How Many People Convert To Orthodox Judaism Each Year In The USA?

I believe that conversions through Sephardic rabbis Gavriel Cohen and Samuel Ohana often run to $5,000, and through other Batei Din (Jewish law courts) about $2,000 all told.

Rav Gavriel Cohen, who heads a beis din near Hancock Park, says that in addition to the increase in conversion applicants, their quality and seriousness has increased. “The ones who come in these days, they’re very strong. They really want to go through it at all costs, even if they are going to lose connection with their family members, or they have to work hard. It’s a different feel,” he says….

Another convert interviewed for this article, Chloe Traicos, had always felt drawn to Judaism and at home in Jewish life, as she puts it. Born and raised first in Zimbabwe and then in Australia, Traicos initially converted Reform, but found that keeping Shabbos and kosher meant she was more religious than all the Reform Jews she knew. Upon discovering that not everyone would consider her children Jewish, she began studying for Orthodox conversion, which she successfully completed this past summer under the supervision of Rabbi Zvi Block, who runs a beis din in North Hollywood. Traicos had long suspected that her maternal great-grandmother, who lived in Odessa, Ukraine, was Jewish, and was exhilarated to learn that a recent DNA test found her to be 43% genetically Jewish….

Having a balanced, realistic approach is also critical. If someone comes into the initial interview and says, “My mind is made up. I’m doing this 100%,” the warning bells start to go off, Rabbi Union says.

“This isn’t being born again, where you stand up and wave the flag. We want them to understand the issues and the challenges. It’s not like this is going to solve all of their problems. Is it a beautiful way to live? Sure it is, but they have to appreciate the challenges and be willing to confront those challenges.”

That was one thing that Elsa Monterroso, a woman currently in the process of conversion, had to discover for herself. “It’s not like you wear the head covering and boom – no problems will happen to you,” she says. “Religious people are just like everybody else – it’s real. And it’s so beautiful.”

How many people complete the program and actually convert each year? At the RCC, generally accepted to be the “gold standard” of geirus in Los Angeles, it’s about 1 in 3 candidates, or about 20-30 each year. Most of those who drop out do so within the first 6-8 months, once they realize the demands of living a fully Orthodox lifestyle. Some were experiencing what turned out to be a passing interest, others were lacking in commitment, having been pushed into conversion for family reasons or other pressures. Sometimes applicants will be rejected – about one to two each year – usually due to hiding information, such as a girlfriend or boyfriend in the background, says Rabbi Union.

Rabbi Union believes that in today’s fragmented Jewish community, a central body that handles conversions and creates and enforces recognized standards can only be a good thing. To counteract the humanistic concerns, he encourages the close involvement of a sponsoring rabbi who lives in the convert’s community and offers support and guidance, even while the actual conversion goes through the regional beis din.

“At the end of the day, what is it we want to accomplish?” Rabbi Union asks. “We want people who will become observant members of the Orthodox community, and who are fully participating in Orthodox life. They can be Chassidish or Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish or Mizrachi, but they have to be members of an Orthodox Jewish community, and we’re helping people to do that.”

Conversion stats:

Primary motivations of converts:

· Jewish spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend

· Inexplicable pull to Judaism

· Jewish parent or grandparent, or raised as Jewish

· Spiritual seeker, looking for G-d

Average cost of conversion: $1,500-$2,000, includes tutoring, administrative fees and mikvah fees

Average timeframe: 1-2 years

Number of Orthodox conversions done in LA annually: approximately 50-80 (based on anecdotal data)

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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