Agudah and the BT

As you know from last week’s post, Ron Coleman, an integral part of Beyond BT, is being honored by Agudath Israel of America. We are setting a goal here on the blog to raise a modest $360 on behalf of Agudah and we on the admin side are personally pledging $100 towards that goal. If you pledge or give anything for the dinner please email us or leave a comment here.

We get a lot of requests to publicize causes from a lot of worthy organizations. We usually ask for a BT angle for the cause to make it relevant for our community. Of course, we don’t think BT causes are the only ones worth supporting, but the reality is that there are very few organizations who explicitly support BTs and that’s the cause that we’re focused on here.

So here are three ideas how Agudah can support BTs:

Show Explicit Concern For the Entire Jewish People
BTs sit in a strange place, often with one ear in the Torah observant world and one ear with family and friends in the non observant world. Most of us respect the gedolim as the leaders of the entire Jewish people, but many of our non-observant friends and relatives and perhaps some BTs themselves don’t feel the love and the concern that the gedolim undoubtedly have. Although Agudah is primarily tasked with overseeing Right Wing Orthodox issues, perhaps they can spend some tiny percentage of their resources showing concern and providing solutions or advice for all of the Jewish people.

Constructively Face the Challenges of the Internet
The official position of the Agudah seems to be that the Internet is prohibited to use, but many in the BT world feel that they need to access the Internet. Perhaps the Agudah can recognize this growing reality and start a campaign to encourage all Internet users to have appropriate filters and to use the Internet responsibly and constructively.

Help Us With Our Learning
The Daf Yomi Commission has helped many working people include some level of Gemora learning in their lives with Daf Yomi. BTs are probably missing out more than most in learning Gemora. Perhaps the Agudah can structure a deal with Artscroll to make the translations available at a low cost along with a program to enable and encourage any Jew that desires to put some Gemora learning in their lives.

Perhaps people can provide some other ideas on how Agudah can specifically help BTs.

22 comments on “Agudah and the BT

  1. Oh, and thank you, Mark and David.

    If you don’t really come up with the $360 don’t feel obligated to fake it and claim you did. It’s not necessary. Kelsey already pledged to top it off.

  2. From Wikipedia


    Political activity

    With its head office in Manhattan and the bulk of its members living in the New York-New Jersey area, the Agudah ensures that it monitors and intercedes on behalf of causes important to it in the politics of New York City, its five boroughs, and in the state government of New York State.

    With the growth of Orthodox Judaism throughout the country, AIA also has active branches in Chicago, Ohio, Maryland, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Texas, Florida, California and New Jersey, where they lobby the judicial and legislative branches of these state, and local governments on any issue it deems important morally or religiously or important to its constituency. Agudath Israel’s National Director of Government Affairs is Rabbi Yehiel Mark Kalish who manages the state government effort under Zwiebel.

    Agudath Israel’s federal activities are coordinated by Rabbi Abba Cohen, the Director and Counsel of the organization’s Washington Office. Agudah was the first Orthodox Jewish group to open a Washington Office, in 1988, and maintains ongoing relations with the White House and executive agencies, as well as with the U.S. Congress, on numerous domestic and foreign issues.

    Agudath Israel World Organization also has a representative at the United Nations.

    AIA also files amicus briefs in cases at all levels of the judiciary, often signing on as one of many organization signatories to a brief authored by Nat Lewin or COLPA.

    Social services

    Agudah maintains a network of summer youth camps attended by several thousand children. It has a number of social service branches that cater to the elderly, poor, or disabled. It has a job training program called COPE, a job placement division, and a housing program. The Agudah is also responsible for the funding of many other national institutions and projects, including the Bais Yaakov girls’ school system, the National Siyum Mishnayos, the national Daf Yomi Commission, and countless others. In addition, there are hundreds of local “Agudah” synagogues scattered in communities throughout the country, all of which are affiliated with AIA.


    AIA advocates its position in several ways:

    * Mails newsletters of AIA news, Coalition and Inside Track;
    * E-Newsletter entitled Weekly Window
    * Publishes a general-interest monthly magazine, The Jewish Observer;
    * Promotes its views as a member (along with other Jewish organizations) of Am Echad (“One Nation”);
    * Maintains full-time offices in Washington, the west coast, the midwest, and the south;
    * Activism by lobbying and submitting amicus briefs, as described above;
    * Organizes prominent lay-person missions to government agencies;
    * Appoints official spokesmen, such as Rabbi Avi Shafran, who respond to media articles and statements which concern the orthodox community; Rabbi Shafran also organizes AIA members to do the same;
    * Conveys its positions in the Jewish media, particularly through a privately-owned weekly Jewish newspaper in English called Yated Neeman (distinct from the Israeli English-language newspaper carrying the same name), which conveys news and views from the Agudah point of view.

    Agudath Israel does not have its own website, since its official policy is for its members not to use the Web for uses other than work-related. However, its message, as relayed in the pages of its magazine, the Jewish Observer, is intermittently republished to the Web by a third party, the Shema Yisrael Torah Network. AIA does allow the use of e-mail, and uses it to disseminate information to its members.

  3. Dovid, the Agudah is never going to to “make up territory” in outreach as we commonly refer to it. This is not what it does. Again: Agudath Israel advocates policies, obtains and delivers services and develops relationships, mainly in government, on behalf of its members.

    It is not in the education line, per se. Rather it is the “action” arm of the yeshiva world, which itself is of course all about Jewish education, but the educators who are to a large extent the Agudah’s leaders do what they do in that realm autonomously. The Agudah’s mission, as I understand it, is to enable its members to do what they do best, not to force them into roles defined or homogenized by the Agudah such as “doing kiruv.”

    In fact, being a coalition that includes a number of different educational and to some extent religious / social approaches — for Lakewood is not Chaim Berlin, and neither of them is Novominsk or MTJ — such projects would be almost impossible. Yet every one of these institutions and communities contributes to outreach either directly or indirectly.

    Keep in mind, also, that while the Agudah and Torah Umesorah are not the same organization, many of their top rabbinical leaders are the same people (i.e., the Roshei Yeshiva). To a large extent we are talking about much of the same overall community in terms of “the yeshiva world.” And of course Torah Umesorah is in the “education business,” is very involved in kiruv, including support of the day school movement (and hence initiatives such as Shalom Torah Centers) and of course Partners in Torah.

    Having said that, what I can envision is an initiative whereby the Agudah makes its existing services more sensitive to and more readily available to BT’s. Considering that many of these programs are of a “social services” nature, it might be possible to urge the Agudah to train those that provide these services to be sensitive to BT’s and the unique challenges they face. But I’m just winging it on this.

  4. “… Perhaps the Agudah can recognize this growing reality and start a campaign to encourage all Internet users to have appropriate filters and to use the Internet responsibly and constructively.”

    Jonathan Rosenblum discussed the internet issue vis a vis the Gedolim(see end of link, below), which I think is at least part of the issue.

    I don’t think Agudah is going to grant “legitimacy” to the internet, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be helpful in some way. I believe, for example, there was an article in the Jewish Observer regarding Kiruv sites a few months ago.

    As far as the filter/responsible- use campaign, Agudah may be able to have a role in that to an extent(eg, providing resources such as advice and “networking”– not the computer kind, though :) ), without endorsing the Internet directly.

  5. Rochelle, it would not be reasonable to expect the Gedolim and the Agudah to have “open arms” when it comes to some movements who accept with “open arms” some of today’s worst societal influences. From exposure to most forms of media (TV, newspapers, movies) to the latest in secular music and fashion trends to an almost fanatical focus by some parties on middle east politics. These are serious conflicts that are in some ways why a rift exists between the Agudah and the more liberal organizations . It’s a real problem that has no easy answers.

    Nathan…Chabad Lubavitch’s “messianic” group is a minority within this family of Chasidim, and they by no means represent the dominent number of Lubavitch Chasidim. No one comes remotely close to the success they have had in creating BT’s. Not Aish, nor Ohr Someach, etc. True, they have issues these days, but they still continue to do what they do best. They are not the only Chasidim who do outreach, and others have also had much success.

    It will be interesting to see what the Agudah does in outreach. They have a lot of territory to make up, after not having had made much effort for so many years.

  6. Mark, we are surely speaking past each other. If you are telling me that you admire Rabbi Horowitz for offering to help the website any way he can, I join you in that admiration. I am saying that, seeing as how you used him as an example, also note that he himself works for the Agudah, and his own Agudah work does include at least some consideration of issues relating to BT’s. I did not meant to suggest that Project Yes, however, has done anything for the website. I also meant to make the point that you called him, he was and is fantastically supportive, but that doesn’t really prove anything about the rest of the world that was not called nor even about whether any other people or organizations should be doing the calling to you, or to us. Or us.

    Nathan, you are wrapping a lot of stuff, including legitimate questions about what you describe as the yeshiva world, into questions about the Agudah, one organization that has a certain set of responsibilities — not one of which, by the way, is kashrus. (Or “uniforms.”) On the other hand, if the Agudah asserts symbolic and spiritual leadership of the world of the yeshivas, it may not be unreasonable to bring your criticisms to their door.

    Actually, however, Agudah has through a number of its programs made efforts to address several of the items on your list. Having said that, quite a few of them are characterizations of cultural or other practices, or of halachic decisions, that you disagree with — and far from “solving” them, the Agudah would, upon framing these issues from the point of view of its constituency and leadership, probably point to these items with pride.

  7. Ron,

    Rabbi Horowitz’ help with Beyond BT had nothing to do with Project Yes. I was pointing out his wonderful attitude which was “What can I do to help?”.

    We presented three specific ideas on the post and there are a few more in the comments. Are there problems with these specific ideas?

  8. In my first 10 years as a Baal Teshuvah, I considered myself to be Modern Orthodox, then in more recent years, I started to like the Yeshivish way more.

    But I am not completely comfortable with the Yeshivish/Agudah way either.

    In the 1980s, not only did the Yeshivish world not encourage Kiruv Rechokim, but those people who did it were considered weird. In recent years this has changed; suddenly Kiruv Rechokim is respectable.

    I strongly suspect that this change of heart was motivated my the realization that we can no longer leave Kiruv Rechokim in the hands of Lubavitch, because they have gone off the derech by accepting a false messiah who failed to fulfill the messianic prophecies.

    One of my biggest problems with the Yeshivish/Agudah way is that they brought a tidal wave of kashrut chumrahs since the 1980s, yet our business ethics are worse than ever before.

    I will never feel comfortable wearing the uniform required by the Yeshivish/Agudah world: a white short with everything else black hat and a very expensive hat.

    I could be wrong about this, but it seems that since 1980, the Yeshivish/Agudah leaders have not solved even one problem facing this Jewish people, including:

    1. the shidduch crisis

    2. the yeshivah tuition crisis

    3. the business ethics crisis

    4. the high price of kosher food

    5. growing anti-Semitism

    6. sinat chinam

    7. most yeshivahs in deep and permanent debt

    8. many Rabbis fear to issue lenient rulings, regardless of how justifed those rulings are, for fear of being labeled “less frum”

    9. zero interest in freeing Jews from totally needless and hopelessly outdated minhagim that violate both Torah law and obvious logic

    I strongly suspect that none of these problems will ever be solved by the Yeshivish/Agudah Gedolim, became in the Yeshivish/Agudah world, the Gedolim are not required to actually accomplish any tangible results; they are only required to possess knowledge of Torah.

  9. We have to know what we want, as Ron said. We might want specific initiatives by Jewish groups, in which case we should outline our proposals for their consideration. Or we might want Jewish groups to like and respect BT’s more in general, which is also OK, but different.

  10. Mark, you describe calling Rabbi Horowitz, not him calling you.

    Now, it seems that Rabbi Horowitz offered his personal support and encouragement and “whatever else he could do to help,” but not those of, say, Project Yes specifically. In fact, while focusing on BT’s is not what Project Yes does, including them in their concerns and programming definitely is.

    As you know, Project Yes is an Agudath Israel program.

    I am still a little hazy about the desideratum here. If you have a specific proposal to make on behalf of the category of orthodox Jews called Baalei Teshuva to the Agudah — some need or other interest that could be satisfied by that organization given what it is and what it is good at — I would be interested to hear what it is.

  11. Different organizations have different missions and competencies. As Chavi says, one such as Agudath Israel that benefits the whole community naturally benefits BT’s as well. I addressed that in my post, of course.

    Of course, I am only an Agudah member and “activist,” but I certainly am capable of conveying “messages” to people who are closer to the decision-making apparatus. I believe they will find this entire line of discussion interesting.

    Some of them, incidentally, are some of us. Some of us, that is. Is we. Or something.

    Rochelle, what specifically would you would like to see happen in relations among different flavors of Torah-observant Jews that you think someone in some leadership position could help with?

  12. In certain respects Agudah certainly does represent us.

    But there are many programs that cater to those with different needs. For example the Daf Yomi Commission caters to working men who wish to learn Gemara at a certain level and a certain pace.

    There’s no dichotomy here. Big groups have many causes, I’m just advocating that the needs of Baalei Teshuva who have shown tremendous Mesiras Nefesh should be one of those causes.

    When I first called Rabbi Yakov Horowitz about helping us here at Beyond BT, he just kept on repeating. “What can I do to help?” “What can I do to help?”

    Imagine if all organizations like Agudah had that attitude. What a truly wonderful Torah world it would be. Of course there are priorities and resource constraints, but the the first question should be “What can I do to help?”.

  13. As usual, we seem to be torn between wanting to integrate 100% and wanting to be a permanent interest group.

  14. As someone who is very proud and public about not growing up in a frum house, I think the statements are missing a very crucial point. Even though we all identify as ba’alei t’shuva, this doesn’t mean we are not a real part of the frum world. Why should there be any differentiation between how the Gedolei HaDor and/including the Moetzes represent us? We are part of klal yisroel – we chose to follow Torah and the Gedolim represent and promote that Torah. Therefore, Agudah, an organization that is under the auspices of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, also represents and works for us… They don’t differentiate between BT and FFB when they do their political advocacy… they don’t fight for religious rights for only FFBs… We should all feel like Agudah represents us – its the organization that represents klal yisroel.

  15. Bob, The way to get things on an agenda of an organization is rarely through the means you suggested above. Ron might have their ear for 30 seconds and perhaps he’ll present some of our concerns.

  16. Agudath Israel is a membership organization operating according to a set of basic principles that include following the lead of their Rabbinic board (Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah). Comments, queries, and suggestions can be sent to the regional or headquarters staff, directly or through Agudah activists, but these Gedolim would ultimately make the call on any major new policy or program.

    Based on publicity I’ve seen for some seminars and events, it appears that the Agudah has had some type of relationship with the National Council of Young Israel regarding matters of mutual concern.

  17. Maybe the Agudah can promote a healthy Jewish acceptance of multiple forms of Torah observance such a a Young Israel standpoint, or a Modern Orthodox standpoint (I know that to some those are one in the same). I often feel that non-yeshivish people, or even frum people who do not learn regularly are often relegated to the sidelines with some verbal disdain by black-hat communities. There is no reason why (the many) alternative-to-yeshivish forms of frum Judaism should not be accepted with open arms. I think that if the Agudah were open to creating an “acceptance campaign” – without it becoming a kiruv campaign, it would crash through the biases of so many and reshape the way we think about Torah, achdus and avodas Hashem.

  18. what about more mentoring.Many of us find ourselves out of the network of extended family and that leaves us at a disadvantage both in times of joy and sorrow. In my own community, I’ve tried to help out with shidduchim because I see that some kids of BT parents just arent getting dates–at all because their parents lack the connections and the wherewithall to finesse the system. Hows about some help with that, not to mention the many of us who have seen our kids drift back into the secular world that we have tried to escape. I think that the task of organizations like the Aguda should be to make the frum world a safe and friendly place for all, FFBs and BTs alike.

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