By Bob Miller
By now, it should be clear that anything a BT writes about BT-ness strongly reflects his/her own life experiences and personality. This has led to confusion and even acrimony in Beyond BT discussions, as each commenter knows deep in his/her heart what the teshuva process “really” is, while each reader or later commenter has some alternative reality. This, anyway, is my reality, as revealed somewhat in an interview with myself.
1. Q. Did some teshuva/kiruv operative or organization find you one day and straighten you out? A. No.
2. Q. Did you have some unusually depressing or inspiring moment that sent you headlong into a new life? A. No.
3. Q. Can you point to one particular mentor you always use as a guide? A. No.
4. Q. All right, already! What got you into teshuva mode?
A. It’s like this:
From college onward, I kept observing movements in action whose adherents and essence were clearly phony (Communism, Anarchism, an assortment of weird eastern religions, Reform and Conservative Judaism…). At each turn, it became clear to me that these were inferior to real Judaism in every way. But it took a long while to make the logical decision to take real Jewish learning and practice seriously enough to do them wholeheartedly in practice.
Even then, there was no sudden makeover. Incrementally, I began learning this and doing that, with great support from my wife. It’s great when a couple can be moving in the same positive direction. Since we were married, we have lived in seven different cities (plus, I was working away from home in New Hampshire for several years and commuting back monthly or so—a story for another time). In each of them, we met great Jews as neighbors or rabbis. We learned a lot from them and often still correspond with them. We are still works in progress, as Jews should be, and fit no pat paradigm at all.
The upshot is that I can’t be totally skeptical about any teshuva path suggested at Beyond BT, because they can all probably work in the right place at the right time for the right people.
There is a fine line between righteousness and self-righteousness. We want to distinguish ourselves from the wild and crazy members of general society. We want to connect with the true Mesorah and its practitioners and disconnect from the lies and the liars. On the other hand, the temptation exists to classify even some halachically valid forms of Orthodox Judaism as irretrievably over the line, because these don’t appeal to us or match the path we’ve taken. There is enough pain in the world that we shouldn’t amplify it by taking in-crowd-ness to a laughable level well beyond principle.