were simultaneously disappointed to learn that the Amish weren't as pure and holy and dedicated as they had imagined.
posted by clawsoon at 6:56 AM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Well, we shouldn't push people to be Jewish (because you shouldn't push people to be any religion), but we can certainly be encouraging. It's not the days of Constantine any more.

Constantine didn't push. With the Edict of Milan, he merely legalized the theretofore proscribed faith of Christianity. Theodosius I made it the official Roman religion. Good bye Vestal Virgins.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:30 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm curious, zarq: Would Orthodox Jews be more likely to think in terms of "faith"?

I've never been Orthodox, so I can't say from experience.

There are a few Orthodox Jews on MeFi who could probably answer your question well, but today is the 7th day of Passover, the Shevi’i Shel Pesach, which is considered its own holiday within the holiday. On this day Jews aren't supposed to engage in "creative labor." It's a day to reflect on the previous six days of Passover, among other things. Tomorrow is the last day of Passover and Shabbat, so Jews who observe the shomer tradition aren't supposed to work.

In practical terms, what all of that means is that some Orthodox Jewish Mefites may not be browsing or commenting on MeFi until Sunday. It also means that I'm obviously not following any of those traditions. :)

Anyway, my impression from Orthodox friends and relatives is that they tend to focus on drilling deeply into texts and practical concepts, rather than on a sense of immanence. I think Christianity focuses on immanence in everyday life to a much greater degree than Judaism. Also, Orthodox Jews may question some of the basic tenets of our religion -- such as say, G-d exists -- but I suspect that's to a lesser degree than members of other sects. So maybe in that sense they have more faith.

That's all guesswork though, and my convoluted way of saying, "I doubt it, but don't know for sure." :)

Could that be a reason that Orthodoxy would be a more attractive home for converts from Pentecostalism?

Maybe? I think there's a formality, structure and traditionalism to Orthodox Judaism that can be very appealing to those who look for that sort of thing.
posted by zarq at 8:04 AM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


What a great article, thanks for posting it!

> Man this is something I cannot understand. Like, people are just like, "Well, I thought THIS was the ineffable ultimate truth, but no, maybe THIS OTHER THING is the ultimate ineffable truth!"

Man it would really be great if we could skip the "religion is dum" derail this time around.

posted by languagehat at 8:49 AM on April 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm curious, zarq: Would Orthodox Jews be more likely to think in terms of "faith"?

Formerly Orthodox Jew here. No, they wouldn't. "Trust in God" is a bit of a thing as Zarq's quote alluded to, but faith isn't big. It's more about the rules and to a lesser extent feeling connected to God and/or community.
posted by callmejay at 9:09 AM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Man it would really be great if we could skip the "religion is dum" derail this time around.

It would. That said, I sorta want to summon atheists to this thread, because I really want to hear input like this from XMLicious. I appreciate it, because I'm not capable of having that sort of external viewpoint.

Also, I have a deleted comment that was certainly OT, but more problematically, could be offensive to Orthodox Jews here. Apologies if anyone was offended. Not my intent - more a no-filter moment that isn't helpful on MetaFilter. As way of penance, let me just say that Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed is one of the most intellectually stimulating things I've read on spiritual matters.
posted by iffthen at 9:09 AM on April 29, 2016


One of the interesting things about Judaism is there are very few "ultimate ineffable truths" built into the religion. You're supposed to question what you're being taught and why, not follow the religion in blind faith.

I understand this in a general sense about Judaism, but that's exactly what I don't understand. If you see that there is no "ultimate ineffable truth" then why join a particular club?
posted by cmoj at 9:37 AM on April 29, 2016


I'm curious, zarq: Would Orthodox Jews be more likely to think in terms of "faith"?

Formerly Orthodox Jew here. No, they wouldn't. "Trust in God" is a bit of a thing as Zarq's quote alluded to, but faith isn't big. It's more about the rules and to a lesser extent feeling connected to God and/or community.


There may be a split re faith between Haredi and Hassidic Orthodox communities. I was reading a memoir by Shulem Deen about being expelled from his hassidic community for his doubts about G-d - obviously, lack of faith was unacceptable in that community.

But mainstream Judaism does not normally stress faith, but (to borrow Christian language) works, aka how you live your life.

I understand this in a general sense about Judaism, but that's exactly what I don't understand. If you see that there is no "ultimate ineffable truth" then why join a particular club?

They serve terrific lunches!

Also: community, fulfilling the irrational desire for ritual, finding comfort in marking life stages and yearly seasons.
posted by jb at 9:50 AM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


By making being born to a Jew the default for becoming a Jew, Judaism inhibits the spread and establishment (though not necessarily the rise) of beliefs which are so destructive to the individuals and groups who hold them that they depend for their survival and persistence on recruiting outsiders.

I'm inclined to think this is the reason we haven't seen malignancy like the Crusades or ISIS from Jews, but the argument is very tricky to make.
posted by jamjam at 11:43 AM on April 29, 2016


I'm inclined to think this is the reason we haven't seen malignancy like the Crusades or ISIS from Jews, but the argument is very tricky to make.

As a historian, I am always extremely sceptical of any kind of generalisation like that, as I can so often think of counter examples. Who knows, but that historic lack of power is the only thing that kept Jews from systematically attacking other religions? When a Jewish warlord took power in Yemen in the 500s, he slaughtered the predominately Christian Ethiopian soldiers, burned the local church, and compelled other people to convert to Judaism.

And I can't see much to pick from I the far right extremes of Judaism, Islam or Christianity: they all look so much more like each other than like the moderates of any of the three.
posted by jb at 11:51 AM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


cmoj: I understand this in a general sense about Judaism, but that's exactly what I don't understand. If you see that there is no "ultimate ineffable truth" then why join a particular club?

I'm answering this because you asked, but with the disclaimer that I can't speak for anyone other than myself.

I have no interest in the proverbial answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. My feeling is that no religion can promise us that and those that do are lying. I'm too busy trying to live my life as a good, grounded, rounded and responsible person, a decent, loving husband and parent and a helpfully positive member of the communities I belong to. Those are my immediate priorities. Sometimes, Judaism helps me with that. Sometimes not. Do I believe in one or more gods? I don't know. I do things because they either make sense to me, out of respect for my wife's beliefs (or other obligations), or because they feel like the right thing to do -- and I try very hard not to impose any of that that on anyone.

Sorry. I know this probably isn't the answer you're looking for, and that it's more personal than abstract and informative.
posted by zarq at 12:03 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I read it as less of a search for a single ineffable truth as a search for an increasingly defined and orderly faith. Catholicism has a good deal of that, but it doesn't sound like either of them were terribly active Catholics so I thought of them as progressing from agnosticism to Pentecostalism.

I was disappointed that the wives' stories weren't told - they may not have been the leaders of the movement to the same degree as the men, but surely they've played a role in the movement, particularly Carol.
posted by Candleman at 12:11 PM on April 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


When a Jewish warlord took power in Yemen in the 500s, he slaughtered the predominately Christian Ethiopian soldiers, burned the local church, and compelled other people to convert to Judaism.

Just an FYI, the kingdom of Himyar had existed for a couple hundred years before that, and as a Jewish state for almost 150 years prior to Dhu Nawas' takeover, which was itself precipitated by an invasion of the same Christian state (Aksum), with whom there was a long-standing emnity. There's also a couple centuries' worth of various regional powers (namely the Eastern Roman Empire, aka the Byzantines, and the Sasanids) making power plays in both Yemen and Ethiopia that add context.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:57 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


What a fascinating article.

For what it's worth, Judaism must have been very much a proselytising religion before it was repressed by the Roman Empire. There's a sceptical discussion of actual numbers here (and in its comments) but we have several contemporary references to Jewish conversion in the days before it was repressed, e.g. in Matthew 23:15 Jesus complains that the "scribes and Pharisees" (i.e., his fellow Jews) are hypocrites because they "compass sea and land to make one proselyte [and] make him twofold more the child of hell than [themselves]". Similarly, in the Talmud Shabbat 31a/b Hillel's patience with potential converts is praised because it brought them "under the wings of the Divine Presence." So at that time conversion was seen as very much a good thing, even to the extent that (as those stories show) he would use rhetorical tricks to dismantle their objections.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:57 PM on April 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


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