Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall…..

By Little Frumhouse on the Prairie

Dixie Yid wrote an interesting post entitled, Where to Focus When Adults Go Off the Derech. The post was in response to Harry Maryles, who wrote about a few men who went off the derech. One of the men was a Talmud Chacham who lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Despite being a respected scholar and authoring several seforim, he recently went off the derech and is no longer religious. Both Dixie Yid and Rabbi Maryles presented their arguments for why adults go off the derech.

Dixie Yid feels that certain negative personality types – the glass is always half empty – are prone to this type of disengagement. This negative tendency not only splinters their relationship with the Jewish community, but also with family, friends, coworkers and any other relationship that requires compromise, patience, and being dan l’chaf zchus.

Rabbi Maryles feels that the frum community is at fault when an adult goes off the derech. He touched on the issue of poverty in the frum community as being an issue that can challenge faith. When the Ramat Beit Shemesh Talmud Chacham was desperate to feed his family, the only advice he was offered was to sweep doorsteps to earn a few shekels. Another man was consumed with loneliness, and took no pleasure in Shabbos or Yom Tov without a family to share it with. His isolation was so great that he felt he would get more satisfaction and concrete results from working on Shabbos and Yom Tov than simply sitting in shul and davening for parnassah.

Rabbi Maryles feels that when a frum person reaches out to leaders/teachers/community members with questions or statements that can indicate a growing lapse of faith, instead of being taken under wing, leaders/teachers/community members chastise the person or attempt to silence them. A person who asks such questions could be a bad influence on impressionable people within the community. Better to have that “bad apple” go off the derech instead of taking the risk that they might rot the whole bushel. In a way the sacrifice can be seen as pekuach nefesh – sacrificing the unbelieving rodef for the good of maintaining the believers. Whether this is an acknowledged systematic approach or simply the inability of the frum community to deal with the questions that arise from a crisis of faith, the result is the same.

Both Dixie Yid and Rabbi Maryles raise interesting arguments on where to point the blame when a frum yid goes off the derech. I think that their theories apply to those who are frum from birth, but I think that the baal teshuvah (BT) angle differs. Of course, personality type, poverty, and community support or lack thereof, can also have a tremendous effect on whether a BT stays committed to yiddishkeit. However, sometimes none of these things determine someone leaving the fold.

As a BT myself, and as someone who has known quite a few BT’s who have both “stayed the course” as well as those who left the frum lifestyle, I offer a different perspective. Obviously, this is just one type of perspective. The illustration I offer below is a generic compilation of experiences from some of the BT’s I have known who decided frumkeit was not for them. While some people turn to yiddishkeit precisely because their origins were abusive or unsatisfying, I am offering the viewpoint of the opposite.

Picture growing up as a non-frum Jewish girl.

You live with your mom and dad, and frequently see your grandparents and extended family. You have 0-3 siblings, live in a fairly spacious home with a two car garage, an expansive yard, and possibly have a canine member of the family. You live in a nice suburb with a great safety record and an amazing school system that gets top ratings nationwide. There is a large population of Reform and Conservative Jews in your area, and your family belongs to the more religious sector because they belong to the Conservative synagogue, avoid bread on Pesach, fast on Yom Kippur, and light Shabbat candles every Friday night before going out to dinner.

Every year your family takes at least two vacations – one to a warm spot in the winter, and one to a family fun destination in the summer. You grow up listening to all types of music; go to concerts; go to plays; participate in dance/drama/gymnastics and a host of sports – some coed and some all girls; attend school dances; and have your first steady boyfriend by 7th grade.

You can’t think of summer without remembering the smell of Coppertone Suntan Lotion, bathing suits matted with sand, flip flops, cut off shorts, and tank tops. You fondly remember “Shabbos walks” at Camp Moshava with your summer “boyfriend.” You remember taking dance lessons to be ready for basic ballroom dance steps with an opposite sex partner at your classmates’ upcoming bar/bat mitzvahs. You remember your dressy gown with short cap sleeves and your first shoes with heels at your own bat mitzvah when you were 13.

Gradually over the next few years a light gets turned on. You might have been invited by a friend to attend an NCSY event. Perhaps you went through high school in blissful ignorance until your shul rabbi or a JUF representative informed you about the Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel where you met some amazing frum people. Perhaps you went away to college and hooked up with Hillel or Chabad. Maybe a Jewish professor or college counselor encouraged you to do a year abroad at Neve or a similar seminary in Israel because it would look awesome on your grad school Curriculum Vitae.

Once the light turned on, you were on a roll. You were learning, you were networking, and you were shopping for new frum but fab clothing. You were learning about keeping kosher while putting your own unique spin on it – maybe some type of new-fangled Atkins/South Beach/Vegan Kosher diet. After all, just because we aspire to be a baleboosteh, doesn’t mean we have to look like one!

Once you were given the green light to date by your Rav/Mashpia, finding your bashert was almost a full time enterprise. Your parents were not involved in the decision except in a peripheral way. After all, how would they know how to look for a frum husband? No, endless heart-to-hearts with your BT girlfriends in the same parsha, and frantic phone calls at all hours to your Rav/Mashpia would get you through this trying challenge.

With Hashem’s help, you found your man. You might have lived in Israel the first year or so of marriage so your husband could learn, or you might have moved back to your hometown upon marrying. Either way, the next step was children. They might have come along quickly and easily or there might have been many challenges along the way. Those challenges might have caused you to first question your faith, or those challenges might have strengthened your faith. With children, or lack thereof, there came a new stage of life. One in which you played the supporting role, and the children and/or husband the main characters.

With your new responsibilities came stress. You have no intimate role model for how to handle large family life. Your mom did laundry once a week and no one ever ran out of socks or underwear. You can’t imagine ever catching up on the avalanche of laundry and you sometimes are reduced to (behind your husband’s back) purchasing new socks or underwear because you haven’t washed the ones you own! Your childhood neighborhood had a free school bus program to tote you back and forth from home to school. Your state doesn’t provide transportation for private schools, therefore you must be available to drive several carpool trips per day for your kids, all of whom have different schedules. Your mother only had to cook for a few people, you have a houseful – whether your own brood or guests. Your childhood family ate out at restaurants quite often. Keeping kosher, eating out is too expensive and there aren’t enough choices to make it a regular option. You must cook the majority of your meals. Your mother hosted dinner parties at Thanksgiving, Rosh Hashanah, and Chanukah. She had most of the items catered. You host the equivalent of a large dinner party each Shabbos and Yom Tov and make most of the items from scratch. Unlike when you were a newlywed, as your family grows larger, the invitations to eat out grow smaller.

You occasionally meet siblings, childhood friends, or cousins at a kosher restaurant for reunions. They marvel at the large van you drive, when they are all in smaller SUVs or sedans with their husbands and 2 kids. You and your husband make a higher income than they do, but you live paycheck to paycheck, while they have money to spare. They live in big homes and nice neighborhoods, while you are renting a two-flat and can’t even think about buying a small Georgian with a postage-stamp sized yard in your overly-inflated-priced frum neighborhood. They talk with concern about saving for future college tuitions, currently enjoying the benefits of a free grammar and high school education in their upscale communities. You can’t even imagine putting money aside for college as you scrape together the monthly tuition bill for day school. Your family reminisces about the old days and the fun times you all had. They ask if you are hot in your long sleeves, long skirt, and scarf/wig/snood as they fan themselves with paper napkins and insist they are boiling in their t-shirts, shorts, sandals, and hair pulled back into a ponytail the way you used to wear it.

Your parents worry about you. They help out when they can, but they are empty nesters. In their world, grandparents visit their grandkids and their kids at the same time. They are too old to babysit so many little ones. Financially, they give checks on birthdays and anniversaries. However, they raised you to be an independent adult, and expect you not to disappoint them. After all, they now live on social security and a finite pension. They only planned their financial future considering their own retirement needs, not the financial needs of your family.

Every day that passes feels harder. You need to relieve the burden from your shoulders, but so many people are counting on you. You decide to stop doing certain things that you find difficult that will only affect you. No one needs to know. The first day you don’t wash negel vasser. It saves you a few seconds, but you feel better. You took control. That night you fall exhausted into your bed without saying shema. You wake up the next morning, same as usual. That wasn’t so bad! You start skipping other things, like al natilas yedaim, making brachos on food, bentching. Little things that no one notices. Maybe you start uncovering your hair at home if you used to cover all the time, maybe you start wearing pants around the house, or not being so careful about kashrut when you aren’t at home. The little things add up, and gradually, you are now blaming the source of your unhappiness on being frum.

You are frum and you are unhappy. When you weren’t frum you were happy. You have frum friends and you know that they are unhappy. You have non-frum friends/relatives and they seem happy. Never mind that before you were frum you were young and single with no kids or responsibilities. Never mind that you haven’t had anything but a surface conversation with your sister in 10 years, while you and your frum best friend speak every day and she feels close enough to confide her troubles. Nevertheless, the issue becomes simple in your mind. If you stop being frum you will become happy again.

So, does becoming frei make such a person happy? I can’t say, because of the BT friends I knew who went off the derech, most of them have left and not retained ties. Can the community reach out to such a person? Of course. Would it work? It couldn’t hurt. However, sometimes the societal norms and expectations we were brought up with, affect us in ways we don’t expect as life goes on. Most kiruv efforts concentrate on bringing newcomers to frumkeit. The real challenge is further down the line when a person is thought to be cemented in the observant lifestyle. Call it a mid-life crisis, a crisis-of-faith, or simply call it a phenomenon in our community that is only going to grow as the BT population does.

46 comments on “Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall…..

  1. could it be that, upon further reflection, once the “frum fireworks” of shabbos food, nice chasunahs, nice people, etc, die down, that the person then took an objective look at the religion, and decided that it just wasnt for him, or her?-it is not always “what couldve been done-said differently-maybe they just have a hard time praying for a time when they can bring lambs to be slaughtered, or have trouble with concepts such as a woman getting killed if she is an adultress, but not a man, or many other things that a modern western person might have trouble with-i know, its crazy, but some people might actually have made the decision to frei out because they tried it, lived it, and then decided against it-or, continue to live it because of family obligations even though they are troubled by many of the things that they “signed on to”.

  2. Bob – Steve must’ve typo’d; it was likely meant in response to me (37).

    Now can someone pls clarify the IIRC abbrev’n?

    Getting back to Steve’s pt – how does it relate to the issues at hand?? A fairly accomplished member of Torah society goes off the derech and blames it on the humiliation that this society unfairly imposes on such substantial members… and we start waxing “good kasha”??!

    This whole post was enthusiastically embraced by most of its commentators precisely b/c the quickening pulse of BT’s feeling let down by Torah society is becoming ominously all too clear. To simply say “well yes, that’s a fast pulse – nothing to panic over” is NOT going to help the patient! It’s true that fast pulses often just need to be patiently accepted until they natuarally unwind. But other times a serious change of diet or lifestyle needs to be recommended.

    Personally, I find R’ Akiva’s famous analogy extremely helpful: The fish is escaping the fishermen’s net but refuses the foxes solution of coming on shore since he understands it’s better to fight for his life on his own turf than taking a momentary relief on the enemies turf. Very nice — but now don’t just ignore the real danger of the fishermen and sharks that remain in the ocean of our poor fish!

    Humpty Dumpties might be destined to sit on walls, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need pillows to fall onto. Even better: some top notch wall sitting techniques.

  3. FWIW- Zeriah UBinyan BChinuch (trans as Planting and Grownign-Feldheim) is really a must read if you have kids (or think like a kid). I find myself going through it about twice a year.

  4. Bob Miller-I respectfully disagree. Limud HaTorah in its purest sense is learning the “not practical” amd rejected views as well as well as what is Halacha LMaaseh. Knowing what a kashe is far more important for anyone, regardless of their level, than getting to the conclusion of the Gemara.As far as child rearing issues, I wholeheartedly suggest and recommend reading Zeriah UBinyan BChinuch by R Wolbe ZTL. There is simply no better sefer on this issue.

    As far as the old issue of 70 faces of Torah, I can only fall back on my concept of mutual appreciation. It works for me.

  5. Dina brought up a very good point about how we can overtax ourselves. After the month of Yom Tovim were over, I gave myself a “week off” and bought take out, something I generally don’t do because a) it’s expensive; b) I don’t particularly like what’s available. But I needed a rest from the kitchen.

    In all honesty, if every woman was cooking everything on Shabbos from scratch, how would all those take out places (Meal Mart, Mauzone, etc) be doing so much business? We, as BT’s without having had the experience of seeing how mothers make Shabbos and/or Yom Tov, often arent’ aware of the shortcuts our FFB peers are implementing to make life easier, especially before kids are old enough to help with cooking, etc.

  6. It starts from an appreciation of people as individuals, as opposed to as categories or as statistics.

  7. Steve – what is IIRC? Bringing in RAE is certainly an appreciated enrichment of this discussion, but I don’t think it’s relevance is strong. Many rabbonim have commented on his approach as a very high madreiga. It’s simply not workable as a shita for the common learning experience. Most talmudic discussions NEED at least some terutzim or the learners will whither in frustration!

    kol sh’ken for the newbies.

    The very same issue applies in raising children. There are those who know how to model for thier kids and discipline them in the art of giving far beyond expectation to recieve, etc, etc. But there are many who need to learn the art of being flexible and offering their kids a variety of options for expressing themselves frumly… or they’ll lose them!

    As a BT in a very tight, chassidic community, I’ve been privately told many times how fortunate I am that my kids seem to be flowing so well in their learning and middos (bla”h) while the standard t. chacham in the community often suffers from kids who are “dry” and lethargic!

    Thus the old issue: How to cultivate a Torah society that is multifaceted in its growth-encouragement of its members; that vibrantly can offer 70 faces and get off the high horse of one size fits all? And yes, how to cultivate within each and every member a profound sensitivity to those who go through the excruciating challenge of upending their past lives in search of a life dedicated to ratzon H’?


  8. Frumhouse-You are correct-the Rambam writes in Shemoneh Prakim that cholei hanefesh, like cholei haguf, require getting to the source of the problem, rather than allowing them to be treated in a palliative manner with pain relief medicines, etc.

  9. OK, too many mistakes. Admin, please replace:

    Thanks, Frumhouse. Is that why they call it “born-again”?;-)
    In Chassidish circles talmidei chachomim are (unfortunately? B”H?) NOT a dime a dozen (the stress is more on avodah and maasim tovim) but most Chassidish circles are unfortunately culturally unequipped to reach out to and absorb BTs. Bobov is a terrific place, though, I believe. Lubavich is a different story altogether. (I’m Satmar, BION.)

  10. “can you live a committed Torah life despite hardships without placing blame for your hardships on living a committed Torah life.”

    –this “recap” of a comment begs the question in this excellent post: the hardships of the BT woman written about were DIRECTLY attributable to the frum life she elected, not just common to all lives – for example having a large family without a role model for it or mentor relationships to help her along the way; the need to have weekly “Thanksgivings” on Shabbos (self-imposed, but common “need” to make everything from scratch); and the all too common distancing from family and former friends due to having little left in common.

    I think a rational person WOULD blame these particular hardships on the frum life she chose. What is the key point here is her, and her friends’, *unhappiness*. Other BT women have the same challenges but are basically happy. The key is to find the difference in their lives.

    I would suggest these differences might be: a)living in a warm, supportive community where making friends of her age and stage in life, and making friends with women more senior to her, is possible; and b) having a fulfilling marriage or at least working toward that; and c) her husband arranging his schedule to support her continued learning at evening or weekend shiurim is key. Getting a spiritual charge at least once a week kept focused on why I was doing all that work when my kids were young and I felt very challenged.

  11. Thanks, Frumhouse. Is that why they call it “born-again”?;-)
    In Chassidish circles talmidei chachomim are (unfortunately? B”H?) NOT a dime a dozen (the stress is more on avodah and maasim tovim) but most are unfortunately culturally unequipped to reach out to and absorb BTs. Bobov is a terrific place, I believe. Lubavich is a different story altogether. (I’m Satmar, BIOR.)

  12. Bob – I like the idea of having different mentors for different life stages. I think the current kiruv perspective assumes that once you are married off you are ready to leave the nest and fly on your own until 120.

    David – this is true. And really, what 21 year old person can truly anticipate the challenges or marriage, children, livelihood, etc. 10,20,30 years down the line? Those who retain their secular ties can at least look to their parents for guidance. Who can a BT turn to as that wise parental figure in the frum world?

    yy – the talmud chacham is a sad story. I would be interested to read/hear firsthand about his experience directly. Much can be learned by listening to those who went off the derech. We can speculate about what caused the talmud chacham to go off the derech, but it will always just be speculation.

    FFB- Yes, learning an entirely new way of speaking, interacting, dressing, eating, drinking, etc. – it’s like being born all over again.

    Charnie – what great advice from the nurses and how wonderful you followed it.
    As you mention, going off the derech happens for a variety of reasons, abuse and psychological issues often coming into play. Although, I think we should be careful not to always place blame directly on the family of one who leaves the commuinity – I know of quite a few fine families who have had heartbreaking experiences with a child.
    As far as happiness goes, it is incredibly hard not to have it as a life’s goal when it is touted as a primary achievement to strive for in our wider society.

    FFB – No, there wasn’t an ulterior motive to my response – simply feeling (pleasantly) overwhelmed by all the comments and trying to quickly and briefly reply to all.

    I think that America is quickly following in the footsteps of Israel, where “Talmidei chachamim are a dime a dozen…..(B”H!) which cheapens their worth in the eyes of the people.” Sit around many baalei baatim’s table, and you will hear grousing about how many of these “scholars” would be better off working to support their families.

    We know more than one family where the husband learned in Kollel full time throughout their marriages, and no one was knocking down their doors to support them…they were always the poor scholars who relatives included in their tzedaka each year.

    Steve – When someone is having a medical problem, they go to a doctor for a diagnosis. When none can be found, they need to undergo more tests. If the root of the problem can’t be found, the problem can’t be cured. If a diagnosis can be reached, often the issue can be resolved. Yes, this is true of societal issues as well.

  13. YY-IIRC, the children of R Akiva Eiger ZTL wrote in the Hakdamah to the Drush vChiddush that RAE was far more happy when he recognized a problem because understanding a problem or issue is the key, not proposing a terutz that may be wrong. We need to reiterate more often that living a committed life of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim is the only approach for a Jew to sanctify his or her world and one’s self, which is how one acts in accordance with Uvarchath BaChaim and demonstrates Dveikus BaShem. That being the case, just as science cannot solve metaphysical issues, we should be equally forthright in stating that Torah and science and many other disciplines work on separate intellectual tracks, which at time can be reconciled, but in many instances cannot.

  14. yy,

    I did comment on the talmid ch. from Beit Sh. but all I got in response was a thank you from the author for… taking the time to read her post!

    Is it because my comment about the “fun” of living in Israel was too anti-Zionist (which I admit I am), or because I’m a mere FFB? I’d appreciate a response.

  15. Excellent post, excellent comments!

    When my eldest child was born, one of the maternity nurses told me to do something for myself everyday. When he ws an infant, that sometimes meant napping him in his stroller, buying a newspaper, and taking myself out to lunch (there was an inexpensive place in my then neighborhood) in order to recharge my batteries. The nurse’s suggestion is great for any mom, of any religion orientation.

    The few studies that have been done of “off the derech” kids indicates that there are often psychological issues at play. Some come from abusive homes, nebich. Certainly some of these same qualities can come into play with adults, be they BT’s or FFB’s.

    In his “preparing for Rosh Hashanah” shiur Rabbi David Orlofsky mentions how we should sit down during Elul and draw up a life plan stating where we hope to end up. Not just get married, have a family, get a job, retire… but all the way to end. It’s good advice, because we all have a tendency to lose focus on life. And because our purpose is not “happiness”, but rather, to be more like Hashem, those who don’t find happiness in Yiddishkeit (think nirvana) are more likely to jump ship.

  16. David L.,
    Of course. One shabboss I saw two Russian BTs, friends of mine, greeting each other “gut shabboss”, and I thought, Just imagine starting to say “gut Tuesday” instead of hello one day a week. This is the easiest part of shabboss, but how strange it must be in the beginning. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to take on so many mitzvos and minhagim. I’m astonished and inspired by the number of BTs who DON’T turn back.

  17. chevreh – we’re getting a little in the clouds! Can we get back to that Beit Shemesh T. Chacham?

    Here’s someone who obviously “made it” in the frum world enough to go through sha’s and publish chiddushim! I.e. he accomplished and apparently was intellectually quite sound. Still, we are told, he was plagued by his inabilities to meet his financial needs .

    I understood that what broke him was not the poverty per se but the utter humiliation in considering the floor cleaning option. Also, just the idea that someone who seriously suggest that to someone like him probably drove home to him the utter insensitivity to individual emotional needs prevalent in frum society.

    It’s about such problems that I question whether superficial Brother-keeping or grin-and-bear-it theology is a valid Torah response.

    Rather we need to help each other discover our very personal, inspirational LIFE MISSION. Once that’s clear, the Jewish believer can bear anything.

  18. I think, at least in regard to Frumhouse’s analysis of the issue from the standpoint of a BT, that it is not necessarily the issue that being a frum Jew presents many challenges but that there are so many unanticipated or unadvised challenges. That’s what makes the challenge different for a BT than an FFB or from the “challenges of Europe in the 1700s,” for example.

  19. yy,

    I didn’t say selfless, although some selflessness is needed.

    I also said nothing about sequence. At different stages, successful people get a sense of their mission. It certainly helps if Orthodox Jews around them can communicate the mission, especially by example.

  20. FFB – Thanks for taking the time to read my post.

    YM – I agree. Too many BTs seem to think they need to give up their identity and become frumbots. One can still maintain their individuality and interests while being frum.

    Menachem – The comparison to making aliyah is excellent. You are right there there is more than one way/hashkafah to be frum.

    YY – I personally think the frum community tries very hard to be their brother’s keeper. However, we are finding ourselves in new situations with new brethren all the time. As such, our community must evolve to accommodate those needs so we don’t lose our family.

    Steve – certainly becoming a BT is not a cure for what ails you. If you had emotional/psychological issues before becoming religious, you will continue to have them after. Perhaps some BTs have unrealistic expectations about what frumkeit can do for them.

    yy – I think that is an important question that again deals with expectations – can you live a committed Torah life despite hardships without placing blame for your hardships on living a committed Torah life.

    Bob – I do like that theory of the Torah is perfect, but people aren’t. I have said those words to myself many times – sometimes in reference to myself and my own behavior!

    Rachel – It’s nice to hear your optimism. Thank you for reading!

  21. From yy, November 6th, 2008 06:29 18
    “one lives a life committed to Torah and Mitzvos DESPITE the issues and problems”

    The capitals are mine.

    Steve – do you really believe this? Living acc to Torah is not supposed to solve or at least reduce the major challenges of modern, secular life??
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Why categorize the challenges of modern life as different from the challenges of Europe in the 1700s? We are put here to grow, often through adversity and challenge. The challenges to a Torah-observant Jew are clearly not the same as for someone secular, and the pull for a particular vice not the same, but the challenge is no less a challenge – each in his own place, no?

    I would hope that leading a Torah life would make a person feel fulfilled, but that doesn’t mean there’s no challenge in doing what life requires (work, dealing with people, medical issues, bills, whatever).

  22. Does Torah society require its members to be fired up with a selfless sense of mission, as Bob puts it, BEFORE finding satisfaction… Or is there something intrinsic to that society that should CULTIVATE and MAINTAIN the sense of mission, for each individual, according to their G-dgiven qualities?

  23. Great post. I would like to add my two cents. I think if one truly works on his relationship with Hashem everything looks & feels really different. Yes, there are so so many challenges in the frum world that I was not used to in my other life, the article says it all, but I have my own personal relationship with G-d that I work on every single day, and that is what makes a whole difference. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy, with G-d’s help we will bring back our generation/line spiritualy to where it was once upon a time when all our ancestors were Torah observant.

  24. 1. For people on a mission, the pressures and problems can somehow be handled. For those with no clear idea of their own mission and direction, such things are more apt to escalate into emergencies.

    2. The Torah is perfect, but Jewish institutions and communities are not yet perfect. We’re all still people, you know! We’re not entitled to brood all day about obstacles. When we can, we should improve our surroundings, and when we can’t, we should deal with them as best we can.

  25. “one lives a life committed to Torah and Mitzvos DESPITE the issues and problems”

    The capitals are mine.

    Steve – do you really believe this? Living acc to Torah is not supposed to solve or at least reduce the major challenges of modern, secular life??

    Torah tavleen, no?

    Bacharta b’chayim?

    Atem Ha’dveikim ba’H’, chayim KULchem hayom?

    etc, etc.

    Your formula may work for yicheedei segula and surely its an important perspective in difficult times. But as a worldview for the restless souls in search of tikkun Ha’olam (both personal and global) that make up most BT’s today???

  26. This is a superb post. There are frum mental health professionals who do have a handle on the needs and problems of BTs. Nefesh has many such members who can be of help. On the lay level, I am sure that there are many posters here who have gone through the exact process that you are describing and who completely empathize with you.

    Perhaps, the issue is that being a BT does not mean that issues or problems dissapear, but rather one lives a life committed to Torah and Mitzvos despite the issues and problems.

  27. Harry’s post touches a raw nerve in my post-electionitis:

    “There is no tolerance for people who are outside the bell curve of ‘normalcy’…Kol Yisroel Areivim Zeh LaZeh. Every Jew has a responsibilty towards every other Jew. That’s EVERY JEW – not just most Jews! We ARE our brothers keepers.”


    Note that last phrase. It’s the same line that the big O has been using since the beginning of his campaign. Has anyone ever looked up the source? Cain asks that… and H’ NEVER answers!

    In fact He does the most Jewish thing and responds with His own question:

    “What have you done?”

    NOTHING about affirming the brothers keeper ethic!

    Personally I agree that fixation on the normalcy curve is a dreadful indication of an insecure society. And I agree that it flies in the face of the K”Y areivim ethic. Still the solution is NOT to become our brother’s keepers! That’s a sophisticated way of kicking H’ out of society.

    Rather let’s reconsider what H’ said: “What have you DONE?” Have you been able to find satisfaction in DOING Mitzvahs? In bringing your chochma l’maaseh? If not, let’s help you find it….

    Very often negativity builds because talented souls feel stymied. Especially if they’re the scholarly type. Today to learn fulltime and write chiddushim remains a great prestige amongest frummies but it simply doesn’t pay for most. Certainly not in Israel. But what’s the alternative?

    And so the t. chacham keeps learning and writing and vorting and pilpuling… until the paint on his walls are peeling and the kids clothes are tattered and he has no means for marrying them off.

    It cuts deep into the ego.

    So no — we don’t need more brother’s keeper’s per se`. We have enough of that amongest the Baaleh Tsedaka and social welfare gurus. But we do need brothers to challenge and encourage every single one of us to DO very real and practical things with our talents.

    Especially BT’s who have often stopped themselves in the midst of developing their talents to return to their roots. Those roots must be watered UNTIL THEY PRODUCE FRUITS!

  28. Excellent post. It draws a very realistic picture of what the process is like for some. And shows, depending on one’s support system, self-esteem, resilience, etc., how a person could get fed up and leave.

    I think part of the answer to dealing with this goes back to something we’ve discussed before; disclosure. Some people coming in need to be made aware of the challenges they may face.

    Before we made Aliyah Nefesh B’Nefesh had a pre-Aliyah seminar. One of the speakers was a psychologist. She drew a very realistic picture (literally with Power Point) of the range of emotions most Olim face; from the initial euphoric high, to the crash of missing friends, family, and familiar surroundings, and ultimately to realizing that we’re here to live our lives, yes with a higher purpose, but ultimately regular lives with some of the additional challenges of living in a foreign land.

    Another point of disclosure, which I think is more relevant to BTs, is that people need to be aware that there are different options in frumkeit. The woman in the story above might have been able to adapt better in an orthodox environment that wasn’t so completely different from the one in which she grew up.

  29. This is a wonderful post. It is interesting that in Hebrew there is no specific word for “happy” or “happiness”. Yet, for those of us who are Americans, our country’s very reason for existance includes “the pursuit of happiness”.

    One suggestion is for a person to not let the situation get to the place were he or she stops performing mitzvoth. A person needs to have a Rav and a Friend and lean on them. If a person wants to do something and it is not forbidden by Halacha, he or she needs to figure out a way to do it, whether it is a day or a few at the beach, or a vacation like LC mentions above, or anything else that a person thinks that he or she needs.

  30. Cosmic X – I hope to get there someday!

    Esther – Interesting concept. I would love to hear an extended theory on effort vs reward in regard to the BT – both for men and women.

    LC – Great points. Our society and economy are hard to compare to our parents generation – even though it is in our natures to do so. I once read about a large haredi family in Israel, where the husband send his wife away for 1 week each year to the destination of her choice (parents, seminary program, etc) when he sees she is getting burned out. He feels it’s a good investment to make in his wife’s health and shalom bayis. It’s true Mommy burnout isn’t unique to the frum community.

    David – I don’t have any qualifications to run such an organization, but I would be happy to assist! :)

  31. Hi everyone, I recently discovered this website and I love it. I’ve always been in awe of, and fascinated by, BTs. Thank you all for allowing me a glimpse into your challenging and inpiring lives. some comments:

    Cosmic x: A lot of fun it is, living in poverty-stricken Israel. I wish that talmid chacham would emigrate to America instead of going off the derech. Talmidei chachamim are a dime a dozen in Israel (B”H!) which cheapens their worth in the eyes of the people. My aunt in Israel saw a man washing a staircase while his chavrusa stood besides him with an open gemara and learned out loud. Beautiful story, but one has to be able to handle this, and that talmid chacham obviously wasn’t. (BTW I’m pretty sure his emunah was weak to begin with, his seforim notwithstanding.) In NY, at least in my chassidish crowd, he would’ve been held on a golden platter.My husband is a talmid chacham and people beg him to accept their support.

    Are you kidding? Women in the modern world are much worse off than men, and have much more to be happy being frum than men. The dating scene, infidelity, never being off limits physically to your husband, just seeing your husband displaying affection for strange women – what torture!
    That being said, I think BTs, or anyone who feels overwhelmed by a large family, should talk to a rav about spacing. Every kallah teacher should tell that to her students.

  32. You do raise some god points. I will say, however, that for ANY woman who grew up in a small family, in a time and place where housing was cheaper, only one parent needed to work, and after-school activities were a fun option, not practically required, the work involved in raising a family today, especially a larger one, is very different, and I’d say harder.

    Today’s society is more demanding, housing more expensive, not to mention gas and groceries, and electronics even further reduce even the illusion of down-time in many cases.

    I’ve heard even basically content non-Jews/non-observant Jews (Mommy group) complain about laundry piling up, or too many playdates/after school activities and no time for Mommy to sit back and recharge. So while the disillusionment (?) and stress of raising a family in today’s world might cause a BT to go off the derech, the phenomenon is not limited to BTs, or even the frum world.

    Today’s society is just not very family friendly. I think acquiring (in the words of Pirkei Avos) a group of friends who understand challenge and have a perspective that Hashem put us here with a goal to achieve, and yes, it IS hard, that’s the challenge of it, is critical to remaining strong – and so is MAKING an outlet for Mommy to be herself, without the demands of Mommy-hood on occasion.

    David Linn’s comment about personal time is ‘spot on’ – but it isn’t just outdoors activities, or creative expression that work this way; last night I attended the beginning of a shiur series, and was disappointed. I was telling my husband about it when I returned home, and his response was that I should continue attending. Why? Because for the first time in 3-4 years (barring one round of new baby exhaustion), I haven’t had my one weekly evening shiur – and he much prefers me to be calmly explaining why the shiur was frustrating than being stressed out about how I can’t deal with the kids, dinnertime was bad, bedtime was bad, I’m tired and grumpy, . .

    I came home recharged, an interesting person to speak to, and he’s right: it makes all the difference in the world. It expands and improves my outlook on everything, and puts the little every day aggravations back into perspective.

  33. I would also suggest that women are more susceptible to feeling a sense of regret than men. For women, the frum world is filled with many more stringencies and toil than it is for men without, I would contend, a comparable level of reward. If not for large families and fear of being shunned, many more women would leave the fold.

  34. Thanks for all of the insightful comments.

    Neil – Yes, if we can remember the things that originally made us happy about being frum, we can use that as a foothold to getting back to that state.

    smb – I love the comparison you brought down from R’Akiva Tatz between a BTs attraction to yiddishkeit and the first stages of romantic infatuation vs. when the rose colored glasses come off.

    Esther – you are correct. In fact, this normal phenomenon might be an important aspect to study as it relates to the life cycle of the BT.

    Arieh – Thank you for bringing in that example from the Gemora. We sometimes forget to acknowledge those closest to us, because we are so certain of their affection and loyalty. This neglect can have dire consequences.

    Bob – Thank you for pointing that out. Of course, the example I give here is merely one type of story. There are many other experiences that can vary.

    David – The concept of BBT is fantastic. I think that an offline institution with classes, support groups, and daas torah would be a wonderful extension. Ever thought of creating a new non-for-profit entity?

  35. Good stuff.

    “Most kiruv efforts concentrate on bringing newcomers to frumkeit. The real challenge is further down the line…”

    One of the reasons that BBT was created.

    IMHO, a BT needs to find personal time to do something that they enjoy, something that makes them happy. For some, that might be learning with a friend, for others it might be bicycle riding or kayaking. It doesn’t matter much other than the fact that you are doing something for yourself and that you are doing something that you enjoy.

  36. I think this is a great post, which paints a very realistic picture of the changing challenges for BT.

    I liked the “bad apple” example as well.

    And I also think, that first of all you should strengthen these who are (already) with you, before you reach out and bring in new ones. And I also want to include “Kiruv” for FFBs as well.

    I think it is worth to have a look into the Gemora Megillah 12a (the 8th broad line “Rav uShmuel”) where we find a Plugtah regarding Achashverosh’s intellect.

    The questions there is, if Achashverosh did the right thing, by inviting the “Rechokim” (people who live far away) first to his big party and just then turned to the people in his town.

    So one holds, that he was right in concentrating first on the people from far away, since he could always appease the ones near him (–> so even the ones already near to you, you have to take care of).

    The other one holds, that he should have been concetrating first to the ones near him, since they would stand beside him and strengthen him in respect of the people far away.

    So I see in both opinons the necessity to take care of people near to you already, and I dont feel this happening too much.

    For sure I dont think, that making new BTs is not important. It is vital for the jewish people!

    But there are organisations and movements for the newcomers, but I think the “Beyond BT”-movement is still too weak.

    I’ve to go.


  37. Little Frumhouse suggests that some people come to regret life-altering decisions that they make when they are in their late-teens and early twenties. As this is a time when many people are going through a period of deep soul-searching, it seems natural that some people will to go down a path that they will realize in hindsight was not right for them.

    This is a problem for any group that recruits people at this vulnerable age.

  38. R’Akiva Tatz said that in life there are two stages. The first stage is exciting and nice inorder to help us get into it. the second however, is harder because that’s when the hard work begins. For example, with a relationship, at first there is the romantic feeling. But later that goes away, and then they need to work on building true love

  39. Even after reading this several times, the issues brought up in this post are extremely imporant.

    “You have frum friends and you know that they are unhappy.”- The question for the BT (well the question I’ve been asking myself since Elul) is what made me happy when I was becoming frum? If you can get back to that point, then you’re off to a great start.

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