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North America's Reform Rabbis Adopt Comprehensive New Conversion Guidelines, Welcoming Converts to Judaism with

Press release issued by the Central Conference of American Rabbis

Guidelines Reject Traditional Discouragement of Potential Converts, but Reaffirm that Conversion is a Process--Not a Single Event--Involving Learning, Exploration and Rabbinic Counsel

MONTEREY, Calif., June 27 /PRNewswire--North America's Reform rabbis voted overwhelmingly today to support a new, comprehensive set of guidelines regarding conversion to Judaism. Most significantly, the guidelines reject the traditional notion that potential converts are to be discouraged. Instead, the guidelines reaffirm that converts are welcomed into Judaism and express "joy at and encouragement of a decision to pursue the possibility of conversion."

The guidelines also emphasize that conversion to Judaism is a process, not an event, and that "the process of becoming a Jew includes classroom learning, experiential learning, spiritual exploration and rabbinic counseling."

The approved document does not represent a binding set of requirements; rather, it is a set of guidelines designed to help Reform rabbis approach an apparently increasing interest on the part of individuals to convert to Judaism. The vote occurred at the 2001 convention here of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the representative organization of North America's approximately 1,800 Reform rabbis, the largest group of Jewish clergy.

"These guidelines will help our rabbis bring education, celebration and dedication to thousands of seekers who are looking for a spiritual home among the Jewish people," said Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff, President of the CCAR.

Said Rabbi Paul Menitoff, Executive Vice President and professional head of the CCAR, "These guidelines underscore Reform Judaism's willingness to make Judaism accessible to those seeking a spiritual home without attempting to proselytize members of other faith communities. The guidelines signal an openness to welcoming converts while insisting that they complete a rigorous educational process prior to conversion."

Said Rabbi Richard Shapiro, Chair of the CCAR Committee on Conversion, which created the conversion Guidelines, the first set in 20 years, "These Guidelines are a response to an increased interest in conversion to Judaism, and that, in turn, is probably a result of heightened interest in the pursuit of spiritual experience in general."

"While converts to Judaism are as diverse as those born Jewish, there are several groupings of people identifiable among converts. Those include people who are in a serious relationship with someone who is Jewish and have been motivated to learn more about Judaism because of that relationship; people who are already married to Jews and have been living Jewish lives for some time; and other individuals who have no religious tradition of their own and who are seeking a spiritual home for themselves," Rabbi Shapiro added.

In addition to the more welcoming approach to those demonstrating an interest in conversion and to the insistence that conversion is a process that requires immersion in Jewish life, culture and practice, the new Guidelines overturn the traditional position of the Reform Rabbinate that ritual is unnecessary and without meaning in conversion. In fact, the guidelines suggest the reintroduction of traditional rituals of conversion as a legitimate expression of Reform Jewish practice. These rituals might include: the examination by a panel of three learned Jews, preferably rabbis, called a Bet Din; immersion in a ritual mikveh bath, and symbolic circumcision for men.

Further, the guidelines affirm that prospective converts "deserve the spiritual education and emotional assistance of rabbis" for guidance and encouragement and suggest the establishment of a series of "commitments" that can be used to judge whether or not an individual is sincerely prepared to enter into Jewish life."

Rabbi Menitoff said, "The Reform rabbinate is not targeting members of other religions for conversion. We are, instead, making Judaism more understandable and available to those who are not affiliated with other religions and who are seeking a spiritual home."

The CCAR Committee on Conversion began developing the Guidelines following the 1996 CCAR Convention in Philadelphia. The overwhelming consensus among those rabbis who attended the meeting was that there was a strong need within the Conference for a comprehensive set of guidelines to assist Reform rabbis in their work with prospective converts.

Copies of the approved Guidelines and a Q&A document are available by contacting Courtney Mead at Sommerfield Communications, Inc. at 212-255-8386 or courtney@sommerfield.com.

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.
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