Immersion in a mikveh is traditionally part of the ritual for all converts, regardless of age.
The conversion of children – either adopted by Jewish parents or born to other-than-Jewish mothers – is a common and joyful occurrence. When a baby becomes Jewish through conversion, it is the parent(s) making a choice and a promise to do everything necessary to raise the child as a Jew. At the mikveh, parents assist with the immersion and recite the blessings on behalf of their child.
Infants and Toddlers
Depending on the clergy’s custom and parental preference, either one or both parents will, wearing bathing suits, accompany the child into the water during the immersion ceremony. As in all immersions, the water touches every part of the baby without any barrier or impediment.
Many clergy instruct parents to wet their hands with mikveh water prior to holding the baby, which allows the baby to be completely surrounded by the water according to Jewish law. Other clergy, who want to preserve the idea of removing barriers, instruct parents to release their hands (for an instant), allowing water to touch all areas of the baby at once, and then to lift the baby out of the water.
In what way and how much parents participate in immersions for older children depends on the age, temperament, and modesty concerns of each individual child. In consultation with their clergy, parents (and children, if appropriate) should discuss whether mothers and/or fathers are to accompany them into the mikveh area when a son or daughter is immersing.
At Mayyim Hayyim
The conversion of children at Mayyim Hayyim is often a festive celebration, with grandparents, siblings, and friends as well as parents and clergy present. With infants, the guests can gather at the side of the mikveh to witness the baby’s immersion and then have a party in our celebration space if they wish.
Parents are encouraged to visit Mayyim Hayyim prior to the the day of a child’s conversion — with the child if possible. Taking a tour of the mikveh will not only ease anxiety once you experience the beauty and safety of the mikveh, but now you can look forward to the big day with joy. Older children who tour in advance of their immersions are given the chance to touch the water with their hands, to see how warm it is. They can even select the color of the lights that shine beneath the surface under the water and glimpse the special child-size toothbrush waiting for them, too.
Mayyim Hayyim has developed a special set of Seven Kavanot to read with or to a child as they prepare for the immersion; these “intentions” are intended as a way to help you slow down and reflect upon this important choice in your family’s life.
Baby Conversion to Judaism at the Mikveh
Many thanks to the Grossmann family for generously sharing their story and to Rabbi Andy Vogel of Temple Sinai in Brookline for his warm and sensitive ritual facilitation.