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If a person wants to convert to Conservative Judaism, let's say the child of a Jewish father and gentile mother, what are the actual requirements in terms of going to a Mikveh?

My current understanding is as follows, but I've heard some conflicting statements so I'm not really sure:

  • An actual Mikveh facility isn't strictly required (one person said oceans are also acceptable, another said any body of water, a blog post on MyJewishLearning said the halachic requirement is 200 gallons of water)
  • 2 Jewish witnesses are required, no role (Rabbi, cantor, etc) is required of them
  • The following blessing is said (and if it has a name I haven't found it at the time of writing):

Barukh atah Ado-nai Elo-henu melekh ha’olam asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al ha’tevillah. (Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarding immersion).

Is this complete and accurate?

  • Just so you know, while in Yiddish the word is indeed always pronounced "Mikveh", in Hebrew "Mikveh" means "pool of" while "Mikvah" means "pool". It's not the same word. If you wanted to use "Mikveh" in Hebrew you should say the full "Mikveh Mayim" which means "a pool of water". – Double AA Apr 16 '18 at 15:50
  • @DoubleAA Oh, is that correct? Thanks for the clarification then. Please feel free to edit. Also just wondering, in terms of the Hebrew spelling what are these 2 forms of the word? – Hack-R Apr 16 '18 at 16:35
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The Conservative movement requires immersion in a kosher mikvah, circumcision (for male converts), and evaluation by a beit din (a court of three). Immersion and circumcision require at least two witnesses. There might be exceptions to some requirements (for example, medical issues that make circumcision a bad idea), but this is the baseline.

A natural body of water (of sufficient size) can be a kosher mikvah, but do note that immersion is in the nude, so public bodies of water might not be suitable for reasons of modesty and/or public-nudity laws. The laws of mikvah are complicated enough that you shouldn't try to make your own.

Conversions are overseen by a beit din, a court of three, who (I understand) are also the witnesses to the immersion. I didn't find anything that specifically requires them to be rabbis, but as a practical matter, at least in the US they all are -- to be accepted as a Conservative convert you have to work with a Conservative rabbi, and that rabbi assembles the beit din from among his peers.

After immersing (while still in the water, I believe), the convert makes the blessing you quoted (al ha-tevilah is the only name I know for it) and also the shehechiyanu. The witnesses listen.

This list of responsa from the Rabbinical Assembly addresses many questions related to conversion, but has no entries about exceptions for the mikvah, beit din, or witnesses. I realize that arguing from a negative is iffy, but I've known several Conservative (adult) converts over the years and this process is what they've described.

Since you mentioned the example of a child of a Jewish father (and non-Jewish mother), you might be interested in this ruling on child conversions. Note that even in cases where there is room for leniency, they still require the mikvah. There is discussion there about whether a b'racha is said for a minor or whether it is altered. I didn't find a definitive ruling on that.

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Rabbi Dr. Professor Louis Ginzberg (foremost Conservative posek of his time) wrote the following as part of a responsum to Dr. Birnbaum:

There is very little to add to the method of conversion to that given in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 268. May I, however, remark that for the baptism she may use a loose bathing gown. To carry out literally the regulation of the Shulchan Aruch would be very awkward in our time. You need three learned men to witness the baptism, preferebly rabbis, and, if unavailable, some laymen who have Jewish learning.

(The Responsa of Professor Louis Ginzberg p. 171)

  • Interesting. I understand that the custom today, at least in my city, is for the "mikvah lady" to watch (to make sure immersion is complete) and for the male rabbis to listen to the proceedings from just outside the door. The problem of male witnesses and female converts is centuries old, long before the Conservative movement. I wonder what the custom is. – Monica Cellio Apr 16 '18 at 23:03
  • @MonicaCellio what you describe is exactly what I observed during a conservative conversion of a woman. So two data points at least. – BSteinhurst Apr 17 '18 at 16:45

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