Conversion to Judaism (Giyur)

  • Conversion process
  • The process in Israel
  • Programs in Israel

The process of Giyur

The process of converting to judaism might not be easy as it is to other religions, in fact, it requires a long and tiring procedure which includes a yearly course of studying judaism , to fully deny your previous belief, to meet with Beit-Din (Rabbinical Court), Mikveh (ritual bath / Immersion), and Hatafat Dam Brit (ritual circumcision or, if already circumcised, a ritual removal of a single drop of blood).

Below is the full converting process in 4 steps:

Converting to Judaism in 4 steps

  • Step 1 - Finding a Jewish community and a Rabbi
  • Step 2 - Learning Judaism and The Religious court
  • Step 3 - Circumcision and Immersion
  • Step 4 - Choosing a Name and The public Ceremony

Finding a Jewish community and a Rabbi

As a first step you'll need to contact a nearby Jewish community, talk to Jews about their religion and research Jewish laws, history and customs. You'll need to figure out what you are getting into, and determine why you want to do it.
Be aware that Judaism is a major commitment which will affect every part of your life, will last as long as you live, and will even transfer to your children. Judaism is based on the commandments (of which there are 613 in total, though many are not applicable today) and the Thirteen principles. They should be your first step and the foundation of your Jewish faith.
If you are converting because of marriage, speak with your future husband/wife to determine the best course of action, including what denomination you will join. Not many Rabbis will convert people just because of marriage, the potential convert MUST be sincere and want to convert because of spiritual feelings and not just because of marriage.
To find a nearby Jewish community Click here
Finding a Rabbi
Once you feel that you have sufficient reason to convert, make an appointment with a Rabbi to discuss the process. Each Rabbi belongs to different groupings or movements. The four major movements are Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Reform Judaism. It is important for potential candidates to understand the differences among these movement and choose which movement is right for them.

Be prepared for the Rabbi to try to dissuade you, or turn you away. Many Rabbis consider this part of their job. The goal is not to prevent honest seekers from converting, it is to test the individual's commitment, and make sure that becoming a Jew is truly what he or she wants.

If you are persistent, show that you know what you're getting into and are still committed to doing it, the Rabbi may eventually decide to start you on the path to conversion.

In general, though, Rabbis are extremely dedicated people who are both intelligent and religiously sensitive. They are Judaism's gatekeepers. They decide who can enter into Judaism. Given their central importance to a potential convert, it makes sense to visit several Rabbis and several synagogues to look for a compatible match.

Few possible questions that the Rabbi might ask you:
  • Why do you want to convert?
  • What is your religious background?
  • What do you know about Judaism?
  • Do you know the differences between Judaism and your birth religion?
  • Were you pressured to convert?
  • Are you willing to spend the necessary time studying to become Jewish?
  • Are you willing to raise any children you might have as Jewish?
  • Have you discussed this decision with your family?

Learning Judaism and The Religious court

Once you find a Rabbi, he will oversee your Judaism studying. Each Converts study Judaism in a variety of ways. Some work directly with a Rabbi, meeting regularly and fulfilling specific study assignments. Others attend formal Introduction to Judaism or conversion classes, often with their Jewish romantic partner. A typical course of study will include basic Jewish beliefs and religious practices, such as prayer services, the history of the Jewish people, the Jewish home, the Jewish holidays and life cycle, the Holocaust, and Israel, as well as other topics. The study of Hebrew is also included.

The period of study varies greatly. In general, the range is from six months to a year, although there are variations. Many Gentiles preparing to marry someone Jewish go through this process early so as to get married in a Jewish ceremony. A marriage between someone born Jewish and someone who becomes Jewish is a Jewish marriage, not an intermarriage. If this is a crucial issue, plan to begin study well before a wedding.

Usually during this study period, a Rabbi will ask that the person begin practicing Judaism according to the understanding of the movement. This can be a worthwhile time to explore Judaism. For example, even if a person does not ultimately plan to keep kosher (observe Jewish ritual rules about food), it is valuable to explore the rules for keeping kosher during this period of study.

The Religious court
Meeting at The Religious Court (Bet Din), which is officially oversees the formal conversion, will take place after learning, one part of the appearance will be to determine the Jewish knowledge of the conversion candidate. There might, for example be a question about the meaning of the Jewish Sabbath or about the Jewish belief in one God. These questions are not meant to trap candidates.

Individual Rabbis will provide guidance about how the Bet Din works because candidates are usually nervous during such questioning. In almost all cases the questions are simply meant to assess the sincerity of the candidate and to make sure the conversion was entered into freely. Often an oath of allegiance to the Jewish people is made.

Circumcision and Immersion

The specific requirements for conversion and their order need to be discussed with a Rabbi. One requirement for males who wish to be converted by an Orthodox or Conservative Rabbi is circumcision, or Brit Milah. If a circumcision has already been performed, the Orthodox and Conservative movements require that a drop of blood be drawn as a symbolic circumcision. This ceremony is called Hatafat Dam Brit. The Reform and Reconstructionist movements generally do not require a circumcision as part of the conversion process.

Orthodox and Conservative Rabbis require both male and female conversion candidates to immerse themselves in a ritual bath called a Mikveh. This ceremony is called Tevillah. Reform and Reconstructionist Rabbis do not require the use of a Mikveh, but some highly recommend it. The Mikveh can be any body of natural water, though the term usually refers to a specific pool that is built for the purposes of ritual purification.
The equipment used varies according to the Mikveh. The immersion ceremony usually starts with cleaning the body as by a shower. The person is covered and the covering removed as the person enters the warm Mikveh waters, which are usually about four feet deep. (When the ceremony is done in a public place such as a lake the candidate wears a loose-fitting garment). Blessings are recited and the person goes bends into the water.
According to traditional Jewish law, three male witnesses must be present, although this rule has been reinterpreted so that, in some movements, Jewish females can be witnesses. When there are male witnesses and the candidate is female, the witnesses wait outside the Mikveh room and are told by a female attendant that the immersion has been completed and the blessings recited.

The Offering
In ancient times, conversion candidates brought sacrifices or offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. After the Temple was destroyed, this ceremony disappeared. Jewish law therefore does not require such an offering. However, some Rabbis, especially among the Orthodox, mention it as an opportunity to engage in an act of donating money to the poor or another act of charity to make a symbolic offering. This step can voluntarily be added to the conversion process.

Choosing a Name and The public Ceremony

Choosing a Hebrew name
Frequently, after a Bet Din and the signing of an oath, a Hebrew name is chosen. This is then followed by a visit to a Mikveh. At any rate, at some point, you will be asked to pick a Hebrew name. Some male converts choose the Hebrew name Avraham as their new Hebrew first name and some female candidates choose Sarah or Ruth.
Since the use of Hebrew names includes mention of the parents' Hebrew names, and the convert has no Jewish parents, it is common to add "ben Avraham Avinu," or son of Abraham, our Father. Therefore if a male chooses the Hebrew name Avraham, that male's full Hebrew name would be Avraham ben Avraham Avinu.
For women, the addition is "bat Sarah Imenu," daughter of Sarah, our Mother. The naming ceremony includes a blessing.

The public ceremony
A public ceremony announcing the conversion is not mandatory, but it's becoming more and more popular, especially among Reform Jews. This ceremony usually involves the convert standing in front of the congregation and giving a speech, most typically about the reasons for converting or the lessons learned through the conversion experience.