We are in the process of converting our adopted son. What, aside from a bris, do we have to do?
My son was adopted at birth and we are in the process of converting him. Aside from a bris, is there anything else that needs to be done? And if so, by when?
Mazal tov! Congratulations on growing your family and welcoming a new life. One of the wonderful things about contemporary Judaism is that our community offers multiple approaches to Jewish ritual. One of the challenging things in cases of personal status (i.e., conversion) is that this means that what counts in one part of the community for a full conversion might be seen as incomplete in another communal context. That said, should someone complete a conversion process in one denomination and then should the child later in life seek recognition elsewhere, there is always the opportunity to supplement the ritual and move forward.
I am a Conservative rabbi and I will describe how I guide a family facing the question of infant conversion. The first step, as the question indicates, is circumcision. The mohel (circumcision specialist) performing the ritual will provide the adoptive parents with a certificate of circumcision that indicates, often just as a note in Hebrew at the bottom, that the ritual was performed lishem gerut (“for the sake of conversion”).
Once that is complete, the family will schedule a trip to the mikvah (ritual bath). That is usually done either in the first year of life or after the child turns three because a toddler in between these ages can sometimes be water phobic. One parent will go into the mikvah with the child, the parent in a bathing suit, the child not. After acclimating to the water, the parent will briefly let go of the child so that he (in this case) is fully surrounded by water for a second. That will then be repeated. The parents and the officiating rabbi will recite blessings for the immersion. For more information about the mikvah ritual, go to mayyimhayyim.org.
After the immersion, a court of three rabbis (sometimes one rabbi and two knowledgeable and observant Jews) will convene to sign a formal conversion document and the child receives a Hebrew name and is welcomed into a full Jewish identity.
You ask about when this needs to happen. While it is best to go to the mikvah and complete the process early in the child’s life, the outer date would be the child becoming a bar (or bat) mitzvah. For further guidance on ceremonies to welcome a new child (and all other rituals, contemporary and classic) you can visit ritualwell.org.
For more information on childhood conversions:
Watch Mayyim Hayyim's video of a baby's immersion at the mikveh.
Read about Standards and Ceremonies involved in Reform Conversion from InterfaithFamily.