April 28, 2010
Conversion: How to get started
HOW TO GET STARTED
The first step is to join an Introduction to Judaism program or find a rabbi who will study with you. Programs usually consist of about 18 sessions and delve into a number of topics, including but not limited to Jewish history, rituals, Israel and core Jewish values.
Most programs will help you find a sponsoring rabbi, who will help you establish a connection with the Jewish community and become a “part of the rhythms of Jewish life,” said Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, who heads the Introduction to Judaism program at American Jewish University.
A good sponsoring rabbi will be able to address any concerns along the way as well as offer guidance after you have completed the course.
Conversion to Orthodoxy is a more difficult process. Besides an understanding of the history, culture and values of Judaism, applicants need to make a commitment to a whole new lifestyle, including adherence to a kosher diet.
At the conclusion of a program of study, a meeting is set up with a beit din.
The beit din is a court of three Jewish leaders, who will ask questions to determine whether the applicant:
For an Orthodox conversion, several meetings will be held with the beit din to analyze progress.
After the beit din authorizes the conversion, the first half of the process is complete.
Uncircumcised men have to be circumcised to convert. A man who has already been circumcised, however, goes through a hatafat dam brit, a ceremony conducted by a mohel, who uses a needle to draw a drop of blood.
Both men and women are expected to immerse in a mikveh, or ritual bath.
Artson says that children are treated like independent adults. The only difference is that children under the age of 13 don’t have to go through a program. Children do still have to enter the mikveh.
Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal rabbis will accept any conversion as valid, as will the State of Israel for citizenship. But Israel’s official religious authority has far stricter limits as to who is a Jew.
Orthodox rabbis will recognize only an Orthodox conversion.
Who to Contact
The Louis & Judith Miller Introduction to Judaism Program American Jewish University
Judaism by Choice
Rabbinical Council of California
Beth Din of Los Angeles
Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din of Southern California