Your question regarding adult conversion, known in Hebrew and Rabbinic sources as ‘giyur,’ seems simple and straight forward. You ask about the”… halakhah, etiquette or rule regarding a celebration for the convert.” This too seems to be quite simple; however, in reality it is not so simple.
Why is this so? It is because to my knowledge there is no one fixed religious ceremony for the acceptance of ‘gerim’ – converts in Judaism. The procedure for carrying out the ‘giyur’ in halakhah is well-known and found in the halakhic literature, especially in the ‘Shulhan Arukh’—Code of Jewish Law.
A Rabbinic Court – ‘Beit Din’ knows how to go about with the conversion, but the ceremony of acceptance of the convert, is largely left to the ‘Beit Din’ to come up with its own ceremony.
That being said, is there any direction or anything in writing or print for the rabbi, Beit Din or synagogue? The short answer is, yes.
I want to be one-hundred percent open and honest about this matter, especially when it comes to official occasions, such as weddings, bar/bat mitzvah ceremonies, conversions, funerals, etc. The earliest true sources for ceremonies, especially in the United States come out of the Reform and Conservative movements with their “Rabbi’s Manual” and “A Rabbi’s Manual.”
Yes, there was the tried and true Orthodox manual “Hamadrikh” by Hyman E. Goldin published by Hebrew Publishing Company in 1939, but it was handy to look up some things and study, but not very handy for the actual ceremony. It does not deal with ‘giyur’ – conversion and the ceremony.
Can’t one just look into a nice, large ‘siddur’ – traditional prayer book and find the conversion ceremony? The answer is, it is not there.
The Reform and Conservative seemed to have solved this with their Rabbi’s manuals, but the Orthodox, at least in America were somewhat at a loss. Honestly, many rabbis took to either copying out parts of services from the Conservative and maybe even Reform, or taking the Rabbi’s manuals and covering them with a blank cover so that the actual source could not be seen. How do I know this? Because, I witnessed this practice on many occasions by respected rabbis.
I do not feel that this is in anyway scandalous. It only affirms Maimonides’ famous dictum, “Seek the truth from whatever its source.”
The rabbis in question performed impressive and meaningful religious services using the parts of these manuals that conformed to the ‘halakhah’ and their personal beliefs.
Today, there are many more available resources in all Jewish movements including Orthodoxy. The Rabbinical Council of America came out in 1995 with “The RCA Lifecycle Madrikh” by Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka. This is a very impressive and highly usable Rabbi’s manual for Orthodox rabbis. It includes a Conversion section; however, this section is quite limited, offering advice to the rabbi rather than much real content.
By way of example, let me cite the one sentence of advice to the rabbi found in this manual: “The finalization of the conversion is a joyous event, and should be celebrated in an appropriate, religiously meaningful fashion, such as by a Kiddush in shul or at home, accompanied by fitting words of Torah by the convert and the supervising Rabbi.” (p.60)
On the other hand, the Reform “Rabbi’s Manual” published in 1988 has eighteen pages in its ‘Giyur’ – Conversion section and the current Conservative two-volume “[Moreh Derekh]: The Rabbi’s Manual of The Rabbinical Assembly” published in 1998 has eighteen pages in its “A welcoming ceremony” section which comprises only part of its extensive ‘Geyrut’ chapter, totaling seventy pages.
I have offered a review of Rabbinic manuals as it applies to guidance when doing an adult conversion ceremony. All seem to agree that something must be done in an impressive way to give meaning to the momentous event of conversion in the life of the convert, the family and the community. What it is that needs to be done and how it is to be carried out is as yet undecided. It is in the hands of the local community to design something of meaning, with a powerful impact upon those present.
Wishing you all the success in the world in your endeavors. ‘Barukh Habbah’ – Blessed is the one who comes. Welcome!