Thursday, January 26, 2012

What to Wear for Your First Beit Din Meeting

You've got your first meeting with the beit din (or the head of the beit din)! Yay! So what do you wear?

In general, you should dress very conservatively, even if it is not what you would wear on a daily basis. This is not dishonest, it is respectful. You would dress more formally to go to synagogue or a job interview, and this meeting is basically a combination of the two. Further, your dress, even if it is not "where you're at" right now, it shows that you know where the end goal is. And don't worry, they will ask you about your daily clothing choices, and you should be honest.

A separate point we've briefly mentioned before is relevant here: another consideration (a controversial one) is that the beit din will also be evaluating your "marriageability." That means try to look your best, rather than throwing on your muumuu or other frumpy clothing. I have a hunch this is true even if you are converting "with" a partner, unless you and that partner are already married. Marriageability isn't that significant of a factor, but it's part of the larger consideration of whether you will "fit in" in the community and be happy socially. Not finding a marriage partner is one of the major causes that will push an otherwise-successful convert off the derech. So it's an important issue to consider (and warn the conversion candidate about), though it is hard to define and the concept angers many people.

What does "conservative" translate to? Let's discuss it separately for each gender. Depending on the feel you get from your beit din, you may dress more casually for future meetings. 

Men: You'll have to forgive me, I'm not as "up" on men's clothing. Commenters are especially welcome to make additions to this. You don't necessarily have to wear a suit, but you should if you are planning to convert chareidi/yeshivish/chassidic. If you're going to wear a suit, go for black. Gray can work, but why bother when you almost certainly own a black suit? Stick with the simple, and try to wear neutral colors. Avoid bright red, even ties. If you want to dress more casually (and even in the most liberal of orthodox conversions, you should still consider wearing a suit since you would wear one to a job interview), dress business casual. You should at least wear dress pants and a collared shirt. Again, stick to neutral colors. You should not wear shorts or distracting clothing. Your shirt should be buttoned up or otherwise come to your collarbone. 

Women: You have more leeway to wear what would be considered more "casual." You also have an easier time in that there are firm rules to follow, which can decrease your anxiety about what to wear. (But if these rules are stricter than your community's interpretation of tznius, you may be annoyed. Too bad, get over it. Remember, what works in the club or hair salon doesn't work for a job interview either.) Your clothing should cover your elbows (not just reach the elbows), cover your knees even when sitting, and cover your collarbone. You should be wearing a skirt. An even more conservative idea to consider is to avoid a top that mimics cleavage, even if you're wearing a shirt under it. In other words, avoiding v-neck tops, even though you are fully covered. Some communities hold even the suggestion of cleavage is un-tznius. That's not true in most communities, but again, you need to dress very conservatively for these meetings. Most conversion candidates will be fine with such shirts so long as your are properly clothed otherwise. You should not wear bright red, but you may want to avoid other day-glo colors as well. Aim for neutrals, even though you do not need to wear blue, black, and white for most batei din. If you want to convert in a community that does believe tznius requires wearing only black, navy blue, and white/cream, then you should reflect that in your meetings. But for most people, that will not be the case. You should wear closed-toe shoes that also cover your heel. That is also stricter than many communities' standards, but you should be wearing the same in a job interview.

Headcoverings: Men should wear a kippah or other community-appropriate clothing. A baseball hat and many other hats are probably too casual to be your headcovering for this interview. Married women should cover their hair, following the standard of the community if possible. If you don't own a sheitel (wig) and that is the community standard, a hat should still be fine. But expect that other types of headcoverings may enter the conversation. 

Jewelry: Men who wear jewelry should wear it in traditionally-male ways and wear very conservative jewelry, if at all. You should likely remove ear piercings or other piercings. Necklaces should not be too noticeable. Cufflinks should be simple and tasteful. Beyond that, I can't think of male jewelry. Female jewelry should also be simple and tasteful. Unusual piercings should be removed. It is alright to wear "Jewish" jewelry such as a star of David. 

In general, you should dress in a way that would fully acceptable in your intended community. This will show that you understand what the community standard is and that you are prepared to live within it. This is one of the subtlest and most powerful ways you can show your research and what you know about the community. Just like in a job interview, your clothing can set the stage or serve as a distraction. Ideally, what you're wearing will seem so natural that they don't even register it. Don't let your clothing be distracting or a black mark against you. This is a place where it is important to remember how to pick your battles. Your beit din is not the appropriate group to fight with if you disagree with how your community (or others) interpret tznius. They did not set that standard; it is just their responsibility to ensure that you fit in to the community you claim you want to join. 


  1. What about cases where there's one (charedi) beit din for a city, but you're involved with one of the modern orthodox shuls? Whose standards do you follow?

  2. The beit din's. It's respectful. The beit din will understand you're attending a modern orthodox shul, and thus you probably dress differently in real life. If they have a problem with that, they will make it abundantly clear. And then you can reassess your options. But until then, you're on their turf. Don't make waves.

  3. We've been advised that, even if you (a male) do plan on converting in a Chassidic or Yeshivish movement, it's considered presumptuous to come to your first Beit Din meeting wearing a black hat. Similarly, we were told that men should avoid growing facial hair, such as a beard or peyot before the first meeting. Most Beitei Din seem to prefer a candidate be conservative, but not seem like they're wearing a "costume" of their community.

    Of course, the best person to advise anyone on what to wear, etc...would be their sponsoring Rabbi. Many will even specify what color tie or kippah a man should wear. Often, it seems like female candidates are more on their own, most likely because Rabbis are less familar with women's dress.

  4. Almost certainly own a black suit? You're right - you aren't up on men's clothing. Personally, I have never owned a black suit; and I suspect that is true for many of my non-Jewish friends or colleagues. I KNOW it is true for many of the guys I went to yeshiva with! Look at the lawyers you associate with - are they wearing black suits? Even the hot shot lawyers in 'Suits' don't wear black suits. I remember back in the late 80s or early 90s the NYT ran a feature on the items that every up-to-date man had to have. A black suit was not one of them. Black jeans? Check. Black dress boots? Check. Black suit? Nope.

    Overall, I think 'job interview with respectable, reputable firm' is a pretty good guideline. A beit din is an honored institution, and should be approached in that manner.

  5. Kochava, if one is converting RCA, how long are their classes and how many times a week?

  6. Rabbi Scher: Really, men don't own black suits? That's just silly. It seems to obvious that it's a good idea to own one, LOL...

    Anonymous: The RCA is just an umbrella organization that sets general policy and enforces it. Each regional beit din has their own policies about how candidates are trained. Some have a real "class," some encourage a local class but don't require it, some require tutoring with an assigned tutor but you choose the times and frequency together, some require tutoring you arrange on your own, and some people (like me) are self-taught and asked a lot of questions. My method is much longer and more haphazard, so I don't recommend it. Most formal classes and tutoring sessions are once a week for 1-2 hours. Regardless of classes or tutoring, you can always learn more on your own or with mentors to supplement your "formal" education.

    1. Women own black suits. Men own very dark gray or very dark navy. The subject came up when my husband and I were discussing bar mitzvah suits for our kid - my husband wasn't in favor of black as he has never owned a black one himself.