I am going through the conversion process with my wife as I type this, and I thought it might be good to help others contemplating the conversion process, to know what it’s like. This is from what I was told by my Rabbi and what I’ve experienced thus far, so your potential synagogue might be a bit different, so read this and realize some things might be a bit different. Also take note, that this is only a reference from a Reform Judaism perspective, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist each have slight variations on the conversion process. Every conversation regarding conversion, I am reminded of the conversation between Ruth and Naomi in the Torah;
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
Book of Ruth 1:16
The above passage is understood by Rabbinic and Talmudic sages to be Ruth converting to Judaism. Abraham and his wife Sarah were the first converts to Judaism, done so through Abraham entering into the covenant with G-D and giving birth to the Jewish people and Judaism itself. So conversion is not foreign, it is open to all people, and all people who convert are fully recognized as Jews without reservation. Conversion is often called becoming a “Jew-by-choice,” as one is choosing to become a part of the rich tapestry of Judaism and the Jewish people.
There are several steps to conversion, and I’m going to give a few tips before going through and starting the process. First, study study study; the first step in the process should be knowing (and knowing is half the battle), in that you know what you’re getting into, the basic beliefs, and a bit about the shared history, peoplehood, and culture of the Jewish people. Try some Jewish foods, listen to some Klezmer music, learn a few Hebrew phrases, learn a base history of the people, the thing is you will be a part of that history once you convert, so know what you’re getting into first and foremost. A good book to learn the basics (history, practices, holidays, festivals, and core beliefs) is “Living Judaism by Rabbi Wayne Dosick,” I cannot recommend that book enough to those looking into Judaism. Once you know for sure that you’d like to talk about converting to Judaism…
…contact a Rabbi! Make sure you know about the different denominations of Judaism and contact a synagogue affiliated with the denomination you choose and tell the synagogue you’re interested in conversion and joining the synagogue. Talk to the Rabbi, you may want to talk to several Rabbi’s honestly to find the one you click with the most. It’s important to have a connection with your Rabbi as they will be your guide and friend through this process and will get to know you very well during that period. So find a synagogue and Rabbi that are the right fit for you, this is a very important step.
Once you have found your synagogue and Rabbi, you should study more and keep a journal of everything you learn and how you feel about everything you learn in and about Judaism. This in my opinion is incredibly important, it gives you a reference to look back on, it gives you something to show and discuss with your Rabbi during meetings, and gives you insight into your growth and understand as a Jew. This website is my journal, especially within this section of the Son of Sinai website, that is the reason I decided to bring it into being.
Immersion is incredibly important, attend every Shabbat service (I even attended online for two weeks while battling Covid-19), every event your synagogue has, your synagogue’s Torah study, jump in headfirst and without reservation to experience and learn from everything that your synagogue has to offer. Perform the Shabbat and Havdallah ceremonies at home, celebrate the holidays, create a Jewish home with all of the trappings you can, perform your three times a day daily prayers and prayer after meals. Do not think in terms of you converting, be, become and let yourself see you be as a Jew in your everyday life, this is a huge step that cannot be stated enough.
Introduction to Judaism course – Just about all synagogues will have a variation on this course… take it, as it is a huge step in truly exploring all of the complexities and learnings of Judaism. There’s a reason why these courses can be found in every synagogue and it’s because this is where your journey really picks up the pace.
Once a year or so is up and your Rabbi says you’re ready, you’ll be brought before a beit din or Jewish court, generally comprised of at least a couple of Rabbis and a member of the community (sometimes, 3 Rabbis). By this time you should have been a fixture in the synagogue and community and have been living as a Jew and have gone through a year of Torah and holidays/festivals. What the beit din does is ask you some questions to make sure you are converting for the right reasons and understand what it means to be Jewish and if all is well, you go to the Mikveh!
The mikveh is a lot like a spa, you’ll shower and groom there and then walk down some steps into a body of water (nude so that the water touches every inch of you) then submerge yourself three times, saying a prayer after each submersion. Once you’re done, you rejoin the beit din and they sign a certificate officially deeming you a member of the Jewish people (Mazel Tov time!).
Hatafat dam brit – okay fellas, prepare to wince a bit… most men are circumcised in America, if not some (even Reform) may require you to get one… if you are already circumcised, don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet… some (even some Reform but most do not) may require a hatafat dam brit. So what is the HDB you might be asking… well it’s where a Rabbi performs a small cut of uses a lancet to prick the foreskin to draw a drop of blood, representative of the circumcision. From what I’ve read, it is rare that Reform synagogues require this, but a few do, so be prepared and ask questions. I have read a lot on it and most men say it’s uncomfortable, a bit painful, but worth it in the end.
Endnote: If you can study Hebrew, do it, it will help you out so incredibly much throughout everything. A great site for this is Hebrewpod 101 which helps to learn to speak Hebrew at an accelerated pace. after you understand a bit of Hebrew, pick up a book on writing Hebrew, I have several and there are even books that can teach you to read and write Hebrew in as little as a month, and coupled with being able to speak in Hebrew, you’ll be ahead of the game.
Afterthought: Once I am fully recognized as a Jew, on that day when I receive my certificate, I know it will be seconded only to my wedding and the birth of my kids in joy. Without an iota of doubt in my mind, I know I will weep tears of absolute joy. Finding out I am ethnically Jewish, then studying and falling in love with all things Jewish, the studies and time invested, the people I’ve met, and the kindness I have been shown, the culture, the music, the food, the beauty of the ceremonies, beliefs, and practices, I will then be a genuine part of.