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How to Discuss Conversion to Judaism
Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein

This information is for those who know someone who might be interested in learning about Judaism. Perhaps it is a non-Jewish spouse, or someone married to your child, or another relative of yours.

You would like to discuss conversion to Judaism with that person. You may have many reasons for this. Perhaps you regard Judaism as so wonderful you want a loved one to share it. Maybe, you're just proud of being Jewish. Maybe, you think a family should share a similar religion. Perhaps you think the children in such a relationship will benefit from a Jewish heritage.

There are some general guidelines for you to follow in discussing becoming Jewish.

* The most important part of discussing conversion is not to be afraid or reluctant to discuss the subject. Most non-Jews are never even asked if they would consider learning about Judaism. Many would do so if they were simply asked to explore the subject.

* Remember that conversion is a long process, and not a single action. Becoming Jewish can be exciting and fun, but it is a decision that will require long-term support. Conversion, after all, means changing religion and joining a new people.

* Because a welcoming attitude is the most important contribution you can make, remember not to use any emotional pressure. Conversion is a personal decision. Each person thinking about it must carefully consider conversion. Instead of pressure, focus on showing love and humor, two vital Jewish qualities of special importance when dealing with conversion.

Now, it's on to the specifics of how to discuss the subject of conversion. There are several steps for you to take.

1. Consider why you think being Jewish is important to you. Different people will have very different answers to these questions. Some people like the beauty of Jewish rituals. Others admire and identify with the brave history of the Jewish people. Still others, believe the Jewish faith helps them understand and deal with life. Explore your own reasons.

2. Consider why you wish the person you care about to become Jewish. How will becoming Jewish help that person? What positive contributions to the person's life, marriage, and family relationships will be made by becoming Jewish? The answers to these, of course, will depend on the person.

3. Decide on the best time to approach the subject of conversion. In general, it is important to raise the subject as early as possible in a serious relationship. Important moments in a family's history provide good times to discuss conversion. Such moments include when the non-Jewish person is to be engaged or married to someone Jewish, or is married and a child is expected. Bad times include non-Jewish religious holidays.

4. There isn't a single correct way to ask someone to consider becoming Jewish. One way is to go to a nice restaurant, saying you wish to discuss something you care about, or that you've been thinking about the family. After explaining why being Jewish is important, you might say something like, "Would you consider sharing the Jewish way of life?" The question could be followed by a discussion of the benefits of becoming Jewish for the person. Other possibilities include inviting the person to a seder, or a Bat or Bar Mitzvah, or discuss conversion while talking about plans for having a family. It is also possible to give introductory books about Jewish life or about conversion as a present to the person.

5. Be willing to answer questions. give help when it is requested, and provide constant support. For example, it is important to reassure people that conversion does not mean that they must lose touch with their parents, brothers, and sisters. Nor does it mean that happy memories of childhood need to be forgotten. Also, don't be embarrassed if you are asked questions about Judaism and you do not know the answer. Learning about Judaism together can be fun and a way to strengthen a relationship.

6. If the person expresses an interest in learning, there are several important steps to take. The best first step is to have a talk with a friendly rabbi. Some additional early activities include attending a Sabbath dinner and service, going to a Jewish ceremony, such as a wedding, taking part in a Jewish holiday, such as by lighting Chanukah candles, taking an Introduction to Judaism class, visiting Jewish sites, reading about Judaism, watching films about Judaism, listening to Jewish music, and others.

Because conversion is a complicated subject, all the questions about it, such as the different movements within Judaism, can't be answered here. Rather, you should discuss them with a rabbi. For example, the person who is considering conversion will want to know the details about what the requirements are for conversion. This is the kind of question that should be discussed in detail with your rabbi. In general, these can, depending on the movement, include sponsorship by a rabbi, a period of study in which Jewish history and practices and other material are learned, a circumcision for a male or a symbolic one done by drawing a drop of blood if one has already been performed, an appearance before a religious court called a Bet Din, immersion in water, and a final ceremony which includes getting a Hebrew name. It is also important to read books about conversion, if possible talk to people who have become Jewish, and discuss the subject with family.

There are about 200,000 people in the United States who have chosen to become Jewish. They did so because they found Judaism to be a wonderful way of life and because they found Jewish people, like you, who welcomed them.