Giyur (from ger, meaning ‘stranger’)
The change in status of a person from a member of one religion to another, in this case from any other religion to Judaism.
Jewish attitudes to conversion have varied in the past and continue to do so today. In the Bible, the Book of Ruth indicates both that conversion was both commonplace and a simple procedure. Her ringing declaration ‘Your God shall be my God, your people my people’ characterised the open approach of Judaism at that time. In later periods, particularly when most Jews lived outside the land of Israel and there were hostile relations between Jews and their neighbours, conversion became much harder or was actively discouraged. Moreover, as Judaism recognised Christianity, Islam and other faiths as forms of ethical monotheism, it did not seek to convert others and accepted that there were many different paths to God.
Aspects of both traditions have persisted in modern times. Many Orthodox synagogues regard conversion as undesirable and discourage would-be converts. Reform Judaism is not missionary but sees no reason why a person should not become Jewish if they so wish. This is especially the case if the person is engaged or married to a Jew, and their conversion will help unify the family and ensure that any future children will be brought up in the Jewish faith.
The requirements for conversion are sincerity, knowledge and participation. Most Reform synagogues offer conversion courses that involve 12-18 months of study, usually with both partners attending. It is also important that the person attends services and participates in other aspects of communal life. At the end of the course, the person appears before the Reform Beth Din (rabbinic court) which regulates conversion and other status issues. Males are expected to be circumcised, while both men and women will undergo ‘tevilah’ - immersion in water to signify their acceptance of the Jewish way of life.
If you are thinking of converting and either want further details or to meet a rabbi, enquiries should be directed to your nearest Reform synagogue.
If you do not have one within travelling distance, please contact our Beit Din.
- Written by Rabbi Jonathan Romain, September 2008
- Ruth’s speech to Naomi, said to be the first instance of ‘formal’ conversion, Ruth 1:16-17
The Movement for Reform Judaism does not consider this text to constitute the definitive answer on this subject. We believe that Judaism is a living, evolving faith and, as such, there is no 'final word' on Jewish texts, traditions and thought.