How do I go about converting to Judaism?
Thank you for your question! Converting to Judaism is a wonderful personal journey of exploring Jewish living, discovering your own relationship with God, exploring your connection to the Jewish people and Jewish history, and taking on Jewish practices and ethical teachings in your own ways. Conversion to Judaism is a wonderful, transformative experience. Whatever your reason for entering into this process, your journey will unfold in new, unique, and often, unexpected ways. I’ll describe the process of becoming Jewish according to my guidelines and practices as a Reform rabbi.
The first thing to do is find a rabbi who will serve as your teacher, mentor, guide and sponsor. I meet regularly with each conversion student privately for no less than a one-year period. That period includes study and reflection about Jewish theology, identity and relationships, Jewish history, prayer, community, personal practice, Jewish spirituality, Israel, holidays, and God. I also ask all students to participate in one of the Union for Reform Judaism’s 16-week “Introduction to Judaism” courses, a rich path of Jewish learning, offered in our area by Reform Jewish Outreach Boston. (Editor’s note: similar classes from the perspective of Conservative Judaism are offered by the Jewish Discovery Institute.)
Jewish life centers around holy study, acts of love and kindness, and Jewish prayer, rituals and holidays, and it is important to become part of a Jewish synagogue community. Converting to Judaism is not a solitary exercise, but rather one that occurs with other Jews. You should come to celebrate Jewish holidays and Shabbat with a community, because becoming Jewish is partly about joining the Jewish people as a whole. Building your relationships within a community is critical to feeling comfortable as a new member of the Jewish people.
After the period of preparation is complete, you will meet with a panel of three rabbis (called a Beit Din) for a discussion about your Jewish experience. For men, circumcision is required, or at least a symbolic drawing of a drop of blood for those already circumcised. After your discussion with the rabbis, you’ll immerse in the mikveh (ritual bath), a beautiful experience marking your personal transformation. Once a person has immersed and emerged from the waters, he or she is considered fully Jewish. Whenever I hear the splashes of water and the convert reciting the blessings from the other side of the door at the Mayyim Hayyim mikveh in Newton, I am deeply moved knowing that a new person is joining our Jewish community. And then… we celebrate! Family members rejoice, and we pronounce the new Hebrew name you have chosen. Your Jewish journey, of course, continues, and new discoveries and Jewish experiences await you!
You may also be interested in this previous Ask A Rabbi post about the process of converting an adopted baby to Judaism.
Read about Standards and Ceremonies involved in Reform Conversion from InterfaithFamily.com, and visit their extensive collection of Conversion Resources.