What's Involved in Converting to Judaism

a. It is a process to which a soul feels internally called.

b. This feeling may rise and fall, or ultimately abate. It may turn out that your soul needed to learn about Judaism, experience it and then return to another tradition or move on to another religion, no religion, or a different denominational context. There will be no hard feelings about this among your teachers, soul journeys vary in every life time.

c. Converstion involves a minimum of a year of study and engagement with the core practices of living as a Jew. During this time you will:

Need to join or form a Jewish group with which to pray and celebrate Shabbat and holidays.

To acquire ritual items such as Shabbat candlesticks, a tallit, a Kiddush cup, mezuzot, and for some, tefillin and gradually incorporate these into your life and practice

To become familiar with Jewish history (I recommend the Abba Eban CD/video tape set “The History of the Jews” and visits to Jewish museums.)

To develop the ability to read prayer book Hebrew and become comfortable with the flow of Sabbath services and to take gradually take on morning and bed time Jewish spiritual practices.

To celebrate the holidays with mentors and begin to invite people for Shabbat at your home.

d. You will need to find a rabbi to be your sponsor, to help you prepare and to organize formal proceedings for you when appropriate. Usually the sponsoring rabbi will be your tutor, other arrangements can apply.

d. When you feel that you are Jewish and the rabbi who is sponsoring you feels you are prepared to enter Jewish life with integrity, a series of rituals commence to enter you into the Jewish people and our covenant with G*d.

e. Selection of your Jewish name. Your spiritual parents will become Abraham and Sarah, according to tradition, your Hebrew or Yiddish name will be affixed to theirs in the traditional formulation for calling a person to the Torah or a life cycle event or as a witness to a religious document: for example: Hannah bat Avraham v’Sarah

f. Meeting with a three member a rabbinic panel to whom you will tell the story of your Jewish journey. They will have questions for you and on rare occasions will ask a person to engage in further study and return at another time. Generally, this Bet Din, “house of justice” gathering is warm, sincere, and welcoming. Those who participate are pre-screened and selected by your sponsoring rabbi, who tells them the short version of your story and why s/he believes you are ready.

g. For males: circumcision.

This requires general anesthesia for adult males and a day of rest afterward. For males who had a surgical circumcision prior to becoming Jewish, a topic anesthetic is applied by a mohel (expert at ritual circumcision) and a tiny drop of blood is drawn as a symbol of the covenant. “May no blood ever be spilled in your name or because of your actions in life every again and when you look down may you always remember to engage your organ of creation with ethics and lovingkindness.

As the sages say in the Talmud, “The blood of a woman is the wine of life,” so for women no additional physical change is involved.

h. Rebirthing in a process called mikveh, immersion in a living body of water, a lake, river, sea, ocean or indoor facility reserved for this purpose combining city water with rain water. Here, your body completely disrobed, your soul releases anything lingering from earlier in your life that could obstruct the fullness of your new identity as a Jew. You are welcome to bring a dear friend with you for this part of the process. Many report experiencing completion when they emerge from immersing and saying the blessing. Some report feeling welcomed or surrounded by the souls of ancestors gone, present and yet to be.

i. You will give a donation of funds to the Jewish organization of your choice in honor of your conversion and encourage those who will celebrate this occasion with you to do so for the same reason, that something in the world outside of you will change in a positive way along with your inner transition.

j. You will receive a document signed by all of the rabbis on your bet din, certifying your conversion. Keep this in a bank vault, it is a legal document that might be asked for under a variety of circumstances in your life. For example, immigrating to Israel, proving you or your children are Jewish.

k. You will appear before your religious community, be it a havurah or congregation, and lead them in the Shema and V’ahavtah prayers and come up for an aliyah at the Torah. At that aliyah the affixing of your Jewish sacred name will be completed as you engage in the mitzvah of witnessing the reading of the Torah as a full member of the Jewish people.

l. Party Hearty! A seudah shel mitzvah, meal involving the minyan of your life is held in celebration of your transition. Often this is a desert reception after Shabbat services, or held in a private home among your friends and loved ones.