The Success of the Teshuva Movement

On the National Jewish Population Survey (2000-2001) presentation regarding Orthodox Jews, slide 9 presents the following statistics:

Of the 587,000 Jews who were raised Orthodox and currently consider themselves Jewish
– 240,000 are currently Orthodox
– 347,000 are currently non-Orthodox

Of the 297,000 Jews who were raised Jewish and currently consider themselves Orthodox
– 240,000 were raised Orthodox
– 57,000 were raised Non-Orthodox

There are some issues with the numbers in that 10% of American Jews in the study consider themselves Orthodox, and it looks like they are using a number of over 5,000,000 total Jews which would mean that there are over 500,000 Orthodox Jews, not 297,000.

But is seems that there are about 57,000 Baalei Teshuva in America.

In an article by Marvin Schick from 2005 he quotes Effie Buchwald, former head of AJOP as saying that the number of Baalei Teshuva has doubled since 1990 and that the average Kiruv professional mekarevs 1 2/3 Baalei Teshuva per year.

Update: Here is a study from Brandeis which questions the NJPS numbers and says that there are over 6,000,000 Jews in American with no more than 10% Orthodox. It also cites the Avi Chai 2004 day school census which says that there are 132,000 Orthodox Day School students between the grades of 1 and 12.

What do you make of this?
Does the 57,000 figure sound right?
Is becoming Orthodox a good measure of successful outreach?
What should we do differently?

100 comments on “The Success of the Teshuva Movement

  1. Having just had an opportunity to read about a week’s worth of posts on this thread, I wish to comment on two different points:

    1) David Linn (#69) brought up the factor of how the internet can be used for kiruv. The discussion evolved into the fact that there’s lots of negativity available online as well. However, a different factor, more kiruv related is, how many people are discovering websites such as, really finding out lots of great stuff from said site(s), but never taking it further then that. So, therefore, they’re not really becoming frum because they’re not following the general kiruv progression found in the real world, ie, going to shul, taking classes, attending yeshiva etc. There’s only so far that any website, even one as good as Aish, can go. One can’t become frum staring at a screen.

    2) About kids going off the derech, I’ve seen many families such as those that AJ refers to (#96), where the school that worked for 7 kids doesn’t for the 8th. Some of us are fortunate to live in communities where we can find a “right fit” in yeshivas, but many aren’t. OTOH, I’d have to concur that more teens going off the derech are doing so because of family and/or psychological issues. My nephew works with teens off the derech in a Chaddishe community. He tells us that it’s tragic how many have been abused. My gut feeling is also that in a community where there’s a big emphasis on conformity, it’s harder for a teenager with doubts to stay on track.

  2. Bob’s point is critical, and easy to miss. We all have our peklech in life, and in fact if I have learned anything in the last couple of years it has been what empathy really means and how reluctant one must be to judge others. Yet ultimately adults make their own adult decisions, regardless of what unfolded in childhood or even the day before. All of us.

    And now having said that, the role of the rest of us is setting a clear standard, for those who depend on our influence, of what we aspire to and how we make an effort to achieve in terms of standards, and yet to keep our hearts open to the pain of a fellow Jew who may be wrestling in mud so deep that all we see is the slop. That’s doesn’t mean the answer is shmutzing ourselves up, but rather for keeping our eyes sufficiently low.

  3. Ora,

    I didn’t mean to insult you,
    but what you are saying makes me think that it’s just not possible to raise the funds to make the yeshivas better, it’s too hard to do it. I realize it is not easy but IT IS POSSIBLE!!!!!! Like I said, there is money, and again, if our Rabbanim & Leaders would stress this point at every dinner, convention, parlor meetings, etc. where people come to give compliments to each other & talk about how smne. did so much & so much chesed, they should talk about our yeshiva problems, then we will all be aware & send our money to the right places. …And it is not for me or you to come up with a plan, we have bigger people for that who know exactly where they could get the money from. Unfortunately, we jews don’t take care of problems until the whole thing falls apart & we are pushed to the wall.

    We will not solve this problem, we need a big Rav to come out & say, “Rabbosai, we have a problem!!!”, unfortunately nobody wants to be the first one to say it, & that is the case, please don’t tell me otherwise, I am involved with a lot of these situations.

    The Yeshivas should be our main concern in this day & age, it is our future generation, Judaism is all about the future.

    Shabbat Shalom & all the very best,


  4. Rachel–
    Most of the kids I know who dropped observance blamed their yeshiva/seminary high school. In some cases the school had done some inappropriate things, but in general I don’t think the school was ever truly to blame–there were other things going on as well. Also, just because a school is wrong for some people doesn’t mean the school is somehow bad and needs fixing. I know a couple of girls who hated their religious high school, IMO the problem wasn’t with the school, it was with the fact that the girls were sent to a school just because it was “good” despite the fact that it didn’t match their family’s level of observance. Most girls loved the same school. Similarly, if a few yeshiva boys say their school didn’t teach hashkafa and that was the problem, maybe the problem isn’t with the school, but with the fact that the boys were sent to a school that wasn’t right for them.

    I did not say that our kids are “not worth it,” and I’m somewhat insulted that you would suggest that. However, the cost is a real obstacle. It’s all well and good to say that money is being spent elsewhere (kiruv, vacations, etc), but unless/until we have a realistic way to redirect that money to education, we have to do what we can with what we have. In this case, unless we can either convince a large percentage of the population to give their tzedaka to high schools over, say, kollels (which I support, but it would be extremely difficult) or somehow levy a tax on the Jewish community that would support Jewish education (again, I’m all for it, but implementation doesn’t exactly strike me as easy), the only way to get more money would be to raise tuition. And raising tuition would leave more children with no Jewish education at all as their parents simply couldn’t afford it. We have to strike a balance between making our Jewish schools the best they can be by reducing class size and hiring great teachers and making our Jewish schools affordable to most families, which right now they most definitely are not.

  5. You know, some parents have 8 kids and sent them all to the same yeshiva and 7 are great and one is “at risk.” Here is the problem: (not the blame) Every child is different, what works for most may not work for all. Some need stricter boundaries, some need a more relaxed attitude. It is up to the parents (and to some extent the yeshiva’s) to determine what each child needs, and not to say “well it worked for seven so it should work for all” And I’m not saying that this is not a big challenge, it is!

  6. Even though the off-derech students are teens, they have some personal reponsibility, too. That is, while some such students have been mentally or physically mistreated by parents or teachers (this problem happens often enough to address it seriously!), others have set their own wrong direction and try to dodge responsibility and shift blame. These others can tell a convincing story, only it’s largely made up.

  7. Dear Ora,

    I totally disagree with you, our kids spend most of their days in yeshiva, that’s a big part of their lives & when they see inappropriate behavior, mistreatment, etc. by the Rabbeim & Principals who are the Torah authorities in their eyes, they will be turned off badly, & it has nothing to do with the love at home. One has nothing to do with other. There are all kinds of homes, obviously it’s a disaster when the home is dysfunctional, but a kid that is turned off from Yiddishkeit by the YESHIVA has very little to do with the love they get from home. You should speak to some of these kids, especially the boys, they love their families & a lot of them are in close contact with them, B’H. Again, I am not talking about the ones who come from broken or dysfunctional homes. IMO, we should expect a whole lot from the yeshivas, we live in very scary times & society, the yeshivas must start teaching Hashkafa. All right, enough with this, this concept is not from me, many Rabbies in the US who deal with kids that are off the derech are pushing for yeshivas to start teaching more Hashkafa especially in boys yeshivas.

    Also, you say that it would cost us money to fix the yeshiva system & therefore our kids/future generation is not worth it????? Do you know how much money is being wasted by some stupid organizations that accomplish very little? Look, this is not a question for me, that’s why I say our Rabbanim & Leaders have to come up with a plan to fix the yeshiva system, but to say that it would cost us $$$$ and therefore we can not do it is the most ridiculous thing I heard. Trust me there is money, the question is whether they will spend it on our kids before it gets too late, or maybe they think like you do, maybe it’s not worth all that money. IMO, we have to spend a lot of our funds, I mean jewish funds on the yeshiva system that’s supposed to be producing our future, so far I don’t see Yeshivot producing talmidei chachamim, do you???

    Again, this is not for me to decide, but a tremendous amount of moneys are going towards Kiruv, a lot of fancy trips, etc. maybe we should reconsider, & spend the money on our existing frum children. Kiruv is very important, but if we all live a true Torah life, an honest one, then people around us who are not shomer mitzvot will be attracted to the beautiful Torah lifestyle by our examples. Unfortunately, a lot of our people ruin it.

    All the best,


  8. Rachel–
    I wasn’t offended by your comment, I just disagree about who bears responsibility.

    I have heard horror stories of rabbis/teachers saying truly inappropriate things or treating students badly. However, in general, the kids from strong families where there was a lot of love for each other and for Torah came out fine, while it was the kids from weaker families (ie those with abuse or divorce, or families where one parent was apathetic towards observance) who were turned off by one or two bad experiences. IMO, ultimately it’s all about the home. Yes, teachers should be sensitive, but common sense tells us that even in the best schools not all will be.

    The problem with trying to fix the yeshiva system is that it will often cost money. A teacher can only do so much to reach out to each individual student when there are 30+ kids per class. Making classes smaller costs money, which makes yeshiva more expensive, which means more kids will just drop out completely, which will hardly help the orthodox drop-out rate.

    But again, why is it on the yeshiva to teach these things? It would be nice for yeshivot to teach hashkafa, but IMO that should really be the parents’ job. Why do we see yeshivot as those responsible for producing proud, happy Jewish children? Yeshivot teach Hebrew, Chumash, Tanach, and Gemara. Parents are the ones who determine whether or not the kids will care about learning Hebrew, Chumash, Tanach, or Gemara, and whether what they learn in yeshiva will be relevant in their day-to-day life.

  9. Mark, (re: #72)
    This makes sense to me, because people at these ages (high school, college, and a bit afterwards) are exercising new found independence (intellectual and otherwise) and generally individuating. The mindset is in many cases more exploratory than before, and in the case of college, students are physically removed from their families, allowing them to try or do something different. Life is ripe for change. At the same time, some students may realize that they are setting themselves up for the future, and may ask the big questions that can lead one to investigate religion, philosophy, and Judaism.

  10. Ora-

    I do not know what is the big or small part of our problem, I do know for a fact (from having numerous conversations with these teens) that Rebbeim & Principals were at fault. …And, yes if our Rabbanim & leaders would stress the fact that we are losing children, generations are being lost, then the yeshiva system would improve, our Rebbeim & teachers would educate themselves on how to handle different types of students and not turn them off or away from the whole Yiddishkeit.

    I have not really seen a yeshiva especially the boys yeshivas teach Hashkafa, or a true meaning of the concept of what I mentioned above. By girls it’s a little better.

    Our yeshiva system is failing, we need to pour heavens with tefilot that we do not lose our youngerleit.
    I apologize if you were offended in any way by what I wrote but it is the sad truth.

  11. Rachel–
    IMO a big part of our problem is putting everything on “Rabbonim and leaders.” What is it that they should be doing? What is that they can do that we can’t do?

    Many yeshivot do teach “v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha,” but they still have a drop-out rate. Important Jewish concepts should be taught for their own sake, but we shouldn’t expect too much.

  12. Mark, your comment “It’s interesting to note that much of the Kiruv focus today is on people of college and high school age.” struck a nerve. My parents asked if they could take my kids for 2 weeks this coming summer. Hmmm, not much of an argument there! One idea of what to do with the time that I was kicking around was to try a program to tour Israel and learn. But so far the only type of programs I can find are linked to Birthright, or Aish (Essentials, Fellowships), and all of them have age limits that I’m above.

  13. I am new to this site and I am very happy to have found it, I enjoy reading a lot of the articles & comments, and try to learn from them.

    I am puzzled though on the numbers of the survey. I pray & hope the numbers are way off. It’s scary!!
    Unfortunately I do see a lot of our teens from very frum homes & communities that go off the derech, after speaking to many of them, most of the time it is the yeshivas they attended that turned them off. I do not think that yeshiva alone is at fault, it’s probably our judgmental communities as well that play a big role in this terrible downhill.

    If those numbers are somewhat correct, our Rabbonim & leaders are not doing enough for our youngerleit. I apologize for being so frank, and do not mean disrespect but I have seen too much happen & our leaders are simply just closing their eyes on many issues and not dealing with them.

    One other thing I wanted to mention is that our yeshivas do not teach the concept of “Veahavta lareyocho kamocha”, that may play a big role in our orthodox downhill as well.

  14. I just read this, and unfortunately I don’t have time to read all of the comments – but what is the purpose of all these numbers? Clearly, everyone knows that 80% of statistics are lies. (haha) But really, we can argue about the “numbers” until we turn blue because there is no right answer…but what is the point? The point is to continue loving your fellow Jew, no matter what side of the coin they are on, to continue growing in your own observance and Torah knowledge, to learn from every Jew, and to live your life happily, instead of going out and “mekarev-ing” (whatever that means) your friend/relative/neighbor. By living your life the best you can, you will influence others, and you never know, that influence can be in this generation or in the next generation, it can be an immediate result or a more subtle, 25-years-in-the-making result.

    Just stop number-crunching focus on being an upstanding Jew.

  15. Ron Coleman (December 18th, 2007 14:39) wrote:
    “Gosh, it looks like Gettysburg here”

    …of the people, by the people, for the people…up with people?

    We now have blogs and no longer need to write on the backs of envelopes.

  16. As far as the comments about baalei tshuva from the past 10- 15 years, I am 30, and have many baalei tshuva friends with in about 10 years of my age, and all of them became frum in the past 10 to 15 years. For a person who is in their 20s or 30s, it is unlikely that they became frum before their later teens, which would put them in the early nineties to the present.

  17. OK, Bob, we all draw all sorts of lines. I happen to think that the way we address challenges, however well or not well intentioned, on the discussion threads is at least as educational as the “up with people” approach that has its value but gets a little soggy after a while.

    As we both agree, delineating the parameters of how much is too much is the job of our thank G-d very able administrators.

  18. ‘how could this “10% Orthodox” stat repeated mantra-like for 40-plus years be taken seriously? ‘

    It isn’t “mantra-like”, it is based on the best available survey data. But you do make good points and it would be useful to have an orthodox-sponsored survey to try to better answer why we have been stuck at 11% since 1970.

    One other possible source of numeric loss that has not been mentioned: A few thousand American Jews make aliyah each year, and most of them are modern orthodox religious Zionists. Over a 35 year period, that works out to be a significant fraction of the American modern orthodox community.

  19. Ron,

    Their sincerity as you describe it is good, but is not a defense for everything.

    I’m not in charge here and clearly have little influence on policy. I do still hold that the presence of the type of written output I described is very negative on balance for readers of this forum—irrespective of what it does or might do for the writers. I don’t need this stuff to make me aware of contrary currents of thought in the BT or general Jewish worlds.

    I’ve already sharply curtailed my exposure to Jewish blogs, keeping away from those that release objectionable material more frequently or more aggressively than Beyond BT does. There are only so many hours in a day and there is so much wholesome material to read and listen to.

  20. I’m going to adapt here a comment I made in a thread that Ora, understandably, lassoed into the discussion from the old days. It’s mostly a response to bob.

    I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that if you’re not interested in adhering to halacha, don’t ask about it; I myself remember needing to satisfied about important aspects of the Jewish Weltanschauung before I could come to grips with accepting the concept of halachic observance — even if I was still far from observing, or observing properly, regarding the subject of my inquiries. I suspect Jaded is not, as some of our more assertive visitors clearly are, here merely to be pugnacious. I suspect, reading between the (most unparallel) lines, she is instead wrestling with very big questions, and sincerely, in a way all of us should appreciate. I also believe that DK, your other unnamed target, Bob, must not be all that bad — and I have slammed him many times, both here and on his own blog — and so ill-intentioned, or else why would he keep coming ’round? Doesn’t that question occur to us?

    The participation of our most regular “challengers,” however much they upend the natural (and sometimes self-congratulatory) trend of a discussion, is an appropriate reminder of the real environment of kiruv. I would not want to bear the responsibility of making either of the people Bob mentions feel they cannot participate here “on their level” within the bounds of fundamental decency, and I think the administrators agree. And to disclose fully, I’ve met or spoken to both of these individuals more than once, and I’ll tell you they’re sincere, nice people to whom — as you can see — Yiddishkeit means quite a lot. If I can tolerate them, Bob, anyone can!

  21. Ora,
    Whatever. My comebacks to your statements are probably not appropriate sentiments for beyondbt. So I won’t state them.
    But just for the record twisting pieces of my point around to suit your stance is not necessarily a satisfactory resolving of conflicts in the solvent solution deeper understanding kind of way for everyone.
    Obviously this is a subjective conclusion. So there is no need for you to opine on the validity or lack thereof of my conclusions.
    You can apply this comeback to all your pointedly pedestrian platitudes and points on the defense of àrtscroll thread too.

  22. If I may repeat my comment from back at #54, a cold, burdensome marriage is better than an exciting but very wrong one. No one responded to this, but I believe it’s at the crux of all this discussion. The “wrong” marriages are getting more exciting in exponential leaps and bounds, while the spiritual input we’ve managed to infuse into the old, cold, “kosher marriage” called orthodoxy is noteworthy but has hardly kept pace.

    As Mark said way back, we need heart (and I add SOUL)… on many levels. Not just slick marketing about neat philosophies and tranquil moments, but a real, honest to goodness campaign to educate the whole soul of real, individual people and let that speak for itself.

    A true marriage that flows with meaning is UNbeatable.

  23. Mark wrote (#61)

    “I’m not sure that’s grounds for a triumphalist attitude”

    Agreed Mark. Any form of triumphalism should be anathema to us since it runs counter to the ideal as the Gemara states Am Yisrael are a nation of “Rachmanim, Bayshanim, and Gomlei Chasadim” (Caring, Modesty, Supporters of Kindess) and anything else is the wrong path.

    However, it likely could and should make one question the veracity of the findings.

    I don’t have the arcane details of data at my disposal but considering how many non-Orthodox are either not marrying, marrying out, or when marrying in and having 2 kids max while the Orthodox despite the off-the-derechs are producing opposite situations, how could this “10% Orthodox” stat repeated mantra-like for 40-plus years be taken seriously?

  24. >>The downside is that the internet also provides just as easy access for skeptics, doubters and former BTs (many with extreme biases and agendas) to berate, disparage and mock kiruv, judaism or whatever else it is they are after.

    While it is true that a bit of mockery deflects a hundred words of mussar, like a greased shield deflects the arrow, I think the effects of those skeptic blogs are marginalized completely when an interested person comes in contact with a warm, caring, Torah Jew.

    Avraham Avinu’s methods of love and chesed are what will win the day!

  25. Baruch Horowitz floated the idea a while back that the way to promote constructive interactions among thinking Orthodox Jews—not only lay people, but rabbis, even poskim, too—was through off-line discussion groups.

    The Web as we know it does encourage and facilitate mockery—anonymous, pseudonymous, you name it. Our moderators have tried valiantly to maintain a balance, an atmosphere of respect, etc., here, but the medium itself works against that.

    Look at some exchanges that go on here.

    Someone using a pseudonym rails against halacha in every way possible but claims to want to learn. We have absolutely no way to know that. For the sake of that person’s learning process we put up with a steady stream of vicious nonsense against Orthodoxy.

    Someone says he was burned by a close encounter with kiruv. Again, we have no facts to back this up. Meanwhile, the person, who objects to theistic Judaism itself, acts as if he is merely against one type of kiruv, because this stance is tactically useful.

    I could go on, but you get the picture.

  26. I can only speak for myself but i can tell you that I would not have become BT in my 20’s. I think family life (or in my case, the contemplation of it) was the inpetus for finding meaning in my life and looking to give my kids something other than the free-falling American value system. In my 20’s I was interested in fun, not meaning. I have extra regard for those in college and their early 20’s who become BT. They truly fought temptations that I didn’t.

    Antway, IMHO that is why I think you have found many more BTs in their 30’s David.

  27. I guess we probably all CAN’T agree that far fewer Jews have become Baalei Teshuvah in the past, say 10-15 years than had in the same period from, say 1975 to 1990! :)

    My perception comes from simply running in those circles. While I could be wrong, in my, admittedly small, sample selection I clearly see many more late twenties to thirty-something-early-forties baalei teshuvah than I see younger.

    Of course, I fall into that “late twenties to thirty-something-early-forties” age group ( I won’t say where )but being that we often interact with singles and my youngest child is three years old I do often interact with many couples fifteen or more years younger than I am.

    I think it would be impossible to actually quantify this, if we even wanted to, since everyone seems to be using a different definition. Also, although I don’t think that those in kiruv, big or small, are purposefully skewing the numbers, their respective interests will certainly allow for a broader definition. I’m of the opinion, as are others that have commented above, that kiruv success should not be defined solely by the amount of people that have become “frum”.

    IMHO, I believe that the internet, as much as I am (obviously) not one of those people that rail against its use, has had a significant impact on the kiruv movement. Initially, I believe, the widespread use of the internet was a tremendous boon for kiruv. It allowed for distance learning, faster communication and an inexpensive means for interacting with a much wider audience. Clearly, the internet has provided the means for kiruv (big and small) to do tremendous things and they continue to do so. The downside is that the internet also provides just as easy access for skeptics, doubters and former BTs (many with extreme biases and agendas) to berate, disparage and mock kiruv, judaism or whatever else it is they are after. That means that, often times, someone with an interest to grow in their Judaism can be purposefully sidetracked before they’ve even gotten to the table to make an intelligent decision. I’m sure there are many skeptics out there (if they read this blog) that will be chuckling at my assessment of their successes but I believe this to be the truth. Most of us are aware of the spark, whether small or great, that was ignited within us when first sitting down to learn or attend a seminar or class or just experience the beauty and tranquility of a shabbos. All too often, that spark is extinguished before it has an opportunity to ignite anything positive.

  28. David (Linn)

    Don’t mean to pile on, but where did you get those numbers? Rav T? I know that kiruv has increased for sure, so is it a failure there or is it that much more of an uphill climb?

  29. “Do you have reason to believe that the families of the newly Reform members you heard from had previously been Orthodox beyond just Orthodox shul affiliation?”

    It was a mix. Some seemed to be the classic “non-observant orthodox” with little observance other than shul attendance, but others seemed to have been from totally frum homes, at least by the standards of the time. (Some common chumrot like glatt kosher were very rare back in the 50s and 60s, and there were few orthodox day schools then, especially outside the New York metro area.)

    A friend who grew up in the Bronx in the 1960s told me that every Jewish family she knew had a kosher home, but only about half of those homes were Shomer Shabat. She also said that about 80% of the students at her high school — Bronx High School of Science — were Jewish.

    “its kind of hard if not impossible finding hardcore intellectual learning opportunities that allow women to participate.”

    That was true a generation ago. That is not true today. Places like Drisha and the YU Graduate Program for Advanced Talmudic Study in New York, or Nishmat or Midreshet Lindenbaum in Israel don’t seem to put any limits on womens’ learning. Or for women not able to be full time learners, many advanced shiurim are open to men and women (I know a woman who goes to Daf Yomi everyday) and YU’s Midreshet Yom Rishon gets double the attendance of a similar program for men.

  30. >> Mark– So what would constitute success for you? At what point can we begin ascribing a drop-out rate to simple human nature as opposed to some widespread failure in the orthodox world?

    Success has to be defined in context. I’m constantly trying to deepen my understanding of what success looks like for me and the members of my family as very committed observant Jews.

    For somebody who is not observant, there is the success of one mitzvah. But if we believe that our world to come is dependent on our overall G-d awareness level achieved in this world, then we would be selling a non-observant person short by defining success as something much, much less.

    As far as the Orthodox world, I don’t think terms like “widespread failure” are helpful. However, anybody who thinks there is not massive room for improvement in so many areas is possibly not hearing the cries or understanding the obstacles facing their fellow Jews.

  31. >>The pull is so much weaker

    Ron: I agree with the factors you listed. I would add economic considerations as well. In the seventies people felt freer to take off time to investigate issues of the meaning of life because the American standard of living, owning a house with a two car garage, etc. was more accessible, relatively. People took it as a given. Now, even with two working parents, it’s often very hard to reach.

    It’s the failsafe strategy of the yetzer hara—when the people of Israel started to think about leaving Mitzrayim, Pharaoh said: Increase their workload. (See Mesillas Yesharim, end of chapter II: The yetzer hara knows that if we were start think about the meaning of life for even one moment we’d immediately do teshuvah, so he keeps us busy, busy, busy).

    On the Panglossian side of things, however, although it may very well be that the pull is weaker, the pullers are much, much more numerous, and the visibility and influence of the Torah world does not compare to what was discernable 25 years ago.

    >>I do think we can probably all agree that far fewer Jews have become Baalei Teshuvah in the past, say 10-15 years than had in the same period from, say 1975 to 1990.

    Given that so much more manpower has been dedicated to kiruv in the past fifteen years than the previous period of fifteen, why are you sure that far fewer Jews have become Baalei Teshuvah?

    Besides, the post above quotes: “the number of Baalei Teshuva has doubled since 1990.” In my estimation, the Baal Teshuvah movement began to really gain momentum in the mid seventies, and according to Rabbi Buchwald it then doubled in the next fifteen year period from 1990 – 2005. How does that indicate that far fewer are becoming Baalei Teshuvah?

    Let’s say that in all the years up until 1990 (thirty, forty years, from 1950-60) there were 28,500 baalei teshuvah, and then from 1990-2005 it doubles to become 57,000. That indicates the growth is increasing, or at least steady.

  32. As for singles over 25–
    I don’t know what Hashem expects of them, or of anyone. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what Hashem expects from me, or to put it differently, what my role is in Hashem’s world. Certainly it is difficult to be an older single, but I don’t believe that means having no role. Single people can be much more involved in community activities than those with young children, and most volunteers/political activists I know are either single or married with older children.

    I think the important thing is to phrase the question in terms of “what will bring blessing,” not “what is assur/mutar.” It’s hard to avoid a physical relationship simply because a book tells you its forbidden, but IMO easier when you think of it as Hashem guiding you into a path of ultimate happiness. Ultimately, those who do not keep Torah tend to get married much later, and their decision to get involved in non-Torah relationships usually only prolongs the period of time in which they are single. IMO in the long run those who keep negiah suffer less.

    That said, I think all older singles should also go to a therapist at least once, and not only pray and stay strong. And just so you don’t misconstrue that as me calling unmarried people crazy, I went to a therapist while single and found it extremely useful. Most older singles I know (not all, but enough to make it a general rule) could use some similar guidance.

  33. Jaded–
    YOU are defining the purpose of mikva use as separation breeding closeness. I believe that is clearly not the only purpose or benefit of mikva use. Other clear benefits, IMO, include elevating the physical relationship to a high spiritual level, recognizing Hashem’s ultimate control over our bodies and authority over even our most intimate moments, etc. Those benefits are not dependent on frequent periods of separation.

    There’s a different between looking for hardcore lectures and looking for hardcore lectures specifically on Mesechet Sotah. The latter will be much harder to find. Even women’s schools that study Gemara (and I know they exist in NYC) don’t study every book of Gemara all the time. Perhaps you’d be better off looking for a chavruta for out-of-school learning? A place like Bruria might be able to give you some names.

    I don’t think the modesty issues you mention are particularly “misconstrued.” There are differences of opinion. Most people, no matter which opinion they follow, know that. I don’t wear wigs or pants that can’t be mistaken for a skirt, and I didn’t go to the mikva before marriage. That doesn’t mean I think those things are 100% assur–it’s just not how I hold.

    I don’t know what lectures are available in NYC as I’ve never lived there. However, I do know several women who learned with me in Jerusalem (at a school that has a high level of intellectual study in many topics, including Gemara) and expressed satisfaction with the level of learning available in NYC.

  34. Mark–
    So what would constitute success for you? At what point can we begin ascribing a drop-out rate to simple human nature as opposed to some widespread failure in the orthodox world?

  35. High Orthodox birthrates and high intermarriage among the non-observant does lead Orthodoxy to having an increasingly higher percentage of people identifying as Jews. I’m not sure that’s grounds for a triumphalist attitude.

  36. The Torah from HaShem Himself should be more than sufficient to inspire others provided that we make ourselves an object lesson of its greatness in action. So we face an uphill battle. What else is new? Why else were we put here?

  37. I think the numbers from this survey are somewhat misleading. As Bob Miller mentioned in the first reply, in all likelihood most of the people who have “left” Orthodoxy were not observant to begin with – they simply attended an Orthodox shul and hence for the survey’s puroposes counted as “Orthodox.”

    In reality, the number of observant Jews in America has been growing greatly, especially among young people:

    Real life evidence bears this out too – just for example, in the city where I live, 20 years ago, there was virtually no Orthodox presence. Now, there are thousands of Orthodox people (many of whom are BTs), around 10 Orthodox congregations, a number of kosher restaurants, etc. Orthodoxy definitely seems to be growing among Judaism in the U.S.

  38. Bob, I am sincere about learning what Gd expects of me. I also reserve the right to question until its clear what exactly he really wants from me.

    Ora, so you think its ok to use family purity as an example of separation breeding closeness. When in fact one can practice family purity without the separation and its supposed fringe benefits.
    Are you saying that a random mikvah and separating at one point in a marriage, the fringe benefits derived from this will last straight thru years of no mikvah.
    Is one mikvah dip and session of separation so powerful. Am I missing some of the dots ?

    As for location, I work in midtown NYC a hop and a skip from Times Square and Bryant Park (is that “out there” enough for you).I figured it would be nice to learn after work keep me out of trouble. I have looked into all sorts of organizations in all parts of Manhattan. No one seems to be offering hardcore lectures or classes on the stuff I want to study. Specifically ,the alei shur book and the Sotah kesubah kiddushin sects of gemara for starters.
    Among other deep things.

    As for misconstrued notions , for starters , wigs,pants, mikvah befor marriage , after the exact reason for mikvah dipping is cleared up, pilegesh, among other modesty issues. And then there’s the oldie but goodie what does gd expect women over 25 to do relationship wise if they are not married. Its not clear if he’s ok with mikvah before marriage. Or what he expects individuals to do when needing connection. It is clear that many normal individuals 25 and older do not like sleeping alone.There is no clear role for unmarried religious women in orthodox Judaism.

    As for headcovering , the source is unclear at best. Uphara es Rosh haisha , what is the exact definition of uphara. Rashi says unbraid. So your ok with a cover being braided into her hair so uncover and unbraid are happening under the same uphara.

    As for the male lecturer, there aren’t many religious female gemara lecturers.same goes for hardcore mussar teachers.
    Have you ever checked out the lectures available in Nyc ?

  39. The pull is so much weaker, I think, David. Another generation (or half generation) of intermarriage; of distance from the old country or from any aspect of observance or warm feelings for the “old ways”; of assimilation. (Remember grampa?) And on the other end, more acceptance of assimilated Jews among gentiles as spouses, in-laws and elsewhere — fewer barriers to assimilation than ever, coupled with a culture in which “racism” or any sort of “discrimination” based on ethnic identity is viewed as essentially a precursor to genocide. In a related vein, the host society is increasingly nihilistic, amoral or immoral, leaving Judaism and its proponents fewer and fewer points of shared value on which to gain a foothold for discussion of “Why be Jewish.” And, finally, the essential worthlessness of the State of Israel as any sort of beacon of idealism (unless one views political and tactical suicide as a form of idealism) to otherwise unaffiliated Jews, which was once an entry-point for exposure to what being Jewish really could mean.

    Pretty upbeat, huh?

  40. Putting aside the flaws in the survey, and many of them are clear, I do think we can probably all agree that far fewer Jews have become Baalei Teshuvah in the past, say 10-15 years than had in the same period from, say 1975 to 1990. Why do you think that is?

  41. ORA said: “most of all, provide a supportive environment where kids aren’t made to feel like bad apples if they don’t take to observance as easily as their peers.”

    Undoubtedly. Unripe apples, maybe, but not bad.

    JADED: The generalization of “not appreciating women” can mean many things. It could mean seeing them as inferior creatures best locked up in the bedroom and kitchen (chv”sh) or it could mean assuming they don’t need the Synagoue for praying / learning as much as the men (extreme but not entirely incorrect)or it could mean giving them a very honorable place in Shul and greeting them with d. eretz and praising them for their talents (even but certainly not only if its the chullent)but still not giving them equal time on debates about Torah law.

    Either way, none of these need necessitate divorce if there’s love and shared faith. EVEN the first and rather terrible example (IMO) can be maintained if the woman faithfully accepts that role and he doesn’t agressively force anything on her.

    The pt is to understand why anyone would have wanted to remain apart of an Orthodox community that seems so spiritless and non-egalitarian. it’s because Regorm, et al, is WRONG! A cold, burdensome marriage is better than an exciteing but very wrong one.

  42. Ora, many feel that there is a net loss in the Orthodox community among those teenage and older. More people are leaving Orthodoxy then coming in. The saving factor for now is the Orthodox birthrate. But the fact is we’re losing older observant Jews at a rate which needs attention. Yes, we need to look at the heart!!!

  43. As for those who leave the orthodox community, my thoughts:
    When it comes to kiruv, we (the Jewish community as a whole) recognize that it’s important to discuss big topics like faith and Jewish identity, to welcomes questions and give intelligent and complex answers, and to provide a supportive environment. Yet many religious schools fail to follow these simple rules with children from religious families, as if they are already religious (many are NOT religious in the sense of having chosen observance for themselves) and don’t need the extra effort. We need to do for kids from religious families what we do for BTs: focus on emunah and on tough/controversial issues, welcome questions, provide thought-out answers (as opposed to the very pat explanations provided in some schools), and most of all, provide a supportive environment where kids aren’t made to feel like bad apples if they don’t take to observance as easily as their peers. Oh, and start at the beginning–address questions like “Why keep Shabbat” or “what proof is there of the Oral Torah” that we expect BTs to have and often expect religious kids to have resolved. Also, parents need to take responsibility for addressing tough issues of faith and skepticism at home, and not leave it for the school to handle. The school is there to fill gaps in the education provided by the parent, not the other way around. IMO.

  44. Mark–
    When the survey is so clearly off, your comment “look at the heart!!!” makes little sense. What heart? Yes, there are people from observant families who leave observance. However, given that the orthodox community is clearly growing and not shrinking, the numbers are nothing like those given in the poll. Others have given reasonable explanations for the gap between poll and reality. IMO, if you want to talk about people leaving observance, fine, but let’s base it on fact and not fiction.

    Personally, I do not think that orthodox observance should be the only goal of the kiruv movement. I am frustrated that many people see to feel that the only kiruv success stories are the “frummies”–it leaves those who might otherwise get involved in kiruv feeling overwhelmed or feeling like failures. The truth is, most people who participate in Shabbat meals, Torah learning, etc, with kiruv orgs or just with friendly frum neighbors will probably not define themselves as orthodox. That doesn’t mean nothing important happened! For one thing, every mitzva done is important, even if it’s a one-time thing. For another, there’s a lot of room between “orthodox” and “completely assimilated.” One friend of mine isn’t fully observant and doesn’t call herself “orthodox,” but she is shomer shabbat, she lives in Israel, and unlike all of her siblings, she will almost certainly marry Jewish. IMO that’s a success story. I know many people who, thanks to Aish, birthright, Chabad, and similar programs, now celebrate all or almost all Jewish holidays, do the occasional Shabbat meal, avoid pork, and date Jewish. They aren’t orthodox, but they’re much more Jewishly involved than they used to be. Again, to me that is success. (Actually, to me it’s even success when a guest hears kiddush for the first time or learns about netilat yedaim, even if they have absolutely no intention of doing it themselves. Just learning basic Jewish observance is something.)

  45. “I don’t get the family purity thing cuz there are ways to avoid a need for separation for long stretches of time. Years even.”

    Hasn’t this been discussed on this board before? I thought we agreed last time that taharat hamishpacha isn’t only a “honeymoon” (although hs teachers might present it as such for simplicity’s sake), but has many other aspects as well, aspects that are valid even over the course of years without mikva use.

    “Also its not like the male religious learned individuals are willing to even have an intellectual debate on sensitive issues with women. At least none that I know of.”

    I mean this in the nicest possible way, but…you should get out more. At least out to the women’s learning centers, kiruv establishments, and wherever else learned individuals (btw, why do you assume that you need a MALE learned individual for an intellectual debate?) tend to gather. Personally, I had no problem finding intelligent people of all sorts to debate with. Where are you living? Are you in a major Jewish community?

    “But I don’t understand any of the sources or source for haircovering and no one that I know of seems to know any more than the ambiguous facts and source and the many opinions different sages expound upon. ”

    No one seems to know more than the sources and various rabbinic opinions? What else is there to know (in terms of sources, that is)?

    “There are too many misnomers and miserable misconceptions that are accepted as halachic fact.”

    Such as?

    “Also its kind of hard if not impossible finding hardcore intellectual learning opportunities that allow women to participate.”

    If you appreciate only men and men’s learning as “hardcore,” then yes. If you respect female teachers and institutions, then no, it’s actually not so hard if you live in a sizable Jewish community.

  46. JT wrote, “There are too many misnomers and miserable misconceptions that are accepted as halachic fact. And no one seems to appreciate this lack of concern and cause for many a disconnect.”

    Any halacha-related study, debate, or you-name-it begun with this type of global negative attitude, and devoted to debunking accepted Jewish practice, will turn out wrong.

    “Halacha my way” is not “halacha”. Step one going in is to be committed sincerely to learning what the halacha is and to following it.

  47. Bar chaiim ,
    What part of not appreciating women (other than married mothers that support, cook , bake and give birth) is not a reason to leave the so called “marriage” in your analogy. Or in this case the religion that has a hard time appreciating women in general. The warrior war thing is not the best analogy , ideologies are harder to fix than mutually agreed upon temporary physical separations/distancing for the sake of fighting for in a war. I don’t get the family purity thing cuz there are ways to avoid a need for separation for long stretches of time. Years even.
    Also its not like the male religious learned individuals are willing to even have an intellectual debate on sensitive issues with women.
    At least none that I know of. There are plenty of esoteric notions and ideologies that just need a deeper explanation. I’m sure from a belief faith perspective there are reasons for everthing. It would just be really nice if learned men would take the time out of their busy bais medrash schedule for men only! and allow women to argue question debate and participate in hardcore learning. Especially on halacha that pertains to women In particular. There are many misnomers misconceptions and misunderstandings that are not clarified with logical and or intellectual approaches. Not everyone can understand difficult concepts by reading a 700 page rules and regulations phamlet for modesty. Or books containing reasonings that can be secondguessed and stripped apart in seconds. And then there is my all time favorite, haircovering. Is this part of the separation for love thing too ? Taking family purity to the next level. I’m not trying to knock anything anyone may hold sacred. But I don’t understand any of the sources or source for haircovering and no one that I know of seems to know any more than the ambiguous facts and source and the many opinions different sages expound upon. The whole concept of rules and regulations with regards to
    women and dress needs to stripped apart and redressed from scratch. There are too many misnomers and miserable misconceptions that are accepted as halachic fact.
    And no one seems to appreciate this lack of concern and cause for many a disconnect.

    Also its kind of hard if not impossible finding hardcore intellectual learning opportunities that allow women to participate.
    But there are endless opportunities for men only learnin.

  48. Dr. Hall said: “biggest reasons I remember hearing for people deciding not to remain Orthodox were a perceived lack of spirituality in Orthodox services (in particular, lack of decorum), a perceived lack of appreciation of women,”

    There’s definately truth to those perceptions. Certainly back then, the majority of the “old world Yidden” who remained true to tradition were going thru alot of lifeless motions. But this is NOT a reflection on Torah and Orthodoxy, per se`. It’s a sign of how difficult it is to live Torah without an inner passion, which is largely dependent on learning. It’s like a marriage. During wars,for examle,imagine how hard it is to keep up the affection and wonder of a marriage. It’s a tragedy… but no reason to leave the marriage!

  49. The Jews of the Bronx did not vanish. I would think that more of them relocated to other borough’s like Brooklyn and Queens, than just got up and dropped their observance. Just because the neighborhood got taken over by other minorities doesn’t mean you’d abandon your religion in frustration because you were forced to move to more hospitable digs. True, many moved from the Bronx to the suburbs of LI where their children quickly assimilated in the spiritual wastelands of secular suburban living. But many neighborhoods relocate. Just look at Monsey, for example. I’d say a good 75% of frum folks here relocated from Flatbush or Borough Park or Williamsburg or even Riverdale. We are out of space and are quickly transforming from a quiet suburb of 1-family houses to a small city of multi-family dwellings. Lakewood is also bursting at the seems. As is Passaic. Most new residents are from former Jewish neighborhoods or overcrowded neighborhoods that have no more housing available.

  50. Charles,
    Do you have reason to believe that the families of the newly Reform members you heard from had previously been Orthodox beyond just Orthodox shul affiliation?

  51. “perceived lack of appreciation of women”

    I don’t want to cause this thread to become an argument over the role of women in traditional Judaism, but I will give two examples that show my point that I would hope we can all agree upon:

    (1) I wanted to daven minchah with a minyan and found a shul. My wife was with me. She was not permitted to daven there because men refused to leave the women’s section. There was plenty of room in the men’s section! She had to pray on the sidewalk.

    (2) My wife and I checked out a new shul on a Friday night. She was the only women in the women’s section. After the service, not a single one of the several dozen men there would say “hi” to her. Not even a “good shabbos”.

    It is amazing that there are as many BTs as there are!

  52. Counting Jews is difficult. (And it may be asur!) The National Jewish Population Survey and similar surveys done in local communities across the US have done about as good a job as possible given the wide dispersion of Jews in the US, the lack of agreed upon definition of who is a Jew (most American Jews don’t follow halachah), and the fact that Jews by any definition are at most 2% of the US population. Survey statisticians helped design these studies and it is possible to get surprisingly good estimates with a relatively small number of telephone calls. This may become more difficult in the future as fewer and fewer people use landline phones (you can’t make unsolicited calls to mobile phones in the US). has the results of the three national surveys (1971, 1990, and 2001). The 2001 survey used two definitions of “Orthodox”; the most useful one is simply self-identification and those are the numbers reported in slide 9. The total number of self-identified Orthodox Jews in the US was about 529,000, which is a 13% decline since the 1971 survey. The Reform declined at the same rate while the Conservative movement declined by an incredible 50%. The 297,000 number on slide 9 appears to refer to adults, not the entire population. The self-identification definition groups together the so-called “non-observant orthodox” who attend Orthodox synagogues and identify with traditional Judaism but are not shomer Shabat along with truly observant. The “non-observant orthodox” seems to be a vanishing if not nearly extinct type of Jew; in my own experience most orthodox shuls today are hostile toward people who don’t want to be observant.

    Many are shocked by the idea that the Orthodox population has declined during our lifetimes. We see packed shuls and day schools in our communities. But we forget that there are communities that have completely vanished. The total destruction of the Jewish community of the south and central Bronx is alone sufficient to account for most if not all the decline; one can drive up and down the Grand Concourse and see many buildings that were once synagogues and are now churches (or, in one case, an art museum!). has information on over three hundred former synagogues, mostly Orthodox, that do not exist any more. There are few if any places even in churban Europe that have experienced a destruction of that magnitude — there were more Jews in the Bronx in 1960 than in Warsaw in 1939 or in Jerusalem today. The Orthodox community in Riverdale, where I currently live, is considered (accurately) to be strong and growing. But it has only six synagogues. That doesn’t come close to replacing what was lost. There are many other places that once had orthodox shuls but to not today. We should not become smug apparent recent small gains in membership in our own local communities.

    The results of the Avi Chai survey of Jewish Day School enrollment is available online here:

    It found about 205,000 students enrolled in Jewish Day Schools in the US with over 80% in Orthoodox schools. This is consistent with the numbers from the NJPS survey. This shows how far we are from the goal of Jewish education for every Jewish child.

    Moving away from statistics, I’ll share the anecdote that when I was still attending a Reform synagogue, I had noticed that a huge fraction of the members had grown up in Orthodox homes. IIRC the biggest reasons I remember hearing for people deciding not to remain Orthodox were a perceived lack of spirituality in Orthodox services (in particular, lack of decorum), a perceived lack of appreciation of women, and a perceived sense that traditional Judiasm was not interested in the modern world. I regret to say that now that I am orthodox I can say that there is some truth to all these complaints.

  53. You’re right on target Reb Miller!

    If we each focussed on those in our own daled amos, just imagine what the effects could be.
    Good Shabbos, All! :)

  54. How come no one here ever gets surveyed? The last phone call I had for a market research survey was about movies. When I told the telemarketer how long it’s been since I’ve been to a movie, there was this long silence on the other end, and then they realized there was nothing worthwhile to “survey” me about.

    But I never get calls about politics and/or religion! And having worked for National UJA, therefore having some (25+ year ago) knowledge of Federations, I’d be skeptical about what the Council of.. calls Orthodox in the first place.

  55. Jewish communities are so varied and far-flung that it must be hard for anyone, through surveys (even good ones!) or personal experience, to have a really good handle on the extent and nature of Orthodox gains and losses. Even organizations devoted to kiruv can’t be everywhere at once and may have confined their attentions to only certain sectors of Jewish society. Rather than belabor this, we can search for ways to attract Jews within our own orbit to Judaism.

  56. What is the “NJPS”, the organization who seemes to have conducted this “poll”? First things first…who is thew source of this information (or misinformation)? In my experience, those numbers seem to be completely beyond reality. The frum population growth in the community where I live is exploding. What communities were polled for this survey? Like some of the earlier comments, the face of Orthodoxy has changed over the last few decades…and many who once considered themselves to be Orthodox (or what they thought was Orthodox) back in the 40’s and 50’s here in the US, don’t recognize the Orthodoxy of today as what they grew up with.
    That could be a big % of what the folks polled were referring to. They never left the fold, because they were never really in it to begin with.

  57. For all those making the, valid, point that we weren’t presented with the “aging” of the dropout numbers. I suspect what many are saying is true, i.e. that much of the dropout came longer ago when , as one of the other stats shows day school attendance was merely a fraction of what it is today.

    However, the same can be said for the kiruv numbers, i.e. we don’t know the timing of when those 57,000 people became orthodox.

    It may be possible that likewise many of these people also became orthodox many years ago. During the time that I became frum, the 70’s in New Jersey, NCSY had a relatively easy time of it.

    Basically, you had orthodox shuls across the NY Metro area that were, in many cases, populated by a majority of non-orthodox families. The youth group of choice for most of these shuls was NCSY. From a sales perspective NCSY had a lot of “hot” leads, i.e. traditional families affiliated with orthodox shuls. It was an “easy” sell.

    The effect was astounding, within 10 years or so 1000’s of kids, and in some cases even entire families, became frum, most of these shuls became populated with practicing orthodox Jews, the communities they were in either grew rapidly or died as the newly frum kids moved to the other frum communities.

    Just wanted to add more confusion to the stats.

  58. I think that R Y Adlerstein once said that statistics may be fudged, but that the number of restaurants, etc is real.

  59. I am skeptical of those figures because we know that are many Torah communities where BTs are numerous. I think that surveys of this nature IMO really don’t measure the Torah observant community accurately. IMO, the key to looking at any community is to look at its superstructure-shopping, schools and educational vitality.

  60. nice phrasing, David. Second and third stage indeed.

    Actually, we speak during Pessach of 4 stages. If I may generalize, the average Bt who has something good to say on such a blog is already passed stage 2, Yam Suf. But then comes that very scary desert. It can overwhelm the best of em! Even those who’ve reached Sinai – how long does it take til we pine for some sort of Eigal HaZahav?

    Mark says growth means helping others grow. I hear that for the first stages, but I’m not sure it’s so clear for those struggling to get BEYOND Sinai. I sense there’s an extra super Yeitzer at that stage to use the Yiddishkeit as a comfortable career / identity / ideal that keeps you FROM growing. It’s then that we need our Chavrusas most of all.

    The kiruv movement would respectively be bringing H’ great nachas if it would l’chatchilla educate for that.

  61. It would have made a lot more sense if the stats were broken down by age ranges. For example, I know several men who are now in their late 40’s, to early 50’s, who had horrible experiences in yeshiva (some being outright abusiveness). Some left their Yiddishkeit. There’s a world of difference from today’s crop of Rebbes who are teaching our sons. They are American born and are much more adept at dealing with and understanding American raised boys. In the generation that these older men came from, the Rebbes were almost all European, and many had, nebich, come here as survivors, with all the emotional baggage intact.

    IMO, therefore, the numbers should somewhat skew by ages. Even with all the temptations that lurk, it’s definitely a lot easier to be frum today then it was even 25 years ago.

  62. You don’t lead your life based on dubious statistics. The problem is there so we can solve it.

  63. Wow, that is a lot of people leaving Orthodoxy. That seems a big problem to me, a lot bigger than whatever problems might be in kiruv or whatever tweaking needs to be done to attract more Jews. Objectively speaking, ignoring my own blessings and positive experience caused by kiruv efforts, attracting more Jews to observance seems a futile effort if so many that are already there are flat out rejecting it. Right?

  64. It depends what they are: for instance:


    1970 30%
    1980 25%
    1990 17%
    2000 10%

    Not as bad as the opposite, but obviously we would like 0% Having given this fictional example though, I would still like to know what the current numbers are and where they reside demographically.

  65. AJ, The number right now is much lower than 59%, but if it’s between 10% and 25% is that not a cause for alarm?

    YY, Beyond BT is for people who are committed to growing in their Judaism. Hopefully that includes all BTs (and FFBs). Part of growth is helping others grow.

  66. Yes, Rav Moshe Jettisoned the expression because it came accross so discouragingly. But he never denied it’s reality. The key, it seems to me, is in understanding precisely that it IS hard… but we have to find channel that difficulty positively. The Avoida and chessed which Mark speaks about must be done with ferver. As a chossid, I’d add that dveikus should be the aim. Truly savoring the sense of H’s presence.

    Yet, as I too have recently been plateuing (why else would I be at Beyond BT??), I stress that the need for companionship is CRUCIAL. We must feel that we’re not alone in our growth process.

  67. I think Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh is a good place to start. It forces us to reexamine our Judaism and awareness of Hashem. It opens up the path of Avodah.

    I think the Yeshiva Derech that many of us find our self is a great foundation and nobody can argue with Talmud Torah Kneged Kolum. However we need to add some focus on the pillars of chesed and avodah.

    Many people (BTs and FFBs) will not be achieving high levels of learning though out their life and they need the nourishment from avodah and chesed.

  68. Yes, Mark I agree but i have a strong suspicion (as Bob has alluded to above me) That most of the people lost, in the numbers above were lost a long time ago (not that we shouldn’t try to do everything to bring them closer again!). I have a hard time believing that today’s orthodox community is still losing 59%. I would like to know how many ex-orthodox are in the younger age group 18-36.

    As for gaining BT’s, that is a much harder situation. Secular life in America is fraught with motivations (some parve some not so parve) not to become frum, and the more generations that pass, the harder it becomes.

  69. “It’s NOT easy to be a Yid”

    This is an idea Rav Moshe Feinstein ZT”L tried to combat, on the grounds that so many were lost to Orthodoxy in the early 1900’s because they heard about only the pain and not the pleasure.

    If you really want it, it’s a whole lot easier!

  70. I’m with Mark 100%. It’s the fire and the love that matters… and in principle THAT’s what being BT’s are all about. For without it we would have never gotten this far. It’s a real bracha that shouldn’t be neglected. It’s NOT easy to be a Yid… so those who’ve been blessed to choose it, from deep conviction, have their work cut out.

  71. I’m with you, Mark, loud and clear. “how many people are on fire and in love with their Judaism and with Hashem?” It’s a gaint, very pressing question. Something which the slickest kiruv campaigns will never attend to.

    If only we understood that this was the biggest bracha of being a bt, for by definition most of us HAD to find that love and fire to get to where we did. It’s not silly cynicism to say “it’s not easy to be a Jew.” It’s NOT. For it requires that love and fire.

    So wadda we waiting for……

  72. Additionally, each flavor of Orthodoxy has its own concept of the ideal man or woman. Those who don’t conform absolutely to the model can’t be made to feel like trash, or there will be consequences.

  73. It’s wonderful to get caught up in the details of the survey and loudly proclaim how erroneous it is.

    But look at the heart!!!!

    We’re losing lots of people and we’re not overwhelmingly successful at bringing people closer to Hashem.

    Even in the firmly observant communities (BT or FFB) how many people are on fire and in love with their Judaism and with Hashem.

    I think we need to light some fires and the only place to begin is in our own hearts.

  74. What I keep seeing is a lengthening list of actions Orthodox teens ahouldn’t do, products they shouldn’t buy, places they shouldn’t go, and so on. That’s understandable since we want them to keep a proper distance (whatever that is) from general society. BUT there’s much more to do than anxiously trying to keep the lid on. Who is stepping up to provide the positive things they do need spiritually, intellectually, and socially to stay happily Orthodox?

  75. Keep in mind that many (most?)of our grandparents and certainly our great grandparents were observant. So most non-observant Jews today can trace back to Orthodox upbringing. After the next generation passes these numbers will be radically different. Remember, you can say almost anything with statistics.

  76. The Survey clearly has its problems. Here are just a few points that I believe pretty much everyone in the orthodox community would believe clearly would put someone outside of orthodoxy:

    Most Orthodox Jewish Adults observe the following religious rituals:

    Keep kosher at home 86%
    Keep kosher outside the home 75%
    Attend religious services once a week or more 58%
    Refrain from handling or spending money on Shabbat 78%

  77. Bob, there’s no question a tragic number of good, frum hearts have been broken, and the ones possessing them lost to a life of Torah and mitzvos, by an educational system that does not know what to do with them. From what I have seen — rather close up — the educational-based problems is hardly a matter of teachers alone; indeed sometimes it is the teachers who are the frustrated ones. Too many parents — FFB’s and BT’s alike — are absolutely not committed to meaningful education of their children, especially daughters, nor to meaningful secular studies education of their sons.

    The result is not only a poor education and a formula for very limited economic opportunity and the whole host of social and ethical challenges that can lead to. It is even more critically the laying of a deep, deep foundation of cynicism and bitterness about “the whole thing.” Between these two phenomena, I think you have the formula for most of those whom we “lose.”

    It’s really heartbreaking for me, too, to encounter a product of this system who actually believes in Hashem more firmly than I do, and who has an iron sense of right and wrong, yet is so disgusted with the frum world that “the whole thing” is unthinkable to encounter and the relationship with Hashem is larded with anger. (Sometimes things like BBT help… a little, or maybe for some a lot.)

  78. I wonder if the statistics generated by this study are really very useful at all. First of all, they are 7 years old. Second, the very first slide explains that the study disregards 20% of Jews as not having “stronger Jewish connections” (stronger than what? how was this determined?”, so basically, 1 out of 5 Jews was not even counted in the study, which completely skews any kind of validity of the results.

    Secondly, forgetting about the fact that you are only looking at part of the picture, I think the number of Jews raised Orthodox who now consider themselves not to be (and which is most likely even higher than reported due to the previously mentioned 20% rate of non-consideration) should be much more alarming to anyone than considering it a call of whether kiruv is working or not. If you can’t hold onto almost 2/3 of your movement, something is wrong.

  79. How much of the teen problem is related to teachers not addressing or even hearing their concerns?

  80. I personally don’t think that people becoming Orthodox is a sufficient measure of successful kiruv.

    I recently spoke to a person dealing with teens leaving Judaism (it wasn’t RYH) and he estimated that 10% of today’s Orthodox youth fall into that category. He fears the number will grow to 30% over the next 10 years.

    The number of new Baalei Teshuva each year in America is probably between 2,000 and 5,000 (anybody have any better estimates). So it seems that we are losing more than we are gaining. A Rabbi recently told me that the community focus was moving away from kiruv and towards keeping people from leaving Observance.

    I think there is a convergence in these issues. Both the non observant and the observant need to see the truth, beauty and fulfillment in a life of Torah Observance. Part of that involves clarifying and living that beautiful life ourselves which means a continually renewed commitment to all three TAG (Torah, Avodah, Gemillas Chasadim) pillars.

  81. I don’t see the usefulness of the survey at all because it does not break out departures from orthodoxy over time. If 70% of the movement “out” was among those raised in the ’30’s, ’40’s and ’50’s, let’s say — I have no idea if this is true, but it may be — that’s a very different picture considering that the growth of the “BT movement” has taken place mostly since the ’70’s.

  82. The number for those leaving is definitely WAY off. Anyone can open their eyes and see that. Also, the number for total Orthodox is again way off as anyone can see. The most accurate way to determine these numbers is the way of Dr. Schick, looking at school enrollment.

    Yes, I think people becoming Orthodox is a good measure of successful kiruv. A large percentage of the American baalei t’shuvah are now in Israel.

  83. Yaakov, that was the whole point of my comment on definitions. We don’t know exactly where the loss came from, but I’d bet they came mainly from families Orthodox only by the old, loose definition.

  84. So Orthodoxy has lost 347,000 (59% failure rate) and gained 57,000 (16% of what was lost) – that’s success?

  85. The number they present that left Orthodoxy is staggering…This isn’t’ about the success of the teshuva movement as much as the failure of Orthodoxy

  86. “Raised Orthodox” can have various meanings in America. One that was common in the past and hasn’t quite vanished is “raised in a family paying dues to an Orthodox-affiliated shul”. That might or might not indicate that the person’s family actually held all key Orthodox beliefs and followed Orthodox practice. Even today, many out-of-town shuls have a diverse membership, with only a core being Shomer Shabbos, etc. So let’s dig deeper, if possible, and find out what yardstick(s) the survey and its participants used for defining Orthodox upbringing.

    On the whole, I’m skeptical about surveys like this, because they use ambiguous terms and may not reach major sectors of the subject group.

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