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Denominations and the Conversion Process

Return to A Resource Guide to Jewish Conversion.

Until recently, it was possible to say with confidence to a potential convert that she or he could choose an Orthodox rabbi as a guide to conversion and count on the rest of the Jewish world to honor the conversion. In some communities, if a Conservative or a Reform rabbi convened a beit din for a conversion, and followed Jewish law, rabbis to the right of them on the theological spectrum would sometimes accept the conversion. This is no longer true.

In the last year or two, we've seen more controversy over conversion among Jews than in generations. Orthodox rabbis, who were already rejecting all conversions from other denominations, have declared each other's conversions invalid or annulled. You cannot count on the stringency of a conversion process to satisfy everyone in the Jewish community.

Furthermore, while there is considerable similarity between the ways rabbis conduct conversions, each individual rabbi is free to pursue his or her own interpretation of what's required. Even within the context of a Jewish movement with set guidelines, your rabbi can make choices about the process that will make the experience very different.

One way to think about the transformative ritual of conversion is that it has to meet the standards of the community to which you belong, or would like to belong. If you are currently taking part in Jewish life, talk to the rabbi in the synagogue you go to now. If you are friends with Jews who live in other places because you know them through the internet, discuss which rabbis and Jewish movements they follow. Seek the process of conversion that will make you the Jew you want to be, with a rabbi whom you respect.

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. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

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