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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Worship, Conversion, Intermarriage (5/12)
Section - Question 10.7: How does one convert?

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                                  Answer:
   
   Please Note: Potential converts should be aware that, depending on the
   movement that performs the conversion, other movements may or may not
   recognize their conversion. For example, Orthodox movements do not
   recognize all Reform conversions, most Conservative conversions, and
   even some Orthodox conversions. In general, the more liberal the
   movement, the more accepting it is of other movement's conversions;
   the more orthopractic the convertion, the more acceptable it is more
   movements. However, the question of Jewish status in Israel is
   different. Jews (regardless of affiliation; regardless of conversion
   status) may receive Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. Once
   in Israel, one's acceptance as a "Jews" is usually up to the Orthodox
   religious authorities, who may or may not regard a non-Orthodox
   conversion as halachically-valid regardless of the affiliation on your
   Israeli identity card.
   
   Conservative and Orthodox Jews require that the potential convert be
   instructed about how to live as a Jew, and undergo kabbalat ol mitzvot
   [agreement to do the commandments], mila [circumcision for men], and
   tevila [immersion in a 'mikvah' ritual bath], and that the procedure
   be supervised by a beit din [court] of three. Note that the members of
   the Bet Din must be acceptable witnesses. According to the Orthodox
   Jewish law, a witness must scrupulously observe all the laws,
   particuarly Shabbat. From an Orthodox standpoint, therefore, any Jew
   who does not follow Orthodox standards of practice--rabbi or
   not--would not be qualified to sit on a Bet Din.
   
   The [5]Reform movement requires that the potential convert agree to
   observe the commandments (according to Reform standards) and
   participate publicly in the community, but they do not require mikva
   or mila. Reform recommends that the potential convert be made aware of
   mikva and mila, and that their conversion would be unacceptable to
   Orthodox Jews, but such notification is not required. In fact, in the
   pamphlet "Becoming a Jew", published by the UAHC/CCAR Commission on
   [6]Reform Jewish Outreach, it says in response to the question "If I
   convert with a Reform rabbi, will all rabbis consider me to be a
   Jew?":
   
     Reform, Reconstructionist, and under certain circumstances,
     Conservative rabbis recognize the validity of conversions performed
     by rabbis of all branches of Judaism. Many Orthodox rabbis,
     however, do not recognize non-Orthodox conversions. Your sponsoring
     rabbi will be able to discuss further any implications of
     conversion under his or her auspices for you.
     
   The Reform portion of the FAQ contains [7]contact information on how
   to start the conversion process.
   
   Conservative rabbis will accept Reform conversions with mila and
   tevila, regardless of the observance level of the beit din, for the
   sake of intergroup harmony.
   
   The debate among movements as to the acceptability of different
   procedures remains unresolved, and is unlikely to ever be resolved
   (and certainly will not be resolved in network discussions). The
   reasons for this depend on from which movement the question is asked.
   And so the reasoning of each movement needs to be stated separately.
   
   Liberal Judaism views this as a question of stringency. Therefore, for
   Liberal Judaism to say "I will comply with the Orthodox standard" is
   to acknowledge an insufficiency of its own standards. Obviously, then,
   non-Orthodox rabbis are unwilling to leave all conversions to the
   Orthodox (even though this may seem like an efficient compromise from
   a practical point of view.) Conversely, for a Orthodox Judaism to say
   "Liberal standards are acceptable" is to acknowledge a superfluity of
   its stricter standards, an equally unlikely scenario.
   
   Orthodox Judaism views this as a question of objective reality. A
   non-Jew does or does not become Jewish by a particular procedure. This
   is in some ways analagous to the procedure by which a person becomes a
   naturalized citizen. Just as the oath of allegiance that the person
   takes to become a citizen is only the end of a process, and only
   certain judges may administer that oath; so to (l'havdil) the Beit
   Din, Tevilah (immersion), and circumcision (if male) are the
   culmination of a process and may only be administered by certain
   rabbis. This is obviously unacceptable to Liberal Judaism, as part of
   the procedure is an understanding and acceptance of the world view of
   Orthodox Judaism.
   
   If you are still interested after reading the above, the following
   will help you start:
    1. First, get in touch with a rabbi in the movement with which you
       wish to associate:
          + Orthodoxy: Consult your local rabbi.
          + Conservative: The Rabbinical Assembly, the organization of
            rabbis affiliated with the Conservative movement in Judaism,
            has established a national hotline to provide free advice,
            information, and literature on the Conservative movement's
            programs for people who wish to convert to Judaism. The
            number in the US is (800) 275-6532 [800 ASK-N-LEARN].
          + Reform: Consult a local Reform rabbi. If you want to talk to
            someone by Email, look at the answer to [8]Section 18.7,
            question 4 in the Reform FAQ. Rabbi Celso Cukierkorn also
            provides conversion support for those in far-flung
            communities interested in Reform conversion; see
            [9]http://www.convertingtojudaism.com/ for details.
    2. Second, start reading. A good place to start is the General part
       of the S.C.J reading list, in the section [10]Where do I start?.
    3. Third, you might consider exploring the [11]Conversion Web Site
       (<http://www.convert.org>). This site, run by Dr. Lawrence J.
       Epstein, contains information on conversion to Judaism in a manner
       that hopefully avoids any partisan leanings. USA addresses and
       phone numbers for obtaining information from the Orthodox (RCA),
       Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements are provided.
       Another good site is Rabbi Celso Cukierkorn's
       [12]http://www.convertingtojudaism.com/ .

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