Rabbi Yitz Greenman on Integrating into the Frum Community

At the Beyond BT Shabbaton in Passaic, Rabbi Yitz Greenman – Executive Director of Aish NY and Producer of Inspired Films gave a shiur on the topic of “Integrating into the Frum Community”.

Rabbi Greenman started off by giving two scenarios both of which he thought were unhealthy:
1) Feeling that you always have to hide being a BT
2) Advertising you are a BT and associating only with other BTs

He felt that a person should find a community where (s)he would associate with people who weren’t BTs and at the same time the person won’t feel that (s)he needs to hide the fact that (s)he is a BT.

After presenting the above position, the floor was opened to questions and a lively discussion ensued.

Many people in attendance felt that the reason that people hide being a BT is because people are judgmental about BTs. Rabbi Greenman was not sure that judgmentalism was the cause and thought that perhaps people sometimes feel that they are being judged, even when they aren’t being judged.

Many thanks to Rabbi Greenman for opening his home to us and taking the time to share his thoughts and to lead a discussion on this issue.

38 comments on “Rabbi Yitz Greenman on Integrating into the Frum Community

  1. not BT–
    Speak for yourself. Maybe the system of life you’re describing does require adherents to shrug off their old personalities and blindly accept rules “based on a very shallow understanding,” etc. But what you’re describing is a mix of extreme interpretations and just plain wrongness (for example, if a man is “frankly, dumb” you shouldn’t be asking him about halacha, and if a woman is smart (in Torah though, not as a rocket scientist or brain surgeon), she is probably qualified to answer your question).

    Personally, I went back to school after becoming religious, I believe that non-Jews have souls, my husband and I dated for a year, we work to pay for our child’s needs, and I hold by those who say a sheitel is assur. So while I understand that you had a negative experience, and only described your feelings after being asked, please don’t tar us all with your brush. Frankly, we’re a lot smarter than you seem to think.

  2. One of the issues that we have discussed almost to the point of exhaustion here is what is meant as “sucessful” integration. Let me offer one more observation on this theme.

    R Meir Simcha of Dvinsk was the author of both the monumental sefarim the Ohr Sameach al HaRambam and the Meshech Chachmah on Chumash. In the Mesech Chachmah on Parshas Netzavim, R Meir Simcha states that a BT should not forego a secular career and try to learn full time. I think that comment is very appropriate to the many BTs who view themselves as a failure if they are involved in a secular career and not learning 24/7. IMO, it is a comment that demands for inclusion and discussion whenever “sucessful integration” of BTs is considered here or elswhere.

  3. NBTA-I agree with Mark that you received “poor information” in your journey. From reading your posts, it seems as if you received a “my way or the highway” sales pitch with “answers” that struck you as simplistic as opposed to being shown the depth, profundity and scope of Torah observance. Posts such as your are proof to me that Kiruv activists must be more nulti dimensional in its approach to the lives, thoughts and emotions of people.

  4. NBTA, I’ll second the kudos to Mark & David that JT provided. True, people here agree to disagree about nuances, but basically, we’re all just trying to live a Torah lifestyle in whatever way we feel comfortable adapting – and I think you’d find the gamut from piercings to kaputahs here.

    Believe me, what you’ve been exposed to is not the be all. Taken from me, who happily maintains my friendship(s) with my non-frum friends, still indulges in secular music, and hopes that tolerance on all our parts leads to stories such as https://beyondbt.com/?p=779. I have always held that we don’t have to exorcise who we previously were and our likes and dislikes inorder to be frum today. We are still the same people, just improved.

    I truly would love to talk to you away from this online scenerio, if you’d like to get in touch, just ask the administrators to give you my email. I’ve seen others fall away from Yiddishkeit because of apparently similiar reasons you have – too much, too fast, too extreme. Like eating too much chocolate all at once, it’s ymmmy, but after awhile you’ll get a stomach ache.

  5. NBTA, personally , as someone who is currently doing the religious, non religious back and forthing in addition to using up quite a number of threads ranting and weaving about some of the stuff you’ve mentioned in your goodbye bt speech , I just wanted to convey a quick takeaway travel tip message for whichever roads you choose to travel.

    Life is quite the choice filled, contradiction coated , and confusion laced roadtrip.

    With the prolific patronizing persons and rebbetzins around every corner and weekend, and judgy preachers spouting spiritual directives and don’t do’s from the pulpit in pious outfits at an all time high.
    The Lovable leaders and lead organizations are unfortunately at an all time low. And communities at an all time lower, so stuff and random happenstancings can be extremely misleading.

    But, I’ve found that Mark and David , the two coordinators of this blogsite, are probally the purest epitome of unadulterated altruism flavored religious persons practicing Judaism that anyone could hope to learn from imitate and or emulate. When I find my husband , Im goin to have him read all their posts and stuff.
    If its the only religious thing he does.

    Anyway, They don’t need me marketing and branding their brand of spiritual brandy but I just wanted to point out that they are the kind of guys one would want as spiritual roadtrip tour guides. Or even just as general direction consultants. I’ve done enough roadtrips to know how important a role the tour guide plays in roadtrip perspective formulating. And especially so when detours have become part of my initial itinerary. Until I fall in that is. Then I won’t really need a travel guide as traveling will be limited and muddy. .

    I just think that in a world with so few noteworthy spiritual tour guides its good to point out the ones that are especially noteworthy and noble. Especially to persons who may have traveled with the wrong tour groups and misguided guides which would probally make for a rougher ride than is called for.

    Anyway that’s the takeway travel tip info I hope you walk away taking.
    Keep in mind that currently anything “frum” makes me puke and the thing I’m looking forward to most at this moment in time is a long weekend focusing exclusively on roller coaster riding neuroscience beach reads, and bar hopping until the pink sunrise starts playing in the sky. So frolicking in frumkeit is not what I’m tryin to promote here. I’m not a kiruv care bear or anything remotely related. And material modesty must do’s are not my thing either. Don’t want you takin anything the wrong way cuz that would be annoying.

    Happy life traveling.

  6. you know, I don’t intend to continue blogging on this website, because I intention is not to discuss with you all the nuances of orthodoxy, and as happy BT’s, I wish you all the best.

    In my opinion, we tend to shrug off alot of ourselves and our integrity when we start on this journey. The secular word is bad, damaging, has no values, etc. Most victims come from situations where that reigns true: college campuses, sorority houses, etc. Black hats and beards seem to represent an authentic means towards happiness…so what if I feel strange about dropping out of college that my parents worked their whole lives to saveup the tuition for? My parents are obviously not frum and ignorant of the ‘true meaing in life’. So what if I am being taught that all the non jewish friends, coworkers, perhaps family members that raised me and loved me and bandaged my knees don’t have a ‘neshama’, and are likened to animals? So what if deep down I know medical school is a far better choice than 6 years in Isreal? Just ignore that feeling that its crazy to marry a girl I’ve known for a month, have kids I can’t pay for.

    And for a girl, which I happen to be….accept the fact that you have to defer to your husband to answer intricate halachic questions, even if you’re a rocket scientist or brain surgeon and are conversing with men that are frankly, dumb. How could anyone believe that the Talmud is anything other than a system of life developed based on a very shallow understanding of the true nature of women. I dare you to tell a female brain surgeon that she’s not cut out to study Talmudic law, but a bum from BK is.

    You have to wear fake hair on your real hair, a custom that has only been brought back in recent years because sheitels now can transform a homely girl into a supermodel for a measly 5 grand…does anyone really believe that Jewish girls would wear wigs if they looked the way they did in Russia? Modesty?

    I just think you have a generation that is rebelling against their liberal, 1960’s baby boomer parents…and our kids will rebel against them and throw their sheitels in the garbage.

    And as for those that are falling prey to this, there are many others that are waking up, and wanting to be part of a community where they don’t have to live in a vaccum and ‘do the right thing’ while the community is falling apart, and folks who want better for their family.

    That is all I am going to write, and I will not respond.

  7. NBTA, I’ve no clue whether you’re another name for JT, or someone who just passed through here, or whatever, but I’d love to talk to you offline.

    Hoping you’ll again read this thread, just want to tell you (as Mark alluded to) that the Torah isn’t the imperfect beings who try (some more then others) to observe it. It’s a much bigger picture, with a lot more good then the secular world could ever offer. Kindness in a community can be abundant. I’m just a regular Jewish woman who became frum in her late 20’s, so I’ve had enough experience with the secular world. Sure, not everything in both worlds is bad, or good. But we can try to make it better, because Hashem gave us the blueprint (including a physical map).

  8. Mark, good points, sometimes impossible though.

    I’m Jewish, I was born religious,currently I’m undecided.

    Bob Miller,who said anything about logic? Since when is faith a logic based emotion ?
    Also, I’ve never claimed to be a spiritual systems analyst.

  9. Jaded and NBTA,

    What made you leave the path? What made you so bitter? What is it about the “world at large” that has pulled you away from what seems like a pure and good life?

    I really would like to know, so I can buffer myself. The pull of the secular world is extremely strong.

    There is a lot I don’t like in the frum world, and a lot of challenges that seem insurmountable to me. I agree there is a lot of judgement and sometimes the emphasis is on the wrong things. But I try my best to look beyond that, focus on the important things, and work on improving myself. I can’t help so much what others do.

    What keeps me in the game is love of Hashem and Torah, and a clear understanding of what is right and what my obligations are.

    So what has caused the despair? What has caused you to give up. The bitterness pours out of every word you write.


  10. Jaded, were you raised FFB and left observance, or were you a BT who subsequently left? It’s not clear to me. Thanks! (throwing sparkles, just in case)

  11. If we accept the premise that the G-d gave the Torah and look into it, we see that people and the communities they create are imperfect. Our goal is to grow in these imperfect communities and try to improve whatever we can through the guidance of the Torah.

  12. Bob, NBTA’s facts are factual for me too. Just cuz you seem to have found the perfect mix of surrealism, condescending free community and weekly pollyana potluck dinners this doesn’t change the fact that elsewhere its way different.
    And just the way NBTA describes.
    I’m too tired to even argue about this anymore really.
    My new modus operandi is to just ignore what makes me puke.

  13. NBTA, A fact to you is a lie to many others. Because our experiences and our reactions really do differ.

  14. I have to say, I was BT for five years, and happily left two weeks ago. Its really nice to live in a world again where people learn tolerance and respect rather than obsessing about clothing and judge one another non stop. No amount of Aish Hatorah Kiruv can manipulate around the honest fact that people are extremely judgemental, patronizing, condescending, will pity you if your single and over 22 even though in their community husbands are bought by the highest bidder, and you and your children with always be seen as different. I think CBT says it all…Children of BT? Give me a break. Keep your kiruv.

  15. This is a great discussion. I’ve posted about integration previously, but the end of Jennifer’s comment, about “causing so much judging amongst Khal Yisroel…” really sum it up, IMHO.

    It’s built into our behavioral DNA to judge. That’s why we have a mitzvah of being Dan L’Kav Z’chus.

    Is anyone willing to Anonymously post a comment about a specific time they were judged. A forum like this might help others.

  16. This is from Willie Dixon:

    You can’t judge a fish by lookin’ in the pond
    You can’t judge right by lookin’ at the wrong
    You can’t judge one by lookin’ at the other
    You can’t judge a book by lookin’ at the cover

  17. How about TOBA:
    turned off by acronyms.

    Where I work (an aircraft engine plant) there are so many acronyms that long official lists have been compiled to help the employees.

    Recently, our group was developing a new class of document called Repair Evaluation Specification (RES). However, another department preempted us by using RES for something else, so we had to change our document name!

  18. Because I personally think this is one of the most critical issues effecting the relationship between BT-FFB, BT-NO, O-NO, MO-UO, EY-AM, and Jews in general, I would like to reiterate:

    Judging occurs in all communities to various degrees, however measuring a composite communal judgment level is not practical. Unfortunately, if we fail to recognize the problem, we have no hope of dealing with it.

    Key to groups that judge and are judged
    BT:Baal Teshuva
    FFB:Frum From Birth
    NO:Not Observant
    MO:Modern Orthodox
    UO:Ultra Orthordox
    EY:Eretz Yisroel Jews
    AM:American Jews
    TOBA:Turned Off By Acronyms (Per Bob Miller’s Suggestion)

  19. Belle, about those yeshiva bochurim, most of them in both the branches of RSA (Chofetz Chaim) and main campus in KGH do wear non-white, albeit, conservative colored, shirts.

    The judging by sleeve lengths, skirts, etc. is not at all exclusive to the “examination” of BTs. When I attended school in Boro Park (and I was clearly the only BT), the girls often spoke among themselves about how they’d judge another woman by the length of her sleeves. And there are still quite a few more modern communities around where it is quite acceptable for a woman to wear an almost-to-the-elbow top and still be considering sincerely frum. This is all just part of the general tidal wave to the right, and if it’s causing so much judging amongst Khal Yisroel, then maybe it’s not right.

  20. I think the issue of BTs being judged is complex. It is indeed as Miri pointed out, that often people seek friends that they identify with. On top of this, however, sometimes, esp with newer BTs, BTs might not notice aspects of their dress or behavior that set themselves apart in the eyes of FFBs, and unwittingly reinforce the “difference” that would subtly encourage an FFB to maintain a distance.

    Such as: as some of us may have noticed {!) FFB’s are sensitive to clothing. Clothing in Yiddishkeit not only is a means of maintaining the mitzvah of tznius, it is a way to advertise, so to speak, one’s affiliations. (I think Ron Coleman wrote at length about this!) Ever notice that a Yeshiva bochur will wear only white shirts and dark pants? That yeshivish frum ladies will dress in straight black skirts and tailored tops a lot? That there is a range of what is considered stylish that somehow they all understand the borders of? Well, BTs don’t necessarily know all this, or they might reject it for philosophical or style reasons. So,they might self-identify as part of the yeshivish world in their education and hashkafos (for example) yet dress in a way that says they are part of another community,such as those more modern, or, they still believe that dressing uniquely is a way to express their individuality. I’m not saying that this is in any way “bad,” it just goes to a sensitivity that is part of “integrating” that some may not yet have developed, or that some reject anyway. The classic example is a guy wearing blue jeans, T shirt and a large black velvet yarmulke. In some circles, that is seen as an inherent contradiction, but a BT may not get it yet!

    As one who believes that although the outer part of us should be superficial, I cannot ignore that it does send messages, and that people are reading these messages constantly, not necessarily in a judgmental way, but in a way that is natural. Like the way college kids self-identify compatriots by their jeans, t shirts, knapsacks and ipods (or whatever).

    What ends up happening, though, is that people tend to gravitate towards those whom they believe were raised similarly and who might have a lot in common with themselves when seeking friends. It takes a lot of self-confidence and outer-directedness to approach and befriend a person who is seemingly different.

    So what happens is that the newer BT has a harder time feeling accepted in communities which are not used to dealing with BTs. B”H in my community people are pretty sensitized to the fact that people not dressed in the “frum” style might be BTs and they make efforts to be friendly, and firm friendships often develop across lines. This is in addition to the acceptance of BTs who do not act or look any different than any FFB.

    But other communities are not so sensitized and BTs feel left out (or “judged”). I must add that in some communities real judging does occur, that some people are closed to anyone at all different. I feel sorry for BTs living in those communities and would venture to say it is not healthy. It is important for a bt to research their community as much as possible before setting down roots.

  21. Mark: Point well taken about BT’s being judged by FFB’s; then judging non-observant Jews. Definitely a mistake I started out making in the early days, and still have not erased. Perhaps it’s a need for posturing that I misunderstood as a newcomer: in order to identify myself as frum, I must reject those who are not.
    Ahavas Israel is a lofty, but elusive aspiration.

  22. judgmentalism (is that a word?)

    Can 71,200 results from Google be wrong?

    Results 1 – 100 of about 71,200 for judgmentalism

  23. Having attended the Shabbaton, and this gathering, I’d venture to guess that what Rabbi Greenman meant by people having issues about being judged, is that these are not necessarily feelings that have anything whatsoever to do with frumkeit. Some people feel that others are talking about them. Maybe it’s a psychological shortcoming that most people have to some degree or another.

    Miri, people tend to be friends with others not so much because of whether or not they’re FFB’s, BT’s or any acronym, but more because they share something in common. This might be their kids friendships, enjoying the same activities or anything else. Sometimes it might be that someone who is a BT is new to a community, and maybe people already have their own circles of friends, and don’t seem so interested in adding to that group. But I’ve seen this happen just as often to FFB’s as with BT’s. Think about what attracted you to other women you’ve been friends with over the years, and you’ll concur with what I mean.

  24. I agree, Miri, that no one knows for sure whether this is judgmentalism (is that a word?) or simply “birds of a feather flocking together”.

  25. David,

    It is not that “FFB”‘s won’t allow the BT to integrate. They honestly try very hard, many say it’s their “job” as a Kiruv Professional. However, what I do see is certain comments and judgementalism towards those more modern or BT. I also see the FFB families (rightfully so) gravitating to certain people to join theri Suedah, Carpool with, make simchas with and watch eachother’s children. Maybe this is human nature or maybe it is a “BT” issue. Only Hashem knows

  26. Having been at the discussion in Rabbi Greenman’s home, I can say that many of the participants felt that FFBs often judge BTs negatively and that the problem is more prevalent than many FFBs believe. I think it’s probably somewhere in the middle between what Rabbi Greenman perceived and what the participants felt but, really, isn’t even a low level of negative judgment too much.

    I think the issue is very individual and, perhaps, is dependent to a certain extent upon the level of integration. My personal experience is contrary to Miri’s point that FFBs won’t allow BTs to align themselves with them. Of the four of five families that are our closest friends, two of them are FFBs and we are as close as friends can be from borrowing sugar to sharing meals to sleepovers (for the kids!), to learning together, to sharing our problems and giving advice to vacationing. I think that this area, too, is very individual.

    I think that “integration” needs to be defined. Does integration mean that no one can tell that you are a BT? Does it mean that you dress like the FFBs in your community or is it something more subtle.

  27. ChanaLeah,

    Many of the people at the session felt that being judged is a problem.

    For non-observant Jews, Aish identifies being judged as one of the 4 major reasons people stay away from learning more about Torah. I love much of what Aish does, but I find their treatment of the topic of judging lacking. They basically say that the Torah says that we shouldn’t judge negatively, which is of course true in certain contexts, but doesn’t deal with the reality and depth of the issue.

    On the other hand, Rebbetzin Heller identifies being judgmental as a major issue which exists to a certain degree in everybody, and must be addressed on both a personal and a communal level.

    For BTs, the issue of judging is especially important because we often interface with both the Frum and non-observant communities and therefore find ourselves on both the giving and receiving end of the spectrum.


    There seems to be less of feeling of being judged in smaller, more modern leaning, and Chabad communities to name a few.

  28. How can one say that another is imagining being judged? Unless you can grill the potential judge as to their intentions, covert and overt, so as to determine whether judgement really took place, the argument seems faulty. Being judged is a subjective feeling, an intuition. Probably most people can tell you instinctively whether they have left an interaction feeling that their background was viewed positively or negatively (or neither). Or whether comments they have heard convey judgement or acceptance.
    I’m not denying that there may be BT’s overcome by oversensitivity about their background, which causes them to misinterpret what they hear as judgement. But it seems to be the extreme case, at least in my 12 year journey.

  29. If you try to align yourself with FFB’s I find they will still “draw the line” with you and not fully integrate you. I have been there and tried. Also, there is a lot of “judgementalism” among the FFB’s in which might be a complete turn off to a BT who is not strong enough in their relationship with Hakodesh Baruch Hu. I feel very proud to align myself with BT’s because I feel they are on the same spiritual plane and in search of spiritual growth unlike many others. They have a extra special “spark”. I get almost no spiritual gain from many FFB’s. You really have to search to find that special FFB who is not caught up in American materialism and is striving for “Emes” like the new BT.

  30. “He felt that a person should find a community where (s)he would associate with people who weren’t BTs and at the same time the person shouldn’t feel that (s)he needed to hide being a BT.”

    Since not every BT is able to move to an ideal community, or even a close-to-ideal community, we also need interim strategies to deal with the other kinds of communities.

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