BECOMING JEWISH

Becoming Jewish

Why do some people consider converting to Judaism?

People convert to Judaism for many reasons. Some are seeking religious meaning in their lives – with or without any connection to a Jewish partner – and simply find that Judaism offers a spiritual and religious place in which they are comfortable. For others, a relationship or marriage with a Jewish person offers them a first chance to explore Judaism. Participating in Shabbat dinner, a Shabbat or holiday service, or Torah study may be a completely new and different experience, and can be the first step toward considering conversion.

Once this journey of Jewish exploration and learning has begun, each seeker will make the individual choices that best suit his or her life. Some will choose to convert shortly after their learning process begins, while others will begin the process and take more time to make a final decision. Some people convert to become part of a Jewish family and to raise Jewish children, many after living in a Jewish family for years. Others choose to remain a non-Jewish member of a Jewish family, sometimes still participating fully in Jewish life.

Do Jews seek converts?

Judaism is an open religion that readily encourages and welcomes those who turn to it for fulfillment and guidance in meeting life’s challenges. At the same time, Judaism respects the religious beliefs of others, as well as the convictions of those who choose no religion.

How do I know if Judaism is right for me?

The best way to begin is by participating and learning. Try attending services or events at The Temple; if you have Jewish friends or Jewish family members, ask to share in Shabbat and holidays with them. As you study and explore Jewish practice and customs at your own pace, you will become increasingly comfortable with them.

Another excellent way to get a sense of the traditions and practices of Judaism is to enroll in class such as Basic Judaism which is free and open to the entire community where you can explore the holidays, life cycles, and essential ideas of the Jewish faith.

If I take a Judaism class, will I be expected to convert?

No. Basic Judaism classes are open to anyone who wants to learn more about Judaism, including individuals considering conversion, interfaith couples, and those who were born Jewish and want to learn more about their own heritage. Although many people do take the course as part of the process of converting to Judaism, there are no assumptions or expectations that you will convert as a result of your participation in the class.

If I decide I want to become a Jew, how would I go about it?

First, make an appointment with a rabbi. The rabbi will not only discuss the process and implications of becoming a Jew, but he or she will also explore with you your reasons for wanting to do so. In earlier generations, rabbis would discourage potential converters, turning them away three times to test how serious they were. This custom is seldom followed today, but most rabbis will take time to discuss your choice and his or her expectations of you.

People considering conversion to Judaism are expected to study Jewish theology, rituals, history, culture, and customs, and to begin incorporating Jewish practice into their lives. Here at The Temple we require a course in basic Judaism and individual study with a rabbi, as well as attendance at services and participation in home practice and synagogue life.

Keep in mind that you are free to choose the rabbi with whom you will work. Talk to more than one rabbi and find someone with whom you feel comfortable. This rabbi will then become your sponsoring rabbi, guiding you through every step of your conversion.

If I become Jewish, will I be welcome within the Reform Jewish community?

Modern-day Reform Jews wholeheartedly welcome those who have chosen to convert to Judaism, recognizing that our Jewish community is made stronger by those who actively seek to become Jews. As more and more people chose to enter the Jewish community and as public discussion of such choice grows more commonplace, they have found that their acceptance in the Jewish community has grown. In fact, the Reform Jewish community, as a whole, is proud of its many congregational leaders, as well as a number of rabbis and cantors, who have converted.

If I convert with a Reform rabbi, will all rabbis consider me a Jew?

Reform, Reconstructionist, and, under certain circumstances, Conservative rabbis, the vast majority of American Jews, recognize the validity of conversions performed by rabbis of all branches of Judaism. Most Orthodox rabbis, however, do not recognize non-Orthodox conversions. Your sponsoring rabbi will discuss with you any implications of conversion under his or her guidance.

If I become a Jew, will I be expected to separate from my family of origin?

No. Conversion to a new religion does not make you into something altogether new, nor does it require you to sever family ties or memories. Some converts to Judaism find, however, that, especially initially, their family may be hurt or confused by their choice. Such feelings often stem from misunderstandings or a lack of knowledge about Judaism and are, therefore, perfectly understandable. Patience and a willingness to discuss your choice openly with your family will be important throughout the conversion process. Your rabbi would be willing to discuss this with you. You are not alone!

If I decide not to become a Jew but I have a partner who is, can our children be raised as Jews?

Yes. Many interfaith couples raise their children as Jews, and in many such families, the non-Jewish parent still plays a key role in providing for their children’s Jewish education and creating a supportive Jewish home environment. The more you learn about Judaism, the easier this will be for you. Many Jews see such parents as the givers of a precious gift and as a blessing to the Jewish people.

If I decide not to become Jewish, can I still worship in a synagogue with my Jewish family?

The Temple warmly welcome interfaith families to participate in synagogue life in various ways. Compelled by a verse from the Book of Isaiah 56:7 – “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” – almost all Jewish worship services are open to the public, so you and your family are welcome to attend. Shabbat services are held on Friday evening and Saturday morning, but you should call the congregation during the week to find out specific times of worship.

If I’m not yet ready to convert to Judaism or if I decide not to, what options do my Jewish partner and I have for our wedding ceremony?

Rabbi David will be honored to officiate at your wedding.

Steps Towards Conversion

Conversion candidates are urged to learn as much as possible about Jewish religion and culture, to seek out a variety of Jewish experiences, and to talk to a rabbi early in the process. Many people start by enrolling in Basic Judaism classes, which are offered at Our Temple.