Working With Converts
Excerpts from the Reform Movement's Guidelines for Working with Prospective Converts
These excerpts from the "Guidelines for Rabbis Working with Prospective Gerim [Converts]" adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in June 2001, highlight the Reform Movement's understanding of the conversion process, including acceptable motivations for conversion, the acceptability of reaching out to a potential convert, and guidelines for the ritual of conversion. This article is excerpted with permission from the complete guidelines with an integral commentary and the section numbering is not in sequence because it is an excerpt. For details on the Reform Movement's understanding of kabbalat mitzvot, acceptance of commandments, click here.
1. Following an initial inquiry, an individual who seeks to explore the possibility of conversion, shall meet with a rabbi. The purpose of this initial meeting is for the rabbi to:
a) explore the religious and personal background of the prospective convert and to discuss that person’s motivation for wishing to explore conversion. It is important to bring out at this meeting the Jewish teachings concerning motivation. While an impending or existing marriage to a Jew is an understandable reason to begin the exploration of conversion, it is not a sufficient motivation for finalizing conversion. Prospective converts need to understand that only if they decide that they want to live their lives as Jews regardless of their marital status is a decision to pursue conversion appropriate and valid.
b) share with the prospective convert our joy at and encouragement of a decision to pursue the possibility of conversion. The Reform Movement, by its embracing of Reform Jewish outreach, has formally rejected the traditional practice of strongly discouraging prospective convert three times and formally endorsed the attitude of "joy and encouragement" as articulated in this paragraph. This does not mean, however, that some of the elements contained in the traditional approach--such as explaining the reality of contemporary anti-Semitism, exploring the difficulty of living a meaningful Jewish life in a non-Jewish environment, and the like--should not be included in conversations with prospective throughout their exploration of whether or not to become part of the Jewish people.
c) inform the prospective convert that any partner or prospective partner will be required to participate in all of the appropriate components of the process of exploring conversion. A lack of willingness on the part of the partner in a relationship to participate in the process of exploring ought to be seen as a warning of potential problems in any commitment to Judaism in the home. In addition, since home observance should always be negotiated between the partners, it is far better for both partners to be part of the preparation process…