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Converting to Judaism at West London Synagogue

Last updated: 2003-09-05

West London Synagogue runs a year-long programme of Jewish Preparation for non-Jews who wish to convert to Reform Judaism in association with the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain.

This question and answer explains the procedure.

How is Reform Judaism different from Orthodox or Liberal Judaism?
Outside the UK, there is no distinction between Reform and Liberal Judaism - both are strands of Progressive Judaism. Reform is a religious philosophy rooted in nearly four millenia of Jewish life, actively engaged with modern life and thought. With 35,000 members in 41 Synagogues in the UK, Reform Judaism adopts an open and positive attitude to Jews. We welcome and count people in, solve problems rather than creating them, open doors rather than erecting barriers. In terms of practice, Reform Judaism differs from Orthodox or Conservative Judaism in a few obvious ways. Women and men are equal in status - we pray together and have many women rabbis- and regard people of all sexual orientations with equal esteem. Our services are more accessible to the 'average' Jew, with prayers in both English and Hebrew - we celebrate Sabbath and other Jewish Festivals, follow dietary laws (Kashrut) and believe in the teachings of Torah.

How long will it take me to convert?
The Jewish Preparation course runs for one year, though there is no pressure to complete the process within the year if you do not feel ready.

Can I start the course even if I am not sure I want to convert?
Yes - many people begin the course wanting to find out more about Judaism before deciding whether or not to go through with the conversion process. It is a personal decision that West London Synagogue supports and encourages people to come to themselves. We are there to help you if you need us.

What does the course involve?
During term time, sessions are held once a week, usually on Wednesday evenings. Each session starts with learning Hebrew and then covers aspects of Jewish life, culture and learning. On top of that you will need to practice your Hebrew and do some background reading. Throughout the course you will be encouraged to attend specific events and will get the chance to socialise and make new friends in the community.

What will I learn in the course?
The course gives an overview of the many aspects of Judaism and gives you the tools to live a Jewish life. It covers the practical aspects on what happens on the Sabbath and at festivals. It delves into major events such as weddings, births, bar/bat mitzvahs and funerals, as well as looking at the history, culture and theological background. You will learn how to follow a synagogue service and read biblical Hebrew.

What happens at the end of the course?
When you, your sponsoring Rabbi and your teachers feel you are ready (usually after three academic terms) you attend an interview with a panel of Rabbis, called the Beth Din. Following this interview, you will undergo tevilah - ritual immersion - in a mikveh, or ritual bath. Prior to the Beth Din, men are required to undergo milah (circumcision). This may all seem very intimidating , but you will be supported though these processes and will not be put forward unless you are ready.

How soon can I start the course?
There are three entry points in each year, September, January and April. The rabbi will help you decide which of these you should join.

What would be the role of my (Jewish) partner and family? How would they be involved?
Jewish partners are expected to support their partners by attending weekly classes, Synagogue services and specific events to which families are invited. West London Synagogue is a welcoming and inclusive environment that encourages families, whether Jewish or non Jewish, to come along and get involved in the many activities on offer.

What would be the status of my children after I have converted?
According to Jewish teaching a Jew is a child of a Jewish mother, or a person who has converted to Judaism. In all Reform Synagogues, current practice is that children up to the age of 16 can be converted to Judaism with their mother as part of a family group. As with adults, milah (conversion) is required for boys, and tevilah (ritual immersion) for boys and girls. The child is required to have the knowledge appropriate for his or her age. After 16, at an age when they can accept personal responsibility, it is usually considered appropriate for them to make their own personal approach to the process of conversion.

Are there any books I could read before I decide whether or not to join the course? 
There are a number of books which deal with conversion and are a good basic introduction to Judaism. Good examples are 'Choosing a Jewish Life' by Anita Diamant or 'Judaism: a very short introduction' by Norman Soloman.

My main reason for converting is that my partner is Jewish - is this OK?
This is a very common reason to explore conversion - you are not alone! Most important is that you think seriously think about why you want to convert to Judaism. It is a life changing decision that should not be take lightly. Ultimately, if you do decide to convert, it should be because you want to live a Jewish life and not because of family pressures or because your partner is religious or because you have always wanted a Jewish wedding.

What happens after I complete the conversion course and become Jewish?
Once you have finished the course and passed the Beth Din, you are Jewish! You do not have to go for a refresher course or be re-examined at any time and West London Synagogue offers a thriving adult education programme with modules geared to supporting you on your journey. We offer a whole range of social activities from dinners, cultural talks, theatre outings and trips abroad. If you want to get involved in organising activities we welcome volunteers!

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