Where do I Begin?
A few words from our director, Rabbi Richard Plavin
If you are contemplating the possibility of conversion to Judaism, you may well wonder” where do I begin?” You have come to the right place.
The very first requisite is that you have to understand, in a general way, what you are getting into. Reading a few introductory books is always a good idea. I highly recommend To Life: A celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking by Rabbi Harold Kushner. It was published nearly 20 years ago but I don’t know of anything that surpasses it as a first read.
Another excellent little book, by Rabbi David Wolpe, is Why be Jewish.
Both Rabbis Kushner and Wolpe are outstanding thinkers and express themselves clearly and convincingly. You will enjoy both of these books.
Of course, there is a wealth of material to read on the Internet. No one vets the Internet so it may also contain a plethora of nonsense (This page is not in that category!), but there are reliable sites. A good one with which to begin is http://www.jewfaq.org/toc.htm. The pages marked “Basic” are the best place to begin.
Talk to your Jewish friends, but do that with caution. There are many jokes about two Jews and three opinions. Many Jews have long-held misconceptions and many think they know a lot more than they really do. Nonetheless, it is good to see that Judaism means different things to different people.
Find a synagogue, or several, where you live. Try it out; see how you like the services (Keeping in mind that you are a novice and it takes getting used to.) Meet the rabbi. If he or she is not interested in meeting you, find a different rabbi. In the Hartford area you will find many wonderful, friendly rabbis who will be happy to welcome you to their synagogue.
You will find that in this part of Connecticut we have synagogues that are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Renewal, Reconstructionist and Chabad Hasidic. Read about these approaches to Judaism and see which style most appeals to you. Bottom line, the differences are few in comparison to the one underlying theology. But the styles can differ significantly and one may speak to you more than another. Determine which synagogues are near you, check out their websites, and see when they hold services and/or classes. Look in particular for a “Basic Judaism” or “Introduction to Judaism” class.
If you do want to pursue conversion to Judaism, you will have to have a relationship with a particular rabbi. The Institute for Basic Judaism is an academic program that will teach you about Judaism and living Jewishly. A conversion must be supervised by a particular rabbi and each rabbi will have his or her own standards for conversion. You may have to meet with several rabbis before you find one with whom you “click.” That rabbi will play an important role in your life, so take this step carefully and thoughtfully.
In ages past, it was common for rabbis to try to dissuade potential converts. This aspect of our history has a complicated and sad background. Today, dissuasion is not what we do. You will find rabbis more than happy to facilitate your becoming a member of the Jewish people.
Preparation for conversion to Judaism may take a year or more. Typically, you will attend a group class, such as IBJ, meet regularly with your supervising rabbi, attend synagogue services regularly and gradually adopt Jewish practices into your life.
When your supervising rabbi believes that you are ready, there will be several rituals in which you will participate.
- A male convert to Judaism must have a ritual circumcision. If already surgically circumcised, there is a procedure called “HatafatDahm Brit,” (a drop of blood of the covenant. Your rabbi will explain this to you. It should not be an obstacle to your becoming Jewish. If a male convert is not already circumcised, arrangements can be made for this to be done in an appropriate manner and in accordance with Jewish law.
- The rabbi supervising your conversion, at the appropriate time, will arrange for a group of three rabbis, a Bet Din, to convene. The rabbis will ask a few questions to determine that you are fully aware of the gravity of joining the Jewish people, that you have given up any former religious affiliation, and that you are undertaking this significant step in your life totally of your own volition.
- Next you will immerse in the Mikveh. This is a “rebirth” ceremony and completes and makes irrevocable your entry into the Jewish people and acceptance of the Jewish religion.