The Ten Commandments were given to the Jewish people in the Torah chapter of Yitro, and Jethro participated in this historic event along with them. The question of whether the population merely embraced the seven Noahide commandments at Sinai or had a conversion to Judaism has been disputed for a very long time. This subject is still very important now because of how Judaism has changed throughout the years, especially in light of how contemporary Jews view their identity and adhere to conversion practices.
In his analysis of the subject, Rabbi Enkin highlights the existence of two opposing theories regarding the nature of Sinai’s conversion. On the one hand, some hold that Jews were fully converted at Sinai—that they assumed all of the covenantal responsibilities contained in the Torah, including fulfilling other commandments, keeping Shabbat, and observing kashrut dietary rules. While non-Israelites present would have only accepted a lesser set of rules known as the Seven Noahide Laws, some academics contend that only those who were already of Israelite ancestry were actually “converted” at Sinai.
Whatever perspective is adopted, there is no denying that becoming a Jew is still a significant process in the modern Jewish world. Jews today still practice their religion through symbolic rituals like circumcision (for males) and mikveh, whether they do so through Reform Judaism, Orthodoxy, or any other denomination (ritual immersion). Additionally, fundamental tenets of Jewish law, such as prayer services, Torah studies, and other religious practices, must be learned and internalized by recent converts. Hence, modern Jews may agree that conversion still plays a crucial part in our community today even while arguments about what happened at Sinai thousands of years ago may still linger.
Understanding what happened during Revelation can be both enlightening and significant for many Jews throughout the world who are looking to go deeper into their spiritual path and find spiritual nourishment within Judaism’s teachings. And even though we’ll never know for sure what happened on that crucial day so many years ago, what counts most is how we choose to interpret it in our own lives today—and how we recognize its significance as a part of our shared identity as a People.