Sunday, May 13, 2018

What Happens at Your First Beit Din Meeting?

Before jumping into the meat of the matter, there's a big question: are you actually meeting with "the beit din" or just the representative of the beit din?

If this is your first meeting, you will almost certainly only meet with one person, the Av Beit Din most likely. And this is what we're going to assume for the purposes of this post. If you meet the full beit din, a first meeting will still look largely like this. You just get the questions from a panel of people instead of one person. (And you'll probably revisit some or all of these questions the first time you meet the full beit din too, especially the background, current situation, and motivation questions.)

You'll probably cover some pretty obvious topics:
  • Your history (general life history)
  • Your current life (schooling, work, living circumstances, maybe romantic relationships, maybe a general discussion about finances and the recognition that orthodoxy can create significant financial/professional demands)
  • Your plans for the future (especially careers and whether they're orthodox-friendly)
  • Why you want to convert
  • Your family situation (how do they feel about this?)
  • Why orthodoxy/this community
  • Where you are religiously (this may include some basic questions)
You should hopefully also get information back from the Av Beit Din:
  • How they run their process
  • Financial expectations (fees, etc)
  • Who will be your contact person
  • When/how often you should be in touch
  • When/how often you should expect to meet
  • What they expect from you
  • Maybe a rough timeline, but don't bet on it and any given will probably be very conservative and feel discouraging
Consider taking notes, because many of us forget everything once we leave the room. The adrenaline wears off, and all we can think is, "wait, what did he say about X?" or "did I remember to ask about Y?"


Ask any questions you're concerned about. Don't be afraid that they're dumb questions or that you'll look dumb for asking. I guarantee they've heard almost everything. "How fast do I need to be able to read Hebrew?" is an excellent question that most people are too afraid to ask. You may be surprised at how low that bar is, which is really comforting for us slow Hebrew readers (I don't know of any beit din that requires reading with comprehension, just being able to pronounce the words from a siddur). Likewise, if you have a learning disability that affects your ability to learn to read Hebrew, talk about it. They might know something or someone who can help. Learning disabilities are common within our dayschools too! They might know something helpful.

If you have any particular concerns, please ask. Common questions include (but are not limited to):

  • How do I cook food at my family's house? Visit them over Shabbat?
  • Can I observe Shabbat fully? (Despite what some people will tell you, this is actually a complicated question that requires a ruling from your rabbi.)
  • How close do I need to live to my synagogue? (The closer you are, generally the more expensive housing is.)
  • What should I do about a specific situation at school/work/with family?
  • Will I still be able to do X (particular sport, hobby, job)?
  • Can I keep my pet? (Please do - you can!!)
  • Can I convert here or will I need to move to another Jewish community?

Before you leave, ask what the next step is. Ask this explicitly and be sure you understand the answer. Ask any follow-up questions you need to understand his answer. If he only gives a vague answer (very common), press for more detail. What can I do between now and our next meeting? Where do you think I should focus? Do you know someone/something that could help me with Z?

Ask who you should contact with follow-up questions and how you should contact them. Do not leave without this information! You will kick yourself later.


  1. Hi, you don't know me, but something I've been wondering lately: is my plan to get a PhD in (secular) biblical studies not orthodox friendly, since I'm a woman? I understand it's not recommended for women in haredi communities, but I'm not about centrist or modern orthodox communities?

    1. I know women who've done it and are doing it. Is it common/acceptable? Hard to say when we're working with such small numbers of people drawn to this work. And the people drawn to such work are often "out of the box" already. I don't know where she holds hashkafically, but an online friend is a specialist in Bible the apocalypse. SHE HAS THE COOLEST SPECIALTY. In some ways, people might be more willing to accept such a specialty if it were actually the study of another religion, Christianity in this case. You might also want to look into the scholars involved in publishing The Jewish Annotated New Testament ( I've had great luck emailing questions to scholars whose books I read.

      Personally, yes, I'd say it's orthodox friendly and would be viewed differently than, say, a degree from JTS (though that's also becoming more popular now among women who want a higher education in Jewish texts). Will you get weird looks? Yes, but maybe less than you'd expect, and probably about as many as if you were a man doing the same thing. If you're converting, what would a beit din think? Hard to say. Some rabbis I know would probably laugh (in the good way). Women in academia need thick skins just as much as conversion candidates do, so I'd continue doing what you're doing and cross bridges as you get to them.

    2. Thanks for your reply and the advice. It's good to know that my area of study (probably) won't be too big of an issue. The apocalypse sounds like an absolutely fascinating focus area. I'm more drawn to studying ethics (perhaps it's the hours of absorbing Jewish texts over different ethical rules).
      Your blog is awesome!