It’s A Baal Teshuva’s Job To Rebel Against The Orthodox World

When a person, like a baal teshuva, decides to leave his culture and join another, the beginning of the process is one of rebellion against the culture he grew up in.  A big, healthy part of the process is realizing all the lies of the world he lived in before.  Realizing how empty it is and why he’s choosing to follow a different path.  Often, he’s rebelling against his own parents.  Rebelling against everything he learned.

The problem is that most baal teshuvas think that the rebellion ends there.  I felt like that for a while.  I know many others who still feel that way.  They think, “Okay, that world I left was bad, so now I need to fit into this new world as much as possible.”

But there is a problem: the orthodox world, unfortunately, is just as messed up as the “outside”.

Most of us don’t realize this at first because we connected through some outside force, like a Chabad house or a yeshiva in Jerusalem or something else.  And in that world, we lived in our own culture, sheltered from the universe we were about to enter.

But eventually we run into that truth.  We enter the culture and we find out that there are many rabbis that can’t be trusted.  We realize that not everyone is as idealistic as the people who brought us into the fold.  And that perhaps some of the people that brought us into the fold weren’t as great as we thought they were.

In sum: we realize that a culture does not equal truth.

And then we have a choice.

One option is to just do our best to fit in, trying forever to make sure we never stand out.  There are many, perhaps the majority, who choose this path.  They force themselves into a square hole, even though they are round pegs.  They push in all their features that make them stand out, push in until it’s no longer outwardly apparent even to them.  They feel like they’ve made the right choice for themselves.

I don’t care what anyone says, the majority of the people that choose that option are killing themselves.  They’re hiding who they are in a false attempt at modesty.

I’m sure there are one in a thousand baal teshuvas who are somehow naturally programmed to fit into the orthodox world and love it from the get go.  But the rest are hiding a pain from the world and from themselves.  A pain that comes from not living the life you were meant to live.  A pain that comes from hiding from a truth that is right in front of your face.

That truth is this: the orthodox world is a culture.  It does not (necessarily) reflect truth or reality or what G-d wants.  Sure, they do it better than the rest of the world, but that’s not a very good measuring stick.  This doesn’t make the culture bad, it just makes it normal.  We live in Galut, in a messed up world, and it is only natural that even the parts of the world that claim to be doing G-d’s will are making a ton of mistakes.

And a baal teshuva is uniquely positioned to notice those mistakes.  He comes to Judaism with a fresh perspective.  While, yes, he needs to spend much of his process letting go of a lot of the falseness he picked up throughout his life, he also brought along plenty of his own truth.  That’s why he chose to be a baal teshuva in the first place: he already had a voice within him, guiding him, that caused him to finally choose to be an orthodox Jew.

And so it is inevitable that he will notice inconsistencies in the culture of the orthodox world.  It is inevitable that he will be bothered by them.  It is inevitable that he will want to change things.

And so, after he rebels against the world that brought him up, he now must rebel against the world that brought him in.  And the people that brought him into the world of orthodoxy may not like it at first.  They may be bemused, confused, unnerved.  But if they are smart they will understand why their charge has chosen a path of rebellion.

Because the rebellion isn’t a real rebellion.  Not like the one against the secular world.  It’s not a rejection.  Rather, it’s a recognition that the baal teshuva has access to a unique truth and perspective.

We see this happening already.  I talked to a Chabad rabbi recently who started embracing green technology because, as he put it, “The Torah is pretty clear about its position on waste.”

He never would have made that decision without baal teshuvas guiding him.  Showing him how the culture he grew up in didn’t have all the answers.

We see it in the world of arts, something the orthodox world is seriously lacking, something that has falsely been accused of being a haven of falseness.  Creativity is slowly flourishing within our world, and it will continue to do so the more baal teshuvas choose to rebel, choose to access their true selves.

And there are even more obvious things.  From small, like not being so down with talking during prayers to big things like breaking down the barriers between sects.

Whether we like it or not, our job as baal teshuvas is to always rebel.  It is to turn every part of the world inside out, and that includes the orthodox one.  Because Geula won’t come by us all being frum.  Rather it’ll come by us all becoming committed to having a real relationship with G-d and then doing our utmost to bring out G-d’s truth into the world, whether it’s popular, whether it’s accepted, whether it’s “religious”, or not.

  • Shoshannah

    Well I’ll comment first because I’m rarely first in anything! LOL Thanks so much for this. I’ve often felt like a walking zombie in the Orthodox world, one of those bricks in the wall. I really enjoy your perspectives. kol tuv

  • Rebecca K.

    Well…I have mixed feelings about the post.

    First, I’ve gotta clarify a couple things: 1) I have never lived in Israel as a frum person, and have never lived in NYC. Here in L.A., the frum community is VERY, VERY different. Much more mixing between the right and the left spectrum of yiddishkeit, and much more mixing between Ashkenazim and Sephardim/Mizrachi (of which there is a proportionately larger amount than in New York). Lots more people are out-of-the-box. 2) I’ve been frum about 15-ish years, which is more than some readers out there, less than others. 3) I was educated at a very liberal college and worked in South L.A. for 4 years. My husband still works with non-Jewish kids on a daily basis. I still have non-Jewish and non-frum friends, which not all Orthodox Jews have.

    That said, I’ll agree with the assertion that BTs are most excellent for the overall Orthodox community. And I will admit that there is dysfunction in the Orthodox community (from MO to Chareidi, BTW. No one gets out of that scott-free). I’m pretty sure there’s actual dysfunction in my house. 😉

    However, I really, really disagree with the statement that the magnitude of the messed-up ness. Frankly, the frum communities’ messed-up-ness does not anywhere near matched the messed-up-ness I see in the broader world. If I had been impressed by the secular world, I wouldn’t have stepped out of it. (Of course, this is a general statement. There are many wonderful and well-adjusted people who are not Jewish or not observant.)

    Yes, there are problems, big problems. And I agree with your solution: focus on halacha, not culture. The Torah over what-we-did-in-the-shtetl. But I happen to love, love, LOVE many aspects of the life lived by my mentors/colleagues/friends who are FFB.

    I also think that as BTs, we’ve got to see that the “crazy” seeming behavior we see in the frum community looks crazy to us, and is currently maladaptive, but often has origins that are understandable. It was so much harder to be frum 50 years ago that the community had to shore itself up in what we now see as strange ways, but at the time were defenses against a real, direct attack. I think we can empathize with the causes of some of these behaviors, yet still work from the inside to change them.

    • However, I really, really disagree with the statement that the magnitude of the messed-up ness. Frankly, the frum communities’ messed-up-ness does not anywhere near matched the messed-up-ness I see in the broader world. If I had been impressed by the secular world, I wouldn’t have stepped out of it. (Of course, this is a general statement. There are many wonderful and well-adjusted people who are not Jewish or not observant.)

      I hear you on that and that’s totally a fair point. You might totally be right about that. My point, though, wasn’t really so much about the magnitude of the “messed-up ness” but about the fact that it simply exists. Whether it’s more or less than the secular world I don’t think is that important. What matters is that BTs recognise that those problems exist and that they were put into this world to help transform them, not simply quietly sit back and try to fit in.

      And I totally agree with you about the last paragraph. This post isn’t about a vendetta against the orthodox world or even about saying that it “deserves” to be blamed for anything. Just that problems exist. Which is perfectly normal, and it totally makes sense that it came from a world that was even more messed up.

      • Janet Caterina

        Dear Avi, I still meet a lot of converts and BT’s who continue to espouse their belief that Judaism and the Jewish world and the Jewish people are perfect, better and an ideal and wonderful society because they are comparing it to the failures of secular society. I have seen over the last 20 years, the frum world tentatively opening up enough to talk about existing problems of spousal abuse, addictions, and more – they are supposedly less in the frum community, but who can vouch for the statistics? The fact that these sordid problems exist in a religious society is truly a staggering shock to the BT. It does not make the religious lifestyle any less valuable to an individual who is committed to the growth of his own personal spiritual experience but it is a great levellilng tool to approach the society with a degree of astute sobriety.

        • gabi532

          We all have our issues. Some are simply more open about them.. 😉

    • Sarah Kay

      While I also agree that the Pico community is very different than the general frum world in many ways, I don’t think the issues with Orthodox are THAT different in Pico for various reasons I don’t have time to go into (mainly because the Jewish world is so international)…. that’s #1…. #2 — I don’t think this article was referring to the LA/Pico community when they discussed the sentiments that a BT faces when trying to conform to the norm whether it be good or bad…. I think the author was referring to the frum world at large being influenced by the BT world in general. LASTLY, and most ironically, what you said, although you didn’t mean it to be this way, actually completely supported the authors sentiments. While the author wrote about the influence of BT’s on the frum world and vice versa, etc, and you argued ‘but wait my community isn’t like that, it’s different!’ — well, that is merely because your community, the Pico community, is a kiruv based community…!!! It is the product of this kind of openness and exchange…. So naturally a lot of what the author suggests and relays to the reader has gone on in Pico and will continue to go on in Pico because of the ideas which the author has presented, which is what makes it so open minded and different lol…….

      • Rebecca K.

        Sarah,

        If Pico weren’t so special, we wouldn’t be willing to pay for housing at such astronomical rates! 😉

        You’re right, it isn’t perfect, but it also isn’t 100% unique. I think that many other so-called Out-of-town communities are similar. When I hear the complaints about the informally enforced uniformity in NY and many areas of Israel, I wonder why people live there. Being “Out-of-town” is quite wonderful and should be looked at as a strength.

        And I wasn’t saying Elad was wrong across the board…I was just taking issues with a couple points.

        • Sarah Kay

          Hahahah touché!!!! & yes, I agree with what you’re saying 100% One thing we can all agree on is that Pico is the best community in the world, and the only reason that anyone would ever leave is because of real estate 😉 lol!

          • goodilan

            Might I disagree. Everyone knows the city, but the Valley, especially The North Hollywood area is truly a one of a kind place. We lived there for eight years and it is one of the most hamsishe and caring places I have ever seen. Partly because we are so small and “not the city” everyone has to get along. But more than that, it has a wonderful sense of community. So many people are ready to do anything for a neighbor and the typical shul is a mix of so many cultures. Pico is nice, and I still still dream about Mexikosher and Pizza station, but the valley is American Jewery’s hidden gem.

          • Rebecca K.

            Okay, you got a point…
            But it’s also 15 degrees hotter in the summer. 😉

    • Mordechai Wein

      You are right, also. But as you say, I notice a big difference between people from NY, and e.g LA. Much more Jewish Unity in LA

      • brent kaufman

        And I notice a giant difference between St. Louis and the NY/NJ area. A simple guideline I go by is, ‘Any geographical area whose prison system has a daf yomi shiur, isn’t a fit area in which to raise Jewish children.’

    • gabi532

      Hate to tell you.. but WE ARE ALL ‘MESSED-UP’.. 😉

    • brent kaufman

      >>Frankly, the frum communities’ messed-up-ness does not anywhere near matched the messed-up-ness I see in the broader world.

      Remember the good old days when we Jews could laugh and make fun of those Catholics whose leaders raped children like it was going out of style? Well, we can’t make fun of them anymore because our leaders are NO better. If they’re not doing it, then they are condoning by silence, or even actively enabling it.

      • Rebecca K.

        There are some segments of the community that have in the past turned a blind eye (and I’m sure an even smaller segment that continue to turn a blind eye), unfortunately. However, there are currently several organizations that promote awareness of this issue, and today most rebbeim do not try to cover up for perpetrators. There is no community that has escaped sexual abuse — it tragically exists in every religious community, among secular people, as well. No community escapes it — not any community of any significant size, at least. We can all do a better job of protecting children.

        However, you are talking about just one aspect of a community, and it is only part of a picture. Everyone chooses their community — either actively or by simply accepting one — and I am happy to have chosen the way I have. Presumably, you have chosen one you prefer, or will do so.

        • Guest

          You’re right. It’s changing. Is that some kind of praise? “Now rabbis are starting to come around and believe victims, and not victimize them more, and remove a threat at the first word of accusation until the police can determine what happened.” woohoo. But not all of the ‘leaders’ are so quick to allow victims to go to the police and require a local rabbi to determine whether if a given case should be brought to the police or not. That should give anyone chills. That isn’t a problem on the periphery. It’s an infestation.

          >> Everyone chooses their community — either actively or by simply accepting one — and I am happy to have chosen the way I have. Presumably, you have chosen one you prefer, or will do so.

          I’m part of the frum world, but I’m no longer as proud of it in front of my non-frum family and others, like I was when I was new to it.

    • SAH

      A very thoughtful response, thanks for posting

  • daniel

    Right on point with this one Elad! Resonated

  • Greg Lauren

    so spot on! especially when the haredi guys would knock into me (as if on purpose) on Erev Shabbos at the Kotel…as i’m davening.

    i would always think: don’t these guys know the 4 tfachim rule??? don’t they go to yeshiva???

    and then i realized…people are people. orthodox people are people. people will sometimes be careless.

  • Zelik ‘n Bassie Moscowitz

    As you mentioned we must continue to be ‘explorers’ whether BT or FFB. We must certainly not use being frum as an excuse to be complacent. rather continue to strengthen our connection and devotion to Hashem.

  • Gershon Bandos

    Thank you. Finally, someone has put into words what I feel every day. And you’re exactly right. I recently told a dear person, “I hope my kids grow up not keeping Shabbos so they can come to it when they’re teenagers and learn to love Torah, G-d, mussar, and mitzvot.”

    Besides, for those people who make the effort to fit in, while I don’t begrudge you this choice, I do ask, has it worked yet?

    • Shmuel

      >>I recently told a dear person, “I hope my kids grow up not keeping Shabbos so they can come to it when they’re teenagers and learn to love Torah, G-d, mussar, and mitzvot.”

      I’m not sure I understand the intent behind this statement; part of that I’m sure is related to not knowing where you are coming from and your perspective. Can you elaborate a bit? Are you being facetious?

      If that statement is serious, do you believe that that is the only way for one to have a meaningful development in Judaism?

      Again, I’m just trying to get a better idea of where that sentiment comes from…

      And re: your last question – it doesn’t really work if you’re a real thinking, feeling person with even an ounce of depth. Better to recognize your own worth and try to live in coexistence to some degree with the mainstream rather than lie to yourself – that’s the closest you’ll get to ‘fitting in’ that will work for 99% of the time.

      • Gershon Bandos

        Hey Shmuel,

        I have met a good number of people who are life-long members of the frum community, but have–at best–an indifferent relationship with Torah and mitzvot. So, while I am (and was when I made the statement originally) being slightly facetious, I do honestly feel that few “FFB” people have the love of Hashem, love of Torah, and love of His commandments that the Torah requests of us. I have also met a good number of “FFB” people, including those engaged in keiruv (outpouring of love for Hashem) that cannot bear to share a bus stop with someone of a different hashkafah. Meanwhile, most of my friends–both modern orthodox and chareidi and every -ism in between–who are ba’alei teshuvah have an unseverable connection to the Almighty, and speak of Him or His Torah frequently at every meal and gathering, and even meeting in passing such as in the grocery store or bus stop.

        Again, I was slightly facetious, and I have met a fair number (albeit not as many) of FFBs who have a strong connection to G-d, which is always enchanting.

        Lastly, re:re:your last question. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), there are a great number of ba’alei teshuvah (like any other population) who are not accustomed to critical thinking. These are the ones I have seen denounce all memories of their “former life” and try desperately to fit into a community.

        But I received a great piece of advice from my uncle, who made aliyah about thirty years ago. I asked, “Why do you still have such an American accent in Hebrew?” To which he responded, “I used to have a better Israeli accent. But anyone who matters already knew I was an American, and anyone else didn’t really matter. So why should I exhaust myself with a fake accent when everyone knows I’m American?!”

  • Avi Lowell

    Well said, except for the rebellion part. Change can also occur through evolution, not just revolution. It may be slower – but it’s also less deadly.

    The Rebbe always insisted that changes be made in the manner of peace and pleasantness. So I guess a peaceful rebellion would be ok.

    In Judaism we don’t force. We yearn, pray and motivate and then trust God to allow changes to take places when He chooses.

    In the mean time, we can take a play from Rebbe Nachman’s Hyndik story and dress up like an FFB. This will give us cred (and get our kids into school).

    You can have a real relationship with a living God and still be frum.

    • Tim Lieder

      Sometimes rebellion can be small but important. Such as telling a frum guy who is going off against his ex-wife and calling her a C— that he’s out of line and it doesn’t matter if he was frum all of his life and you’re just starting out. Other times it can mean realizing that Agunah is the single greatest danger to Judaism and realizing that it’s not “a private matter” or “a violation of lashon hara” to speak out against husbands who will not give their wives gets.

      Other times, sadly, it means reporting child molesting rabbis to the police. No matter how much community pressure is against doing that (because he’s a nice guy and he didn’t mean and all the other excuses)

    • Janet Caterina

      I agree, Avi Lowell. it is not really a need for forcing change, but just to be true to oneself and to assert oneself as any questioning, validated Jew must do. This does influence others, even when they are afraid of being influenced by anything not their brand of Jewish. The truth is stronger than the trappings of lifestyle and culture. Since we saw the adoption of these trappings as secondary in importance to the content of the religion, we were willing to trade up. It is clear to me that the need for something more that was with me all my life, has been satisfied within Judaism. This goes beyond the craving for a replacement family or somewhere to fit in. The culture of one group or another is going to remain shell, which is meaningless in itself. The observance itself should bring about inner change – if it doesn’t do it for you, then surely you need to reevaluate.

    • Avi Kessner

      I think we have seen enough in the past 100 years to recognize that waiting doesn’t get you nearly as far as doing.

  • Ellie K.

    Who are you? I need to meet you!!! I just came to this conclusion about myself and the orthodox world a couple of days ago. t’s time for me to start living my truth. I need to find like minded people in our Torah observant world who get it. THANK YOU for writing this. You are SO right!!!

    • Avi Kessner

      I find people are coming to basically the same conclusion from all sorts of places and angles. This is my own.

      http://halachicminimalism.blogspot.co.il/

    • Janet Caterina

      I don’t have any success in finding like-minded people, Ellie, but it is at least easier to be different and to enjoy the differences, to assert yourself and stand up for yourself.

    • Ellie K.

      Thank you to Janet Caterina and Avi Kessner for the responses! I appreciate them and Avi – I will check out your blog!

    • Andrea Grinberg

      Right there with you sister!!

    • Mordechai Wein

      I agree too.

    • simcha26

      Ellie I join you 100%

      • Ellie K.

        Thank you! 🙂

        • simcha26

          where do you live?

          I feel that we have a lot to speak about.I’m a bit busy since I just had a baby but I’d love to meet you.

    • Drmonetarywatch

      Ellie, There are a lot of us who realize for one to leave one culture you need that destination culture. Unfortunately , it’s only when u are in the frum community that you see the is a world of
      conflicts on different levels. No one perfect system exists. They one has to separate what the Torah says versus what the religious people do. Any negatives are the due to the frailness of the human condition. There are those good and decent role models. One just has to search long and far to find them. Conformity doesn’t have to be what you see in a totalitarian society . I know both Rabbi Finmans.

  • Stefan Babjak

    Dude after reading this I am honored to have shared time with you in Jerusalem, your final statement is what we all need to strive for. Also I have to say it’s a lot easier to rebel when you realize how awesomely cool it will always be.

  • Yisroel Finman

    40 years ago, about two years after becoming involved in Torah I found my way to Denver and was learning by Rabbi Shloime Twerski. After a few months I went to him and told him that I feel the community is trying to make me into a round peg into a square hole or a square peg into a round hole. His response was,” who says you have to be a peg and fit into a hole”.

    • Oh wow. Beautiful.

    • Rena Levin

      Yisroel Finman, I remember those days well. (Oh, the power of Facebook, making reconnections!). And Rabbi Twerski, zt’l, was one of a kind. As are the many baalei teshuva that he made and their children and now grandchildren. I loved this article. It says what I have been saying for years. There IS a big difference between Torah and the culture that has grown up around living a life of Torah and mitzvos. Don’t confuse the two and don’t lose the forest for the trees.

    • gabi532

      Insightful!!! Thanks!

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  • msl613

    Very well said and there’s so much truth to it. In fact, more and more of us in Israel are seeing ourselves as “post-denominational” to help throw off these shackles.

    However, you said, “I’m sure there are one in a thousand baal teshuvas who are somehow naturally programmed to fit into the orthodox world and love it from the get go.” Ironically, it is often the these BTs who far more demanding that everyone “fit into the holes” and they often take a lead at narrowing those holes, making it harder for others to fit in. (And at the same time condescending to those who don’t). Conversely, many FFBs I know are very “normal” and are davka not hung up on so much of the minutiae BTs get tangled in.

  • Tim Lieder

    Good article. Same goes for converts. The main difference is that converts have to prove that they are serious to many people before they get to a beis din and the pressure to conform is even greater. And if one messes up in the conversion process (flirts with the wrong woman, says something that goes against the politics of the host, ends up trying to convert through a rabbi who likes to play head games, etc.) then one can spend years trying to get it right – including moving to another community entirely.

    It is only after converting that one can feel completely comfortable forging an individual identity.

    • Andrea Grinberg

      Even after converting, many converts have to “fit in”, a least for a certain amount of time. (My conversion certificate was held for a year after I converted… this is normal practice for the beit din through which I converted.)

  • HS

    This is really fantastic 🙂

    • RCS

      Fancy meeting you here.

      • HS

        haha this is where I come when CNN bums me out.

  • Sheik Ya’Buttay

    Finally! Somebody has the balls to say what most baal teshuvas are thinking! becoming frum was a mistake, Chabad, Aish, Or, all have agendas and sold a pack of lies to impressionable youngsters….BUT>..

    “A big, healthy part of the process is realizing all the lies of the world he lived in before. Realizing how empty it is and why he’s choosing to follow a different path”

    This kind of thing is the essence of the problem. the lies of the world one lived in before? what lies? how empty it is? how empty what is?

    From my experience looking back now, my totally godless secular life was far more meaningful than my current frum life.

    repeating the same words three times a day in a place where people seem to hate going and cant wait to leave, attaching meaningless leather boxes to my head and arm and pretending to feel some cosmic connection.

    shaking a branch and an overpriced lemon and getting some false pleasure from thinking im actually doing something more than just shaking a branch and a lemon!

    Seriously people, if there is a god, which one assumes there is, he aint nowhere near religious jewish communities in any capacity. as soon as i walk into a shul these days im struck with the though “God has left the building”

    wake up people! the author makes a good point but living in the mindset that peoples previous secular lives were empty or unfulfilled in some way simply isnt true., more likely most of us just rebelled against our parents, makes sense.

    If you can break free of the mafia induced guilt you will prosper, cos at the end of the day ALL the rabbis have on your is guilt, nothing else. and when you realise that what they are peddling is a pack of lies, a hoax, hopefully you can release yourself from the guilt and actually be happy.

    be strong and be blessed!

    • RCS

      I don’t know what sort of orthodox world YOU’re living in. Try to infuse meaning into what you’re doing. Inspiration doesn’t just follow you around all the time. It’s not meant to be easy. You need to actually work at it. If you think shaking lulav is meaningless, read a sefer, listen to a shiur explaining the meaning behind it. What? Did you just think that you’d start keeping mitzvot and suddenly be on a constant high of love and good feelings? You’re relationship with Hashem is a RELATIONSHIP. Just like a marriage. The more you put into it, the more you get in return. And maybe you’re not in the right community if you feel that people hate praying etc. In my community in Israel, I see people who love to pray and keep mitzvot and that serves as an inspiration to me. If you think that Rabbis have only guilt, you have clearly never met the Rabbis I know…I think that you should stop blaming things around you for your unhappiness and discontent and maybe look inside instead. Best of luck.

      • Sheik Ya’Buttay

        RCS totally missed the point of my post. And as is usual went into the mindless, hippy “dude you need to find something that inspires you”.

        Not likely in an orthodox world full of sheep, like you, who blindly follow whatever the Rabbi’s tell them, Halachically and personally.

        Relationship with Hashem, the more you put in the more you get out?

        The point was that listening to mind numbing shirum and reading antiquated, outdated and irrelevant sefarim aint gonna get ANYONE closer to God. However much you say it RCS to yourself or others, it simply isnt true, especially if you consider the terrible depression most orthodox Jews live with day in and day out due to the pressure they are under.

        And who is blaming anyone for anything, did i say anything about being unhappy or discontent? Quite the opposite in fact, as you can see from the numerous posts on this thread who concur that orthodox judaism has nothing whatsoever to do with God or serving God.

        But you have to say that RCS, you are conditioned, like so many. Just cos the Shiek here made the comments i made, to post with a patronising response calling me unhappy is just weird.

        Next you’ll be telling me i didnt have the experiences i said i had and must be deluded or unhappy or at the very least…discontent.

        Wake up friend

        • foundthebeyond

          I’m not sure RCS missed anything, that was a pretty direct response to you issue. If you found your “totally godless secular life” to be more meaningful than your “current frum life,” then perhaps your “current frum life” needs meaning. That seems to be a valid point.
          The Torah is a system. Real Rabbis are people that have devoted their lives to delving into and understanding that system. The “sheep…who blindly follow whatever the Rabbi’s tell them” are (not always, but should be) people that have chosen to trust the opinion of those people in aspects of the system they have yet to grasp on whatever level they are looking for.
          “The point was that listening to mind numbing shirum and reading antiquated, outdated and irrelevant sefarim aint gonna get ANYONE closer to God.”
          Really? That’s your assertion. And if your assertion is based on your experience, then I’m sorry.
          “…consider the terrible depression most orthodox Jews live with day in and day out due to the pressure they are under.”
          Yes. Let’s consider that. What percentage of orthodox jews live with a terrible depression day in and day out due to the pressure they are under? Have you met most orthodox jews?
          “…as you can see from the numerous posts on this thread who concur that orthodox judaism has nothing whatsoever to do with God or serving God.”
          Actually, the only post I saw espousing that idea is yours. People are voicing their discontent with cultural aspect that are put in the place of orthodox judaism, in the place of Torah.
          No one said you didn’t have those experiences. And for that, I am truly sorry. But your experiences don’t speak for authentic Torah judaism. Everyday, Torah jews are inspired and re-inspired through “mind numbing shirum and reading antiquated, outdated and irrelevant sefarim,” through both the learning and experiential application of them.

        • Janet Caterina

          I want to affirm the validity of what you are saying. Even though you are displaying a great deal of negativity in your very personal judgements of the person giving you chizuk, I still agree with your assessment of the cultural problems as you see them. I do see that it is very difficult to undo what has been done, to go back to another culture. It’s worse to do that, because the knowledge you have gained in the religious world will always set you apart. An emotional reaction like this needs to be healed, not corrected.

  • Janet Caterina

    I loved this piece of writing. Although I don’t count myself as rebellious, I would agree with the stance this writer is taking and will use it to help to explain to people who I am, where I’m coming from. I only raised open-minded and idealistic but have had to temper that against reality. In the end, the most important thing is not to lose yourself, and to love your individuality. That means even more, not fitting in anywhere, but standing alone.

  • Andrea Grinberg

    Spot on! I hope that by your writing this article, others that are experiencing similar feelings will not feel so alone. I do agree with the person below that I would prefer to think of it as “evolution/elevation/revolution” as opposed to rebellion. Even when discovering Torah Judaism and removing myself from aspects of secular society, I realized that my actions are most effective when coming from a place of love, not fight. Same goes for here. As an example, we will be much more effective by showing our passion for using cloth napkins (and how easy it is!) instead of storming around, ranting about how terrible and un-Jewish disposable plastics are. At least, that has been my experience thus far 🙂

    • I totally agree. I don’t think it’s rebellion in the sense of a fight. The reason I used that word is because BTs see it as a rebellion. But it’s really not. The only fight is with themselves: to live as honestly and true to Hashem as possible.

      • Andrea Grinberg

        Agreed.

  • Hanna Perlberger

    Most B’aal Teshuvas come from a self-selected population of people with a great deal of character strength, confidence and integrity to tell Wall Street and Main Street that this is not their inner world. Often, this comes at a cost to interpersonal relationships, families, marriages. etc. and can have professional consequences as well. So imagine the shock when these people encounter a great deal of narrow-mindedness and control in the observant world, and many people (and I was one of them) can’t wait to lose their identity fast enough in order to re-create themselves anew in a way where they will fit in and thus get the approval of a group that they want so much to be a part of. This is understandable, but hopefully in time, those innate character traits and skills should be able to re-emerge so that the person can make conscious and deliberate choices and little by little create a Jewish life that is authentic to them. That comes from discarding a world view of “either/or) and moves to an inclusive “and”. Ironically, when one sees the hypocrisy – at times – of those who don the black hat – it can be liberating, because from this disillusionment, the B’aal Teshuva can then emerge from a state of dependent self-esteem (where your view of yourself is dependent on what other think of you – or what you think they think of you) to a much healthier form of independent self esteem (where it’s more self determined – am I growing? Am I better this year than last? Do I feel more congruent and more authentic?) This, after all, is the lesson of fearing G-d more than your fellow man. But it can take years to evolve.

    • That comes from discarding a world view of “either/or) and moves to an inclusive “and”.

      Yes!

      Ironically, when one sees the hypocrisy – at times – of those who don the black hat – it can be liberating, because from this disillusionment, the B’aal Teshuva can then emerge from a state of dependent self-esteem (where your view of yourself is dependent on what other think of you – or what you think they think of you) to a much healthier form of independent self esteem…

      Yes!

      This, after all, is the lesson of fearing G-d more than your fellow man

      Freaking awesome! Well said, well said, well said.

      • In talking to FB’s about this, they can’t relate to the experience many BT’s
        have when they become observant – that euphoric feeling of being so in love
        with Hashem and taking on the lifestyle. But there is a time when the euphoria
        may fade, when critical thinking may start to emerge, when we are confronted
        with the dissonance in people around us between attitudes and behaviors (and we
        may be confused by our own dissonance and doubts), and now we must make the
        choice of whether we are staying in this relationship with Hashem, with the
        community, and what it’s going to look like.

        And I submit that this process is where the real spiritual growth is, and
        where the real potential of our spiritual journey starts to bloom. Hashem
        doesn’t want a bunch of “penguins” – He wants authentic people, who
        are using the unique gifts and talents that He gave us, after all, to enrich
        and diversify k’lal Yisroel.

        There is much wisdom and genius that can only be found in multiple
        perspectives and vantage points. How boring and sparse would our tradition be,
        for example, if there was only 1 opinion, 1 view, 1 voice. So whether or not
        our voices can be heard or appreciated, we must persist in being who we are and
        bring all of that to the table – the Shabbos table, I guess LOL.

        • Janet Caterina

          Maybe so, but one may find that it is a lonely state and almost impossible to integrate with the FFB penguins. They are busy telling you how to conform to them, and finding you repugnant, and basically you are in the position of having to stand out and lead, to get them to conform to you, and to change their standards.

    • In talking to FB’s about this, they can’t relate to the experience many BT’s have when they become observant – that euphoric feeling of being so in love with Hashem and taking on the lifestyle. But there is a time when the euphoria may fade, when critical thinking may start to emerge, when we are confronted with the dissonance in people around us between attitudes and behaviors (and we may be confused by our own dissonance and doubts), and now we must make the choice of whether we are staying in this relationship with Hashem, with the community, and what it’s going to look like.

      And I submit that this process is where the real spiritual growth is, and where the real potential of our spiritual journey starts to bloom. Hashem doesn’t want a bunch of “penguins” – He wants authentic people, who are using the unique gifts and talents that He gave us, after all, to enrich and diversify k’lal Yisroel.

      There is much wisdom and genius that can only be found in multiple perspectives and vantage points. How boring and sparse would our tradition be, for example, if there was only 1 opinion, 1 view, 1 voice. So whether or not our voices can be heard or appreciated, we must persist in being who we are and bring all of that to the table – the Shabbos table, I guess LOL.

  • Shoshana

    B”H
    I’m not sure if I’m understanding the article 100%. Maybe you can help me clarify…. I understood your piece as rebelling against the part of Yiddishkiet that has become part of the frum cultural norm, that have been accepted by everyone, but as a baal-tshuva we have an extra-sensitivity to it and realizes right off the bat that it is not Hashem’s will. We are sensitive to seeing a difference between what we learn and how people live. Is this what you are syaing? If so, I think that the way to carry out the rebellion is to strive to be living Torah, living the Rebbe’s instructions to the best of our ability, even in areas that are not so popular, and not to just settle into the excuse of “no one else around me is doing it”. Please correct me if I am wrong….

  • Shoshana

    Also, what do you mean by the sentence “and there are even more obvious things. From small, like not being so down with talking during prayers to big things like breaking down the barriers between sects.” Are you saying that we should not be down WITH talking during prayers? Or that we shouldn’t be down ON OUR SELVES for talking during prayers?

  • Calvin Abramowitz

    Growing up we were orthodox and then due to emotional&cultural issueswent off the derech. Although, my folks were both from rabbinic ultraorthodox families they sent us to an African American public school and we we stopped keep Shabbos or kosher or wear yarmulkes. Strangely, my parents still showed love of yiddishkeit through song & prayer. When I entered high school I chose on my own to learn Hebrew and my heritage. I went to Chabad and immediately recognized that my Rebbie was using the rebbe as some form of Idol. As saying the rebbe says to light Shabbos candles.When I expressed this to him he promptly had me expelled from the yeshiva. Afterwards,attended yeshiva university,which made me recognize that a majority of modern orthodox crowd weren’t aware that there could be a genuine love of mizvos & Shabbos. Afterwards, went to Aish In Jerusalem and learned from Baalei Teshuva a genuine excitement & love of Torah. Soon after,learned in the Mir Jerusalem and tried to incorporate the energy& Love of Torah found by Baalei teshuva & the full time learning in the Mir. From that time realized that the creator’s infinity can be seen in every human stare, personalities,character& original uniqueness of every human being. The Rambam says , in the future,that all religions will become unified with recognition of the creator. The original plan of creation before the mishap of Adam was that the light of the Creator was for all mankind.that plan will revert back to the original with all people being unified under one Creator. Truth is not reserved to one person, one sect, or one culture. Every individual has a unique mission to accomplish.

  • Sarah Kay

    This is literally one of the best articles I have ever read on the plight of the baal teshuva and the sentiments that go through ever single BT journeying through the orthodox world. And I read a lot of these articles…. Bravo.

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  • Yudit Sidikman

    Love it! At some point in my Baal Teshuva experience I realized that I had donated my brain to science (or at least that is what it felt like) and I wanted it back. Today I believe that my relationship to HaShem is much stronger and healthier and that I am being exactly what He wants me to be, me! With all the fantastic bumps and bruises.

  • Malka Selah

    What a great article, as at least one person pointed out, you voiced what many BTs or even Gs don’t speak of for reasons indicated. If anything, it is a coming out article and admiration is gladly given to you. Yasher koach!

    As a BT or G it is difficult at times to live as an Orthodox Jew. It is chosen and it can be the most moving and right place to be, but it can also be dogmatic and stifling, a place where you don’t quite feel you fit in for an endless array of reasons. Some days I feel I’m back on the road to finding a home “…return to who you are, return to where you are, born and reborn again.” On those days I can reminisce about being more connected spiritually. Some days the opposite is entirely true and the connexion to Hashem, and the beauty is deeply felt with Torah and mitzvos.

    BTs and Gs both infuse the Orthodox world with fresh outlooks, observations and knowledge. The applications and best of the secular world skills and knowledge can provide a benefit to the Orthodox community i.e. going Green. I do not think that what one experienced and learned before need be completely thrown out 180 degrees. BTs and Gs can provide crossroads at which a specific community and the Orthodox culture and society as a whole will choose inclusiveness, adaptation, change for a tikkun olam, a hiddur mitzvah and most importantly an even stronger attachment to Hashem with a life of Torah and mitzvos.

    We remain all Yidden. Our various journeys are definitive of who we are and how we come to this very moment and the way we choose to live. There are reasons we know what we know, we do what we do, also changing and growing, attaching and meeting the crossroads of our lives, Hashem with us through it all.

    • Janet Caterina

      After 20 years, I got tired of not saying anything. I realized that the people who knew me didn’t know me at all. And I needed to have people around me who could understand who I was. Sorry to say, as a result of this experience, I don’t meet anybody who does or any group into which I fit.

      • Malka Selah

        I still believe there are some people out there but it’s hard to find them still. With the ‘not talking about it’ it IS harder to find out who to talk to in making close ‘real’ friends, friends to have a deep and meaningful relationship with, whether the community is big or small. It might be a trust issue, it might be also the difference between an introvert / extrovert as well that keeps us quiet, observing, hoping, waiting. It doesn’t seem that such a radical shift of life should be for naught. Though I feel like you too I’m reminded that it is forbidden to ever give up.

  • yehudischana

    And if we the BTs don’t recognize these truths about ourselves and the orthodox culture, believe me, our children will wake us up to that realization sooner or later. Kids of BTs inherit their parents’ sensitivity to falsehood and inconsistency, which is why they often rebel against the Orthodox educational system and culture. They’re labeled “at risk” or “off the derech” when in fact their rebellion is the only healthy, normal response to a system and culture that fails them. At risk for what?? For a chance to live an authentic G-d driven life, integrated and whole? Off what derech?? One that leads to nowhere for them? The best thing BT parents can do for their children is to listen to OUR inner voice, to celebrate our beauty and offer our unique gifts to the community we’ve chosen — why else did Hashem choose US, for G-d’s sake– and encourage and support our kids when they challenge a status quo that robs them of their joie de vivre and squelches their ingrained passion for truth, understanding, and real connection with their Creator.

  • Yakub Jalal

    OK – first off, it’s “Ba’alei Teshuva” (or “Ba’alos Teshuva” for a group of women), NOT “baal teshuvas”!! Secondly – although it’s true that Ba’alei Teshuva are uniquely positioned to notice inconsistencies and they do indeed bring a fresh perspective I disagree strongly with the title of your post: No, the ba’al teshuva does not have a “job” to rebel against the Orthodox world! You might be projecting a bit, PopChassid. You may have a quiver of your own axes to grind, but a ba’al teshuva is working towards the Frum community not against it and most are mature enough to understand that working from within is more effective in the long run than geting yourself labeled as an outlier and having no influence. There are plenty of Ba’alei Teshuva doing great, edgy and amazing work to engage and change the FFB world – just look at Aish HaTorah’s fabulous Project Inspire. But “it’s their job to rebel against”? NO! You want to rebel? Fine. Go in good health. But please, fight your own battles and don’t try to coopt the ba’alei teshuva to be your proxies by guilting them into your agenda.

    • I know how to write it, but I purposefully spell it as “baal teshuvas” because I want to make my writing accessible to my audience, and there may be people who are in the beginning of the process who may not understand the plural written in Hebrew.

      Second of all, it seems to me like you only read the title of my post and not the content. If you read it, you would know I’m not trying to start some sort of revolution, but rather encouraging baal teshuvas to start trusting themselves more and acknowledging that the orthodox world is not perfect. This is more about an internal rebellion than anything, although it may result in not “fitting in”.

      Also, if you feel this is me grinding an ax as a lone angry, bitter baal teshuva, I encourage you to look at all the comments here and see how many people expressed relief that someone was saying something that had been on their minds for a long time. There’s a reason this post struck a chord and it has nothing to do with bitterness, anger, or an agenda. It has to do with the fact that this is a reality all baal teshuvas (!) deal with every day, and when they acknowledge it, it only makes them stronger Jews, and more powerful voices for the growth of the Jewish people.

  • DantheMan999

    Saying it is a BT’s job to rebel against the O world is provocative, BUT i think this is true if we are talking about something along the lines of a healthy adolescent rebellion. The new BT is like a newborn and child who is at first uncritically absorbent of the new way of life. But one cannot really make it ones own (i.e. become an adult with a mature relationship to one’s tradition) until one goes through the adolescent stage of questioning. The result of critical questioning is that the Torah hashkafah becomes internalized. But in the process, many inconsistencies need to be dealt with for both the individual and their immediate and broader community. This process of purification and internalization is what produces Jewish adults, which is what we need more of!

  • Tuvia

    The only real feature of any tightly knit community is it requires conformity of thought and behavior. This is true for Hare Krishnas, orthodox Jews, Soviet era communists, members of the KKK, Mormons, Scientologists, Roman Catholics, etc.

    Jews who join the frum world are most importantly joining a tightly knit community.

    The specific rules, manners, teachings, inclinations are all unimportant – all tightly knit worlds are built on inspiration, indoctrination, and acts that are good or bad, thoughts that are good or bad.

    Importantly, you must never really challenge the precepts of the community – which extends by osmosis to not challenging the community in other ways as well.

    But BTs will eventually value the community more – or their children’s children will. At some point everyone down the line accepts the ways of the community or goes OTD I think. Or becomes orthoprax perhaps.

    BTs are very much like secular people in they still retain some critical distance to judge the community. The secular reads about the Torah from various perspectives (including academic ones) and realizes that the origins of this book are arguable, but that the frum community will never permit open inquiry on this topic.

    To me, this is dangerous (suppression, distortion, omission of an outside voice.)

    To a BT, this is just a good idea.

    (There are currently a half dozen black velvet kippah wearing academics in the US and probably a couple dozen in Israel who wear white shirts and black kippahs who assert the merits of the academic view of the origin of Torah.)

    This shutting down of voices in this area actually means shutting down of voices in other areas, but the BT doesn’t see it this way. Letting outside voices in is dangerous and should remain forbidden, except if it is the BTs voice.

    But where do you draw the line?

    The BT and the FFB just draw the line in different places.

    The secular says all lines on acceptable thinking and speaking are bad ideas — but wave bye bye to your tightly knit community!

    So the BT finds his critical faculty engaged when he hears about some aspect of frum culture that feels wrong to him.

    Because he wants to live in a tightly knit community he won’t challenge the ikkurim, but he will challenge some other things.

    I’m not sure if BTs are super proud of becoming BTs (they seem to be super proud), or are just really quite happy being in a tightly knit community (I envy them that sometimes) and are just in the process of figuring out how to quiet their minds and drink more deeply from the kool aid.

    • Always enjoy when you come here and try and compare orthodox Jews to KKK, Nazis etc. Yawn.

      Basically, your comments always start and end with this assumption: the orthodox world is a world of blind conformity and no individuality. Since I’ve discussed this assumption with you ad nauseum and I’m kind of tired of continually disagreeing with something that is so patently false, and not at all my experience, I’m just gonna move on from this.

      • Tuvia

        Belief in Torah from Heaven is hard for me. It is easy for you. Of course in your system (Judaism) I have no place in the world to come because I’m not, well, you. Real fair idea there.

        The Bill of Rights beats Torah for fairness and justness. But you so “love” Torah you can’t see that.

        That’s what I mean by it being this indoctrinating, totalitarian force.

        There were people who loved communism in the Soviet Union. True believers. But if you just happened to not think communism was the best? A crime, and off to a forced labor camp for you.

        Not fair, not just. But if you loved communism – if you believed – you just looked the other way. I mean, it worked FOR YOU right? How bad could it be?

        Pretty damn bad.

        Just cause something works for you doesn’t make it better. That’s my whole darn point with BTs, in a nutshell. They’re on the side of a less fair or just system, and they just don’t care.

        • What you are talking about is how specific orthodox communities treat people in their communities that don’t believe.

          That’s a fair grievance, and I sympathize. But you need to stop using baal teshvuas as your scapegoat for being upset. I’m not looking the other way. That’s what this post is about. It’s about seeing those problems within orthodoxy and working on them. In my vision, no person who grows up orthodox should ever feel ostracized or cut off from a community just because they stopped believing.

          Please please please stop projecting your issues with the frum world onto me and onto baal teshuvas in general. Stop telling me I don’t care. Stop assuming what all baal teshuvas think about you or anyone else.

          I am my own person and I think for myself. I am not a communist who looks the other way. Please respect me and my individuality and intelligence.

          • Tuvia

            Something’s not coming across in my writing.

            I have lived among and around OJ folks. Truly special times. Special people. Some of the most amazing I’ve ever met.

            It’s not the orthodox Jews that are the problem. It is orthodox Judaism that is the problem.

            I bet if you were in communist Russia back in the day, you could meet some truly special and amazing people. People on a mission to change the world as we know it – where workers were no longer under foot of their oppressors. Where workers mattered and were not alienated from their labor.

            Some of the most sincere and sensitive people in the US became communists at that time. They foresaw a time when the world would be a better, fairer, saner place. They were in many ways far more idealistic and sensitive to human suffering than their more typical fellow citizens.

            It is not about people. It certainly is not about you – I enjoy your writing and your blog. It is from the heart. I may not agree with you about orthodox Judaism – but you are one of them: the sensitive, caring, seeking person trying to become better, closer to your G-d. Trying to be the best husband, father, friend, person, and Jew too.

            It’s Judaism I think is not fair or just. None of these monotheistic religions are really. But people inside look the other way because they are “in love” and have developed strong beliefs.

            Movements that require strong belief understand this intrinsically and foster an environment where the fundamentals are not permitted to be questioned.

            It’s not the people – it’s the whole idea of strong beliefs and commitments. These things feel great – inspiring, so right. But they are inherently problematic for a number of reasons.

            First, they can get you anywhere: to being a Hare Krishna, a born again Xtian, a Jew for JC, an orthodox Jew.

            And yes, on the dark side, the rush of feeling and identity and inspiration can get you to communism, the fuhrer, the KKK, etc.

            But for the person on the inside – the strong believer – all of this is either hard to see or irrelevant. The passion, the identity, the love, the mission – it is too good to pass up.

            But the biggest problem with these systems is they are not as fair or just as our own society. I’m talking about ideals.

            I doubt orthodox Jews would in large numbers hate the disbeliever or even ostracize him (as long as he kept it quiet.)

            But the Torah makes it plain what happens to those who just happen not to be on the “right” side. Don’t see things the “right” way.

            Either the men who wrote the Torah were unfair, unjust – or the G-d who wrote the Torah was unfair or unjust.

            How can I be punished because I don’t see things the way you do? Our society is fairer than the Torah on this issue.

            We know the Bill of Rights with its freedoms is better. We know that its obligation not to abridge the rights of others (including the right to practice one’s faith) is better.

            But religions don’t know this – they are in the opposite camp: believe or else. Practice or else.

            Again, not individual Jews – but the system they have signed up for.

            And yet it is too compelling, too wonderful, too inspiring, to gevaldic and mamash amazing to walk away from.

            I agree with you – as a Jew living in Jerusalem for a year – amazing.

            But don’t you see how bloody self involved this becomes when you realize that the system is forged in a way (as it must be) that is closed, indoctrinating, filtering outside information on every sensitive topic? Can’t we see how all religions put “family first” because everyone sees the family as the crucible of society and it is hard to argue with any religion that puts family first? Can’t we see that being inspired by shiers and vorts is another way of getting us to lower our critical faculties? Can’t we see that suppressing, omitting, distorting outside voices is a way of cutting off open inquiry and debate – not because Judaism is obviously right about its claims, but because those claims are very shaky and cannot afford a sustained, unflinching examination by outsiders?

            Don’t we know that all religions have amazing hashgacha pratis stories? Amazing experiences? Proofs that are every bit as good and self serving as ours?

            I would say watch the film Kumare (a documentary) about a fake guru and real people who commit to his spiritual powers.

            I am not reading a book Losing my Religion that is about a guy who popped in to Xtianity (with all the miracle stories in his life that a BT also feels) and apparently, in the end of the book, pops out. Probably a good read for BTs too.

            Am I saying don’t be religious? No.

            I love going with my ortho friends to kosher food, being with fellow Jews. I respect shabbos, the emphasis on the family is heartwarming. I respect people who commit to these things. We all have to eat – kosher is a choice and an admirable one. My problems lie elsewhere.

            Kol tuv, Tuvia

          • I hear you, Tuvia, but the Judaism you describe is not my Judaism. If you’re not talking about the people but the belief, then I would never sign up for the belief you describe. I don’t think Judaism is how you describe it, and I never would have signed up for it if I thought it was.

            The Judaism I practice encourages and pushes for questions. The Judaism I practice cares about enquiry and openness. The Judaism I practice is open to debate and disagreements.

            That’s why I think you’re talking about people. Because, at the end of the day, in my opinion, the Jews that are cutting themselves off, that are suppressing or distorting outside voices, that even depend on miracles as the basis of their beliefs… are not practicing Judaism. Judaism is so much more than all those things (the Judaism I believe in, at least, and that was preached to me by my BT mentors, etc) and it has not shrunk my worldview but expanded it. I don’t want to live in a world where Judaism cuts people off from open debate and real thoughtfulness. Because to me that’s not Judaism, and to plenty of others as well.

            One problem I see you having is that you consider belief itself a negative thing. I could be wrong, but it seems to me like you equate anyone with a strong belief as inherently cutting themselves off from others. I couldn’t disagree more. I think belief is an essential way of living a healthy life. It’s, essentially, a paradigm for your understanding of the world. And we all need that, even if it’s flawed, even if we don’t fully understand it. When we fight having that paradigm in our lives we are breaking down an essential structure for our lives to be healthy and happy. And while, yes, that puts us at odds with people that have opposing beliefs, that’s not a negative thing… it means we’re all trying to figure out life to the best of our abilities. To give up on belief is to give up on trying to figure out and examine life.

          • Tuvia

            ” I could be wrong, but it seems to me like you equate anyone with a strong belief as inherently cutting themselves off from others.”

            Yes – strong believers tend to have a problem “hearing” others – other points of view.

            Strong belief makes people screwed up as people. You would I think agree if it was a strong belief that you felt was noxious. Because it is a strong belief you are in favor of, well, what could be wrong with that?

            To me — it is always the same thing: I have strong beliefs that I love, so who gives a hoot about the problems for the guy without strong belief? I got mine, to hell with the other guy!

            It’s there, even if you don’t sense it, because again, you are on the “good” side in a place that rewards your beliefs. You are the “good” boy, and that feels pretty good and therefore — darn, how bad could it be? Look how much I prospered in this system!

            Strong belief is bad — but feels very, very, very good (which is why people are so drawn to it.) Cuts out all the grays, makes me feel strong, makes me brave, rewards me for doing certain clear things.

            In the Enlightenment people started to challenge strong belief. It was the Age of Reason. No more relying on beliefs. And we got natural rights, and self-evident truths, and the Bill of Rights out of it.

            And absolute monarchs fell, to replaced by (messy) democracy. And the church lost its perks and control — as the idea that the church had some inherent power to control our lives was challenged.

            “Don’t have strong beliefs” is the message of the Enlightenment. Challenge them with your faculty of reason.

            Challenge everything — and suddenly the “strong belief” people had that women should not vote or own property was challenged. That blacks should be slaves — a strong belief of many — was challenged. That Jews should be forced to convert or die — challenged. Our whole society is the result – and we are a better, fairer, more just, more reasonable society than any society of strong believers.

            Strong beliefs ARE bad. But they FEEL so so so great.

            I honestly believe you WILL see what I am talking about some day.

            Take this as an example: Southern Baptists feel that Jews will burn in a lake of fire for eternity if they don’t accept JC. They work hard and spend a lot of money reaching out to Jews to accept Christianity. They succeed – there are probably hundreds of thousands of halachic Jews who go to church. There are supposedly over a hundred thousand Jews for JC and Messianic Jews as well.

            That’s strong belief too. Somehow I doubt the orthodox would welcome these “strong believers” in to their neighborhood.

            If strong emunah is such a plus, why is that?

          • Guest

            I must admit that I am struggling somewhat to identify with your approach.

            I am under the impression that many people (especially Baalei Teshuva who have actually studied these topics) believe in Judaism because they feel that there is good enough evidence to justify that belief.

            To give an example from something else, most people (rightly) believe that matter is made up from atoms, which are in turn made up from protons, electrons, neutrons, quarks, gluons etc. This is despite the fact that this idea is pretty weird from a strictly logical point of view.

            However, one cannot suggest that since we believe in one weird idea, then we should also believe in all weird ideas that we come across. After all, there is a big difference between them – while we have sufficient evidence to believe in the existence of atoms, we do not have that level of evidence for the other ideas.

            In a similar fashion, if people believe in Judaism because they have come across evidence that points to it being true, that does not mean that they should also accept, or even condone, the belief in other religions that do not have that level of evidence.

            If you are skeptical about the evidence, I invite you to contact me at maareh.mekomos at gmail and I’ll provide you with (what I think is) sufficient evidence.

          • Tuvia

            If you look at Aish style proofs – you will realize they steal most of it from Evangelical Xtian missionary proofs. All religions have “good” proofs that are not good under deeper investigation.

            There are a dozen or more black velvet kippah, white shirt academics in Israel, and maybe half a dozen who dress the same way in the US, who now say their is solid evidence the Torah was written over hundreds of years.

            BTs like proofs — as long as they don’t look too deeply.

            It is profoundly sad to me that Jews – a smart people – are so hell bent on NOT educating themselves regarding our religion. Hearing and investigating all sides.

            But I do get it — people WANT to believe. They want to be inspired. They want to be indoctrinated. They don’t WANT to be educated. They want what they want and they will have it.

          • Guest

            But I’m referring to proofs that remain solid even after deeper investigation and further education.

          • Tuvia

            Give over your best one on this forum, if you don’t mind. Don’t want to trade private emails. Send me a link on this forum if you like.

          • Guest

            Well, then you have me cornered. The links I want to provide are to copyrighted material, and I don’t feel comfortable posting them on a public forum.

            If privacy is the issue, wouldn’t you be able to create an account with a generic-sounding name and contact me through that?

          • Tuvia

            i can barely deal with one email account. maybe another time.

            apologies to anyone who felt my tone was over the top.

          • Bentzy

            Some of your main claims are factually wrong.

            See here, in particular the comments:

            http://www.jta.org/2013/10/20/news-opinion/opinion/op-ed-how-to-stop-killing-in-the-name-of-god#comment-1098121836

          • Tuvia

            Avi Weiss is not normative orthodox Judaism – but it’s not a bad reference. I actually think Avi Weiss is pretty amazing and brave – but by the same token most of OJ completely rejects him.

            The reason many Jews say that we will not lose our place in the world to come for not believing is because of kiruv, which (like all outreach for every religion, secular ones too, e.g. the US Marines) seek to soft-peddle the parts that feel unappetizing.

            Sufficeth to say also that many big rabbaim disagree with the idea that we cannot lose our place in the world to come. Generally ones that don’t do kiruv.

            Still, not a bad reference.

            Obviously every religion play games with their doctrine. In Catholicism there is the catechism of personal conscience – which says you do not have to believe or follow a church doctrine if it is morally repugnant to you.

            Such is the nature of religion to invite you in one sense, and scare you in another, and congratulate you in another, and bestow a special privileged status on you in yet another.

            Mind games anyone…?

            For many, fundamentalist religion feels too darn good to give up – highly manipulative, highy seductive, highy inspiring — believe me, I get it.

          • Bentzy

            I don’t think any of the Poskim quoted were into Kiruv.

            So this is how it works: when it’s cruel then, well, it’s cruel and when it’s not then it’s “mind games”. Interesting.

            Maybe consider the other option: You have been taught a pretty sad, unauthentic, oppressive, manipulative Judaism which (understandably) you’re having a hard time to make away with…

          • Tuvia

            the cruelty of spiritual fear mongering (do what we say or pay for it in the world to come) is a kind of mind-game. And it works on all kinds of people.

            But it’s all mind games. Really. And that is why a closed community is essential to its survival.

            All religions (at least the monotheist ones, I don’t really know Eastern ones) are full of manipulation at their core. Filled to the brim.

            I have respect for religion as well — I just don’t think it is comes clean on just about anything. I don’t think kiruv is the practice of honest men. I think you would probably agree if the subject was Jews for JC? Or Scientologists? Or Evangelicals? Or Hare Krishnas? Or Muslims?

            But because it’s Jews — well, that’s mine and I’ve been told it is true and I won’t bother learning about other religions or the free-thinking Age of Reason kind of thinking. Because I’m a Jew. Being Jew is special. Yay.

            So this other guy goes to hell for not being — me. Tough noogies on him I guess..! Go for mine! To hell with that poor shnook!

            Religion: childish at its core, but full of wisdom too.

          • Bentzy

            Here are two links that you might find interesting.

            Mainly the cooments by the author in: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/147789/jewish/Beyond-Humanism.htm

            Rabbi Steinzaltz’s piece. Note that it’s an excerpt from a longer article: http://www.elijah-interfaith.org/index.php?id=964#_Toc268118915

          • Tuvia

            The Nazis were a religion. They were not a result of the Enlightenment.

            The Aryans believed they were descended from the divine. They believed they were a Master Race and should not mix their blood with others. They wanted to clear out Europe of people (Jews first, an easy target) in order to give the Aryan people room to spread out and grow.

            The Nazis were like religion in that they depended on indoctrination, not education to get people to see it their way. They used inspirational speech (like religion does) to get people excited, and to get them to lower their critical faculties. They controlled the media, like religion controls what the rank and file should expose themselves to. They had the idea of heresy essentially – ideas one should not read or consider.

            The Nazis were a state religion – one that had the power to pursue its religions goals.

            Enlightened nations – the Allies – came to the rescue.

            People that think the Nazis are a result of the Enlightenment are pulling your leg.

          • Bentzy

            The point of the (two, btw) links wasn’t about the Nazi’s at all.

            But, at any rate, what you write can be (mostly) translated to any group, btw, including Liberals.

            As to your claims about Nazism not having any relation to Enlightenment, you’re historically and factually wrong, but I’m not gonna argue that here. Google should do. (And again, this has no relation to the topic at hand).

          • Tuvia

            the Nazis ignored the Enlightenment values of natural rights, inalienable rights, self evident truths (all of which led to the Bill of Rights in the US.)

            They picked up on the scientific progress stuff — but utterly and completely bypassed the other side of the Enlightenment which led to equality under the law in our country.

            Anyone who thinks the Nazis are following Enlightenment principles — it is the same group that says you can’t have morality without religion. Morality and the Golden Rule rose up everywhere (including in societies with many gods or no gods.)

            The Founding Fathers of the USA did not care for the Bible or religion. They saw it largely as an impediment in the Age of Reason — which they relied on to build the Bill of Rights. The One Nation under G-d stuff not withstanding.

            Religious folks hate the Enlightenment. They cannot stand its obligation not to abridge the rights of others.

            Religion is built on the concept of telling others what they must believe and do of course. Or else.

            You are “factually wrong” yourself. You are NOT a student of the Enlightenment. You have gotten most of your info from Enlightenment haters – largely people who are religious minded.

            Keep reading and investigating. Wonder aloud why people go OTD in every religion but come to the US in droves. Penny will drop eventually.

  • Naftuli Moster

    I think it’s great that you’re able to make yourself comfortable and to not have to feel like a second class citizen that has to fit in.

    However, I take issue with your assertion that only two options exist, to conform or to rebel (while remaining Orthodox). Why not leave the community the same way you left your original secular community?

    It all started with you seeking happiness that you couldn’t find in your original community. You become Orthodox and realize they aren’t what they are romanticized to be. I think at this point you should realize that the issue was within you, not within the broader community. I get that it can be embarrassing, and some would ridicule you and imply that you’re just unstable, but if you’re going to be brave, go all the way. You come back and tell your family ‘Gosh I can’t believe I fell for that crap; I’m back.’

    I find that few people are THAT brave. But Matisyahu did that, and I know a few others that did the same.

    • If you’re getting from this article that I don’t like being orthodox or that I don’t like my community then you are completely, 100% missing the point of what I wrote.

      Ironically, your misunderstanding of the article is the same way some orthodox Jews have misunderstood it… that rejecting aspects of a culture means rebelling against an entire culture. This is about empowerment and understanding that Judaism, Torah, and Hashem will always be higher and deeper than any culture.

      The funny thing about your comment is that it is just as black and white as extreme religious folk.

      • Naftuli Moster

        I’m sensing you are a bit offended by what I said. All I was saying, though, is that there’s a third option which to you didn’t seem like an option because you actually believe in Torah and God; to many BTs becoming Orthodox was only to escape an unhappy past and to find solace in a place where there seems to be so much structure, charity, and happiness. To those people, I wanted to say that there’s that third option of realizing it doesn’t offer any of that.

        • I am, in fact, offended by what you said. It assumes that any BT who has this experience is not “brave” enough (in your words) to leave the community.

          Even your followup comment is insulting. You claim that “many BTs” became orthodox to leave an unhappy past. Feh. This may be true for a minority, and those folks end up leaving quickly. But to assume what you just said is so degrading because you are making vast, sweeping generalizations about a huge group of people that made a very serious decision about their lives. And that generalization happens to assume that BTs aren’t intelligent or can think for themselves. Yucky.

          • Naftuli Moster

            I understand. I guess I should have made it clearer that I was referring to ‘some’ of the BTs. Fyi, I also believe that many FFBs are equally afraid and not brave enough to leave; and that I know from personal experience.
            But now I am actually curious to know what your motivation fro becoming a BT was. I do wonder what the thought process is. Or are there any revelations, eye openers, etc?
            Obviously only if you’re comfortable sharing.

          • My motivation, as with many BTs, was simply that I believed. I started going to my Chabad house in Arizona and was amazed, especially because I had been resisting going for a long time, how many of the beliefs the rabbi discussed were in line with my own. I had been deep into Taoism and other philosophies for a while, but even they didn’t feel like complete truth to me. It was only when I started hearing Jewish ideas through the lens of Chasiddus that I really felt like what I already believed was being articulated.

            I didn’t fully believe until going to yeshiva in Israel, but that, along with a few miraculous experiences along the way helped solidify everything.

            As with most BTs, I wasn’t exposed to or even that interested in orthodox culture until I left yeshiva and got married.

          • Naftuli Moster

            That’s great. You found a way that works for you. I wish you the best.
            Now that you threw in miracles, I am curious to know what they were. But again, this may not be the venue, or you may not be comfortable sharing them.

          • Here’s one story:

            http://popchassid.com/murdering-cop/

            This one happened before I was on the path, but had a big effect on my entire spiritual life:

            http://popchassid.com/i-died-why-i-write/

            This one isn’t miraculous per se, but it affected me a lot:

            http://popchassid.com/muslim-summer/

            And this one happened well after I became religious, but was miraculous to me, at least:

            http://popchassid.com/rebbe-spoke/

            I have other stories, and hopefully one day I’ll write them out too. These are just the ones I’ve written so far. I would do them for you, but it would just be too much effort. I’d rather write them out properly some time.

          • Oh, and thank you for understanding why I was offended 🙂

  • bt from Montreal

    bs’d

    fantastic article!
    thank you!
    too busy rebelling to read all the comments but just made a ‘note-to-self’ to carve out some time to read them later today……….
    yashar koiach!!!!!

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  • Yael Aldrich

    As an organizer within the Orthodox Jewish homeschooling movement, I find that there are a disproportionate number of gerim and BTs that want/need something other than the current educational alternatives for their children. Even as many feel they cannot homeschool because they “don’t know enough” about kodesh (Jewish Studies), others plunge in and find ways to make it work for their families (online learning, tutors IRL or online, workbooks, learning alongside their children). Another “rebellion”?

  • Rivki Silver

    I’m a little embarrassed that I’m only *now* reading this post. But this – “Rather it’ll come by us all becoming committed to having a real relationship with G-d and then doing our utmost to bring out G-d’s truth into the world, whether it’s popular, whether it’s accepted, whether it’s “religious”, or not. ” – yes. Yes a million times.

    Whenever I find myself dealing with some part of the culture or person who is falling very short (shall we say), I remember something Rebbetzin Heller once said about how we’re all fragmented. How someone can be excellent at doing chesed, but can also steal thousands of dollars from someone else. And that it’s part of galus. We should all be davening for Moshiach like crazy. IMO.

  • G. Forman

    This was an excellent post. It is important for BT’s to realize that they can use their own judgement and reasoning. We can and should draw on the positive aspects of our upbringing and life experiences. As I raise my children and instill them with values of respect and honesty that are not always exemplified in frum communities., I have come to realize this. My children’s midos and conduct are constantly praised by teachers, counselors etc.. .

  • Yehoshua Parker

    The striking factor of this piece is in its lack of Torah perspective. There is
    not one Torah premise that discussed in this piece. Misdirected passion is not the blogger’s fault – it has a root source in how we spend kiruv dollars and why.

    Isn’t it about time we research the reasons why there is no secondary kiruv education?

    Shouldn’t there be a public policy debate about why the funders of kiruv place quotas on kiruv field workers? What are the real world policy fissures? How many people are
    disaffected? All it takes is to change the status quo of the post kiruv process.

    My response article to PopChassid posted here:
    http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2013/12/can-baal-teshuva-be-accepted-amongst.html

    • djb

      The aspiration to be “tocho keVaro” (one should think and act the way one appears externally) is a Torah premise. This idea pemeates the blogger’s entire post.

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  • pinchas

    Cleveland has a nice observant community….:) and very welcoming…..

  • Chasam Sofer

    Rebelling against a conservative system is not being a rebel. It is being the opposite because this way you support the morally liberal and powerful system. You ‘re not a rebel, you’re just a supporter of the powerful.

  • Diane H.

    I am very grateful to have found these posts. I am a relatively new BT and I’m struggling to find where I fit in. The first problem is I find myself isolated here in Long Beach CA, where there is a dearth of Yiddishkeit. The only Orthodox shuls here are Chabad, and I attend one of them. I have received much benefit from what is offered, but I did not receive the welcome I had hoped for. So, here I am, stranded between two worlds, socially. True, I have found that there is a difference between focusing on one’s relationship with Hashem through emunah, Torah & mitzvot and relying on the Jewish community for your identity. But, it is lonely.

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  • Shmuel Elbinger

    This post is awesome. My only critique is that embracing green-tec isn’t the best example here. You mentioned other good ones, but I’m sure we can come up with more even better ones. 🙂 Keep up the good fight!

  • Nechama

    Yaaaaaaaa! Woot! Woot! I just want to add one minor complication. Not always is it clear which voice guides us to rebel. And often it’s a multi-layered process. To me rebellion is a movie and non-Jewish music, wearing a headscarf in public and eating bread that wasn’t baked by a Jew. But those things aren’t really a rebellion againt G-d because halacha permits those things. They are a rebellion against what my Rebbe asked of me. Or so i’ve been told. And so I begin to demand sources. And then, there they are. In plain view. So now what? Can I love my Rebbe and be his Chassid and NOT follow his instructions? Does that make me a truth seeker or just a girl in the world? And what about a halacha that chokes my relationship with G-d right out of me? What about th e times there is no opinion to rely on and complying feels like brutal torture. What about the times being orthodox isn’t “doing it better than the rest of the world”? It isn’t “normal”. It doesn’t even feel like truth anymore. I’ll tell you. It sucks.

  • AC

    So True. One who studies Torah Carefully cannot escape the fact that Orthodoxy is OTD. We need to return to Torah and that will only happen for those who physically join the nation … you cannot do Torah in the Diaspora, and Orthodoxy is just another Diaspora invention, unfounded in the all that is required…

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