How Long Does Conversion to Judaism Take?

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RoyLindmanDavidsStarAriAshkenaziSynagogue.jpg

 

One question I get asked frequently is, “How long does it take to convert to Judaism?

Lately, the conversation has gone something like this:

Them: You converted to Judaism, right?

Me: Actually, I’m still in the process.

Them: Really? How long does that take?

Me: As long as it takes.

Them: *blink*

Me: Um…somewhere around a year or two. Or until I’m ready….

That usually ends the conversation. There really is no set time for converting to Judaism. It’s not like Catholicism that has a year’s-worth of RCA classes. Nor is it evangelical Christianity were all you must do is mutter the “Sinner’s Prayer” and blamo-whamo you’re a Christian convert. Nope, this one takes a fair bit of work, dedication, and, well….chutzpah.

Length

By itself, the length of time means nothing. The length of time it takes – anywhere from a few months to a decade depending on the person – depends on the factors at play. It can take time to find a suitable congregation, to find a suitable and willing rabbi, and to follow all of the requirements to be able to go before a Beit Din.

Requirements

Requirements vary by branch, rabbi, and locale, but may include:

- Knowledge of Hebrew

- Knowledge of Jewish history and culture

- Experience observing each of the Jewish holidays (at least one year)

- Knowledge about Jewish life cycle events

- Familiarity with common prayers and songs

- Acceptance into the local congregation/community

- Altering of habits such as dress and Shabbat observance

- Keeping kosher

- Observing other halakhic rules (depends on branch)

- Courage (Not an official requirement, but it definitely helps!)

My amazing rabbi has a unique take on the matter. He comes from a Sephardic Orthodox background and left that for Progressive Judaism. He states that he wants his converts to be as knowledgeable and articulate as Orthodox Jews, but with an understanding of why those in the reform movement do not continue certain practices. Or why one might want to. He wants me to be able to make the decision for myself based on a firm grasp of Jewish history, Scripture, and culture. Oh, and he also says this: “You’re ready when you identify as Jewish.”

Good enough for me!

Around the Web: Requirements for Conversion

Sim Shalom – Jewish Conversion

Talks about “Jewish Universalism” and then sells educational courses at $118/unit, not counting the Bet Din fee.

Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals – Conversion to Judaism: Halakha, Hashkafa, and Historic Challenge

This is a really interesting article about the history of conversion from about the 1700′s onward. It also summarizes the opinions regarding the correctness of conversions, especially among Orthodox circles.

A quote:

“The scandal of the current beth din establishment position is that it actually invalidates (or casts into doubt) halakhic conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis who follow the teachings of Talmud, Rambam, Shulhan Arukh and a host of halakhic authorities who adhere to those teachings. Thus, halakhic converts and their children are told that they are not Jewish, or that their Jewishness is questionable. This is an egregious example of oppressing gerim-innui ha-ger.

The beth din establishment claims that they adopt the stringent views in order to “raise standards”. As has been pointed out, stringency in the areas of ritual observance leads to “lowering standards” in the areas of intermarriage prevention; it leads to a loss of children to families and to the Jewish people; it leads to weakening the Jewish fabric of Jewish communities in the diaspora and in the State of Israel; it leads potential converts to give up on Orthodoxy-or to become alienated from Judaism altogether; it increases the number of transgressions of oppressing proselytes.”

Reformjudaism.org - What is required to convert to Judaism?

This link will bring you to a whole list of answers to common questions, including, “Can I convert to Judaism without learning Hebrew?” and “Is it possible to convert to Judaism via the Internet?

The Jewish Federations of North America – The Conversion Process

This link provides the step-by-step process that is generally followed in order to convert.

The Jewish Virtual Library- Conversion to Judaism

This article repeats information found elsewhere.

Convertingtojudaism.com – Basic Requirements to Convert to Judaism

I’m not going to discuss converting to Judaism online in this post, but if you want to do that, the above link is one site that offers it.

Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) – Intermarriage Q&A

“Conversion into Judaism requires the will to do so and a practice of rituals. Once a person has decided to convert, he or she must learn about the Jewish religion. This can take a year or more, as the person must experience all of the Jewish holidays. However, the amount of time that must be spent in study varies, depending on which rabbi is overseeing it. There are also additional requirements that vary with each denomination. For conversion into Orthodoxy, the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher) must be observed, among other things. It is best to discuss the requirements of conversion with a rabbi who represents the denomination in which you wish to convert. A male who is not circumcised, who wishes to convert to Judaism, must become circumcised before he is accepted as Jewish by the community and according to Jewish law. Everyone who wishes to convert to Judaism, must immerse themselves in a ritual bath, called a Mikveh. Some Reform rabbis may require adult circumcision or a Mikveh for conversion.

Ohr Somayach – A Question of Conversion

Ugh. Okay, let me say this: this is one of those groups that follows the holier-than-thou approach to religion. It occurs in every faith, and Judaism is no exception. Basically, this link goes to a page where a whole bunch of very willing, very excited people ask Somayach how they can convert. He answers with some requirements and that really, being a Noahide should be enough. But hey…if you really want to join, then we’re obligated to, you know, begrudgingly let you join.

“Once a person sincerely converts to Judaism, they are 100% Jewish, and we are obligated to love, welcome and accept them into our people. When they recite the prayers, they refer to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs as “our fathers” and “our mothers.” At the Passover Seder they say “G-d took our fathers out of Egypt.” They are full-fledged members of the Community of Israel.

In general, we do not encourage someone to convert. There are two reasons for this:

First of all, we believe that when a gentile keeps the seven Noachide laws, he merits a portion in the World-to- Come, and therefore there is no imperative for him to become Jewish. If, like the Christians and Moslems, we believed that those of other religions are condemned to damnation, then we also would desire to convert people. However, we believe that a person can be completely righteous and merit the World-to-Come without conversion, by adhering to the basic moral laws revealed to Noach. Therefore we feel no compulsion to convert others, unless they show a desire to convert.

Secondly, since sincerity is one of the criteria for conversion, one way in which we can determine that the candidate is sincere is by discouraging him from converting. If he persists and does so for the love of Judaism, then we accept him with open arms.

It’s interesting to note that some of our most famous scholars were converts, or descendants of converts. Rabbi Akiva was the son of Yosef the ger tzedek, the righteous convert. The Talmud states that some of the greatest rabbis were descendants of Haman! The standard Aramaic translation of the Torah that is printed in most Chumashim was written by a convert, Onkelos.”

The Institute for Halakhic Conversion – Conversion Standards

They include stuff I’d never think of, such as “having a recognizable degree of psychological normalcy. ”  Hmm….. makes sense.

Gerusguide.com – Gerus Guide

Rabbi Aryeh Moshen’s guide to converting according to Orthodox standards. You must buy the book.

PunkTorah – Before Converting to Judaism, Read This!

This is a really, really great post. In summary, the author is saying that you don’t “convert”, because once you decide to become a part of the Jewish people, you are the same as if you were born Jewish.

“There is no such thing as “converting to Judaism. You come to Judaism through your own desire to be a part of the peoplehood. Yitro did that when Moses taught him how G-d brought the Hebrews out of Egypt (Exodus 18). Ruth did that when she chose to follow her mother-in-law Naomi instead of returning to her own land (Ruth 1). And don’t forget about Abraham, who had an Obiwan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker on Hoth experience and became the first patriarch. This isn’t some far out hippie idea. Chabad believes it, and so do the Humanistic Jews.

So what does this mean in practical terms? Well, it means that the rules of conversion are…well…kinda contrived. OK, before you start throwing Gemara at me, I do recognize that there are some things that remain common: mikvah, circumcision, a sincere heart, etc. But taking one year, five years, ten years to study Torah, going to JCC classes, joining the “right” synagogue are all rules made up by man in hopes of serving HaShem correctly. For some, that means Satmar Orthodoxy in NYC. For others, that means suburban Reform temples outside Reno, Nevada. Pick your team, and just go for it.”

 

Print Resources

One great book is Anita Diamant’s Choosing a Jewish Life. It’s great because she is able to articulate both sides: the side of the born Jew (herself) and the side of the convert (her husband). Of course, her husband’s experience will not mirror everyone’s, but it’s a good guide nonetheless.

Embracing the Covenant: Embracing the Covenant: Converts to Judaism Talk about Why & How by Allan Berkowitz and Patti Moskovitz isn’t one I’ve read, although it is on my list.

 

Do you have any questions about converting, either about the process in general or why someone would leave Christianity? Feel free to ask!

 

About Lynn Swayze

Lynn Swayze is a writer, IT professional , and mother of four. She was raised Southern Baptist, but began questioning her faith before she became a teenager. She is currently converting to Judaism. Email her at lynn {at} followingruth {dot} com.


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