Conversion to Judaism is a profoundly beautiful and challenging experience. The process of conversion, which lasts from a minimum of twelve to eighteen months (but can take much longer) is highly involved and includes high expectations including reading multiple books, attending a year of group classes, writing multiple essays, meeting individually with the rabbi, and attending services regularly (meaning at least half of the Shabbat services offered over the course of a month and all festival services. Unless it represents a significant financial hardship, it is expected that work and study schedules are moved around for the sake of the Jewish holidays.)

In order to begin the conversion process at Sinai, you need to first be willing to accept the intensity of the programme.

The information below is critical and it will be assumed that you have read and understood this information before you contact Sinai. Because of security and the volume of requests we receive, we ask you to begin your process by emailing our office (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) where you will need to fill out a security form. Once that has been completed, our office will work with you to set up an initial meeting with the rabbi.

Please take your time to read the points below, as conversion to Judaism is quite different than conversion to other religions.

  • Judaism is simultaneously a religion and a peoplehood. Converting to Judaism involves both learning the practices and restrictions of Judaism (the mitzvot) as well as essentially being “adopted” into the “family/tribe” of Abraham and Sarah. Conversion does not exist without both aspects, the religious and the cultural.
  • It is both about “you” and “us.” One of the implications of the above is that you are in a constant dialogue between the individual and the communal. For an extreme example, a conversion candidate might believe being called to Torah to be the personal fulfilment they need (or even feel entitled to such an honour based on any variety of factors), yet this is not done until a conversion has been completed and the candidate is accepted as a Jew. This includes many communal practices including all Torah honours in addition to the public use of ritual items such as prayer shawls (tallitot or talleisin), phylacteries (tefillin), blowing a shofar and publicly leading Jewish prayer. (Yet on the other hand, you are encouraged from the beginning to cover your head as you enter a synagogue.) Part of accepting the Jewish journey is accepting that communities as well have rules and standards that for the sake of the community will be given precedence over an individual’s desires, especially regarding communal ritual space (i.e. it is never ‘ok’ to have one’s desire for a bacon sandwich, no matter how strong and sincere, to trump the rules of kashrut in Jewish ritual spaces.)
  • Judaism is a non-proselytising/missionizing religion. Many of the world’s largest religions (or significant numbers of adherents within those religions) consider it an obligation to convert others to their religion. Judaism does not share this and therefore does not actively reach out to encourage conversion. There are many reasons for this, but the primary ones include:
    1. Judaism does not believe it is “right.” Judaism considers itself a pathway rather than the According to Jewish principles, anyone following the Noahide Laws (essentially living within basic moral and ethical principles) has a place in the “world to come,” however it is that this is understood.
    2. Jews have lived for most of the past 2000 years as a minority people/religion without political agency. As a result, it simply has not been safe to be a Jew and even worse, Jews have been persecuted for accepting converts. It is not possible to understand the complications of conversion and Jews’ hesitancy to accept converts without understanding this aspect of history.
  • Judaism makes no promises regarding happiness or spiritual fulfilment. The most common reason that people wish to convert and then do not follow through with the process is the idea that an internal need can be fulfilled by the Jewish religion, Jewish identity, or both. Indeed, like all religious paths and communal identities there is fulfilment that can be personally found, but no more or less than through another faith or path. Fulfilment comes only via one’s self and not via an externalization.
  • Converting for the sake of a Jewish partner or spouse is not the “easy way.” It is essentially forbidden in Jewish Law to convert only for the sake of a partner. From a practical level (which has been proven over and over throughout history) if that relationship were to ever end, the relation of that convert to Judaism also often ends. Different rabbis interpret this in different ways, but on the whole, I only accept conversion candidates with a Jewish partner that would convert regardless of their partner.
  • Converting while in a partnership with a non-Jew is almost never accepted, especially with the potential of children in the relationship. Although there are exceptions, most rabbis will not help a couple become less stable. Introducing a new religious practice and identity within an established couple where both are not on the same journey will nearly always cause damage to if not the dissolution of a relationship. It might not seem like it at the time and the partner may even fully support the conversion, but personal and anecdotal evidence show this to almost never work out, and thus I nearly always reject a potential candidate in this situation.
  • You will not be universally accepted. The Jewish world is as filled with complications and politics as any other. As a rule, Reform conversions are not accepted as valid by Orthodox communities (not even all Orthodox conversions are accepted by other Orthodox groups) in addition to some Conservative/Masorti communities. The only way to really gain universal acceptance is to move to Israel and go through, if accepted, the two-year conversion program offered by the chief rabbinate. I personally have and will continue to fight for the validity of Reform conversions (quite frankly, my program is not any easier than Orthodox), but it is only fair to clearly let all candidates know this before they begin. In addition, you will always encounter Jews that for personal reasons, often times mere personal prejudice and lack of a depth of Jewish knowledge, will arbitrarily reject converts to Judaism (or “Jews-by-choice” as the American Reform community prefers) regardless of how “Jewish” of a life is lived by the convert. It is sad, but a full-disclosure reality and a reminder that humans are humans.
  • I do not believe in “Reform” conversion. Even in light of what I wrote above, I am a Jew first and a Reform Jew second. Part of my conversion program is making sure that each candidate is aware of the differences between the streams, and finds away to have a respectful relationship with all streams, which will include visiting other synagogues during the conversion process. A successful conversion candidate will have a “Reform” certificate and be able to be a member at Reform and Liberal (as well as some Conservative) shuls around the world, but your conversion is to Judaism as seen through the eyes of Reform, not to Reform Judaism to the exclusion of all other Jewish expression.
  • It is hard. Conversion takes a minimum of one year, and can often take longer. It involves a large time commitment, reading, writing, the willingness to move your schedule around for Shabbat, Jewish holidays and festivals, meetings with me, conversion class and Hebrew instruction.
  • There is no guarantee. The hardest part of this entire process for me is that I have the final say on whether to send a candidate to the beit din, a rabbinical court made up of at least three ordained rabbis in the UK Assembly of Reform Rabbis. The beit din (along with circumcision for males and mikvah or ritual bath for both men and women) is the final part of the process, but sending a candidate to the beit din is solely at my discretion. Having this level of “say” in another’s life is not a pleasant reality, but is a responsibility I take seriously. Any candidate I accept needs to acknowledge the possibility that there will never be a completion to the process, otherwise I will not begin working with a candidate.
  • Circumcision is required for all male candidates. If you are already medically circumcised, a ceremonial circumcision (a painless drop of blood that I am able to perform) known as a hatafat dam brit will be performed before the candidate is sent to rabbinical court. (Please note that we are aware of the complexity of this point with our transsexual and intersex candidates. Judaism has been very direct regarding this complexity since Talmudic times, and I am willing to engage in dialogue on these issues in the most respectful and compassionate way that I am able.)
  • There are costs and high expectations. I do not accept any compensation for my time. Working with conversion candidates is one of the most valuable and satisfying aspects of my job. The two costs, however, are for the conversion class and then for the beit din (as well as travel costs to London for the beit din.) If you are under financial hardship some accommodation can be made. Regarding expectations, I do not send someone to beit din that I believe is not willing to fully immerse themselves in their own Jewish life and then invest themselves in the health of their community. I expect all successful converts to continue attending synagogue on a regular basis, to become members of Sinai after conversion, and to volunteer in some way to give back to the community, and if the new Jewish addition should ever leave Leeds, I would expect the same in a new community.

So why convert? Well that is up to you. If you have gotten this far in the document and are still looking to proceed, that is already a good sign. But considering the world condition and the history of Judaism, I would recommend that the only reason to want to convert is that there is no other path that you see yourself in regarding religion and religious cultural expression. If other paths seem equal, then they are probably the right path.

So what now? This all depends on you. If you have not yet contacted Sinai, you will be receiving a visitors’ information form from our office that needs to be filled in and then (for simple security purposes) reviewed before we can proceed. When you are informed that your visitor’s privileges have been approved, then please call the Sinai office (M,T,W,F 9am to 2:30pm) to make an initial appointment with me. At that point we begin getting to know each other and we talk about next steps. (If you have already sent in your visitors’ information at sometime in the past, please just reply to this email that this is the case and I will follow up on the paperwork.)

Anything in the meantime? Read, read, read! Experience, experience, experience! If you are new to Judaism, it would benefit you greatly to begin absorbing as much information as possible. If you have read nothing on Judaism, I highly recommend you read “Judaism for Dummies,” delightfully written by my colleague Rabbi Ted Falcon. If you come from a Christian background, I highly recommend (in addition) Lawrence Kushner’s “Jewish Spirituality: A Brief Introduction for Christians.” Both are easily available on Amazon. Also, if you already have become an approved visitor, start coming to services. Hint: I never formally accept a candidate until I have seen them coming regularly to services. Yes, it is new and exotic and different, but the experiential aspect of Judaism is critical, and the quicker you jump in, the better.

L'Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Moses Strasko