On Respecting Chaya (And All Baal Teshuvas)

Chaya Kurtz’s article on xoJane, What Women’s Media Needs to Know about Chassidic Women, has taken off. 8,000 Facebook likes. 800 Comments. Damn.

Almost every Jewish friend I have on Facebook has shared this article. It’s made it’s way around the internet and for the most part, gotten a huge positive reaction from religious Jews, non-Jews, and secular Jews.

But of course, any time you say anything a lot of people agree with, and take a stand, there will be the inevitable backlash.

Surprisingly, it hasn’t been from secular Jews, and it hasn’t been from non-Jews (is it ever?).

No, it’s the religious Jews. Whether they’re still religious but have a lot of issues with the community, or completely “off the derech” these folks have come out of the woodwork to remind Chaya that really she is just a baal teshuva (a Chabad baal teshuva at that!) and thus is only speaking “subjectively” and doesn’t really know what she’s talking about.

Eli Fink, in his Fink or Swim blog, says to Chaya, “You were not born into orthodox Judaism. That means that you actually chose the life you live. That’s amazing and I am so happy for you that you arrived at what I believe to be the truth on your own. But the simple fact is that people who are born into orthodox Judaism don’t choose it. This means that they are stuck.”

The feeling I, and I imagine most baal teshuvas that read this line, is the usual reaction to when we like to say how passionate we are about Judaism, and the “experienced” “FFB” Jews pat us on the head, say, “Aaaaw that’s really cute” but then remind us we’re not actual Jews who have experience with the ups and downs of being born into a frum family. It stinks of self-righteousness, it’s patronizing and it’s disrespectful. Essentially, it attempts to invalidate anything she says about the religion she’s committed her life to.

Ironically, because of this attitude, Fink seems to have completely missed the point in the article where Chaya addressed this exact point when she says, “Poor Deborah Feldman got the short end of the stick. She got a dysfunctional family and a crummy school. But listen: That happens everywhere. How many (non-Jewish or secular Jewish) friends of yours come from dysfunctional families and crappy schools and just couldn’t wait to leave home? Did they represent your entire hometown?”

To be fair, to a certain degree, he has a point. Baal teshuvas have come into Judaism of our own choice. We have chosen our derech. We chose what community we’re going to live in. So, in a way, we had it easy.  And there’s no question there are societies within Judaism that have problems, and many of us have been lucky enough to avoid them.

On the other hand, we’ve also had an incredibly difficult time. We’ve had to adapt to a whole new culture. Change the our entire worldview. Adapt to a world that doesn’t necessarily want us or accept us completely. Struggle to gain influence in a world that is entrenched, that is stuck, in so many ways, in its own headspace. Get married at a young age, and have children at a young age, without the training of having grown up in a world that expected this of us.

A baal teshuva’s life consists of constantly having to make the decision you made years, months, weeks, days ago, over and over and over. It means that you have to really choose Judaism.

The problem and the lack that really exists when people choose to talk down to people like Chaya is that they are unaware that every Jew needs to be like this. Every Jew needs to make their decision to be a Jew at every moment in their lives.

Fink goes on to remind Chaya, “But the most difficult thing about your article is that it completely ignores that plain fact that in halacha, women can easily be perceived as second class citizens. This is an incontrovertible fact.”

He gives example after example of the parts of life women can’t be involved in, telling her, as if she hasn’t learned these halachas, as if she wasn’t aware of them when she wrote her piece, that they exist.

But the truth is Chaya knows this better than all the people who have come to criticize her over the past 24 hours. Did you forget that she was a Women’s Studies major? This ain’t a girl who takes her women’s rights lightly.

The fact that seems to bother all the religious Jews that have attacked her, is that Chaya simply doesn’t see it that way. She is clearly and defiantly making a stand, telling the world, in no uncertain terms, and in very stark language, that it is better for a Jewish woman to be religious (to be hareidi!) than to be secular. And, despite all these halachas Eli brings up, she makes the point that she isn’t a second class citizen.

This is what makes Chaya’s work special. It makes no apologies. It doesn’t need to explain itself and it doesn’t need to justify itself.

Why?

Because Chaya is expressing what it really means to be a Jew. While Eli and others are busy squeezing their hands nervously, worrying that the world got a simplistic version of Judaism, Chaya is standing up proudly, saying what Judaism really is. It’s a place where there are no second class citizens. Where people may have different roles, where the world is drastically different from the world that surrounds us, but no one is lower class, whether they are a man, women, Cohen, High Priest, Levite, child or leper, and everyone is holy in their own way.

The hardened and disillusioned will criticize that paragraph. They’ll say that it’s simply not true. They’ll, of course, forget that just because certain Jews and sects are missing the point, that some haven’t figured all this out yet, and that just because they haven’t found their own truth within Judaism that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

The truth is, it’s every Jew’s responsibility to be a baal teshuva. To be aware of all the shortcomings of Jewish culture while still maintaining an almost ridiculous idealism. Hashem himself constantly reminded us how off the mark we are, constantly told us, and tells us, how wrong we’re getting everything. We get it. But the point is to be aware of it and reach higher.

Chaya’s article was an attempt to reach higher. As a result, it’s become a Kiddush Hashem. Reaching an untold amount of people who never would have considered her viewpoint.  The fact that so many people posted about it so enthusiastically is a testament to the good she’s done.

Those who criticize, those who malign, those who attack and talk down to her, are doing the opposite.

Until the Jewish world truly accepts baal teshuvas, and not only accepts them, but respects and even looks up to them, it will never realize that it is each individual Jew’s job as well to be baal teshuvas. To choose their Judaism.

Chaya chose her Judaism, and look at the good she’s done. Now it’s our turn.

  • Comments were down but are now up and working again. Feel free to let loose.

  • DS

    One man’s kiddush hashem is another man’s lifnei eiver.

    “Essentially, it attempts to invalidate anything she says about the religion she’s committed her life to.”

    NO. It invalidates anything she says about the experience of others in haredi communities she has never been a part of. Would an agunah in New Square write this?

    “How many (non-Jewish or secular Jewish) friends of yours come from dysfunctional families and crappy schools and just couldn’t wait to leave home?”

    How many non-Jewish or secular Jewish friends of yours engage in gender segregation as a spiritual practice?How many non-Jewish or secular Jewish friends of yours get married to and pregnant by someone they just met when they’re 17? When it doesn’t work out, as it often doesn’t, how many non-Jewish or secular Jewish friends of yours need to go to an all-male religious court to get divorced? How many of your non-Jewish or secular Jewish friends get trapped by abusive husbands who refuse to give them a divorce, thus preventing them from remarrying and bearing children? How many non-Jewish or secular Jewish friends of yours worry that if they remarry without a religious divorce, they will become a pariah in their communities and their children can never be considered Jewish?

    “A baal teshuva’s life consists of constantly having to make the decision you made years, months, weeks, days ago, over and over and over. It means that you have to really choose Judaism.”

    A BT’s choice is between being frum or going back to being normal. If you decide to stop being frum, your family and friends will be relieved to have you back! You will easily navigate the familiar world around you. An FFB’s choice – especially a chassidah – is between being Jewish and losing everything and everyone you know and love and plunging yourself into a strange and unfamiliar world filled with people you were told your entire life were your enemies.

    People are dismissive of BTs because unless your frumming out destroyed your family, you don’t know from the weight of the Torah’s yoke.

    “Every Jew needs to make their decision to be a Jew at every moment in their lives.”

    When God held Sinai over am yisrael’s head, there was no choice. FFBs see the shadow of Sinai.

    “She is clearly and defiantly making a stand, telling the world, in no uncertain terms, and in very stark language, that it is better for a Jewish woman to be religious (to be hareidi!) than to be secular.”

    Fine, but can she do it without apologetics and misrepresenting the status of women in the ultra-Orthodox world of which she’s not really a part? Could she maybe have been upfront about being Chabad and being BT and maybe explain to readers that there’s a spectrum within Orthodoxy that is often unknown to outside observers, in which some Orthodox communities are progressive while others are in fact quite repressive towards women?

    “It’s a place where there are no second class citizens. Where people may have different roles, where the world is drastically different from the world that surrounds us, but no one is lower class, whether they are a man, women, Cohen, High Priest, Levite, child or leper, and everyone is holy in their own way.”

    This is total apologetics and nonsense. There is absolutely a caste system within Judaism and to deny it is to evade rather than confront and redeem the darker aspects of our heritage. To anyone who knows better, you are just regurgitating the propaganda of the kiruv industrial complex which has to rationalize illiberal practices justly considered cruel and irrational to sensible modern people in order to entice secular Jewish minds “warped” by modern liberal values. Try getting married in Israel.

    “Just because certain Jews and sects are missing the point, that some haven’t figured all this out yet, and that just because they haven’t found their own truth within Judaism that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”

    That’s completely besides THE point. The point isn’t that Jewish spirituality sucks or that you can’t make something good for yourself out of it, the point is that the haredi establishment is completely effed up and has been for ages, and people like you and Chaya are helping cover up for them by attacking their critics, because to accept how completely fakakt the frum world really is would mean having to reevaluate your decision to be frum.

    • Daniel

      Well put.

    • Daniela

      Whoa. That was way harsh.
      Seriously though, I get that you’re angry. What exactly was your goal here? To convince the author to give up his lifestyle? To defend the plight of the FFB? I thought your comment about an agunah’s perspective was interesting, and I really would like to hear that voice. But you pretty much lost me with your assumptions about the life of a BT. Because not all BTs have the same story about how they ended up where they did. Some of our families are supportive and loving (disclaimer: I’m BT, and my parents are happy and awesome and it didn’t “destroy my family” when I made the choices that I did).
      Also- please don’t say my life is “fakakt” when neither Chaya nor the PopChassid have said anything like that about the “normal” secular life (“normal” is your word, not mine)

    • InsiderNYC

      Very accurate and to the point. Well articulated with a clear demonstration of Chassidic life and Kiruv practices.

    • sarah baila

      dude, you’ve got some serious issues

  • Gershon

    Well said. As a BT that is married to a “third wave feminist” I can tell you that she studies the halacha very closely and knows as much or more than any FFB that takes their Judasim for granted.

    The comment that Fink makes seems to be that the “perception” is the key issue, which is a very common complaint. Our shul seats women away from the men and we, including the women, are proud of that fact.

    Odd bit of Torah: the concept of “Equality” is only mentioned once that I can find in Torah and that is in Parshah Korach. Korach and his rebellious followers feel that Hashem’s way of establishing a Kohen Gadol is incorrect because it goes against the “equality” of all those that are deemed holy. What Korach misses is that every Jew is equal in Hashem’s eyes but has a different mission. Women are different and have a different mission from men. The Kohanim have a different mission from the Levite, etc.

    While we read Pirke Avot this time of year, focus on Chapter five for a minute when chazal tell us that there are many arguments made l’shaim shamayim (for the sake of heaven.) Which argument is specifically singled out as NOT for the sake of heaven: That of Korach and his rebels.

    • Gershon

      I can assure you that my comment of “Well Said” was to the original post and not in any way to the comment above mine, Chas V’Shalom.

      To that commenter “DS” : Your vision of the Jewish world as being somehow a caste system is completely flawed. Every Jew that is on the derech is attempting to get closer to G-d, who is infinite. The fact that all of us, irrespective of whether we are called to the Torah first or third or were born with a glott kosher spoon in our mouths or not, are finite and, with respect to the Infinite, are on the same level.

      I’m sorry you perceive such negativity and islands within Judaism. Frankly, I think it means we won’t merit Moshiach for a while longer.

      One final note: On an objective level, it’s really easy to understand your point as it would be obvious to anyone that first walks into a shul. Do you understand, at least objectively, the other side of your argument?

  • Myriam

    I’ve read the article and the comments for that particular article written by Chaya. I don’t think that most of the commentators who said that she was a Baal Teshuva meant it in a derogatory or negative matter. In fact, most people who had trouble with the article didn’t even mention this. The problem was that she used her opinion as a representative of those of all Hassidic women. Had she written about her experiences, it would have been fine, but people were mainly upset that she said “we” and “us” as if her happiness represented the contentment of ALL hassidic women. Likewise, those comments that said that she must be “chabad” were just pointing out that Chabad Hassidic communities value secular education and outreach much more than other Hassidic communities might. So perhaps this article is written in a similar fashion as Chaya’s article, with too much assumption and not enough research.

    • Myriam:

      1. I agree that most people tried not to seem too derogatory, as was the case with R Fink’s article. However, as a baal teshuva who has experienced plenty of this, “Well, you’re just a BT so what do you know?” attitude, I can promise you, whether they mean to or not, it is derogatory and negative.

      2. She wasn’t trying to represent all Jewish or Hassidic women. Ask her yourself. She even said it, as I pointed out, in her own article. Most people that read the article assumed as much. It was only people with an ax to grind that chose to make this accusation. It’s an incorrect assumption.

      3. The problem with bringing up the whole Chabad thing is that when one does it assumes that Chaya wasn’t aware of this when she wrote her piece. And it assumes she hasn’t had any contact with other chareidim. She deserves a little bit more than that, in my opinion.

  • DS

    Yes, women are different and have a different mission from men: Their mission is to serve us. And if you argue otherwise, it’s for your own ego and not for the sake of heaven.

    http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2012/05/haredi-dolls-567.html

    • I can’t believe someone actually linked to FailedMessiah on here.

  • DS

    “Every Jew that is on the derech is attempting to get closer to G-d, who is infinite. The fact that all of us, irrespective of whether we are called to the Torah first or third or were born with a glott kosher spoon in our mouths or not, are finite and, with respect to the Infinite, are on the same level.”

    Great, I agree wholeheartedly! Now try getting a shidduch in New Square. We may be equal in the eyes of God, but in the eyes of the rabbanut? Now, if you’re Lubavitch you’re not even a Jew.

    http://www.crownheights.info/index.php?itemid=43612

    I don’t perceive such negativity, I’ve witnessed it my entire life.

    And yeah, I get the other side of the argument. The problem is, you’re defending a romanticized ideal that doesn’t actually and never actually existed.

    • DS:

      I am sorry you experienced negativity. Honestly, I am. I have experienced plenty as well, and I’m not attempting to whitewash any of it.

      The problem is seperating the Jews from the Judaism. If you hate Judaism just because of your negative experiences, I’m sorry, but that’s not a legitimate argument against the entire religion.

      As for your link, that Rav later apologized (kind of) for his words. Don’t worry, we’re all Jews.

  • Gershon

    DS – Women are here to serve men?? Please give me a source in Torah because I haven’t seen that. If you’re going to use the story of Adam haRishon, I’ll ask you to spare all of us.

    I may be a romanticizing idealist but you, sir, are the polar opposite side of the coin. I argue l’shaim Shamayim that women are here to fulfill Hashem’s expectations of them, not some Man to whom they are married, unless in furtherance of Hashem’s will.

    When I doven Shelo Asani Isha, I’m thanking Hashem for entrusting me with the yoke of the mitzvot.

    When you doven Shelo Asani Isha, you’re thanking Hashem that you weren’t made a woman, subservient to a man. Those images of the alternative must be distracting to your kavana.

    • Jon

      Uh read the Rambam, who obligates a woman to wash her husband’s feet, among other things. 

      • Rambam put that there in a time when EVERYONE lived like that- not just Jews- and I am sure it was not for servitude reasons but rather something more along the line of his feet smelling so bad after a day at work that if she didn’t wash them it would cause serious shalom bayis issues. 

        • ahg

           The man doesn’t have any responsibility for Shalom Bayis?  He couldn’t have washed his feet on his own when he came home?  

          Your point about that being said in time when everyone lived like that and I’ll add thought like that is very well taken.  You are suggesting that the halacha has to be read in the context of the time it was written in.  And, that’s exactly the argument that those to left use when discussing concepts such as Kavod HaTzibur.

        • Jon

          You can be sure as you want about the Rambam putting that there for one reason or another, but you’re wrong. Read the rest of the section, it’s all about a woman’s subservience to her husband. How about a man should not let his wife out of the house more than twice a month, and once a week maximum? Yeah I suppose that’s also about shalom bayis. And that’s aside from explicit statements from the Rambam that a woman’s job is to serve her husband. 

          Bottom line: there are many many mainstream Torah sources that explicitly state that a woman’s role is to serve her husband. Hence, the answer to Gershon’s question. 

        • Tuvia

          Sarah, do you mean this tongue in cheek??

    • ahg

       ” If you’re going to use the story of Adam haRishon, I’ll ask you to spare all of us.”

      Why?  It’s one of the first portions children learn when they start learning Torah at about 6 years old.   The nuances and finer explanations, the children are not yet ready for.  They see it at face value and it leaves an impression.

      אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר, הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ
      וְהֵרֹנֵךְ–בְּעֶצֶב, תֵּלְדִי בָנִים; וְאֶל-אִישֵׁךְ, תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ,
      וְהוּא, יִמְשָׁל-בָּךְ.
      “Unto the woman He said: ‘I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy
      travail; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall
      be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.'”

      I understand Rashi’s explanation.  I know that in practice that has not been the case in any healthy marriage in modern times.  But, it inculcates girls for what follows – Learning that her husband can annul her vows, if she stays home to raise kids – the marital property all belongs to her husband, and if things go wrong then divorce is at her husband’s free will. 

      Sure for decent folks in the modern world, real life doesn’t actually follow these tenants.   A man is never required to disrespect his wife and void her commitments, or not give her access to the checkbook, and if he did, it would likely end in divorce, where he may choose to not take advantage of the upper-hand given to him as the man.  But, to deny that this inequality is there is just dishonest.  To ascribe it to the differences in “roles” just like the distinct roles of kohanim and leviim is to oversimplify the situation.  

    •  This kind of blatant distortion (lying) is typical of all religious laws people have a problem with. The brachos go: “Thank you God that Im not a woman”. And “Thank you God who has made me according to his will.” You say ‘thank God Im not a woman’ really means something not pashut at all, ie, thank you for giving me more mitzvos, and then you say that pashut and twisted are both equally valid readings of the text. No, they are both equally valid as personal opinions, not as teiching up a simple Hebrew sentence.

      It reminds me of how liberal Muslims explain the Koran’s teaching of how often you should beat your wife as “metaphorical beatings”. My ass. The words say beat your wife, and plenty of people follow just that. And you know who is to blame for that? Not the people that follow it, but the religion that teaches it. The religion that dictates to you ALL MORALS  and says that you should not add or detract from anything in the book, and that teaches it’s adherents that outside forces are treif.

      I wonder what the Torah has to say about lying. Maybe it’s ok to just tell a white lie. MIshlei 6:16 “There are six things which the LORD hateth, yea, seven which are an abomination unto Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood;”

      Darn, looks like that’s on the hateth and abomination list. Too bad.

  • DS

    Who said anything about hating Judaism or negating the entire religion? I’m an opponent of religious extremism. I question unquestioning frumkeit. But I am a devout lover of yiddishkeit. I don’t like letting frum people get away with spouting off non-answers that enable them to evade confronting genuine problems that require their attention. Please, be an eved hashem. Just don’t be an eved of corrupt rabbis who protect abusers of women and children from prosecution in order to conceal their own fallibility.

    • Then we aren’t disagreeing about anything. No one here is denying the problems. The question is if we need to attack someone and throw them under the bus just because we ourselves haven’t had the same experience. I hear what you’re saying, the Jewish world has issues. One nice thing about the Asifa is that is forcing us to confront them. But that doesn’t mean Chaya or myself are claiming we don’t have a different experience than the people who have had these difficulties. The question is how to address them and whether we should be attacking a person that really put herself on the line to spread some good, instead of all the negativity that’s been floating around. We should be allowed to feel good about our own Judaism, even if we acknowledge others’ difficulties.

      • DS

        “We should be allowed to feel good about our own Judaism, even if we acknowledge others’ difficulties.”

        At a time when the community is suffering, no one should say, “I will go home, eat, drink, and be at peace with myself.” –Ta’anit 11a

  • DS

    Gershon, what does it mean to be an akeret habayit? A woman’s role is to serve her husband and her family. Only when she has fulfilled her familial obligations may she entertain “nonobligatory” pursuits like… learning. How convenient that the all-male rabbinate from which women are excluded understands that the way a woman fulfills Hashem’s expectations is by cooking, cleaning and cranking out babies! Clearly it is because I am not oriented in my soul to see the kedusha in this arrangement that I take issue with this.

    • flameofjudah

      You are a scorner and a scoffer. You travel the web to drop your negativity like rain.. You should resolve the issue you have with authority and stop pretending you love judaism. Women should not be rabbis. You are always talking about the Rishonim— point out one who was a female and a rabbi…If you take umbrage with women carrying out their traditional roles — G-d given roles I might add then maybe Reform Judaism is more up you alley.

    • Mom BH

      Read what a man’s role is in the bais hamikdosh_ cooking and cleaning aaaaand they consider it a privledge_ btw the best thing i ever did is having my kids_ men only wish they could _ the same people who use the term “cranking out babies” often spend gads of money on their designer pets

    • Sorry, but woman don’t have an obligation to have children from the Torah. If a woman married a man who thinks that way then either her parents are being horrible or this is the life that she wants for herself.

      • ahg

         Sarah, you can try and skew it whatever way you want, but in the very right-wing world that shuns all forms of birth control – what are the woman’s options?  Withhold sex until menopausal?   Barring any reproductive issues, in healthy marriage the chareidi women are pretty much destined to spend many years cranking out babies regardless of who the actual mitzvah to procreate falls upon.

  • Ze’ev

    How timely for Shavuor when we will all IY’H be choosif Judaism once again. May Hashem be moved by our choice and commitment enough to send us Moshiach!

  • A baal teshuva stands where a tzadik could never stand.
    GREAT ARTICLE ELAD!

    • Thanks 🙂

    • YehoshuaFriedman

      That is an iconic statement, but we just learned in the daf yomi in Brachos that it is a machlokes. Talk about thinking.

  • EladNehorai

    For all the people who have previously commented, I’ve changed my comment system, so it might take a bit of time for yours to reappear.  Tell me if you prefer this system.

  • Sam

    “but then remind us we’re not actual Jews who have experience with the ups and downs of BEING A BORN JEW”. – Careful now… “Being born into a frum family” probably sounds better.

  • Uri

    Dan is right, Elad just let it go. 🙂 jk.

  • Yak Fatzko

    First: The original article is great – although obviously just a little spark with so much behind it. But the main thrust is wonderful.

    Second: Fink is arguing from the perspective Chaya is addressing. He states things as “incontrovertible fact” without any context. “Perceptions” of second class citizenship from a secular paradigm are exactly that. Chaya’s point was that the paradigm is incorrect and woefully incomplete.

    Third: The plural is: “Ba’alei Teshuva” or “Ba’alos Teshuva (if a group of females) NOT “Ba’al Teshuvas”

    Thank you.

  • mimi

    ” The problem and the lack that really exists when people choose to talk down to people like Chaya is that they are unaware that every Jew needs to be like this. Every Jew needs to make their decision to be a Jew at every moment in their lives.” 
    Many Jews, including me, disagree strongly with this sentiment. Also, I find it patronizing, but I applaud you exercising your right to talk down to an entire group of people even while criticizing others for doing the same. 

    • EladNehorai

      I could understand why, if you disagreed with this sentiment, you would find it patronizing.  Most people who agree with it don’t.  And by the way, that wasn’t MY point, that’s just a basic fact related in almost every corner of Orthodox Judaism.

  • elisheva

    So here’s the thing: Chaya’s entitled to her rose-coloured glasses. I think part of the backlash (and I’ve heard backlash from converts, BT, and FFB alike) is that eventually you have to take the glasses off (or the colour fades or whatever) and really see some of the flaws that exist in every community. Flaws are what make us human and no community is devoid of them. The Orthodox world is as flawed as any other – and the Orthodox world has its own apologetics to cover those flaws. This is the nature of every community. And, whether the more chareidi world wants to admit it, women ARE still second class citizens in most places, whether or not they are happy with their roles. 

    • EladNehorai

      I agree 100% that at a certain point a Jew, and especially a baal teshuva, needs to face up to the fact that the world is not perfect.  That’s one of the huge things that drives me a bit crazy about programs like Discovery and other “rose-coloured” propaganda machines.  No question.

      On the other hand, I don’t think that Chaya was speaking in a rose-coloured way.  She was simply trying to make a point, a positive point, about the role of Chassidic Jewish women in the modern world.  Considering all the negativity foisted upon them, I think she deserves to be heard out.  Not every woman feels like Deborah Feldman, and they deserve a stage.  Much moreso than she does, by the way.

      But the most important point, I think, is that there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the flaws, as long as you don’t forget the ideals.  The problem is that so many people get so caught up in reminding everyone that there are problems that they forget the very reason they are religious: They BELIEVE in it.  Yes, there are problems, but that doesn’t change the fact that for Chaya (and MANY other women, as you can see from the comments and huge praise her piece got) feels an immense amount of satisfaction from being a part of  the faith.  And this NEEDS to be heard.

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  • Deusaquilus

    Being a Baal-Teshuva is an individualistic experience where you gain the courage to question and ultimately leave the cardboard-box existence pulled over your eyes but your surroundings. It requires that you leave something behind to enter into something new of your own volition. The sad fact is that most who grow up if religious communities are pressured to never even think about leaving the cardboard-box and discover their own authentic Judaism. The truth is “in here”… you can only comprehend it if you step outside… but don’t you dare do it!

    • I am an FFB and I made the choice to remain religious. The fact that you CHOSE not to think is up to you. Plenty of kids these days- of all chassidic sects- leave the derech in order to ‘think’ and as time has shown, this sort of thinking should not be encouraged. If you want to think and make your own choices than the only thing holding you back is you.

  • misled

    Chaya’s intention was to point out that “Chassidic women” are not at all imprisoned.  Her proof was that she is chassidic and not imprisoned.  The flaw that Rabbi Fink points out is mainly that she is of the Chabad chassidic sect and cannot at all represent the majority of chassidic women (ger, sk’ver,etc) who live entirely different lifestyles.  Fink was not at all deprecating or patronizing Chaya as a ba’a’at teshuva.  He is merely (and correctly) saying that her experience does not reflect the mainstream chassidism which is riddled with misogamy.  I personally felt misled from Chaya’s rant when I found out she was indeed not Chassidic (mainstream) but a Chabad ba’alat teshuva and thinks she understands chassidic sociology.

  • Jon

    You know what? I’m sick and tired of BT’s whining about how marginalized they are. Guess what? There are plenty of FFB’s who feel marginalized too. And yet, somehow, feeling marginalized doesn’t give us the right to spout complete lies as though they’re true. You want to say Chaya represented Judaism the way it’s supposed to be practiced? Well that’s nice, but guess what? IT SIMPLY IS NOT PRACTICED LIKE THAT. Chaya claimed that it was – among other things, not that women should, ideally, be able to leave their communities whenever they want, but that THEY ARE ABLE TO LEAVE THEIR COMMUNITIES WHENEVER THEY WANT. THAT IS NOT THE CASE. That means what she said was not true, as Rabbi Fink, and everyone else criticizing, noted. I’m sorry, but if the distinction between truth and lies “stinks of condescension” on the part of FFB’s, deal with it. 

    • EladNehorai

      Yes, it stinks of condescension, as does your comment.  I have no interest in replying to such hatred on my blog.  Go away.

  • Adele

    The thing is, Chaya didn’t really address the issue. She dismissed it by saying, “poor Deborah.” What about all the other dysfunction that exists but is swept under the rug because of shiduch prospects?  (We can’t let it be known that we see therapists or take anti-depressants.) What about all the other girls who went to those crummy schools? How many other crummy schools are there out there just like that one? Hundreds leave the Hasidic community every year and 70% of those who leave Orthodox Judaism have been abused. Feldman’s case in NOT an anomaly as Chaya made it seem. I think Fink simply meant to point out how Chaya is not qualified to represent a community in which she does not reside. I am a BT and did not feel slighted or offended by Fink in the least. I found Chaya’s article dismissive, sensational and apologetic. 

    • It would seem to me that you are choosing to label Chaya’s article as false and the Jewish community misrepresented because you have decided that she has not accounted for all of the shmutz hanging around the religious community. I can understand that, but I also think that if you would recognize that Chaya was not trying to box the religious community, but rather share her own personal experience within her life and her community then you would realize the point of the article. 
      It was not to downplay or dismiss the issues- she did not focus on that aspect at all- it was to explain some issues that with some clarification would be seen by the world to not be as dramatically old-fashioned and torturous as Deborah made them out to be. 
      That said, if you wish to focus on what is not there as opposed to the good that is there, then I completely understand your view point.  

      • Jon

        Her personal experience has NOTHING to do with the personal experience of THOSE SHE’S CLAIMING TO SPEAK FOR. If that’s not distortion, I don’t know what is.

    • Zalman A Bocher

      I agree with the substance of your post. Do you have a source for the 70% statistic?

      • Adele

        I used Judy Brown as a source. I believe her to be a credible source because she has done her research and is qualified to speak on the topic. I don’t know where she obtained that statistic but I am sure she would be happy to let us know if we contact her. I’m curious myself but know that she does much activist and advocacy work. She actually spoke in Chicago last summer alongside the Av Bais Din of Chicago and various social workers. The event was to inform the community on speaking out against abuse. This is a review of the event in which Brown stated this statistic: 
        http://haemtza.blogspot.com/2011/11/sex-abuse-unanswered-questions.html  

  • There simply isn’t one correct answer or statement that can acceptably encompass the reality of every Jew.  And that is because “my” place in Torah cannot be understood or internalized by anyone but “me.”  Every one of us is here on a unique soul-mission given directly by Hashem.  We are traveling on a multitude of paths that are each valid.  Chaya wrote from her passion and from her place, and in that sense it is fundamentally valid.

    • EladNehorai

      What an amazing response.  Can we just leave it at that?

  • well said my friend. and i hope that my fellow ‘FFB’ friends read this so we can learn not to be so judgemental. that said i am the child of ba’alei teshuva so maybe i also can’t comment? 

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  • mouskatel

    People who point out that she’s a baal teshuva are not putting her down. They are pointing out that she made a personal choice to be chassidic and that choice puts her into a completely different category from someone born into it and devoid of other life choice and therefore feeling a bit more stifled by the charedi lifestyle. She got to go to college, have a career, experience other aspect of life that someone born in Borough Park or Geula can’t experience. Can you not see the difference? Sorry, this has nothing to do with putting down BT’s, although that does exist, it’s a tangent to the main discussion that the charedi lifestyle is oppressive for both men and women. 

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  • Myshub

    Great article thanks for writing, also beautiful pics

  • bklyngrl

    A long time ago a friend of mine was asked if he was “ffb” or “bt” he responded that he was “btfb” baal tshuvah from birth- how profound- it is in each Jew to search to connect to reconnect and reform our relationship with Gd.

  • Rachel Stern

    I am a “BT”, “baalat teshuvah” to be more specific (genderizing the term).  

    To be sure, I have definitely faced condescension at times in the religious community.  Even in my marriage to a “ffb” – if I expressed an opinion or offered what I had learned, and it ran contrary to HIS way of thinking, he would dismiss it because, after all, I did not have a “Yeshiva” education.  And yes, I DID try to educated him about how wrong he was to do that.  And yes, he DID try, but many times he was really just unaware of what he was doing.  For the sake of Shalom Bayit, I kept my mouth shut.  Then one day one of our “milchig” glasses was washed in the “fleishig” dishwasher.  He went to the Rabbi of our shul to ask what to do.  And the Rabbi told him, “but glass is pareve”.  He came back home in awe — why?  Because when we first got married that is what I told him.  But his parents had always kept them separate and he thought it was halacha.  I would like to say that experience “cured” him — but old habits die hard.  

    However, with regard to Chaya: I DO agree that her article was somewhat misleading.  I believe she should have disclosed the fact that she is a ba’alat teshuvah and not born into a religous family.  It does make a HUGE difference in one’s experience and outlook.  Additionally, the “brand” of Judaism in which she now lives is Chabad/Lubavitch.  While they have adopted many of the outward signs of Chasidut, and they do live lives of more machmir observance than many modern orthodox (in SOME respects but not all — and this IS a generalization), they are not truly Chasidish.  Chabad is far more entrenched in the real, modern world than other Chassidic sects are. Chabad has a presence on the internet!!! A HUGE presence. That alone is sets them apart from the rest.  And they “proselytize” – albeit only to Jews.  We call it “kiruv”.  

    On the one hand they have brought many Jews into the fold.  Not all remain Chabad, many move into more mainstream orthodox observance. On the other hand they have brought a major issue to the fore that has caused separation of them from us:  the contention that the Rebbe is Moshiach. Therefore there are three huge differences: modernity, kiruv as a major part of their devotion, and Rebbe is Moshiach.  

    Chaya’s experience, therefore, is NOT in anyway indicative of the experience of all or even most women within religious Judaism — and should not be portrayed in that way.  It is a disservice to those who come from dysfunctional families, who are not given support to be free of abuse, be it emotional, verbal, or physical.  To portray ALL women who are religious Jews as “happy to be religous” is to invalidate those who are not.  

    We must be aware that the range of experience is wide and varied and not all good, and not all bad.  We are human, just like others who live on the same planet as we do…

  • Meira Cochava

    This article is so, so needed right now.  You’re just bringing the kedusha into the world.

  • Honestly I can’t help but feel that this is whole to-do in the orthodox world (of which I am a part, BT represent woot woot*ahem) would be so easily ended if the complainers would realize that it is actually thier choice and they are the problem as much as the people they consider to be “holding them back” or however you feel. In a nutshell: you can choose your derech. if you are pretending and getting angry about it well….? You don’t need to let the anger build until you go off. You need to choose your derech and go with it, yes your parents have a derech and have chosen it but a Torah life is a Torah derech. I have a friend who has 7 brothers all grown and married and each choose a different chassidut, none of them the same as the father’s! Some wear a strimal some don’t (father doesn’t) they are all totally Torah observant and one big happy family. Its called ahavat yisroel. 

  • a comment on finding out she isn’t ultra-super-orthodox hassidic and BT. She should have stated where she’s coming from. I read her article and its kinda obvious. FFB’s who speak primarily yiddish don’t write things and post them on the internet or use words like “effin”. duh. Now the trick is to find a woman like that. I have often wondered this, is there really no yiddish speaking woman who can help accomplish this?

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  • disqus_IZzTVRozT6

    the whole point is that just because you were born into it Judaism doesnt mean you are locked into it. while you may feel pressured, its always your choice (Baalei Teshuva) every day to stay that way. we are all different. we cant all have experienced everything everyone else has. nor can we go around and nit pick and not use general phrases like ‘we and us’ to make sure no one feels wrongly included and offended. she means ‘we’ not only in those that think like her, but also in the hope that you can understand her – that even if you are different you allow your common religion to UNITE you, not let sects and variations DESTROY you and the very meaning you all live for.

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  • Flavor Lounge

    Rabbi Fink is an Ortho-lib from the People’s Republic of Santa Monica. I think he was simply trying to be nice.I don’t agree with anything he says but I think you are misreading his intent which was kindness. He was not looking down.

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