Attention: New BTs

On the road to learning more about Judaism, you are likely to encounter some obstacles. Having traveled on this road for 5 years and experiencing some highs and lows, I feel that I am in an excellent position to assist those of you who are currently struggling with issues and maybe even prevent some problems from coming up.

1. You will most definitely have to field questions from family and/or friends who are not observant. The best way to approach the situation is to always be respectful and honest. If they ask you a question to which you don’t know the answer, admit you don’t know the answer, tell them you will find an answer, and then call your rabbi as soon as you can to get that answer. If you hear things that frustrate or upset you, bite your toungue. As tempting as it is to want to talk back, now is not the time to do it. Remember that your family is most likely worried that you will reject them. Keep that in mind when they ask you questions that you are uncomfortable with. To your family, you are representing observant Judaism.

2. One day your family asks you a question that you are just stumped on and you don’t have someone to talk to about that. That’s where your rabbi comes in. If you don’t have a rabbi that you can talk to, find one ASAP. If it means you have to shul-shop all over town, do it. Your rabbi should be knowledgable in obeying Jewish law yet maintaining relationships with non-observant family.

3. You might wonder where all your interests fit in this new lifestyle of yours, you could ask yourself “Can I still listen to 80’s hair band music?”, “Can I still go see concerts?” If you liked taking ballet classes or jazz classes before you became observant, you can still do so within reason. If you made a living as a singer or an actor before becoming observant, you can still sing and/or act. There are all women for women shows, especially if you are lucky enough to live in New York. If there are no opportunities for such shows, make one of your own. Bottom line, you should not change so much who you are that you wake up one day in the future and you don’t recognize yourself.

8 comments on “Attention: New BTs

  1. It is indeed Rabbi Bomzer of Albany. We’ve been friends for years, but we never lived in Albany. He recruited me to work there, but my wife didn’t like the opportunities for her; so we never moved there. Nonetheless, during our five years in Mass. we often drove over to Albany for Shabbat or Yom Tov. We may have met in shul. We’re also very friendly with the Kelmens (Rabbi Yaakov and Lisa). We used to regularly spend aharon shel Pesah with them, and go x-country skiing together.

  2. “Bottom line, you should not change so much who you are that you wake up one day in the future and you don’t recognize yourself.”

    Here, here!

  3. Mordechai Scher: Would this be Rabbi Bomzer from Albany? If so, perhaps our families were acquainted long ago in the Bais Shraga Hebrew Academy?

  4. I would ammend my previous comment and note that one needs community as well as a rav. Ultimately, individual space, communal space, and national space (which spans all generations) all play a part. One’s rav is often the facilitator of helping the integration and interplay work on a path of Torah, as expressed in a living tradition. (Whew, did I say that? Okay, so I’m no Maharal or Rabi Yehuda Halevy…)

    One of the most fascinating experiences I’ve ever had was being privileged to see my wife’s relationship with her rav (Rav Moshe Eliezer Bomzer) develop right before my eyes. One evening, they sat confronting each other (literally and figuratively) in his living room. At some point I could palpably sense their already established relationship change, and the encounter went from confrontation to collaboration.

  5. Michael’s suggestion seems a good one, to me. I would add, though, that when all is said and done, having a teacher/mentor/rav is what makes the difference between plugging in to Judaism in it’s largest sense and simply persuing our individual spiritual path.

    Judaism is a complex, beautiful blend between individual spirituality and the spirituality of the Jewish nation encompassing all it’s generations. We all start out on a fairly individualized path. It must be that way since we’re making a personal choice in terms of Teshuvah. Yet, to become a participant in the life of Torah and the Jewish people in the largest sense, we need to become plugged in to a living tradition that goes back to Sinai. For that, one must have a rav, someone who connects them to the previous generations (not just an imparter of information). The rav’s job is to help us create our individualized place *within the Jewish people*, on a path of Torah.

    Incidentally, that’s why a true scholar of Torah is called a ‘talmid hacham’, a ‘student of a sage’ or a ‘student sage’. If one lived in a library and read and understood everything ever written about Torah, they would not be a ‘talmid hacham’. They would simply be erudite. The key element isn’t just knowledge; it’s tradition, it’s living Torah.

    Aliza, maybe you could write us a post about that journey you alluded to? How have you been finding your song, now that you know what your dilemna has been?

    Rav Dov Begon always used to tell us that Teshuva didn’t mean doing away with our past or our ‘selves’; it means integrating and refining it.

  6. #3 really touched me.
    I recently realized that over this year of my becoming religious I really have lost part of myself and my personality. I actually didn’t even recognize myself anymore!
    I spoke it over with my seminary teacher this past Shabbat and I’ve come to the realization that there’s still room for me to be me while being religious and growing.
    It’s wonderful :)

  7. It’s also good to review the aspects of your previous life from your new perspective. Some music or activities (or whatever) you like may fit in well with your improving self, and some not.

  8. If you don’t know the answer call your Rabbi and if you are stumped….do your homework first before asking a Rabbi. There are ample resources on the internet, books etc. For sure some are better than others Don’t be satisfied with simple answers to complex questions. Do your best to find the information on a topic and then ask your Rabbi.

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