The Network of Regional Batei Din for Conversion
under the auspices of
The Rabbinical Council of America and
The Beth Din of America
Adopted April 30, 2007
Revised November 28, 2007
The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and the Beth Din of America (Beth Din of America) attach great importance to ensuring that conversions to Judaism occur in a manner that follows the Halacha, allows for consistency in implementation, registration, policies and procedures, while avoiding unnecessary confusion and anguish, and allows for reasonable and practical means of timely recognition where appropriate. It is also essential that RCA rabbis, as well as their congregants and communities, have a clear understanding as to which conversionary practices and standards are, or are not, recognized by the RCA/BDA, and by extension by other rabbinic bodies. What is here described is the result of a full consultation and cooperation between the RCA/BDA and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
2. Structural Foundations
a. While it has been the practice for many years in numerous communities for local rabbis to perform giyyur independently, this practice has led to claims of inconsistent standards and concern regarding the validity of many conversions, a result undesirable both to well-meaning community rabbis as well as many earnest applicants for conversion. It is our expectation that the establishment of regional Batei Din will help to ensure uniform standards to guide rabbis and converts alike, as well as provide assurance regarding the validity of all conversions conforming to these standards. Further the determination of an objective rabbinic panel as to the conversion candidate’s suitability for giyyur envisioned in this document allows a community rabbi to more easily reject unsuitable candidates for conversion.
b. From the time of formal implementation, the RCA/BDA will endorse conversions only if they have been performed in the framework of the expanded network of Regional Batei Din le’Giyyur (which will also include Batei Din whose standards conform to those of the RCA/BDA, but who are not directly under RCA auspices). Under the general umbrella of the Beth Din of America, Regional Batei Din will strictly follow all RCA/BDA standards. Rabbis and lay people who carry out conversions outside of this framework should know that they cannot be assured of recognition by the RCA/BDA with respect to such conversions.
c. All ishurim issued by the Beth Din of America, whether concerning conversions performed in the past or in the interim period until the new system is functional, will continue to be recognized.
d. Where there are or will be other Batei Din for conversion, in North America or elsewhere, which are not part of the regional Batein Din le’Giyur network, we cannot guarantee our recognition of conversions done under their auspices.
e. These standards have been formulated in consultation with members of the RCA, selected halachic authorities, and other Batei Din. They are as specific as possible, allowing for appropriate handling of many common categories of geirus situations that currently exist. The GPS Committee of the RCA/BDA will amend these standards in the future, as necessary, in consultation with the appropriate offices of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
f. Notwithstanding the above paragraphs, it should be understood that the BDA retains complete autonomy to make halakhic determinations regarding the Jewishness or non-Jewishness of any individual and that nothing in this document shall be interpreted as creating any obligation or limitation of any kind upon the halakhic autonomy of the BDA.
3. Regional Batei Din
a. Identifying Regional Batei Din
i. The RCA/BDA already cooperates with many other Batei Din le’Giyyur that are recognized by the RCA/BDA. Upon adoption of these standards, the RCA/BDA will first review these standards in detail with each recognized Beit Din to confirm its commitment to ongoing compliance. As part of that review, each regional Beit Din le’Giyyur is expected to formally adopt these standards as the norm for its regular activity, and to strictly follow them in practice. After completing the above review, the RCA/BDA will then consider other potential additional regional Batei Din. It will initiate discussions with currently functioning Batei Din listed therein to determine whether it should be invited to serve as an RCA/BDA regional Beit Din or as an affiliated Bet Din. Upon completion of those discussions, the RCA/BDA will strive to establish new regional Batei Din to operate in accordance with its standards in additional areas.
ii. In order to function as a Regional Beit Din, a Beit Din must include the following components:
• A designated yosheiv rosh – the member of the Beit Din who carries the ultimate halachic responsibility, although not necessarily authority, for the actions of the Beit Din.
• A menahel – an administrator, who will also serve as the liaison to the RCA/BDA for communications
about policies and procedures. In appropriate cases, the yosheiv rosh may also serve as the menahel.
• A permanent mailing address – this may be a synagogue or Vaad office, but should not be a PO Box
iii. Where applicable and to the extent possible, the regional Beit Din should be affiliated with or endorsed by the established local Beit Din for matters of Even Haezer and Choshen Mishpat.
iv. New Regional Batei Din may be added to the network with the consent of the GPS committee and the approval of the RCA/BDA.
b. Regional Beit Din Organization
i. Working with the RCA/BDA, each Beit Din will, as a rule, have a defined geographic area that it will cover, so that rabbis in outlying communities interested in referring candidates to the nearest regional Beit Din will easily be able to do so.
ii. Working with the Regional Batei Din, the RCA/BDA will create informational brochures for rabbis to use when meeting with potential converts. These brochures will assist the rabbi by conveying the standardized procedures and requirements to converts and those associated with them. For similar reasons, the RCA/BDA may establish a website with public access.
iii. Each regional Beit Din will create its own administrative setup, organizational process, leadership roles, and support services. It will utilize local human and material resources (mikva’ot, mohelim, synagogues, teachers, and learning structures for candidates to utilize.) It will create its own forms as needed, its own letter-head stationery and a stamp for embossing each teudat giyyur.
iv. All halachically significant forms and teudot will need to be approved by the RCA/BDA, so that there can be a unified and consistent set of halachically operative documents. Thus, each Beit Din will submit its various intake and reporting forms, questionnaires, and records of completed conversions to the RCA/BDA for review. The RCA/BDA will maintain a database of these documents, and any revisions thereof, for ongoing reference.
v. Fees: Conversion is a not-for-profit endeavor. Nonetheless, the candidate should be made aware at an early point in the process that he or she will bear certain reasonable expenses, including some or all of the following:
• Outside tutoring fees
• Purchase of study materials
• Mikveh and Mohel costs
• Administrative fees to cover Beit Din costs
Each regional Beit Din should consider maintaining a “special cases” fund, for use as needed. It should share cost structures and arrangements with the RCA/BDA and the other regional Batei Din, for mutual benefit.
c. Teudat Giyyur
i. A teudat giyyur will be issued only after the candidate presents a government-issued ID to confirm their legal identity, and will include a passport-style photo of the convert (to be provided by the convert), his/her Social Security number and birth date. The embossing of each teudah with the Regional Bet Din’s seal should cover a portion of the photo. It is to be signed by the three members of the Regional Beit Din who authorized the conversion, as well as the Sponsoring Rabbi. Copies of all documents with supporting records and information, including the final teudat giyyur itself, will be maintained indefinitely by each Regional Beit Din. The central office of the RCA/BDA will keep a copy of each teudat giyyur for future reference.
d. Who may serve as a Dayyan for Conversion on a Regional Beit Din:
i. Every Dayyan must be an Orthodox rabbi, with a semicha acceptable to the RCA. Although he need not be a member of the RCA, he must currently function at least part-time as one of the following klei kodesh; communal rabbi, chazzan, mechanech, mohel, shochet, chaplain, kiruv professional, or other recognized rabbinic position.
ii. Prior to his serving as a Dayyan for conversion, the RCA/BDA will need to approve him, based upon his knowledge of, and experience with, the laws of geirut. Every Dayyan who has not previously functioned in such a capacity must receive shimmush from a more experienced Dayyan. Initially, then, each regional Beit Din, on the recommendation of the Beit Din’s yosheiv rosh, will submit a list of proposed Dayyanim and a brief description of each dayyan that includes the source of the Dayyan’s semicha, his position in the community, and his previous involvement with geirut. This information will be distributed to the members of the GPS committee, and members of the committee will have the opportunity to voice any objection to the participation of any potential Dayyan. If there is an objection raised, the GPS committee, in consultation with the RCA/BDA, will make a determination as to whether to accept or reject the given Dayyan. Over time, additional names may be submitted for approval, as well.
iii. The RCA/BDA will arrange ongoing professional training in Hilchot Geirut for those working in this area. This may include conferences, Yemei Iyyun, webcasts, shiurim and dissemination of appropriate
written or recorded material.
i. Using appropriate halachic standards, each regional Beit Din will select mohelim suitable for conversion-related activities.
f. Ongoing Coordination between the Regional Batei Din and the BDA
i. For the mutual benefit of all, the BDA will serve as a clearinghouse for ongoing communication between the Regional Batei Din regarding official documents, referrals, experiences, procedures and other matters pertaining to giyyur. This may be done via regular group email communications, occasional conference calls, and perhaps a private limited access website (linked to the RCA/BDA websites) for maintaining database information, online reference materials, etc.
ii. To prevent a candidate from shopping around for a more amenable Beit Din, all regional Batei Din will tell the BDA, and one another, the names of candidates who have been rejected, and the reasons for that. This should be part of regular communication between the regional Batei Din and between the regional Batei Din and the BDA.
g. BDA Annual Review of Regional Batei Din
i. Each year, the BDA will conduct a review of the conversion-related activities of all of the regional Batei Din. This peer review is intended to monitor and strengthen the consistency of each regional Batei Din’s adherence to these standards, and to identify areas where improvements are warranted. To facilitate that review, each regional Beit Din will promptly submit to the BDA a statement, the contents of which the BDA will specify, summarizing its activities for the previous calendar year. The BDA may choose to conduct in-depth on- site visits, as well. Each regional Beit Din may have to pay the BDA to offset the costs of conducting this review.
h. Converts who Come from Elsewhere
i. The RCA will expect each of its chaveirim to refer an individual claiming to be a halachic convert from a Beit Din other than those described here to the regional Beit Din in the chaver’s area or to the BDA in order to clarify that individual’s status. The RCA/BDA will establish criteria for recognition of such “out of network” converts in the future, in consultation, when appropriate, with the Rabbanut Harashit.
4. The Sponsoring Rabbi
a. Who may be a Sponsoring Rabbi
i. Any Orthodox rabbi may serve as a Sponsoring Rabbi; i.e., the rabbi who recommends an individual as a potential candidate for conversion. A Sponsoring Rabbi may only sponsor someone who lives in his own community, with whom he is personally familiar, and whom he is confident in recommending as a candidate. A close teaching/learning relationship between a Sponsoring Rabbi and the candidate does not disqualify him from sponsoring her or him.
b. Referring a candidate for Consideration to a Regional Beit Din
i. Upon his determination that a candidate appears to satisfy the criteria for a serious candidate for conversion as set forth herein, the Sponsoring Rabbi will contact the most appropriate regional Beit Din to deal with this conversion, or the chairman of the RCA’s GPS Committee, for a referral to such a regional Beit Din, so that the regional Beit Din may determine if it is appropriate to proceed with the candidate. (If the Beit Din chosen is not the one geographically closest to the case in question, the chosen Beit Din will notify the closest Beit Din. In such cases the Beit Din should indicate in its records the reasons that the closest Beit Din was not chosen.)
ii. The referral should be made prior to any intensive involvement by the Sponsoring Rabbi in a course of preparation for conversion, as the regional Beit Din may determine that the candidate is not eligible for such instruction, or that the candidate needs to be tutored by a separate rabbinic mentor, or teacher (male or female) to impart knowledge in specific areas.
c. Final Approval for Conversion
i. Although three independent dayyanim of the regional Beit Din will make the final decision to convert each candidate, the Sponsoring Rabbi must concur with the Beit Din’s decision to give his candidate final approval and may serve as a Dayyan at the mikveh at the time of conversion. He will also submit a form, attesting to the level of the candidate’s shemirat ha’mitzvot.