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).
What we do includes:
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 140 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.
Generally, our panel meets with the candidate in one of three types of venue (listed in decreasing order of frequency):
Our website includes a resource page that features the following categories:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Here is what we ask each member to sign upon joining us:
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.
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.
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.
So far as we know, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and transdenominational rabbis accept our candidates as Jews. After all, we have met the standards promulgated by 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.
For Rabbis (Non-Members)