Dear FFBs: Please Make Way For The Baal Teshuvas

Dear FFBs,

Well, it’s been a good run hasn’t it?  I mean, 5,000 years is pretty good, amiright?  We’ve made it through so much, survived it all, and lost a bunch along the way.  But we’re still here.

And it’s all thanks to you FFBs, the ones who kept it real all this time.

(And mind you, by FFB, I don’t mean born religious. I know plenty of baal teshuvas that are FFBs.

An FFB is the kind of Jew that keeps his practice and his faith going no matter what.  The world could be falling down around him, and he’s still religious.  He makes kabbalas ol his bread and butter and has it for breakfast every day.  Yep, the strength of the FFB is his gosh darn persistence.

Which is why FFBs were so good at keeping the Jewish people alive for the last few thousand years.  Because the world was crashing around us constantly, and you FFBs kept it real when we were stuck in ghettos, when were kicked out of countries, when we were stuck in Siberia.)

But now, suddenly, something seems to have changed. Have you noticed it?

There are two things that have changed, really:

One: the Jews have changed.  We’re so much weaker now, aren’t we?  “Chocoladnikim” the old school Russian Jews call us.  A bunch of chocolate-eating weaklings.  We just aren’t as strong as the last bunch of generations.  If we had to deal with what our grandparents and their grandparents had to deal with, we’d give it all up for a chance to get back to our smartphones.

Two: the world has changed.  All of a sudden, we’re living in a place and a time where the vast majority of the world isn’t spending 90% of its energy trying to figure out how to get rid of us.  Not only that, they accept us.  They love us, giving us awards and accolades and watching our movies and bringing us into the fold.

And us religious Jews know the danger of being too accepted.  Because this new, loving world is still a world we disagree with, and so when they accept us too much then we forget what we’re all about.

Now, I know, you FFBs have been arguing for a while that the way to deal with this is that everyone should just become even more hardcore FFBs.  We should all get, like super frum, super forgetting what we feel, and what we think, and just focusing on sacrificing everything to keep our Jewishness.

And, sure, that makes sense.  It makes sense from your perspective, because you can pull it off, and you’ve been pulling it off for thousands of years.

But there’s something you’re forgetting: change #1 discussed above.  Our generation is a bunch of weaklings.

It’s true, we’re so very weak right now.  Trust me, I’m one of them.  And so are most people I know.

And so this creates a problem: for most of us, when difficulties start to arise, we see this other world that’s right next to ours.  A world that loves and accepts us.  A world that says, “It’s okay if you can’t be an FFB.  We’re looking for some new recruits anyway.  Come, come, come.”

An so us weaklings, no matter how much we turn off our brains, see no reason why we shouldn’t.  We hardly believe anyway, so what’s the point in staying?

And while, yes, you’ve created a bunch of “kiruv” centers to suck people back into your world, the moment most of you get them back in, turned them into baal teshuvas, you assume that your job is to turn them back into FFBs.

Your goal isn’t to make baal teshuvas, it’s to make FFBs.  But, unfortunately, almost all of us, even the ones that grew up religious, are baal teshuvas today.

And so those people (maybe you’re not paying attention and don’t notice it), those people are leaving as well.  Because most of them are weak too.  You don’t realize it, but your solution isn’t a complete one: you make them religious for a moment, and then you lose them or their children.  And if they don’t leave, they stay an empty shell, killing the world around them, and all the other baal teshuvas, because they aren’t living their ideals.

And, unfortunately, what you end up doing is creating the exact problem that exists everywhere in the Jewish world: enforcing a connection to the culture, but a disconnection from the truth.  In the end, Jews dressing the same, talking the talk, fitting in with those around them, becomes the priority.  Perfectionism becomes the name of the game: unless a Jew perfectly fits in with those around him, he’s not considered “frum”.

In other words, you may not realize it, but you’re actually killing the Jewish world.  You have an equal part in its destruction.  Not because of any fault of your own, but because you don’t realize that there is something beyond powerful happening.

But don’t be afraid, don’t be angry, don’t be worried.  Because that something, if you understand it well enough, is actually an amazing opportunity.

Our generation, this generation of weak baal teshuvas, need Judaism to be real in our hearts.  It needs to be alive and kicking and moving.  Now, that doesn’t mean it needs to just “feel good”.  No, it means that they need to not just kind-of-believe-to-keep-the-Jewish-race-going, like you are asking them to (This attitude, by the way, has been transferred to every part of Judaism, including Reform and Conservative, thanks to you).  No, they need to really believe.

In other words, the only way us baal teshuvas are going to survive in this world is if we accept how weak we are.  If we believe more than any other generation ever has.  Because if we don’t, there’s a world out there that makes a lot more sense to us.  A world that doesn’t require us to believe, and that will give us all the chocolate we’ll ever want.

The challenge we’re facing today is a challenge from the inside, not the outside.  Most of us weaklings will never survive unless we focus on making Judaism as real and alive in us as possible.  Telling us to suck it up and focus only on doing and ignoring the outside world is self-defeating.

Of course, I’m sure there will always be some FFBs in the world. I know plenty of them, went to yeshiva with some.  But most of us are the weaklings.

But don’t be sad.  Because us weaklings are the ones that are going to bring moshiach.  We’re the ones that are going to turn the world inside out.  Because Judaism will be so real in us, so strong in us, that the lovey world won’t be able to affect us.  It won’t be dangerous because we’ll believe more than anyone.

So, thank you FFBs for everything.  But now is also the time of the baal teshuva.  And as weak as we may be, if you work with us, you’ll realize that our weakness is actually our strength.  And that, if you stand aside and let it happen, we will be the realest Jews that ever existed.

  • Celeste Roche

    This is so incredibly perfect and wraps-up the sentiments I’ve felt as of late. Thank you.

  • gabi532

    Interesting perspective… every generation has its own challenges. During my last visit to the European continent, one can still see the scars of WW2…’Easy’ is not something I would use to describe your ethnic group.. Within the USA, it also depends on where one resides and visits…

  • Bentzy

    Elad, you’re cool.

  • Mendel Blau

    Well said. Very well written. That said, I was with you until the end of the article; telling the FFB “your time is over” is wrong.

    • You’re absolutely correct. Gonna change that this second.

      • Mendel Blau

        Thank you Elad. This article is making waves!

  • OK, I’ve read this three times now and I think I get it. You’re creating a distinction between people who follow Judaism by rote and those who have – or could have – a genuine passion for it and you call these groups FFBs and BTs even though, as you say, you aren’t using those terms in the traditional way. (I say all this because I want to
    be clear I’ve got this right before I go on, so let me know if I’ve misunderstood.)

    I agree with the bulk of your argument. I think passion about Judaism is important. I think there is a danger of frum culture becoming stifling and conformist, particularly in non-halakhic, sociological ways. One of my favourite quotes from the Kotzker rebbe is relevant here: “Someone who studies Torah and is not moved by it, who sins and forgives himself, who prays today because he prayed yesterday – a wicked person is better than him!” We have to be spontaneous in our mitzvah observance, we can’t just copy everyone else.

    What I feel uncomfortable with is your assertion that the ‘FFB’ “makes kabbalas ol his bread and butter” because I don’t think that is entirely true. To me, acceptance of the
    commandments (in the personal/motivational sense, rather than in terms of halakhic obligation) must be conscious. That is, after all, why we say the second paragraph of the Shema twice a day. So I don’t think the doing-it-by-rote FFB has that kind of commitment.

    On the other hand, I don’t think that commitment is absent from BTs, far from it, at least not among those who stay frum, but who don’t go in for (as you say) “forgetting what we feel, and what we think, and just focusing on sacrificing everything to keep our Jewishness.” I think it takes a huge commitment to Torah and Judaism to stay in a community where sometimes you feel uncomfortable. It takes a passion for the community’s stated shared goals (Torah u’mitzvot), even when you think it isn’t always living up to those goals. As you say, these people have the passion to turn the world – and the Jewish people – upside down.

    I think there is also a need for balance between the two groups, which I you recognized by altering the end of the post. There have to be stable, calm, perhaps even somewhat conformist people to balance the passionate rebels and to
    institutionalize the change that the rebels start. (“A zealot can not be a leader.” – that’s the Kotzker again.) This isn’t the age of the FFBs, but it isn’t the age of the BTs either. If we try hard enough, it can be the age of ALL Jews, the Jews who can collectively change the world for the better while keeping it stable enough that it doesn’t fall apart in the process.

    • Psh, wow, great comment, really appreciate you helping to flesh out this idea. And I think most of your comments are right. Great stuff.

  • Eliyahu Taylor

    Thank you so much for this. You must know that I make it my business to share your blog with every yid I meet. Keep releasing those sparks!!!!! 😉
    Eliyahu T.

  • Natan Shlomo Valadez

    B”HU
    This is a classic argument of the yetzer hara.
    Cited by The Chofetz Chaim, The Vilna Gaon, The Baal Hatanya, Reb Nachman, The Rambam, Ramban amongst many others.
    Yes this and that is great. But THIS GENERATION is too weak.
    Make way for the new. Christians said this, Sadducees, Hellenists, Reform, Reconstructionists, Conservative. Shabatai Tzvi. All said Moshiach is brought by “the nrw guys”. Well Pop Chasid if a Jew is not Frum yet then he is not yet a Baal Teshuvah. He is learning.
    Its not about “bringing Moshiach” its about SERVING HASHEM.
    Boruch HASHEM HA MELECH.
    AYN OD MILVADO.
    There is no other.
    Am Israel Chai…but only when its the tree of life.
    Torah.
    NOT Torah with philosophy. Dat.