CONVERSION PROCESS

 

Conversion to the Israelite religion is not the same as conversion to any other. You are not just joining a religion, you are also joining a people. You are psychologically changing your ethnic allegiance from the one you were born into, to fully accepting the ancestors and cultural heritage of another people.

Full conversion also changes your choice to follow the Covenant into an obligation. That means that your responsibilities and obligations towards God are greater. God will hold you to stricter account for your words and actions after conversion.

The six steps involved in the conversion procedure are as follows (conversion for a woman obviously omits the circumcision):

 

- election * (that is, 'choosing': the applicant formally ‘elects’ or chooses to convert. After acceptance, status changes from applicant to proselyte)

 

- one year's study (during which time the proselyte accumulates money for their chosen charity)

 

- circumcision *

 

- immersion *

 

- final interview by the Sanhedrin ha-shalosh (Council of Three)

 

- presentation * (This replaces the ancient Temple sacrifice.  There is a fellowship meal, after which the candidate announces where the charity he/she has accumulated is going, and there is a short ceremony to accept the convert into the Jewish community. During this ceremony, the proselyte is adopted into an Israelite tribe).

 

*the 4 steps asterisked are legal requirements. The other 2 are practical necessities.

If you are already Jewish, or you are a Gentile not ready to go through full conversion, then all that is required will be to undergo a year's study. All the while you will be welcome to participate in the religious life of hte Talmidi community.

 

ELECTION:

The first step, election, consists of the following:

 

- applicant asks to convert, and explains briefly his/her reasons.

- the officiating elder asks three sets of questions. After each one, the applicant answers simply, "I do".

- the three members of the council decide on the sincerity of the applicant, and if we all say yes, the conversion can proceed.

INITIAL INTERVIEW FOR A PROSELYTE -

FORMAL QUESTIONS

 

Barukh ha-ba / Brukhah ha-ba’ah, (NAME OF PROSELYTE),

 

Thank you for your request to convert. (NAME OF 1ST WITNESS) and (NAME OF 2ND WITNESS) are here to act as witnesses to your choice to convert to the Israelite faith – to the Way of YHWH.

 

Initially I need to ask you three sets of questions, so that we can ascertain the sincerity of your desire to convert.

 

First Set of Questions

 

When you ask to convert to the religion of Israel, you have to be aware that, in a sense, it is similar to entering into a marriage contract: you choose one above all else, forsaking all others; you align your future life with the one you have chosen; and you agree to a certain manner of behaviour and conduct in that relationship.

 

Joining the House of Israel is the same: you agree to worship but one God - YHWH - and you agree never to turn to honour or worship anyone or anything else; you enter into the family and house of Israel, making your identity the same as that of the children of Israel; not only that, your fate and your future will be that of the children of Israel; our past becomes your past, our ancestors become your ancestors, and you enter into the agreements - or covenants - which God made with Israel's ancestors; finally, you agree to live by YHWH's teachings and commandments, as set out in Torah.

 

Therefore, I ask you:

 

Do you choose freely and of your own will,

- to worship and serve YHWH alone, to revere YHWH in awe, and follow YHWH alone?

- to turn away from all pagan gods, idols and images, and reject pagan ways, customs and practises?

- to honour only the Name of YHWH, and to pray only in the Name of YHWH?

 

(Proselyte responds: I do)

 

Do you choose freely and of your own will,

- to enter and join the House of Israel?

- to share in the heritage and the fate of our people?

- to become part of the past, present and future of the children of Israel?

 

(Proselyte responds: I do)

 

Do you choose freely and of your own will,

- to uphold and maintain the covenants which YHWH made with Abraham and his descendants forever?

- to follow the precepts and commandments of YHWH our God?

- to accept Torah as your guide and instruction, and as the sacred mantle of your soul?

 

Do you choose these things?

 

(Proselyte responds: I do)

Second Set of Questions

 

Right from the very day when Moses made Jethro his father-in-law aware of the blessings that YHWH had given Israel, as well as the misfortunes that had befallen us, our elders throughout the ages have related the great things that our God has done for us, as well as the wrongs that other nations have visited upon us. This was always so that proselytes would never be under any kind of illusions as to the life they were entering into.

 

With mighty signs and wonders, YHWH our God saved our ancestors from slavery in Egypt, and delivered us in freedom to the land of Canaan, a bountiful land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. After our exile in Babylon, YHWH turned the heart of the Persian Emperor Cyrus to look with favour upon our people, so that he allowed us to return to Judah to worship in freedom. And in the days of Antiochus and his powerful kingdom, YHWH gave strength to a small group of people led by the Maccabees, until we could again worship in freedom, without oppression.

You must also be aware, that we were not only visited with blessings, but also with deep sadness and wrongful persecutions. Israel was at various times afflicted, oppressed, downtrodden and rejected, and tribulations were visited upon us. Evil and wicked kings, emperors, and the leaders of other nations have vilified us, and persecuted us for our adherence to our God and to our traditions. And within living memory, millions lost their lives, simply for the sake of their lineage.

 

Knowing these things, do you still wish to convert?

 

(Proselyte responds: I do)

Third Set of Questions

 

Our people are guided by commandments. These mitzvot, as they are called in Hebrew, ennoble us and teach us wisdom, and help us to draw nearer to God.

 

The greatest of all the mitzvot is this:

 

"Shema` Yisrael, YHVH eloheinu, YHVH echad.

Ve'ahavta et YHVH eloheykha b'khol l'vavkha, uv'khol nafsh'kha, uv'khol me'odekha"

 

This means: "Hear O Israel, YHWH is our God, YHWH alone. And you shall love YHWH your God with all your heart and mind, with all your soul, and with all your might".

 

The second greatest is like it:

 

"You shall love your neighbour as yourself".

 

Upon these two commandments, is built the whole of the Torah and the Prophets.

 

The precepts of God are precious to us. Some are easy to follow, some are difficult.

 

Now, it is written, "And these precepts which I command you today shall be upon your heart (Deut 6:6). This means that we are to take God's words to heart, and live them always.

 

We are also told to be considerate to the less able in society, as it is written: "You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind" (Lev 19:14)

 

Now, Shabbat is a delight, a day of rest, and an eternal sign of the bond between God and the House of Israel. It has kept us a unique people through dispersion and persecution. To an outsider, it appears to be a difficult thing, so converts must be aware of the laws of Shabbat.

 

One law says that no fires should be enkindled on Shabbat, as it is written, "You shall not kindle any fire anywhere throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day" (Ex 35:3)

 

Another distinctive sign of our people's distinct identity - which we view as a matter of physical holiness - is the food we eat, and the food we abstain from eating. Some people find this difficult, so you should be aware of this too.

 

For example, we are restricted in the beasts that we eat for food, as it is written, "you shall not eat of these that chew the cud, but do not have cloven hooves: the camel, the hare or the hyrax - they are unclean for you. . . . nor pigs, for although they have cloven hooves, they do not chew the cud - they are unclean for you."

 

Knowing of these and other positive commands and negative prohibitions, do you still wish to convert?

 

(Proselyte responds: I do)

 

Part Four: Final Decision

 

The three of us – (NAME OF 1ST WITNESS), (NAME OF 2ND WITNESS) and I, (NAME OF OFFICIATING ELDER) - are pleased to make it known to you, that we accept the sincerity of your desire to join the House of Israel. Now, as you proceed on your way, always be sure to remember the obligation of charity to the poor, as it is written:

 

"For there will never cease to be poor people in your land; therefore I command you, you shall open wide your hand to your kinsfolk, to the needy and to the poor in your land." (Deut 15:11).

 

When we neglect this, our souls are diminished, and our community is weakened. But in observing this, YHWH has promised to bless all our human endeavours, as it is written:

 

"so that YHWH your God may bless you in all the work of your hands."

(Deut 24:19b).

 

What now follows is a year of study, during which you accustom yourself to Jewish life, and begin the awesome process of growing into your new identity.

 

In this year of study, I encourage you to walk the paths of YHWH; before your fellow human beings to walk with justice and compassion; and before God in all matters of religion to act with humility of spirit, and dignity of soul.

 

Mazal tov, (NAME OF PROSELYTE)!

 

******

One Year Study

There now follows one year of study, during which time the convert learns about the ethos, history, customs, and beliefs of the people of Israel. An important part of this process of learning is participating in the Festivals.

Circumcision

 

For a male convert, this takes place after the one year study. This signifies a convert’s connection with the Land of Israel. If a male is already circumcised, then a ritual drawing of blood is not necessary. Instead, the convert says prayers which give his existing circumcision new meaning, signifying adherence to the covenant of Abraham.

 

Immersion

 

This takes place shortly after circumcision, or for a woman, once the one year study is completed. There must be two witnesses present outside the miqveh (the same gender as the convert). Prayers are said before and after to sanctify the immersion.

 

Final Interview

 

This is done shortly before the Presentation Ceremony. It is done privately before the Council of Three.

 

In the Talmidi tradition, when you convert and become an Israelite, one thing you repent of is worshipping other gods. Repentence means changing heart and turning to God. The convert reads a statement where they turn from the pagan tradition they have come from, and accept YHVH. Then they continue by affirming allegiance to the beliefs and traditions they have come to adhere to (such as, ‘I worship and serve only YHVH, who is one and indivisible, without form; I cleave to the eternal Covenant which YHVH swore with the people of Israel forever; etc). These words are to ensure that people who enter the Israelite community do not secretly hold the beliefs of other religions (eg Messianics, Christians etc).

 

Presentation ceremony

 

This replaces the ancient Temple sacrifice. 

 

There is a fellowship meal, after which the candidate announces where the charity he/she has accumulated is going, and there is a short ceremony to accept the convert into the Israelite community. During this ceremony, the proselyte is adopted into an Israelite tribe. During the ceremony, one takes on the prayer-shawl with the colours of the tribe that you have chosen to belong to, and one is given a ring, inscribed with the words in Hebrew, ‘I am a son/daughter of YHVH’. Henceforth, the convert is treated as a native-born Israelite.

   
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