Considering Conversion

A decision to convert to Judaism requires careful consideration and extensive self-examination.

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    1.        Judaism introduced the world to the idea that God is one, not many, and is kind, loving, and personal. In Judaism, you pray directly to God and can receive help, guidance, and understanding. You can pray on your own and with a prayer community in a Jewish congregation. Judaism accepts the idea of a covenant, or agreement, between God and the Jewish people.

    2.        Judaism doesn't accept the idea that people are born evil. Rather, people have free will to choose between right and wrong.

    3.        Judaism encourages religious freedom of thought. Judaism welcomes probing spiritual questions.

    4.        Judaism has, for 4,000 years, emphasized a strong sense of family and the value of a close community.

Experience Judaism as it is lived. Visit a Jewish congregation to sample a service or attend a Jewish ceremony, such as a Passover seder or a Sabbath meal. While ritual practices vary greatly among American Jews, all Jews have some rituals that, for example, celebrate the Jewish holidays and the Jewish family. If different sorts of Jewish institutions are near you, such as a Jewish bookstore, museum, YM-YWHA, community center, and so on, try to visit them.

Talk about your thoughts and feelings with your partner, your friends, and your family. It is important, for example, to discuss your feelings openly. It is common to experience some moments of doubt or fear of the unknown. It is also vital that you stay in touch with your birth family. Converting to Judaism does not mean you are abandoning your family, your friends, or your fond memories of past family life. When discussing conversion with your family, explain your reasons to them directly and tell them of your continuing love. Most families are supportive, often to the surprise of the person converting. Some families, however, do need reassurance and to have their questions answered patiently. There are also, sadly, some families, who see the conversion as an abandonment.

Talk to a rabbi. At some point in learning about Judaism, preferably as early as possible but especially as you get more serious about actually becoming Jewish, you should talk to a rabbi. As you study and learn about Judaism, you will read about different religious movements within Judaism. There are rabbis for each of these movements, so it is important to study and understand the differences among the various branches. For example, the Orthodox movement does not generally recognize conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis. Additionally, different movements may have different conversion requirements.

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Lawrence J. Epstein is the author of numerous books, including Conversion to Judaism: A Guidebook and Readings on Conversion to Judaism.