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What is required to convert to Judaism?

Reform Jews are committed to the principle of inclusion. Since 1978 the Reform Movement has been reaching out to Jews-by-choice and interfaith families, encouraging them to embrace Judaism. You can direct your new son-in-law to try three free A Taste of Judaism® classes,  designed for people who have limited or no Jewish background but are interested in learning about Judaism.  In addition, our 16-20 week Introduction to Judaism classes are perfect for interfaith couples, non-Jews considering conversion, and Jews looking for an adult-level introduction. All of these classes are offered in synagogues across the United States.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell

Judaism is not a monolithic religion. There are a number of branches or streams of Judaism, including Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox. Each branch of Judaism sets its own standards for conversion. Orthodox Judaism usually requires that conversions be under the auspices of Orthodox rabbis, and they typically only accept conversions supervised by Orthodox rabbis.

If your interest is in Reform Judaism and you plan to be a part of a Reform Community, then pursuing conversion under Reform auspices makes sense. Learning about each of the branches of Judaism, its practices, beliefs, and requirements for conversion will help you find the denomination of Judaism that is right for you.

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Answer By: 
Rabbi Alex Lilienthal
holding Star of David necklace

What is necessary to convert to Judaism may vary in detail from rabbi to rabbi, but a period of study is central to the conversion process. This study would not only familiarize the prospective convert with the basic beliefs and practices of Judaism, but it would also help him or her integrate into the actual community. I find it very important that the person do the studying (and the internal growing) while participating in the actual life of a Jewish community. This will allow many things to become second nature to the individual. Once this slowly happens it will be possible to assess how far the conversion has really gone. There is nothing miraculous here, simply an educational process that every rabbi needs to evaluate until his or her subjective criteria are met. Then there are of course ritual aspects to formalize matters which I would strongly encourage that they be done. In the Reform rabbinate the requirement of ritual bath and circumcision will vary from rabbi to rabbi.

Learn more about conversion and read first-person perspectives on choosing Judaism.

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Answer By: 
Rabbi George Stern

"Is it necessary to be conversant in the Hebrew tongue in order to be accepted into the Jewish community via conversion? That is, can I convert without learning Hebrew?"

The short answer is, "Yes, you can convert."

Introduction to Judaism courses, offered around the country and taken by many prospective converts, usually enable students to "decode" Hebrew - that is, to read the sounds so that at least they can follow along with the liturgy. Of course, it is our hope that converts, as well as born Jews, will learn more Hebrew than that so that they can at least understand what the basic prayers mean - but, of course, that takes time. Spoken Hebrew is a skill very few Diaspora Jews have mastered, unless they have learned it growing up, studied it in college, or learned it by living in Israel.

Now, if you ask the question because you are aware of having a language disability of some kind, I suggest speaking with the rabbi sponsoring your conversion. I am sure he or she would be happy to work something out with you.

Otherwise, I encourage you to jump right in to the excitement of learning this wonderful ancient/modern language. The fact is, Judaism is more exciting the more you understand the mother tongue, because much of our Torah interpretation is based on linguistics - but don't despair if you're not a scholar from the get-go!

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Answer By: 
Rabbis Robert Orkand & Leora Kaye

Rabbi Robert Orkand: Judaism welcomes those wishing to convert, and a great deal of information about Judaism is now available on the Internet, making it a wonderful way to begin learning. Start with ReformJudaism.org's conversion page, which includes a reading list for beginners. However, conversion to Judaism involves time and effort: study, worship and practice in the context of an active Jewish community. Judaism is a religion of people and community. Once a student is ready to convert, there are meaningful rituals that mark the new Jew's entrance into the covenant and affirm the community's embrace of him or her. Therefore, conversion over the Internet is simply not possible or advisable. To convert in that way would not be meaningful or fulfilling.

Still, conversion can be a challenge for those who do not live near a synagogue. May I suggest that you contact a rabbi near you? (Use this online search tool to find a Reform congregation near you.) Even if you do not live in the community or area, I am sure he or she would be happy to meet with you and discuss ways you can begin to study about Judaism. Periodic in-person meetings, conference calls, and video calls are all ways to further your learning with a rabbi. Because it usually takes at least one year to prepare for conversion, you’ll have plenty of time to arrange for congregational visits. If, after a period of study, you decide that you want to become a Jew, the rabbi would be ready and willing to explore that option with you.

I hope that you will learn more about our faith and that you will, indeed, make the decision to become a Jew. I look forward to welcoming you into the Jewish people at that time.


Rabbi Leora Kaye: I would like to underscore and clarify what Rabbi Orkand said above. His comment about an internet conversion not being meaningful is specifically directed toward the idea of doing a completely online conversion, with no direct contact with a congregation or rabbi, cantor, or educator.

However, he does very beautifully encourage that people with limited opportunity be in touch with nearby congregations to find a way to work out a conversion experience that incorporates the needs of the individual and the needs of the Jewish community as it pertains to conversion.

Reform Jewish thinking also strongly exhorts that part of what makes a person's Jewish experience stronger is their connection to a community - to help them when they are in need of help, to celebrate at joyous times, and for individuals to have the chance to offer help and support to others, and, of course, to celebrate with them as well. It is for this reason that we so strongly encourage people to seek out in-person Jewish communities whenever possible.

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Answer By: 
Rabbi Bruce L. Gottlieb

I have been attracted to Judaism ever since I first began to learn about it, and have reason to believe that my family was originally Jewish. What would be the steps for me to take to return to Judaism?

Discovering or rediscovering one's personal history and family history can be a profoundly enriching and transforming experience.

Conversion to Judaism is a process of cognitive and affective development -- that is, learning what it means and how to be Jewish and then experiencing and internalizing what has been learned. While a conversion ceremony is transforming in several ways it is also a statement that the celebrant has become Jewish and is ready to declare his/her Jewish identity and commitment.

You have obviously done a great deal of work and searching to this point. This process cannot, however, been done alone. It requires a Rabbi as a guide and a Congregation as the full context. Your next step should be to contact the Rabbi of the local Reform congregation.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Stuart Federow

My husband and I are in the process of adopting an African American baby boy. We had him circumcised by a doctor -- as he was already 2 months old, my husband was concerned about safety. Must he really undergo a conversion ceremony to be Jewish?

Yes, he must undergo conversion to be Jewish. The reason is quite simply that the conversion ceremony is the "naturalization" ceremony that makes one a "citizen" of the People of Israel. Without it one would not be considered to be a Jew, in the same way that one who immigrates to the U.S. is not considered a citizen of the U.S., until he or she is naturalized. Similarly, you may get rights and privileges, palimony and the like, if you were not legally married to your husband, but without the legal marriage you would not be his wife.

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