Central Conference of American Rabbis 

Guidelines for Rabbis Working with Prospective Gerim

Adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis
June, 2001

Resources

Divrei Giyyur CoverDivrei Giyyur

Appendix B
Appendix B

Introduction

History

In March of 1996 at the CCAR Convention in Philadelphia, the regular meeting of the Committee on Conversion drew an unusually high attendance of some forty rabbis. The overwhelming consensus of those present was that the single most important issue that the Committee could address was the need within the Conference for a comprehensive set of guidelines to assist rabbis in their work with prospective. Rabbi Jonathan Adland, Chair of the Committee, directed that work begin on such a document, and thus was born this edition of .

Relationship of Text to Commentary

Early on in the process of creating it was determined that the variety of opinions and practices would likely make unilateral statements of policy or practice difficult if not altogether impossible. It was therefore decided to produce a document in the form in which you have it. From the perspective of the Committee on Conversion, the text and commentary are an integrated whole; one cannot exist without the other. They are presented together here and are intended always to be considered together.

Use of Terminology

As with that was prepared by the Committee on Conversion in 1980-81, this document uses Hebrew terms for the key characters and processes under discussion:  - male, female, and plural for proselyte; - the process of becoming a Jew from the perspective of the proselyte;- the process and actual ceremonies of becoming a Jew from the perspective of the rabbi. As indicated in the 1981 text, the current members of the Committee believe that "these terms are ... more appropriate and less potentially stigmatizing than the usage of such intrinsically non-Jewish terms as convert and conversion."

What Is To Come

As mentioned above, the charge of the Committee in 1996 was to create a comprehensive set of guidelines for rabbinic use. Early on in the process, however, the members of the Committee realized that it would be virtually impossible to do this all in one document. It was decided, therefore, to begin with the current document and offer additional material following its adoption by the members of the CCAR.Appendices to  are currently planned to offer information and guidance in the following areas:

  • Prospective who do not fit the predominant profile assumed here, such as teenagers who live in non-Jewish homes, children, those with non-Jewish spouses, those who are already married and have been living Jewish lives for some time, and the mentally ill;
  • Adaptation of the educational provisions to the specific needs of small communities and other situations where the use of these Guidelines may be difficult or impossible;
  • Resources such as a list of existing communityand their own guidelines, suggestions for the creation and operation of a , suggestions for further study, a basic and advanced reading list, and a bibliography of traditional texts and modern literature in this field;

Rabbis should recognize that in their work with prospective , there are many resources already available to assist and guide them, including traditional Jewish texts and Ma'aglei Tzedek: CCAR Rabbi's Manual, as well as the UAHC/HUC/CCAR Outreach Fellows Program for Conversion Certification and other materials and programs of the UAHC/CCAR Joint Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach and the CCAR Committee on Conversion. The extensive use of these resources is strongly encouraged.

Conclusion

The creation of this document involved hundreds of individuals and thousands of hours of their labor. Of both desire and necessity, it is a document of compromise and consensus. It is also a document of guidelines, not rigid standards. Our goal is not to force requirements upon individual Reform rabbis, but rather to be able to speak as a community with a unified voice on matters so crucial to our self-definition. The document is intended to be used by rabbis with intelligence and understanding: following the approaches delineated herein wherever possible and desirable; altering and adapting them in those circumstances where it is necessary.

It is the sincere hope of the Committee that all rabbis will learn from this document, both those whose practices may already be reflected within it as well as those who have found other methods successful. For when we learn from each other and serve the needs of our community, I am confident that the  dwells in our midst.


When two sit together and words of Torah are spoken between them,
the Divine Presence abides with them.
(Pirke Avot 3:2)

*          *         *

Rabbi Richard Shapiro
Chair, Committee on Conversion

February 26, 2001

Preamble

The Jewish community has historically welcomed those who have chosen to become Jewish and cast their lot with the Jewish people. Thirty-six times throughout the Torah we are taught: [1]. It was in this spirit that the Central Conference of American Rabbis has affirmed that "Judaism welcomes all sincere converts without regard to racial or national origin or to their former religious faith."[2]

Preparation for is a sacred and serious process. Individuals who undertake this process, choosing to follow in the footsteps of Ruth, deserve the spiritual, educational, and emotional assistance of rabbis to guide and encourage them. This process involves a significant commitment of time and energy on the part of prospective as well as on the part of rabbis who work with these candidates along the way.

It is essential that, involve more than simply graduating from an "Introduction To Judaism" course. The process of becoming a Jew includes classroom learning, experiential learning, spiritual exploration, and rabbinic counseling. Each of these aspects plays an integral role in the process of considering ,, as the student learns about Judaism, experiences and discusses Judaism, associates with Jews, and comes to an understanding of whether or not to become a Jew.

The following are offered as guidelines for members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis when working with individuals exploring the possibility of ,.

INITIAL CONTACT

1. Following an initial inquiry, an individual who seeks to explore the possibility of , shall meet with a rabbi. The purpose of this initial meeting is for the rabbi to:
  1. explore the religious and personal background of the prospective,, and to discuss that person’s motivation for wishing to explore, ;
     
  2. share with the prospective,our joy at and encouragement of a decision to pursue the possibility of ,;

1. From the outset it is extremely important to educate those staff members who are likely to make initial contact with prospective concerning how to handle such contacts: how to welcome their inquiries, what questions they may or may not answer, and to whom they are to refer these individuals. In making the first appointment, it is also important to be clear whether or not the partner of the prospective , (if such exists) is expected to attend the initial meeting.

If this first meeting takes place several months or more prior to the beginning of an Introduction to Judaism Course, the rabbi may wish to have the student begin a program of directed reading as additional preparation. In addition, if the prospective , already possesses considerable knowledge of Judaism, the rabbi may want to consider an alternative form of education other than the Introduction to Judaism class.

In their work with prospective rabbis should keep in mind the ethical boundaries of such work as articulated in the CCAR Code of Ethics (Section C:1:3): "It is essential that the relationship of the rabbi with a prospective ger must avoid any semblance of commercialism. The mitzvah to instruct prospective converts and to officiate at their ceremonies of gerut precludes the charging of rabbinic fees." As currently interpreted, this does not preclude rabbis from receiving compensation for teaching Introduction to Judaism classes.

Furthermore the Code of Ethics calls upon rabbis to be mindful of the personal boundaries between rabbis and those they serve. Relationships between rabbis and prospective pose a particularly sensitive set of circumstances of which rabbis must remain aware.

c. introduce the prospective ,to:

  1. the history of and present state of Jewish attitudes about ,;
     
  2. the process of study and the various expectations and mutual com­mitments between rabbi and student required for ,;
     
  3. the diverse standards of acceptance main­tained by the various streams of Judaism in North America, Israel, and elsewhere, as well as our understanding thatmeans becoming a member of as a whole, not becoming a member only of the Reform Jewish community.

d. ensure that the prospective understands that the process of ,is open-ended for both the rabbi and prospective . Among other things, this means that:

  1. the rabbi will be the final arbiter concerning the candidate’s ultimate readiness foror lack thereof; and
     
  2. no definite date forcan be set at the outset of the exploration process.

e. inform the prospective ,that any partner or prospective partner will be required to participate in all of the appropriate components of the process of exploring ,;

1a. It is important to bring out at this meeting the Jewish teachings concerning motivation. While an impending or existing marriage to a Jew is an understandable reason to begin the exploration of ,, it is not a sufficient motivation for finalizing ,. Prospectiveneed to understand that only if they decide that they want to live their lives as Jews regardless of their marital status is a decision to pursue ,appropriate and valid[3].

1b. The Reform Movement, by its embracing of Reform Jewish Outreach, has formally rejected the traditional practice of strongly discouraging prospectivethree times and formally endorsed the attitude of "joy and encouragement" as articulated in this paragraph[4]. This does not mean, however, that some of the elements contained in the traditional approach -- such as explaining the reality of contemporary anti-Semitism, exploring the difficulty of living a meaningful Jewish life in a non-Jewish environment, and the like -- should not be included in conversations with prospective throughout their exploration of whether or not to become part of the Jewish people.

1c. This initial meeting is also important for the purpose of establishing expectations and dispelling myths. Rabbis should be clear about what they are and are not willing to do during the process and what commitments they are and are not making to the prospective ,. Similarly, rabbis should be clear about what commitments they do and do not expect from the candidates.

It is the sense of some rabbis that this means a complete disclosure of all their requirements to the prospective ,at this meeting, which may includeprocedures, the rituals of or and , and the details of the commitments described in paragraph #6a. In the opinion of others, however, the explanation of these and other like items should wait until a more appropriate time during the process of exploration when they can be better understood by the prospective.

1d. In order to maintain the integrity of both student and rabbi, as well as of the process itself, it is important to emphasize at the outset that there are no initial commitments on the part of the prospective to become Jewish nor on the part of the rabbi to agree to . It is also important to emphasize that the process is open-ended and flexible, and may, therefore, differ from individual to individual. In this way the process is seen as an important entity in and of itself rather than merely as a means to an end. Therefore, while some may choose to set a wedding date prior to the completion of , such timing must in no way compromise the integrity of the itself which must be based solely on the readiness of the candidate.

1e. A lack of willingness on the part of the partner in a relationship to participate in the process of exploring ought to be seen as a warning of potential problems in any commitment to Judaism in the home. In addition, since home observance should always be negotiated between the partners, it is far better for both partners to be part of the preparation process.

f. discuss with the prospective  the religious status of any current children and if there is a necessity for them to be included in the process of exploring .

When both parties are active participants in the process, issues of lack of partner's support, or outright opposition to can be discussed and solutions can be found far more effectively and far earlier in the process. This does not imply that the partner should usually be seen as the "gate-keeper" to ,urd, able to prevent it from occurring by such lack of support or opposition. Indeed, this can almost always be prevented from happening when these and other similar issues are discussed as a regular part of the process, rather than as an adjunct if and when they are raised[5].

1f. If the prospectivehas children the following questions should be asked and discussed: What is their status? Are they Jewish according to Orthodox halakhic standards? Are they Jewish by Reform standards? Are they not Jewish at all? If not, is it appropriate for them to become involved in the process of , and if so, when? Should they participate with their parents or should these issues wait until their parent(s) are clearer about their own intentions?

PREPARATION

2a. This does not imply that the UAHC curriculum is in any way minimal or inadequate. It does imply that rabbis should strive to include even more material in their instruction. The current standard, as established in this Curriculum, is 36 hours of instruction spread over 18 weeks.

ACADEMIC

2. Each prospectiveshould receive adequate instruction in the fundamentals of Judaism.

  1. Such instruction should begin with a formal Introduction to Judaism course or its equivalent. The UAHC Intro­duction to Judaism Curriculum should be viewed as the minimum foundation for all courses. Such a course should be substantial in duration and cover Jewish observance in all its various forms (daily, Shabbat, festivals, life-cycle, com­munal and per­sonal Jewish prayer), Jewish history, and Jewish concepts of God, Torah, and Israel.

    Instruction to achieve proficiency in reading the Hebrew of the and familiarity with the basic Hebrew terms used in Jewish religious life should be offered during the course. An evaluation should be used at the end of the course to determine the level of comprehension of the material taught achieved by a student and eligibility for receipt of a Certificate of Completion.
     
  2. Following completion of the Introduction to Judaism Class or its equivalent, individual instruction should continue for the entire time that the prospective is considering .

The Introduction to Judaism Course should not be seen as a "conversion class," but rather as a part of the regular adult education offerings of the synagogue or other Jewish institution. In this same vein, it is beneficial for there to be a variety of students taking the Course: Jews renewing their knowledge of Judaism, other non-Jews simply learning about Judaism for better interfaith understanding, etc. In this way the first exposure of prospectiveto Jewish education is one in which they are not being singled out for special attention, but rather are part of a greater whole.

The curriculum of this Course should not, therefore, be a "-based" curriculum. Instead, the Course should be the same Course we might offer to members of our various constituencies as a refresher course in Judaism. Particular components of Judaism that are seen as specific to , as well as the various psychological, emotional, and social issues related to , can be explored in additional forums such as those suggested in paragraph #3, below.

The participation of those trained in the UAHC/HUC/CCAR Outreach Fellows Program for Conversion Certification can be particularly helpful in this and other aspects of the instruction.

The "basic Hebrew terms" referred to in this paragraph are those included in the UAHC Introduction to Judaism curriculum.

It is also important to recognize the needs of smaller communities that cannot maintain a regular class structure. In these communities, as well as in other particular circumstances, instruction may be individualized and the elements of intellectual, spiritual, and communal instruction may all occur together in the same setting. Resources to assist in this area will be forthcoming from the CCAR Committee on Conversion and/or the UAHC/CCAR Joint Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach.

SPIRITUAL

3. Rabbis and prospectiveshall maintain regular contact during the process of exploring . It is suggested that such contact take the form of:

    1. Periodic group meetings with all individuals currently in process of exploring Judaism.
       
The purpose of these meetings is to explore those issues that virtually all prospectivehave in common, such as the reaction of their family, the support of and acceptance by their partner and their partner’s family (if applicable), acceptance by the Jewish community, the psycho­dyna­mics of a change in identity (including possible feelings of inadequacy), identification with the State of Israel.
 
  1. Periodic individual meetings. The purpose of these meetings is:
    1. to provide an opportunity to a prospective  to discuss issues or to ask questions, including those which may not be appropriate to address in a group setting;
       
    2. to strengthen the relationship between the rabbi and the prospective  in order to facilitate an ongoing participation in the life of the synagogue;
       
    3. to assess the impact of possible on the family of the prospectiveand the impact of the family’s reaction on the prospective; and

    4. to provide the rabbi with an opportunity to evaluate the progress of the individual on this journey toward possible .

    These individual meetings should also entail in-depth discussions of the candidate’s understanding of and relationship to God, Torah, and Israel, and to what degree these new understandings and relationships are influencing the core spiritual identity and world view of the prospective.

The evaluation used may take many different forms: an examination, a paper, an oral conversation with the instructor, or any other technique that provides both the student and the instructor a picture of what the student has learned.

2b. This may be accomplished through additional classes, one-on-one instruction with a rabbi or other teacher, directed reading, Torah study, or other appropriate means. Resources to assist in this area will be forthcoming from the CCAR Committee on Conversion and/or the UAHC/CCAR Joint Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach.

3a. These sessions should take place every 2 - 3 weeks. They serve as a support group where prospectiveand their partners come to realize that their personal situations are not unique, and that others share their joys and concerns. In addition, they give the participants an open forum to discuss many important issues and receive feedback from their peers on situations and issues that they may have already experienced. While these sessions are often seen by the prospective as most effective when led by the sponsoring rabbi, they can also be effective when led by a trained facilitator, particularly those trained in the UAHC/HUC/CCAR Outreach Fellows Program for Conversion Certification. The value of these sessions to prospectivecannot be emphasized too strongly.

The content of these group sessions may vary, and where group sessions are not possible, the content should be adapted for use in the individual meetings described in paragraph #3b. See Appendix A for suggestions of how these groups might function and recommended topics. For a complete program, see the curriculum of the UAHC/HUC/CCAR Outreach Fellows Program for Conversion Certification, a copy of which can be obtained from the UAHC William and Lottie Daniel Department of Reform Jewish Outreach.

3b. These meetings should take place at least once each month. Questions which should be considered and answered by individual rabbis include: Who is responsible for making contact and scheduling these meetings? If a prospective stops attending classes and meetings, should the rabbi attempt to reinitiate contact and draw the candidate back into the process?

The process of  often raises issues of an emotional or psychological nature which are best handled by those properly trained to do so. A practice which might, therefore, be helpful is a referral to a licensed professional counselor to explore these issues.

COMMUNAL

4. Each prospectiveshould be required to participate in as much of the ongoing life of both a synagogue and the general Jewish community as is possible.

  1. Regular attendance at Shabbat, festival, and holy day services should be required, with weekly attendance at Shabbat services strongly encouraged. For this purpose, it is recommended that all prospective(and their partners, as applicable) be placed on the mailing list to receive the newsletter of the synagogue/organization and other congregational/organizational mailings, as well as be given full access to all programs and services of the syna­gogue/organization, including High Holy Day services, and other religious, educational, social, and cultural offerings. In addition, wherever possible, attendance at the Shabbat services of a variety of synagogues is to be encouraged as a way for prospectiveto discover the diversity of Jewish religious life.
     
  2. Involvement with the general Jewish community should be encouraged. Prospectiveshould experience the diversity of Jewish communal life through attendance at appropriate community gatherings.

5. Each prospective should be paired with a , or mentor, for the purpose of ongoing support.

4. It should be emphasized that the main purpose of both of these paragraphs is to provide prospective with the opportunity to immerse themselves in Jewish life. It should also be mentioned that the experiences delineated here present a wonderful opportunity for lay people, under the auspices of a congregational Outreach Committee or other appropriate body, to participate in the education and integration of prospectiveinto the community.

4a. Many synagogues give membership privileges to prospectiveand their partners, while others simply identify those programs that it is deemed important to attend. In addition, many congregations give to new and their partners a one year complimentary membership as a gift upon. This can be a means of expressing a welcome from the members of the congregation to the.

5. Providing , or mentors -- individuals or families -- from among pastand other interested people, can be an extremely valuable way for prospective to assimilate the knowledge they are gaining as well as to experience Jewish life in a much less threatening manner. This system can also provide the opportunity for prospectiveto see Judaism working in a Jewish home as a model for their own homes. As in paragraph #4 above, becoming apresents a wonderful opportunity for lay people, under the auspices of a congregational Outreach Committee or other appropriate body, to participate in the education and integration of prospectiveinto the community.

There are many possible models for a , or mentoring, program. However a program is constructed, the basic expectations of a , should be: to invite the prospective (and partner, if any) to Shabbat dinner at least once a month; to speak with the prospective, either by telephone, e-mail, or in person, at least once per week; to accompany the prospective  to Shabbat services on those evenings when they are together for Shabbat dinner; to host the prospective for any festival celebrations that occur during the exploration of ; and to be available for questions and conversations on the process of .

READINESS

6. Prior to completing the process of , a rabbi should require that each prospective make commitments within each of the following areas. These commitments should be viewed as a demonstration of a dedication towithin the context of the between God and the Jewish people and as a starting point for increased Jewish in­volvement by the prospective .

  1. An acknowledgment that the prospective  is freely choosing to enter into the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people;
     

  2. An acceptance of Judaism to the exclusion of all other faiths and practices in his/her life;
     

  3. : sharing in the fate and faith of the Jewish people.
     

  4. Home & Synagogue Observance of ,  & .
     

  5. Creation and maintenance of a Jewish Home
     

  6. and
     

  7. Some element of Jewish dietary discipline
     

  8. Personal and communal , on a regular basis
     

  9. Continued
     

  10. Affiliation with a synagogue;
     

  11. Marriage to a Jew (if not currently married);
     

  12. Raising future children as Jews;
     

  13. .

6. The traditional formula for an individual's acceptance of the system of Jewish observance -- -- is no longer descriptive of Reform attitudes to Jewish life. This document proposes the substitution of the phraseas being more appropriate for our times. The phrase is open as to which specific injunctions constitute commandments and is thus descriptive of Reform attitudes to Jewish life[6].

This list is not intended to be given to prospective  at the outset of the process, nor is it to be used by the rabbi simply as criteria for . Rather, it is intended to be used during the process of exploration as a guide for prospective  and a means to open up further a discussion of and entrance into all areas of Jewish life.

6a. The rabbi should make clear to  that this is a lifetime commitment.

6c. The term as it is used here is intended to refer to a commitment to the support of Jewish communities around the world, particularly the local community in which the prospective  lives.

6e. The creation of a Jewish home should be understood to mean the presence of items such as Jewish books, Jewish music, Jewish art, a box, and , as well as adopting Jewish practices which may include and the recitation of and at meals.

6g. The commitment to some element of Jewish dietary discipline should be understood both as a commitment to the observance itself and as a spur to a further discussion of the role of diet in Jewish life. The minimum expectation in this area is fasting on , eating at Seder, and abstaining from during. These expectations do not represent an attempt to establish new halakhic categories for Reform Jewish observance, but reflect well-established Reform practice[7].

In addition, elements of social justice, such as and , should also be considered in this area[8].

6j. This should be seen as including not only affiliation but active involvement and participation in the life of a synagogue community.

6k. Gay & Lesbian  are similarly expected to enter into sanctified relationships with a Jewish partner.

6l. This should be seen as including such things as the celebration of appropriate life-cycle events in the life of the children, enrolling them in available synagogue education programs, and supporting their participation in such programs through Confirmation.

6m. This can best be explored through the words of "Reform Judaism and Zionism: A Centenary Perspective," adopted by the CCAR in Miami in June, 1997: "Even as Medinat Yisrael serves uniquely as the spiritual and cultural focal point of world Jewry, Israeli and Diaspora Jewry are inter-dependent, responsible for one another, and partners in the shaping of Jewish destiny[9].

7. While recognizing that determination of readiness for  is a highly individual and subjective decision, rabbis should ensure that prospective  participate in a full year of Jewish life prior to completing  in order to demonstrate a credible commitment to Jewish living and become part of a Jewish com­munity committed to Jewish life.

7. There are no fixed criteria for the determination of readiness for. Some colleagues wait for a candidate to begin using "we" instead of "they" when referring to Jews. Others look to the successful completion of whatever requirements were established at the beginning of the relationship. Still others look to the willingness to abide by the commitments listed in paragraph #6. This determination can be made only on a case-by-case basis using the criteria and personal experience of the individual rabbi as well as resources provided by colleagues, the UAHC William and Lottie Daniel Department of Reform Jewish Outreach, and others. As noted above, this determination should not be driven by external matters such as an impending marriage. It should be made only on the basis of factors directly related to the practices and attitudes of the prospective . 

The one year recommended minimum period of preparation should be interpreted to mean the time from the beginning of a candidate's education through the  rituals and ceremony.

CONCLUDING RITUALS AND CEREMONIES

8. Completing the process of  has as its purpose both the proclamation of a desire on the part of the to be part of the Jewish people and acceptance of the  by the Jewish com­munity. As such, the following steps are recommended as part of the ritual:

  1. Rabbis should convene a consisting of rabbis, cantors, and/or Jewish educators. Lacking their availability, knowle­dgeable and observant lay members of the community should be utilized.

  2.  Rabbis should educate  concerning appropriate traditional rituals for the ceremonies of , including , and , and should use them as appropriate

  3. Since public affirmations by the  and public acceptance by the Jewish community are important parts of this process, public ceremonies of affirmation are encouraged.

8a. A of three rabbis represents the most appropriate framework for formalizing . In addition, the use of a  can also contribute to a sense of legitimacy as perceived by the prospective and it can give the rabbi who has been working with the candidate the opportunity to see the candidate through another set of eyes[10].

The meeting with the  is not intended to be an extensive examination of the candidate's specific Jewish knowledge; rather, it should be used to explore the candidates motivations for , Jewish experiences, general areas studied, reactions of family members to the planned , level of dedication to the commitments in paragraph #6, and plans for future life as a Jew. The  may also wish to request a "spiritual autobiography" from each candidate as a way to acquaint themselves with each candidate as well as to judge more effectively a candidate's readiness for . All of this notwithstanding, however, it should be noted that the final authority to approve or reject the candidacy of any given individual for  rests with the .

It may also be helpful in this regard to work on the creation of regional or local  to standardize the practice and assist those colleagues who are unable to assemble a  on their own. Creation of  in conjunction with rabbis of other Movements is also seen as worthwhile. Resources to assist in this area will be forthcoming from the CCAR Committee on Conversion and/or the UAHC/CCAR Joint Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach.

8b. While the procedures and practices of the Reform rabbinate do not currently affect the acceptance or lack thereof by the Orthodox Jewish community of who become Jewish under Reform auspices, they are relevant in other arenas. The official position of the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative) is that all  who become Jewish by means of the traditional rituals of or and will be accepted within the Conservative Jewish community[11].

In 1893 the CCAR declared the rituals of or and  to be unnecessary for [12]. The position of the CCAR since 1979 has been as follows:

"Nevertheless, we recognize today that there are social, psychological, and religious values associated with the traditional initiatory rites, and therefore recommend that the rabbi acquaint prospective converts with the halachic background and rationale for berit mila, hatafat dam berit, and tevila and offer them the opportunity to observe these rites."[13]

There are two legitimate approaches to take in the selection of  rituals and ceremonies. After first discussing the various practices with the prospective, one approach is to allow him/her to make the choice. The other approach is that the decision appropriately lies within the purview of the rabbi. This document presumes a preference for the latter approach while acknowledging that many colleagues may continue to follow the former.

8c. Public ceremonies of affirmation, frequently held in conjunction with Shabbat services, include such things as the bestowal of a Hebrew name, a public affirmation of Judaism by the , or a ceremony of welcome to the community. These ceremonies may at some times represent a ceremony itself and at other times an affirmation of rituals completed at an earlier time.

FOLLOW-UP

9. The period following also involves important considerations.

  1. Rabbis are urged to keep accurate records of all ceremonies and to forward copies of such records to the American Jewish Archives.
     

  2. Rabbis are urged to remain in contact with recent : to ensure that any unforeseen difficulties are being addressed; to provide opportunities for  to continue their studies and deepen their Jewish identity in appropriate and sensitive ways; and to find opportunities to integrate new  into the Jewish community.
     

  3. While attending to these needs is an important aspect of the overall process of , attention must also be paid to the continual need to educate the community on the impor­tance of accepting  wholeheartedly and inte­grating them completely into the community.

9a. This will enableto provide reliable documentation of their Jewish status should such be required by a rabbi other than the one with whom they studied for .

Past CCAR policy is reflected in the following statement:

"After the conclusion of the ceremony a copy of the giyur certificate should be given to the convert; other copies are for the rabbi and the congregation. It has been suggested that the American Jewish Archives also receive a copy."[14]

9b. The importance of staying in touch with recentcannot be overestimated. Following the intensity of the  process, feelings of alienation and abandonment are not unusual. In addition, assistance in how to become involved in synagogue life as well as information on opportunities for further Jewish education will be extremely valuable to the . As mentioned earlier, this task presents a wonderful opportunity for lay people, under the auspices of a congregational Outreach Committee or other appropriate body, to participate in the education and integration of  into the community. This is also an appropriate place for to remain involved with the individuals with whom they now have a relationship.

Where Hebrew is not offered as part of the educational process, rabbis should strongly encourage it as part of the follow-up process.

RECOGNITION

10. All members of the CCAR are called upon to recognize the of other CCAR members as a matter of and respect for rabbinic authority.

10. A helpful text in this regard may be the following citation from Maimonides: "One who comes and says he was a gentile and has converted is believed." Within this context, no additional proof of , such as a or evidence of immersion, is to be requested.[15]

Appendix A
Conversion Group Discussion Sessions

The purpose of these sessions, in addition to what is stated in paragraph #3a above, is to provide a support group for prospective within which they can safely and confidentially discuss personal, family, & communal issues related to . Since the Introduction to Judaism Class should not be seen as a conversion class (see commentary to paragraph #2, above), but rather as a place to learn about Judaism, it is critical to provide a second forum for -related issues to be discussed.

It is strongly urged that rabbis require the participation of the existing and prospective partners of  (where applicable) in these groups. These discussions are deemed crucial to the successful consideration of , which cannot help but involve issues relating to these partners (see paragraph #1e, above).

There are various models which can be used for these meetings: 1 hour sessions every other week during the hour before the Introduction to Judaism Class; 6-10 1½ - 2 hour sessions, independent of the Introduction to Judaism Class, held during the months when the students are enrolled in the Class, or after the completion of the Class; and many more.

What follows are suggestions for class guidance and topics of discussion.

Conduct of Sessions

    1. All conversations which take place in these sessions are to be confidential. It is agreed that whatever is said must remain within that room.
    2. Use the first few minutes of each session for participants to share things that may have happened since the last meeting, for asking questions, and/or for resolving old issues.
    3. Use a comfortable, intimate setting such as a library, youth lounge, appropriately set-up classroom, or a private home.
    4. Include some social time in the schedule; some groups may meet for longer periods of time and include a potluck dinner, etc.

Topics to be Covered

  1. Introductions: religious background, how the participants came to be part of the group, expectations for the meetings.
  2. Reactions of the non-Jewish family of prospective : how their parents are dealing with the potential sense of loss; the possible rejection by parents; participation in non-Jewish holiday observances of family of origin (in general only - save specifics for discussion of December holidays, below); possibility of parents beliefs dictating a "my child has given up his/her place in heaven" response.
  3. Reaction of the partner's Jewish family (if applicable): avoiding the "we won, the in-laws lost" syndrome; discussion of the notion of the conditional acceptance of a non-Jew as a son/daughter-in-law.
  4. The reaction and support (or lack thereof) of the Jewish partner (where applicable): the partner's willingness to participate in the process; levels of observance of the partner vs. what is expected of prospective .
  5. The reaction and support (or lack thereof) of the Jewish community: acceptance or incredulity; levels of observance of community at large vs. what is expected of prospective .
  6. The reaction and support (or lack thereof) of friends and the general community: have participants received support or statements of puzzlement; discussion of anti-Semitism (experienced or not).
  7. December Dilemma: how much of non-Jewish holiday observance (if any) is still appropriate; how to continue to honor non-Jewish family members.
  8. Issues of additional minority status (as appropriate): singles, people of color, gays & lesbians.
  9. Transition into Jewishness or decision not to pursue : what are the factors that go into this decision; what happens if  doesn't occur.
  10. What is expected of : discussion of commitments (see paragraph #6, above); discussion of steps of ceremony.
  11. Closure & Completion: what did participants get out of the sessions; did the group meet expectations.

Acknowledgements

The Committee would like to thank the following people for their invaluable contributions to this document:

The editor of "Divre Gerut" (CCAR, 1981), then Chair of the CCAR Committee on Conversion, Rabbi Joseph Edelheit, and his committee members, for their initial foray into this important work. Their exploration of many of these issues made the creation of this document and the adoption of its standards a possibility.

Rabbi Steven Foster, for his ongoing guidance and wisdom, and for his seminal doctoral dissertation on "The Rabbi's Role in Counseling Converts to Judaism."

Rabbi Donald Rossoff for his insightful work on the history of conversion in the policies of the C.C.A.R.

Rabbi Raymond Zwerin for his assistance in the stylistic editing of this document.

Rabbi Mark Washofsky for his guidance on the interpretation of traditional texts.

Dru Greenwood and Kathy Kahn, Director and Associate Director of the UAHC/CCAR Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach, for their helpful suggestions and support throughout the process of the evolution of this document.

Members of CCAR Committee on Conversion from 1996 - 2001, the years of the creation and development of this document, and the Chair of the Committee from 1996-1999, Rabbi Jonathan Adland.

Rabbi Elliot Stevens, CCAR Executive Secretary, for his invaluable advice and guidance on this project.

Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff, CCAR President from 1999 - 2001, and Rabbi Paul Menitoff, CCAR Executive Vice President, for their insightful guidance and support in soliciting feedback, editing, and bringing this project to fruition.

All of the rabbis and other individuals who contributed their thoughts during the evolution of this project.

CCAR Committee on Conversion
1996 - 2001

Howard Apothaker
Herbert Brockman
Julian Cook
Joseph M. Forman
Stuart Gershon
Arnold Gluck
Elizabeth Hersh

 

Karyn Kedar
Ronald Mass
Michael Moskowitz
Frank Muller
Charles Sherman
Donald Weber 
Michael Weinberg

 

Jonathan Adland, Chair (1994 - 1999)
Richard J. Shapiro, Chair (1999 - present)

 

NOTES

 

[1] Leviticus 19:24.

[2] CCAR Yearbook, Vol. 86 (1978), p. 28.

[3] See Yevamot 24b. While who become Jewish in order to marry a Jew are accepted they are not acceptable candidates. For the halakhic norms, see Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Issurei Bi’ah 13:14-17) and the Shulkhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 268:12).

[4] For a traditional treatment of this issue, see Yevamot 47a-b.

[5] This is merely an extension of the current standard of the CCAR for Jewish partners as adopted in 1962 and amended in 1973. “If there is a Jewish spouse, or prospective Jewish spouse, he or she should be required to attend the instruction together with the convert, since the religious attitude of the Jewish partner in marriage will have a decisive influence on the convert.” CCAR Yearbook, Vol. 83 (1973), pp. 129-131.

[6] The deletion of the definite article from ,umnv is consistent with the Reform approach to the observance of  in general and the discussion in Yevamot 47a (“and [the prospective ] is given instruction in some (emphasis added) of the minor and some of the major commandments,” in particular.

[7] See Gates of the Seasons (1983), pp . 53, 68, & 71.

[8] , or "the pain of living things," refers to the prohibition against cruelty to animals. According to some, it lies at the foundation of the Jewish dietary laws and in a Reform context, is often extended to include a prohibition against the consumption of foodstuffs whose production involves a violation of this principle. See Jacob Milgram, "The Biblical Diet Laws as an Ethical System."

 is a category of prohibited deeds based on the passage in Leviticus: "You shall not oppress your neighbor" (19:13), and is usually translated as "oppression "or "exploitation." It is defined by Maimonides as "the forceful withholding and not restoring of money which had been received with the owner's consent" (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Robbery and Loss 1:4). In this context it applies more specifically to the exploitation of laborers and the consequent prohibition against consuming the fruit of their labors.

[9] For the full text of this document, see the CCAR Yearbook, Vol. CV (1997).

[10] Current CCAR policy is reflected on page 232 of the Rabbi’s Manual (1988): “A rabbinical bet din is desirable for giyur.”

[11] Opinions of the Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly, cited in Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, p. 447.

[12] For a full text of the debate and resolution, see the CCAR Yearbook, Vol III (1893), p.36, reprinted in American Reform Responsa, p. 230.

[13] Gates of Mitzvah (1979), pp. 146-147, and CCAR Rabbi’s Manual (1988), p. 232.

[14] CCAR Rabbi’s Manual (1988), p. 232.

[15] Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Issurei Bi’ah 13:10. See also Magid Mishneh commentary to that passage, as well as Tosafot, Yevamot 47a, s.v. “bemuchzak lekha” which makes the same point.

    

Dedicated to the memory of
Rabbi Alexander Schindler
His vision inspired us all

  


Copyright © 2001, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Most recent update 6 Sep 2001
Keywords: conversion, giyyur, convert, converts, divrei giyyur, geirut, ger