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How to Convert to Conservative Judaism

Brainy Bunny is married to a Conservative rabbi and has extensive experience with living an observant Jewish life.

Conservative Judaism Conversion

A traditional approach to Jewish conversion has been for a rabbi to turn away a seeker three times before accepting that the seeker truly wants to become a member of the covenant. Recently, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism has repudiated that process in favor of welcoming seekers and non-Jewish partners in interfaith marriages (although it is still not Conservative Jewish practice to proselytize).

If you ask a Conservative rabbi to convert you, he or she will sit down with you to discuss the pros and cons of joining not just a faith, but a people. After all, Jews have been persecuted, banished, and even killed throughout history just because they were Jewish. If being a member of the Jewish community still resonates in your heart, here are the steps you will need to take.

  1. Study with a Conservative rabbi.
  2. Begin practicing Jewish rituals and observing Jewish holidays and customs.
  3. For men only: Have a brit milah (circumcision) or hatafat dam brit.
  4. Be examined by a beit din, or rabbinical court.
  5. Immerse in the mikvah.

The process usually takes from nine months to a year to allow sufficient time for studying and participating in the cycle of the Jewish year.

Study With a Conservative Rabbi

The first step in the conversion process is learning—and a lot of it. Most Conservative rabbis recommend that you first take a community-wide course in basic Judaism. These courses are often run through the local Board of Rabbis, and you can find one by calling your local synagogue. Even if you're not sure you're ready or want to learn more before committing to the conversion process, you will still be welcomed at these classes.

You will also need to find a rabbi to sponsor you—that is, to study with you and bring you before the beit din, the rabbinical court, when you are ready to become Jewish. If you live in a heavily Jewish area, you may have several rabbis to choose from. Talk to them and attend a service at each synagogue to ensure you have found a rabbi with whom you are comfortable. Remember, conversion is a year-long process, so you'll be spending a lot of time with him or her, and presumably, you will join the synagogue once you're a member of the tribe.

Either afterwards or concurrently, depending on how motivated you are and how quickly you learn, you will begin to take lessons with your rabbi, either privately or in a small group with other conversion students. Your sponsoring rabbi will also meet with you regularly outside of class time to see how the conversion process is affecting you and your family. If you are intermarried or are converting before marrying a Jew, your spouse (and/or children) will be included in some of these meetings.

Study Topics

Topics that a potential convert will study include (but are not limited to):

  • Bible and rabbinics
  • Hebrew language
  • Jewish conceptions of God
  • Commandments among people (e.g., charity and lovingkindness)
  • Jewish law
  • Life cycle events (e.g., birth, b'nai mitzvah, marriage, death, and mourning)
  • Jewish calendar and holidays
  • Ritual practice, including kashrut and Shabbat observance
  • Prayer: history, structure, and choreography
  • Jewish views on bioethics and other controversial social issues
  • Jewish history
  • Israel and Zionism
Lighting Shabbat candles and making kiddush on wine on Friday night are not only important rituals, but are also easy to incorporate into your life.

Lighting Shabbat candles and making kiddush on wine on Friday night are not only important rituals, but are also easy to incorporate into your life.

Begin Living a Jewish Life

The Conservative Movement understands that ritual observance is a process rather than a destination. As you learn about the mitzvot (commandments), you will be expected to try to incorporate them into your life, but no one will expect you to know everything and do everything perfectly at first. It may take time to get used to attending synagogue and refraining from work on Shabbat. When you learn about the laws of kashrut, it is acceptable to begin by not eating forbidden foods, separating milk and meat as a next step, and so on. The most important thing is to show that your commitment is growing and will continue to grow.

The one step that will help you most in your quest to live a Jewish life is to become part of a synagogue community. Your sponsor can introduce you to people who are active in the synagogue, and you will have a ready-made support network in place. If you become friendly with some "regulars" at services, you will have someone to help you find your place in the prayerbook and chat with after services are over. Consider attending Men's Club or Sisterhood meetings to meet more people and cement social ties. If you have another interest, such as social action or education, the synagogue likely has other groups or committees you can join. One cannot become Jewish in a vacuum; being part of the community is one of the strongest Jewish values.

During this stage, spend some time considering what you would like your Hebrew name to be. This name is used to call you up to the Torah and during all lifecycle events. You may want to take a biblical name if there is a person in the Bible with whom you particularly identify (e.g., Yaakov, Moshe, Rivka, or Miriam), or you may want a modern Hebrew name that speaks to an attribute you wish to possess (e.g., Asher: "happy", or Rina: "joy").


Before completing the conversion process, males must undergo brit milah, or circumcision. This involves cutting off the foreskin of the penis. For an adult, this is usually performed by a urologist at an outpatient surgical center, and local anesthesia is used. (For a child, a pediatrician can usually do it in his or her office, also using local anesthesia.) Two witnesses are needed; if the doctor is an observant Jewish male, he can serve as one. The doctor recites two blessings, and the witnesses sign a certificate attesting to the circumcision. You will most likely be able to go back to work the next day and resume sexual function within three to four weeks.

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If a male was circumcised as a baby, a less invasive procedure called a hatafat dam brit is performed. This involves taking a drop of blood from the skin around the glans of the penis. The procedure is simple; it can be performed in a doctor's office by a doctor, a mohel, or even the rabbi. The doctor simply pricks the skin with a sterile lancet and wipes up the resultant drop of blood with a piece of gauze. No blessings are required, although witnesses are still necessary. There is no healing period; an adhesive bandage can be applied but will likely not even be necessary.

Come Before the Beit Din

Before meeting with the beit din (rabbinical court), candidates for conversion must write an essay enumerating their reasons for wanting to become Jewish and how they have been putting their newfound Judaic knowledge into practice. Some topics you may be asked to specifically address in your essay include:

  • Discussing why Judaism is a better fit for you than the belief system which you previously practiced
  • Describing how Judaism has informed and will continue to inform your home and personal life
  • Discussing your commitment to religious services and prayer, Jewish education for your children, and to the Jewish community both locally and around the world

The beit din will read your statement in advance and may discuss your candidacy with your sponsoring rabbi before your meeting. At your meeting, the three rabbis comprising the beit din will ask you questions based on what you have written in your essay and basic Jewish knowledge. Their goal is to determine whether you truly "accept the yoke of the commandments," an acknowledgement that Jewish law is authoritative and that you plan to live Jewishly (including ritual observance) for the rest of your life. They will also question you to make sure you have given up all religious practices of your former belief system (e.g., you should not be planning to continue having a Christmas tree in your house).

After your meeting with the beit din, they will confer privately regarding your candidacy. Relax—your sponsor would not have convened the rabbinical court if he or she did not feel you were ready. The beit din will then have you sign a Declaration of Commitment, which declares that you are converting of your own free will and that you voluntarily agree to accept the mitzvot of Judaism. Among the mitzvot enumerated in this document are:

  • Performing brit milah on your sons, welcoming your daughters into the covenant by a naming ceremony, and providing Jewish education for all your children
  • Observing Shabbat and holidays, praying regularly, and attending services
  • Keeping kosher
  • Visiting the sick and feeding the hungry
  • Participating in and supporting Jewish communal life, locally and in Israel

Once you have signed the document, it is time for immersion in the mikvah to complete the process.

Immerse in the Mikvah

The mikvah is a ritual bath used for various purposes, including conversion. At the mikvah, you will prepare for immersion in a small private pool. This includes showering, removing nail polish and jewelry, combing your hair, and cleaning your ears and under your fingernails. You will be naked during your immersion because the water of the mikvah must touch every part of you for the immersion to be considered proper. For reasons of modesty, the rabbis will not directly supervise your immersion if you are of a different gender. Instead, a mikvah attendant or other knowledgeable person of your gender will supervise you while the rabbis wait within hearing distance for you to recite the blessings. You will immerse completely one time, say the blessings, and then immerse two more times. Once your immersions have been pronounced kosher, you are free to dry off and get dressed before meeting the beit din one last time to receive your new name and copies of your conversion documents for safekeeping.

Jewish Conversion Process for a Child

If a non-Jewish woman has children with a Jewish man and they decide to raise the children Jewish, the children must be formally converted. The process is much simpler for children; there is no learning requirement or observance requirement, although the children will be expected to enroll in religious school after the conversion (if they are not already attending). A boy will need to undergo brit milah (or hatafat dam brit if he is already circumcised). Both parents (the Jewish and non-Jewish parents together) must sign a letter of commitment, and the children must immerse in the mikvah. The final step for children is to proceed with bar or bat mitzvah at thirteen years old, which formalizes their acceptance of the commandments upon themselves once they are old enough to undertake that responsibility.

Some useful books to have in your library

Some useful books to have in your library


Diamant, Anita. Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends. New York: Schocken Books, 1997.

Lamm, Maurice. Becoming a Jew. New York: Jonathan David Publishers, Inc., 1991

Lubliner, Jonathan. At the Entrance of the Tent: A Rabbinic Guide to Conversion. New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2011.

Rank, Perry R. and Gordon M. Freeman, Eds. Moreh Derech: The Rabbinical Assembly Rabbi's Manual. New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 1998.


Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on May 08, 2012:

Thank you, the raggededge. I'm happy to be able to provide the information.

Bev G from Wales, UK on May 08, 2012:

Fascinating information and well written. A really good resource for anyone considering conversion.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on May 07, 2012:

Hi, clevercat. It is a complicated process, but remember that a conversion candidate has a sponsoring rabbi to guide him or her. If a Jew by choice does not keep up with the mitzvot, his or her conversion is not taken away; once a Jew, always a Jew. However, conversion is something one should approach with the attitude that accepting the mitzvot is a permanent commitment.

The mikvah is a little mysterious until you go, but if you watch the video I included, you'll get an idea of what it's like. You probably won't know the person who supervises you, but you don't have to be shy; a mikvah attendant is a dispassionate professional, so it's akin to undressing for a doctor.

Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on May 07, 2012:

This is a more complicated process than I originally thought. But what if you don't end up doing all the enumerated mitzvot after you've signed off? What happens then?

The mikvah sounds mysterious! Do you know the person who is watching you immerse?

And I love Ruth's statement. So moving!

Voted up, useful and beautiful.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on May 07, 2012:

Thanks, Twins! I got lucky on this one; my husband is a Conservative rabbi, so I had access to "insider information." TeeHee!

Karen Lackey from Ohio on May 07, 2012:

Another informative hub. Well written and documented!

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on May 07, 2012:

Hi, Laura.

The way you phrased your question made me giggle, but it's actually a very sensible question. There are different denominations within Judaism, namely Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist. There are some theological differences among the groups, but the main difference is in interpretation of Jewish law. (Judaism is, on the whole, a legalistic religion rather than a faith-based religion although of course faith is important.) Orthodox Jews follow Jewish law very strictly, and put great emphasis on ritual observance and study. Conservative Judaism tries to balance tradition and change. That is, Conservative Jews are bound by halakha (Jewish law), but the rabbis try to work within the boundaries of law and tradition to update Jewish law for modern times. Reform Judaism rejects the authority of Jewish law in many cases if not all, uses creative and abridged liturgy, and values social action above ritual observance. I can't speak to Reconstructionism, as I have very little experience with members of that denomination.

Jews do not need to convert to jojn one branch or another; only people outside the faith need to undergo this process to become Jews-by-choice. The Orthodox process is the same, although Orthodox rabbis generally insist on complete ritual observance before conversion. I don't know the Reform process, but people who convert with a Reform rabbi are generally not considered Jewish by Conservative or Orthodox Judaism, because they do not believe that halakha is binding. (A Reform Jew-by-Choice who wishes to join a Conservative synagogue can "reaffirm" his faith with a Conservative rabbi in what amounts to a fast-lane conversion.)

Disclaimer: My description of the branches of Judaism is not intended to be complete; it's a shorthand guide. I hope it was helpful!

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on May 07, 2012:

Thanks, Judi Bee!

LauraGSpeaks from Raleigh, NC on May 07, 2012:

Very informative hub for anyone interested in converting to the Jewish faith. One question--is there a difference between Conservative and regular Judaism? I like the sidebar on Ruth. Voted up.

Judi Brown from UK on May 07, 2012:

Very interesting hub and a useful guide for anyone thinking of converting.

Voted up etc.

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