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In my previous post I wrote about the uncertainty of the conversion process and how hard this can be on the candidate. The usual reply to a question about a timeline for conversion is that everybody is different and there can be no general timeline.

Of course everybody is different. But it is possible to set guidelines and at least have the same process for everybody. Many things are different for each individual and still overall people know what to expect. Getting a PhD is not some checklist to work on. You are doing research and nobody can exactly predict what will happen. But there are ways to assess where you are currently standing, what still needs to be done and if there is a chance of reaching the goal with the amount of work you are prepared to put in. The same is true for conversion.

Ideally there would be a clear formulation of what the requirements and the typical order of steps are. Classes? Books? Tests? Meetings with rabbi and/or beit din? Of course this does not mean that anybody who attends the required number of classes [or whatever] should be converted automatically. But at some points during the process there should be an assessment of where the person is currently standing. And it helps if these points are specified, happen at not-too-big time intervals and are the same for everybody. I know that conversions are not the core task for most rabbis and that many times he will have a clear outline himself. I would still welcome any attempt of some organization to provide such a framework.

If for some reason there cannot be a general outline, not everything is lost. An easy thing to do which tremendously helps the psychological status of the candidate is to just communicate the status. Is the only thing standing between the candidate and the conversion the final meeting with the beit din? Even if there are no appointments for the next 6 months because they are busy, it makes a huge difference to know the reason for the delay. Or is there some thing that the candidate needs to work on (e.g., go fully kosher), some change the candidate needs to make (e.g., move closer to the synagogue)? Not everybody will make the same steps in the same time or even in the same order. But to know what the steps are and which ones are still a problem at least puts things into perspective. And it provides a way of tracking progress.

One other related point is to be open as well about obstacles. If the candidate has a partner who is disruptive, or the candidate still believes in his former religion, or any other major issue preventing conversion, this needs to be communicated as well. And don’t just say "please don’t come back". Give a reason. Then the candidate can make an informed choice and if the choice is not to convert and hopefully eventually accept that fact.

Finally, often the argument is that the candidate’s resolve and commitment needs to be tested. Of course. But arbitrary delays and requiring the candidate to call ten times is not weeding out the noncommited. It only puts the shy, polite, introverted and self-critical people at a disadvantage. There are other, more meaningful ways to test commitment.

I am sorry, this got longer than planned. But the unstructuredness and uncertainty of the conversion process turns away committed and sincere individuals who would be an asset to Judaism.

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