Converting To Judaism

Converting To Judaism


Conversion To Judaism Resources – v 1.1

Although JewsByChoice.Org is principally intended for individuals who have already converted to Judaism, we have put together this resource page in order to help non-Jews interested in Judaism and/or conversion.

Please note that we the contributors to this site are neither clergy nor Jewish professionals. Therefore, the following information should be considered as peer advice and not professional opinion.

If you are interested in Judaism and/or are curious about conversion, the best way to get things rolling is by spending some time learning about Judaism as both a religion and culture. The following barely scratches the surface in terms of the available information on this subject, but there is certainly enough here to get you started.

For more information on conversion please visit the Conversion Resources section of our Links page.

What is Judaism?


We view Judaism as an “Evolving Religious Civilization,” a description first used by Mordecai M. Kaplan in the early part of the last century. Kaplan suggested (and we agree) that, although Judaism is rooted in a religious foundation, it transcends religion and should be understood as a civilization. This is because Judaism includes history, law, language, literature, music, poetry, art, social organization, rituals, folkways, social standards of conduct, spiritual ideals, and aesthetic values (not to mention a nation state). Judaism is not static; it is dynamic. It is not monolithic; it is heterogeneous and pluralistic (D.Sasso 2002). All of these aspects of Judaism are (ideally) rooted in a deep sense of religious commitment and history.

Streams of Judaism


In North America, Judaism can be broken down in to two main groups, Orthodox and Non-Orthodox. In Our opinion, the main difference (although there are many others) between these two groups is the status of halacha (Jewish Law). For the Orthodox, halacha is rooted in Divine Revelation and is as binding upon Jew’s today (that means 100% of Jews) as it was in the past. The non-Orthodox streams, which include (among others) the ConservativeReform, and Reconstructionist movements, either fully reject the binding nature of Jewish Law or, as in the case of Conservative Judaism, view it as binding but evolving and therefore amendable under the right circumstances.

We can’t stress enough how important it is (especially if one is considering conversion) to take the time to learn about the various Jewish denominations. This is because each approaches Jewish ideology, theology, observance, and conversion from their own unique perspective and set of standards. This means that some movements are going to be a better fit for you than others will be. Another important reason (again as a potential convert) for learning about these differences is their different conversion standards. Importantly, some movements don’t recognize the converts of other movements as legitimate Jews. That’s something to keep in mind because you want to avoid problems down the road.

Our best advice to anybody thinking about conversion is to take enough time (ideally before starting the process) to learn about all of the denominations and what they think of each other. If and when the time comes for you to decide how to proceed, you can make a more informed choice.

What is Conversion to Judaism?


Now that you have a better idea of what Judaism is all about, it’s time to learn a little about the hows, whos, and whys of conversion.

Conversion to Judaism is in our experience different than any other type of religious conversion process. We say this for several reasons, but the primary one is that conversion is not just a question of an individual accepting G-D and religious observance as it is understood by the Jews. It is also a question of the (potential) convert successfully being accepted into a Jewish community as one of the community’s own. In this way, conversion is very much a two-way street and therefore not something a potential convert can decide for him/herself alone. This, in our opinion, makes Jewish conversion very different than conversion to other faiths like Christianity or Islam, because such traditions do not (usually) require the same level of community acceptance. So even from a religious point of view, conversion is never just between the (potential) convert and G-D. It is also about membership in a socio-cultural-political-spiritual community. In fact, as we see it, there is no Jew without community, especially when it comes to converts. In some ways (for better or worse), as converts we are only as Jewish as the communities who have accepted us. Ultimately, one can think of Jewish conversion as being just as much about immigration as it is about spirituality or religiosity.

Choosing a Path To Conversion


Do you still want to convert? If so, it’s time to get a little more specific! Currently conversions in North America are handled by the various denominations; you will need to pick one stream over the rest. There are some important things to keep in mind when choosing your path to conversion.

Below are two examples of questions we believe to be worthy of consideration before one starts the process.

Are you willing to accept and meet the set standards of the community you are planning to convert into?

In our opinion, this is really a no-brainer. You should know what you are getting yourself into. In general, we are referring to things like the movements’ ideology, theology, and standards of observance. For example, if the community expects you to keep a stricter level of observance than you feel one should, you are sure to run into problems. Better to know this stuff before you start, because finding out, six months down the road, that you aren’t prepared to meet the community’s standards wouldn’t be fun.

Will the movement be able to meet your (anticipated) needs down the road?

This one is no less important (if not more so) than the one above; unfortunately, it is all too often overlooked. People sometimes just pick the first place they find to convert, especially in smaller communities, where options are limited. For example, if you know you believe halacha is binding and that keeping kosher is essential to Jewish observance, you might not want to convert Reform. We say this for two reasons, one is that you will likely feel limited in a community that has a lower standard of kashrut than you do. This might be especially problematic if you keep a kosher home and find that you can’t eat at your synagogue because it doesn’t have kosher facilities and only serves kosher-style foods. More importantly, if you try to find a more observant community, they might not accept your conversion as valid because of the (perceived) lower standards of your sponsoring rabbi and/or the community that you initially converted into. If that’s the case, you might find yourself back at square one.

Some times these types of problems can be avoided and other times they can’t, but the bottom line is that it’s better to anticipate and plan than it is to ignore and just hope for the best.



Judaism is a beautiful way of life and, if her lovely voice calls out to you, then follow the sound and see where it brings you. Just remember that joining the tribe is as much about what you can bring to the community as it is about what you might get from it. More importantly conversion to Judaism is bigger than establishing a personal relationship with G-D. It’s also about becoming part of a people.

Once you are ready to seriously consider converting, it’s time to find one or more local rabbis in order to discuss your options.

For more information on conversion please visit the Conversion Resources section of our Links page.

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