Are You Still A BT?

In common parlance, a BT is someone who became observant later in life. By that measurement, once a BT, always a BT. This usually means that we have to handle delicate situations with non-frum relatives, have lived a more secular life at some point, and we made a clear choice to become Torah Observant.

Another factor that makes you a BT, is that a some point you were deficient in Torah knowledge. This deficiency can be overcome, and it’s always a marvel to look at Rabbi Akiva and the 24 years he spent learning intensely, on his road to becoming perhaps the great Halachic Authority in the past 2,000 years. Of course we don’t need to learn exclusively for 24 years, but if we want to learn at high levels of Torah understanding, we have to make great efforts and put in a lot of time.

The third BT factor that comes to mind is integration into the community. To some, the ability to make people think you’re not a BT, as long as you don’t talk in learning, is a great worthwhile accomplishment. Others feel that as long as you’re a well functioning member of your community, it doesn’t matter if people know you’re a BT. Whereas others are proud to be a BT with all the accomplishment and positive growth orientation it brings. They’re not looking over their shoulders worrying about what others think.

So, are you still a BT?

Will you be comfortable if you’re known to be a BT your entire life?

Are you working on diminishing any aspects of your BT-ness?

4 comments on “Are You Still A BT?

  1. I don’t like to focus on myself or anyone else as a BT too much. I prefer to focus on individuals as individuals. Like any other category one uses, the category of BT has only limited usefulness. So I use it when it’s useful to me.

    For example, I divide people into the categories “tall” and “short” when I need someone to help me reach something, but not when I choose a chavrusa or a friend or a real estate broker. When height is relevant, I make use of it, and when it’s not, I don’t focus on it.

    Similarly, my (or someone else’s) status as a BT is sometimes relevant, and in such a case I make use of the category –one example is this site, where people with similar concerns and/or experiences related to being or having once been new to Torah observance, having more non-observant friends and relatives than many others, etc. can discuss those issues.

    But that’s as far as it goes. The fact is, I wasn’t raised in a family that kept the Mitzvot or knew much about Torah. Although all my experiences have a part in making me who I am today, that one fact isn’t necessarily bigger than any other. The fact that I became very interested in the Torah and enthusiastic enough about its ideas and practices to make major changes in my life is a big part of who I am. But I hope (and I believe) that such an interest and enthusiasm isn’t limited to people who grew up non-observant. The big life changes might be limited to those labelled as BT’s, but who (after they’ve made a commitment to be observant and become comfortable with it) spends a lot of time thinking about the fact that they grew up eating non-kosher food? I don’t, and I don’t think it defines me.

    As to the Torah knowledge issue, in the abstract if I had spent the twenty something years before I became observant involved in Talmud Torah, then it’s hard to imagine I wouldn’t be more knowledgable than I am. But I don’t focus on that, I just try to learn what I can now. As far as not knowing as much as “the FFB crowd,” I just don’t find that to be the case. I know more than some and less than others. My goal is to understand as much Torah as I can, not to compete with anyone else, so I don’t think about it.

    As to fitting in, in this area I also prefer to focus on individuals. I form relationships with people based on getting to know them as individuals, and I hope they do the same for me. I imagine that there may be people who aren’t interested in interacting with me because I am labelled a “BT,” but I don’t think about it at all, and such a person doesn’t sound like a good person to surround myself with. The idea that “the ability to make people think you’re not a BT, as long as you don’t talk in learning, is a great worthwhile accomplishment” was very foreign to my way of thinking. The ability to make people surprised that you ARE a BT as a result of talking in learning with them sounds like much more of an accomplishment to me.

    I get the impression that there are communities where my approach wouldn’t work well. I feel fortunate to live in a community where my approach does work for me.

  2. I can’t relate to the question. My wife is FFB and I don’t care to know whether the Jews I socialize with are BT’s and I couldn’t care less what FFB’s think of me. At the end of the day we are just– people.

  3. I think that the concept of “integration” assumes , without considering the fact that a BT is a person, that different people are attracted by different aspects of Torah observance, that there is some sort of magical progression in one’s religious growth as a BT so that when one meets a BT, the average FFB would never know that he or she is talking to a BT. That IMO is a huge error in strategy.

  4. I think that the much vaunted and discussed concept of “integration” really is code for having certain external mannerisms of behavior that allow a person to conform with his or her community. I think that it is a mistaken notion that BTs have to totally sever and lose any and all sense of Hakaras Hatov for the contributions of their families, communities and lifestyles of origin. R Akiva and Resh Lakih, along with the Avos and Imahos,and Moshe Rabbeinu, remain the role models for BTs, not just in terms of their spiritual accomplishments, but as great spiritual personalities who were BTs.

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