In the Talmud (Pes 87b) one of the ancient sages said: ‘’ Proselytes are beloved by God’ and they are really welcomed by us. Some of the greatest teachers in our history trace their descent from converts including Rabbi Akiva and Meir. And of course, in Jewish tradition the future Messiah will trace their ancestry through Ruth, a convert to Judaism who was the ancestor of no less a person than King David.
Are you thinking about conversion? That’s great, welcome. There are four ingredients for a successful conversion:
- You must become involved in your local Jewish community. It is virtually impossible to be a Jew in isolation. Certainly impossible for a new Jew. You need a community to be with you as you learn, pray and socialise, or if you need help or can offer help to others. Most rabbis like you to have already started coming to services for about three months before they will talk about you becoming Jewish. After all, you must be sure it really is the right step for you to make at this point in your life. You (and your partner if you have one) will be required to attend Shabbat services on a weekly basis and also the major festivals of the year. Unfortunately, if you live far from a community, then it is not possible to convert to Judaism as we are so much a community based religion.
- You need to acquire basic Jewish knowledge. In some communities you can do this in a class, in others through private tuition. The Beit Din requires that you have been in formal tuition for at least a year before you come to a court. In some synagogues, the course can take around 18 months. We do offer an 18 month online programme for those who cannot attend a local course, or whose synagogue does not have an Introduction to Judaism course, but entry to the course can only be made through the sponsorship of an RJ rabbi who will keep contact with you throughout the 18 months. You will still need to have regular contact with a local Jewish community.
- You will need to acquire basic Hebrew skills. It is really useful to be able to read any piece of Hebrew with vowels. Our prayer books have transliteration, but not all prayer books do and if you are abroad, and try to read the transliteration in say a Polish prayer book, you might find that impossible!
You will also be expected to be able:
- To read the main prayers smoothly enough to take part in services,
- To know some of the blessings by heart and
- To have acquired a smattering of Hebrew ritual and community vocabulary.
- You will need to change how you run your home and your daily, weekly and annual routines. Being a Jew does not stop once you leave the synagogue services or classes. Being a Jew does not only happen on Shabbat. You don’t stop being a Jew when you go on holiday. Changing all these aspects of your life takes time, learning, a good sense of humour and commitment. What changes you finally decide to make will of course depend on you, but we hope you will discover the joy that comes with bringing God and Jewish tradition into all aspects of your life.
The cost is variable. You will be required to pay the Beit Din fee, currently in 2021 is £350 for an adult. This fee does not cover the full expenditure of running the Beit Din, we are grateful to the Movement for Reform Judaism who contribute to our costs.
In addition, local synagogues make different charges to cover tuition. If you have a Jewish partner, they are expected to join the synagogue.
Please ask carefully about the expenditure before you start the course. Sometimes rabbis have a discretionary fund that can help with some of the costs.
The time can also be variable. The time from when you start going to a local synagogue to your appearance at a Beit Din usually takes about 18 months to two years. But this is a lifetime choice, so we hope you will find the journey enjoyable and fulfilling.
If you have children under the age of 13, they can convert with their converting parent. Depending on circumstances, children between 13 and 16 can also convert with a parent. Young people over the age of 16 should be expected to convert in their own right.
What about circumcision, brit milah? The Beit Din expects that all uncircumcised males over the age of 16 should be circumcised as this is the traditional gateway into the covenant Baby boys under 6 months should be circumcised as well. Our mohalim (the people who carry out circumcisions) are all fully trained and accredited doctors.
The Beit Din accepts physical and psychological reasons that may debar a male adult from seeking circumcision, but we require a letter preferably from one of our mohalim, or a Jewish doctor, explaining the reasons.
After your appearance at the Beit Din, all candidates are expected to undergo Tevilah (a ritual dip in living water) either in our Mikveh or a body of natural water such as the sea or a lake. For details please read the Mikveh section.
Lost conversion documents….don’t panic! We can provide letters that confirm you have been accepted as Jewish by our Beit Din. We cannot provide replacement documents prior to 2012. However, since that date, duplicate certificates have been kept in the office in case of emergencies.
We can also supply letters that can support your application to make aliyah and move to Israel. The Jewish Agency (Sochnut) often want to know what questions you were asked and which rabbis sat on the court. We have ledgers containing that information in full from around 1957 in full and partially before that date.
Caveat: Unfortunately, you have to understand that a conversion held under the auspices of our Beit Din will be recognised by progressive synagogues worldwide, but unfortunately, not by the Orthodox world. If the convert is male and no brit milah is carried out then the conversion may not be recognised by Masorti Judaism in the UK or many Progressive communities in Europe.