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Please Note: Potential converts should be aware that, depending on the movement that performs the conversion, other movements may or may not recognize their conversion. For example, Orthodox movements do not recognize all Reform conversions, most Conservative conversions, and even some Orthodox conversions. In general, the more liberal the movement, the more accepting it is of other movement's conversions; the more orthopractic the convertion, the more acceptable it is more movements. However, the question of Jewish status in Israel is different. Jews (regardless of affiliation; regardless of conversion status) may receive Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. Once in Israel, one's acceptance as a "Jews" is usually up to the Orthodox religious authorities, who may or may not regard a non-Orthodox conversion as halachically-valid regardless of the affiliation on your Israeli identity card.
Conservative and Orthodox Jews require that the potential convert be instructed about how to live as a Jew, and undergo kabbalat ol mitzvot [agreement to do the commandments], mila [circumcision for men], and tevila [immersion in a 'mikvah' ritual bath], and that the procedure be supervised by a beit din [court] of three. Note that the members of the Bet Din must be acceptable witnesses. According to the Orthodox Jewish law, a witness must scrupulously observe all the laws, particuarly Shabbat. From an Orthodox standpoint, therefore, any Jew who does not follow Orthodox standards of practice--rabbi or not--would not be qualified to sit on a Bet Din.
The Reform movement requires that the potential convert agree to observe the commandments (according to Reform standards) and participate publicly in the community, but they do not require mikva or mila. Reform recommends that the potential convert be made aware of mikva and mila, and that their conversion would be unacceptable to Orthodox Jews, but such notification is not required. In fact, in the pamphlet "Becoming a Jew", published by the UAHC/CCAR Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach, it says in response to the question "If I convert with a Reform rabbi, will all rabbis consider me to be a Jew?":
Reform, Reconstructionist, and under certain circumstances, Conservative rabbis recognize the validity of conversions performed by rabbis of all branches of Judaism. Many Orthodox rabbis, however, do not recognize non-Orthodox conversions. Your sponsoring rabbi will be able to discuss further any implications of conversion under his or her auspices for you.
The Reform portion of the FAQ contains contact information on how to start the conversion process.
Conservative rabbis will accept Reform conversions with mila and tevila, regardless of the observance level of the beit din, for the sake of intergroup harmony.
The debate among movements as to the acceptability of different procedures remains unresolved, and is unlikely to ever be resolved (and certainly will not be resolved in network discussions). The reasons for this depend on from which movement the question is asked. And so the reasoning of each movement needs to be stated separately.
Liberal Judaism views this as a question of stringency. Therefore, for Liberal Judaism to say "I will comply with the Orthodox standard" is to acknowledge an insufficiency of its own standards. Obviously, then, non-Orthodox rabbis are unwilling to leave all conversions to the Orthodox (even though this may seem like an efficient compromise from a practical point of view.) Conversely, for a Orthodox Judaism to say "Liberal standards are acceptable" is to acknowledge a superfluity of its stricter standards, an equally unlikely scenario.
Orthodox Judaism views this as a question of objective reality. A non-Jew does or does not become Jewish by a particular procedure. This is in some ways analagous to the procedure by which a person becomes a naturalized citizen. Just as the oath of allegiance that the person takes to become a citizen is only the end of a process, and only certain judges may administer that oath; so to (l'havdil) the Beit Din, Tevilah (immersion), and circumcision (if male) are the culmination of a process and may only be administered by certain rabbis. This is obviously unacceptable to Liberal Judaism, as part of the procedure is an understanding and acceptance of the world view of Orthodox Judaism.
If you are still interested after reading the above, the following will help you start:
First, get in touch with a rabbi in the movement with which you wish to associate:
Orthodoxy: Consult your local rabbi.
Conservative: The Rabbinical Assembly, the organization of rabbis affiliated with the Conservative movement in Judaism, has established a national hotline to provide free advice, information, and literature on the Conservative movement's programs for people who wish to convert to Judaism. The number in the US is (800) 275-6532 [800 ASK-N-LEARN].
Reform: Consult a local Reform rabbi. If you want to talk to someone by Email, look at the answer to Section 18.7, question 4 in the Reform FAQ. Rabbi Celso Cukierkorn also provides conversion support for those in far-flung communities interested in Reform conversion; see http://www.convertingtojudaism.com/ for details.
Second, start reading. A good place to start is the General part of the S.C.J reading list, in the section Where do I start?.
Third, you might consider exploring the Conversion Web Site (<http://www.convert.org>). This site, run by Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, contains information on conversion to Judaism in a manner that hopefully avoids any partisan leanings. USA addresses and phone numbers for obtaining information from the Orthodox (RCA), Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements are provided. Another good site is Rabbi Celso Cukierkorn's http://www.convertingtojudaism.com/ .
The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.
Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to email@example.com. The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Daniel P. Faigin <email@example.com>