Friday, February 11, 2011

Conversion is Expensive, Part II

In continuation of a previous post (Reason #84 You Know You're Crazy: Orthodox Conversion is EXPENSIVE!), here is the second edition of a possibly-indefinite series of posts warning you how horribly expensive orthodox conversion is (not "can be," IS).

I had meeting #2 with the beit din, and here is a breakdown of all the expenses I remember just to get to that meeting. (It doesn't include stuffing my face in every kosher restaurant I could see!)


  • Flight, $120. I saved $40 to use a different airport, and I will never fly into it again!
  • Shuttle from boondocks airport to civilization, $45 (the alternative was 3 hours on public transportation to go 31 miles)
  • Dog boarding for one night, $56
  • Airport parking, $27
  • Caffeine to keep me awake, $15
  • Work hours missed (aka, income not earned), $150
  • Two school classes missed, one of them being a class that only allows one absence per semester
  • An all-nighter in a desolate, scary airport that was ripe for a zombie invasion (Literally didn't see even a security guard for the first two hours! Super creepy!)

Money Saved:

  • I saved a bunch of time and money set aside for public transportation because of several people (both old friends and those met that day!) who were kind enough to offer me rides. I originally estimated that 8-9 hours of my 21 hour trip would be spent on city buses!
  • Staying in the airport saved me $75 in hotel and shuttle costs. However, it cost me a small part of my sanity. (I had several generous offers to sleep on couches, but a shuttle would still have to pick me up at 3:30am and cost another $45.) I'm a very adventurous traveler who has slept in airports several times before, yet I don't think I'd recommend this for anyone after a beit din. It's way too much sleep-deprived time to overanalyze everything that just happened. 

TOTAL: $413 plus a significant loss of sanity, sleep, and school time. All money that was set aside to help me to move to that new community, sigh. Remember that with application fees and other things, my first meeting cost me approximately $1,000, plus a couple hundred more on books. Since that time, I've spend another couple hundred on non-conversion-related Jewish books because I ran into some great sales on book sets.

And what was the result? 20 minutes with three rabbis and being told to call back to set up another meeting once I actually move to the new community (aka fulfill the Acceptable Community Requirement). From my perspective, it was effectively a repeat of my initial interview, though I'm sure they had other goals in that meeting. Being uber-rational, I'd be much more content to wait if I knew the reasons instead of being left to my own speculation. (I was later advised to be more assertive and ask about the things I'd like to know. Ironically, it's what I tell my customers at work every single day: "It never hurts to ask. The worst the judge can say is no." I was terrified that any question like that would open up another "discouragement" opportunity, and I was pretty tired of attempted discouragement at that point.)

Because of high demand for this beit din's appointments, that means no meeting until at least a month, maybe two, after I call to request an appointment. So...June or July. To quote someone familiar with my beit din, I'm in the "pre-limbo limbo." In other words, I haven't even started my conversion process. Le sigh. Back to the books and self-teaching. I'm pretty sick of books, ya know? After seven years with books and the internet as my primary teacher, I'm ready to deal with a real person! ("Real" teachers and rabbis are generally hesitant about teaching a conversion candidate until given permission by the beit din working with the candidate.) Unfortunately, I'm told it'll be 6-9 months before I'm assigned a tutor. The explanations of the process in documents and in person left out all the parts of the process between the initial interview and getting a tutor, and that has made a frustrated Kochava! Those left out parts add up to a year or more of converting that I hadn't even considered. I had resigned myself to a certain process, and now I've discovered it's almost twice as long as I had originally prepared myself for.

My advice to you? Start working with a beit din as soon as you are even entertaining the thought of an orthodox conversion. Being already frum is going to give me no time advantage in the conversion process. I'm still looking at 2.5-3 years of conversion despite having almost a year of orthodox living behind me. And if they ask you to wait in a "holding pattern," don't do it! It's equivalent to the beit din putting you in the archives. Be assertive and ask to continue meeting, even if it means multiple flights to them. I'm angry at myself for not being more assertive last fall. It just seemed so reasonable at the time! And this is coming from a person who has been called "overly assertive" in normal life! Though not to "normal lawyer" standards :)

As an interesting side note, today (7 Adar) is the anniversary of Conversion 1.0. At the time, it seemed like a very auspicious day for a conversion!


  1. I thought I had it tough! All I need to meet the London Beth Din is the bus fare to Finchley.

    The 'community requirement' is on paper fine for me, as I'd just be moving a couple of miles up the road. However, I am confined to a certain not-very Jewish area for the next few months because I'm taking care of a family member.

    Therefore, I know the Beth Din would just say 'wait until you move' if we meet before I'm a freer person, like they did with you. So I made the decision to take it at a slower pace with the Beth Din. I don't know if its the best choice, but I can earn more and study this way in preparation for future needs. Its nice to have a pool of savings ready in order to purchase tefillin, classes, to cover kashering costs and the like. Like I said, my hands are tied anyway.

  2. I have a simila situation to John. I live all of 10 minutes from 'the community' but can't make that move for another couple of months for financial reasons. Luckily, the LBD have been very understanding and I have been studying for almost a year on the understanding I spend Chaggim/Shabbat in the community. Of course being not very far away means I can easily buy kosher food/restaurants/shiurim etc

    Current estimates look at being done by the end of this year, please Gd.

    It is a shame that you cannot study yet. Could the BD not let you work with a rebbetzin at all?

  3. Nope, not allowed to study with anyone. And my community's only shiurim are once a week, on a night I have mandatory school classes. The beit din is testing my dedication to stick it out. You know, since a year of being observant in the Jewish boondocks wasn't enough. But in the grand scheme of things, it's just a few months...assuming I don't actually have to wait a full year before they'll allow someone to study with me.

    But soon, I won't need plane tickets anymore! However, you still don't get any choice of the appointment date/time, from what I understand. You take what they give you.

  4. My wife had a terrible time with her Bet Din. Her rabbi made her supply the rabbis for her Beit Din. His assumption was that if you are living a Jewish life, then you should have a relationship with two rabbis (of adequate stature) to sign off on your conversion. Sadly, in the mega-shuls of the New York area, this is seldom the case. Took my wife 6 months of aggressive stalking, badgering, begging and pulling every personal connection to find the two rabbis. It sucks, but be patient...

    Our current rabbi, upon hearing the horror stories told my wife, "you had to prove yourself to the beit din, but now you are a member of the club, and you should demand that I earn your business as a congregant". You have no idea how great it was to hear that!

  5. I just got accepted to Sem which means I have a big expense ahead... about $700 plus flight. !! hehehe

  6. I dunno. For me, all of you are being taken advantage of. I appreciate that you have to be near an orthodox community to convert as an orthodox Jew. But the underlying feeling I get is that far too many Rabbis are asking all of you to jump through some pretty unreasonable hoops. It's appalling to me. To make someone spend money they usually can't afford to spend just to have a meeting where little takes place... that's just awful. I mainly feel for you all though because conversion of any kind isn't a small thing; and on the point of spirituality, your collective need to be closer to Hashem by pushing on with your conversion: the Beit Din should be doing everything possible to encourage and assist you with this, even if you can't be in the community. Let's face it, there are plenty of halachic Jews who will never be as frum or observant as you; I reckon they'd object to having to go through this process to ascertain their jewish status! It isn't a club - it's your spiritual present and future at stake. It makes me cross that you are having to pay in real terms to fulfill this, even if you are willing to do so to reach the finality of the journey to being Jewish.

    I really hope that you all settle down eventually and find a Judaism that is right for you.

    Best hugs,

    Clarissa Smid - yep, you guessed it: a Liberal Proselyte!

  7. Conversion to Judaism shouldn't be seen as dependent on money. Some just 'buy' their 'kosher conversion it seems. Yes, they still have to jump through hoops to prove their sincerity, but it appears to me to be speeded up somewhat according to would-be convert's financial status and social standing more than their Jewish moral/learning and sincerity base.

    Katy Uk

  8. Conversion to Judaism shouldn't be seen as dependent on money. Some just 'buy' their 'kosher conversion it seems. Yes, they still have to jump through hoops to prove their sincerity, but it appears to me to be speeded up somewhat according to would-be convert's financial status and social standing more than their Jewish moral/learning and sincerity base.

    Katy Uk