Frequently Asked Questions about Geirut (Jewish Conversion) Performed by the Network of Regional Batei Din for Conversion under the Auspices of the Rabbinical Council of America and the Beth Din of America
What does conversion involve?
Conversion to Judaism involves significant changes to one’s life and lifestyle. Judaism governs every action that a person undertakes, from the moment he or she gets up in the morning until the moment he or she retires at night. Judaism strives to impress upon us that we live in the presence of G-d, and that all our activities should be viewed with this perspective. Conversion will likely affect family relationships and significantly alter one’s world outlook. A candidate for conversion should be motivated by a sincere desire to embrace both the people of Israel and the faith and practices of Judaism
What is the first step towards conversion?
A potential candidate must find a Sponsoring Rabbi, who will serve as the liaison to and make the initial contact with the regional beit din. Any Orthodox rabbi may serve as a Sponsoring Rabbi. A Sponsoring Rabbi may only sponsor someone who lives in his or her own community, with whom he is personally familiar, and whom he is confident in recommending as a candidate. If a potential candidate does not live in an Orthodox community he or she must move in to as part of the conversion process. The respective batei din and the central office are available to assist in locating sponsoring rabbis.
Why must a candidate for conversion live in an Orthodox community?
While moving may involve financial and other hardships, a candidate for conversion must realize that it is not possible to learn and absorb Judaism and Torah living at a distance. Jewish observance must be experienced on a daily basis, especially on Shabbat and holidays. Living in an Orthodox community allows one to socialize with other Jews, walk to synagogue on Shabbat, and share in community activities on a regular basis.
Transient candidates (for example, college students or highly mobile professionals) who cannot live in a standard Orthodox community must at least have ongoing, reasonable access to the institutions of Orthodox life and live within walking distance to an Orthodox minyan that meets regularly each Shabbat and Yom Tov. The candidate must demonstrate a strong commitment to conducting his or her life so as to maintain access to those institutions for the rest of his or her life.
How long should the conversion process take?
The amount of time for a convert to be prepared for conversion varies from case to case, depending upon the level of knowledge and experience that preceded the quest for conversion and many other factors. A minimum of two years of study and experiential growth is generally recommended though individual circumstances may vary in this regard. During this time, the candidate will be in communication with the Beit Din to review his or her progress, and make any necessary adjustments or decisions as to the remaining course of study and personal growth.
What should I expect at the actual conversion?
The formal conversion consists of a number of elements.
1) For male converts, brit milah (circumcision) is required. If the candidate was previously circumcised, he must undergo hatafat dam brit – the letting of a drop of blood. This must be performed in the presence of a beit din.
2) Both male and female candidates must perform tevillah, immersing in a kosher mikveh in the presence of a beit din. The modesty of a female convert is ensured throughout the process. The members of the beit din must witness the convert’s head fully immersed in the water.
3) All converts must undertake kabbalat hamitzvot – the acceptance of the commandments – in the presence of the beit din. The convert should make a declaration (in his or her own words) embracing the G-d of Israel as the one and exclusive Deity, accepting the Divine origin of the Torah and indicating that he or she commits to observance of halachah which includes both the oral and written laws.
Why are there costs associated with conversion?
Conversion is a not-for-profit endeavor. Nevertheless, there are certain administrative fees, which may vary between the different batei din. These costs may include tutoring fees, purchase of study materials, mikvah and mohel fees, and administrative fees to cover the expenses of the beit din. There is also a $100 fee payable to the Rabbinical Council of America upon a candidate’s acceptance by a regional beit din. This helps defray the cost of the running the network.
Are there any restrictions on a convert’s participation in the Jewish religion?
Every convert has the same kedushat Yisrael (sanctity of the Jewish people) as Jews from birth. Nevertheless, a female convert may not marry a kohein.
What are the GPS standards for conversion of an adopted child?
Conversion of an adopted child is based on the premise that it is a zechut (benefit) for that child to convert. While some have argued that simply becoming Jewish is a zechut, the consensus opinion in rabbinic literature is that it is a zechut to convert an underage person only in circumstances where observance of mitzvot is likely to be part of the child’s life as an adult.
Therefore, adoptive parents who wish to convert a child must:
1) Both be Jewish
2) Belong to an Orthodox synagogue within walking distance of their home.
3) Commit to 12 years of Orthodox day school education for that child.
4) Live an observant lifestyle that includes Shabbat, Kashrut, holidays etc.
Must a converted child reaffirm his or her conversion?
A children converted as a minor must be informed prior to becoming bar or bat mitzvah that he or she was converted. They have the opportunity at such time either to renounce their conversion or demonstrate their commitment to Judaism by continuing to practice a fully committed Jewish life. There is no need for this formal acceptance of mitzvot to be performed in front of a beit din.
Does the sponsoring rabbi or regional beit din still have a role to play following the formal conversion?
The sponsoring rabbi is responsible for assisting the convert in continuing to acclimate into the Jewish community following conversion. He is responsible for providing the regional beit din with a follow-up report one year after the conversion on how the convert has progressed in his or her religious development.