I, as a Pakistani Jew, would like to draw your kind attention towards those Pakistanis who intend to convert to Judaism, leaving the religion of their forefathers. Unfortunately, there are no synagogue(s) and no rabbi(s) here. What can be done? Can you advise or help those in this situation?
First of all, it is wonderful that you have shown such interest. Second, on the most basic level, I agree with my colleague that without a supporting community and a rabbinic court to authorize the conversion, conversion would be impossible. However, there may be solutions, depending on what you are willing to do and what intentions you have. Some of the learning could be done as distance learning, on-line, for instance. Yet, there would need to be some personal contact between a sponsoring rabbi and his students. Would travel a few times a year be possible? Also, is living Jewishly, according to tradition, feasible in Pakistan? Kosher food? Ability to provide Jewish education? A place for prayer and communal gathering? Would you. or the others, be willing to make Aliyah and move to Israel? Without more information I cannot be more specific. Thank you for your question.
Unfortunately, the Pakistani government being what it is, there is no geographically convenient assistance available to you. the best that I can do is to offer you my annotated introduction bibliography. After you have completed reading that, let me know, and I will see what is available to you in India.
1. Wanderings, by Chaim Potok. This probably the best one volume history of the development of Judaism. The author is not only a rabbinic scholar, but has also published several novels, three of which have been on the New York Time best seller list. Thus, it has both academic validity and readability. It does have one defect. In the earlier sections we find large lists of kings and other leaders. From the perspective of one who is concerned with religious thought and not historical minutia, these lists might prove intimidating. Therefore, ignore them, and enjoy the rest of the book. Unfortunately, this book is out of print, and therefore only available through libraries or by finding used copies on the Internet.
2. and 3. The Jewish Festivals, and The Lifetime of a Jew, by Hayyim Schauss. (Note that we cannot even agree on how to spell Chaim or Hayyim or however the individual chooses to transliterate his or her own name.) These two books are old, and suffer from using the Ashkenazi (eastern European) pronunciation instead of the Sephardi, which has become the world standard. For example, Schauss refers to the Sabbath as Shabbos, rather than Shabbat However, rather than providing mere cookbooks of ceremonies, the author provides insights as to their historical development, and relates different practices in many Jewish communities around the world.
4. Basic Judaism, by Milton Steinberg. Although this book has "basic" in its title, it uses considerable verbiage that is explained in the earlier books on this list. That is why you need to read them first. This book is a wonderful introduction to Jewish religious philosophy, explaining both traditionalist and modernist positions, without choosing either side.
5. Understanding the Hebrew Bible by Elliot Rabin. This excellent work is a companion volume to the Bible itself. It is clear and concise. As you go through chapter by chapter, you will gain insights to how the documents within the Bible came to be written, and understandings the many philosophies that it espouses.
6. As a Driven Leaf, by Milton Steinberg. This brilliant, history based novel tells the story of an apostate rabbi who lived during the first pre-Christian century. Not only is the book beautifully touching, but it will help you to develop an excellent understanding of the mentality of the rabbis who created the Talmud.
7. Celebration: The Book of Jewish Festivals, edited by Naomi Black. This "coffee table book" is so beautiful that I bought as a gift to myself. The holy day explanations are very basic, but that doesn't take away from the quality of this work at all. The photography is magnificent, and the recipes and ideas for observance are delightful. This is the aesthetic dessert to the above intellectual main meal.
8. The How to Handbook for Jewish Living, by Kerry M. Olitzky and Ronald H. Isaacs. This is a practical gem. It gives basic instructions for the beginner in Judaism. It extends from basic blessings to the details of holiday observance to prayers for special occasions.
9. We Jews and Jesus: Exploring Theological Differences for Mutual Understanding by Rabbi Samuel Sandmel, New Preface by Rabbi David Sandmel
Read book 1, then 2 and 3 or 3 and 2. Do not go to 4, 5, and 6 until you have read the first three. As you read, please feel more than welcome to write me with any questions or responses that you may have. The last three books are for reference.
All these books should be available through www.barnesandnoble.com and www.amazon.com.
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