Thursday, December 30, 2010

UPDATED Convert Questions: What Is the Ideal Conversion Process?

Disclaimer: This is my idea of the ideal process. Others may feel differently. Regardless, no matter which advice you take, most converts wait far too long to begin getting involved in their local orthodox community and with the prospective beit din out of shyness and/or fear.

What should the orthodox conversion process look like? What are the steps? What is the timeline?

Let's begin with the hardest question to answer: the timeline. It will almost certainly not be less than a year. It will likely be at least two years, but may be more, depending on your personal progress (or the progress of a significant other).

The process (which will include the steps):
  • Read/research. 
  • Visit synagogues. ALL of the ones available to you. Even if that means more than one from a particular movement. Get a feel for them.
  • Decide you would like to be orthodox (since I'm presuming we're talking about orthodox conversion). Articulate why that is, but your reasons will likely change over time and as you learn more. And be prepared to articulate why you did not choose one of the other movements (or even another orthodox subgroup!).
  • Talk to a rabbi. Even better, talk to several rabbis from different groups/movements! Even if you haven't taken a single step in observance, it would be best to begin the conversation and begin getting to know a rabbi and learn about the resources in your community. Us converts can tend to be isolationists, and this is not what Judaism is about!
  • Begin taking on mitzvot. Keep track of your progress. Write down every milestone you can think of and the date: taking on a new observance, as well as refining those observances.
  • Start taking classes in the community or online. Read/research some more. You may want to engage a private tutor.
  • Keep talking to the rabbi. 
  • Arrange to spend a "real" Shabbat with a family. Not a single person or couple (though do that later!). You should see a real, full orthodox family so that you can see if that's what you want your future to look like. 
  • Develop relationships with members of your community or Jews in other communities you visit. If you don't like Jews, you can't like Judaism. You will be surprised how quickly your relationship with the entire Jewish people will begin to resemble one big, loving, raucous family!
  • Remember a few things: (1) that you will meet Jews who do not follow halacha. (2) that people will think the same thing about you. (3) that people say stupid, hurtful things sometimes. And most importantly, (4) someone else's problem is just that: his/her problem. Not yours.
  • Decide how you want to describe yourself to people. Are you a "conversion candidate," "Jew in training," or something else? What information are you comfortable sharing with complete strangers? Make up stock answers that you can use at a moment's notice.
  • Set up a meeting with a representative of your desired beit din. Some beit dins require that your rabbi must be the one to initiate the process. You do not have to be fully observant at this point, but please at least begin working towards observance so that you can show you understand what you're undertaking. Remember the difference: no observance necessary to start talking to your community rabbi, but you should be at least be working towards observance before meeting your beit din. However, your rabbi may advise you differently, and you should follow that advice.
  • Begin following the process your beit din has designed. Some parts will be standard, but the overall process will be individual and based on your weaknesses and needs.
  • You will likely begin studying with a private tutor, as well as your community rabbi.
  • Become fully observant. Your beit din may place some limits on your observance.
  • Refine your observance, continually learning more.
  • Men get (re-)circumcised.
  • Go to the beit din.
  • Go to the mikvah.

The take away? Don't wait so long to talk to your potential beit din. You don't need to be fully observant to show your dedication. In fact, things will probably be much easier if you're growing in observance in conjunction with your beit din! There will be no need to un-learn things, and you'll know that there aren't holes in your knowledge! It seems like conversions take much longer when we become fully observant before beginning to work with a beit din. It's almost as though they all have a minimal period, and if you're already fully observant when you begin, you still have to wait all that time.


  1. As recently as 10 years ago 1 full Jewish year was pretty typical for how long a conversion took. The London Beit Din even back then took a long time, but other than through them more than 2 years was noteworthy.

    You may find in some O communities there is reluctance to let pre-converts attend public shiurim.

    I'd add to this list - get out and about! You may think you want to be Charedi, but try to spend a Shabbat in Riverdale, or with a Chabad family somewhere, or attend Purim with a Sephardic community.

    1 caution - Judaism really doesn't need people who love Judaism but hate Jews. If you think that your relationship with Hashem is all that matters and you don't need a community, you're trying to join the wrong religion. And given that you have to associate with people prepare to be disappointed. Yes, Ploni can be disrespectful when talking about rabbis, and Shlomo can sound bigoted, and Plonit is absolutely sure that the way she learned things is the only valid way, despite what your rabbi says, and Shira may cover her head but not her hair. These people are going to be your family, and as they say, you can choose your friends but not your relatives. If the flaws of Jews are going to sour you on Judaism, find out before you convert.

    1. Actually people's bad behavior hadn't soured me on Judaism but over time it has soured me on the so-so-called community. The fact is that it's not always possible to tell how people really are, especially when you're in the process of conversion. One reason is you have less access to the intimacy of the community as a potential convert. Another reason is that people are more on guard sometimes in front of people converting but once your are in,nthey let their true colors show. Yet another reason us that you don't always have access to multiple communities and that can't be a reason to not convert, just because you live in an area with only one sinagogurn etc. It's just not a realistic demand.

      When I started out? people were MUCH nicer to me and gave me a false sense of security. When the honeymoon was over, the letdown was a major blow. Now things are more miserable than I can imagine and there just isn't a good fit for a community anywhere I have ever been and that's a LOT of places!

      Many born Jews place some really ridiculous, unnunnecessary, potentially harmful and even chutzpahdik demands and requirements on potential converts and even those who have salready converted.

      One thing people seem to NEVER mention is that a person may start out one way with conversion and evolve religiously in an unexpected direction. What them it happened to me. After a major hashkafic shift, I no longer identify with the Orthodox movement and community. They. hardly ever identified with me anyway! Now, I'm just a Sephardic Jew who believes in halakhic living but FAR from Orthodoxy. Unfortunately most can't tell the difference and don't even know the history of Orthodoxy or that there was NEVER such a concept in Jewish history before Reform much less in the Sephardic world. It's not easy. I find most Orthodox communities full if misbehaved, rude and or unwelcoming people with some notable exemptions. If you ask any religious Jew of color with experience in more than one community, most can comment on this topic. I'm really tired if the way many religious Jews treat Jews of color and converts ( many Jews if color are neither converts nor Ethiopian, don't get it twisted!).

      I was happy in the beginning... not so much now. I stay away from the community because I refuse to be mistreated and because the new trend is to reject as "Jewish with an asterisk" all non-RCA Orthodox converts even with perfectly halakhic conversions.

  2. Thank you for those points! I've updated the post with your ideas in mind.

    However, I have never heard of reluctance to allowing conversion candidates attend shiurim! I know there are issues about teaching non-Jews certain things, but when a public lecture is involved... It seems like it would have to be aimed at a pre-convert on an individual level because how else would they know that person's status?