Are More Jews Ceasing to Be Observant than Starting?

Let me state at the outset, I have not taken a survey. But lately there seem to be more and more books appearing on the shelves hinting at the enormity of the problem, sort of like the tip of the iceberg, to use an overworked cliché. The one that springs to mind is “Off the Derech,” by Faranak Margolese, but there are several others. Certainly, as the frum wife of a non-observant husband, I’ve noticed that there are many more books on the topic of going off the derech than there are for “mixed” Jewish couples like us.

As a former single mother, I’d venture a guess that one large slice of the off-the-derech population has got to be single women (who may or may not be moms) in my Baby Boomer age group who either cannot find a husband because of the unfavorable demographics, or don’t want to be married again because of bad experiences in a former marriage. (For just one example of a single woman who has been looking and looking, and who mentions the possibility of women in that situation going off the derech, see Season of Isolation.) With no “representation” in shul, a single woman is more likely to drop off the radar than any other segment of the population; I concentrate on this because I have been there, although I’m sure other segments have their issues (and I would like to hear from them in response to this article).

There is no doubt, observance is a hard road. I have no firsthand knowledge of what it is like to be FFB and go off the derech, because I am a second-time BT. I went off the derech once, then came back. So I can only speak for BTs who have gone off. If they are still off, then they probably don’t have the benefit of a supportive community like the one I have; and/or, they don’t have the benefits of being married, however atypical that is in my own case.

There is a norm in Judaism. It is the traditional family – husband, wife, and children. To the extent that an individual’s life differs from that norm, I believe that is the potential weak link in their connection to Jewish life. To differ from that norm, I believe, has as much potential for isolating the person as a physical handicap. Although B”H I have no firsthand knowledge of what it is to be physically handicapped, I can offer a snapshot anecdote: As a single mother, I was once asked if I wanted to be introduced to a man with one foot. Evidently the “handicaps” in each of us were deemed equivalent.

I recall a long time ago reading a book by a former BT who had gone back to his non-observant life; the two catalysts for his giving up his observant lifestyle seemed to be his appetite for non-kosher foods, and his attachment to a former non-Jewish girlfriend. There is no doubt that each of us has his or her “pull” to the past. And when the going gets tough, sometimes the less-tough get going…off the derech.

When I was becoming observant the first time, I read Herman Wouk’s lovely book “This Is My G-d,” and one thought this gifted writer used has stuck in my mind – that with all the restrictions of an observant life, it is a wonder there are any Orthodox people left. Certainly, when I look at a book on Judaism published in 1914 that is in my small collection of old books, all indications seemed at that time to be that Orthodoxy would disappear. Yet, as a river flowing uphill, it has come back and flourished.

But in our own BT world, it is easy to overlook the people who are leaving Orthodoxy. Maybe not enough Orthodox people are involved with kiruv, or not involved enough; that is a topic for another article. Or maybe we just want to shut our eyes to the problem, or deny that it even is a problem at all. Some of us are so starry-eyed at our own return, that we cannot comprehend that anyone would want to leave.

So why are people leaving? Is it the lifestyle restrictions? Is it the temptations of the larger society, beckoning that the “good life” means eating and dressing and engaging in everyday activities just like the Gentiles do? Is it singleness and devastating demographics?

I think that for each person, it is a different reason. Each individual has his or her own personal struggles, and some do not succeed in overcoming them. Some leave and then come back, as I did. I have had several rabbis quote to me the Possuk, “The Tzaddik falls seven times and gets up.” At any given point, we have no way of knowing what the future of an off-the-derech person will be.

But we can reach out, we can make a difference in the life of just one Jew, and then perhaps we will smooth their way back to Judaism. Who knows who Hashem’s Shaliach will be in the life of any Jew? We can only try to do our part, individually and as part of the communities to which we belong.

Originally published here on January 30, 2008

74 comments on “Are More Jews Ceasing to Be Observant than Starting?

  1. What Ellen calls one-size-fits-all is inappropriate in almost every time and place. Within our legitimate Mesorah there have always been various paths.

  2. Ellen-for a discussion on Mesorah, see the article by RHS in a recent issue of Jewish Action.

  3. For me there is a problem within the word “Mesorah”. It seems post-Holocaust that parts of the Mesorah were reinvented in trying to create continuity with life in the shtetl. And new inventions are added on, leaving some BTs bewildered, disenchanted and further chutz l’machaneh, and some FFBs on their cell phones observing half-Shabbos (see The concept of Daas Torah is recent, and expecting a select few to have the correct take on how to deal with an endlessly more complicated world makes it increasingly difficult for this “old” BT to be able to totally buy into a one-size-fits-all brand of Chareidi Judaism. But I’ll never give up the mitzvos and Torah observance. That for me is my Mesorah.

  4. I recently saw a sefer in Lashon HaKodesh ( the title of which I don’t recall) which purported to be a halachic guide to issues that many BTs face on a regular basis. I think that such a book constitutes a disservice instead of realizing as Dr Lisa Aiken and many others do that Kiruv and becoming a BT has many equally different and legitimate routes and directions within the Mesorah that require a lot of sensitivity, common sense and realization of who the potential BT is as a person, especially their background, instead of viewing all potential BTs as presenting the same halachic and hashkafic issues.

  5. Jaded Topaz #60: I just wanted to add a comment to your posting of three years ago (if you are still watching this blog).

    I read an article written by a young woman who was celebrating her graduation from Harvard University. When she opened up the hardcover certificate holder, surprise! Instead of a diploma, there was a note from (you guessed) the financial services office, telling her she was not going to get her A.B. until she paid up on a bill that was still owing. Totally embarrassed in front of all of her friends and family members who had come en masse to Cambridge, Mass. to see her graduate from Harvard, this young woman had to run in her cap and gown over to the financial services office and settle this very last bill, somehow overlooked, before being allowed to receive her diploma.

  6. As a BT who went off, daughter of another BT who went off, and having encountered more than a few who were BT, went off, and some came back, I think there were a few points above that are right on the mark.

    1. Kiruv is one-sided hashkafically, and recipients leave if they are unhappy and don’t realize that other ‘brands’ are legitimate.

    2. Seeing bad things done by so-called frum people, and even by whole communities, is huge. And “Don’t Judge Juaism by the Jews” is silly in that context. Judaism looks more like the Jews today than what God originally handed down. Rabbinic Judaism was made by Jews. Unless we think all those rabbis were always perfect.

    3. The judaism offerred by kiruv is most often very shallow. It doesn’t address real difficulties in life, it doesn’t bend for different people. BT’s don’t know enough to realize that there are leniencies and ways around. They don’t realize they can daven less than what the class they attended called the ‘minimum’ and whip themselves internally for not living up to Gods expectations.

    4. No one tells a BT to stop doing a mitzvah, if they look unhappy. No one says to step back, take a break, reflect without doing, do less, try again later. The advice you get if you are asking for help is to ‘try harder’ or different ways to get more out of the experience. For some people, who went to far too fast, it would be better to tell them to stop practicing some parts and give themselves time to catch up with their changes.

    5. BT’s expect more of themselves than perhaps the religion expects. There is a lot of guilt in not living up to what is perceived as the base-line. It doesn’t help that the idea of “If you aren’t moving up, you are moving down” is common. Sometimes the effort of staying in one spot, or just even slowing one’s descent, is more than a person can do.

    I wanted to write this more clearly, but I’m nursing and another kid is calling to me, so I can’t think very well. I liked the discussions above until they went off topic.

  7. Here again with the myth that single people and people without kids are alone. That is not necessarily true. We can have a wide social circle and community of friends plus an extended family. It’s not even fair to bring kids into the world just because you think they’ll take care of you later on. There are plenty of people whose kids dump them in nursing homes and never visit. Plenty of single people are not in an uncaring world. I plan to be the same person happily pursuing my dreams when I am in my 70s as I am today. I’m way beyond twenty anything and have never regretted my choices.

  8. Judy, the actions that you attribute to the people looking out for the couple you describe in comment # 65 indicates that they are far from being “on [their] own in an uncaring world.”

  9. NeverWas #64: Hello, NW, I see you’re joining this blog and adding some new comments to some older posts. Welcome.

    NW, I would like to add a personal observation of mine. Simply my own humble opinion, nothing more. I have recently made acquaintance through business associations with a man of 72 who is in poor shape, mentally and physically. He has been married about five years to a woman in her fifties who is not in such great shape either. There are people who know them who are trying to get this couple into assisted housing plus various other social services. However, I can’t help thinking: If this fellow had only married back in his twenties, when he was young and vibrant…if by now he had sons and daughters in their forties who cared about him and worried about “Dad” and his health and bringing him to live with them, rather than being on his own in an uncaring world, perhaps things would be different for this individual. Yes, I’m well aware that even people who get married young sometimes wind up alone (children move away or predecease or marriages are childless or children are disabled, etc. etc. etc.). But just looking at this older man with no children or grandchildren to care about “Totty” or “Zaidy” I just feel it makes a powerful argument for marrying young and raising children to care.

  10. The simple fact is, not every female wants to get married or have kids. Marriage is just one lifestyle out of many, and it’s not fair to push that on everyone. Why do some people not want to get married? Maybe they’re happy being part of a circle of friends but at the same time want the freedom to put themselves first and pursue their own dreams. There is absolutely no excuse for treating single women or men as the “unpopular” types. That’s the cookie cutter mentality that so many people dislike. And not everyone has to have kids; this planet is definitely not underpopulated.

  11. Ellen (post #46) – Just for the record, I’m a couple of years older than you.

    Stephen (post #58) – Wow, I think you zeroed in on something there. When I was a teenager, long before I became truly observant, I was one of those unpopular kids. And I think some of the experiences I went through as a single mom in the frum community brought all of that back too vividly and therefore made me react as I did. I never really made that connection before. Thank you for opening my eyes to that.

  12. About betrayal by school adminstrators:

    Not everybody belongs in the Jewish school admin biz. I bet most people have run into both meanness and kindness in their lifetime of dealing with schools—sometimes both qualities in the same institution! Ideally, the free market would deal with the bad apples by channeling parents and students into the more fairly and competently run institutions. Some localities offer no good choices, though, and parents need to make the difficult decision to move (if possible). We found that severe disappointments led us to better things down the road.

  13. Regarding my swipe at the gedolim, you can primarily blame my poor writing skills. The swipe was meant to be at the “Job’s comforters” sorts who try to balance the anguish experienced by agunot by suggesting the great rabbonim among us are heartbroken by their plight as well, and (by implication) that the latter heartbreak redeems the former.

    I have more to say on the topic of agunot, but I don’t think it is appropriate for this particular post.

  14. Just wanted to type out a conclusion to this discussion in case anyone gets any wrong ideas about anything.

    My father is brilliant, has an extremely high IQ, heavily educated, secular and religious, graduated with lots of honors, and works very hard and holds a pretty prestigious position. He is not a poor uneducated simpleton.

    Tuition rates were/are just out of control.

    And he wasn’t spending the money on frivolities either, the excuse every embarrassed dignified rabbi gives when he hears this kind of stuff.

    I know so many fathers who are also brilliant/ heavily educated and work so hard and have such a hard time with tuition.

    I hope schools these days are careful and never involve kids.

    But when I hear stories about schools holding report cards and diplomas for students whose parents haven’t paid up, it’s just plain appalling and I hope the stories I heard were just exceptions though I find that hard to believe.

    How could a religious administration be so mean for starters?

    Not that I care anymore……

    But if I get one more heartwarming appeal to fund some kids tuition, I will puke !

    And this is how I started off that fun career called life.
    It certaintly was/is not the end of dealings with mean religious individuals though for me.
    But definitely a good mean head start.

    Please consult your local schools before coming to any conclusions about their tuition and admission card policy in 2008.

  15. It may not be ideal for a discussion to devolve to this level of personal specificity, I think!

    But I suppose this particular narrative supports our earlier point about those moments of personal betrayal that can color one’s views about the whole enchilada. People in harsh situations, such as those with responsibility for running a Jewish school without enough money, may be faced with harsh choices. But they should never exercise them in a harsh fashion. If they do, they may expect a harsh result… and then some.

    Never say never, Jaded. There may be a “loophole” you haven’t identified in the most unexpected place!

  16. Today’sWidows, widowers, older singles and divorced people are no different than the unpopular college or high school students before the rise of the BT movement of the late 60’s and 70’s. During these early periods of kiruv, every observant Jew was trained by a mentor to love every Jew as him or herself and not to stand by when individuals are isolated for whatever reason. They reached out with joy to their brethren and gave them a lifeline to Yahadut. We have, unfortunately, become complacent due to our earlier successes.When a person failed to come to shul, calls of concern and friendship were extended, be it by the rov or the balabatim. This behavior seems to have diminished as there developed a second and third generation of FFB. Many take it for granted that had there not been outreach to their grandparents, they may not have been born. Kiruv and ahavas reiim must be an on-going movement in Orthodox circles.

  17. Ora,
    This has nothing to do with how many mitzvos the men can claim as their own.
    Or why the married woman are extra special.
    This is about the connection between the unmarried woman and Torah Judaism.
    As a side bonus or sidetrack point, I was pointing out that the “special opportunities” are traditionally a married woman thing but not necessarily.
    For me its not about anything spiritual or mystical at this point in my life.
    Its just about taking everything I don’t understand between Torah Judaism and its perspectives/decrees/prohibitions/rulings with regards to Women and understanding the underlying logic/ premise and reason.

    Bob Miller,
    I don’t have any objection to marriage please see above for my current objective in life.

    There is no story.
    I should have gone to a no charge public school.
    I’m sorry about your sons.
    I don’t know what schools are like these days. I do know they are still withholding report cards from hardworking students whose parents don’t pay. I haven’t heard about any public displays of embarrassment with regards to admission cards recently though. This doesn’t mean anything though.

    I’m sure I’m not the only kid who doesn’t forget stuff like this.
    They might have changed their embarrass the student in public till the parent pays up policy, but withholding report cards is no better – this is a wrong application for modesty not that they would care either way.

    I will never change my personal policy though.
    I’d rather sent tuition money to Buddhist monks in faraway lands I’m sure they don’t embarrass people there.
    As previously mentioned all this school stuff is vodka under the bridge.
    Maybe schools are better these days, I actually don’t care .

  18. Ellen: we are only a few years behind you, although we became frum in our late 30’s, so our kids were also BT (reluctantly). We are also dedicated to Torah, but have had disappointing communal experiences; at this point we are carving out our own space, apart from the chumras & Goldsteins.

    Not that I have firsthand experience, but I have heard that Brooklyn can be choking. The smaller communities are not void of the same problems, but there is a bit more air to breathe….especially if you are not dealing with yeshivas anymore.

  19. JT, sounds like you had a less than inspiring yeshiva education (understatement). Sounds like some people I’m related to (my sons). I’m also wondering if you could find a way back to Yiddishkeit, which is what it appears, since you apparently spend time on Jewish blogs. You’re probably in a position to let us know what went wrong for you, and what “they” could have done differently. I’d love to hear your story, if you’d be willing to tell it.

  20. Jaded–
    I don’t understand the whole idea of avoiding observance b/c men have more mitzvot. Even if you believe it’s genuine sexist inequality (as opposed to different spiritual needs/different roles), why give up what you have just because someone else has more?

  21. Jaded–
    According to ancient tradition all women could use the mikva, and I believe that some sephardi women still use the mikva before marriage, as a general purifying experience thing.

    I realize that the three mitzvot you mentioned are generally seen as “special women’s mitzvot.” And I don’t doubt that they have the power to bring blessing. But all mitzvot have the power to bring blessing. So I really don’t get how the fact that married women have one or two extra things to do (sometimes, maybe, depending on your customs), on top of the hundreds of things that everyone has to do, says something bad about the non-married person’s role. Yes, lighting shabbat candles is special, but it is not THE special thing in Judaism without which there’s nothing else worth doing.

    I would distinguish between things that women aren’t allowed to do and things that women don’t do b/c they aren’t required to. IMO there’s a difference between saying women can’t lead prayers and women don’t lead men in prayer b/c the men won’t fulfill their mitzva (for example). Other than polygamy, I don’t think there are any prohibitions aimed specifically at women.

    Of course you don’t have to be orthodox to give money from your paycheck. You also don’t have to be orthodox to keep kosher, to avoid lashon hara, or any other mitzva. However, the idea that a certain percent of your money is not yours at all, but actually belongs to the poor/the community, is a Torah concept and not a secular concept at all.

  22. Bob Miller,

    One more thing, in case you’re having trouble believing my whole admission card story,
    When I mentioned in the previous comment that I was absent a lot this was a nice way of saying I didn’t pay attention very well and some of the teachers could probally be ranked as some of the worst teachers in New York.
    The teachers that were good though I still remember some of their lessons.
    In addition there was this process called admission cards. A roll call loudly calling each student in the class to furnish an admission card, (proof that you paid) sometimes you were called out of class so the whole class knew how your parents didn’t pay.
    (they knew either way when you didnt furnish the card). Sometimes there was a little “tell your father to pay speech” other times Temporary admission cards were given after a little commotion with the administrative staff.
    Some years the admission card process was done every few months.
    But now that I look back even the stuff that I did pay attention too was not worth any of the tuition money paid at all.
    And maybe its time I start asking for a refund or something on the money that was paid.
    In grade 12 I actually gave half of my summer earnings towards tuition. This was after I had to beg my way back in with apology letters for not being the kind of flower they wanted growing in their soil.
    But this is all vodka under the bridge.
    As long as I dont receive requests to fund someone elses tuition ! Or to honor some dimwit at a my old school’s tea.

  23. Bob Miller,

    That’s quite the subjective conjecturing on that sentence.
    Maybe I wasn’t clear enough and I apologize, but I have no idea where you’re going with that “BT insult” thing.
    When looking for an innate deeper connection to Judaism on a “i’m an unmarried woman who is looking for reasons to be religious” level this is the type of underlying theme and message I’m reading when listening to certain orthodox individuals who promote orthodoxy.
    In plain english its “Go Marry and Birth Babies cuz That’s What your Purpose is in addition families are what communities generally revolve around and thanks for shopping at Modesty Materials R a Must and co.”

    Oh and while I’m waiting I can feel free to love kindness/support my old elementary school that keeps sending me solicitations and my high school brunches and teas too (once i send them some then and now postcards and remove immediately from list they might stop!)/ and all those heartwarming mailings from kiruv organizations that are trying to send kids to jewish schools or just help everyone learn- for these special orgs i want to postcard special sentiments with my own admission card fond memories and a remove from mailing list immediately too.
    I might even want a refund for the kind of learning my school offered.
    I can also bake challah and light candles and rekindle my spirit in the process.
    This kind of spirituality does not mean anything to me.
    Oh and reading one prominent modern orthodox rabbi’s opinion on women related concepts was equally distressing.

  24. “As for Orthodox Judaism and it promoting marriage, sometimes it sounds like marriage is the only thing, its promoting.”

    I wonder why I ever asked for clarity, if this type of insult to BT’s in general is what comes out.

  25. Ora,

    According to Rabbi Mendel Hecht of “in addition to the general obligation to perform mitzovt ,there are three exclusive mitvot that fan the feminine essence” “separating challah/lighting candles/family purity”. read all about it here

    Also ,
    I believe candle lighting becomes a “special opportunity” for the woman only once she is married or halachically cohabiting with another man.
    True it could be a special opportunity for a woman that doesn’t have a mother somewhere that lights for her but
    individuals with a candle lighting mother don’t need to do the lighting thing.
    This makes candle lighting not a “special opportunity” for everyone.And definitely a “special opportunity” for a married woman.
    One of the reasons it becomes a ‘special opportunity” for the married woman is cuz well she is supposedly in the house being a housewife and its only logical that she should be doing the lighting of the candles.
    Other reasons behind the lighting revolve around family blessing and life.

    As for challah taking when baking, (until last week I never actually knew what this meant)
    First of all traditionally, it was a married wife thing – Sarah was the first woman taking challah. Her bread was fresh all week cuz of this too.
    The first reason I heard for this commandment was the wife/husband connection when reminding yourself that G-d is everywhere I forgot where I heard/read this I may have read or heard wrong.
    Rebbitzen Zipporah Heller (who has a good sense of humor even though she loves challah baking)has a write-up with interesting points and suggestions about this on for anyone who wants to love this concept. Love all there is to love about challah baking here :

    Rebbitzen Leah Kohn of the Jewish Renaissance Center has this to say :
    “These three mitzvot enable each Jewish woman to bring purity, light and blessing into her surroundings. Because the Torah puts us in charge of the home, our sages tell us that nidah, nerot and challah are tools for bringing Godliness into this realm”.
    “With challah, Hashem’s participation is less apparent. It is the woman’s responsibility to recognize that even her challah, seemingly produced by her own hands, depends completely on Hashem’s blessing. Our sages tell us that in a Jewish home the woman will be a source of blessing for the entire family if she embraces the mitzvah of challah, among other obligations”: read all about it here

    I think this whole baking for spirituality is just beyond my understanding and gives me a headache.
    Clearly, to me anyway its mostly all about blessing in a home on the dining room table or in the kitchen near the oven for the family.
    Families usually come after marriages.

    As for Mikvah- with reasons like blessing for the husband and future children and clearly a husband and wife thing it has nothing to do with unmarried women. Which leads to other questions involving concubines aside from the birth control question.Lots of other questions.

    As for torah being the ideal path, in order for me to live as if it were the ideal path, I need to first fully understand the passages/sage suggestions and prohibitions specifically for women that are distinctly disconcerting to say the least.

    As for Orthodox Judaism and it promoting marriage, sometimes it sounds like marriage is the only thing, its promoting.

    And I dont have to be orthodox to give charity from my paycheck either.

  26. Jaded–
    Why are you defining these particular mitzvot as the “oh so special” women’s mitzvot? Two of them (candles and challah) aren’t actually specific to women (and traditionally none are specific to married women). Anyone who bakes bread has to take challah, just as anyone who employs workers has to pay them on time. IMO the first part of that sentence doesn’t mean woman are supposed to be in the kitchen any more than the second part means they are supposed to own businesses.

    IMO it’s good that Judaism promotes marriage, children, and home life in general. It’s natural that there would be certain mitzvot that sanctify home life, just as there are mitzvot that sanctify business dealings, farming, etc. But those (home life) mitzvot aren’t the only way to connect, leaving single women (or men) with nothing “special” to do. Taking trumot from fruit or maaser from one’s salary should be just as special as taking challah from dough.

    As for your response to Ruth, no you don’t have to be orthodox to “love kindness,” just like you don’t have to be orthodox to do any particular mitzva. However, I do think Torah gives us the ideal path for expressing kindness (and seeing it as an obligation, something that not many do). Too many people who think of themselves as nice people, caring people, etc, end up doing more harm than help. (Personally, seeing the warped personalities and path of destruction left by many professional do-gooders was a big part of my path to Torah.)

  27. I sometimes wonder if I’m the oldest person on this blog (56), but I’m struggling again now that my children are more or less launched (well, really they’re adult children with adult-like problems that I’m allegedly trying to detach from). I guess I was too busy raising kids back in the day to have time to check out how fulfilled I was, but now that the nest is empty(ish), the yiddishkeit struggle has reared it’s ugly head. My problem is that I was 16 when I became frum so I didn’t raise the kind of questions an older, more sophisticated potential BT would have been examining at the beginning of their journey. I just moved lock-step into the scene and swallowed it whole. Problem was, I never took time to chew, swallow, and digest. But life happened, to say nothing of the bad behavior of other Jews and Jewish institutions. I also went through a period where I felt Hashem had let me down, and only my obligation to my children to be consistent with mitzvah observance kept me following the straight and narrow. I’ve, thank G-d, moved beyond that stage, but I’m still very confused all over again, not in whether the Torah is true, but what kind of derech to follow, besides baseline mitzvah observance, and checking in with my higher power whom I choose to call G-d (a little bit of 12 Step talk here). The chumra of the week and keeping up with the Goldsteins approach pursued here in Brooklyn is anything but inspirational. Anyone out there on this end of the journey?

  28. Larry ,
    My sentences to David Linn were intended to be an attempt at humorous legal loophole finding and 2008 exemptions.
    My sentences to others though without the wink were earnest non- humorous questions.
    Profound points btw , but when you say “gedolim” I have no idea who you are even referring to.
    Do we even have “gedolim” these days. Do tell, I’d love to start arguing with some of them !

    Fern, I just wanted to point out (in case ure giving me too much credit with all my endeavoring to find out about stuff) : I know its hard to believe, but I actually spent 12 years in a Jewish religious school, I was absent a lot of the days.

    Having friends that are religious is not the answer to any of my questions.
    Having unfortunately grown up religious, I have plenty of religious friends of all stripes, (when I’m not ignoring them)& single and married. I’m just happier spending time with my friends that are not “religious” for so many different reasons.

    The fact that single jewish men are not that recognized in orthodox judaism, doesn’t fix or answer any of my questions about judaism’s relationship with unmarried women, or women in general.
    This is not about “why cant I be like all the men I love in Judaism”. Its about what Judaism means to the single woman, and if I’m feeling especially altruistic, to the married woman too.
    I don’t have to be orthodox to “love kindness”.
    The care-bears was always my favorite cartoon.

  29. JT,
    You are correct that it is difficult for a single woman to find “special opportunities” Judaism, but the same is true for single Jewish men who, although they may be great Torah scholars will find it very difficult to find a position of leadership such as rabbi. The center of Judaism is the home, not the synagogue, and marriage and parenthood is strongly encouraged for both men and women. This may be one reason for the very great divide between contemporary secular culture, which denigrates marriage for the most part, and Judaism.

    Married Jewish women can find their role very fulfilling, whether or not they have a profession outside the home. But for someone who chooses to remain single, there definitely will be conflicts. Some single women do succeed and find their spiritual niche in chessed, prayer or Torah study. Others don’t. I don’t know how this problem can be easily resolved. I think the emphasis on self-fulfillment for women in general is often at the expense of our children and their need for involved mothers. So I can see why Judaism places so much emphasis on marriage and motherhood. But having been a little older than average when I got married, I definitely felt somewhat marginalized when I was single and can understand where you are coming from.

  30. Getting back to Phyllis’ original post – I’d like to reemphasize the importance of having some sort of network for support. For sure, if I didn’t have my “chevra” of other single friends at the time I was becoming frum, I never could have coped with it all!

    And wouldn’t you know it, yesterday’s snail mail to me provided yet another instance of Rabbis Doing Wrong. Folks, we really have to appreciate the good ones, and try to overlook the bad/disappointing ones.

  31. “Sometimes I wish there was some kind of special font or emoticon to indicate sarcasm”

    Red italics?

  32. Larry,

    My response to JT was a bit tongue in cheek and in response to her remarks to me which were closed with a (wink) ;).

    I wouldn’t attempt to discuss the issue of women in halacha/hashkafa with a single,passing thousands-year-old reference. We were veering off topic as my initial comment dealt with “judging” Jews and Judaism and JT riffed off of that into “Judging” from a legal standpoint into the issue of women as witnesses. I took her lead and, myself, veered off to (literal) Judges and women. Sometimes I wish there was some kind of special font or emoticon to indicate sarcasm.

    Nonetheless, you make some interesting points but I don’t think the swipe at the gedolim (your word not mine) is, in any way, productive.

  33. David

    Speaking for myself and not JT, appeals to the fact that several thousands years ago one woman wielded power that no woman today would possibly be allowed near is more likely to convince me that the current system is wrong than reassure me.

    Another example is talking about how we learn all about the Amidah from Hannah, while the overwhelming majority of Orthodoxy declares Women’s tefillah groups and Shira Chadasha style minyan illegitimate.

    The final common case is talking about how the Jewish system of marriage and divorce was vastly more equitable for women 2000 years ago than any system of the time, while ignoring how it has been surpassed and left in the dust by contemporary western approaches. For extra credit, tell me how heartbroken the gedolim are over their inability to resolve the agunah issue in a systematic way.

  34. JT,

    Don’t forget that Devorah was a Judge! (BTW, how many female Judges do you think there were in other cultures/religions at that time?)

  35. David Linn,
    Would a woman be allowed to judge judaism or jews in this case ?
    According to my understanding since the woman is exempt from being forced to testify as a witness she is not allowed to reside as Judge. Aside from this leap of logic to faith that I don’t understand,does this exempt her from having to listen to its laws too, since without judging one cannot decide stuff very well ;-)

    Ora ,

    My point was that in orthodox Judaism , given the fact that the ” oh so special opportunities” were initially for married housewives, this sheds some light on where orthodox Judaism judiciously decrees or decidedly believes women should be spending their time & special opportunities.
    This also suggests that orthodox Judaism has no special opportunities for women that are not married.

    Fern ,

    I believe in questioning and second guessing everything I don’t understand.
    I’ve finally mastered the art of not getting sidetracked.
    I’d rather focus/argue using hardcore facts as opposed to distracting myself with emotional/spiritual sidetracks and activities at this point in my life.
    That’s just the kind of mood my brain is in right now.

    Ron ,

    My basic question was the underlying premise/reason/source for the prohibitions.
    The merry go round of life I’m merrily riding on right now ,revolves around the stripping apart of all rules and regulations/ sage passages and unabashedly harsh opinions with regards to orthodox Judaism & women.
    Until I understand the underlying premises/logic and circuitous reasoning’s.
    I hope I don’t get too dizzy trying to understand what makes the orthodox world go round and why women cant always play. But if I cant always play , I need to know why before I play at all.
    A half a privilege/ticket or allowance is not better than none at all !
    Who wants to ride only halfway around the merry go round, covered and or with no off season music ?

  36. Somewhere along the winding roads to yiddishkeit, many of us have been told to “judge judaism not Jews”. But this dichotomy is so much more difficult to accept than it is to advise and I think that Ron has pinpointed the judging of Jews as a common contributor to, if not a major cause of, the increasing number of Jews going OTD. But, if we tell people to judge Judaism and not Jews, aren’t we doing them a disservice and aren’t we providing them with a handy excuse for disregarding the ability of Judaism to refine and elevate a person. After all, if we are judging Judaism and not Jews, then a true tzaddik is not to be appreciated or have any relevance to one’s assessment of yiddishkeit. The reality is that people, for wrong or right (and I, for one, don’t think it’s wrong) judge Judaism by Jews. So, watch your step, huh?

  37. IMO, the kids at risk phenomenon will not abate unless we work on the three main factors outlined by Farak Margolese-dysfunctional families, schools that avoid or discourage inquiry into hashkafic questions and communities across the hashkafic spectrum that unfortunately embrace social conformity as opposed to genuine growth in Avodas HaShem. Focusing on “rescuing” kids at risk as opposed to looking at real systemic change in these institutions IMO is exactly what the Rambam decries in Shemoneh Prakim as treating someone with a pain killer when he or she needs major surgery.

  38. Jaded–I would be really interested in reading your response to Ron’s question (i.e. what could the Orthodox world do to make you happy?). On some level it seems that there is something drawing you towards observant life (why else would you comment on this blog for so long and endeavor to learn about Torah and mitzvot?) but also something that says, “stop, I can’t go further.” There is so much diversity, cultural and intellectual, in the Orthodox world today, that it seems if you really wanted to find a place where you fit, you could.

    I know the thing that kept me from learning more for the longest time was my incorrect perception of Orthodox Jews. I thought they would be incredibly judgmental and backwards and uneducated about the secular world I grew up in. While that is true for some Orthodox Jews, it certainly isn’t true about all of them, or even most of them. I know a frum woman who has made partner at a medium-large law firm (a difficult thing to do for any woman, let alone a practicing Jew). If you’re committed to saying to yourself, “how can I make this work,” instead of “this will never work for me,” then I think you could find a place within the Torah world where you feel comfortable.

  39. Ora–I didn’t realize that (that only Chasidim start lighting candles when they’re 3 years old). I do have a soft spot for Chassidus, so that must have colored the books I chose to read on raising children. :-)

    “I don’t think anything is more devastating to an idealistic, sensitive person — and sorry, but absolutely everyone who reads this blog, and certainly everyone who contributes to it, is in this category, whether they want to admit it or not! — than encountering people and institutions (which are just collections of people) who fail to live up to the ideals of Judaism insofar as how they treat others.”

    I just want to reiterate, with the others, how important this statement of Ron’s is. One of the most painful times in my own spiritual journey was when I was treated unethically by a Rabbi I had previously respected. I remember thinking at the time, “If this guy had the best the Orthodox world has to offer in education and upbringing, and he still acted in that way, what hope do I have and what hope do I have in raising frum children?” When I think about how close I was to saying “to heck with this, I’m becoming a Buddhist” it’s scary.

  40. “Regarding examples without those decrees Jews were expected to be among themselves. Spinoza for example was jaded with the Jewish community but running away didn’t help much since his Dutch host-society really had no place for him either, unless perhaps if he “shmadded”.”

    Jacob Haller, Spinoza had a circle of friends, and apparently was offered various prestigious positions which he declined.

    Spinoza was one of the most important Enlightenment thinkers, whose influence extended even to no less than Thomas Jefferson through Locke.

    That culture of intolerance of this innovative genius which apparently led to some sort of stabbing attempt in order to enforce the cherem is a stain on traditional Jewry.

  41. To elaborate on Ron’s point in #20 another barely touched issue is how anomolous the post WWII years are in relation to the past 2000.

    What we live with now, secular democracies with seemingly endless opportunities to assimilate was almost unheard of prior to the 2nd-half of the 20th century. Any exceptions were few.

    What gnaws at me occasionally is that we were given a test; to see how we behave in colloquially speaking “free societies” without convert-or-die decrees or without ghetto or pale-of-settlement restrictions. In other words, to be free of the many not so tasty flavors of social engineering from the host countries that caused untold suffering and misery.

    Regarding examples without those decrees Jews were expected to be among themselves. Spinoza for example was jaded with the Jewish community but running away didn’t help much since his Dutch host-society really had no place for him either, unless perhaps if he “shmadded”.

    It might be oversimplifying but in cases where Jews faced collective punishment measures or when faced with societal restrictions whether de facto or de jure there was a tendency to stick together more and in some cases being within the community framework meant following the precepts of the Torah.

    To conclude on a more positive note, perhaps the situation that many of us have, especially as BT’s is that our Torah lives are the results of true decision making and not just results of external/internal pressures.

  42. It could actually be OK to have many redundant organizations now, since nobody really knows in advance what personnel/strategies/tactics/methods will succeed. In the ideal “kiruv marketplace”, the more effective organizations would ultimately attract more money and survive. On the other hand, this presumes that we could really know who is effective, and not just accept self-serving claims and glossy ads at face value.

  43. I’m another one who wholely endorse’s Ron’s perspective – I’ve met people who went off who absolutely sighted human relations as the reason(s) for their departures.

    So, fellow BBTers – in the same context as how BT’s have improved the quality of kosher restaurants and wines, let’s try to be the people who we wish all frum Jews were. A hearty order, no doubt.

    I’d be fascinated too see the statistics (yes, I do have a fascination for numbers) on how many people actually initially became frum through a recognized kiruv organization, and how many sought out such a place following developing an interest in learning about Yiddishkeit. There are so many solicitations from tzedakahs involved in kiruv that it almost seems self-defeating… If only, instead of dozens, there were 1 or 2 such orgs. It would be a much better use of a not-unlimited amount of tzedakah dollars out there.

  44. Good point, Ron (10:52)!

    For example, I’ve met people who did not start off 100% religious but still had a basically favorable attitude toward rabbis. But then they had a bad encounter. Their reactions ranged from wondering how the “bad apple” rabbi could have gotten into the system to shunning rabbis in general. How they react affects not only their later life decisions but their kids’, too. It takes a lot of maturity to continue to focus on the big picture while a bad small picture stares you in the face.

  45. Well, since getting off the bus I have been thinking hard about the question I just asked and that this blog post asked. I am not going to answer on your behalf, Jaded (who could?!), but based on some things you have written — and a lot of things a lot of other people have written — I am going to suggest that there is something not on Ora’s list that may (that’s a big “may”) be the number one thing that causes people to lose their commitment, even as people such as Bas Yisroel prove that it need not:

    I don’t think anything is more devastating to an idealistic, sensitive person — and sorry, but absolutely everyone who reads this blog, and certainly everyone who contributes to it, is in this category, whether they want to admit it or not! — than encountering people and institutions (which are just collections of people) who fail to live up to the ideals of Judaism insofar as how they treat others.

    I believe each and every departure from “the derech” has this at its heart.

    Everyone makes his own decisions in life. Everyone is responsible for his own soul, even if other Jews are “guarantors.” There’s plenty of rationalization in the air around all of us. And as has been said here many times and in many forms, it does not follow logically that Judaism (much less Hashem) should be judged by individual Jews and their actions.

    But I believe at the heart of every social damnation, every purported halachic breaking point, every demand for the application of non-spiritual paradigms (e.g., science) to spiritual questions by those who say they can’t or won’t do it any more, is a series of inexcusable, unforgivable and callous actions or omissions by one or more orthodox Jews.

    It could be in the old country. It could be in a yeshiva or seminary. It could be in the workplace, or a bus stop, or even online. But reading between the lines of the many, many Jews whose hearts now spill out their pixelated pain, it seems that the personal, spiritual roshem (mark, impression) of a Jew’s actions in this world can be at once the single most inspiring, or the single most devastating, phenomenon any other Jew can encounter.

    And I really don’t know, in terms of the negative part of that equation, what we can do about that, except pile as much onto the positive part as we possibly can, and have faith in Hashem and ask for His guidance for all His people.

  46. I’m surprised how little of this discussion focuses on Ora’s first point: it is “easier” not to be religious than it is to be religious. I find it fascinating, for example, Jaded, that this does not seem to be what troubles you most in the wee hours of the morning.

    That doesn’t mean I understand what is that does, however. Clearly the stereotyped “Artscroll Imma” role does not appeal to you. I think it’s clear however from the comments that it need not, and to some extent that you have built a straw woman! But I wonder: What indeed would make you happy in yiddishkeit?

    I would be shocked to read you telling me you want to lead a congregation or davening or even to be required to daven three times a day. But maybe I would not be shocked to read that you would like to hash out some gemara-Rashi-Tosfos and maybe even up through poskim too.

    Still, however, considering your long term body of work here – hard to imagine, if all that were possible, that that would do it. So this makes me ask, in the most sincere way I can, are these “women’s issues” really really what keeps you where you are in your relationship to Jews and Judaism and God?

  47. Ora (Ron’s support has given me confidence…)

    Though the example I used is indeed monetary based, I do not believe that it the most important issue. It’s not just money given to kiruv that perhaps should be diverted elsewhere but time, effort, and attention.

  48. The question put before us was “Are More Jews Ceasing to Be Observant than Starting?”

    We have no way to know the answer by direct observation, except possibly within our own small circles or neighborhoods. In some urban and suburban neighborhoods where Jews live, neighbors hardly even know each other by name.

    Much of our gut feel for this issue is conditioned by what we read, which can be unreliable, even biased, seat-of-the-pants speculation. If we repeat banalities or misinformation to each other, that does not increase their validity. People like Rabbi Yakov Horowitz are much closer to the action, so their assessments of general problems and solutions should carry more weight than ours.

  49. ‘One more thing– I don’t think taking money from kiruv projects is the answer here. I can’t really think of how money could have been used to help kids I know who left observance to stay frum. They already had parents who were willing to pay day school tuition and the option of doing a year in Israel.

    OTOH it could help to redirect some communal funding into high school scholarships/tuition breaks and general chesed.

  50. Jaded–
    Challah baking, candle lighting, and mikvah may be the “women’s mitzvot,” but they aren’t usually a big part of women’s observance, married or not. Candle lighting is once a week, and mikvah is at most once a month. I take challah about two or three times a month, but most women I know take challah somewhere between once every two months and never (getting married doesn’t magically infuse women with a love for baking).

    In my experience single women, married women, and men of all kinds tend to center their observance around shabbat, kashrut, prayer, Torah study, and chesed projects.

    The problem with concubine status is that it’s not enough reason, halachicly speaking, to use birth control (well, that and the fact that most rabbis say it’s not relevant/not allowed today). Most women aren’t interested in having kids without a certain level of commitment. Hagar is a perfect concubine in point–she had Avraham’s child and was still sent away. OTOH that probably wouldn’t have happened if she and the child had been Jewish. Who knows.

    A lot of people hold that girls don’t start lighting candles until they are married, as Jaded said. I’m pretty sure that starting at age three is a hassidic thing and not standard in other communities.

  51. An interesting topic. I would guess that more people are leaving orthodoxy than becoming frum. IMO there are several reasons for that, among them:

    1) It is easier to be secular than to be frum.

    2) The values of outside society tend to contradict a lot of things found in Torah. Many Jews I know who became less religious/irreligious had problems with the prohibition on intermarriage, the distinctions between Jew and non-Jew in halacha, the different roles for men and women, the prohibition on gay relationships, etc. It can be hard raising kids as American Jews or Israeli Jews (for example) when Americans and Israelis tend to see Jewish law as backwards, restrictive, and even homophobic and racist.

    3) General society tends not to be religious, and tends even to have negative views of religion and certainly negative views of a religion that requires adherents to eat, dress, and pray in a certain way. It can be hard to be religious when there’s a tendency around you to see religion as “the opiate of the masses” or some similar insulting thing.

    IMO reasons 2 and 3 explain why Jews in Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria, etc, overwhelmingly tend(ed) to stay observant. They were living in societies where religious belief and practice were a natural part of life. Jews in America, Russia, and Europe, OTOH, have faced high rates of assimilation for over a century.

    The problem is, we face another problem when we try to artificially recreate a Syrian or Ethiopian-like situation within America or Israel by closing off our communities.

    The only suggestions I can think of (and these are based on what I’ve seen go wrong, not raising my own kids) are
    1) Let kids choose their own high school. If high schools in a particular area are exclusive, parents should help kids see that “the” prestigious high school isn’t necessarily best for them. (I know several young women who went “off the derech” (usually temporarily) after attending “the best” hareidi girls’ schools, because those schools were just not right for them.)
    2) Similarly, expose kids to various hashkafot so that when the time comes they can choose their own path in Avodat Hashem.
    3) Talk about Hashem and His will, not just “Judaism/Yiddishkeit” and when possible live in an area where others do the same.
    4) Make sure no question is off-limits, and every question gets a serious and 100% honest response.

  52. Jaded Topaz (I love that name!) Your writing suggests that you are a bright and articulate person, it would be so great if you could connect with the right people to explain things much better than on a blog.

  53. Fern,
    I stand corrected , candle lighting is not a commandment reserved exclusively for women. I think the commandment to light candles Friday night applies equally to men and women. In a marriage the woman is required/asked to do the lighting on behalf óf the family. I would assume the same would apply in a concubine and or boyfriend/girlfriend living together scenario.

    Men that live without a woman in the house are required to light their own candles.

    Single men and women do not have to light candles if they have a mother somewhere that lights on their behalf.
    If they don’t, both men and women have to do their own lighting.
    I’m not familiar with the halacha concerning kids lighting candles Friday night. I do know chabad encourages that.

    As for baking challah, I abhore baking but before I argue about the meaning and reason for the setting aside óf the dough piece I guess I should find out the exact reason for this commandment. I was under the impression it was connected to and sort óf acted as a conclusion to the setting aside of stuff in the fields worked on by the husband. And an acknowledging of Gd in the whole process from beginning grain to braided dough.

  54. “I don’t understand the circular roundabout unacceptable reasons, women are not allowed to perform marriage ceremonies and be ordained as real rabbis, not almost rabbis. Among other court related prohibitions. I definitely don’t understand the standard appeals for modesty as a distraction when questioning these non-allowances.
    Material modesty is another argument.
    I could go on until sunrise about different passages and sage opinions that are unabashedly harsh, but i’ll skip that for now.”

    Perhaps if you didn’t focus on all the things women can’t do and focus on the things women can do, you’d be less jaded? For example, I personally feel that tznius is the ultimate form of true feminism. When I cover up certain parts of my body, I am demanding that society respect me as a human being with (hopefully) interesting ideas and not just what my body looks like. It’s the same thing with Shabbat. Some people focus on all the things you can’t do on Shabbat, but if you do that, then you’re missing out on the opportunity to enjoy all the wonderful parts of Shabbat.

    “It seems that these special mitzvos for women were initially geared towards the housewife/mother/married woman audience.Not that its illegal for unmarried woman to do any of this but its not clear why they would or should.
    As these mitzvos (according to my limited understandin) are intended to enhance blessing for family life in a home.”

    I bake challah and light candles and I don’t have any children. I don’t understand why you would think those mitzvot wouldn’t be meaningful for an unmarried or child-free woman? Everything I’ve read about raising Jewish children has suggested that little girls should start lighting Shabbos candles when they are around three years old, a decidedly unlikely time for a girl to be married. Chabad has a really neat website about the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles, and if you vist it, you’ll see that all sorts of women find meaning in that mitzvah. Check it out:

  55. “I believe it is Rabbi Buchwald, an early mover and shaker in kiruv, who has pointed out the small ROI (return on investment) in kiruv. I personally can’t imagine that more kiruv is going to get greater results. Orthodoxy is quite visible at this point. However, I’d say we do need to concentrate on those that identify Orthodox already.”

    I completely agree. One of the things I am most concerned about as I contemplate the begining of my own family is what kind of world my children will grow up in. Afterall, most of us BTs have or will have FFB children. Beyond just a concern for our fellow Jews, we BTs have a personal interest in the health of the FFB end of the spectrum because that’s where are children will be.

    I’m eminently greatful that so many in the Jewish community have sacrificed things in their lives (like living in a large Jewish community) to reach out to Jews like me and bring us back into the fold. But at the same time, it seems that perhaps too much of our collective resources are being used to reach out and neglecting what is going on within. There is a reason why airline attendants instruct you to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting those around you: you can’t help anyone if you’ve passed out from lack of oxygen. I’m not advocating a cessation of kiruv, but it seems prudent to make sure that the FFB community has it’s own oxygen mask firmly in place before rushing around putting oxygen masks on others.

  56. DK–I have no idea what you’re talking about. I feel like I’m constantly scratching my head when I read your posts because you fervently describe something that I live every day and I don’t recognize what you describe at all.

    Every synagogue I have ever been a member of–be it Reform or Orthodox–has been made up of mostly married couples and their children. For whatever reason, that demographic is very well represented in synagogue life, regardless of denomination. Outside of shul, our various Jewish celebrations are very much centered on the traditional family model, and again, this is at all “levels” and denominations of Judaism.

    You really need to drop the anti-Haredi bone. It’s not productive and it is negatively impacting your view of reality.

  57. I believe it is Rabbi Buchwald, an early mover and shaker in kiruv, who has pointed out the small ROI (return on investment) in kiruv. I personally can’t imagine that more kiruv is going to get greater results. Orthodoxy is quite visible at this point. However, I’d say we do need to concentrate on those that identify Orthodox already.

  58. Orthodox Judaism doesn’t do a very good job at recognizing or representing any kind of woman other than the married wife/challah taking baker and or candlelighting mother.

    I don’t understand the circular roundabout unacceptable reasons, women are not allowed to perform marriage ceremonies and be ordained as real rabbis, not almost rabbis. Among other court related prohibitions. I definitely don’t understand the standard appeals for modesty as a distraction when questioning these non-allowances.
    Material modesty is another argument.
    I could go on until sunrise about different passages and sage opinions that are unabashedly harsh, but i’ll skip that for now.

    But for starters, if you look closely at the mitzvos hand picked specially for women :
    Candlelighting / Challah/ Family Purity, you might notice a subtle house-wifery/hearth n fire/ heartwarming in -the -house and or dutiful wife theme.

    Candle lighting – According to my limited understanding its the married woman lighting candles. Single woman who don’t have a candle lighting mother also do this and chabad.
    Challah- separating a piece of dough when in the process of baking bread in the kitchen near the oven which is in the home.
    Family Purity- Generally a married woman thing. Controversially speaking, Concubines can also fulfill this mitzvah though.

    It seems that these special mitzvos for women were initially geared towards the housewife/mother/married woman audience.Not that its illegal for unmarried woman to do any of this but its not clear why they would or should.
    As these mitzvos (according to my limited understandin) are intended to enhance blessing for family life in a home.

    What’s even more irritating are the constant reminders about elevating homes and raising families and birthing babies when orthodox speakers attempt to counteract feminist ideals and go on to distract hardcore questions with appeals for modesty and other wife duties or maternal roles that should be important to a woman.
    If I want real elevation in a home I would go with a loft in my favorite part of the city.
    I don’t bake and why light candles again ?
    So what kind of special mitzvos that relate to judaism specifically should unmarried women be doing.
    Does a unmarried woman do the challah thing ? Why should or would they if there is no husband ? I believe there is some kind of connection to the separating of the challah after its been braided and the separating done by men (husband) in the fields and depending on G-d for everything or something to that effect……..
    Also ,I cant believe one of the 3 “special opportunities” for women involves baking of all things.

    Family Purity or “relationship” purity is a mitzvah that can be performed if one is unmarried and a concubine.
    Concubines were not necessarily long term situations back in the biblical times.
    Concubine in point – Sarah sent Hagar packing when she deemed it necessary to do so. This would suggest that concubines were not expected to commit to one tent dwelling for life.

    Why on earth would unmarried single woman claim orthodox judaism as their personal favorite religion for practicing.

  59. FWIW, RYBs in “Abraham’s Journey” suggests that Lot was the first talmid to go off the derech and suggests that a rebbe feels the loss of a talmid even more than a child because of the lost spiritual potential. RYBS pointed to R Yochanan who was able to be consoled even after the loss of R”L ten children but was inconsolable after the death of his Talmid Muvhak, Resh Lakish.

  60. “I think that for each person, it is a different reason. Each individual has his or her own personal struggles, and some do not succeed in overcoming them.”

    Yes, Phyllis, and in the article I referred to above, it was refreshing to see a call for getting to the root of each individual’s difficulty. There has been a tendency to lump and stereotype all (especially teenagers) off the derech and prescribe the same solutions for all. From experience, I can tell you this approach doesn’t work.

  61. I’ve come around to thinking Yaakov may be on to something.

    DK, whatever you’re talking about here, it has nothing to do with “haredism.”

  62. Could it be that there is too much attention to kiruv at the expense of attention to strengthening those who grew up frum?

    I see this constantly on college campuses, in shuls, and in support for schools… (using a real live example that recently occurred at a college near me) Ask for money for refreshments for a class geared towards students with a day-school/yeshiva background – nothing doing. Need money for kiruv – the floodgates open…

  63. “Isn’t this also the Torah’s view of a traditional family”

    For the record, the Torah’s view allows for husband and wives, as well as husband and concubine.

    But I was talking about those people who are not from an Orthodox background. Like Avraham or Rachel. Or Moshe, who grew up in Pharoah’s house.

    They did okay, despite their “handicap.”

  64. Cover article for this week’s Mishpacha magazine is the Novominsker Rav addressing Off the Derech. Some very powerful comments there, although not necessarily addressing the population mentioned in this post.

    “You are accepting an haredi FFB vision of the baal teshuvah. Don’t do it.”
    Isn’t this also the Torah’s view of a traditional family?

  65. “There is a norm in Judaism. It is the traditional family – husband, wife, and children. To the extent that an individual’s life differs from that norm, I believe that is the potential weak link in their connection to Jewish life. To differ from that norm, I believe, has as much potential for isolating the person as a physical handicap.”

    You are accepting an haredi FFB vision of the baal teshuvah. Don’t do it.

    Of course, when I merely brought the issue of the BT (with the help of B’nai Niddahism) as a mere flaw on, all heck broke loose. But as a “handicap,” no problem, huh?

    But actually, I think these are good points you make…but I think you left out the issue of dysfunctionalism advocated to us in the haredi BT world, which is a major, major, reason some of us left (in a huff), and a reason some who stayed have bitterness and resentment, which affects their “spiritual growth,” as those here might call it, which can be passed down to the next generation, and take its full effects there.

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