The Dilemma of the Talented ex-BT’s

My friend struggles with Judaism. He grew up in a very frum — let’s say, stifling — environment in a major frum metropolitan community. He had a learning disability, never diagnosed when he was in school. This not only preventing him from succeeding in yeshiva, despite receiving a generous endowment of creativity and intelligence, but the offbeat view of the world it provided to him caused him to focus on the flaws in contemporary orthodox society… maybe in his family and school too… and he was, and is, Off the Derech. Way off.

It’s painful to see. I really love the guy. He reads this blog — the Derech remains stubbornly stuck in his head, though he swears contempt for it. It comes through in the oddest of ways, though. Twice a year he tells me he’s working his way back.

But Hashem gave him some other gifts of which he has made dubious value. He is charming. Too charming. Women flock to him. He’s handsome, yes, if not perhaps for the cover of GQ (too Jewish?); but he has a magnetism that enables him to talk women into almost anything; talk employers into giving him jobs; talk the world into giving him an infinite number of chances. I’m not that charismatic, myself, but I cannot but see an aspect of my own underachieving life in his adventures — I’ve probably talked my way in and out of more trouble than the average bear.

But I have a wall full of degrees hanging on a wall that I pay the rent for, and my disappointment is relative to my ambition. His underachievement is pretty absolute. He must live on that charm, and oxygen and light, perhaps; he’s resolutely going nowhere. Frankly he lives a non-frum lifestyle, largely nocturnal, that is far beyond the pretty square existence I experienced in the first 22 years of my life. Maybe some BT who’s been there and done that can explain to me how bright people don’t get tired of endless “parties” and hanging around in clubs? Or maybe he couldn’t. To my way of thinking, as informed by Jewish sensibility, and my own limited exposure to that lifestyle during my high school and college years, it’s mostly about crowding out the the thoughts in your head that are hurting your mind.

In any event, that’s not my topic.

In any event, he’s not the person in the title of this essay.

The persons in the title are the ones — it could be any number of them — who write the Bitter Ex-BT Blogs.

See, I think my friend has a chance. A chance at life in a black-hat community, a wife with a sheitel, a two-hour-a-day learning seder? Well, we are taught not to ever give up hope, but not to rely on miracles. That would require a miracle. But could he have a healthy, positive, open-minded relationship with the Ribbono shel Olam, with Klal Yisroel, with the Torah, even? I think he could. I think he wants to. He’ll stamp up and down and insist I’m wrong, but the Nile’s big enough for both of us to be monarchs over it — I’m going to stick stubbornly to this belief.

But there’s something in his life now that may be worse for him than everything else that came before. Because he can’t pull himself away from the talented, glib, well-written, sometimes right Bitter Ex-BT Blogs, nor the virtual and real social world they promise him. He absorbs their complaints, their bitterness, their gall, and they put into words for him what he cannot quite express himself. No, more than that. They give him words to express complaints he didn’t even know he had. They feed his pain at the losing hand he feels — this talented, attractive, and thank God healthy person — God has dealt him.

Before, my friend ignored his Jewish side while living this dissolute lifestyle of his. He knew the contradiction. There was “being good,” and being not so good. But now he has a new “support group” who tell him what he’s doing is really a kind of “mitzvah” that has its own blog community, its alternative media, its Christmas parties and club dates. And this is something I have no idea how to counter.

We know that the Torah reserves harsh punishment, and even withdraws some of the usual judicial protections, for a meisis — someone who is not satisfied to worship avodah zarah, but who induces others to do so as well. Writing a blog is not avodah zarah, but then, we don’t have avodah zarah any more. In fact R’ Moshe Feinstein, in a responsum, says that anyone who encourages people to move away from doing the will of Hashem is comparable to a meisis ; the Chofetz Chaim compared the anti-religious Jews of his time to such people as well. In the Chofetz Chaim’s time, such people offered an alternative ideology — socialism, the brotherhood of man, an escape from the ghetto — that resonated with thoughtful, idealistic Jews on whom the weight of galus had become unbearable. What today’s anti-frum ideology offers is nihilism and hedonism, but in a time and place dominated by cynicism and narcissism it is enough to demonstrate that these can be found in ample supply on both sides of the frum / non-frum line, so why not enjoy the ride in the handbasket? And what can be more enjoyable than mocking those who don’t get the joke?

But it’s time for that car-and-driver metaphor again. Because ultimately my rather mundane point, of course, is that it is a special bitterness — I cannot say wickedness; we all are tinokos shenishbu (compared to “captured children”) — that makes a talented former BT, man or woman, do this. They do not just walk away from what they think is a car wreck of a spiritual journey but flag everyone else tooling happily along the road and swear that the bridge is out, there are monsters waiting on the next exit and that it was actually much better where they were coming from and you can’t U-turn fast enough to get back there.

What motivates them? My armchair psychology tells me that they would rather believe the journey is an eight-lane disaster than consider whether they themselves forgot to check the oil under their own hoods before setting out. But, you know, “who am I to say”?

A talented rabbinic friend came to me once and told me that after half a century or so of trying, he resolved that there are some cases — and far more of them come across his desk than mine — that he has come to realize he cannot solve, some lives that he cannot make the investment in trying to fix. His words haunt me regarding my friend. He is not asking me to solve anything; far from it. He tolerates my company because, well, maybe I am a little bit of fun myself. But whereas I once thought I offered enough gravity, mixed in with the comedy, to contribute to keeping him in orbit, I can’t compete with the Bitter Ex-BT Blogs. Well, I could; but I can’t. I’m as good an Internet polemicist as anyone; I know enough about frum life, about the Torah, and about life in the BT yeshivas to make quite a good debate of it.

But there’s no natural place for that debate — it won’t be on their blogs, and it won’t be here; and frankly, my anger and hurt cloud my judgment when I make some attempt at it. I fought in the early Internet wars for orthodoxy (largely in the ancient and venerable “Moment Magazine message board debates”) and, frankly, I’m not sure anyone’s listening.

Okay, I know one person.

75 comments on “The Dilemma of the Talented ex-BT’s

  1. “They do not just walk away from what they think is a car wreck of a spiritual journey but flag everyone else tooling happily along the road and swear that the bridge is out…”

    This metaphor doesn’t work for your example, as your friend wasn’t “tooling happily along the road,” which is why he related to the bitter BT blogs to begin with. In fact, he is probably more akin to those drivers not content to simply walk away from the car wreck. He walked away, but he feels that he was forced out or victimized by communal nonacceptance. He feels the need to report this some authority; to warn others who might suffer his same fate; to commiserate with others who have felt this same ostracization.

    I have not read many bitter BT blogs. I have read some bitter FFB blogs. I don’t think the point of anything I have seen is to convince those firmly within the fold to leave orthodoxy. I think these are people in pain who have lost their lifestyle, community, family, and friends and are trying to rebuild from the bottom up. They are seeking those who understand their background and have been through something similar. They are forming new “un-orthodox” communities both offline and online which often comprise a mash-up of chareidi culture and lingo with the mores of secular society. It’s an evolving hybrid, but this new culture is keeping Jews together who otherwise would completely desert any type of Jewish community.

  2. Our minds play tricks on us. We tell ourselves that we’re hypocrites, we’re no good, we’re not in the mood to be frum today, and who do we think we are anyway? That’s why the Jews at Har Sinai said, “Naaseh v’nishma,” we’ll do the mitzvos first, and by doing we’ll eventually overcome the mind games that destroy our confidence. Lehavdil, professional baseball players say that they run into trouble when they over-analyze themselves, when they “overthink.” Maybe these bitter ex-BT’s could be asked to consider “just doing it,” that is, keeping certain “easy” mitzvos (refraining from eating chazir, not driving on Shabbos) without this constant self-doubt.

  3. You want to know why your friend will not consider giving up his secular lifestyle? I’ll tell you why: because he already was religious and was not satisfied with his experience, for whatever reason. It is more reasonable to get people to try something new than return to something which they felt they had adequate reason to leave.

  4. >>>You conjectured why ex-BT’s blog rather than simply walk away. This is interesting, since there are myriad reasons why BT’s become ex-BT’s. For some, it is their tayvos getting the best of them and they cannot maintain the discipline and the stress of not fitting in as a second class citizen. For others, they just realize they don’t buy it. For yet others, they may have been rather neurotic from the outset to even make such a drastic change, move to Israel, whatever, without knowing anything beforehand.

    1. BTs as second class citizens?!?!? Where does this mentality come from? It’s not in the Torah. Treating a BT as a second class citizen is chillul Hashem.

    2. I guess I don’t have to repeat that the Orthodox communities have issues with shidduchim and shadchanim. BTs put in a lot more more effort than any other Jew and are frequently blacklisted by the shadchanim.

    3. Unfortunately BTs are not fully integrated into the community because they are treated as second class citizens and because of their shidduch prospects. If you have read the ex-BT blogs, this issue is addressed pretty frequently.

    4. Denying this problem and ignoring it or dismissing it as invalid will not make things better, it will lead to more BTs going off the Derech and possibly will lead to assimilation.

    What I am saying is that the attitude towards BTs must change. Maybe there will be more rabbis who step up and encourage a change of attitude towards BTs. We must welcome BTs into the community and make them feel at home.

  5. David, I don’t want to sound too goofy but there are a lot of people, including people involved in this website, who can and are willing to listen or help, in case you didn’t already know that.

  6. I could understand how not being understood and not being given what one needs as a child can lead to one leaving Judaism.That is what happend to me,although I am still frum that is only because I dont see too much of any option.I would feel too guily if I left.Also deep down inside I try to believe that Hashem is doing everything for the best.But I am in a lot of pain because of what was done to me.

  7. Ron, everything we said over here in this thread has been put in your ledger in Shamayim. But teshuvah has the power to prevent that from causing problems.

  8. 1. Jelly beans in cholent: This minhag was originated by Uncle Moishy. Ask your kids. But I think it’s about time we openly discussed jelly beans at risk on Beyond BT.

    2. Now, I get all the credit for the number of posts here, right, no matter that it swerves from matters of spiritual life and death to RECIPE SWAPPING, right? Yeah? Because I keep track of this stuff, like the number of “recruits” I get. ;-)

  9. Steve,

    Our son usually makes our cholent, with traditional ingredients. Other family members sometimes add a vegetable kishke wrapped in foil into the pot with the cholent. We cover the heating element of the crockpot the foil, as our Rav once recommended.

    As for Miller’s Much-Maligned Recipe (lets call it M3R for easy identification), it will be better appreciated after the Geulah Shelemah. Stay tuned.

  10. Bob-I hope that you have retired that chulent recipe by now. As the chulent maker, in my house, I follow my own time patented recipe:

    1) a package of beef flanken or chulent meat
    2) a whole onion
    3) 3 to 4 peeled and sliced potatoes
    4) a half bag of barley
    5) a half bag of beans
    6) ketchup
    7) paprika, onion and other spices
    8) water covering all
    9) store overnight Thursday in the fridge

    and then heated from every early Erev Shabbos AM on a crockpot with water added ( sometimes by my wife or daughter) Erev Shabbos.

    Although this is meant as a cooking post, as opposed to even remotely suggesting anything halachic in nature, IMO, one should see the MB and Biur Halacha about the many halachic problems inherent in putting up a raw chulent Erev Shabbos right before Hadlakas Neros as well as the well known Leil Shabbos “chulent parties”. FWIW, I have heard that it is proper to separate the heating element and the pot in which the food lies via tin foil.

  11. What if jj the jelly bean insisted on becoming a cholent bean after being mistaken for one.

    This brings tears to my eyes even thinking about it. It would be an unspeakable tragedy too great to ponder.

    Not only would poor jj get ruined but the cholent too. Unless one likes sugar and guar gum extract in one’s cholent.

    On the other hand, if jj is a strong bean, and is not crushed under the weight of cholent bones and the sheer mass of the cholent’s gravitational pull, then perhaps he can be extracted, washed off and returned to his true status as a jelly bean (you didn’t mention color, but I assume even that could be restored). It all depends how strong a jelly bean he was to begin with; how well his Maker made him.

    Yet, another possibility one must admit, though, is that jj never was a jelly bean to begin with, but a cholent bean who thought he was a jelly bean, and really his truest and deepest desire — even if he doesn’t realize it yet — is to melt into the cholent pot of existence.

    Of course, even if he is really a jelly bean yet another possibility is creating a new cholent fad among the Sabbath-observers where the sugary nodes of their taste buds fire along with the other nodes at the moment of consumption. This may take some marketing and outreach, but I think jj is worth it. Indeed, not only would poor, little jj benefit but cholent-eaters worldwide and even untold future generations would too.

  12. Ron, before we stick our forks into a material of questionable lineage/consistency and taste , let’s make sure we are not dumping the fish with the fish water. What would you consider your kishka anyway , right wing consistency left wing flour oriented with leanings towards middle of the road gook. Could get kind of messy. Would there be likelihood of confusion concerns regarding the lima beans , barley , Pinto beans and jelly beans.What if jj the jelly bean insisted on becoming a cholent bean after being mistaken for one. How would that reflect on jelly bean society in general. Would all jelly beans now want to become cholent beans just çuz the whole shabbas attention thing.

    DK, so the cholent chit chat and barley ball is in your court. Just make sure you’ve got the likelihood of confusion concerns between the jelly beans Pinto beans lima and barley straigtened out first.

    Bob,thanks for the cholent in a can lesson. The only thing I would highly reccomend is large vats of absolut vodka Mandarin and Citron flavored for those guests that may a little averse to the whole in a can concept. In life it doesn’t really matter how you make your cholent. Whether its from Quick Check,Seven Eleven ,Mordechai’s Market or Garcia’s grocery if it makes you happy and sanctifies gds name and facilitates cholent chit chat and religious chatter its all good.

  13. Jaded, the ball’s in DK’s court and that of anyone else from the BT-Sphere (pro and con!) who wants to capture the holy Shabbos light of the Passaic-Clifton metropolitan area as refracted in the Colemans’ Double-JD All-Ivy Magna-cum-Laude Decidedly Non-Alcholic Cholent with, yes, pareve kishka rendered decidedly non-pareve well before kiddush time. (Gosh, I’m starting to write like Jaded!) You may BYOB if it’s got a hecksher.

    I’m easy enough to find — just follow the bouncing link. P.S. All guests should like little boys with peyos.

    As to this thread, I’d say let’s do like we do with the kishka when the gefilte fish is finished and the little forks are cleared and stick a fork in it.

  14. I would like to take this opportunity to announce to my loyal fans that, because of pressing commitments, I am not going ahead with my prime time cooking show.

    Anyhow, I am proud to have caused several Beyond BT commenters above to actually agree on something. Next to this, what’s a little ridicule? (OK, a lot of ridicule)

  15. Ron, the sooner you arrange that non vegetarian cholent chit chat and religious chatter shabbaton, the happier and more cheerful everyone will religiously chug along.I believe if you add Absolut( peach flavored) it makes for a more cheerful cholent.Something you might want to consider in the face of challenging diversity and acute culinary differences.

  16. Bob, what can I say about your chulent… other than it’s creative? Pass the airsickness bag, OK.

    We do have a few friends who are very lovely people despite the fact that they’re vegetarians, and at times I’ve induldged them by making pareve chulent. But it’s not the same, even though mushrooms do give it a more meaty texture.

    And who said we’re not all talented BTs!

  17. LOL. We have made vegetarian chulent in the past to accomodate guests. We”ve used dried shitake mushrooms to give it a hearty smoky flavor but, really, who are we kidding? I have been known, on those rare ocassions, to surreptitiously push the pastrami on my plate into my portion of veggie chulent.

  18. David Linn,

    I just told my wife about your comment. She said, “Yay! Someone on my side!”

  19. The world has not exactly been waiting for this, but here it is anyway.

    When I was working on a job in New Hampshire in the mid 1990’s, my basement apartment lacked a properly working freezer that could keep meat fresh, so (for times that I could not be in Lowell or Brookline MA for Shabbos) I developed several variations on cholent using canned tuna or jar gefilte fish. While no one in my family is willing to to let me try it for their benefit, or even discuss it (!) I found the results very tasty.

    Some typical ingredients other than the fish included:

    1. Canned whole or sliced potatoes
    2. Canned diced tomatoes
    3. Canned string beans and carrots
    4. Hawaiian sauce or Ruth’s Kitchen Korean sauce
    5. Teriyaki sauce
    6. Cheerios or small shredded wheats
    7. Matzo meal or crumbled saltines or matzos
    8. Croutons
    9. Pineapple chunks with juice from their can
    10. Grape juice or wine
    11. Orange juice
    12. Tap water

    These culinary masterpieces were slow cooked in a Wearever slow cooker (rectangular pot on a hot-plate-like base) set to around “2” or “3”. To minimize overnight oxidation of the tuna fish “hockey puck” or gefilte fish pieces, I put them in the pot before the other ingredients, without chopping them up.

    The same general ingredients ought to work with meat, too (beef chunks, sliced hot dogs, etc.).

    This taste treat may not be Litvishe or Poilishe or Yekkishe (maybe Eclectishe?, but it managed to brighten up quite a few Shabbos days.

  20. “… or even Queens College…”

    Hey, I actually am an adjunct there, so please remove the “even”. :)

    Vegetarian kishka will go down as the common denominator between the BTs and the talented ex-BTs!

  21. David Linn, you said,

    “2. Let’s not use those problems/issues as a reason or excuse for not being practicing observant Jews.”

    That wasn’t my intent. I consider myself agnostic on such issues, but also concede that the future of Jewry depends on a core observance level.

    “What they can deny is that your personal experience is indicative of an all-encompassing weltenschaung.”

    On general Orthodoxy, you are correct. I never meant to state otherwise. But I do know what the hardcore “B’nai Torah” institutions preach, and I do have issues with that, and would prefer to talk about those issues, and not why I am a hyper-emotional loser. Even if that’s the reality, there are still policies, and they still have repercussions,for post-high school (and less for post-collegiate) recruits.

    “I think you would agree that Mark, Ron, Steve Brizel, and I are all different, no?”

    Of course! Ron and you strike me as fellow Litvaks (Ron is totally Litvak!), Steve strikes me as a bit of a Polishe (but northern Poland! And no judgments!) and Mark is a bit of a yekke (but probably only half!) and that might be part of why I make sure to stay proper in private correspondence with Mark. But yes, obviously you are all different. Why would you ask that? I fear that when I attack specific groups, you feel this is also an attack on you. Well, why is that? I don’t think I am talking about you. Why do you feel I am?

    Steve said,

    “Yet, none of us would view opting out of observance as a response to these issues.”

    I don’t think any of the hashkafa issues necessitate opting out of observance. That is a completely different issue, and those are personal issues. I would say the issues I generally raise are reasons to consider opting out of BT charedism. That’s different. Completely. Most of our ancestors (pre-War American Jews) were religious. Most were not charedim. Don’t conflate the two! I certainly don’t.

    Ron said, “5. Must take Kelsey off the list of candidates for Touro College Dean of Academic Affairs.”

    Again, for charedim who speak English as a 2nd language (like Bob Miller likes!) I have no problem with Touro. For kids who could go to NYU or Columbia or even Queens College, I do have problem with that, particularly if from secular backgrounds, and through underhanded counseling.

    But David Linn, teaching there is noble. I taught English as a second language (just like Bob Miller wants!) at a chassidic school. Best job ever. Hands down. Didn’t pay well, but I loved it. And they knew it. I was pretty good, although this one pro — a Jewish public school teacher who came straight from there — who definitely put me to shame. I didn’t have his training. He was amazing, an inspiration. And quite modest.

    Anyway — no shame in teaching in Touro. I would love to teach history at Touro. But I still don’t want Jews from secular Jewish backgrounds going there.

    As for the kishke, well, all guys like that. I would like to take the opportunity to note that this “pareve kishke” phenomenon is one of the most horrific examples of the so-called “post-denominational” (who are all too frequently vegetarian) community influencing the traditional community. This is absolutely revisionist to the core. This veggie gook is not kishke, and hot dishes that replace proper fleishik dishes with vegetarian substitutes are a sham, and should not be referred to as “cholent.”At least on this, perhaps we can find consensus?

  22. ron

    that’s an interesting idea – i think it might be a bit of a’man / woman’ divide, as this woman, at least, finds it very hard to disentangle faith from emotion.

    but congrats again, on a really worthwhile post

  23. Great summary, Ron.

    Full disclosure: my culinary territoriality, at least as regards DK, may arise from the fact that I have taught some classes at Touro (covering for a friend who blogs here and elsewhere) and was up for an adjunct position there.

  24. And if I can take that a step further, Steve, and return to the point of my post (indeed a friend saw me at a sholom zachor last night and said, in effect, “Great words, Ron; what was your point?”): Not just opting out of observance but affirmatively urging others to do opt out or avoid even considering it, by means of mockery, derision and an obsession with scandal, always paired with an unproved premise that the POV of the writer or blogger is presenting either a more intellectually honest alternative philosophy of life — virtually never fleshed out — and (sometimes only “or”) the illusory, low-cal virtue of a supposed absence of hypocrisy about sin.

    My conclusions after a few days of discussion here are:

    1. Some of these bloggers, such as those who have stopped in here to discuss these issues, are serious-minded people who should be taken seriously and by engaging them, we may actually encourage straying friends like the one I wrote about to demonstrate, as you have, Steve, both our open-mindedness and intellectual honesty.

    2. Some are, as other commenters have noted, some truly black-hearted scoffers and scandal-mongers, really people who are not interested in dialogue (I am not suggesting, by the way, that this means that the litmus test for that is whether they graced the comments on Beyond BT to defend themselves!) and there is probably nothing to be gained on any level, including that of the dilemma this post was about, in engaging them while they maintain their present posture.

    3. On the other hand, from reading some blogs more closely, many of this second group people are not former BT’s but are former FFB’s or, distressingly, people who “walk among us” but harbor deep anger and bitterness, for various reasons; blogs give them places to play that out without abandoning their social identities. Here, too, however, engaging with them at the blogging level — especially considering the anonymity component of blogging, which I have written about here — would only be counter-productive and would certainly not help in my travails with my friend.

    4. I maintain a responsibility to remain available and to spin off positive Jewish ruach, resources and chizuk to my friend, but I have to be careful about immersing myself too deeply into the Weltanschauung that is seducing him, especially as a BT myself with whom, perhaps, too much may well resonate emotionally, if not intellectually, for my own good.

    5. Must take Kelsey off the list of candidates for Touro College Dean of Academic Affairs .

    6. Linn likes kishka, but is distressingly territorial about his food. Counseling recommended.

    Fair summary?

  25. DK- David Linn’s and Ron’s points are very well taken. There is a huge range of frum BTs with a bigger hashkafic range . We all have our concerns, idiosyncracies and different POVs on a range of issues within the Torah community. Yet, none of us would view opting out of observance as a response to these issues.

  26. David, you said:

    “From what I have seen, one of the ways problems are preempted from being tackled–never mind solved–in the frum velt, is the fear of providing a heter out of frumkeit, a fear that is often paramount to the point where dysfunction is advocated as policy.”

    I’m not sure that I understand what you mean by this. Perhaps you are falling into the trap (one that I often fall into) of viewing your own experience as everyone else’s experience. No one can deny that you had a bad experience. What they can deny is that your personal experience is indicative of an all-encompassing weltenschaung.

    While I don’t want to say that my personal experiences are indicative of a broader reality either but I will say that my experience in this area has been quite the opposite. I have asked for halachic advice and guidance and been sometimes shocked at the level of leniency applied. These answers were most often given in the area of relations with non-frum family members.

    Another mistake you may be making is painting all “frum” Jews into a neat monolithic box. I think you would agree that Mark, Ron, Steve Brizel, and I are all different, no? Yet, we all consider ourselves frum BTs. Why, then should we talk about one derech, one angle, one approach to an idea? It may even be that all of us would disagree with that approach.

    I think Ron’s main thrust in the comments has been threefold:

    1.No one is saying that there aren’t issues and problems in the frum world or the BT world.

    2. Let’s not use those problems/issues as a reason or excuse for not being practicing observant Jews.

    3. Ron’s inviting everyone for cholent to discuss and work through these issues.

    David, I’m willing to sit next to you at Ron’s table but don’t even think about touching my kishka!

  27. Rabosai,

    From what I have seen, one of the ways problems are preempted from being tackled–never mind solved–in the frum velt, is the fear of providing a heter out of frumkeit, a fear that is often paramount to the point where dysfunction is advocated as policy. I see no advantage to this approach, admittedly because this isn’t paramount FWIW.

    However, there could theoretically be a middle ground, at least for BTs, if it is accepted that for the sake of growth of the movement, and shalom bayis (secular parents) other issues must be considered as well.

    I think the disconnect that is taking place that doesn’t have to take place between ex bitter BTs and BTs (not to mention FFBs)is over just that.

    We will still have our disagreements, but they need not be as painful — for you. What won’t work in the secular space is claiming that our grievances aren’t important, as they are quite important to most secular Jews. And trashing the secular world in its entirety (i.e. a quality college education because of its hedonism) won’t make these grievances less important to them. They still want their kids to go to a good school. Telling them that’s a bad idea simply is a losing battle. That’s why a certain youth group doesn’t tell them that, just the kids. Which is going to backfire badly.

    I think I’m giving you sound strategy here. If I were in your shoes, and coming from your P.O.V., and wanted to spread Orthodox adherence, I would be a big promoter of achievement of functional Orthodoxy at least for BTs, not just because I would really care, but because I would recognize how critical it is to the success of the movement and its reputation, as the most effective detractors are attacking just that.

    But that would mean trusting people more, and operating from that standpoint, instead of fear of the inherent weakness of new BTs. But the alternative could prove pretty rough, and quite costly. And make the BT movement look increasingly unattractive and problematic.

    But understand — it isn’t up to people like me. It’s up to people like you, if you have control over this movement you are a part of.

    And you may not.

  28. Michoel, there is probably truth in what you are saying, but perhaps to actually answer your questions would require a degree of public self-obsession that even a blogger must at some point find distasteful!

    Avakesh, very well put. I was in fact just this morning thinking of the Amalek angle — the reason we remember Amalek is precisely because of the poisonous effect of leitzanus on kedusha and spiritual growth. The scary part is this, Avakesh: My friend got this habit in yeshiva. Insensitive or cynical aspects of our educational system breed it, and in spades. I believe it is worse in the charedi girls’ schools in fact, where there is a real question in the schools themselves of what exactly we are educating women for in the first place, frankly. The cynicism and leitzanus this breeds nestle in a neshama and, when drop-out pressures hit, this is the soft spot.

    Of course this is true in my friend’s case, too — boys have a greater tendency to resist authority as it is, and if the system isn’t working for them, they may indeed become its enemy. But it seems to me there are more social and frumkeit options for quasi-tracked charedi boys coming out of charedi schools than “troubled” girls, in my humble view. Boys can also, I believe, “sow wild oats” and “get away with it” (huge quotation marks there) than girls. Again, I am pressing the envelope of our topic — but that’s what a good khap you had, Avakesh!

  29. Ron,
    You expressed the proper place of intellectual proofs in kiruv very well. I concur fully. I do think that part of develping long-term commitment is sensitizing onself to spiritual experiences. Perhaps we disagree and perhaps we agree but we are not defining terms the same way. Have you never “felt” the kedusha of yom kippur? Is that not a spiritual experience that can validate one’s confidence in our mesorah. Have you never sensed the Schina in the when in the presence of a great tzadik? These are real, percievable phenomena and if we have confidence in our own mental stability and perceptions, we should be open to them.

  30. posted on this issue.

    Two points:
    1. Life is hard and all roads are littered with car wrecks in the form of dissapointments, betrayals, anger, pain and other assorted life wreckage. Whether inteh spiritual or secular sphere there are only two choices- bitterness/anger/resentment or sublimation/elevation/growth.

    2.There are whole schools of thought built on overcoming adversity as the key to avodas hashem, f.e. Breslov. It is easier to do so from within a religious tradition than without. Surely, staying and fighting a good internal fight is better for the individual than leaving, running away and blaming. I know it is hard and do not wish to minimize – but it is better, much better.

    What your friend has done is succumb to leitzanus. Mockery and making fun is the greatest obstacle to teshuvah. It is like armor that deflects all serious thought and drives away inspiration. There is little hope for a proficient leytzan and it is hard to get through to one. I hope to soon post something on both topics on mysite, hopefully today or within a few days.

  31. Katrin, thanks for your kind words. Now I will demonstrate my gratitude by disagreeing with you.

    I am very suspicious of “spiritual experiences.” I have never had one. I believe we have emotional experiences for all sorts of reasons — I have them all day as I propel my way through midlife — but I cannot, myself, see the Hand of God in them; they take me in many directions, not always favorable to my spiritual development. Now, I am also suspicious of “proofs of the Torah,” but I do believe that these exercises have a very valuable contribution to make to spiritual growth, especially at the beginning stage where there is an encrusted world view about what is and what can be true, what is and what can be proved, what “proof” is and how it is we know what we know — ah, the Aish guy in me is coming out! — that is very valuable. Now if you keep your brain in its proper place this stuff does not, in my view, prove anything, but it can disprove much of what you thought you knew or at least dislodge it from a place of presumptive “reality.”

    That’s my take on it, anyway. I’m so emotional I wouldn’t rely on my emotions in developing my relationship with — and my understanding of my obligations to — God for a second.

  32. ron

    congratulations on a really great posting, and one that certainly resonates a lot for me.

    you articulated things that i’ve been really struggling to articulate recently – about what it is that is really stopping people from following a path (and not necessarily a prescriptive lifestyle) that will get them closer to Hashem.

    whenever people start going on about logic an intellect, a red light goes on for me – they are basically saying that they can’t take things on faith, or believe that there is something in the world that they can’t ‘logically’ deduce. But G-d is far beyond logic – you don’t deduce G-d, you feel G-d, and when you look for his hand in your life, you see if very clearly, even or perhaps especially when things aren’t going to plan.

    maybe a very small percentage of ‘cynics’ have real philosophical questions. most people are looking for an easy way out, and picking holes in other people’s observance, or looking for reasons why religion and religious observance is ‘wrong’ is the most popular option.

    there’s some great translated videos of rabbi amnon yitzhak at that shows the rabbi taking on a lot of jewish ‘cynics’ – and they fall into 2 categories: category one has no intention of ‘hearing’ the responses to their questions. category two – by far the larger – are generally searching for answers. and when they are given them, they recognise that they are hearing the truth.

    the videos are amazing, and show that any jew at any time can do genuine tshuva, if they want to. and if they don’t, they will continue to find excuses.

  33. BTA said: OJ is a purist religion and I don’t think people who disbelieve but act like the do believe are better for you than people like your friend.

    I don’t know where you picked up such an idea but there are so many Chazals and Halachos that contradict it I don’t know where to start.

    “Yisrael af al pi shechatah Yisrael hu.” Even when a Jew commits transgressions he is still a Jew, and a full member of Klal Yisrael.

    “Haohr shebah yachziram lemutav”—Chazal maintained that even a non-observant Jew should at least continue to learn Torah, because the light of Torah will bring him back eventually.

    Let’s look at it this way. Is it better for a Jew who has lost faith to pack up his things, leave Orthodoxy, and perhaps start a new denomination of Judaism? Or is it better for OJ that he goes on being a part of Klal Yisrael, keeping an “Orthoprax” lifestyle, remaining a member of his community and shul?

    For thousands of years ‘renegade’ Jews generally followed the latter conduct, with notable exceptions, like Sadducees, early Christians, Kari’ites, or individuals such as Spinoza, etc. who ‘outed’ themselves.

    The result was very low assimilation and intermarriage, even in relatively tolerant societies such as the Golden Age in Spain.

    The groups that split off disappeared from the Jewish people entirely.

    However, once the idea of leaving the religious community became a possibility in Europe with Napoleonic emancipation and gained a philosophical rationalization with the advent of the Reform movement, we are witness to massive assimilation and intermarriage on an unknown scale.

    Clearly, it is vastly better for the Jewish people if members of little faith stay connected to the community and shul.

    Maybe you’re thinking that a Mashgiach of a Yeshivah would not want a non-believing Jew in the Yeshivah due to the possibility of being a bad influence on others. That is quite likely, but the standards of a Yeshivah are not the same as community standards. (And there are Yeshivos especially geared to help the dropouts and deal with their specific issues in emunah.)

    On the other hand, Yeshivas Volozhin and other great Yeshivos had quite a few secret maskilim, and yet they managed to produce gedolei Torah despite their influence.

    Perhaps the most sensible advice for a young man with serious problems in emunah would be to keep observance of negative commandments to the best of his ability, so as to avoid burning the bridges, and take a break from davening, brachos, and other emunah-related mitzvos (especially Rabbinic ones) that he can’t relate to and make him feel overburdened. If he can be encouraged to join a framework where he will work on his emunah while remaining connected to learning, that would be ideal.

    But to suggest the OJ community is better off without them? No way!

  34. Ron, … do you concede that the college you attended, well known as one of the very best in the nation — helped you professionally? Both in name, but also — dare I say it — in education? Yes.

    My point is — if a certain third tier school system appropriate for the English as a second language crowd or close to it (even after three generations) is being pushed on American teenage Jews who could do much, much better, either directly or in a one two punch — in the off chance such a thing is occurring — shouldn’t parents be made aware? And what do you say to those of us who feel this is a very, very bad idea? I would agree with you, though my opinion matters very little. I say to you, however, that this is the discussion we have just about every Shabbos over cholent, and will be sure to do when you come over and share it with us. This is a hot issue “by us” because all the adults in my household have fancy degrees and all our non-adults are very literate, and they’re also tracked — as we want them to be — heavy on the limudei kodesh track. This is I believe it should be, but as Jacob suggests, is probably beyond the scope of this thread. But heck, David, if this is one of your biggest issues, I promise there’s not only room at my table but on the mizrach wall, too, at least in my shul.

    I never claimed I would ever have been particularly warm to the idea of Gedolim having absolute power. Okay, that makes two of us, also. I like the idea of their providing spiritual guidance and also — this is the key — delineating areas where their guidance should be heeded. That is a toughie, I know, but I do think it is part and parcel of emunas chachomin, a mitzvah which applies in every generation.

    But you know, this is a subtle business. I remember the moschgiah in Chaim Berlin, R’ Shimon Groner zt’l, making a point of telling me, when I was still little more than a fresh-faced “recruit” — in the halls built on the achievements of no less dominant a personalty than Rav Hutner zt’l — “We’re not like chasidim who go to their rebbe with every little question…” Go figure — I mean, if you have any idea about Chaim Berlin! If you’re not struggling with this, you’re not thinking any more, so once again, David, we’re on the same page (and I’m not suggesting everyone in the room is with us). But let’s keep Shabbos, keep kosher, be good Jews by all lights while we wrestle with these angels!

  35. #29 “My point is — if a certain third tier school system appropriate for the English as a second language crowd or close to it (even after three generations) is being pushed on American teenage Jews who could do much, much better…..”

    Aside from the obvious partisan phraseology that question could make a very good topic for a BeyondBT article. That is to say, BTs who established themselves educationally and professionally prior to becoming Shomer Mitzvos so communal/hashkafic concerns were a non-issue at the time and how to deal with an untested and unprecedented approach for our children?

    No offense to anyone, but I propose that qualified candidates for writing such a piece are those who actually have to deal with this in a real (as opposed to theoretical/cyber) world scenario.

  36. Jacob Haller- “runaway trains” have way more thrilling route options and exciting exits to detour down than the usual trite stuff.

    Ruby-great name interesting scenario you painted in a hazy shade óf ambiguous subway silver. Well, as a July birthstone rep I’m sure you know that its not the lone firecracker that creates the perfect fusion of sparkle color and display , its all the fireworks in unison even the seizuring ones.So if Billy the bitter firecracker was seizuring on the subway platform and falling , of course sparkle sweet crystal the caring firecracker would sparkle right in and rechannel or dazzle the obnoxious closeminded subway çar to a standstill and then maybe work on the system. IF your looking for successful bittersweet beings look no further than Hersheys bittersweet chocolate squares.

    Ron – absolut ly (preferably kurant flavored).As an equal opportunity “steaming metaphor” myelin sheath protector (& promoter), I would always jump right in and rechannel any wayward hyperactive metaphors that might be heading towards “bitter seizuring” similes succumbing to short circuitings on the subway platform.

  37. Ron,

    Let me ask you — see, taking nothing away from your natural talents which are clearly evident — do you concede that the college you attended, well known as one of the very best in the nation — helped you professionally? Both in name, but also — dare I say it — in education?

    My point is — if a certain third tier school system appropriate for the English as a second language crowd or close to it (even after three generations) is being pushed on American teenage Jews who could do much, much better, either directly or in a one two punch — in the off chance such a thing is occurring — shouldn’t parents be made aware? And what do you say to those of us who feel this is a very, very bad idea?

    You said,

    Who is preaching this lifetime of repentance? The very name Baal Teshuva, or Chozer B’Teshuva,either or, implies repentance.
    This is the identity offered to Jews from secular backgrounds in the haredi world.

    “as if the writers would readily submit to the spiritual guidance of the Chofetz Chaim or even the Rambam. I’m not buying that.

    I’m not asking you to. I never claimed I would ever have been particularly warm to the idea of Gedolim having absolute power. I would never have liked that. All of my ancestry rejected at least the scope of authority of daas Torah and came to the U.S. mostly in the 19th century.

  38. While I know I’m being redundant, I do feel it necessary to again state that there is no “one size fits all” kiruv. There are some people (and I’ve known quite a few, nebich) who became frum for the same reason that they may have previously joined cults – looking for instant nirvana and solutions to all their emotional problems. If someone has emotional issues, OJ can only resolve them up to a point.

    People become frum for many different reasons. And that’s why there are so many approaches available – from the intellectual stimuli of the Litvish Yeshiva approach, to the warm and cuddly Chabad style. It’s an unfortunate fact that if someone came into OJ through the wrong door (for them), they’re probably not going to be inclined to knock on any of the other doors, but choose the exit instead.

    The “5-year plan” makes great sense, and was a criteria of mine when I was dating. Because by 5 years the initial enthusiasm may well have died down, and now we’re dealing with day to day life issues. Insofar as the repentance issue, people who are besieged by guilt over their “previous lives” also will probably not make a successful transition. It’s not that we were “evil”, it’s more that we just didn’t have a longer opportunity to do more mitzvahs, for which we’ll try to compensate now. Everything happens for a reason; including anything we did in other lifestyles.

  39. BTA-

    You may have misunderstood my situation. For obvious reasons, I use an internet content filter to censor access to the net. PureSight has been blocking as an “adult” site. I don’t know why, but I would guess that most blogs over there are not discussing the evidence or lack of evidence for TMS.

    I was in a BT Yeshivah in the late seventies/early eighties that raised the banner of Proofs of God and Torah M’Sinai. There was a lot of debate and struggle, and the Rosh Yeshivah always said: “Don’t take my word for it, go and check it out.” He sent people to Hebrew University to research the facts. I don’t know where it is that you experienced censorship in a BT Yeshivah.

    Naturally, they are not going to stock a collection of Nietzsche in the Beis Midrash library. A Yeshivah is not a university; they are clearly offering a religious point of view, not a marketplace of ideas.

    But that isn’t censorship, anyone can go and look up the opposing points of view. We grew up with atheism, moral relativism, random evolution, and bible criticism; we know where to look to see how they handle the arguments used by kiruv Rabbis in a BT Yeshivah.

    I never heard anyone in a BT Yeshivah telling new students, “don’t read those books.” I have heard Rabbis say: “Read it and get back to me.”

    I think that sometimes there is a subconscious decision, or perhaps willful one, to surrender the mind and let someone else do one’s thinking. Maybe it’s laziness, maybe something psychological.

    It’s the duty of anyone involved in outreach to encourage people to challenge and think critically about what they’re learning. Otherwise, they are more than likely going to experience the ‘boomerang effect’ you mention.

    And more importantly, how can someone find the truth unless he engages in a sincere and all-encompasing battle to find it?

  40. Dave, great comments. I don’t like the term “recruits,” but I can see why you’d use it since there is so much mass kiruv going on — because kiruv organizations by and large believe, as I do, that they are in a race against time on matters of assimilation and intermarriage. It’s a loaded term, and it’s an insult to everyone who is a baal teshuva to be reckoned as a “recruit,” especially by someone who holds of himself as, well, smarter than the rest of them — he “caught on,” and they, those dumb recruits (kind of John Kerry-esque attitude, I guess) didn’t.

    Hedonism, David, is hedonism. You consider yourself quite a square by any other than black hat standards, and maybe you are; but it is what it is. Is nihilism also in the eye of the beholder? That’s a fair question, but from the perspective of the purposeful focus that the Torah provides a Jew, I would say that the philosophy of life embodied by an assimilated American-style existence, where the only real standard of morality is “were they consenting adults,” is morally vacuous. You say it is not that, it is merely — what? — old fashioned off-the-shelf American Jewish “morality.” You can look at the moral state of American Jewry today and feel comfortable about it; I can’t. I think it’s a disaster with virtually no bearing on what could be called moral.

    But that doesn’t make rabbis into Gedolim, and it doesn’t make every aspect of haredism worthwhile or every policy a good idea and justifiable. And your saying so does not make Gedolim into ketanim. It is very much of a piece with the snark of the anti-frum blog world to carp about “today’s pitiful Gedolim,” as if the writers would readily submit to the spiritual guidance of the Chofetz Chaim or even the Rambam. I’m not buying that.

    Who is preaching this lifetime of repentance? You know what, I myself have a world of difficulty with a lot of the built in repentance stuff. Not because I don’t need to repent; I do. But you know, you’ll agree with me, there’s a lot of going-through-the-motions stuff here — long Tachanun, Selichos — who’s being moved by that? It’s a problem for me. That doesn’t mean I’m therefore going to order the shrimp. The “all or nothing” position is yours, David, not mine.

    You’re right, David, Bitter BT’s are harder to handle than liberal Jews, in a way, because they’re not so much amaratzim as apikorsim. Frankly you may find more allies among non-former-BT’s, and Gedolim-holding-by rabbonim, too, than you think. Meshugas? Fine, let’s toss it. Poverty? Well, private school is a problem. Kollel for everyone, you say? Ah, see mishugas. But these are straw men. Shabbos is still Shabbos. You focus on trivialities, outrages, shtuyot; you label idealistic strivers as mindless “recruits”; you come to “my” blog and tell me to leave you alone — odd for someone who says he couldn’t really care less what we do here! You care too much, you care so much that you blog, you believe in right and wrong, David, and that is why you are so much more intriguing, challenging — such a geshmake recruit! — than those liberal Jews.

    Sorry, David, I want you back, you and your friends (well, not all of them — I haven’t mastered that famous Chabad-like level of Ahavas Yisroel). You’re all invited for Shabbos. No mishugas, only normal middle-class metro-New York poverty of the underachieving and only one gedolim picture. You know where to find me. Tell me how many places to set.

  41. Ron said,

    “But there’s no natural place for that debate — it won’t be on their blogs, and it won’t be here…”

    It will be in the general marketplace of ideas in the Jewish world. The haredi BT movement has more money and acceptance and infiltration into the mainstream organizational Jewish world than ever before, but for the first time, is facing educated and increasingly organized resistance.

    Fern R said,

    “Just like drug users who want to snare those around them into drug use so that they don’t feel like such a loser”

    You know what else…oh, never mind. I’m not going to go there.


    If the world being attacked by the skeptics could offer a convincing explanation or was able to improve itself on these issues, do you really think the accusations would be so devastating? Instead, not only are no improvements made, it seems (our issues) to get worse and worse.

    “What today’s anti-frum ideology offers is nihilism and hedonism…”

    First of all, be fair — “hedonism” by black hat standards isn’t particularly hard to achieve. Most of us are a bit what most might call bookish, at least much of the time.

    As for nihilism, if that’s your friend’s take, that’s unfortunate. Very. And there are certainly ex-o FFBs who when they leave the frum world, are just that. And it’s horrifying.

    But most of us who are former BTs (and certainly those just formerly haredi but still kinda religious) do not embrace nihilism, but return in many ways to the morality we grew up with. At least with the ones I have read and met. Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t threaten its ugly head. It sometimes does, and it’s awful. The pits.

    But that doesn’t make rabbis into Gedolim, and it doesn’t make every aspect of haredism worthwhile or every policy a good idea and justifiable.

    It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. And life can’t just be about repenting. Look at our Jewish calendar. Does it look like it’s all about repenting? Is every day the 10 Days of Repentance for a few years straight if you were born into a secular family? Cause that’s what’s preached in some dark and fiery corridors.

    You want everyone to be Orthodox, who cares? Just don’t drive people meshugah, and don’t drive them into poverty or misery. Meshugas, poverty, misery. That’s it, Ron. If the BT Movement stops pushing all three, you won’t hear from me, I can assure you of that. I can go on to other things. Bigger things. Like reducing national and then global oil consumption. Seriously — help a bitter brother out. Stop those three things — particularly for young recruits — and most of us will leave your movement alone, and so I can go on and encourage everyone to help stop oil consumption, which is the driving force and power behind a lot of evil regimes, and a lot of terrorism, and threatens the State of Israel, and leads to some ill chosen wars. Seriously, you’re the ones who care the most about spreading Orthodoxy — we just can’t stand haredism or (usually) Liberal Judaism.

    Can’t we make a deal over here? You do your job and make sure younger recruits aren’t put through the full factory treatment, and we’ll leave you frumme yidden alone. Yeah, you’ll have to battle the ‘Liberal Judaism’ crowd, but they are a lot easier for you to handle than the bitter BTs. You can talk hashkafa all day with them. Isn’t that really what you want?

  42. Ron
    you mentioned your friend had learning issues and as a result was unable to cope with the demands of the yeshiva curriculum.

    There is a program that was introduced last year at my childrens school that addresses learning issues at the root instead of simply attempting to address the problem with compensation strategies.

    On Monday night, January 8th, at 9:00 PM, Zev Brenner will be interviewing Rabbi Glass, principal of HALB, and Annette Goodman, a HALB Arrowsmith parent, on the Arrowsmith Program for Children with Learning
    Difficulties at HALB.
    Parents are invited to call the program between 9:00 and 10:00 PM with questions. The number to call is 212-769-1925.

    The station is:

    WSNR 620 AM(NY)
    WLVJ 1040 AM (FL)


    More information about the arrowsmith program can be obtained at

  43. “You can just tell what David Linn or yourself are like from reading your words. You are smart, humble and willing to take that leap of faith. Most important, you sound like patient people.”

    BTA, flattery will get you everywhere. :)

    You are making some excellent points. I particularly would like to amplify the point of “proofs”. I’ve always been against offering “proofs” since they have inherent flaws. Offer them as interesting points, issues to be discussed, what have you. But, they really aren’t proofs. If it were so easy to provide proofs, free will would go out the window. What invariably happens is that someone sees or finds a flaw in the proof and,what, now they have disproved Torah?!

    I also agree that the kiruv world needs to diversify and that a touch of chasidus may go a long way.

  44. “The dispute over which is a more authentic and closer derech is old and unfortunate.”

    Steve, I wasn’t even going that deep. I was merely pointing out how strange it is that kiruv folks don’t realize that chassidus provides another approach to m’kariving Jews that would never be satisfied with all of the proofs, explanations and, from the ex-Bt’s perspective, apologetics one finds in the Litvish world.

    You are correct that at the core, they may be saying the same things, but chassidus for BT’s (not talking about Satmyr, etc) doesn’t have the elitism, the censorship and control issues, at least from my perspective. The chassidim also seem much more “into” doing the mitzvos, whereas many BT’s are astounded and turned off by the typical litvish “let’s get this over with” mentality, or the abstruse hasgafos one can learn from this or that tosofos.

  45. BTA-re your comments re Chasidus bashing-the old dispute between Chasidim and Misnagdim never died completely. The dispute over which is a more authentic and closer derech is old and unfortunate. Look at it this way-if you learned Nefesh HaChaim and Hilcos Talmud Torah of the SA HaRav and the Tanya without knowing the authors, you would be hard pressed to tell which was which.

  46. I don’t know how to “demagnetize” anti-religious blogs, but I do know that complaining and criticizing is an addictive vice. Once you get started, it’s hard to stop, and spending time around people who complain or criticize constantly can be infectious. Just like drug users who want to snare those around them into drug use so that they don’t feel like such a loser, so too do complainers try and recruit other people to incessantly complain.

    Also, current secular society glorifies people who buck tradition solely for the sake of bucking tradition. An example of this is a women’s message board I used to frequent. Approximately once a month a member of the message board would start a “Hell Train Express” thread for people to gleefully confess to all the horrible things they have done recently. I think people are trying to drown out their conscious by acting like it’s fun and wonderful to do immoral things. Let’s face it, doing to right thing is hard, and the rewards are not always immediately apparent. On the other hand, doing the wrong thing often gives a person instant (albeit short lived) gratification.

  47. “The paradigm of this issue in Breslov Chassidus, which I have found very inspiring, is that the greater a tzaddik, the farther their reach.”

    This reminds me that I meant to mention earlier that chassidus presents the best approach for many potential BT’s because it doesn’t try to “prove” things that can backfire. It immerses a person in the lifestyle that many BT’s find very affirming and inspiring. Also, since it puts less emphasis on how learned one is, a BT can feel like he/she “fits in” much quicker- a major hurdle in my opinion. You would not believe the chassidim-bashing that goes on in litvish BT yeshivas- where the chassidim are the “other,” and I don’t just mean Chabad.

    So, in addition to my 5-year observation, I’d say that those of you who feel your off the derech friend still has a chance might in fact want to steer them to something like Breslov chassidus. I know that sounds strange coming from me, but I respect that approach.

  48. David S.:

    This point:
    “The bloggers and commentators seem to be looking for a forum to vent their gripes, certainly not an opportunity for growth or honest engagement.”

    Is directly related to this point:

    “… my internet content filter has decided to block all of … and since I made an arrangement that the administrator’s password is in the hands of another party, I am blocked from viewing the latest scandals and explosive issues of the j-blogosphere.”

    This goes to the raison d’etre of ex-BT blogs. Most of us were told don’t read “those books,” and learned to avoid kofrim and apikorsim, etc. But 3 months before becoming BT’s we would have bristled at censorship. Most successful kiruv programs succeed on at least appearing to answer questions.

    Thus, many BT’s and ex-Bt’s go to the skeptical blogs to drink in what they thirsted for for all those years. It’s a classic boomerang effect.

    I’m not sure how you would “solve” this, but I will say that the most persuassive kiruv people are those who acknowledge difficulties but find workarounds. They will succeed with the more patient, humble BT prospects.

  49. No Jew is ever beyond hope, but it may be that we ourselves aren’t big enough tzaddikim to help them. The paradigm of this issue in Breslov Chassidus, which I have found very inspiring, is that the greater a tzaddik, the farther their reach. But there can be serious pitfalls as well and we need to care, but know our own limits.

  50. Ron, this is an interesting post and since you are ruminating about folks like me, perhaps you won’t mind my input. (Or perhaps you’ll delete my input) :)

    You raise several issues. The first is that you imply your friend is somehow handicapped and this explains why he went off the derech. Now, you may be correct, but for the wrong reason. You see, I think it takes a certain type of person to make it to what I’ve noted to be the “5-year BT threshhold.”

    As the moniker would imply, it seems that if someone is solidly into being frum by the time they’ve had 5 years under their belt, they are quite likely to stay frum.

    You conjectured why ex-BT’s blog rather than simply walk away. This is interesting, since there are myriad reasons why BT’s become ex-BT’s. For some, it is their tayvos getting the best of them and they cannot maintain the discipline and the stress of not fitting in as a second class citizen. For others, they just realize they don’t buy it. For yet others, they may have been rather neurotic from the outset to even make such a drastic change, move to Israel, whatever, without knowing anything beforehand.

    But I realize that you are taking the stance of the Torah’s truth and OJ’s inerrancy and I am not going to argue with you here. Let’s just say, however, that when I made the decision to become “frum,” I was working with a very smart kiruv rabbi whose approach was to deflect my inquiries until he could get me to Israel to a yeshiva and leave it up to the “experts.” However, I accepted tefillin, shabbos, kashrus all on the premise that I knew I didn’t know anything about them and was going to learn about them and I promised myself that I would reevaluate in “3 years”.

    I know, it seems like strange compartmentalization. But for me, that delay allowed me to see the good, no great, things in OJ up close, without tiptoing around the perimeter. Many things, such as identifying for once with klal yisroel and eretz yisroel were and are very nice for me. The OJ views on marriage and the like and the emphasis on parenting not based on the social millieu that surrounds us, were all appealing.

    But, in the end, long before the 3 years were up, I had tremendous doubts. These doubts caused me a bit of cognitive dissonance because I knew I was living contrary to what my logic and intuition told me. As a last-ditch effort, I decided to go to the chareidi yeshiva after all. It didn’t last long. I won’t go into details here except to say that even some of the smartest Rabbeim I knew (that I sought out for honest advice)- one of them a posek- acknowledged that my questions were real and that I needed to make a leap of faith. But I wasn’t going to go on faith any longer.

    I concluded, and I think it is a fair conclusion, that if God wanted believers, he wouldn’t have to do much to make believers out of all the Jews. Instead, we are left to convince ourselves of very abstract things- that there even is a “Ribbono shel olam,” that the oral law is true, that the torah shel b’kisav was dictated by God at Sinai and so on.

    This gets back to why I think it comes down to a person’s character. You can just tell what David Linn or yourself are like from reading your words. You are smart, humble and willing to take that leap of faith. Most important, you sound like patient people. Call it “golus,” call it gayva, but I just couldn’t be patient with what I didn’t believe even for the benefits. I am not embittered nearly as much as the distance between the dishonest statements of rabbeim in the yeshivas and in the many kiruv books out there once made me.

    Take it from me, there are a good many off the derech BT’s that you would never know are off the derech, aka “orthoprax.” Isn’t it better for kavod HaTorah and from your frum perspective to have honest people like your friend who don’t secretly mix in among you in shul? OJ is a purist religion and I don’t think people who disbelieve but act like the do believe are better for you than people like your friend.

  51. Steve–
    I don’t think that we should give up on any person (let alone Jew), but at some point we do have to recognize our complete lack of control over them. We need to love our fellow man, which means helping and caring and all that good stuff, but we don’t need to make them religious (what I mean is, it’s not a mitzvah) because we can’t. People can decide to be or not be religious; all we can do is give them a choice. We can be open and welcoming and make a kiddush Hashem with our behavior, and from then on it’s up to them.

  52. Ron,

    The relationship you developed and nourished with your friend has and will always have tremendously greater influence on him than all the invective blogs spewing their venom over the entire blogosphere. Kiruv is accomplished through human relationships, and flesh and blood relationships are real; they win hands down over any virtual reality.

    I also don’t see any constructive purpose in engaging the “skeptics” in such a forum. As commentators regularly attest, hardly anyone ever changes his or her point of view from all the debates on those blogs, and I have found that people are generally interested in a quick comeback or putdown, without seriously considering anyone else’s viewpoint at all. The bloggers and commentators seem to be looking for a forum to vent their gripes, certainly not an opportunity for growth or honest engagement.

    In a fortunate turn of Hashgachah pratis, my internet content filter has decided to block all of (even Hirhurim and asimplejew!), and since I made an arrangement that the administrator’s password is in the hands of another party, I am blocked from viewing the latest scandals and explosive issues of the j-blogosphere.

    Interestingly enough, I still have access to Beyond BT, I guess that says something about where it’s really worthwhile to spend some time. For the time being, I’m pleased with this, and I’m not going to ask the administrator (my wife) to make any changes.

    I heartily concur that there is no benefit in engaging the phenomenon of the bitter ex-BT blogger, at least on-line. Maybe if we chance to meet one in person we can have some positive influence by being concerned about their welfare and listening to their complaints, but I don’t think there can be any real progress made in the anonymous realm, where people keep to their “type-casted” role.

    And while they may often be right about their grievances, I do believe that is the definition of lashon hara, no? I think we see the same grievances, and we can express them in a beneficial manner, for the sake of improvement, without using them as a roadblock to throw the other drivers off the derech.

  53. WADR to the rav mentioned by Ron, it is very tempting to say that some people are beyond our abilities. That may very well be the case, but I don’t think that giving up on any Jew, no matter how “off the derech” he or she may appear, sound or blog, is a positive perspective for us. IMO, the Torah in Parshas Nitzavim in what we call the “Parsha shel Teshuvah” and all of the Mfarshim there say that Teshuvah is something that is built into all of us. Even if the psychological and sociological realities seem daunting- somewhere, someplace, somehow, there is a proper derech in Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim for everyone. Perhaps, the person needs therapy or some other professional to help he or she through her crisis and disallusionment. IMO, one of the best ways that all of us can do in being of assistance to such a person is to listen and offer assistance.If the person blogs, you may be able to better offer your comments and observations via private email, which may offer more opportunity for such a relationship to build to a real opportunity for kiruv . If and when the person offers what you know is either flat out wrong, then it behooves you to discuss the issue in a firm, respectful manner. It is not a fail safe method, but I do think that it is an approach that at leaves the door open for discussion and even possibly a path for return to observance via a visit for Shabbos or some other basis where he or she just might have their interest in Judaism rekindled.

  54. I do think some people fall into an “all or nothing” trap… they become BTs who are very “black hat” and discover that no, this life is not for them. So if they can’t do it “all” there is only “nothing” left. I do think that the various kiruv orgs and other BTs perpetuate this by saying there is no middle ground, especially by bashing the MO. For a lot of people in the middle, MO would be completely OK and still torah Judaism. I have several relatives who went from hardline RW BT to MO BT and are doing great that way.

  55. Ruby, you obviously read that incredible story in today’s paper about the man who did just that! I’m sure Jaded would do the same for you or me if one of those steaming metaphors were heading for us in a tunnel.

    The Iggros Moshe is in Orach Chaim Aleph, Siman Tzadi-tes. This is known as an unusually severe responsum of Reb Moshe zt”l, who is better (if not more appropriately) known for his leniencies. It happens that Rabbi Menachem Zupnik here in Passaic spoke on a related topic (the El Al boycott) last weekend and he gave out an excerpt from the responsum as one of several sources of authority in the thesis he developed, in his lecture materials (I would not have known where to find it myself). Reb Moshe writes (the translation is mine):

    I have been asked … whether there is a prohibition of lifnei eever (“placing a stumbling block before the blind”) to invite people who will come to services at shul and it is known that they will desecrate Shabbos by driving there. And I answered that to invite those are distant in a way that they cannot come without Shabbos desecration is certainly forbidden, and it is worse than lifnei eever, it in fact implicates the prohibition of meisis. And though the prohibition of meisis that one would be liable for death by stoning is only the meisis who leads one to idol worship, in any event the concept and the punishment from Heaven in all its strictness applies to all prohibitions as is clear from the gemara … which describes the Primordial Serpent as a meisis even though there was no idol worship, only the prohibition of eating from the Tree of Knowledge. We see therefore that there is meisis for every transgression, but while there is no earthly sanction other than regarding idol worship, but by Heavenly means there is punishment …

    Reb Moshe goes on to qualify and define the circumstances where such an invitation could constitute meisis and one should certainly ask his LOR how, when and if it applies in a specific circumstance. I understand not all poskim agree with this approach, but, again, for purposes of my article I thought it appropriate to touch upon the seriousness of the one who induces another to sin.

  56. JT, subway riding can be dangerous, too, if bitter friend has a siezure on the platform and falls onto the tracks. Heroic friend has to make tough judgement call whether he should jump in and shield him from oncoming train…

  57. Ron,
    Please tell us where the t’shuvah of Reb Moshe is. I would like to see it inside.

    Some folks had very emotionally difficult lives before they were frum. they hoped that Yiddishkeit would solve their issues. They were wrong. Now they are even more embittered and angry at that which gave them false hope.

  58. Jacob, I’m sorry, I never meant to implicate MO. I meant “modern orthodox” as in “contemporary orthodox.” This is not an MO story at all. Far from it.

    Thanks all of you for your comments, which are all insightful. Jaded, as usual your gift for metaphor overwhelms the more prosaic among us.

  59. This blog reminds me some much of my own mother :( Nebuch case…became a Baales Teshuva in her teens, BY education and all, and went off the derech only to have her own daughter realize her roots but not go along on the ride…it hurts to be honest

    yesh’koach on the blog though

  60. The net has made many the lone blogger into a pseudo-celebrity as more readers get the word around. After all, if someone is looking for attention online, what better way then to pick at an accepted norm. Generally, a blog that just would say “hooray, I became frum, everything is great”, might be a good thought, but a boring read over time. This site escapes that because of the discussions that ensue. Our society loves controversy, and those bloggers have found a way to generate it, albeit on a small scale.

  61. “Some just want to do their thing and some have an axe to grind.”

    I would add that others have been “hurt” by the “system” and will do anything to “bring it down”. (I guess that could be included in the “axe to grind category)

    Stll others have encountered inexperienced or inarticulate kiruv professionals (though well meaning) and have developed an opinion of Torah and Torah observant Jews on that basis.

    With many, though not all (I believe they are as varied as any other demographic) it is a case of falling into the trap of “judging Judaism by Jews”. They have experienced or heard of “frum Jews” who have done something wrong. Therefore, the Torah can’t be good or true. It is, lehavdil, like saying that the concept of American democracy is bad and wrong because there are klansmen that live and thrive in America.

    The overwhelming majority of these types of blogs do not make intellectual or emotional arguments against the Torah. They tend to revel in the mistakes, errors and sins of prominent frum Jews and repeatedly harp on a pet issue deriving from their experiences.

  62. First, I think JT’s use of metaphors is like a runaway train ;)

    Regarding your rabbinic friend who came to the realization that some cases can’t be worked on because the investment is too great: Reminds me of a source (Medrash Rabba?) where Moshe Rabeinu’s hesitancy over approaching Pharoah to demand the release of his people was due partially to his fear of contaminating his neshama (“soul” in very rough translation) by being in Pharaoh’s presence and his throne room which was like a shrine for avodah zarah.

    Some might respond with shock that Moshe Rabeinu should put his own interests first over his people.

    Perhaps considering that our Tzadikim were known for their altruism such shock might be well founded but the Medrash is teaching a valuable lesson regarding the fragility of the neshama, how it should not be taken for granted, its necessity as a means to worship Hashem and that ANYTHING including freeing an entire people from bondage has to seen as a calculated risk as much as anything else.

    Your anguish over your friend’s decline into the abyss is laudable but ostensibly Ron as you delve into self-chizuk through learning and performing mitzvos your subject is working equally as hard to accomplish the very opposite with all the accompanying impurities.

    I’m not in the social work field but I did go to grad school for an MSW. One underlying theme was that the client has to display SOMETHING tangible indicating that they want to clean up and improve. The therapist can’t do everything for him/her.

    Also, just wondering how you determined that your friend’s slip was exacerbated by an MO upbringing. For the record I’m a BT and chose the “Yeshivish” path and did spend several years in MO environments before reaching this decision. What’s understood is that students with undiagnosed learning issues could easily fall through the cracks in any environment.

    But what’s your basis for the opinion that an MO upbringing was the harbinger of this decline and that a “black hat” environment would have served as some panacea?

    One more thing, please since the topic was brought up. Some high tech pundits predict that the blogosphere will peak in 2007 and subsequently start to wane. Even if this forecast is on the mark (IMO it’s not) one can’t overestimate the power it has on the close adherents. I could completely identify with the part of how the subject, through the use of blogs could begin to articulate matters that he was previously unable to.

  63. Good points, Ron!

    To some, the non- or anti-religious world has more allure than the religious. Some people grow up with this attitude, and some pick it up along the way.
    Some just want to do their thing and some have an axe to grind. Each world has, among other things, its own set of blogs.
    We all ought to review our assumptions about how constructive it is to:

    1. Rebut the “bad” bloggers on their own turf.
    2. Let the “bad” bloggers onto our turf and try dealing with them there.

    I put “bad” in quotes because I have no idea at all of their actual motivations. Regardless, their effect is bad.

    I’m not enamored of diversity or unrestrained discussion for their own sake. Beyond BT runs a pretty tight ship, but some other well-meaning blogs have fallen into endless rounds of name-calling and have managed to provide a space for the bad guys to recruit. Using this medium for the sake of controversy and excitement is irreponsible.

    Let’s face facts:
    Some arguments, however weak and poorly motivated, cannot be annihilated because they strike an emotional chord within some people. We can’t hermetically seal people off from all bad influences, but we can at least do our best not to facilitate their contact with bad influences.

  64. Ron,regarding üre runaway roadtrip metaphor,I would suggest you advise your bitterly beyond spiritual bail , faithless friend to invest in a monthly metro card.Those flag wavers do have a valid fabric point or twenty.It may not be a èight car lane disaster. But many times exact cause is unknown and just kinks in the sequential energy of random happenstancings. And often the unknown happenstancings create some of the most truthful yet confusing realistic and complicated irreversible traffic jams. Ever try changing your mind or direction , once your stuck in midtown traffic. Whether its a parade , a fashion show , a ball drop or à stalled tourist tricycle you can only sit and wonder and sit some more. maybe question stuff to help past time. Even though there are no answers really especially if üre really far from the natural distraction ànd you keep missing tired and trite traffic updates and myths that make no sense. Ór maybe the updates are in Spanish or Hebrew only. (alei shure anyone ?)

    You might want to also conduct sincerely Sunday subway symposiums for your faithless friend, praising the virtues of smooth,logical bitterly real subway sequential. sailing. Right in sync with subway stops. Navigating logically, nicely and consistently through the underbelly of NYC without any holiday traffic and complicated jams and headaches.Hop on and off until you find the right community and correct subway line.It may not be a comfortable a ride as say a lemon yellow Hummer But definitely more real. And there is usually a bonus chosen prophet with phamplet/ chemically imbalanced persons in need or a general merchandise seller pleading théir wares and plights in unison.

    Don’t pretend that there is a plethora of non patronizing çommunities replete with welcoming committees right around the corner with open cars and pious hearts and lids. Every car just wants the traffic to clear.every driver for themselves. Ãœnadulterated altrusim is scarce. The Rule makers just want obedience or money or fame or all of the above.Happy subway pole dancing and riding. Just don’t litter. Then you might have to walk.

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