What Direction Should Beyond BT Go in the Future

I’m not an established or frequent poster to Beyond BT (admin: ahem). But I’ve been reading the site since it started and a few things have struck me in recent months. In the top right hand corner, it says that: “Beyond Teshuva is focused on providing ideas, connection and support for Baalei Teshuva in their continuing quest of learning, growing, and giving.”

For the first few months, boy did the site live up to that promise! It was amazing to hear about other people’s family issues, difficulties finding a spiritual ‘home’ and efforts to get closer to Hashem.

Maybe it’s inevitable that the first blush of excited posting and sharing should evolve into something a bit less febrile and emotional. Something perhaps a bit more considered and ‘visionary’.

The question is, how do we get from ‘here’ to ‘there’? And it’s a hard one to answer, not least because it’s hard to ask difficult questions, and to really grow in pursuit of an answer.

Is Beyond BT a mechanism for validating our exciting lifestyle and choices, or is it a forum for really exploring why certain choices have been made – and dare I say it, even exploring the possibility that certain choices and assumptions are no longer correct or appropriate?

The former is certainly more comfortable. On a personal level, I found it extremely heartening to know that other people were having difficulties with family members; or struggling with what it really means to live a Torah lifestyle.

One of the earlier posts, from a parent whose children had become frum, was also the first time that I had really heard about how it impacted the ‘other side’ in the equation.

The shiur on how BTs should try to relate to their families – stop preaching, and come down from your high horse! – was also a lightening bolt. It made me realize that on many occasions, my attitude towards my in-laws had been less than helpful. I was so busy justifying my religiousness, I forgot to honestly question if I was really living up to the Torah ideals I claimed to represent.

That was a hard realization. But ultimately, a very useful one. It’s unlikely that my parents-in-law and we will ever be on the same page. But by sheer dint of being my husband’s parents, they still need to be respected. I certainly don’t agree with a lot of what they do and think.

But that post made me realize that agreeing with them – or getting them to agree with me – is not what the Torah wants. It wants me to treat them kindly, for me to swallow my pride (and all my defensiveness) and to make our time together as pleasant as I can by not responding to barbed comments or thoughtless remarks.

But you notice, this is not a validation of how I was already doing things – it was a headlong challenge to it.

It’s very difficult to continually challenge and question ourselves. With so many people seemingly willing to do just that for us, we can get sick of it. But challenging our own assumptions is the only way we continue to ‘grow’ both as Jews, and as people.

I would like to see more posts on Beyond BT that explore some of the really difficult questions – the ones that are lurking underneath the surface, but are rarely discussed out in the open.

There are many reasons for this, not least that it’s hard for posters to put themselves ‘out there’ when they know they may well be subjected to a whole bunch of criticism.

So, I would like Beyond BT to usher in a new era of considered debate, soul-searching – and soul-finding.

But this will only work if posters are able to express themselves truthfully. If we write about a lack in our own lives or observance, for example, that lack shouldn’t be seen as a general comment on a whole community. Beyond BT should not be about who is more ‘right’.

What I would like it to be is a place where we can challenge ourselves, and others, in a constructive way. Where we first ask how a difficult issue or challenge applies to us, before liberally applying it to everyone else. And where we aren’t afraid of going “beyond” what we know – or at least, thought we knew – about our religion, our personal observance and our own behavior. A place where we recognize that whatever our starting point or current position, there is always room for improvement.

14 comments on “What Direction Should Beyond BT Go in the Future

  1. FWIW, Mark’s idea re Mesilas Yesharim is intriguing,especially when one considers the purpose of the sefer as set forth by RaMCHaL in his introduction.

  2. YM-Read the hespedim and works that were published about RYBS by his talmidim. I can assure you that you will be astonished at the Chesed and Tzidkus that permeated the neshamah of RYBS because of his Brisker legacy. Please email me off blog and I can provide you with a small biblio in this regard.

  3. Anonymity can cut both ways. It can lead to true accounts with greater detail or to outright fiction from people with an agenda.
    If anonymous commenters could avoid entering their email addresses (for example), would this help or hurt the veracity of this site?

  4. I think Katrin’s concern for more truthful posting is valid and would be enhanced by a better way to submit anonymously.

  5. Sometimes, as inspiring as they may be for some, the biographies of our Gedolim can actually be a hindrance to us “just plain folk”. So much so that one of my son’s Rebbes actually discouraged the boys from reading these books. Why? Because the level of our Gedolim is so high, with so much accomplishment, that the Rebbe didn’t want the boys to think that if they weren’t child prodigies in learning, they would never amount to greatness – greatness being a very relative word. This would appear to be particularly relevant for the BT, who often, particularly if they became frum in adulthood, have years to go of combining Limeudi Kodesh with their already abundant family and parnosa responsibilities before they can even hope to be on the scholarly level of their yeshiva educated high school student child. For the same reason my husband’s Rebbe cites the advantage Israeli children have over their American counterparts – they aren’t spending the first 2-3 years of their education first learning how to read Hebrew characters.

  6. Great post, Katrin. You hit the nail on the head, “A place where we recognize that whatever our starting point or current position, there is always room for improvement.”

  7. Are there lessons in how he lived his life that provide a model or a clue on how a Jew should live his live today?

    If you are looking for some nice stories about the Rav’s life may I suggest the book Memories of a Giant.

  8. Steve, is RYBS the ultimate example of a tzaddik in the MO world? What was it about him that made him great? Are there lessons in how he lived his life that provide a model or a clue on how a Jew should live his live today?I tried reading hakachic man a few years ago and didn’t get through it; doesn’t mean I wouldn’t get through it now.

    Mark, I agree; we need to use this website to develop a picture of what a mesillas yesharim looks like to a yid in 5767, if it in fact looks any different than the original; and how it would apply to a BT specifically.

  9. YM,

    This is something that I’m very interested in. Around Succos time a few of us were throwing around the idea of what does a great working Jew look like.

    I don’t think it’s a question of Charedi or Modern, but a question of what does greatness in Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chasadim look like, and how can we measure it to insure we are making progress. It might be thought of as a pre-Mesillas Yesharim for our time.

    I don’t think it applies to just BTs as every frum person needs to improve in all areas. Most people agree that that very few people on this planet will even reach the levels of watchfulness or zeal.

  10. I am interested in exporling gadlus.

    To me, growing as a Jew is a process of becoming more and more charedi, for the only reason that if you are trying to be more and more the Jew that is described in Mesillas Yesharim, then that is what it looks like. Growth is directly liked to separation, if you would like, as the growing person’s interests become more and more spiritual and less tied to the concerns of material existence. I am currently reading the Feldheim book about Rav Aharon Kotler, and he seems to personify the ideal of a tzaddik who lives his every breath for Torah.

    I am interested in reading a word-picture of what an “ultimate” person looks like from the point of view of non-Charedi ideology. What does gadlus look like there. Is Robert Aumann represent modern orthodox gadlus? How does an modern orthodox gadol live?

    This is where Beyond BT can play a role; helping to describe and define the derech of growth as it should look to someone who became frum as an adult, maybe someone who is looking for inspiration who is not going to be able to engage in independent learning of gemora b’iyun for many years if at all. This is in addition to Beyond BTs role as a place to discuss some of the challenges that are unique to the BT, most of which have already been brought up on this website.

  11. It strikes me that Baalei Teshuvahs have a role in Judaism that can only be affectively filled by them and that is to act as a bridge between the orthadox community that they are joining (which in many cases has only limited real interaction with non-jews) and the outside world. If Judaism is to play a real role in the repair of the world it cannot proceed from a position of ignorance about others. BT’s can bring a lot to the table in terms of rapproachment between the Jewish people and the remaining 99% of planet earths people.

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