In the "Guidelines for Rabbis Working with Prospective Gerim [Converts]" adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in June 2001, the section on "readiness" specifies the commitments required of a convert to Reform Judaism. Whereas traditional Judaism’s requirement of kabbalat ol hamitzvot, acceptance of the yoke of the commandments, suggests a broad commitment to traditional halakhah, or Jewish law, the term kabbalat mitzvot, acceptance of commandments, used here suggests a commitment to a more limited set of laws and practices. This article is excerpted from the complete guidelines with an integral commentary.
Prior to completing the process of conversion, a rabbi should require that each prospective convert make commitments within each of the following areas. These commitments should be viewed as a demonstration of a dedication to kabbalat mitzvot within the context of the brit [covenant] between God and the Jewish people and as a starting point for increased Jewish involvement by the prospective convert.
The traditional formula for an individual’s acceptance of the system of Jewish observance–kabbalat ol hamitzvot–is no longer descriptive of Reform attitudes to Jewish life. This document proposes the substitution of the phrase kabbalat mitzvotas being more appropriate for our times. The phrase is open as to which specific injunctions constitute commandments and is thus descriptive of Reform attitudes to Jewish life. This list is not intended to be given to prospective converts at the outset of the process, nor is it to be used by the rabbi simply as criteria for conversion. Rather, it is intended to be used during the process of exploration as a guide for prospective converts and a means to open up further a discussion of and entrance into all areas of Jewish life.
1) An acknowledgment that the prospective convert is freely choosing to enter into the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people. The rabbi should make clear to converts that this is a lifetime commitment.
2) An acceptance of Judaism to the exclusion of all other faiths and practices in his/her life.
a) Klal Yisrael: sharing in the fate and faith of the Jewish people. The term as it is used here is intended to refer to a commitment to the support of Jewish communities around the world, particularly the local community in which the prospective convert lives.
b) Home and synagogue observance of Shabbat [Sabbath], chagim [Jewish holidays], and Yamim Noraim [high holidays].
c) Creation and maintenance of a Jewish home. The creation of a Jewish home should be understood to mean the presence of items such as Jewish books, Jewish music, Jewish art, a tzedakah box [for charitable donations], and mezuzah, as well as adopting Jewish practices that may include kriat shema [reciting of the Shema prayer] and the recitation of hamotzi [blessing over the bread] and birkat hamazon [grace after eating] at meals.
d) Tzedakah and tikkun olam [commitments to doing justice and repairing the world] and gemilut chasadim [acts of lovingkindness].
e) Some element of Jewish dietary discipline. The commitment to some element of Jewish dietary discipline should be understood both as a commitment to the observance itself and as a spur to a further discussion of the role of diet in Jewish life. The minimum expectation in this area is fasting on Yom Kippur, eating matza [unleavened bread] at seder, and abstaining from chametz [leavened products] during Pesach [Passover]. These expectations do not represent an attempt to establish new halakhic [Jewish legal] categories for Reform Jewish observance, but reflect well-established Reform practice. In addition, elements of social justice, such as tzaar baalei chayim [the pain of living things] and oshek [not exploiting workers], should also be considered in this area.
f) Personal and communal tefilah [prayer], on a regular basis.
g) Continued talmud torah [Jewish study].
h) Affiliation with a synagogue. This should be seen as including not only affiliation, but active involvement and participation in the life of a synagogue community.
i) Marriage to a Jew (if not currently married). Gay and lesbian converts are similarly expected to enter into sanctified relationships with a Jewish partner.
j) Raising future children as Jews. This should be seen as including such things as the celebration of appropriate lifecycle events in the life of the children, enrolling them in available synagogue education programs, and supporting their participation in such programs through confirmation.
k) Medinat Yisrael [the State of Israel]. This can best be explored through the words of "Reform Judaism and Zionism: A Centenary Perspective," adopted by the CCAR in Miami in June 1997, "Even as Medinat Yisrael serves uniquely as the spiritual and cultural focal point of world Jewry, Israeli and diaspora Jewry are interdependent, responsible for one another, and partners in the shaping of Jewish destiny."
Pronounced: shuh-MAH or SHMAH, Alternate Spellings: Sh’ma, Shma, Origin: Hebrew, the central prayer of Judaism, proclaiming God is one.