Since not everyone reading this page needs the information, in the interests of avoiding lashon hara, I am going to post only good reviews. If you have questions about other rabbis not listed here or want to nominate a rabbi for inclusion, please email me.
I have researched the topic of conversion extensively, but not methodically, so all of what follows are only my own observations based on speaking with a small and non-random sample of converts and rabbis.
What is a conversion rabbi?Although there are many Orthodox rabbis, only some specialize in conversion. Mostly, these are the rabbis with sufficiently high standing among their colleagues to have their conversions widely recognized by other rabbis around the world.
New York and Israel are seen as the capitals of the (Modern/Centrist) Orthodox Jewish world, containing all the important decision makers. Prominent modern Orthodox rabbis in New York (in general, rabbis of large modern orthodox shuls who teach at Yeshiva University) are perceived as having reached the top of their careers and so their conversions may be more straight-forward than conversions elsewhere since they can feel like they set the standards. Out of town, institutions such as the beit din of a city or region are most recognized since they are established bodies. The conversion of an individual "out of town" rabbi without additional institutional backing may not be widely accepted.
Almost all conversion rabbis are legitimate, however. The ones who are not will eventually tip you off by asking for money. Ask up front whether they have any conversion fees. There shouldn't be any.
Choosing a rabbiBefore you embark on conversion, you must first choose a rabbi. The timing of this decision is unfortunate --- choosing one's conversion rabbi is one of the most important decisions in the conversion process, and it occurs when the convert has the least information.
You should simultaneously determine whether it is realistic for you to convert where you currently live or whether you will have to relocate temporarily. Some locations have rabbinical courts which are notoriously sluggish, and it may be more expedient to convert after one or two years in Israel or New York rather than convert after four to six years in your current location. Be realistic about the trade-offs. Moving to a new city is difficult, but it might be less difficult than a long conversion in your current location.
Almost no rabbi will tell you how long conversions typically take. You can only determine this information by asking other converts about their experiences.
The role of the conversion rabbiThe relationship between a student and her conversion rabbi is unfortunately conflicted. One's conversion rabbi is simultaneously a teacher and also uniquely responsible for gauging the student's progress.
The most effective teacher relationship is one in which the student is completely honest in questioning assumptions and challenging both himself and the teacher. The student must feel free to ask any question, raise any objection, and argue as vehemently as she wants. The student should not worry that her questions, objections, and arguments will later be used against her as evidence of insufficient progress.
Likewise, the rabbi who gauges a student's progress is trying to answer a profoundly difficult question: Will s/he be a good Jew? In the absence of methods of predicting the future, subjective impressions may obscure the rabbi's judgement. It is frequently impossible for a rabbi to tell the true meaning of a student's question or statement, and they may choose to err on the side of caution by not giving the benefit of the doubt.
Many rabbis are very good at obtaining an accurate picture of the situation, but the cases where there are misjudgements cause senseless hurt: sincere candidates are heart-broken for each day of needless delay. In the case of women working within biological constraints, their dating lives are needlessly constrained during this time. Thus, I think it is best to avoid even the risk of such misjudgements.
Given this conflict of interest, every convert should have at least one frum person (rabbi, rebbetzin, or learned layperson) whom she trusts and with whom she feels comfortable discussing everything. This confidant must agree not to share specifics with the conversion rabbi, but only to answer the rabbi's questions truthfully and accurately based on their overall relationship with the ger. A confidant who has misgivings of their own should address the misgivings with the ger, in hopes to resolve the problems directly, avoiding the transmission of too much information unnecessarily which would only confuse the process.
RabbisRabbi Dr Herbert Bomzer, Brooklyn, 718-375-2220.
The person I know who converted with Rabbi Bomzer gives him top marks. He was very straight-forward, kind, and was willing to lay out the process in concrete detail, rather than leaving it vague. She had remarkably fast progress. She worked with a local rabbi who then reported to R Bomzer at particular points in the conversion.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Torah and Professor at Yeshiva Univesity, Englewood, NJ (near NYC.), (201) 568-5860, (201) 568-3306(eve). Rabbi Goldin is understanding, sensitive, and straight-forward. He has done a lot of work to promote understanding among different kinds of Jews, and has credibility across the spectrum.
Other New York rabbis that I have spoken with who outlined straight-forward conversion processes are those at Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and Rabbi Allen Schwartz at OZ (Ohab Tzedek), and the same is probably true for other well-known modern orthodox rabbis. All of these options require living on either the Upper West Side of Manhattan or in Riverdale (a suburban-like neighborhood of the Bronx that is a short subway ride from Manhattan).
The RCA in Israel offers a one-year conversion course for students who intend to make aliya after conversion. The course is taught by volunteer retired American rabbis and charges a negligible fee (about $20 for the entire year plus book costs (if you intend to go this route, buy the books in America before you come.)) The course is not very time-consuming, so students can work or study full-time during the course. After the course, students are sponsored to be converted by the Israeli rabbinate. The Israeli rabbinate is like any government bureaucracy, in that there are sometimes delays for no apparent reason and arcane paperwork. (Do not file a conversion application until the very last possible moment, as this may cause arcane paperwork delays, since if you file in one office, you have to keep working with that office even if something changes unexpectedly.) All told, though, from speaking with several people in this program, it seems like on average candidates finish in a bit over a year, and well under two years. If one can find a job in Jerusalem, I highly recommend this option, but I also recommend doing supplemental learning. Bnei Brit 18, Mea Shaarim, Jerusalem (close to the center of town.) Classes (as of when I last checked) M 3:30-5:30, W 3:30-6:30. 02-625-1923
RCA giur committee, 212-807-9042, 212-807-7888.
Other linkswww.convert.org gives information useful to converts in all streams of Judaism. They are slanted towards material which is helpful for people at the beginning stages of investigating Judaism, but their lists of rabbis are helpful. Unfortunately, they do not necessarily review all the rabbis, so caveat emptor. Remember that no rabbi should require converts to pay fees.