Ask A Jew: How Do I Become Jewish?

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By Neal Schindler

How do I become Jewish?

Spokane’s Conservative Jewish community, Temple Beth Shalom, offers a quick explanation of conversion on its website. Becoming a “Jew by choice” (the term that is increasingly preferred over “convert,” which some people feel has negative connotations) is a process — you don’t suddenly, in one epiphanic moment, accept the teachings of Judaism and then, wham bam, you’re a Jew.

The first step is generally to meet with a rabbi who serves a community affiliated with the branch of Judaism you want to convert into. Conversion into Orthodox Judaism does not look the same as conversion into Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist Judaism. Your local rabbi, in the branch you’re interested in, can give you a good sense of what conversion would entail. Usually, the aspiring Jew by choice is then expected to take some kind of “Judaism 101” course.

TBS offers a yearly “Basic Judaism” class that covers Hebrew, Jewish history and culture, the theology of Judaism, Israel, prayer, kashrut (Jewish dietary law), Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), and so on. It is possible that a person who decides to convert into the Conservative tradition will not keep kosher, observe Shabbat, or live within the framework of other traditional practices, but it’s useful for a Jew by choice to at least understand how these practices work and where they come from.

If you’re interested in how conversion differs from branch to branch, MyJewishLearning.com (have I mentioned how useful that site is?) has you covered. Two aspects of conversion deserve special mention, as they are included in the process that most Jews by choice undergo to become Jewish. The first is the beit din, or rabbinic court, which assesses a conversion candidate’s sincerity, knowledge, and potential for success in Jewish life (and ultimately determines whether he or she may enter the fold).

The second key aspect of conversion for most Jews by choice is the mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath. For anyone who notices the superficial similarity of mikveh immersion and Christian baptism, the MJL article linked above should help dispel the notion that they’re virtually the same. The mikveh has its own rules and significance in Jewish religious life. And yes, Spokane has one, located at the city’s Chabad house. If you’re sufficiently interested, you can even make an appointment to tour it and learn more about its use in traditional Jewish life.


About Neal Schindler

A native of Detroit, Neal Schindler has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 2002. He has held staff positions at Seattle Weekly and The Seattle Times and was a freelance writer for Jew-ish.com from 2007 to 2011. Schindler was raised in a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation and is now a member of Spokane's Reform congregation, Emanu-El. He is the director of Spokane Area Jewish Family Services. His interests include movies, Scrabble, and indie rock. He lives with his wife, son, and two cats in West Central Spokane.

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