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We are delighted to learn of your interest in exploring conversion to Judaism and joining the Jewish people.
"Conversion" doesn't quite capture what we are talking about when we do this conversion process--because what we aim at is more like joining and taking on a whole way of life, a history and a people. It's a big deal. We are very excited about the possibility of your joining our people. In our view, some of the most creative energy coming into the Jewish community in contemporary times comes from people who were not born Jews who are choosing to become Jewish. Yet joining is a process that involves learning, spiritual growth, and commitment to a people and to a community.
IT'S NOT ABOUT NEGATING WHO YOU ARE OR IN ANY WAY SAYING THAT YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN INADEQUATE, ANY MORE THAN TAKING ON A LIFE PARTNER MEANS SAYING THAT YOUR LIFE ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH BY ITSELF WITHOUT SOMEONE ELSE. BUT MAKING THIS KIND OF CHANGE IS REALLY A CHANGE, and It takes time.
You may already be on the path, and in some sense you may experience yourself (and others may recognize you) as already having a Jewish soul. And nevertheless the process takes some time and commitment.
We want you to know what would be involved if you do this process under the supervision of Rabbi Lerner at Beyt Tikkun Synagogue.
I. Study of Judaism
You should become familiar with Judaism, Jewish history, and Jewish religious and cultural practices. This requires an immersion in reading and some course work. You should enroll in whatever courses are available directly through Beyt Tikkun and check out what other courses may be available through Lehrhaus Judaica or at local Jewish study programs. Once you've gotten a foundation, we will tailor some of the specific study to your specific situation. If you have already mastered a great deal of the intellectual foundation, the course work may focus more on development of spiritual skills. For most people in the conversion process, it makes more sense to get a specific tutor who will supervise your work. Many of our members have worked successfully with Patty Moscovitz in Foster City--she is an excellent guide in the process. You can contact her at 650-349-1222 or email Putins@aol.com You may find another tutor, but s/he must be approved by the rabbi. The tutor will provide weekly supervision of your studies.
We do not expect that you will master the Jewish tradition while studying conversion, but rather that you will get a solid foundation and develop a taste for this central Jewish mitzvah: the mitzvah of Jewish study. We ask that you commit yourself to continuing this study throughout the rest of your life.
II. Taking on Jewish Religious Practice
You should become religiously observant in a way that corresponds to the kind of Jewish life you intend to lead in the future. From the standpoint of Beyt Tikkun, the most important part of this practice is to be observant of Shabbat: to create a weekly 25 hour period of spiritual focus, joy, pleasure, celebration of the universe, celebration of freedom, cessation of work in all its various forms and subtle claims on your consciousness, and abandonment of all forms of "control over." These are described in more detail in the Beyt Tikkun Shabbat Guide, which lays out our minimalist view of what Shabbat observance should be. Of course, it may take a while to develop this practice as a weekly event in your life, but doing so is essential for conversion.
III. Creating a Personal Spiritual Practice On a daily basis, you should create a spiritual space in which you reconnect with your own deepest spiritual truth and understanding. For some people, the best form is prayer. For others, it is meditation. For still others, it is connection to nature. Whatever form it takes, it should be a regular part of your life.
IV Becoming a member of Beyt Tikkun and participating our activities and in building the community. Come to services, volunteer, become involved in community activities. Do not wait till after conversion to feel that you have a legitimate place to be involved in making things happen at Beyt Tikkun and we welcome your participation. Of course, it may take time to become acclimatized to the specific ways we are doing things here in this community, and you should allow yourself to learn from Rabbi Lerner about why things are being done in the way that they are but your volunteer help is needed and encouraged. Membership in Beyt Tikkun costs 1% or your gross income (of your family unit) but not less than $200/yr for an individual or $300 for a family. Rabbi Lerner is not available to help with conversions for people who have not already joined Beyt Tikkun synagogue. This fee is negotiable for people who have shown a commitment to Beyt Tikkun through active attendance at each Beyt Tikkun Shabbat service and volunteering to help in other aspects of the community (e.g. in the building of support for the Tikkun Community and its national projects.)
Rabbi Lerner will on occasion work with someone outside the area. Click here for further details about this process.
IV. Learn to Read Hebrew
This can be the last stage, and it need not require a huge expenditure of time. Consult with your tutor to ensure that his is part of the learning plan. It is important to be familiar enough with the Hebrew letters that you are not intimidated when we read or daven in Hebrew, and this will make your participation in services easier. Of course, in the final analysis what is most important is what is in your heart when you pray, not your specific skills level. And of course, your prayers are acceptable in any language if they flow from your heart. But having this skill will be empowering. Many people who are intellectually successful in other areas of their lives and have earned great respect for their competence sometimes feel infantilized in synagogue (shul) because they don't know the rudiments of the prayer book and of Hebrew. So getting some basic Hebrew will be an important step, and you can follow through by actually learning to read and speak the language (at a pace that feels comfortable for you, and not as a requirement for conversion).
V. Keep a Journal
Your journal should include two parts: one, a formal record of what you have been doing (what courses you attended, specific books you read, lectures you attended, skills you developed, conversations you've had with others and with your family, etc.), and two, a personal account of your inner spiritual struggles, your doubts and your honest self-reflection. Please bring your journal to meetings with Rabbi Lerner
VI. Meeting with Rabbi Lerner
Once you have been accepted for conversion study with Rabbi Lerner, you should meet with him once every month to review the work that you are doing with your tutor, and receive guidance about additional readings. The central goal of these meetings is to discuss the process, how real and deep it is for you, emotional or spiritual obstacles you undoubtedly will encounter and any other issues relevant to the conversion process. When you have satisfied the requirements above, Rabbi Lerner and you will jointly decide on a time for the actual conversion ceremony. It is not unusual for this process to take 2-3 years, and virtually impossible, no matter how much previous knowledge you have, to take less than a year (in which you will go through the full cycle of Jewish observance during that year). Those who are seeking a "quickee" conversion for the sake of getting married as a Jew are advised to go elsewhere--this is a serious process that cannot be fit into a schedule having to do with an upcoming marriage
VII. Conversion Ceremony
a. Beyt Din
The conversion requires a Jewish court (Beyt Din) of 3 Jews who will ask you a set of questions about the course of your study and conversion, and then sign conversion papers indicating that they have agreed to be witnesses to your conversion.
This is NOT a test of how much material you have learned, but rather a moment for you to describe your process, both in terms of your spiritual development, your religious practice, and your learning about Judaism. Nevertheless, it is a good idea for you to be able to situate your own development in terms of some of the important Jewish thinking on the following kinds of questions:a. What is your understanding of mitzvah or mitzvot, and how does it apply to you and your life? Here you might want to be familiar with writings of David Hartman, Abraham Joshua Heschel and the discussion of these issues in Rabbi Lerner's Jewish Renewal. Be prepared to talk about which mitzvot you've taken on and how your religious practice is going. b. What is your understanding of the virtues that Judaism seeks to promote--and which of these are priorities for you in your life and how?Here you might want to be familiar with writings of David Cooper and Rami Shapiro. c. What is your understanding of God and how does it connect to the understanding developed in the Jewish tradition? You might want to be familiar with how these issues are discussed in the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Daniel Matt, David Cooper, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Arthur Green, and Judith Plaskow. d. What are the religious, spiritual or theological issues with which you are still struggling?e. What kind of commitment have you made in your own life to tikkun olam and how does that manifest in your actual life practice?f. What kind of commitment have you made to building Beyt Tikkun community and how that manifest in your actual life practice?g. What exactly does it mean to you to join the Jewish people?(Here you should show that you have read at least one serious book on Jewish history--though nobody is going to be testing you on any details).In what ways are you prepared to take on responsibility not just for a set of theological ideas and spiritual practices, but for being part of a people and a community with a 3500 year history?
After discussing some or all of the above questions with you, the Beyt Din will witness your mikvah (submergence for a moment in flowing water) and your saying the appropriate prayers (approximately 4 sentences in Hebrew). Men are required to have circumcision, and if already circumcised, to have hatafat dam, a drop of blood from the penis.
VIII. Community Welcome
We will have an annual ceremony to welcome new converts to the community on Shavuot. In addition, we will have a ceremony for each individual convert at the nearest possible Shabbat to the conversion or, if possible, immediately following the conversion. You will be asked to create a ritual that makes sense to you, and to describe some of the experience and what it has meant for you (at whatever level feels comfortable to you).
a. Private Tutoring and/or special classes: these costs will vary with the fees of your tutor.
b .Monthly meetings with Rabbi Lerner: at $140/hour--unless you really can't afford that, in which case tell Rabbi Lerner what you can afford.
c. Synagogue fee: Beyt Tikkun will charge a fee for the conversion process. Sliding fee scales: From $3000 (for annual family incomes above $100,000 a year) to $200 (for annual incomes below $25,000 a year), depending on your income.
We do not like having to charge you any fee, but unfortunately , we do not yet have enough monies to hire Rabbi. Lerner on a full time basis, so when we provide these additional services we have to charge.
You should tell Rabbi Lerner what you think you can afford (and you don't have to know the full picture on this till months after you've started). Some members have agreed to pay this amount of money over the course of several years, others have paid in two or three lump sums. We do not want you to worry about the money--we will work out something that feels comfortable to you--and you can take your time before deciding how much you are planning to pay. These fees are in addition to whatever your annual membership fees have become.
If, after reading this, you want to proceed, we suggest you call Rabbi Lerner at 510 644 1200 and set up a first meeting. .