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Conservative Conversion

Return to A Resource Guide to Jewish Conversion.

Until quite recently, it was the policy of the Conservative movement to encourage the non-Jewish partner in an interfaith couple to convert. This policy has been tempered by more recent discussions of being more accepting of interfaith couples as synagogue and community members. Nevertheless, the former policy is an advantage to people who are interested in conversion. Several Conservative communities have created Conversion Institutes, which provide systematic study for prospective Jews by choice and a standing rabbinical court, or beit din. Talk to the rabbi at your Conservative synagogue for more information about what resources are available to you.

The Conservative movement is a halachic movement, like traditional or Orthodox Judaism--it follows Jewish legal precedent set in the Talmud and rabbinic codes. It is also a reform movement—one that takes a reformist position toward Jewish law. To remain cohesive as a movement, a Committee on Law and Standards makes decisions on Jewish law that define which positions are acceptable for Conservative rabbis. Within these positions, Conservative rabbis make their own decisions. This bears on conversions. It means that like rabbis in other movements, individual Conservative rabbis performing conversions have lattitude on certain decisions.

Conservative conversions must have circumcision or hatafat dam brit (the shedding of a drop of covenantal blood) and ritual immersion in a mikveh. You will find differences between Conservative rabbis on other issues, like who can serve on the rabbinical court for the conversion, and what kinds of questions the court will ask before approving the conversion.

Introductory Reading

The Conservative movement rabbinical organization has an introductory reading list for people interested in conversion on the Rabbinical Assembly website. I see that the titles include some that are also on the Orthodox list and at least one that is published by the Reform movement press. You should consider only the beginning, since there are additional texts you'll read as part of an introductory course at a conversion institute or with an individual rabbi.

The Book of Jewish Belief, by Louis Jacobs (Behrman House, 1984).

The Book of Jewish Practice, by Louis Jacobs (Behrman House, 1987).

Embracing Judaism, by Simcha Kling, revised by Carl M. Perkins (Rabbinical Assembly, 1999).

Choosing Judaism, by Lydia Kukoff (UAHC Press, 1981).

Becoming a Jew, by Maurice Lamm (Jonathan David, 1991).

Your People, My People: Finding Acceptance and Fulfillment as a Jew by Choice, by Lena Romanoff with Lisa Hostein (Jewish Publication Society, 1990).

Hebrew for "drop of blood covenant," it is a ritual circumcision for those already circumcised. (Usually men who are converting to Judaism.) Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Rabbinic court involved in matters of Jewish law, including conversion and traditional divorce procedures. Derived from the Hebrew for "Jewish law," it's pertaining or according to the body of Jewish religious law including biblical law (those commandments found in the Torah), later Talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions. Hebrew for "collection," referring to the "collection of water," is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. Today it is used as part of the traditional procedure for converting to Judaism, by Jews who follow the laws of ritual (body) purity, and sometimes for making kitchen utensils kosher. Hebrew for "gladness" or "joy," it is often used to refer to a festive occasion or celebration, like a wedding, bat mitzvah, or bris. Hebrew for "instruction" or "learning," a central text of Judaism, recording the rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history. It has two parts: Mishnah (redacted c. 200 CE) and Gemara (c. 500 CE), an elucidation of the Mishnah.

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