Take the 2-minute tour ×
Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am 25 years old and I am truly interested in converting. I too also only believe in G-d. I live my life to certain rules that others I see aren't strong enough to live by. I want to know what I can do be part of this great religion. I know I wasn't born chosen but I feel such a connection to Judaism that I feel I need to try and keep trying for Judaism. There are "converting classes" but I feel that's just a way for someone to make money. I'm truly interested and do whatever it may be to be considered a friend.

What are the first steps for someone like me, who is considering conversion to Judaism?

share|improve this question
12  
Steven, welcome to Judaism.SE. First, your situation is very personal and requires personal association with a competent rabbi. Second, in case you don't know of it, you might want to check out the relatively popular Noahide movement. Third, this is a question/answer site, and I don't really see that you're asking any specific question. But feel free to hang around and learn more about Judaism on the site! –  jake Dec 26 '11 at 19:47
1  
@jake, I made an assumption about the specific question that Steven is getting at and edited accordingly. Steven, please feel free to edit further if I got it wrong. –  Isaac Moses Dec 26 '11 at 20:02
2  
I agree that this question is vague, and requires a discussion with a Rabbi (if not many such), but certainly it's possible for someone to outline the process. Remember: "Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers" is the second Stack Exchange guideline for subjective questions. –  neilfein Dec 27 '11 at 1:17
    
I only now noticed the sentence about conversion classes and someone making money. Some are indeed fraudulent. However, be aware that conversion will cost you something. At the very least, a few hundred dollars in fees to the beit din (Jewish court) who need to convene to approve the conversion. Moving to a Jewish community, buying kosher food, buying a tallis, tefillin, prayer books, study books, etc. are also expensive. Converting to Judaism is not easy, and it's not supposed to be. –  user1095 Dec 29 '11 at 10:53
    
This is a beautiful question. One thing I will say is that if you have your heart set on converting and want to become a true part of the Jewish people, you should convert Orthodox. Unfortunately many converts don't realize that a Conservative conversion will not make them a "real Jew" in the eyes of many. –  SAH Sep 5 at 14:42

6 Answers 6

The first step in considering conversion is to learn about Judaism and Jewish history on your own, so you can choose, first, whether you want to be a Jew (not an easy choice) and also what kind of Judaism you would want to pursue, because there are many options. This site is a great place to start, though it often only presents an "Orthodox" perspective. I'd suggest that you go to a synagogue and ask if you can use their library. A public library is great too but synagogues often have a better selection. Some great books to begin learning about Judaism are the "master histories" such as Heinrich Graetz's History of the Jews (it is in so many ways out of date as it was written in the 19th century but it gives a good overview) and the Encyclopedia Judaica which has great articles on many aspects of Judaism such as the Kabbalah, issues relating to Biblical criticism, etc.

Just to be clear, you do not need to convert with an Orthodox rabbi to become a "real" Jew. You have a choice of what kind of Jew you want to become, just like someone who was born to a Jewish family has a choice of how he or she wants to practice, but they are still Jewish.

Now, there are some "legal" consequences to a non-Orthodox conversion, as discussed in detail in this question's answers. That is to say, the Orthodox community may not consider you Jewish. But even if you convert with a non-Orthodox rabbi, you will still be able to immigrate to Israel as a Jew under the law of return, which recognizes non-Orthodox conversions.

share|improve this answer
3  
Just to be clear, you do not need to convert with an Orthodox rabbi to become a "real" Jew. is misleading. To become universally (or anything that can reasonably termed so) accepted as a "real Jew," a non-Jew would have to convert through an "Orthodox" ritual court. And, in the context of becoming a member of a nation, acceptance by that nation is of paramount importance. –  Isaac Moses May 3 '13 at 17:14
2  
@Jason, that's not how it works in immigration law, and it's not how it works in Jewish law. –  Isaac Moses May 3 '13 at 17:17
2  
@Jason, And my point is that if you're going to present such a choice, where the consequences of some options are qualitatively different with respect to the stated goal than others, it's only responsible to make those consequences clear. –  Isaac Moses May 3 '13 at 17:21
3  
@Jason, finding your rabbi is obviously important; yitznewton and I both called that out in our answers too. Your sentence about being a "real" Jew is probably rubbing some people the wrong way, hence my friendly suggestion (nothing more). FYI, I am a Reform Jew so I certainly don't hold that only orthodoxy is legitimate -- but there's a time and a place for it, and this might not be it. A prospective convert does have to navigate the whole movement space, and an answer that talked about that would be helpful, but just saying "don't have to be orthodox" doesn't seem to me to help. –  Monica Cellio May 3 '13 at 17:27
3  
Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/26721/472 (I knew I'd written about this somewhere...) –  Monica Cellio May 3 '13 at 17:28

As Jake mentioned in a comment above, I would say that the first step for conversion is to check out the Noahide movement.

http://noahidenations.com/

If a random Gentile walks up to an Orthodox rabbi and says "Rabbi, how should I live my life?" The rabbi won't say "convert to Judaism" Rather, he will likely say, "Follow the seven laws that G-d gave to Noah; and by extension, to all humankind"

A Gentile who follows these seven laws has fulfilled 100% of his/her spiritual obligations in the world. This is the proper path for non-Jews.

Furthermore, unlike conversion:

  • you don't need to move

  • you can eat in normal restaurants

  • you won't have to change jobs or careers to find a sabbath-friendly one

  • you can marry (or stay married to) 99.7% of the women in the world. Jewish men can only marry 0.03% of the women in the world.

  • it doesn't take years; you can start right now!

I have researched many Noahide websites, and my favorite one is:

http://noahidenations.com/

I wish you great success in your spiritual undertakings, Steven!

share|improve this answer

Start learning all about Judaism to cut the length of your conversion. Start here:

Great site, with informative information all about Judaism. It pretty much discusses every topic in Judaism.-http://www.jewfaq.org/index.htm

Amazing site, with very informative information, and everything you need. It has lectures and articles about virtually everything.-http://www.chabad.org/

Advanced site from Aish HaTorah. Advanced learning site.- http://jewishpathways.com/

Aish HaTorah, learning, MP3's, great articles and a lot of information on Judaism.- http://www.aish.com/

Amazing site from Rav Yosef Mizrahi (+ others), with videos proving Judaism through science, and disproving Xianity. It has great lectures for the beginner.- http://www.divineinformation.com/

Entire Tanakh, prats from the Talmud, and more- http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/index.html

Jewish learning, and more. A little more advanced- http://torah.org/

Judaism online. Information about Torah and science.- http://www.simpletoremember.com/

Entire Tanakh in English- http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0.htm

Dapim from Gemara, and up-to-date Daf Yomi. Advanced.- http://e-daf.com/

Over 50,000 Hebrew books for FREE. For those who can learn Hebrew. -http://hebrewbooks.org/

Siddur with Nusahim of: Sephardim, Nusah S'fard, and Ashkenaz- http://onlinesiddur.com/

Gedolim, and their videos- http://torahanytime.com/

Amazing videos in English, Spanish, Hebrew- http://www.torahohr.net/

Jewish learning- http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Bible/Torah.shtml

Miscellaneous- http://613.org/

Kashrut+learning-http://www.ou.org/

Kashrut- http://www.kashrut.com/

Kashrut-http://www.kashrusmagazine.com/

Judaica (gifts, Torah items i.e.- Tsitsit, Teffilin, Kippah)- http://www.eichlers.com/

Judaica- http://seforimsets.com/

Judaica- http://www.seforimcenter.com/default.asp?cookiecheck=yes&

Judaca- http://www.mysefer.com/default.asp?

Insights, and MP3's on the Sephardic Nusah`-http://www.gosephardic.com/

Legacy of the Sephardim- http://www.sephardiclegacy.com/

Ask questions on Judaism- http://www.askmoses.com/

Anti-missionary- http://www.jews4judaism.org/jewsforjudaism/

Anti-missionary-http://messianicsexposed.com/

Musings of an Orthodox Jew- http://marcl1969.wordpress.com/

Navigating the bible- http://bible.ort.org/

Truth about Mashah`-http://messiahtruth.com/

What Jews believe-http://whatjewsbelieve.org/

Outreach for Jews-http://outreachjudaism.org

KEY: BOLD MEANS FOR BEGINNERS...ITALICS MEANS FOR INTERMEDIATE...REGULAR MEANS ADVANCED.

share|improve this answer

I started preparing for conversion in 1999 during my undergraduate years, and finalized it in 2001.

The hardest thing for me was to get an understanding of the legitimacy of different threads in Orthodoxy. I had a hard time accepting that Modern Orthodoxy could be legitimate, but eventually embraced what you might call right-wing MO.

Finding a rabbi you trust to guide you will help a lot. I'm very independent and slow to trust, so I tried to do it myself. In any case you will at least need someone to consult with regarding practical halachic issues particular to you.

If you can move to an Orthodox community, that will be beneficial in starting to practice. I learned on my own for a while, then when I was home for summers, participated in shul on Shabbos. Conversion boards generally require that one live in an Orthodox community before finalizing the conversion. I left my college (Oberlin) and transferred to City Univ. of NY (CUNY) when I got to the point of praying daily with a minyan. I was involved with http://dir.groups.yahoo.com/group/orthodoxconversiontojudaism; as far as I know it is still a valuable resource.

Some key English texts are IMO:

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch - best crash course (if you can call it that) in everyday halachah. Concise and comprehensive coverage of normal situations.

SR Hirsch's The Nineteen Letters - if you are big-picture and leaning more toward engagement in society as opposed to withdrawal, this is a wonderful and accessible introduction to his "philosophy" of Judaism

If you are mystically inclined, Rabbi Akiva Tatz. I initially devoured his books eagerly. He presents the worldview of R' Moshe Shapiro, his own mentor, who stands apart from more rationalist approaches such as Rambam (as conventionally understood) and SR Hirsch.

share|improve this answer

@H'Gabriel provided a lot of good resources. In this answer I'll try to address the conversion issue specifically.

The conversion process is involved and long. You will go through the following steps, possibly more than once:

  • Investigation and exploration: beginning to figure out what is attracting you, what alternatives there are (e.g. does being a Noachide meet your needs?), and what the impact would be.

  • Meeting with one or more rabbis, ending with you finding the one who will be your rabbi. They will ask you questions; you should ask questions too. You are looking for a good match, not the objectively-best rabbi (as if there were such a thing).

  • Formal study and beginning to observe mitzvot, under the guidance of your rabbi. Formal study should definitely include one-on-one study with your rabbi. It is not unusual for it to also include a course to teach the basics in a group setting. From what I've seen nobody's making money off those courses; often you just pay for the books. But you don't need one-on-one time with your rabbi to learn the basics of brachot, kashrut, Shabbat, the prayer service, and so on; a classroom is more efficient, saving the rabbinic time for the personal and advanced topics.

  • Addressing barriers to conversion as you are ready. This could include everything from family relations (how you will deal with evangelical parents, for instance) to altering your work arrangements (do you work on Saturdays?) to replacing kitchenware to, possibly, moving. That's just a sample, not meant to intimidate but just to inform.

  • When you and your rabbi agree that you're ready, going before the beit din (court) for acceptance, going to the mikvah, and (for men) handling circumcision or its replacement.

You should not be surprised if the whole process takes a few years. Rabbis absolutely want to welcome converts but must do their best to make sure it'll "stick"; the cost of someone not converting is not nearly as great as the cost of somebody converting and later changing his mind. The first is a lost (or delayed) opportunity; the second creates a sinning Jew.

Some books you might find helpful to read earlier rather than later in the process are:

  • Conversion to Judaism: A Guidebook by Lawrence J. Epstein (not a rabbi). This book provides a good, accessible description of the process, key ideas of Judaism, family implications, and more. It also explains some about the various Jewish movements, which you'll need to be aware of, and includes helpful resources like a bibliography, glossary, list of common acronyms, and so on. This book is largely overview and nuts-and-bolts stuff.

  • Pathways: Jews Who Return by Richard H. Greenberg (also not a rabbi). This book is not about conversion; it's about baalei t'shuvah, Jews who returned to observance. Sincere converts and BTs have a lot in common both spiritually and with respect to the practical stuff. This book is a collection of essays written by BTs telling their stories.

  • Teshuvah: A Guide for the Newly Observant Jew by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. This book, too, is aimed at BTs, but it is chock-full of useful advice about making the transition.

I've left out of this list many excellent books on specific ideas within Judaism -- God, mitzvot, Shabbat, and so on. Those are important too, but "everything you need to know about Judaism" is way too big a topic for this answer. :-)

Of course, you should also start becoming familiar with our core texts -- the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) for starters. We read the torah in weekly portions, a few chapters a week. I recommend that you start reading the weekly cycle and following along with commentaries (e.g. at Aish HaTorah, mentioned by H' Gabriel). As soon as you can, get yourself a good chumash, which is Hebrew-English edition of the torah broken up into the weekly portions and with commentaries (verse by verse). Commentaries you want to look for include Rashi (usually marked "R"), Rambam ("M"), Ramban ("N"), Ibn Ezra, Sforno ("S"). What do I mean by "a good chumash" -- aren't they all the same? The torah text is the same; what's different is which traditional sources the editors draw on and how much of their own interpretation they add. For your first one (ultimately you'll likely own several) you want to cover the basics and minimize the modern commentary, so you start to get a grounding in the tradition. Stone is one good name here; another is edited by A. Cohen; another, if you don't mind a somewhat archaic English translation, is Hertz. Once you have a rabbi you should get the chumash he recommends.

Finally, as soon as you can, get involved with the community. Go to services; you'll stumble over the Hebrew for a while but it's important to go and start learning to pray, with other people and not just by yourself. Once you have a rabbi you should get involved with his -- and now your -- congregation; in addition to services there will be adult-ed classes, mitzvah projects, social gatherings, and so on. Judaism is meant to be engaged with in community, not in isolation.

share|improve this answer

first step is to go and speak to your local Orthodox Rabbi, he'll be able to explain the process and guide you through it.

BeHatzlacha Rabbah!

share|improve this answer
    
If you can find someone to trust, this is a good thing; I was more independent and slow to trust people. Also, not all rabbis are equipped (personally or knowledge-wise) to address conversion candidates; your mileage may vary. –  yitznewton Dec 27 '11 at 2:34
    
@yitznewton, re "not all rabbis are equipped": certainly. But any pulpit rabbi should be able to direct you to someone so equipped. –  msh210 Dec 27 '11 at 6:25
    
Shahar, welcome to the site and thanks for your short but, in a way, all-inclusive answer. You might wish to register to your username so as to get more out of the site. –  msh210 Dec 27 '11 at 6:31

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.