Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Immediately After Conversion, What Needs to Be Done?

You're in the mikvah. You have your dips in the water and officially cross over into the obligation in mitzvot. What happens once you get dressed?

First mitzvah/bracha. This should not happen in the mikvah because you shouldn't say a bracha while nude. I think some people hear about the "here, have a candy!" bracha opportunity immediately after conversion and mistakenly think it will be immediately after, while still in the water. That's not so. They'll let you get out of the mikvah, dry off, and make yourself presentable again. Once you leave the prep room again is when you'll be bombarded with some bracha opportunity. I was given a choice of water or a candy. I needed the water more. Of course, you're going to feel awkward saying a bracha out loud in front of a group of people, especially three rabbis, but that's normal. You might even mess it up. It happens. (Don't forget to say the after bracha!)

It's possible you could be given another "mitzvah opportunity." Just roll with it.

After the initial mitzvah, everything else depends on your beit din, their schedule, your schedule, and the air-speed velocity of an unladen African swallow. In other words, who knows? Relax, you're done, don't let yourself get stressed out.

Naming. You could be "given" your Hebrew name at the site of the mikvah or in the synagogue. There's really no rules, from what I understand. If it's not done immediately at the mikvah, it may be done immediately at the synagogue, during the next service with a Torah reading, or the next Shabbat. In theory, I suppose it could be done anywhere.

Davening. Depending on the time of day, you may or may not "have" to daven. Most conversions are early in the day, so you will probably have the opportunity to say mincha. You can certainly choose to daven. Tehillim would be a good choice, especially the psalms of thanksgiving.

A sidenote on davening: Of course, most people convert before maariv, but most poskim have held that women aren't obligated in maariv. (Based on my understanding, Sephardim women don't even hold to shacharit and mincha as the Ashkenazim generally do. If I remember correctly, Sephardim obligate women in prayer only once a day, and it can be any kind of prayer.) If you have previously been saying maariv, your mikvah might be a good time to stop that tradition if you don't want to obligate yourself to that mitzvah. There is no reason to obligate yourself to something if you won't do it regularly. Judaism discourages taking on a vow, though saying maariv is a worthy practice to take on if you can trust yourself to do it. This is a very case-specific issue, and opinions may differ significantly. Your rabbi can help you understand what your community practice is and how that should or shouldn't change your current davening practice.

Brachot haShachar. The way it was explained to me is that when I went to the mikvah, I started a new day (of my new life), so the morning blessings should be recited. Your rabbi could hold differently. Do what he says. It certainly seems appropriate to say the birkat haTorah, thanking Hashem for the gift of the Torah.

Aliyah. If you are male, you are almost guaranteed to get an aliyah on your first Shabbat as a legit Jew. Practice the blessings and the procedure with a friend multiple times before your conversion.

Kasher. Maybe you will have to re-kasher your kitchen. I hope you won't have to because that's a pain. You may have to throw out a lot of things that can't be kashered, like ceramics, china, and some plastics.  Maybe even glass, depending on your rabbi. Some (many?) rabbis hold that if you have always owned the items and you know that you have only used the items for kosher foods and in a kosher way, you don't have to kasher them. In that case, they are just toveled. The kind of funny part is when you know that to be the case, but the rabbi holds you must still kasher everything because the rationale of the halacha is that a Jew cannot trust a non-Jew to use utensils kosherly. (It's a word. I say so.) The effect, as I see it, is that Jew You is being told you cannot trust Non-Jew You. And I find that funny.

That said, if you have the same kitchen items you had when you first became kosher, you may have made significant mistakes without knowing it. In that case, you should seriously consider re-kashering and replacing. However, if you're like me, you made a long-distance move well into your kosher life and replaced everything once you had been keeping kosher for a significant amount of time. For that reason, I always recommend that no one replace anything until they've been successfully keeping kosher 6 months. It can save you a lot of trouble and money in the long run, even though you really, really want to color code your kitchen red, green, and blue.

Kashering is a question you should ask early on. Either you find out that no kashering is required, and you can sleep soundly at night, or you are prepared to replace stuff. That way, you have time to save up and buy replacements for the items that can't be kashered. You can also take advantage of sales if you have lots of notice. Just keep the items in the box and in your closet until your day arrives. If you are required to kasher, I suggest having a rabbi or knowledgeable friend help you.

Tovel. You will need to tovel any kitchen items requiring toiveling that belong to you. Ask your rabbi for more information for your specific case. One thing to remember is that, generally, kitchen items belonging to a Jewish roommate don't legally belong to both of you. Just because it's in your kitchen doesn't necessarily mean you have to toivel it, even if it is of a material that requires toveling. I suggest taking a friend with you for your first toveling experience. You can tag along at any time, you don't have to wait until your conversion. You can even help! (Newlyweds will appreciate the help!) The unanticipated worst part: you have to wash all those dishes when you come home. Keilim mikvah water is essentially standing water that has touched the hands of most of your community. I wouldn't eat off that. (That also goes for natural bodies of water being used as a mikvah.)

Mezuzot. If you haven't hung mezuzot before, you'll need to now. Check with your rabbi for the rules as they apply to your case. For instance, the time requirements differ whether you rent or own your home and you may have unusual passageways that may not require a mezuzah or special placement of it. If you already have mezuzot up, ask your rabbi. Several factors can influence his ruling.

Separation of married couples. If you are married, regardless of whether one partner converts or both, there may be a separation period required. There is significant difference of opinion here, and there are too many factors to name. For one, you may not be together again (however they define that) until you are Jewishly married. That may be right after the mikvah, the next day, a week later, or three months later. It all depends. There are also concerns about the status of the child, but that argument doesn't make sense to me since my understanding is that if a pregnant woman converts and the child is born after the mikvah, the child is a born Jew, not a convert. If anyone has more insight into that, please let the world know.

Marriage. As I alluded to above, you may have to plan a wedding! If you were already married, you probably planned your remarriage before the mikvah occurred since most people want to reunite as soon as possible (especially when there are kids in the picture or the rabbis require the couple to actually live in separate homes, which can create a financial strain). Others may convert and then almost immediately have a proposal from the partner who traveled the road to conversion with him or her. (Or maybe both were converting! Haven't seen that yet in a non-married couple.) In that case, wedding planning begins relatively soon after the mikvah, but I would encourage you to not mix simchas. The joy of conversion and the joy of being engaged should each be given your full attention and enjoyed to the utmost!

So did I leave anything out? Did you have an unusual experience?


  1. t'fillin. if your a guy and its still daylight. you have to put on tfillin. even if a candidate had put on t'fillin in the morning (according to an opinion allowing this) he would have to put on t'fillin again

  2. Do folks ever say the Shehecheyanu as the first prayer after immersion? It's the first blessing that would come to my mind. We say it in my Reform synagogue for pretty much any happy occassion. In the frum world is that prayer only used for holidays or something?

    Or is the first prayer after conversion supposed to be for something you are about to receive other than for what you already received?

    Just curious...

    1. Oh, yes, shehecheyanyu is everywhere. The laws of the bracha make it useful all the time.

      But to answer your question, that blessing is part of the actual conversion itself, while the person is still inside the mikvah. (Though it might not be said if there is another conversion after the first one, if the first conversion had a mikvah. Not all reform conversions use the mikvah, and bringing that back as a widespread thing is actually a very new phenomenon.) Check out the post "The Conversion Mikvah Visit in a Nutshell" if you want to read more about that.

    2. Thanks, that was very helpful!

  3. My husband did not have to kasher anything while he was studying, because bais din said there was no point; it wouldn't be kosher anyway. They just had him keep "pretend" kosher - dividing his stuff into milk and meat and practicing that way until the conversion. We got married a week later, so I think he just ate out and cold until he could move into my already-kosher home. With my first husband, we were actually civilly married already (he'd converted Conservative), and they held a quick-but-fun chuppah the same day, when he came out of the mikveh. Because of the short notice, it was a chuppas niddah, with the door discreetly "open" for yichud, but they figured it was better than waiting, because we'd been living apart.

  4. funny, when you wrote "Aliyah" I thought to myself, 'wow, immediately going to Israel' and then I continued. Oh well.