Historically, have Jews ever forcibly converted other groups of people(s)?

I was talking with an old friend of mine (a bit of a history buff) about different periods of time when various populations of people were forcibly converted to other religions.

I noted that forcible conversions from two of the main three monotheistic religions, Islam and Christianity, had occured many times. However, forcible conversions by followers of Judaism were rare, if ever occurring at all.

He promptly began telling me of various events in Jewish history where groups of people spread across the middle east were converted forcibly. Now I’m no history buff so I couldn’t really cite him.

The only piece of information I can remember directly was something about a John Hyrcanus (sp.?) forcibly converting the Edomites. He did provide more details, but my memory is hazy and I wouldn’t really know much about it.

Now I had always thought that according to orthodox Judaism, if you are born Jewish, you are Jewish. Period. So I don’t understand why forcibly converting other populations would be accepted (strictly speaking) under Judaic law. It would make no sense, right?
So are there any documented examples in history where non-Jews were forcibly “converted” (if that can be used in a less strict sense) to Jews?

This write-up on Idumea (Edom) from the Catholic Encyclopedia seems to indicate that it was not so much a forcible conversion as a choice given the inhabitants of “get out or convert to Judaism” after the 109 BC conquest. (One of history’s great ironies is that Idumeans then became the rulers of Judea, in the person of Herod the Great and his sons.)

As has been brought up on SDMB in the past, one needs to distinguish between “ethnic Jews” – people of Jewish ancestry – and “practicing Jews” – people who hold to the tenets of Judaism as a religion.

While Judaism is not usually a proselytizing religion, it does accept converts who have come to hold its beliefs, regardless of ethnicity. (Think of Sammy Davis Jr. as a good example of this.)

Exactly what may have happened in terms of religious belief during the period when the armies of Israel were conquering neighbors – if indeed the accounts in I and II Kings are historically accurate – is purely speculative. And in general and with a few exceptions, there have not been any Jewish or predominatly Jewish states to do any conquering or forcible conversions between the establishment of Roman protectorate over Judea in the late 1st Century BC and 1948.

In addition to the Idumeans mentioned by Polycarp ( and shortly thereafter the Itureans ), at least one of the Himyarite kings in Yemen made an attempt at a forcible conversion as well.

  • Tamerlane