Conversion is and has always been an important part of the Jewish tradition, and CBE welcomes all who seek to join the Jewish people.

People convert to Judaism for many reasons. Some seek religious meaning in their lives and simply find that Judaism offers a spiritual and religious place in which they are comfortable. For others, a relationship with a Jewish person offers them a first chance to explore Judaism. Participating in Shabbat, holidays, and 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 makes the individual choices that best suit his or her life. Some choose to convert shortly after their learning process begins, while others 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 while participating fully in Jewish life. Reform Jews in general, and CBE in particular, wholeheartedly welcome those who choose Judaism, recognizing that our Jewish community is made stronger by those who actively seek to become Jews.
 

Adult Conversion

The Conversion Process

The process toward conversion is actually quite simple and consists of three aspects:

  1. Taking an introduction to Judaism class: CBE offers a yearly class starting in the fall. If you cannot attend this class on the night offered, we have information about other classes throughout throughout the city. Taking a class will give you much of the necessary information, history, and background you will need for conversion as well as introduce you to a community of like-minded Jews.
  2. Meeting with a sponsoring clergy member: Scheduled at the availability of students and clergy members (every 2-4 weeks), these meetings allow conversion students to process information they are learning about in class, discuss Jewish experiences they are having in life, and explore special readings and topics.
  3. Living as a Jew for an extended period: The year that one converts should be a year of thoughtful experimentation. Students should develop a prayer practice, begin to embrace Shabbat, focus on eating in a Jewish way, and engage with the holidays. In concert with your sponsoring clergy member, conversion students will develop a plan to try various Jewish rituals that they will discuss in their individual meetings.

While these aspects are definite, one’s timetable toward conversion is not. Usually, the journey toward conversion takes anywhere between 8-14 months, however timetables can be shortened or lengthened depending on the individual students. In the end, one knows it is time to convert if two things are true:

  1. Students feel they now know enough about the history, theology, and ritual to live a full Jewish life without the aid of their sponsoring rabbi. Though they won’t know all the answers, they now know reputable sources to find answers.
  2. Students feel Jewish. There is a difference between identity (the way you see yourself) and status (the way others see you). Though your status won’t be Jewish until the day of your conversion, your identity should be fully Jewish before that day.

When students are ready, they will make a date with their sponsoring clergy and will write a personal statement that explains why they want to convert. This statement will be shared on the day of their conversion.

What to expect on the day of your conversion
When one is ready, there are a number of rituals associated with the day of conversion (three for men and two for women). Men who are already circumcised engage in a ritual called Hatafat Dam Brit where a single drop of blood is taken from the head of a man’s penis as a symbolic gesture toward a bris (brit milah). For those who are uncircumcised, we can help you find a doctor who will perform the circumcision.

Men and women share the next two steps. Together we will meet at the Mikveh (236 West 74th Street, New York, NY) with three clergy (rabbis, cantors, or seminary students). We will all have a conversation about what this ritual means to you, why you want to convert, and what you have gained from your journey to conversion. Called a Beit Din (a rabbinical court), this conversation is less a test (we won’t ask you what the fourth book of the Bible is) and more a way to know that you have engaged in this process in a serious and thoughtful way and are ready to become a Jew.

After the Beit Din, our conversion candidates get ready for the mikveh.

The mikvah we use is temperature controlled (it is around the temperature of a slightly warm bathtub), and its water is naturally collected. While we tend to use human-made pools, oceans and rivers can also function as mikvehs.

To prepare for the mikveh, our conversion candidates remove all jewelry, makeup, and creams so that there is no barrier between them and the water. Candidates will enter into the water. Both men and women need someone to make sure they fully immerse in the water. We will match you with a witness who is of the same sex as you and with whom you feel comfortable.

Candidates immerse three times. After the first they say the following blessing:

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvotav V’tzivanu Al Tevilah

(Blessed are you God, Ruler of the Universe, who makes us holy through commandments, and commands us concerning ritual immersion).

After the second, they will recite the blessing Shehekheyanu.

After the third immersion they recite the prayer known as the Shema, proclaiming God’s oneness. Candidates are now Jewish and we sing and celebrate their new status in our community.

After getting dressed, conversion candidates will be given the option to receive their Hebrew name at the mikvah or in a ceremony at CBE during Shabbat.

Conversion of a Child
We know there are many reasons why parents may seek conversion for a child. For some, it is because the child is adopted. For others it is because the child’s mother is of another faith. Whatever the reason, we are happy to help.

Please note: in keeping with Reform Movement policy, the CBE clergy recognize a child as Jewish if either his or her father or mother is Jewish, however we acknowledge that this belief is not shared across the whole Jewish world. We welcome any family who wants to bring a child formally into the Jewish people through conversion.

The conversion of a child consists of three steps for boys and two for girls. For a boy, parents circumcise their child with the intention to later convert him or her. This includes the addition of a hebrew line to the ceremony and most mohelim can easily add this. However, if you did not do this, there is a ritual a mohel can do, called Hatafat Dam Brit, where a single drop of blood is taken from the child’s penis as a substitute if the baby was circumcised in the hospital.

Boys and girls share the next two steps. Together we will meet at the mikveh (236 West 74th Street, New York, NY) with three clergy (rabbis, cantors, or seminary students). We will all have a conversation about what this ritual means to you. Called a Beit Din (a rabbinical court), this conversation is not a test, but a way to prepare you for the meaning of the ritual.

After the Beit Din, parents can help their child get ready for the mikveh.

Our mikvah is temperature controlled (it is around the temperature of a slightly warm bathtub), and its water is naturally collected. While we tend to use human-made pools, oceans and rivers can also function as mikvehs.

Parents prepare the baby or child by making sure that all creams (or piercings for older children) are removed so that there is no barrier between them and the water. For babies, one Jewish parent will enter into the water with them (the parent may wear a bathing suit) as the beit din looks on. Holding the child in front of them, they will blow in his or her face. As a reflex, the baby will scrunch up its nose. Then they let go so that the baby immerses for a second in the water alone. Scooping the baby up, they will recite the blessing:

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvotav V’tzivanu Al Tevilah

Following this we will all recite the blessing Shehekheyanu

For a video of this ritual, click here.

Afterwards, we will give your child a Hebrew name. This can either be done at the mikvah in a private ceremony or as part of services at CBE. For a full description of this ritual visit our baby naming page