Adopted by the Board of Governors 12/6/02; revised 3/24/10; 1/26/11; 3/23/11; 5/5/15; 11/2/16; 11/7/17; 1/17/18
Preamble. The Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din (SCCBD) is an association of Southern California Rabbis organized to support and manage a Jewish community program for conversion to Judaism (giyur). The inherent pluralistic approach to conversion offers sensitive educational and ritual affirmation to candidates from all backgrounds while upholding halachic standards acceptable to all streams of liberal Judaism.
A. Rationales for this Program:
1. For all concerned:
a) Create a mode of conversion through which converts can feel that they are being converted to Judaism, not just to one of its denominational expressions. This is important for all converts, because it affirms that Jewish commitment is greater than any denominational expression.
b) Provide an opportunity for SCCBD dayanim from different streams of Judaism to work together on this potentially divisive issue, thus strengthening Jewish unity and understanding.
c) Establish standards for conversion that are accepted by rabbis across the liberal streams of Judaism so that conversions will be recognized by the larger Jewish community.
a) The SCCBD does not discourage the operation of any other Bet Din in the region or question its legitimacy or authority.
b) Individual rabbis may decline to use the SCCBD, preferring instead to use their movement’s Bet Din or one that they themselves convene.
c) The SCCBD does not own or govern a mikveh, and respects other organizations which own mikvaot and make them available to SCCBD.
1. Nondiscrimination Policy: The SCCBD welcomes candidates for conversion to apply regardless of their race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, height, weight, physical or mental ability, or marital status.
2. Sponsoring Rabbi: A candidate must have a Sponsoring Rabbi who is a member (dayan) of the SCCBD.
a) Tasks: The Sponsoring Rabbi must get to know the candidate and assess and strengthen the candidate’s Jewish knowledge and commitment according to the standards set forth in the Preparatory Requirements for Conversion: Education and Behavior document.
1) For appropriate Jewish education, most candidates will be referred to an “Introduction to Judaism” course. The Sponsoring Rabbi may choose to supplement the academic part of such a course if not teaching it him or herself. The Sponsoring Rabbi, in any case, is responsible for creating supplementary Jewish experiences, including integration into a synagogue and/or Jewish community before conversion.
2) A Sponsoring Rabbi is responsible for completing all the appropriate documentation, including helping the candidate choose a Jewish name, and submitting it in a timely fashion.
3) A Sponsoring Rabbi is expected to present to the Bet Din’s panel only a conversion candidate who is appropriately prepared.
4) When the Bet Din’s panel meets with the candidate, the Sponsoring Rabbi will sit on that panel as a voting member.
b) Compensation: The Sponsoring Rabbi may receive compensation for teaching and/or for tutoring the candidate toward meeting our Bet Din’s educational requirements. The Sponsoring Rabbi shall not accept compensation (including non-monetary gifts) for sponsorship—and must not state or imply that endorsement of the candidate is conditional upon the candidate’s making any donations or payments other than for our administration fee and for the mikveh fee.
3. Education and Behavior. The Bet Din has established intellectual and behavioral standards (see separate document titled Preparatory Requirements for Conversion: Education and Behavior). It is what candidates know and do that is important, not the particular form in which they prepare for conversion. Normally, a candidate will satisfy the educational requirements by earning a Certificate of Completion from an Introduction to Judaism program. Yet the completion of such a course in and of itself does not guarantee conversion. The length of the instructional period, and the achievement of the intellectual and behavioral standards must be adequate as judged by the Bet Din’s panel.
4. Milah. For a person with male genitalia, the SCCBD requires brit milah or, where circumcision has already been performed, hatafat dam brit. A ritual circumcision must be attested by two adult Jewish witnesses, and hatafat dam brit by one adult Jewish witness. The mohel counts as one such witness. The appropriate blessings must be recited by the rabbi or mohel for full circumcisions, and it is recommended that those blessings be recited for hatafat dam brit as well. The Sponsoring Rabbi should show the mohel’s certificate of either brit milah or hatafat dam brit to the other members of Bet Din’s panel before they meet with the candidate.
5. Hatzharat Emunah (Declaration of Jewish Commitment). The document as approved by the Bet Din’s governing board will be read aloud by the candidate in the presence of the Bet Din’s panel. It will then be signed by the candidate and witnessed by the panel.
6. Tevilah. Immersion in a kosher mikveh or approved natural body of water, is required for the completion of all conversions under SCCBD auspices. Two witnesses are required; three are preferred. Witnesses must be Jewish adults, preferably rabbis. Such immersion normally takes place only after the Bet Din’s panel has otherwise approved the candidate’s conversion and all parties have signed the Hatzharat Emunah.
7. Completion. The Bet Din presents its documentation to the candidate only after all fees are paid in full, and only after the candidate has immersed in the mikveh, even if the latter occurs at a later date than the panel’s meeting.
8. Documentation. Original documents are given to the convert. Copies are kept by the staff of the SCCBD and the AJU mikveh if the AJU Mikveh is used.
C. The Structure and Functioning of the Bet Din’s Panel
1. Qualifications: Each member (dayan) must be a member in good standing of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and a professional rabbinic organization that would qualify them for membership in that Board. Each member must also be accepted as a dayan by the SCCBD and have completed an orientation/training session (see number 4 below). Membership may be revoked at the governing board’s discretion.
2. Personal Views and Practices: The SCCBD will accept members of the rabbinic organizations who are approved by the SCCBD, regardless of their own Jewish views and practices. However, when functioning on a SCCBD panel, all dayanim must agree to adhere to the standards of SCCBD.
3. Non-compensation: Members shall not accept compensation (including non-monetary gifts) for serving on a panel.
4. Orientation/Training: The colleagues sitting on the Bet Din’s panel must be trained in their sacred task. The training should be conducted by those with significant experience in this area of the rabbinate. The training should include: explanations of SCCBD administrative procedures; frequency-of-service responsibility; SCCBD standards; some expressions of what it feels like for the candidate; and a description of both appropriate and inappropriate questions to ask the candidate.
5. Composition of the Panel: The Bet Din will convene a panel of its members to meet with each candidate. Such a panel normally consists of three rabbis: two trained members of the Bet Din and the Sponsoring Rabbi.
6. Diversity of the Panel: Because each individual member (dayan) represents the SCCBD as a whole, we do not require that a given panel must consist of members from different rabbinic associations. However, such concrete evidence of our diversity is desirable.
7. Leadership of the Panel: The panel’s leader should not be the Sponsoring Rabbi. Rather, it should be the Av/Em or S’gan Av/Em, or, if neither is present, the panel members shall appoint a leader during their preliminary conference.
8. Place and Time: The Bet Din’s panel may convene at any mutually agreeable location. Such a location should suit the gravitas of the occasion. For practical reasons, the preferred location is in proximity to the mikveh. If circumstances warrant, a panel may convene at a place and time different from those of the immersion. The Sponsoring Rabbi is encouraged, but not required, to be present at the immersion.
D. SCCBD GOVERNANCE
1. Governance of SCCBD is assigned to its Board of Governors. The Board of Governors shall direct and manage the operation and policies of the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din. The Board is ultimately responsible to the Association of SCCBD Dayanim.
2. Membership: The Board of Governors shall consist of no less than five or more than twenty-five Dayanim who are qualified to serve on a SCCBD panel. Governors shall be selected for candidacy by a Nomination Committee with full respect for the Bet Din’s commitment to pluralism. The Board of Governors will reflect the diversity of the Bet Din’s Dayanim. The Board recognizes the following rabbinic organizations, seminaries, and programs, and strives to have them represented on the Board:
a) These five denominational rabbinic organizations: The Pacific Southwest Region of the Rabbinical Assembly; the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis; the Southern California Region of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; the Academy for Jewish Religion California Clergy and Alumni Association; and Ohalah Association.
b) The three Los Angeles rabbinic seminaries: Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University; Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion Los Angeles; and the Academy for Jewish Religion, California.
c) The Board of Rabbis of Southern California Executive Director (or equivalent) as ex-officio.
d) The following Introduction to Judaism programs: Miller Introduction to Judaism, URJ Introduction to Judaism, and Judaism by Choice.
3. Election: Members of the Board of Governors shall be elected by a majority of votes from SCCBD Association members. Governors will begin the performance of their duties at the beginning of the fiscal year.
4. Term: Governors shall serve terms of three years and may be re-elected.
5. Eligibility: Governors continue their eligibility as SCCBD Dayanim and Sponsoring Rabbis.
6. Meetings: Governors are expected to attend all regular Board meetings, usually quarterly, but must attend at least two per year. A quorum needed for the Board to vote on an issue during a meeting is a simple majority of voting members. Notice of meetings will be announced to the Board membership a minimum of one month in advance. The Officers may call a special meeting of the Board of Governors with a ten-day advance notice.
7. Financial Commitment: Each Governor and Officer shall contribute at least one hundred dollars ($100) to the Association annually, all or part of which may come as a gift from the Board member or be solicited by the Board member. If this financial requirement presents a problem for any Governor, he/she may request a confidential adjustment from the Vice Chair.
8. Officers: The Board of Governors shall elect Officers of the SCCBD from among fellow Governors for three year terms. The Chair and Vice Chair (or Co-Chairs) shall be from different streams of Judaism. All Officers serve at the Board’s discretion:
a) Chair: The Chair presides over all meetings of the SCCBD Board of Governors.
b) Vice Chair: The Vice Chair presides over Board meetings in the absence of the Chair. The Vice Chair presides over the Nomination Committee and fund-raising efforts. The Chair and Vice-Chair may decide to share responsibilities equally as Co-Chairs.
c) Secretary: The Secretary takes minutes at each Board meeting, delivers them to the Board for approval, incorporates revisions, distributes them to the general membership, and maintains them in a permanent folder.
d) Comptroller: The Comptroller signs checks to pay expenses, such as reimbursement of Governing Board members and of staff for expenses legitimately incurred.
e) Treasurer: With the assistance of the Executive Director, the Treasurer tracks the receipt, care, and disbursal of funds, and makes timely reports to the Board with regard to recent and projected finances.
9. The Nomination Committee is a standing committee of the Board. Its members are selected by the Vice-Chair. Every three years at the regular Fall quarterly meeting, the Nomination Committee will nominate Dayanim to serve as Governors to be elected by SCCBD Association members. They will take into consideration the parameters expressed in Article D, Section 2 to ensure desired diversity. The election shall be held in time for newly elected Governors to begin their terms by January 1st. Every three years at the regular Fall quarterly meeting, the Nomination Committee shall also nominate Officers for election by the SCCBD Governing Board. The election shall be held in time for the newly elected Officers to begin their terms by January 1st.
10. Executive Director: The Board of Governors shall engage an Executive Director, and other employees as needed, for the efficient functioning of the Association. The Board shall appoint from its ranks a supervisor for its Executive Director. The Executive Director shall be an ex-officio, non-voting Member of the Board.
11. In light of the value that the Principles place on continuing education and professionalism for rabbis, the Board of Governors shall establish regular workshops (Y’mei Iyun) for the continuing education of SCCBD Members (Dayanim) and other community rabbis.
12. The Board of Governors shall appoint two particularly learned Members of the Board to serve as an Av/Em Bet Din and a S’gan Av/Em Bet Din. They shall be the Association’s Judaic Advisors on matters of procedural or legal dispute among the Dayanim. In respect for the Bet Din’s commitment to Jewish pluralism, these two Governors shall be from different streams in contemporary American Judaism. They will continue to be voting Members of the Board of Governors. The Av/Em and S’gan Av/Em shall participate in a Bet Din panel at least twice a year. They shall be available for consultation by sponsoring rabbis and staff in difficult cases, especially for policy or procedural issues.
13. Whenever any vacancy occurs on the Board of Governors it shall be filled without undue delay by a majority vote of the remaining Members of the Board of Governors at a regular meeting. Vacancies will be filled for the remainder of the term.
14. Members of the Board of Governors shall not receive any compensation for their service as Governors. The Association shall maintain a Directors & Officers insurance policy that is designed to help pay legal expenses and settlements in the case of a personal lawsuit against its Officers, Governors and Committee Members, including Ex-Officio Members.
15. The fiscal year of SCCBD shall be January 1 to December 31.
E. The Conversion Experience
1. The experience should not feel pro forma to either the candidates or the rabbis involved. Rather, the dayanim should strive to make each conversion unique and meaningful with proper gravitas.
2. While it is expected that the vast majority of candidates who are presented to the Bet Din’s panels will be accepted as Jews, a given panel may decide not to accept a particular candidate. 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 Bet Din’s panel retains the freedom and the responsibility to make such judgments. The panel should inform a candidate who is rejected what terms must be met before returning to the Bet Din for another session.
3. The rites of conversion should culminate in a meaningful, even if short, ceremony of welcoming that should be planned in advance by both the Sponsoring Rabbi and convert.