Orthodox in Seattle: Becoming Jewish

As I noted before, the Seattle Va’ad, a rabbinic council and legal court, supervises conversions for the greater Seattle area. But there’s a lot more to the process than that.

The Seattle Va’ad is part of the Rabbinic Council of America, a nationwide, well, council of Orthodox rabbis. In fact, Rabbi Moshe Kletenik [wikipedia] of local synagogue Bikur Cholim-Machzikay Hadath (my synagogue!), is a vice president of the RCA. Importantly he brokered the deal between the RCA and the Israeli chief rabbinate allowing RCA conversions to be automatically accepted as valid [jta]. Part of this deal included the establishment of protocols and regional conversion courts [rca], of which the Seattle Va’ad is one.

The process of conversion with the Va’ad in Seattle is multi-faceted. First one must find a sponsoring rabbi, which may be a congregational rabbi or, less commonly, one associated with an educational institution such as the Seattle Kollel. This rabbi generally prescribes a curriculum of reading and study, and once he feels the convert is prepared, he or she goes before the Va’ad. The Va’ad then decides whether or not to accept the prospective convert as a candidate. If accepted, the sponsoring rabbi then pursues a period of study with the candidate ranging from six months to two years, and then the candidate goes before the Va’ad again. The Va’ad then decides whether or not to issue the conversion. If so, the candidate goes into the mikveh, a ritual bath, and comes out a full-fledged Jew.

At any given time there are quite a few conversion candidates running around the Seattle community, and a surprising number of converts populate area synagogue. Most of those conversions are for marriage (some before marriage, some after), but quite a few are done independently.

As for me, I am currently in the process of waiting to be formally accepted by a sponsoring rabbi. If and when that happens, I’ll probably write more here about what it’s like to be converting in Seattle. It’s sure to be a trying but interesting process.

So now you know a bit about the Orthodox community in Seattle. But what is it really like being Orthodox in Seattle? In short: sometimes laid-back, sometimes intense, sometimes warm, sometimes lonely, sometimes united, sometimes tremendously political–always challenging, and mostly wonderful. Over the last few months I’ve learned a lot within the community, specifically that of Seward Park and Bikur Cholim (aka BCMH), and I look forward to sharing a bit of that with you tomorrow.

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