So. You want to convert to Judaism? You are in great company. Some of Judaism’s most famous figures were righteous converts. Notable personalities like Yisro, Rus, Onkelos, Shemaiah, Avtalyon and the prophet Ovadia were all converts to the nation of Israel. Deciding to convert to Judaism is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make and careful guidance will be needed in carrying out this decision.
This article is the full guide to everything you need to know about the process of conversion. From making the decision to convert, contacting a Beth Din (conversion court), studying the curriculum, actually becoming a convert to Judaism and finally integrating into the Jewish community as a new member of the nation.
Step 1: Maybe you actually are Jewish already?
Wait a minute! Is it possible that you don’t need to convert to Judaism? Is it possible that you are Jewish already?
According to Judaism, Jewish status is passed on by the maternal line. This means that someone on your maternal ancestry was Jewish then you are too. For example if your great-great grandmother (your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother) was Jewish then you are Jewish too, automatically.
This is true even if you were never brought up Jewish. Even if your mother and her mother too were never brought up Jewish. Even if all of you converted to Islam, Christianity and Rastafarianism. And yes, ever if they were all sworn atheists. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew! There is no such thing as leaving Judaism. Once a Jew always a Jew!
It is not rare that someone considering conversion to Judaism discovers that he or she is Jewish. There are possibly millions of people who are Jewish without ever realising it. Notable are descendants of the marranos and other crypto-Jews.
If you think that you might have had some Jewish ancestry apply to the Jewish Identity Verification Service for a free assessment.
If you do discover that you are Jewish you should get in contact with an Orthodox Rabbi and start learning about what it means to be Jewish. If you are having trouble reaching a Rabbi near you, shoot me a message and I will do my best to help you.
Step 2: Don’t Convert to Judaism – Remain a Righteous Gentile
“Only Jews go to heaven”
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
And once again wrong!
Heaven is not only for Jews. Heaven is for the righteous whether Jew or Gentile. According to Judaism, any Gentile who scrupulously keeps to the Seven Noahide Laws is considered righteous and will merit heavenly reward.
This means, that there is a much easier way to heaven than converting to Judaism: all you have to do is to observe the Noahide laws. These laws are:
- Prohibition of Idolatry.
- Prohibition of Blasphemy.
- Prohibition of Murder.
- Prohibition of Adultery and Immorality.
- Prohibition of Theft.
- Prohibition of Eating Flesh of a Living Animal.
- Mandate to Establish Courts of Law.
As you can see the Noahide Laws are very basic and not demanding whatsoever. Any Gentile who keeps these laws as God commanded will merit entry into heaven.
Being Jewish is a higher spiritual level and comes with a responsibility to keep 613 commandments (only 297 in non-temple times). This is a heavy responsibility and is not suited to everyone. Consider this carefully before deciding you want to convert to Judaism.
Step 3: Move to a Jewish Community
If you have decided that despite the difficulty involved, you wish to convert to Judaism, you will have to relocate to a Jewish community (if you aren’t already living near a local community). Every Beth Din (Rabbinic Conversion Court) will expect you to have lived in a Jewish community for a minimum of a few months before allowing you to formally start the conversion process. This is to allow you to actually experience what living as a Jew is like.
PLEASE NOTE: the move to a Jewish community is not a temporary move, the expectation is that you will continue to live your life on a permanent basis within a Jewish community (obviously you can move from one community to another like any other Jew).
The move to a Jewish community is obviously a major step; most of you will not be able to pick yourself up today and relocate on the spur of the moment. For some people this requires relocation to another part of the globe! This is understandable. On the other hand, it is essential that you eventually find a way of doing this. There is no possibility of becoming a convert to Judaism without joining a Jewish community.
Until you manage to relocate to a Jewish community, my recommendation is that you read a Jewish religious newspaper on a regular basis. Obviously, politics and world developments, are generally the same in any newspaper. What should interest you are the opinion pieces and the columns on the Jewish festivals etc. Reading the newspaper will give you an insider’s view of the Jewish community. It will also allow you to get used to the way religious Jews express themselves and allow you to experience from afar different Jewish events and celebrations. There are many different news sites online. My personal recommendation is the Mishpacha website.
Step 4: Start Conversion with an Accredited Beth Din
As mentioned in the previous step you will eventually have to relocate to a Jewish community. It is important to make sure that the community you relocate to has an accredited Beth Din (Rabbinic Conversion Court) so that you can convert to Judaism in that community.
Now, this is where it get’s tricky. You see, to get a legitimate and recognised conversion you need to convert in a Beth Din that is likewise: legitimate and recognised.
There are quite a few Beth Dins that you’ll find floating around on the web. Some of them sound quite legitimate and will convert you without too much of ado. Then, when you try to join the Jewish community, you’ll find out that the conversion was worthless and nobody is going to accept you as a Jew. Problem.
How do you know if the Beth Din is phoney or not?
Well sometimes it’s quite easy. Any conversion which is administered by the Reform or Conservative movement is illegitimate and will not be accepted by Orthodox Judaism. Generally speaking, Reform or Conservative rabbis will tell you that they are associated with these movements. So then you know to skedaddle! Run away! Don’t waste your time!
On the other hand, it get’s really confusing when it comes to Orthodox conversions. There are multiple Orthodox Beth Dins that offer conversion to Judaism, but will not be recognised by anyone. Which means that if you convert with one of these Beth Dins, you will have to convert a second time with another Beth Din.
OK. So how do I know if an Orthodox Beth Din is phoney? Here’s a few things that could indicate a Beth Din is phoney:
- The Rabbis on the Beth Din are easy to get hold of. Really. A genuine Orthodox conversion is performed by the senior rabbis in the community. And they’re notoriously busy. You will be assigned a junior rabbi(s) for studying the curriculum etc. But the actual conversion is always performed by senior rabbis in the community. If the Beth Din isn’t busy, they’re probably phoney.
- The Beth Din makes it easy for you to convert. A legitimate Orthodox Beth Din will make you study hard. They will expect you to have knowledge of halacha (Judaic Law) AND be practicing for months before they allow you to convert. So, if the conversion is easy – it’s worth zilch.
- The Beth Din or Rabbi seems to be trying to fit Judaism into another world view. If a rabbi is trying to twist Judaism so as to fit it into feminism or egalitarianism there is a problem. A real rabbi bases his worldview on the Torah exclusively.
To make it easier for you, I have translated the Israeli Rabbinate’s list of accredited Beth Dins for countries outside of Israel. Conversion in Israel is performed by the Israeli Rabbinate.
There are no accredited Beth Dins in the whole of South America. In another post I will explain what should be done if you are living in South America.
Do not convert to Judaism in non-accredited or phoney Beth Dins!
As mentioned there are a few Orthodox Beth Dins whose conversions are not acceptable. If you convert to Judaism with these Beth Dins, you will have to convert a second time with an accredited Beth Din. This is a short list of Beth Dins whose conversions are NOT accredited:
- The International Beth Din
- Ohev Shalom
- ITIM organisation
- Tzohar Rabbinical Organization
- Giyur Kehalacha
- Ahavat Hager
- Darchei Israel/Ways of Israel/Los Caminos de Israel
- Conversions by Rabbi Asher Meza
If you aren’t sure about whether a Beth Din is legitimate of not please ask me. I would love to help!
What will the Beth Din want to know?
The Beth Din will ask you to fill in an application form describing yourself, your family, your partner/spouse/children (if applicable), your knowledge about Judaism and your motivation(s) to convert to Judaism. It is important for you to inform the Beth Din, if you are in a relationship with a Jewish partner.
The Beth Din will usually also want a letter of recommendation from a rabbi.
Some Beth Dins may even ask for a Criminal Record Check, a handwriting analysis and/or a psychological checkup.
Please note that most Beth Dins charge a non-refundable administration fee when applying to convert. This fee is usually about $200 but can be more expensive too (sometimes it cheaper).
With Hashem’s help, I will write a post with a calculation of the approximate cost of converting to Judaism.
What will the Beth Din do?
The Beth Din will invite you and your partner (if applicable) for an interview. They will want to hear about your interest in Judaism and your background etc. Think of it as a job interview. They want to know who you are so they can see if you are a suitable candidate for conversion to Judaism.
Some Beth Dins will have presented you with a short reading list before the interview. At the interview you will be provided with another reading list and a curriculum.
If you haven’t previously connected to a rabbi within the community, the Beth Din will arrange for you to connect with a rabbi who will be involved with you on a day to day basis. This rabbi will be available to answer questions and as an address for all issues etc. The Beth Din (which typically consists of the most senior rabbis in the community) will not be involved with your learning and growth on a day to day basis.
You will also be provided with a tutor to help you cover the curriculum.
The Beth Din will arrange follow up meetings once every few months (usually six) to monitor your growth and progress and hear any feedback that you have.
Step 5: Study the Curriculum
- Laws of Shabbos
- Laws of Yom Tov
- Jewish Calendar
- Prayers and Blessings
- Laws of Family Purity (Niddah)
- Jewish life-cycle
- Hebrew Reading
- Jewish Theology/Philosophy
With Hashem’s help, I will be developing the blog on this website to fully cover all the topics in this curriculum.
Studying the curriculum well is essential for being accepted for conversion. Every legitimate Beth Din will expect you to have studied these topics.
The Beth Din will not allow you to convert to Judaism unless you have studied these topics well and are proficient in them. Therefore, you should immediately start studying so that you are well prepared for conversion. The more you know, the quicker the process will be. Even if you are not yet able to relocate to a Jewish community and start the formal process of conversion (steps 4-5), you should start studying the curriculum immediately.
Step 6: Practice Living as a Jew
Not only will the Beth Din expect you to know these topics well they will also expect you to be putting this knowledge into practice, that is to say, they will expect you to start living your life as if you were already Jewish. That is to say, the Beth Din will expect that you regularly attend prayers in the synagogue and join members of the community for Shabbos meals. The Beth Din will expect that you eat Kosher and are practicing keeping a kosher kitchen.
This is quite a lot to take on all at once. As you spend time learning about Judaism, you will slowly add on observances and experience living your life as a Jew does.
I recommend that you start practicing observances even before you relocate to a Jewish community. With Hashem’s help, I will be writing blog posts describing exactly how to perform Jewish observances correctly.
Step 7: Meet the Beth Din and Convert to Judaism!
As mentioned in step 5, the Beth Din will arrange follow up meetings with you once every few months. In these meetings the Beth Din will assess if they consider you ready to convert. The Beth Din will allow you to convert to Judaism once they are convinced that:
- You are well versed in the curriculum
- You are consistently practicing living a Jewish life
- You are capable of living your life as a Jew
- You are sincerely committed to living your life as a Jew
Once they are convinced of the above, they will swiftly move on to the actual conversion.
The actual process of conversion has four steps:
- Circumcision: All male converts must be circumcised before conversion. The circumcision will be performed by a mohel (specially trained surgeon) under local anesthesia. You will be conscious during the procedure. Men who are already circumcised will undergo a minor procedure called hatafas dam bris which is the drawing of a symbolic pinprick of blood.
- Mikveh: All converts (both male and female) must fully immerse in a mikveh (a ritual pool) in the presence of the Beth Din. Female converts should note that this procedure is performed in a way that protects their modesty.
- Accepting the Commandments: All converts must accept to observe all of the commandments.
- Bringing a sacrifice in the Temple: A convert is required to bring special sacrifice in the Temple upon his or her conversion. Unfortunately, the Temple has not yet been rebuilt. When the Third Temple is built, the convert will bring the required sacrifice.
There are many halachos (Jewish laws) which are very important to be familiar with on the day of the actual conversion. These include, choosing a Jewish name, making sure your kitchen is kosher and remarrying your partner (if applicable) with a Jewish ceremony. With Hashem’s help I will write an article on these halachos.
Step 8: Live your life as a Jew!
You are Jewish! This is a very exciting time. Now it’s your opportunity to join your brother and sister Jews living a life of holiness and purity! You have your whole life ahead of you to grab as many mitzvos and build your eternal connection with Hashem and the destiny of Israel.
The Talmud says that a convert is as pure as a newborn baby. Pure. Clean. Without sin!
You now have a Jewish soul! Your soul yearns for G-d and Holiness.
May you have every success in your new spiritual journey!
Now, go and learn Torah. Do Mitzvos. Pray. Give Charity. Celebrate Shabbos and Festivals.
Welcome to the Tribe.
Step 9: Get your Certification as a Convert To Judaism
Once you convert to Judaism, you are 100% Jewish. However, it is important to note that the Beth Din will not issue certification of your conversion immediately after you convert. The Beth Din will wait for a few months so as to monitor how well you are integrating into the Jewish community. Once the Beth Din is satisfied that you are integrating well, they will issue you with a certification of conversion. This certification is important and should be kept in a safe place. You will be asked for this certification at multiple junctures in your life: marriage, moving to Israel, children’s marriage and when applying for your children to join a Jewish school.