The Process of Jewish Conversion (or Affirmation for some)
“As we sang to you when you came out of the water, I thought that the Sinai Covenant had to be expanded yet again, as there was need to make room for another soul.” Jeff
Though each person’s path into Judaism is different, there are some commonalities to the process.
Study and Practice
This part of the process can take a year or more and usually begins by establishing a relationship with a rabbi who becomes a primary teacher and guide. The rabbi may require regular meeting with him / her, attendance at a formal class, readings about Jewish history and theology, “trying on” Jewish customs, rituals, prayers, and holidays, and other ways of connecting to Jewish community.
The major Jewish denominations vary in their requirements, but in fact, every rabbi has his / her own process.
The Rituals of Conversion
When you and your rabbi agree that you are ready, the rabbi will schedule conversion rituals, which include meeting with a beit din (a “court” of three knowledgeable Jews, typically rabbis), hatafat dam brit (symbolic circumcision) for men and boys, and mikveh. Not all rabbis require all of these rituals for every convert; however, these three are typical and widely used. It is also the custom of rabbis and congregations to acknowledge conversions with a ceremony and/or blessings of welcome within the context of a synagogue service.
Beit Din The beit din is a rabbinic “court” of 3 learned Jews, usually clergy, who meet with a candidate for conversion.
The beit din meeting is not a test but a conversation to ascertain the sincerity of the candidate. Questions tend to focus on her / his Jewish journey, hopes and expectations for his / her Jewish future, and plans for further engagement and learning. Once all of the rituals are completed, the members of the beit din sign a conversion certificate that includes the new Jew’s Hebrew name.
Circumcision / Hatafat Dam Brit
Ritual circumcision is a sign of the covenant between each individual man and the people of Israel. For men who have already been medically circumcised, this ritual involves the drawing of a drop of blood, hatafat dam brit, which is usually performed by a mohel, one who is trained in this practice and recites a blessing as he/she performs it. Your rabbi should be able to answer questions about this practice and will either engage or refer you to a mohel.
Immersion in a mikveh is the final ritual in the process of conversion. An act of rebirth – and the precursor / source of “Christian” baptism — the mikveh does not “wash away” one’s past life. It enacts a beginning and a promise.
As a mitzvah, or commanded action, immersion for conversion requires the recitation of a Hebrew blessing and the testimony of a witness, whose responsibility is to support the candidate and make sure that he / she has submerged every part of the body.
The ceremony is under the supervision of the sponsoring rabbi, who almost never serves as the witness. In all cases, women are witnessed by women; men by other men. At HHRI, the blessing is displayed for easy reading in Hebrew, Spanish or English, and Hebrew transliteration. Special readings and kavanot are available.
When the new Jew dresses and returns to his / her rabbi, family, and friends, they are typically greeted with smiles, applause and the singing of Siman Tov U’ Mazal Tov, a song of congratulations.
Celebration After all the ritual requirements are met and completed, it’s up to you, your family, and clergy to choose how and where to celebrate. Some new Jews prefer to keep things simple and private, accompanied by close family and clergy only. Others welcome the chance to gather with members of their congregation, friends, and extended family to eat, drink, give blessings and gifts.
Hineni Hebraic Research Institute provides a welcoming and home-like celebration space to mark this happy occasion at the mikveh in Canada. Please contact and read here for more information about it.