According to the Orthodox viewpoint, there are two ways a person can become Jewish. One is being born to a Jewish mother; the other is going through a conversion process.
Converting to Judaism, the religion of the Jewish peoples, is a decision which cannot be made lightly. The conversion will impact on every aspect of the candidate’s life from their lifestyle to their relationships. It may challenge the candidate and throw into crisis much that s/he holds dear. This is because conversion is a decision to change one’s identity, loyalties and, often, fundamental beliefs.
The conversion process consists of two components which complement each other:
- A learning component (a “Limmud”) during which the candidate is expected to acquire substantial knowledge about Jewish life, religion and history.
- A practical component under which the candidate is expected to participate fully in the life of the congregation, including attending all services. If the candidate has a Jewish partner they are also expected to join the congregation and attend classes, services and communal functions.
During the conversion process the candidate is expected to become a fully observant Jew. This includes keeping fully kosher (inside and outside of the home), observing the Shabbat and living according to the laws of family purity. Observing the Shabbat (being Shomer Shabbat) means walking to the synagogue as well as not infringing any other basic prerequisites of Shabbat (eg: not using electrical appliances and/or the telephone).
As such, there is no conversion programme per se and no specified length of study. It is a highly individual process and every candidate is evaluated according to their abilities. When the supervising rabbi decides the candidate is ready, the candidate appears before a Beth Din (a Rabbinical Court consisting of three Rabbis) who accept the candidate on the understanding that the person commits to living a Jewish life and raising Jewish children.
In New Zealand, all candidates are expected to spend time in an observant community overseas (eg: Australia) to get a feeling of how it is to live in a fully observant community, as part of the conversion process. When the time comes, New Zealand converts are referred to the Sydney Beth Din for the formal test and consideration for acceptance into Judaism. This includes “Tevilah” (immersion in a ritual bath) and circumcision for men.
Image above header: Photograph reproduced here with permission from photographer Stephen Robinson. © JoM