Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gift Ideas for a Conversion

You know someone who is about to complete or has recently completed a conversion. Very graciously, you want to give that person a gift. I don't think Miss Manners writes about which gifts are appropriate for this occasion, so we need to figure that out for ourselves. I will present my suggestions, but please feel free to add more in the comments!

The real concern is avoiding replication of items the new convert already owns. On the other hand, perhaps you can afford to give them a much nicer version! Alternatively, it could be an "extra" nicer item or themed item for holiday use. If you are used to buying wedding and bar/bat mitzvah gifts, basically all of those gifts would be appropriate. If the conversion occurs near a holiday, gifts related to that holiday are especially appropriate!

One last thought: "It is best to avoid religious gifts if you don't know what you're doing."

Non-mevushal wine (I'm a big fan of this as a gift because of the emotional validation)
Wine glasses
Wine charms 
Candlesticks (I suggest leaving this as a last resort)
Mezuzahs (Note that the person may already have more than enough)
Havdalah set
Hebrew-face clock
Kosher Lamp
Shabbat clock
Jewish-themed cookie cutters
Magnetic Shabbat message board
Israeli flag
Netilat Yadayim cup (and bowl?)
Challah board with knife
Challah cover
Nice kiddush cup
Kiddush set or fountain
Seder plate
Apple and honey dish
Salt thing for Shabbat (I've seen bowls and salt shakers that are Shabbat-themed)
Jewelry with Jewish themes
Jewish art
Jewish music (or a simply iTunes gift card!)
Services from you or someone else
  • Hebrew lessons
  • Yiddish lessons
  • Massage or spa services
  • Hair cuts (especially if you're near Lag B'Omer or a holiday!)
  • Pedicure/manicure
  • Babysitting
  • Spending quality time with you!
Judaica store/website gift cards/certificates
  • For women, gift certificates to tznius clothing stores/sites can be particularly nice! 
  • Gift card/certificates to kitchen stores for items that need to be replaced to make kitchen fully kosher (since everything will most likely have to be (re)kashered because it was owned by a non-Jew-the reasons are quite complicated). Some things may have to be totally replaced, such as the ceramic interior of a crockpot (which means a new crockpot, essentially).
  • Gift card for
Books, of course
  • Biography of a Jewish person
  • Book of teachings of a particular Jewish leader
  • Halacha books, but try not to overlap with their studies. Try books on the halacha of lashon hara, tzedakah, tefila, business ethics, medical ethics, chesed, or chinuch.
  • Cookbooks
  • Home-made cookbooks
Non-Jewish-specific Gifts
  • Money, money, money :D
  • Gift cards, gift certificates, some non-religious ones listed above
  • Collectible item that the person collects
  • Something else that would be meaningful to the convert
  • Cookbooks, published or home-made (But avoid ones like The Ultimate Shrimp Book!)
  • Jewelry
  • Kitchen specialty items, such as salad bowl sets or fruit bowls
  • Offer to go out for a meal at a nice kosher restaurant and spend quality time together!


  1. So after a conversion, the new jew needs to rekasher his/her entire kitchen? I thought that the boiling/torching process was for removing non-kosher essences, of sorts. So if the cookware of a non-jew is new or has never had anything non-kosher on it, maybe you can just tovel it?

  2. "everything must be rekashered because it was owned by a non-Jew" - with all due respect, this is not universally accepted.

    "Chacham Ovadia Yosef addresses this question in his work Yabi'a Omer (vol. 7, siman 8) and rules that a convert is not, in fact, required to immerse his utensils after conversion, and he bases this ruling on two arguments. Firstly, a famous Halachic principle states, "Ger She'nitgayer Ke'katan She'nolad Damei" – "A convert who converts is similar to a newborn child." The process of conversion is treated by Halacha as if the individual is reborn, such that all prior relationships with people and objects are annulled. Hence, from the standpoint of Halacha, a convert's possessions become legally ownerless – "Hefker" – as a result of his conversion. As such, when he returns home from his conversion, he takes possession of his utensils anew. Since the obligation to immerse utensils applies only to utensils acquired from a gentile, and not to utensils taken from "Hefker," a convert is not required to immerse his utensils after his conversion."

    "Chacham Ovadia then cites another argument in the name of the Avnei Neizer (classic work of responsa by Rabbi Avraham Borenstein of Sochatchov, Poland, 1839-1910), who posited a novel theory with regard to conversion. The conversion process consists of a number of stages, including the convert's immersion in a Mikveh. The Avnei Neizer contended that the convert's immersion of his body effectively functions as an act of immersion for all his possessions. Although only he immerses, his immersion suffices for all his belongings, as well. Therefore, a convert may use his utensils after conversion without immersing them, as they are considered to have been immersed along with him."

    Similarly, it does not seem reasonable that kosher kelim owned by a ger would need to be kashered if they already were previously kosher. Plenty of industrial kelim are owned by non-Jews and are considered kosher for OU certification.


  3. My wife and I know someone who is getting close to "the dunk". We were thinking about getting some people together for a gift certificate to the local Jewish bookstore, but some of these ideas are interesting alternatives.

  4. Where did you learn that a convert has to re-kasher his entire kitchen? I have never heard of anything like this, and it doesn't make much sense to me, since utensils like pots and plates aren't kosher or treyf depending on who owns them, but rather depending on what's cooked in them/served on them. As D pointed out above, there are plenty of kosher-certified food products that are prepared in factories owned and operated by non-Jews, so presumably the utensils within those factories are owned by non-Jews as well.
    My (very right-wing) bais din never said anything about this, so I'm really curious who you heard this from.

  5. Of course there are two opinions. This is Judaism! And today, no one wants to give a "lenient" opinion where conversion is concerned. It's easier to give the stricter opinion and know you're "right." Better safe than sorry and all that jazz.

    I will be required to kasher my kitchen immediately after conversion. This seems to be the overwhelming holding in the conversion world today. I suspect that it has become overwhelming in the last two or three years. Before that, I think rabbis were willing to hold differently. I think the majority of rabbis don't dare to hold differently today.

  6. I think the debate here is with semantics. It is not that a convert "must" rekasher everything, it's that a convert "may" have to rekasher everything. Whether it is commonplace in the last few years is irrelevant as long as the opinion exists otherwise. It's obviously good to have a chat with your rabbi about it before you convert, but I also had not heard of this up until, well, yesterday when we were talking about it. :P

  7. And when we were having this debate yesterday, I totally forgot that I had mentioned it in this post because I wrote it last week. To me, it has always been a fore-gone conclusion because until yesterday, I never met anyone who HADN'T been required to re-do the whole kitchen upon conversion.

  8. I and my girlfriend someone who is approaching the "slam dunk". We were thinking of getting some people with a gift certificate to the local Jewish bookstore, but some of these ideas are interesting alternatives.

  9. The magnetic shabbos message board just made my day. Getting one of those ASAP :D

  10. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    I was acting as a go-between for an American immigrant couple with a non-Ortho conversion who were set for an upgrade. Our local rabbi, who is well-respected in matters of kashrut, said they did not have to re-kasher their kitchen, but that the issue was "complicated". He's not known as lenient on important issues, but is a great pragmatist and extremely well-versed in practical issues.

    We got them some new pre-immersed pots and a Metsudah Tehillim, with the line-by-line translation.

    We had a young single girl whose mother had converted previously, and our community got together to buy her some sets of sefarim, since she was continuing studies at a women's seminary.

  11. When our friend was dunked, I made her some rugelach, and we gave her a certificate from the JNF stating a tree had been planted in Israel in her name. She told me she thought it was a really thoughtful gift!

    I'm not being told to rekosher my entire kitchen. Although my beit din was aware that we were strict vegetarians and no meat had ever touched anything we owned. That would be incredibly expensive otherwise...

  12. A good friend from college gave me a mezuzah, since she knew I was moving into a new place shortly after my conversion, as well as a hamsa, both of which I love. I put the mezuzah on my door the night I moved in, in fact, although I'm still looking for a good spot for the hamsa.

    A couple who helped mentor me at my shul gave me a really nice card and a tzedakah box, which I love. Neither of the gifts I received were necessary, but they were thoughtful and very much appreciated. Particularly in the case of my friend, who's Jewish but pretty secular, but has known me since I first started practicing (I think she was the one who first took me to Shabbat services, actually), it was a really nice way to bring things full circle, as it were. I also spent the first night of Pesach at her family's seder, which was awesome (not least because it was my first holiday post-conversion).

  13. A Jew taking ownership of something previously owned by a non-Jew is seperate from kashrut. Many traditions require one to tovel (or toivel if you're more Yiddish about it) the items in a mikveh kelim.

    If a person who is converting gets a new plastic spatulas (for example) for a newly-kashered kitchen and uses them properly thereafter for only kosher food, they would have to replace them? I have not heard of this as a requirement before.

    1. Originally posted: October 3, 2011 at 12:27 PM

      Anonymous, a total re-kashering regardless of whether an item was purchased pre- or post-kosher kitchen is held irrelevant by many rabbis, primarily the ones who don't normally make rulings on conversion issues. Many chareidi batei din rule this way, and my modern orthodox community rabbi answered a hypothetical question that way. I later discovered that my beit din does not require a total rekashering. However, many people will still be required to do so.

  14. It seems that some people are confusing toveling with koshering. When a person has converted, he may or may not have to tovel his items after conversion. This is debatable. However, koshering is a different process.
    Toveling = dipping a vessel in a mikveh that was obtained from a non-Jew.
    Koshering = cleaning the vessel in accordance with Halakha to remove unkosher tastes.

    It’s universally accepted that when a gentile is involved in the cooking process completely then the food is considered treif and this would require a rekoshering of the pots used in the process, regardless of if they had used completely kosher ingredients. That's why Jews must start the fire for their non-Jewish coworkers at a kosher restaurant. Therefore, post-conversion Jews would come back home to pots and pans that a gentile once cooked on (even if that gentile was his former non-jewish self). Thus, the need to rekosher the pans. The toveling part depends on the opinion you go with. The Opinion of Rav Yosef cited above is in regards to the toveling and not the rekoshering. If it was in regards to the koshering it would completely contradict the reasons why an observant, ready to convert gentile cannot serve his Jewish friends foods that he cooked himself.

    Rav Yosef says the pots are now under Jewish ownership so they don't need toveling. This psak has validity. However, just because a Jew is in possession of something, this doesn't mean that everything he owns is kosher. He still needs to rekosher even if holding by the opinion of Rav Yosef. There are exceptions to these rules. Don’t just throw out all the stuff that you feel you can’t rekosher. Consult your local orthodox rabbi because there are leniencies when it comes to heavy financial losses.
    My advice to people in the conversion process is to purchase only vessels you know you could easily rekosher. Buy all metal pans and silverware. Purchase glass plates and cutting boards if you are going with Sephardic customs (Sephardim hold that glass does not hold the taste of food, therefore it cannot become unkosher). Not too sure on Ashkenazic opinions towards glass, they seem to vary.

    1. I'm sorry, Anonymous, but I would posit that you have at least two major misunderstandings here as well. While food cooked solely by a non-Jew is treif, it does NOT treif the utensils automatically. When you're dealing with a housekeeper situation, the rabbis have presumed that the non-Jew may have prepared non-kosher items in the involved kitchen utensils, which is why there is automatic rekashering. However, for a conversion candidate who is knowledgeable of the laws of kashrut and follows those laws, the pots and pans aren't presumed to be treifed. The difference is in the motivation. Assuming they know the laws of kashrut, "regular" non-Jews don't have either A) the motivation to avoid treif ("It's a stupid rule") but also B) they don't have the motivation to tell the Jew that he or she made a mistake ("It doesn't matter, and she'll never know."). Conversion candidates have both motivations, so there is no need to presume unfavorably.

      This is an important issue because many conversion candidates live with Jews before conversion, either in a roommate or mentoring situation. And eventually, they'll have to prepare food for themselves. But at the end of the day, it comes down to how much the Jew trusts the non-Jew's knowledge of kashrut. If there is doubt whether the candidate really knows as much as he thinks he does, it's probably best to keep separate pots/pans and use glass dishes.

      As for toveling, my understanding is that every opinion requires a new convert to tovel anything tovelable that he owned prior to conversion. A non-Jew owned the goods, and now a Jew owns them. It's a very straightfoward application of the law. However, the debate comes in *how* the items are toveled. I know of at least three opinions: A) nothing has to be physically toveled because they are effectively toveled through the toveling of the conversion candidate (perhaps that was what Rav Yosef meant), B) the items are toveled but not with a bracha because the prior ruling makes it a doubtful bracha, and C) that everything must be toveled as normal and with a bracha when required.

      I suggest you take a peek at one of my most recent posts (this week) about what has to be done immediately upon conversion. The toveling and kashering issues are explored more in depth there as they apply to brand-new converts.

  15. For my conversion I got: a tallit from my wife, a tallit clip from a friend, two kiddush cups, a tzedakah box, a framed art piece with the "woman of valor" verses on it, Shabbat candlesticks, and several mezuzot.

  16. These are pretty unique ideas for gift baskets, but perhaps a little food? For some idea check out this gift basket company:

    Kosher Shiva Baskets

  17. I have a friend about to finish his conversion process and I wanted to get him something really special. I've seen mevushal and non-mevushal wine mentioned, but can't find a clear definition on the two. Could someone explain to me the difference and which one is more, for lack of a better word, meaningful? Thank you in advance!