June 1, 2006
So, You Want to Convert…
The pluralistic Sandra Caplan Bet Din provides answers to frequently asked questions:
I'm interested in converting to Judaism. What is the process?
• Study. Attend an introduction to Judaism course and/or learn with your (sponsoring) rabbi.
• Connect with a rabbi who is willing to serve as your sponsoring rabbi.
• Meet with the beit din and discuss your wish to become Jewish.
• Immerse yourself in a kosher mikvah (ritual bath). For males only, fulfill the mitzvah of milah (ritual circumcision).
What is a beit din?
A beit din for conversion is a kind of court made up of three committed Jewish leaders. Here, one of the rabbis will be your sponsoring rabbi. The community beit din will authorize your conversion to Judaism.
What do we talk about with the beit din?
Meeting with the community beit din is an opportunity for you to discuss your decision to become a Jew with three welcoming rabbis. They want to be sure that you are converting freely and that you understand what living as a Jew means.
Can the beit din reject me?
Technically speaking, yes, but it rarely happens. Your sponsoring rabbi will meet with other rabbis briefly before they meet with you and will tell them about your journey toward Judaism. The other rabbis will rely heavily on your rabbi's recommendation.
After the beit din, what happens next?
The next step is to immerse in a ritual pool of "living water" called a mikvah.
I'm a man. What does milah involve?
Men and boys are able to join the covenant of the Jews with God in a special way through ritual circumcision. Jewish male babies are circumcised eight days after birth, health permitting. In this way, Jewish people follow the ancient holy commandment given to Abraham when he became the first Jew.
I was circumcised when I was a baby. What do I do?
There is a ceremony for you. It's is called hatafat dam brit. You meet with a trained specialist called a mohel, who is generally a medical doctor. He uses a tiny thin needle to take a minute drop of blood. Some men barely feel anything. Most experience a mild sting, like when a single hair is pulled from your head.
I am not circumcised. What can I do?
You will have to be circumcised to become Jewish, according to the process sanctioned by the Sandra Caplan Beit Din, which is widely accepted by all Jewish denominations except the Orthodox branch. Circumcision is performed by a mohel, which can take place under anesthetic in a medical office or hospital. Specific blessings are said. There may be some discomfort during recuperation. Most men and boys recover fully very quickly. Some Reform conversions do not require actual circumcision.
I have children. Can they be converted?
Yes. Children under the age of 13 may become Jewish according to Jewish tradition by entering the mikvah in the presence of the beit din. Children do not have a formal meeting with the beit din, but their parent(s) will meet with the beit din before the child(ren)'s immersion.
Will my children be Jewish if I converted before they were born?
Will American rabbis accept my conversion as valid?
Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform rabbis will accept you. At this time, few Orthodox rabbis will accept any conversion other than the conversions they or their Orthodox rabbinic colleagues authorize.
Will my conversion be recognized as valid in Israel?
The Israeli government will recognize your conversion, and you will be accepted as a citizen if you wish to make aliyah. The official religious and rabbinic authority in Israel likely will not accept you as a Jew. The rapidly growing number of Conservative and Reform congregations will be delighted to welcome you in their midst.
CROSS-DENOMINATIONAL CONVERSIONS (except for Orthodox)
Beth Din of Los Angeles