This is an update of a post I made two years ago. It seems like time to revisit the topic.
So, you’re thinking of conversion to Judaism? Here are five things you need to do.
1. FIND A RABBI. You do not need to be “sure” to do this. The rabbi will not immediately whip out a fountain pen and suggest you sign on the dotted line. Jews do not seek out converts or proselytize, and the conversion process is long and slow. What you need to know, though, is that the process cannot move forward until you have a rabbi. Rabbis do not charge for conversion, by the way; if someone calling himself “rabbi” talks about a fee for conversion, head for the exit. To make an appointment with a rabbi, call the congregation and ask to make an appointment.
For advice about finding a rabbi with the proper credentials for your conversion, read Choosing A Rabbi.
2. FIND A CONGREGATION, partly because that’s where you are likely to find a rabbi and also because that’s one place the Jews are. Judaism is a religion embedded in a People. If you think you want to become a Jew, get to know some Jews. Hang out with the Jews. Becoming a member of the Jewish People means you will also be spending time with Jewish people: better find out if you like them. If there is more than one congregation in your town, try different congregations, because they will be quite different. To find congregations, try Googling the name of your city and the word “synagogue.” You do not need to be a member of a synagogue to attend as a visitor.
Lately there have been some websites offering conversion to Judaism online. Before you settle for that option, read my article Online Conversion, Revisited.
3. DO SOME READING. Your rabbi will recommend books. If you are not ready to find the rabbi yet, here’s a good list of books recommended by actual converts to Judaism. Keep in mind that not all books and not all online sources are equally good; some are downright poor, so choose carefully or look for recommendations from sources you trust.
4. TAKE A CLASS. Many Jewish communities offer classes with titles like “Basic Judaism” or “Introduction to Judaism.” Your rabbi may offer a class; if you don’t have a rabbi, taking such a class is a another way to meet a rabbi. (For more info on online classes, check out the HaMaqom|ThePlace online catalog.)
5. CHECK OUT JEWISH LIFE. Visit Jewish museums. Learn about Israel. Watch Jewish films. Read Jewish fiction. Eat Jewish food. Find out if your community has a Jewish newspaper, and watch for cultural events, speakers, concerts, festivals, and other opportunities to taste Jewish culture and life in your city.
One final thing: it’s OK, in fact it is critical, to listen to your heart. If you don’t feel comfortable with the first rabbi you meet, talk to another one. If you don’t feel welcome at the first synagogue, check out another synagogue.
And if, along the way, you realize that what you wanted was to learn about Judaism, but that it was just one step on your spiritual journey, that’s OK. There are many paths to holiness; Judaism is only one of them. I hope and pray that you will find the right path for you.