At BJ, candidates for conversion to Judaism are welcomed with openness, sensitivity and compassion. Though many factors motivate individuals to choose Judaism, the journey to conversion converges around several essential components:
Before beginning the process we ask potential candidates to reflect carefully on the type of spiritual home they seek and to affirm that choice by visiting BJ several times for services and by experiencing a variety of synagogues and Jewish settings. We recognize both the variety and richness of the New York Jewish community and also the potential difficulties of moving between communities with different traditions and standards of observance. We consider it our obligation to impress upon candidates the need to grapple with the complexities and implications of this important first step.
Candidates must undertake an extended period of study which includes enrolling in either the Introduction to Judaism course taught at BJ (the course runs from October to May) or an equivalent course (Derekh Torah at the 92nd Street Y or Exploring Judaism through the Rabbinical Assembly). Additional options for appropriate study may be arranged on a case by case basis. Further supplementing that education with study of the Hebrew language significantly enhances the journey towards conversion. Recommendations for Hebrew study are available.
Once this period of study has began and up until conversion, candidates meet periodically with a sponsoring rabbi or rabbinic fellow. Meetings serve as a “safe space” in which both candidates and sponsors discuss the process of developing Jewish identity: taking on specific mitzvot, such as Shabbat and holiday observance, kashrut, prayer and tzedakah; finding a place in the BJ community; building a sense of Jewish peoplehood and a relationship with Israel; and exploring how conversion impacts work, family and personal relationships. Though we expect conversion candidates to explore and demonstrate a serious and sustained commitment to each of these aspects of Jewish observance and identity, we recognize that for both those born into Judaism and those who choose Judaism later in life, Jewish practice should evolve and grow. Finally, since religious practice and spiritual growth cannot occur without further study, we consider a lifelong commitment to Jewish learning an essential component in the affirmation and nuture of Jewish identity. It important to stress that there is no set time frame for conversion, rather each individual process is unique and can range anywhere from a period of several months to years.
One of the final steps in the conversion process includes an appearance before a Beit Din (usually a panel of the candidate’s sponsor and two rabbis), in which the candidate discusses his or her journey toward Judaism and affirms his or her commitment to living a life of mitzvot. Pending approval by the beit din, immersion in a mikveh follows. Prior to immersion, men must be circumcised or undergo hatafat dam brit. In keeping with the choice of BJ as a spiritual home, successful conversion candidates are expected to join the synagogue as members.