Conversion from one religion to another is a rather complex process that needs to be performed after having completely assessed all the implications that it entails.
The process of converting to Judaism comprises several elements: considering the religion, finding a rabbi for guidance and counsel, learning and studying about the religion, being evaluated by the religious court, circumcision, immersion, the offering, choosing a name and the public ceremony. The present article shall address the conversion to Judaism for both women and men, as well as for children.
A first step in the conversion process is to take into consideration the religion to convert to, in this case, Judaism. The reasons behind such a decision are multiple: in order for one to be able to marry the loved one, for better spiritual guidance, etc. In this regard, the one considering Judaism as a religion to convert to, needs to explore it thoroughly in the beginning, discussing it with family and friends, reading and documenting it, as well as evaluating it from all points of view. After all, such a decision is bound to have a great impact on one’s life.
A second step is to find a rabbi, who can clarify some of the issues related to conversion that have been left unclear from the previous step. However, finding a rabbi is both an important as well as a difficult task, as rabbis are different. Some might decide to test the candidate to see whether he/she is sincere in this quest. That is why it is essential to look for the perfect rabbi for one by visiting several synagogues, attending their services, asking for recommendations from family and friends or from the local Jewish community. Moreover, when searching for the rabbi one needs to take into consideration the fact that rabbis belong to four major Judaism groups – Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism. Thus, based on one’s option for a specific group, he/she should try and find the appropriate rabbi from that specific group.
It is a fact that after having found a rabbi, he shall ask a series of questions related to one’s religious background, reasons for converting, knowledge on Judaism, whether there have been pressures onto him/her converting etc. Such questions are essential to the rabbi to help one better understand the nature of the conversion process and embrace it altogether.
After having decided to convert and having found a rabbi, one needs to engage in a thorough study of Judaism, overseen by the rabbi. This step is an intermediary one in the conversion process as it might help one better understand the religion he/she is about to convert to, or actually deter him/her from conversion, before making a mistake, should he/she realize that this is not the right religious belief to embrace.
The study of Judaism comprises completing assignments as well as the study of several important elements such as Jewish beliefs, prayers, Jewish history, holidays, the Holocaust, the organization of the Jewish home, as well as the study of Hebrew. The time frame for the study of Judaism ranges between six months and a year.
A forth step refers to the assessment of the study and consists of the religious court, or the Bet Din, composed of three people, of which one is a rabbi. The religious court shall ask one questions referring to his/her studies to verify the outcome of the learning process and even the sincerity manifested in the conversion process. It is common to end this religious court process with an oath of allegiance to the Jewish people.
Depending on the Judaic group they convert to, men might be asked to have a circumcision (brit milah) as part of the conversion process. This is the case of the Orthodox and Conservative groups. In case circumcision had already been performed, it is common, within this groups, to have a symbolic circumcision performed - the drawing of a drop of blood (Hatafat Dam Brit)
Another part of the conversion process is the immersion of both men and women in a ritual bath, which is called “mikveh”, in a ceremony named “tevillah”. The ceremony can take place in a specially built pool or in a spring, lake, pond etc. It is common to recite blessings during the mikveh and three witnesses (male or female, depending on the one converting) are to be present.
The offering as a part of the conversion process is no longer a common step, apart from the Orthodox Judaism group. It was common to bring offerings to the Jerusalem temple in the ancient times. Nowadays, such offerings have been replaced with donations for the poor or an act of charity to a specific cause.
The choice of a Hebrew name is another important element in the conversion process. The most commonly chosen names are those of “Avraham”, “Sarah” or “Ruth”. Usually, Hebrew names include references to the parents’ names – in the case in which one does not have Jewish parents, he/she shall add to the name the following particles “ben Avraham Avinu”, meaning son of Abraham, our Father, or “bat Sarah Imenu”, which means daughter of Sarah, our Mother, in the case of women. The choice of a name is followed by a blessing.
After having completed all the steps of the conversion process, the newly converted Jew shall take part in a public ceremony, consisting of delivering a speech in front of the congregation, explaining how the conversion process unfolded, the main reasons for resorting to it, as well as the lessons and values learnt from the overall process.
A special attention needs to be given to the case of children converting to Judaism. Conversion at an early age is rather simple, with few variations depending on the group to which the child and his/her parents belong to. Thus, the conversion ceremony consists mainly of choosing a name, followed in some cases, depending on the group, by a mikveh in the case of a girl and a circumcision and a mikveh in the case of a boy. In the case of children, conversion to Judaism can be pursued with the sole purpose of having them recognized as Jews within their community.