Conversion to Judaism
under the Sponsorship
of Rav Fischer
On Converting to Judaism :
An Authentic Jewish Conversion Under Orthodox Jewish Auspices Differs Profoundly from Anything Else You Otherwise May Have Encountered or Been Told at Other Orange County Temples:
It is going to take a bit of time, not just 3-6 months.
You need to become someone whose life no longer is the secular-focused world epitomized by the denizens of "Sex in the City" and "Two and a Half Men."
You honestly will be making the Shabbat (Sabbath Day), the Kosher dietary rules, the rules of heightened business ethics and Personal Honesty, and even the Laws of Sacred Home Life, a part of your everyday Living and mindset.
(Glossary: A "Rav" is an Orthodox Rabbi. "Rabbonim" is the plural: Orthodox Rabbis. A "Beth Din" is a Rabbinical Panel. The term is pronounced "Bayt Din" in Modern Hebrew.)
Several times every year, I am approached by individuals or couples in Orange County who would like to know more about converting to Judaism. “What does it entail?” I am asked. “And how does ‘converting Orthodox’ differ from converting with a Conservative or Reform Rabbi? What will be expected of me? Will my children be accepted as Jewish?” "Am I going to have to become like the Amish, or stuff?"
I learned that most people in Orange County, California, who inquire about conversion to Judaism have not been afforded a fair foundational understanding of what Conversion-to-Judaism means, how an authentic Orthodox Jewish conversion differs from the practices and processes presented more commonly among the local non-Orthodox congregations here.
The Truth -- and whether one candle it -- is cliché. And yet a Rabbi owes The Truth to anyone pursuing, inquiring about conversion. Go to a Rabbi and ask: "If I convert to Judaism under your auspices, following your program and receiving your Certificate of Conversion, will you also provide me an additional written instrument that guarantees me that, even a generation or two from now, when I am gone and you are gone, my descendants will be accepted as bona fide Jews by the vast majority of mainstream observant Jews and Rabbis in the world? Can you assure me in writing that my grandkids will not be shunned as 'non-Jewish' by mainstream Observant Jews in Israel and America?"
I give that document to those who successfully convert to Judaism under my auspices. It is fair and reasonable for a prospective Convert to ask herself: "If Rabbi Fischer will give me such a writing, why won't Rabbi XXX provide me with such a writing? What is being left unsaid with his or her Conversion? Why can't I get the same guarantee?"
I have created this page, therefore, much as Rav [a "Rav" is an Orthodox rabbi] Maurice Lamm and others among my more esteemed rabbinical colleagues have written books explaining Becoming a Jew, in an effort to lay out the basics of halakhic conversion under my sponsorship. If the information on this page sounds too demanding for you . . . well -- then it probably is. But it is The Truth. And, even nowadays, a Rabbi's willingness to tell you The Truth still should count for something.
For those of us who are bound to our Torah-true heritage, the Word of G-d is His eternal Word. It does not change. Nor do the Jewish People seek a dilution in the concentration of our People's commitment to the Torah by engaging in an adventure to increase our numbers superficially. Just as the United States maintains rigorous standards for accepting new citizens, even as it continues to honor the citizenship of those already blessed with that status even when such citizens act as miscreants, so it is that Orthodox Judaism -- Torah-true Judaism -- sets rigorous standards for accepting newcomers under the umbrella of Torah, even as we continue honoring the Jewish status of all Jews, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, no matter how detestably they may present themselves and even publicly attack good Jews. And once someone is accepted into the People of Israel through proper Conversion ("Giyur"), then that Ger (male convert) or "Giyoret" (female convert) will be a Jew forever.
So back to The Question: What does an authentic Giyur (halakhic conversion to Judaism) entail? The brief answer is: Our very world view of conversion is defined by our understanding of G-d’s word as articulated in the Written Torah and amplified in the Oral Law. Thus, a conversion to Judaism is not merely about joining a new family or joining a new team. It is not merely about changing holidays, learning some Hebrew, singing “Hava Nagila,” or showing a love for Israel or feeling bad about the Holocaust. Rather, an authentic conversion -- a giyur according to halakhah -- is about adopting a new personal way of life for the rest of your life.
When you convert to Judaism, your entire lifestyle changes – forever. You begin every morning by reciting certain prayers. If you are male, you not only must pray three times daily, but you must don tefillin every morning for the rest of your life (except for Sabbaths, Biblical festivals, and one modified rule on a specific Fast Day) – and you must worship daily in a minyan service at synagogue. Your eating habits will change – because they must. You no longer will eat non-kosher food or patronize restaurants that lack proper kosher supervision and certification. For the rest of your life, you will wait several hours after eating meat or poultry before you eat something dairy. Every week, your Friday nights (after sunset) and Saturdays (until nightfall) will be governed by the Sabbath rules of the “Day of Rest.” Some of those rules will delight you. Some will take some time assimilating into your view of “rest.”
When you are invited to a “wine and cheese” social, you will be concerned whether the wine is kosher and whether the cheese is kosher – so, typically, you will not even attend wine-and-cheese events sponsored outside your new faith community. Meanwhile, you will be expected to spend the rest of your life making some time every day, at least some time every week, to learn and study Torah texts, to keep growing. Your children, when you have them, will have to attend a yeshiva day school. Not a public school. Not a “community Jewish school.” And even your personal lives, the intimacy of husband and wife, will be governed by Torah law.
Unlike a “Reform conversion” or a
“Conservative conversion,” an “Orthodox conversion” entails and
demands more than just learning the laws and
lifestyle. Rather, you will engage to live the laws and
lifestyle -- for the rest of your life. Your study regime will be aimed not
merely at teaching you the information but also at helping guide you
into assimilating our practices and
beliefs into the rest of your life’s works.
Remember that high school course in which you
scored an “A” on your final exam and report card – but whose
substance you barely remember today? Maybe it was biology
class. Maybe world history. You memorized everything
there was to know about the amoeba or the paramecium. You
memorized all the dynasties of China’s early power families.
You memorized the kings of France and England, the dates of their
wars. You knew all those Jameses and Henrys by-the-Number so perfectly for the final exam, and
your “A” on the report card demonstrated your knowledge and prowess.
But today you are a doctor, and you don’t know
the “Wars of the Roses” from the “War of the Roses.” The
Hundred Years War? Henry I? Henry II? John I?
John II? How many
Edwards were there? Henrys? And,
for that matter, Phillips?
When you study
for “conversion” outside an Orthodox Torah framework, your
teachers will have a curriculum for you, and they will teach you.
You may learn a great deal. You will take the test. Your
program may run three months. Maybe six months. Maybe a
Our approach is different. We are Orthodox. We are indistinguishable from you in most walks of everyday life. We are accountants, doctors, attorneys, computer I.T. experts, Yankees fans, Red Sox fans, afficionados of "Ace of Cakes" -- and stuff. Your refrigerator and pantry already is stocked with kosher-certified foods approved by our rabbis. We go to your college or send our kids there. We travel the States and the World. We are like everyone else. And, yet, we are not. Because our lives are guided by a warm compass that points both to Jerusalem on earth and to G-d in Heaven. Our lives are "All for the Boss." And He is the Boss."I will not hide that I love my Judaism, not merely my ethnic Jewishness but my religious heritage. I would not trade it for the world, nor would I compromise it. It means too much to me." That is how a Ger or Giyoret should feel for the rest of his or her life.
So where do we go from here? First, you really have to study with an Orthodox congregational rabbi or program within walking distance of where you live. If you are in Orange County and prepared to live within walking distance of my shul, then go ahead and write me a substantive note, a meaningful letter or expositional statement explaining to me what you really are looking for. What motivates your query. Why you would want to take on such a life. Tell me your story in an email.
Through my offices, as your sponsoring rabbi, I will guide you as you begin the process that culminates in your living an absolutely Torah-true life, observing the Shabbat according to its laws, eating strictly kosher in and out of the home, etc.
You will not be alone. When we arrived in Irvine in August 2005, we promptly learned that there already were at least 20 couples in the Orthodox community of Irvine in which a spouse, typically the wife, had converted properly to Judaism, while the Jewish-born spouse, typically the husband, had become Torah-observant en route. Subsequently, in my congregational role, I worked with three more such couples en route to their Giyur. At my newer Irvine shul where I have been Rav since February 2008, we have celebrated other Giyurim (Conversions).
I sponsor your “conversion” through the auspices and guidelines of the Rabbinical Council of California(RCC). That is the Gold Standard in California for conversion to Judaism. Those who convert to Judaism through that Gold Standard have the peace of mind in knowing that their children are Jewish, and their grandchildren will be accepted as Jews among mainstream normative Observant Jews throughout the world. They will not encounter the tragedies I have encountered so often: (i) the accounts of the non-Jewish person who already, previously went through a non-Orthodox conversion and now has learned years later, to her shock, that Observant Jews do not regard that conversion as valid, so she has to start all over again, having wasted ten years in the meantime; and (ii) the accounts of descendants of such conversions, where Mom was satisfied with her non-Orthodox conversion, but now Mom's daughter or granddaughter has taken an interest in practicing a deeper Jewish lifestyle, only to learn that the Judaism she wants so much to live deems her Mother's conversion inadequate, so that daughter now has to restructure her own life, needing to convert "all over again" because she is not Jewish.
That kind of tragedy just does not happen with an RCC Conversion under my auspices.
To study with me, it becomes absolutely mandatory within the first six months that you are in the program for you to establish a permanent residency within walking distance of my Shul. Otherwise, how can I observe and celebrate your growth and evolution, invite you and your family occasionally for Shabbat meals spontaneously, and assure you are plugged into other avenues of Shabbat meal invites? That is, how else can I sponsor you?
Once I have read your story, we can set a time to sit and meet in my office. I can share insights with you, and you can emerge better informed of what it means to become a Jew – really, authentically, to become and live as a Jew as that term and lifestyle have been understood for thousands of years.
If you choose to
proceed after we have met, your next step on the “conversion”
process entails your calling the Rav who serves as director of
the RCC Bayt Din. You would tell him that you have met with Rav Dov Fischer in Irvine, who laid out the
process for you. In that next stage, you
proceed to meet
personally with that Rav, and – if he emerges persuaded that your
candidacy is rooted in a sincere readiness to take on a Torah
lifestyle (along with your Significant Other, if there is one) – he
assigns you books to read.
After you feel you have read and mastered the assigned introductory readings, you again would call the Rav at the Bayt Din and ask that he set an appointment for your initial meeting with the full 3-rabbi Bayt Din panel. The Rabbinical Panel typically includes that Rav and two other prominent Rabbonim ("rabbis"). At that meeting, again at the Bayt Din's Los Angeles offices, they get to know you, too.
From the time that the RCC Rabbinical
Panel decides you are ready to start learning for Conversion, you study at
least twice weekly here in Irvine –
once-weekly with a same-gender mentor in Irvine, who will be your personal mentor through your learning process, and
Over time, you will learn an enormous amount – and, much more importantly to the process, you will begin to practice what you learn. In time, a conversion date will be set when the Rabbinic Panel feels you are ready. The Beth Din/Bayt Din makes that decision in consultation with your mentor and with your sponsoring Rav (such as me).
If you think about it, American citizens who break American law retain their American citizenship, pretty much forever. Yes, felons may lose their right to vote but not their citizenship. America does not strip citizenship when a citizen breaks laws. By contrast, immigrants to America who wish to naturalize – essentially, to “convert” to Americans -- must meet a higher, longer, more demanding, pure standard than is expected from people who already are citizens.
And so it is with Jews and Judaism. If your “Significant Other” respectfully, lovingly refuses to live the lifestyle, then there can be no Giyur. If the couple cannot live within walking distance of a Shul, then they cannot possibly attend Shabbat services at Shul every week in a manner that conforms to halakhah. Because, on Shabbat, a Jew must walk, not drive. And one must go to Shul.
Within walking distance of us, and within our Eruv, there are apartments to rent at Parkwest Apartments. There are condominia to rent or buy at Rancho San Joaquin Apartments. You may want to “Google” them and contact them. This is what my wife and I had to do when we moved to Irvine. This is what all Torah-true Jews must do – we must live within walking distance of a Shul. If we cannot afford to live within walking distance of a Shul in Irvine, then we find another community, more affordable, and live within walking distance of that Shul. For some, it means leaving L.A. and moving to Seattle or Portland or Cincinnati. Indeed, over time, we have counseled and guided several young Orthodox families with school-age children away from Irvine and towards other communities where adequate Jewish schooling is available -- something tragically lacking in Irvine.
If you do opt to pursue an Orthodox “conversion” from a residence based in Irvine, I would be honored to act as your sponsoring Rav – the RCC Bayt Din’s representative in Irvine – guiding you and your mentor, overseeing your progress, teaching you, and welcoming you into my congregation’s life. Some of my most meaningful relationships have arrived from this role. But, again, before writing me, please read this page again, please ask yourself whether you really are prepared to be a Jew who not only "talks the talk" but also "walks the walk" . . . to shul on Shabbat.
A final word: money. Many people whom I have met during my seven years in Irvine have expressed concern whether certain rabbis do conversions as a financial enterprise. Others have expressed concern whether certain temples could survive financially without the conversion/intermarriage component of their operations. Deeply moved by those concerns, I simply decided years ago not to charge or accept any remuneration, payment, or other gift or emolument for time I devote to your “conversion” process as your sponsoring Rav. After all, I teach my weekly Chumash-Rashi-Halakhah ("Bible Study") class anyway to the many members of my congregation who look forward to attending that Torah class. So I do not take anything for my time and personal sponsorship. There are certain nominal fees that the RCC Bayt Din may charge, and your mentor may receive a nominal fee. In all, you will find that the “conversion” framework is not viewed as a meaningful source of funding within the Orthodox Torah community, and certainly not within ours. That should tell you something, too. Our shuls do not rely on conversions and intermarriages to keep the seats warm. We have Jews for that.