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FAQ for Candidates

Process  |  Men  | Parents  |  Raised Jewish |Recognition |  The Experience

The Process

What is the overall process for becoming Jewish as an adult?

The process of becoming a member of the Jewish people is well established. We ask that you follow these steps in your journey to full membership within the Jewish people:

  • Study. Attend an Introduction to Judaism course and/or study privately with a rabbi or other Jewish teacher.
  • Connect with a rabbi who is willing to serve as your sponsoring rabbi. 
    • Most congregational rabbis are happy to help you on this path, if they have the time available.
    • If you don’t yet have a rabbi, we can help you find one.  Contact us at Coordinator@scbetdin.us or Search our Directory
  • Meet with your sponsoring rabbi for discussion and tutoring, until he or she is satisfied that you are ready.
  • (For people with male genitalia only) Fulfill the mitzvah of milah (ritual circumcision).
  • Choose a Hebrew name for yourself, in consultation with your sponsoring rabbi.
  • Apply to meet with a Bet Din panel and discuss your journey to gain formal Jewish status.
  • Make an appointment to Immerse yourself in a kosher mikveh (body of water).

Most of the above steps are discussed in more detail, below.

What is a bet din?

A bet din is a Jewish rabbinical court and one of issues they rule on is conversion. Here at the Community Bet Din, the court is made up of three rabbis, one of whom is your sponsoring rabbi. The Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din is unique in that it draws its rabbis from all the liberal streams and it ensures that the rabbis are knowledgeable about conversion. The Bet Din’s panel will meet with you to authorize your conversion to Judaism.

My sponsoring rabbi says that I’m nearly ready to convert. I’m excited and a bit nervous. What happens now?

Mazal tov! Congratulations! A mix of excitement and anxiety is quite normal. If you and your sponsoring rabbi decide that the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din is best for you, then apply.

How do I apply?

Click here to apply online.  Submit it to our office 4–8 weeks prior to when you hope to formalize your conversion. (Your sponsoring rabbi will contact us to schedule the actual meeting date.)

During the bet din session, what do we talk about?

Meeting with the bet din’s panel is an opportunity for you to discuss your decision to become a Jew. Most of all, the three rabbis on the panel would like to be sure that you are converting freely, and that you understand what it means to live as a Jew. (We don’t expect you to be an expert on Judaism; we do expect you to be committed to continuing to learn — because we view that as part of “what it means to live as a Jew.”)

Can the bet din reject me?

Yes, but it rarely happens. It’s rare because our coordinator has worked with your sponsoring rabbi in advance, in order to ensure that you are truly ready. Possible grounds for rejection may include the candidate’s maintenance of non-Jewish beliefs, or the candidate not knowing enough about Judaism to make an informed choice about conversion.The panel of rabbis will always be supportive and respectful.

After my meeting with the bet din, what happens next?

Generally, the next — and final — step is to immerse yourself in a ritually appropriate (“kosher”) pool of water. Under certain conditions, a lake or the ocean can be used. However, most rabbis prefer a specially designed facility called a mikveh. A mikveh offers a more controlled experience that assures everyone’s safety and modesty.

Can both my meeting with the bet din and my mikveh immersion be done during the same appointment?

Yes, that is the usual arrangement. Our coordinator sets it up with the Mikveh at the American Jewish University (AJU), in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Typically, you would rendezvous with your sponsoring rabbi in the Mikveh’s foyer. You would then meet with our Bet Din panel in a nearby room. Afterward, you would return to the mikveh for your immersion if authorized by the Bet Din. Together the two rites — bet din and mikveh — generally take less than two hours.

Alternatively, you may meet with the Bet Din in a different place and go to the mikveh on the same or another day.

I’ve never been in a mikveh. How will I know what to do?

A few weeks before your appointment, our Bet Din coordinator will send you instructions. The AJU  Mikveh staff is also available to answer questions in advance.

The “Introduction to Judaism” programs in our area often include a visit to the AJU Mikveh. But if you haven’t visited the facility prior to your appointment, it will begin with a tour.

In any event, the Mikveh administrator will teach you what to do. She will help you with the prayers and enable you to immerse in a modest, comfortable, and meaningful way. She will also supervise to ensure that your immersion is ritually proper. Most people experience their immersion as a deeply moving spiritual event.

Is there a cost involved?

Most sponsoring rabbis will ask for compensation for their teaching and/or tutoring toward meeting our educational requirements. They cannot accept compensation for serving as your sponsoring rabbi per se.

The other two rabbis who serve on our Bet Din panel are volunteers.

None of the participating rabbis can make their endorsement conditional upon your making donations or payments aside from the following:

Our Bet Din charges an administration fee of $190.  A portion of our income from these fees is used to offset the cost for other candidates in need.

The fee for use of the AJU’s Community Mikveh is $125.

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For People with Male Genitalia

Tell me about the special requirement for people with male genitalia. What does it involve?

Men and boys are able to join the covenant of the Jews with God in a special way through ritual circumcision. (Jewish male babies are circumcised eight days after birth — health permitting — as the centerpiece of a rite, in the presence of Jewish witnesses.) In this way, we Jews follow the ancient sacred commandment given to our father Abraham when he undertook a covenant with his God.

I was circumcised as a baby. What do I do?

There is a ceremony for you, called hattafat dam b’rit. Typically, you  meet with a trained specialist called a mohel, who is also a medical doctor. He uses a small lancet to bring to the surface less than a drop of blood, at the site of your circumcision.

Some candidates prefer to perform this rite on themselves, while a Jewish adult serves as a witness.

This rite is considered as a symbolic re-circumcision. The mohel or witness then attests that it was performed for the sake of your entering the covenant as a Jew.

For more information, see here.

I am not circumcised. What can I do?

You will have to be ritually circumcised. This is done by a urologist, with anesthetic, in a medical clinic or hospital. It is accompanied by specific blessings, which typically are said by your sponsoring rabbi or by a trained specialist known as a mohel. These blessings establish that you are entering the covenant as a Jew. The surgery site is usually fully healed after a month.

I identify as transgender. How does this requirement affect me?

Perhaps you are living as a man yet do not have male genitalia. Or perhaps you are not living as a man, yet do have male genitalia. If so, please know that we are committed to finding a way that respects both your gender identity/expression/body image and the Jewish commitment to God’s covenant with Abraham. We will work with your sponsoring rabbi to determine what is best for you.

What proof do you ask for that I’ve undergone the proper rite?

We rely upon the written attestation of a Jewish witness, which is usually the mohel. Typically that attestation is in the form of a certificate. It’s best if you convey a copy of it to our Bet Din coordinator prior to your appointment. In any case, we ask that you bring the original with you when you meet with the Bet Din panel.

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For Parents

I have children. Can they be converted, too?

Yes, it is not uncommon for a child to accompany a parent in the conversion process. However, children under the age of 13 are handled a bit differently, because they are not considered able to freely make an informed choice.

  • Male children must fulfill the requirement of ritual circumcision, like male adults.
  • Children do not have a formal meeting with the Bet Din (although the older ones may be asked about their attitude toward becoming Jewish).
  • The parent(s) must meet with a Bet Din panel in order to establish that the child will be raised as a Jew.
  • After the Bet Din panel is satisfied with the parental assurances, the child enters (or if very young, is taken by a parent into) the mikveh. A Bet Din arranges to witness that immersion while respecting the child’s sense of modesty around strangers.

Will my children be Jewish if I am converted before they are born?

Yes, if you are the biological mother.

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Raised Jewish

I was raised Jewish but wasn’t born to a Jewish (biological) mother. What is needed in order for me to be recognized as having formal Jewish status? I’m not really “converting” to something new.

Individual rabbis who are members of our Bet Din may give different answers to this question. However, regarding someone whose (biological) father was Jewish, or who was adopted as a child by Jewish parents, the “highest common denominator” answer is:

What’s needed is that you go through the same outward ritual process as someone who was not raised as a Jew.

Granted, at first glance the term “conversion” may not be a good fit for you. We respect that your present sense of identity may already be fully Jewish. Yet in your situation we tend to use the term “conversion” anyway — while not taking it so literally. That’s because the outward process is virtually the same, in order for you to achieve Jewish status in the eyes of all of our member rabbis.

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Recognition

What documentation will prove that I have completed the conversion?

You will receive two conversion certificates: one in English and one in Hebrew. You will also receive a separate attestation of your immersion in a mikveh. The rabbis of the Bet Din panel will have signed all these documents.

Our Bet Din keeps a paper copy of these certificates in a fireproof safe, and a digital copy is archived, as well.

Will American rabbis accept my conversion as valid?

Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and transdenominational rabbis will accept you as a Jew. At this time, few Orthodox rabbis will accept any conversion other than those that they or their Orthodox colleagues authorize.

Will my conversion be recognized as valid in Israel?

The Israeli government (Ministries of Absorption and of the Interior) will recognize your conversion, so that you will be accepted as a citizen if you wish to make aliyah (move to Israel).

Conservative and Reform congregations in Israel will be delighted to welcome you into their midst.

At this time, the official religious and rabbinic authority in Israel (the state-sponsored Rabbinate) will not accept you as a Jew. Unfortunately, they do not recognize our authority as rabbis. This means that in Israel, you will not be able to marry or divorce or be buried as a Jew.

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About the Experience

What do people say about their experience with the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din?

  • “I was glad to have rabbis from three movements on the Bet Din at my conversion. I feel that I have been embraced and welcomed into the entire Jewish community.”
  • “Everyone was so kind. I was surprised at my emotions.”
  • “I feel like a whole new person.”
  • “I have always lived a Jewish life and I didn’t think the process was for me. Now I am so grateful to have done this. It was good.”
  • “The entire experience was amazing, beyond words, like nothing I have ever felt before. I’m happy my rabbi could be with me.”
  • “At long last, I am home where I belong among my people.”

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FAQ for Rabbis'

Scope | Process | Membership | Raised Jewish | Authority | The Experience

Scope

What are your standards, and how are they set?

Our standards reflect the “highest common denominator” of the concerns of the CCAR, RA, RRA, and AJRCAA. Our policies are set by our board of governors, which includes representatives of all four rabbinical organizations. Questions of application are addressed to our Av Bet Din (and, when further input seems warranted, to our S’gan Av Bet Din).

How many conversions do you handle each year?

About fifty.


Where does your funding come from?

In 2017:

  • We received about $15,200 in donations.
  • Of that, 69% came from our Board of Trustees; 26% from our own dayanim (members); and the remaining 5% from grateful converts, their family members, or friends of the Bet Din.
  • We received $7,560 in administration fees.
  • We had our first fundraising event to celebrate the milestone of Converting 500 people to Judaism that raised $6,500.

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Process

How is this better than my convening a bet din on my own?

What we do includes:

  • Support sponsoring rabbis.
  • Promote rigorous standards.
  • Consult on unusual situations.
  • Offer in-service training.
  • Create the conditions for a meaningful experience, for all participants.

We provide you with trained rabbinic colleagues who are eager to serve on a panel that meets with your candidates. They will come to the venue of your choosing (among the various options that we make available).

We provide you with relevant resources and help to keep you on track. The net effect is to increase your capacity to work with conversion candidates — or to invest your valuable time in other ways.

Each one of our dayanim is empowered to represent the other 130 or so member rabbis. Our auspices make a symbolic statement that the convert is becoming part of a Jewish people that is much wider than your synagogue or their spouse’s family.

We bring you into contact with colleagues from outside your circle — rabbis whom you might not otherwise see very often, or even meet.

Where do you meet?

Generally, our panel meets with the candidate in one of three types of venue (listed in decreasing order of frequency):

  • At the AJU, in a room (provided to us by the university) near the Mikveh.
  • At one of our branch offices in Newport Beach, Ventura, or San Luis Obispo.
  • At the sponsoring rabbi’s synagogue.

What resources do you offer to your members?

Our website includes a resource page that features the following categories:

For Sponsoring Rabbis

  • Checklist
  • Scheduling tools (timeline and calendar)
  • Venue options and policies
  • Preparing the candidate (adult and child)
    • Suggested topics for personal reflection (“essay questions”)
    • Choosing a Hebrew name
    • Explaining hattafat dam b’rit to your male candidate
  • Endorsement and other forms

For Other Dayanim

  • Procedures for the bet din session
  • Model questions
  • Required questions

Consultation via phone or email with our coordinator and/or our Av Bet Din has proven valuable to many of our members.

In-service training in recent years has consisted of a highly regarded, 4-hour-long, bienniel yom iyun.

  • Practical Issues in the Formation of Converts (2011)
  • Issues in the Conversion of Children (2013)
  • Transgender Folk in the Conversion Process (2015)

During the Bet Din session, what is asked of the candidate?

Our meeting with candidates typically begin by offering them an opportunity to recount their decision to become a Jew. We also ensure that they are converting freely, and that they understand what it means to live as a Jew. We don’t expect them to be an expert on Judaism; however, we do expect them to be committed to continuing to learn. We avoid trick questions.

Typically a member of the panel will explore the candidate’s relationship to touchstones such as Shabbat and kashrut. We expect the candidate to say that “Shabbat is a special day for me (and my family) in the following ways” or “My Jewish way of eating is as follows.” We expect them have some exposure to, and respect for, traditional practices, even if they are not following them at this time.

When a candidate is accepted, the session closes with his/her reading aloud of our “Declaration of Jewish Commitment.”

Does this Bet Din ever reject candidates?

Yes, but it rarely happens. It’s rare because our coordinator has worked with the sponsoring rabbi in advance, in order to ensure that the candidate is truly ready.

What is your relationship to the AJU Mikveh?

We have been working closely together, to ensure that the sessions run smoothly. Our usual arrangement is for the candidate’s meeting with the Bet Din and the Mikveh immersion to be completed during the same appointment.

The Mikveh staff also coordinates payment arrangements with us.

Why should I join if I am not sponsoring any candidates?

Our Bet Din provides a handy opportunity for you to take part in the rites of conversion. These moments can be among the most gratifying of a rabbi’s career!

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Membership

If I join this Bet Din, will I be required to use it exclusively?

No. Sponsor your candidate under our auspices whenever it seems best for that particular candidate, and for your own situation at the time. You may legitimately decline to use this bet din, preferring instead to use your movement’s Bet Din, or one that you yourself convene.

Our Bet Din does not in and of itself discourage the operation of any other bet din in the region, or question its legitimacy or authority.

What does the training involve?

Our orientation/training lasts 90 minutes. It covers our approach and our policies and procedures. You will also learn a bit about our administrative and governance structure.

What does it cost me to join?

There is no charge to join, nor for our initial training.

We do ask that our members be willing to sit on a panel once a year, as volunteers. (Even so, we understand that a few of our members have work or other commitments that temporarily preclude their serving with us, or that they may live too far away from the AJU for their regular participation to be worthwhile.)

We send out an annual appeal for donations. Your participation in that campaign is optional. However, many of our members do choose to support our organization financially.

What commitments do your members make?

Here is what we ask each member to sign upon joining us: Letter of Agreement

Do you ever discipline or reject rabbis as members?

Yes. We do so in order to ensure that the rites of passage are meaningful and uplifting.

Example of discipline: we asked a colleague not to denigrate Orthodox Judaism in her remarks to a candidate.

Another example of discipline: we asked a colleague to dress less informally, so as to honor the candidate’s journey to Judaism.

Example of rejection: we asked a colleague not to participate any longer in our panels, after he repeatedly insisted on asking trick questions — and using them as a pretext to deliver a mini-sermon.

We require that our dayanim remain members in good standing of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, to ensure that they are able to receive ethical oversight via their professional rabbinic associations.

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Raised Jewish

How do you handle people who were raised Jewish but not born to a Jewish (biological) mother?

Regarding someone whose (biological) father was Jewish, or who was adopted as a child by Jewish parents, our “highest common denominator” answer is:

We ask them to go through the same outward ritual process as someone who was not raised as a Jew.

We respect that their present sense of identity may already be fully Jewish. Yet in such situations we tend to use the term “conversion” anyway — while not taking it so literally. That’s because the outward process is virtually the same, in order for the person to achieve Jewish status in the eyes of all of our member rabbis.

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Authority and Recognition

What documentation will prove that the conversion was completed?

We provide two conversion certificates — one in English and one in Hebrew — as well as a folder to keep them in.

Our Bet Din keeps a paper copy of these certificates in a fireproof safe, and a digital copy is archived, as well. Additional copies are provided to the sponsoring rabbi for their own files or digital archiving, as requested.

Do American rabbis accept your conversions as valid?

The Bet Din has met the standards promulgated by governing bodies of the Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform and transdenominational movements (the RA, RRA, CCAR, and AJRCAA).

At this time, few Orthodox rabbis will accept any conversion other than those that they or their Orthodox colleagues authorize.

Are your conversions recognized as valid in Israel?

  • The Israeli government (Ministries of Absorption and of the Interior) recognizes our conversions, so that candidates are accepted as a citizen if they wish to make aliyah.
  • At this time, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel will not accept our conversions, because they do not recognize our authority as rabbis. This means that in Israel, our converts are not able to marry or divorce or be buried as a Jew.

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About the Experience

What do converts say about their experience with the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din?

  • “I was glad to have rabbis from three movements on the Bet Din at my conversion. I feel that I have been embraced and welcomed into the entire Jewish community.”
  • “Everyone was so kind. I was surprised at my emotions.”
  • “I feel like a whole new person.”
  • “I have always lived a Jewish life and I didn’t think the process was for me. Now I am so grateful to have done this. It was good.”
  • “The entire experience was amazing, beyond words, like nothing I have ever felt before. I’m happy my rabbi could be with me.”
  • “At long last, I am home where I belong among my people.”

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Payment FAQ

What Payment Means

Payment of our administration fee means that you are contributing to the functioning of our Bet Din.

  • What You Are Paying For:   Our staff’s coordination efforts;  the opportunity to meet with our panel of rabbis; and our maintenance of the rigorous quality control standards that ensure that the certificates from our Bet Din are something to be proud of.
  • What You Are Not Paying For:   You are not paying for a conversion to Judaism. Your payment of our fee does not guarantee that our panel will approve your candidacy, or that of your child. (Nonetheless we strive in advance to ensure that all candidates are truly ready, and that our panelists are competent and adequately trained.)
  • Our administration fee covers less than half of the actual cost of our preparation work. (The balance is paid for by the donors who support our operations.)

Payment Deadlines

  • Certificates will not be released until all fees that are due have been paid.
  • If you are paying in advance for one or both fees, please allow 48 hours for our office to inform the Mikveh staff that payment has been received. (I.e., if you pay online within 48 hours of your session, you should bring along your receipt in order to receive your certificates on the same day.)
  • Payment of our administration fee is due 7 days in advance of your session. However, there is no penalty for making your payment thereafter. You may bring your payment to your session. This is meant as a convenience to you.
  • Payment of the mikveh fee is expected at the time of service. See also the Refund Policy, below.

Refund Policy

No refund of our administration fee is available within 7 days of your scheduled Bet Din session. (Reason: Nearly all of our staff’s effort on your behalf has already been expended by that point.)

Likewise, the AJU Community Mikveh assesses a fee of $50 if you cancel your appointment less than 7 days in advance. An exception may be made in unforeseeable circumstances such as unusual menstruation or a sudden death in the family. (Reason: Late cancellations make it unlikely that someone else can take your slot, which leaves the Mikveh underutilized.)

Fee Adjustments

If the payment of our standard fees would be a financial hardship for you, please inform your sponsoring rabbi, who will contact us on your behalf to discuss alternative arrangements.


Contact Us

GENERAL INFORMATION
Coordinator@scbetdin.us

Voice: 323-863-5486    
Fax:
323-417-5027

Mailing Address

350 Dalkeith Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90049

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