Considering Conversion

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

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When You Think You're Ready

Here are some typical steps to take in order to convert to Judaism:

Find a rabbi. Some traditional rabbis may actively discourage potential converts by turning them away three times. This is a test of how sincere the would-be convert is in wishing to become Jewish. Other rabbis are more welcoming right from the initial contact.

Study. After finding a rabbi, there is a period of study to learn such matters as Jewish beliefs, rituals, and prayers. This study might involve working directly with a rabbi or study in a conversion or introduction-to-Judaism class.

Consider circumcision. Orthodox and Conservative rabbis require a male candidate for conversion to have a circumcision (or a symbolic one, if a circumcision has already been performed). Reform Judaism does not require a circumcision.

Immerse in a mikveh. Orthodox, Conservative, and some Reform rabbis require all candidates for conversion to go to a ritual bath called a mikveh. The candidate is immersed in water and says some prayers.

Appear before a beit din. The candidate for conversion appears before a beit din, or religious court, consisting of three learned people [usually at least one is a rabbi, and for Orthodox Jews, all three must be ritually observant] to see that all the steps of the conversion process have been done properly [and to question the candidate on motivations, knowledge, and intentions].

Choose a Hebrew name. Sometimes there is a public ceremony celebrating the conversion.

In looking for a rabbi, you can, in addition to just asking around or looking in the phone book, contact your local board of rabbis, Jewish Federation, Jewish Community Council, or Jewish Family Service for a suggestion. You can contact the various religious movements directly.

Conversion is a challenge, but almost all those who have gone through it describe it as exciting, as a time of real personal and spiritual growth, and as a time of intensified feelings of love and closeness to family.

Now it is your time to consider. The Jewish community stands ready to welcome you.

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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.