Choosing Judaism

The Jewish community welcomes those who have decided to become Jewish and to link their personal destiny with the destiny of the Jewish people. Liberal rabbis affirm that Judaism welcomes all sincere converts, regardless of their ethnic origin or previous religious beliefs.

The preparation for Giur – conversion to Judaism or entering the Covenant – is a sacred and serious process. This process involves significant commitment in terms of time and energy from the prospective gerim (converts) as well as from the Rabbi and the lay people working with the candidates on their path. It is important to understand that Giur contains more than just a course “Introduction to Judaism”. The process of becoming Jewish includes learning in the course, but also experiential learning, spiritual self-enquiry, community integration and rabbinical counselling. Each of these aspects plays an important role in Giur process, because as the person learns about Judaism, experiences and discusses what they have learned, they connect with the Jews and come to a decision whether or not they really want to become Jewish.

Table of Contents
Phase 1: First Contact
Phase 2: Preparation
Phase 3: Readiness
Phase 4: Completion
Phase 5: Follow-Up
Special Cases

Phase 1:

First

Contact

After an initial request, the person who wants to explore the possibility of Giur meets with the Rabbi.

The purpose of this first meeting is to explore the religious and personal background of the future Ger (male convert)/ Giyoret (female convert) and to discuss the motivation for Giur of this person. While a forthcoming or existing marriage to a Jew is an understandable reason to start thinking about Giur, it is not sufficient motivation to complete Giur. Giur candidates must understand that their decision to live as Jews must be valid regardless of their life partner.

During the first meeting, the Rabbi will introduce Giur candidate to the history and present of the Jewish attitude towards Giur. Liberal Judaism has formally rejected the traditional practice of discouraging Gerim three times in their requests and formally endorsed the attitude of encouragement to Giur. However, this does not mean that some elements of the traditional approach – such as explaining the reality of contemporary Antisemitism, investigating the difficulty of living a meaningful Jewish life in a gentile environment and the like – are not included in conversations with potential gerim.

The Rabbi will express what obligations are expected of Giur candidates, particularly through the Bet Din procedure, the requirements of Brit Mila for the male candidates, and of Mikve for all genders.

Giur is not for money endeavour. Nevertheless, Giur candidates should be made aware that they will have to bear the cost of some or all of the following elements of the process: tutoring, learning materials, Mikve and Mohel, administration fee to cover the costs of the Bet Din. In order to preserve the integrity of both the Giur candidates and the Rabbi, as well as the process itself, it is important to stress from the outset that there is no obligation on the part of the Giur candidates to become Jewish, nor on the part of the Rabbi to agree to Giur. It is also important to emphasise that the process is open and flexible and may vary from person to person. 

The Rabbi will explain the different standards of Giur recognition by the different streams of Judaism and the government of the State of Israel. He will also explain our understanding that Giur means to become a member of כלל ישראל (Klal Israel), thus a part of the people of Israel as a whole, not just a member of the liberal Jewish community. The Rabbi will inform potential Gerim that their partners or prospective partners will be expected to participate in all appropriate components of Giur process. A lack of willingness on the part of the partner regarding the forthcoming Giur should be seen as a warning of possible problems with any commitment to Judaism in the family. Since the particular domestic religious practice should always be negotiated between the partners, it makes much more sense for both partners to be part of the preparation process. If both parties are actively involved in the process, issues of lack of support from the partner or direct resistance to Giur can be discussed and solutions can be found much more effectively and much earlier in the process. This does not mean that the partner should be seen as the “gatekeeper” of Giur who is able to prevent it through such a lack of support or even opposition. In fact, this can almost always be prevented if these and other similar issues are discussed as a regular part of the process.

The Rabbi will discuss with the potential Gerim the religious status of their children and whether it is necessary to involve them in Giur process. If the potential Ger has children, the following questions should be asked and discussed: What is their status? Are they Jewish by Halachic (religious) standards? Are they Jewish according to socio-cultural assumptions? If not, is it appropriate to include them in Giur process, and if so, when? Should they participate with their parents or should these questions wait until their parents see their own intentions more clearly?

The Rabbi should ensure that the potential Gerim understand that the outcome of Giur process is open to both the Rabbi and the potential Gerim. This means, among other things: the Rabbi makes the decision regarding the final readiness of the candidate for the Bet Din and at the beginning of the process, no clear date can be set for Giur completion.

Phase 2:

Preparation

  1. Jewish Learning

Each Giur candidate should receive an adequate education in the basics of Judaism. Such instruction should begin with a course of introduction to Judaism. Such a course should be of considerable duration and cover Jewish practice in all its various forms (everyday life, Shabbat, holidays, life cycle events, communal and personal prayer), Jewish history, and Jewish concepts of God, Torah, and Israel. The course should offer instruction in Hebrew and Siddur (prayer book) as well as familiarity with the basic Hebrew terms of Jewish religious life. Participants are encouraged to attend Hebrew courses and learn Hebrew themselves.

The course “Introduction to Judaism” should not be understood as a “conversion course” but as part of the regular adult education program in the synagogue. In this sense it is helpful that a large number of people participate in the course: Jews who renew their knowledge of Judaism; other gentiles who want to learn about Judaism for a better interreligious understanding; etc. In this way, the potential Gerim are for the first time brought into Jewish education without being given special attention, but as part of a larger whole. Certain components of Judaism specific to Gerim and the various psychological, emotional and social challenges associated with Giur can be discussed in other formats.

  1. Spiritual Preparation

The Rabbi and the Giur candidates shall maintain regular contact during Giur process. The purpose of such meetings is:

  • To give Giur candidates the opportunity to discuss questions or ask questions, including those that may not be appropriate for group work; 
  • To strengthen the relationship between the Rabbi and the Giur candidates to enable continued participation in the life of the synagogue;
  • To assess the impact of a possible Giur on the candidate’s family and the impact of the family’s response to the Giur candidate;
  • To give the Rabbi an opportunity to evaluate the progress of the individual on their journey towards a possible Giur.

These individual meetings should also include in-depth discussions about the candidate’s understanding and relationship with God, the Torah and the people of Israel, and the extent to which these new insights and relationships influence the candidate’s core spiritual identity and worldview.

  1. Integration into the Community

Every Giur candidate is expected to participate as much as possible in the life of our synagogue and the general Jewish community. Regular participation in Shabbat and holiday worship services is required, and weekly participation in Shabbat worship is strongly recommended. All Giur candidates should become associate members (French: “sympathisant”) of the community and pay their dues. All Giur candidates will be added to the mailing list to receive newsletters and other community correspondence. All Giur candidates receive full access to all programs and services of the synagogue. Participation in the general Jewish community is encouraged. Giur candidates are encouraged to experience the diversity of Jewish community life through participation in appropriate events.

Phase 3:

Readiness

Before completing the Giur Process, the Rabbi will require each Giur candidate to enter into commitments in each of the following areas. These commitments should be understood as a demonstration of the commitment to accept Mizvot – קבלת מצות (kabbalat mizvot) in the context of the covenant – ברית (brit) between God and the Jewish people and as a starting point for an enhanced Jewish practice of the Giur candidate. 

  • An acknowledgement that the Giur candidate freely chooses to enter into the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people. This is a lifelong commitment.
  • Acceptance of Judaism to the exclusion of all other faiths and religious practices in their life.
  • Sharing in the destiny and faith of the Jewish people and commitment to support Jewish communities around the world, especially the local community.
  • Observance of Shabbat and Jewish holidays at home and in the synagogue.
  • Creation and maintenance of a Jewish home. The creation of a Jewish home should be understood to mean the presence of such items as Jewish books, Jewish music, Jewish art, Mezuza and the adoption of Jewish religious practices such as regular prayer, recitation of Shma, blessings and Birkat Ha-Mason (grace after meal).
  • Commitment to Tikkun Olam and charitable activity.
  • Some element of Jewish dietary discipline (Kashrut). The commitment to an 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 conscious eating in Jewish religious life. The minimum expectations in this area are fasting on Yom Kippur, eating Matzah at the Passover Seder and abstaining from Chametz during Passover. In addition, aspects of social justice and ecological awareness should also be considered in this area. 
  • Personal and communal prayer on a regular basis.
  • Lifelong Jewish and general learning.
  • Affiliation with a synagogue. This should be seen as including not only affiliation but active involvement and participation in the life of a synagogue community. 
  • Raising future children as Jews. This includes in particular the religious celebration of life events and participation in religious education in the synagogue. 
  • Development of a relationship with the State of Israel in the context of the global Jewish community.

Although the decision to declare the readiness for Giur is a highly individual and subjective decision, the Rabbi should ensure that potential Gerim participate in Jewish life at least a full year before the conclusion of Giur in order to demonstrate a credible commitment to Jewish life and the Jewish community.

Phase 4:

Completion

The completion of the Giur process aims both at the public proclamation of the candidate’s desire to be part of the Jewish people and at the acceptance of the candidate by the Jewish community.

A Bet Din (court) of three rabbis is the most appropriate framework for the formalisation of Giur. Moreover, the inclusion of a Bet Din contributes to a sense of legitimacy perceived by the future Ger, and may give the Rabbi who has worked with the candidate the opportunity to see the candidate through different eyes.

The meeting with the Bet Din is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of the candidate’s specific Jewish knowledge. Rather, it should be used to explore the motivation of the candidates for Giur, their Jewish experiences, general questions, the reactions of family members to the planned Giur, the declaration of the commitments listed in the previous section, and the plans for future life as a Jew. The final authority to approve or reject a person’s candidacy for Giur lies with Bet Din.

Giur candidates from Luxembourg are presented to the Bet Din of the General Rabbinical Conference of Germany (Allgemeine Rabbinerkonferenz) or the Council of the Francophone Liberal Rabbis (Conseil des Rabbins Libéraux Francophones – KeReM). The decisions of these Batey Din are respected by all liberal Jewish communities worldwide. 

Giur candidates who wish to emigrate to Israel in future should inform the Rabbi. The Giurim conducted outside Israel by a recognised liberal Bet Din are recognised by the civil authorities of Israel in accordance with the agreement between the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) and the Israeli government. The Rabbi will inform the Giur candidate about the current status of the Giur recognition process and prepare the necessary documents.    

No rabbinate court – whether liberal or orthodox – can assure that its decisions will be recognised by all rabbinical courts, rabbis, communities and Israeli authorities.

In order to complete the Giur successfully, each male Ger must already be circumcised before the Bet Din appointment. After the positive decision of the Bet Din, the candidates of both genders to be immersed in the Mikve. With the immersion in the Mikve (Tevila) the candidate becomes Jewish in every respect. A few weeks later the Ger or Gioret receives a Giur certificate.

After the conclusion of the Giur process, a public ceremony takes place in the synagogue (usually in the form of the first Aliya la Torah and the Rabbi’s special blessing).

Phase 5:

Follow-Up

The time after the Giur also contains important considerations. The Rabbi will remain in contact with new Gerim to ensure that unforeseen difficulties are addressed, to give Gerim the opportunity to continue their studies and deepen their Jewish identity in an appropriate and sensitive way, and to find ways to integrate new Gerim into the Jewish community. 

Special Cases

1. Adult Children of Jewish Fathers

Traditionally, Jewish status is inherited from the Jewish mother and not from the Jewish father. Often the children of Jewish fathers grew up Jewish and have a deep connection and identification with the Jewish community. In such a case, the Giur process could be shorter.

2. Minors

Since a Giur is a free decision to join the Jewish people, this can only be determined by an adult person who has legal control over their person, actions and decisions. The age of maturity for Giur purposes is 18 years.

Minors can only be converted to Judaism if both parents are Jewish (in the case of adoption or surrogacy) or if their father is Jewish. 

The Giur of minors takes place under the condition that the minor at the age of 13 has the choice either to renounce his Giur or to demonstrate his commitment to Judaism by continuing to practice a fully engaged Jewish life. If the underage Gerim continue their identification with Judaism at the time of their Bar / Bat Mitzva, this excludes any possibility of questioning their Giur in the future. At the time of the Bar/Bat Mitzva it will not be necessary for the child to express a formal acceptance of Mitzvot before a newly convened Bet Din, but this informal process will be carried out through the public Bar/Bat Mitzva ceremony in the synagogue.

In the case of a Giur of minors (under 18 years) a written consent of both parents is required. Parents must sign the parental declaration of commitment.

If a Jewish couple wants to convert an adopted non-Jewish child, the premise on which the conversion for a child is based is that it is a Sechut (advantage) for that child to convert. The Hebrew name of an adopted child contains the Jewish names of its adoptive parents, for they bring the child into the covenant of Israel.