I would like to convert to Orthodox Judaism, but there are no synagogues in walking distance of my home. I have applied to convert in Israel and was told to come over to Israel and complete an application in person. The problem is that they require at least two letters of recommendation from an Orthodox rabbi to accompany the application. If I have no synagogue to attend, where am I going to get these letters? Is it possible they will accept my application without these? I am very sincere about converting; I just don’t have a way.

created at: 2013-12-23An Orthodox conversion process requires four commitments: one, the candidate must live proximate to and participate in a local Orthodox community; two, the candidate must pursue a course of formal and informal Jewish education; three, the candidate must increasingly observe Jewish law, custom and practice; and four, the candidate must have a rabbinical sponsor who will set up a network of partners to work with the conversion candidate and empower the candidate to be responsible for his or her own advancement through the process.

Living within walking distance of an Orthodox community is essential, as Jewish life cannot best be learned from books or classes, but needs to be observed and experienced firsthand, such as learning how Jewish parents conduct their Shabbat table or how a Jewish homemaker koshers and prepares for Passover. While the particulars of observance can be learned from books, the totality of experiential Jewish living can only be internalized by participating in an observant, learned and learning community. It is important for a conversion candidate to have multiple teachers in order to help facilitate a more comprehensive education, as well as to recognize legitimate variation within the observant Jewish world. Requiring the candidate to live within walking distance of an Orthodox community not only makes requisite Shabbat observance possible, but also increases his or her communal integration.

Developing a broad base of friendships and connections within the community will also deepen the candidate’s initiation into and identification with the Orthodox community. Likewise, while it is important to foster a good relationship between a conversion candidate and his or her rabbinical guide, multiple lay and professional mentors and teachers will properly cultivate the candidate’s Jewish bond to Hashem (God), Torah and community, rather than a dependent, charismatic attachment to a rabbinical figure. In sum, an effective conversion process requires living within a supportive and inviting community that becomes the candidate’s teachers, having a defined course of self and partnered study and enrollment in community classes, and applying one’s formal and informal learning increasingly to personal religious practice, all under the supervision of a guiding rabbi. This holds true whether one converts in the United States or in Israel.

My advice would be for you to explore local Orthodox Jewish communities, meet with their rabbis, and then find a way to live within walking distance of the Orthodox Jewish community that best suits your journey. Begin a conversion process there and establish relationships. If you choose subsequently to continue and complete your process in Israel, you will have the foundation and connections to pursue that possibility. created at: 2013-12-23

Rabbi Benjamin Samuels is the rabbi at Congregation Shaarei Tefillah, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Newton Centre. He is also a Genesis Forum scholar at CJP.

The Boston Jewish community has a vast array of religious communities, and you can find their listings here.