Is the Torah True Life Appropriate for Every Jew?

Dear Beyond BT

Stories about secular and unaffiliated Jews who undergo miraculous conversions after being exposed to the beauty of Yiddishkeit, the Torah lifestyle, etc… are very popular on BBT.

However, you usually avoid mention of those who experience the observant world and walk away. When you do deal with the ex-BT phenomenon, it’s often with derogatory and condescending terms.

Could you consider the possibility that the “Torah True” life isn’t for every Jew?

Is it a threatening thought that if it fails to work for those who left, it raises the possibility that it would fail to work for you?


69 comments on “Is the Torah True Life Appropriate for Every Jew?

  1. but how do they make themselves ‘available’?
    i imagine there aren’t THAT many people visiting this site who are really in need of mentoring, or whatever the case may be. i would also imagine that many of those who are in need and are visiting such a site already are probably asking for it. the people who are being neglected are turned off or don’t have the drive to follow through, whereas had the proper hadracha been available earlier that may have not been the case.


  2. I would suggest all those who post here who are frum 15 years or longer, and who are reasonably happily settled, make themselves available to “newbies” for casual hadracha.

    This would not supplant any formal, rabbinic guidance, but can be a great supplement to it.

  3. Belle,

    my Rosh Yeshiva at my second yeshiva, the one AFTER AISH HaTorah, Rav Nachum Chaimowitz tried to do what you have suggested. he called it second line kiruv (Judy, you must have been miskavein to that!)

    it was a small chassidish yeshiva in Ramat Beit Shemesh with about 25 guys who had moved past their aish experience and resonated with chassidus.

    it was incredible. exactly what i needed. he helped me not only to make a smooth transition into becoming really frum, but also with becoming really me. his guidance was instrumental in my being able to balance my hashgafa and observance with still being true to who i am, which includes the past i came from.

    today i have a Rav, a Rebbe, a beckeshe, a streimel, and lo and behold i still listen to secular music and watch a movie from time to time. these are things that my Rabbeim have told be to do because they’re still me.

    a lot of people don’t get that kind of hadracha, which is really sad. they end up feeling like it’s all or nothing. i know a whole slew of guys that are incredibly shtark, chassideh guys with chassidesheh families who’s kids are in chassidesheh schools, and they still watch hollywood movies.

    people need to know that it’s ok to still be normal. it’s a madreiga to give up ones past completely. it’s a gevaldig one at that but nonetheless like R. Nachman told Reb Nosson in the dream that ultimately led Reb Nosson to the Rebbe, you can’t jump rungs on the ladder.

    i encourage you guys at Beyond BT to seriously think about this idea to create a second line kiruv org. i think you’d find you have a lot more support than you think.

  4. To Belle #64: You made an excellent point about having a different organization provide support, rather than demanding that the Kiruv organization continue on with those whom it changes.

    Years ago, I thought about starting such an organization for Baalei-Teshuvah and Gairim: I was going to call it “Second Step.” Well, I never managed to translate that noble idea into practical terms.

    I don’t remember who the commenter was, or on what article the comment was made. But I believe that someone on this blog made a comment that it was OK to outgrow one’s original mentors. I had always felt rather guilty about losing touch with, and not continuing with, my original mentor. Somehow this comment gave me permission, so to speak, to move onward.

  5. I just want to respond to a few comments of those who felt “abandoned” by the kiruv orgs who brought them into Yiddishkeit. I once asked one of the leaders of one such org about this. He said that in an ideal world, they would offer continuing support, but they simply cannot. They have hundreds, if not thousands, who have passed through their org., they have limited workers and limited $$, and it is just not their function to do this. They are set up to operate at the step one stage — introducing people to Judaism.

    He suggested that others form dif organizations that can offer ongoing support and advice. There is no reason why all of the efforts have to come from one organization. I thought that is what Beyond BT was trying to accomplish. But this will never get done if everyone is still looking to the same few kiruv workers for life support (funny phrase but it works!).

    However, if one has made a real friendship with someone, ongoing issues can be discussed.

  6. Unlike chassidim, my wife saw me for more than 90 seconds before we got married. She could tell that I do give my kids lollipops, so she said yes. So I could see how yichus might be important too for some people, since in general, the couple gets to know each other beyond that. If my daughter wants a bench- warmer with loads of zchusim AND she sees and hears that he’s a major mensch, hooray. It’s not us vs. them.

    I have a week vacation now without computers or other distractions to mull it over, and I’m bringing a Shwekey CD with me anyway.Ma-ma-ma…

  7. Ross, I truly wasn’t screaming. But I stick 100 percent by what I said.

    There’s this wonderful choshuve chasidishe rebbetzin whom I know for many years: very frum, very smart, a talented linguist who can switch from Hungarian to Yiddish to Ivrit to English in the same conversation. It goes without saying that all of her children were matched up with the children of similar “rebbishe” families, not just chasidishe but beyond that to rebbishe, with yichus from distinguished rebbes.

    A while ago, I received a phone call from this choshuve chasidishe rebbetzin, let’s call her Rebbetzin XYZ, concerning her married daughter with three children. It seems that the husband, Rebbetzin XYZ’s son-in-law, simply walked out on the family. Gone. Finished. As Rebbetzin XYZ poignantly described it, in her own words: “He left his children, without a kiss, without even a lollipop.” Her daughter was left a single mother to raise the kids on her own.

    Yes, yes, I know this happens all the time, to plenty of women, frum, non-Jewish, rebbishe, chiloni, charedi, whatever. But I keep thinking about this man who left his children ‘without even a lollipop” and I wonder what kind of distinguished yichus he came from.

    Shwekey won’t knock it out, Ross. Try listening to the Maccabeats or A.K.A. Pella.

  8. Don’t forget that good middos are paramount in a spouse. Intelligence and the other good things are not to be ignored, but we should keep our eye on the ball.

  9. Judy screamed,
    “Maybe WE wouldn’t want to marry THEM. Do you really want your highly paid, professional career, university educated, intelligent daughter to be matched up with the barely literate, bench warming unemployable great-nephew of the Plotzondiker Rebbe?”

    Its been two days now, and this has stuck in my mind for whatever bizarre reason. I keep wanting to formulate something which resembles a response, but I can’t…yet. Maybe if I pick a Shwekey song and play it over and over, it’ll knock this out of my head.

  10. Yitzchak Shlomo,

    I’m not exactly clear what you’re proposing.

    Is it a self-help group or something else?

    What is you’re purpose in collecting names?

  11. To Blima Shoshana #54: Not everyone understands what another person needs. Even FFB’s who want to do chesed can err badly in this regard. Like they say about gift lists, sometimes you have to tell the other person straight out what it is that you’re lacking. If what you need is a shidduch then call up the local rebbetzin or community Yenta and tell her. So you’re not Rothschild’s great granddaughter, well she might just know somebody available who also doesn’t have yichus going back to Har Sinai.

    I too have felt badly disappointed and let down by kiruv organizations that seem totally uninterested in ongoing support for those whom they “bring back.” It has seemed to me that these groups simply say “OK, landed another one, time to move on to the next target.”

    In larger urban areas (i.e., Flatbush, Passaic, Kew Garden Hills) there may be Baalei-Teshuvah shuls where BTs and Gairim are not tenth-class but valued members. Or get together with like-minded others and build your own shul where different and various types of Jews are not shunned but welcomed.

    Depending upon the particular rabbi, sometimes the rabbi and rebbetzin of the local Chabad house or JCC can be helpful in finding frum resources beyond the Yom Tov and Shabbos dinner/lunch invite. In some outlying communities, there may be frum Jews who are college professors or doctors who rely on faraway resources (rabbis by phone, kosher food by Fed Ex) and perhaps you could tap into the same remote resources that they do.

    Maybe if the FFB community doesn’t accept us, we have to create our own community. Maybe WE wouldn’t want to marry THEM. Do you really want your highly paid, professional career, university educated, intelligent daughter to be matched up with the barely literate, bench warming unemployable great-nephew of the Plotzondiker Rebbe? Didn’t think so.

    If the kids of FFB’s won’t marry the kids of BT’s or Gairim, well then the kids of BT’s and Gairim will marry other kids of BT’s and Gairim. There’s a large enough group of us 50 something BTs and Gairim with kids who are eligible for marriage, and there are many great young people in that pool.

    Once again, maybe we have to create our own community, sort of like the founders of Tel Aviv did a hundred years ago: go out to the bare hills, roll up our sleeves and build a city. If that city happens to be in cyberspace rather than in 3D space, it’s still our own self-built community.

  12. i think it’s time we took a stand for the Jewish people once and for all. i think everybody here, and literally thousands more, realize that something major has to shift.

    the frum world is in many ways light years behind their secular counterparts in terms of self-help work and understanding fears and how they affect one’s life.

    most of these ‘problems’ being discussed are entirely fear based and frankly are just down right ridiculous.
    i fully agree with Blima Shoshana about the hypocrisy, and really it’s almost comical how insane it can be.

    so… what do y’all say? are you ready to take a stand?

    there are many spiritual paths being revealed these days which talk about the law of attraction. WE basically call it mida kineged mida. what you put in is what you get back. a lot of us baalei tshuva are putting in our own fears of rejection and failure and are often met with exactly that.
    i know many VERY confident baalei tshuva who not only had no problem integrating but are in fact MORE respected BECAUSE of their being baalei tshuva and nonetheless so emesdic.

    most of us find it much easier to talk about these issues, but how many of us are willing to really do something about it?

    we need to change, no transform, all of us, and it’d better happen soon cuz we just ain’t got that much time left. we need achdus, we need ahavas yisroel, we need REAL emunah, we need YIDDISHKEIT!

    so i propose that those who are serious about this stuff and want to do something about it: let’s make a plan, and let’s take a stand, for ourselves, and for our drowning brothers and sisters, and i don’t mean those who aren’t frum.

    i live in Ramat Beit Shemesh. my name is posted here.
    my email address is

    i want to form a network of real people who want to make a real change. and the first step is getting together those who are on the team. just like moshe rabbeinu did when he asked “who is to Hashem” and the leviim stepped up to the plate. so who’s stepping up?

    if we are together, unified in our efforts then Hashem will help, and the gedolim cannot ignore us. we are not just baalei tshuva. there are SO many FFB’s out there who feel like us and want to do something, but we’re all scattered with no organization. so let’s band together and do this already.

    it starts with names. who’s on board.
    lets get it together, pass it around, get people to sign up, like a petition.

    im willing to start right now. this is not a dream, this is our lives and this is can be our reality if we can allow ourselves to make it happen.
    email me who you are and that you’re interested and let’s start forming this list, right now. i’ve already got a significant number of people over here ready to go, some whom are very influential figures.

    im tired of waiting, and complaining, and watching my brethren get hurt, over and over again. let’s rebuild clal yisroel and let Hashem rebuild our Beis Hamikdash!

  13. “The FFB’s have to go beyond Shabbos or Yom Tov seuda invitations.”

    In our experience, some FFB’s have and others have not. Communities, neighborhoods, etc., can differ markedly in this. The FFB world is too big to understand fully.

  14. I have been a Baalas teshuva for over twenty years. I am on my own so unfortunately I had to navigate the turbulent waters by myself.

    It has been my experience that if you go into frumkeit with open eyes and realize that FFB or frum from birth people are just people struggling like everyone else then your life transition will be easier.

    What I found to be extremely challenging is that people who definitely should know better do not necessarily demonstrate or live by Torah values. I think that one of the possible reasons for Baalei Teshiva’s returning to non observant life styles is that they discover the hypocrisy if you will of the FFB’s. I have over the years seen first hand FFB’s acting in unethical, cruel and even dishonest way. That combined with experiencing a “glass ceiling” of acceptance in the over all frum community has led me at times to question my frum lifestyle.

    The truth is that there are kiruv organizations who solicit you for funds but are not there for tangible help to you and would never consider a shidduch situation with one of their own if you did not have money.

    People leave frumkeit because it is very hard to live on the fringe of your community and as I have seen with friends it hurts them deeply when children are treated like “damaged goods” when it comes to shidduchim.

    I have in all of my years in the frum world can honestly say that other than ‘mussar” in times of trouble, I have truly not received any help from the frum community I lived in. On the contrary they made me feel totally inconsequential unless they needed something form me such as money or volunteer work.

    The end result was that I experienced a great deal of pain and at my stage in life I really don’t know how long I can cling to the vain hope that the two tiered society in the frum world will finally disappear.

    The FFB’s have to go beyond Shabbosh or Yom Tov seuda invitations. And to those people who leave frumkeit , my suggestion is that you build a close relationship with G-D and continue your spiritual search and never forget that you are a Jew and that people may judge your haskafa but Hashem knows what you went through and you are loved by him.

  15. Rabbi Dr. twersky wrote in his book ‘Addictive Thinking’ that anger has a place in creation (paraphrased). he explains there that anger is meant to provoke a response to a perceived injustice.

    i think the same can be applied to a case of a frum jew feeling sad for someone who has gone ‘off’ or hasn’t gotten on in the first place.

    the fact of the matter is simply that G-d ultimately wants every jew to be Torah observant. when this is not the case it IS objectively sad. it may be that it’s Hashem’s plan for this person, but that is mitzad Him, NOT mitzad us. our duty is always to make the necessary hishtadlus based on Torah values. if the situation goes in a different direction then that is ratzon Hashem, but in no way does that mean that we should approve of a non-Torah life.

    there is a fundamental issue that emerges from this discussion. the distinction between approval and acceptance.

    again, based on what we have received from Hashem it is quite clear that there is much in this world to disapprove of.

    However, to not ACCEPT reality is to deny ratzon Hashem.

    if a jew is not Torah observant that is very simply not an approvable situation. how can one who accepts the Torah as emes approve of anything contrary to it’s truths?

    But to deny that jews feelings as a human being, to exclude them as though they are treif, in essence to not ACCEPT them as who they are as G-d Himself has made them, that is simply denying reality and the ratzon that Hashem has revealed to the world.

    to give an extreme example: it would be unheard of to APPROVE of the holocaust, but to not ACCEPT it as the reality would not only be a denial of the fact of history but would in turn cause tremendous tzar in attempting to somehow discredit, or at least, live in deference to the overwhelming evidence that it did in fact take place.

    from a practical standpoint, one who lived through the holocaust would have been mad to approve of the circumstances. but to also not accept his/her predicament would not only be a complete denial of what was actually happening to them but would have resulted in much unnecessary pain due to their inability to work with the situation they had found themselves in.
    similarly we must be wiling to accept everybody for what and who they are, but that does not mean we should approve of what they do or how they live, nor does it mean that we should sit back and allow it to happen. clal yisroel areivim zeh l’zeh.

    it is absolutely necessary that we make this distinction and live accordingly. sensitivity to peoples needs is essential (acceptance). but to back away from standing up for what we know to be true for fear of ‘offending’ someone not only shows our own lack of emuna and confidence, but will ultimately push that person further way.

    there are no excuses. there is only ONE G-d (approval) and He loves all of us (acceptance), they are not mutually exclusive.

  16. Tesyaa #51: I’m surprised that you would describe a husband and wife both becoming observant Jews at approximately the same time (the family gradually learning more and taking on more mitzvot) as “fantasyland.” Such a situation was described in the well-known book, “The Bamboo Cradle,” where the author and his wife together made the journey into frumkeit (aided and abetted by their lovely Chinese adopted daughter). I’m sure that Aish and Discovery and Hineni have many true narratives of couples who became frum at the same time and same level. Of course, there are other true narratives of divorces that occur because one spouse does not want become more observant. No one is denying that this happens.

    I don’t know what the statistics are on this, or even if anyone has ever made a sociological study of this phenomenon: what percentage of other spouses resists, and what percentage of other spouses becomes frum, when the first spouse decides to become an observant Jew.

    One of the regular contributors to BeyondBT did detail in a comment to a different article that his wife was a non-Jew who decided to convert and pulled him along, so to speak, to serious Jewish observance. Many spouses set out on the path together, it’s not unheard of and it’s certainly not “fantasyland.”

    As for my child who is on a different religious level from myself: yes, I do view this as a tragedy, despite the fact that I respect her individuality. Because I love her dearly, I would rather she be more frum than she is now. Understanding who she is doesn’t make me any less sad that she has discarded what I personally consider to be some very important parts of being an observant Jew.

  17. Obviously the best situation is when everybody decides to become more observant at the same time and the same level.

    Judy, this may obviously be the best situation, but we’re talking fantasyland. You yourself have mentioned that you have a child who is on a different religious level than you are. I’m sure you do not view this as a tragedy. Most likely, then, you understand that different levels are best for different people; that people are not identical; and people grow at different rates AND in different ways. So surely you can understand that people differ. To expect a wife to become observant (or even to change her lifestyle to accommodate things like taharas hamishpacha) just because her husband has undergone a radical change is unrealistic.

  18. To Tesyaa #45-46 and Adam #47: I feel sad anytime I hear about a broken family unit where the kids wind up as “korbonos.” No doubt there are many divorces where the kids just breathe a sigh of relief that the physical and verbal abuse stopped, and others which occur when the children are too young and the respective parents remarry happily so that no one suffers.

    I would still feel sad on hearing that a man had become frum and then left his non-frum wife and children, in that the man was unable to persuade his wife to keep the family unit together in some way while continuing to grow in his personal Jewish observance. Obviously the best situation is when everybody decides to become more observant at the same time and the same level. When that doesn’t happen, and divorce occurs instead, it is a family tragedy because everyone suffers.

  19. I didn’t mean to be sarcastic. But I don’t understand why baalai tshuva, having joyfully made their life choice to be frum, continuously worry about the life choices of their nonobservant relatives and friends.

    If you’re truly worried about the influence of scantily clad relatives and friends on your children, you need to sever contact with them – yes, I know that will cause family conflict. Same thing if you’re worried that your chareidi community will judge you for having nonobservant relatives visit occasionally. I personally take an open minded worldview, but not everyone does. So if you are at peace with your major life choices, it’s time to be serious and say that other things (like family relationships) aren’t as important and have to go by the wayside.

    If your concern is the neshamos of your non-frum relatives, all you can do, in the end, is daven. Set an example by being a nice person. And maybe get a hobby.

  20. I agree with Adam and would like to add that many BT’s ARE threatened by nonobservant family who might start arguing with their BT choices, and possible ask them questions that they can’t answer, and chip away at the emunah base that they have developed. It’s disconcerting when you don’t know how to answer a question, at least right away.

  21. Judy and tesyaa — I think there is a difference between “feeling sad” about someone’s situation (you certainly have a right to your own feelings) and “feeling sad FOR” someone, which if expressed in the context in which we are discussing would most certainly not be perceived the way it is intended. Judy, the situation you describe is certainly sad, but the aspect of religion doesn’t really add anything to it for me, it would be equally sad to me if the guy just walked out on his family and remained frum.

    dm – what the “neshoma” wants to do?? You can’t really base your interaction with people based on what you think the Rambam thinks the neshoma wants to do … ? The (rationalist) Rambam — which you are most certainly taking out of the very narrow context in which the Rambam states din in the Mishna Torah.

    “I agree! I’m sure baalei tshuva don’t feel threatened by those relatives and friends of theirs who choose to remain nonobservant, or who make the CHOICE not to learn about Orthodox Jewish teachings.”

    Not sure if this was meant sarcastically or not. But even in the most “accepting” communities (and let’s see how accepting they are when it’s time for shiduchim…”), I would characterize many baalei teshuva as feeling very insecure, wanting to fit in to their new lifestyle, and feeling threatened by being identified with their nonobservant families, the fear that their children will somehow be “affected” by them.

  22. Let me clarify: the situation described in the other blog’s comments was that the man left his wife and family BECAUSE he became frum and the wife didn’t want to be frum. Not that he left his family and subsequently became frum.

  23. Judy, you can and should feel sad when you see a situation that upsets you.

    Let’s turn this one on its head, though. On the Orthonomics blog recently, there was heated debate and speculation about a sketchily described situation in which a nonobservant man left his nonobservant wife and children when he became frum. If this is a true story, the details are absent, but it’s clear that a family unit was broken up, possibly due to “tshuva”. Does this make you sad? Or is the feeling of happiness that one man is observing mitzvos stronger, even though his wife and children may be suffering tremendously? Is it a “human train wreck” or not?

    I will say that the situation described on Orthonomics lacks details and may not have even happened! However, similar events have undoubtedly occurred.

  24. Belle (#30) said:

    Those who are satisfied with their life choices are seldom threatened by those who choose differently.

    I agree! I’m sure baalei tshuva don’t feel threatened by those relatives and friends of theirs who choose to remain nonobservant, or who make the CHOICE not to learn about Orthodox Jewish teachings.

  25. like the Rambam says, deep inside, each Jewish neshama wants to do good, only the yetzer hora gets in the way

  26. I’m amazed that both Alex #22 and Tzivi #40 feel I’m being “condescending” and “judgmental” when I say I feel sad for those who have chosen to abandon the Torah-true lifestyle. Look at the human wreckage such a choice causes: how can anyone be emotionally neutral about it? I think particularly of one family where the BT husband-father decided to leave both frumkeit and his marriage. Not peering into his heart and mind and seeing what led to his choice, I’m not able to judge him. But I do feel sad, noting that his ex-wife struggled to raise their three children as frum Jews without him, and how all three of those kids suffered without the love and guidance of their father. All three children grew up to be wonderful Orthodox Jewish adults. I lost touch with the family, but I’d like to hope that the father later on created a relationship with his grown children and their families. But how can anyone view such human train wrecks dispassionately? Of course I’m sad, thinking of “what could have been,” “what might have been,” it didn’t have to wind up as a family torn apart or a husband-father walking out on the wife and children.

  27. The Klausenberger Rebbe ZT”L explains in Shefa Chaim Al HaTorah (Vaera 5743 as I recall) that a Tzaddik’s prayer helps another Jew because the Tzaddik fully feels that Jew’s pain. Even if this Jew is not fully deserving, the prayer is accepted because HaShem wishes to spare the Tzaddik his own pain. This is the level of empathy that Jewish leaders and really all Jews need to have.

  28. Judy,

    My sister told me she felt sad for me because I chose to live a Torah life style, so the feeling was mutual, but I think this kind of sadness is born out of judgement of the other person and if it is percieved as condesending, then thats what it is, I don’t know if it really helps to justify it to yourself saying that no, its genuine sadness.

  29. I’m not being condescending when I say I feel sad for someone who decides to abandon a Torah lifestyle. If a recovering drug addict returned to substance abuse, I would feel sad too. This sadness is born out of empathy with someone’s inner pain, not pity or misplaced piety. Look at all the true joy in life that Plony is missing out on … how can I not feel sad?

  30. Ross, you make some very good points as did Alex.

    Putting ourselves in anybody else’s shoes is difficult, especially when that person experienced all the turmoil that an ex-BT has gone through. In the Kiruv world, there is a sub specialty of relating to ex-BTs because of the difficulty of their situation.

    I think there are a few stages which need different perspectives:

    1) People who have not been exposed to Torah
    2) People who have been exposed and are entering the beginning observant phase
    3) People who are close to beginning Shomer Shabbos and need help getting over the bumps
    4) People who were observant and have left observance

    I think mutual respect is always key and in my experience it’s the ingredient that’s often missing in group 4 – from both sides of the table.

  31. Alex raised a very important point back in comment 16. Most communities, especially outside Israel, seem to be built around a fairly exclusive ideology. ‘My way or the highway.’ Unfortunately (IMO), the leaders and teachers of these communities promote this attitude.

    So, when a mature adult is forced to choose, and sees that cognitively or emotionally the community’s/rabbi’s/teacher’s path isn’t a good fit – the highway is the remaining choice. For whatever reasons, too few mentors and teachers are able and willing to encourage people to find their own place or fit within the larger community of Torah.

    Philosophically, I may well say ‘Torah is for every Jew.’ I think that is an inevitable perspective for a committed, believing Jew. But realistically, I know that the historical and halachic literature shows that there has always been great variety between individuals and communities. Rather than foster that, it does seem like there has been a lot of effort to create uniformity. My understanding is that within a very large ‘umbrella’ of Torah, the sort of uniformity we see today is NOT the intent Hashem has in His Torah.

    But Alex’s observation is, I believe correct. And the more uniformity we insist upon, ideologically or behaviorally, the less it is going to be a good fit for everyone; and the more we will see people of good conscience sometimes feel they are compelled to choose the highway.

  32. For those who saw Alex’s last post before it was deleted, putting aside whatever tone which was found offensive, he raised an extremely important point. So I say this with the utmost respect.
    When a person “goes off”, he has a certain state of mind. It is so important, I believe, to really try to put yourselves in his shoes in order to relate to him.
    At a shiva call, WE have a need to make someone feel better, so sometimes we say things which aren’t appropriate. The correct thing, many times, is to supress our urge and keep quiet. If we put ourselves in the place of the avel, we would know not to say anything.

    I remember seeing an interview with a twenty year old who went off, and he said his parents didn’t love him. Then he thought for a moment and said, “Look, I really don’t know if that’s true, but what difference does that make? That’s how I FEEL.” He’s right. This really matters.
    We find that Leah was called senuah (hated), because that’s how she felt, not because Yaakov could have actually hated her. (Many meforshim say this.)

    So when we look at people who don’t have Torah, we have to know where THEY are coming from, and how to talk to them, and not be offended if in the end, they find us or our thought offensive. This is so important in Kiruv(!)
    I would think that BTs especially would understand, because I remember my beginnings in yeshiva when I felt someone was being overbearing (or even worse) when he tried presenting me with his “truth”, or even a simple thought at a time where I just needed a break from it all.

    I don’t mean any offense to anyone here.

  33. “If a pleasant sharing of a Torah idea is offensive to someone, I would say the other person has a problem and is being defensive for some reason.”

    I agree as well.

    One test of how secure a person is in their beliefs, perhaps, is whether they can share(say, in private conversation), a weakness in belief and how they overcame it; also how comfortable someone is with hearing out the doubts or questions of another(probably the test of a good kiruv professional or teacher). Both would seemingly show that a person is not afraid of doubt, whether his own, or those of another person. R. Wolbe(Alie Shur Vol. II, Vaadim on Emunah)gives a test of a person imagining how long he could last in a situation where people make fun of his doing mitzvos; based on the amont of years one can last, one guages how much to still improve.

    Regarding the first point of “sharing a weakness in belief”, this perhaps touches on a more general aspect which R. Shalom Carmy, in a recent Tradition article(“He Thought She Was Drink”) discusses, namely, the boundaries of sharing of one’s own life for pedagogic purposes, based on the teaching of his rebbe, RYBS.

  34. Mark,

    Usually, sharing ideas of any kind is different than “forcing” someone to adopt them, and certainly if done in the context of otherwise pleasant conversation, I don’t know how that could be considered ego-centric. Do people think their chaver is being ego-centric when they have discussions about politics or anything else where people feel strongly?

    If a pleasant sharing of a Torah idea is offensive to someone, I would say the other person has a problem and is being defensive for some reason. Could be that he has heard it many times from others and doesn’t want to discuss it. Could be family issues, could be for many reasons.

    However, I will say that when it comes across as missionizing, it can be offensive. Like when the Mormons come around and out of nowhere start a conversation in order to “save” you.

  35. Belle, do you think sharing Torah thoughts with someone who doesn’t believe the Torah way of life is “true” is an ego-centric attempt to force your beliefs on others?

  36. I think the key point of difference in what Alex is saying and what I would say is that the fact that I believe a certain way of life is “true” and therefore those not leading it are not leading “lives of truth” — doesn’t mean that my relationship with them should be anything but respectful and cordial. Relationships of respect should happen with every Jew, and it is as damaging to oneself as to the other person to behave like a boor or in a condescending fashion.

    Having said that, though, no one should be forced to be friends with everyone. Choices in life create consequences, and I as a frum Jew, may feel less in common with someone living a different kind of life, and I may not want to spend time on friendships with those I have little to relate to.

  37. it’s possible that someone was exposed to too much very early on, and everything became overwhelming for them, and defaulted to their previous, nonobservant, ‘familliar’ life. I don’t think it can be stressed too much to go slow, esp. for people new to a torah lifestyle. One can’t “do it all” all at once. After several years, there are only a few mitzvos that I do on a regular basis, but I do keep learning & trying.

    There are times when I feel “less inspired” to do mitzvos & to learn more; there are also times when I’m all inspired & want to do *everything*, but, at this particular point in my life, I’ve figured out that I’m going to do what I can do, and at least try to learn the parsha & a few other things every week.

    The people who completely “drop out” (ie; Alex, presumably) maybe they didn’t have appropriate teachers for their particular skill levels, and became discouraged? Just a thought….

  38. Those who are satisfied with their life choices are seldom threatened by those who choose differently. Dissatisfied people, however, sometimes feel a need to rail against those who chose differently and feel happy and confident about it.

  39. Alex, we’ve gotten some complaints about your tone and we gave you additional chances in the hope that you can hold a discussion with mutual respect without attacking others.

    We see we were wrong and we’re going to have to ask you to leave the discussion. Your last comment was deleted.

  40. If someone is totally satisfied with his belief system or lifestyle, it’s obviously rare to find him willing to change either of these. It is possible to help the seeker who senses a need for improvement.

    As an aside, the whole advertising industry is based on the idea that dissatisfaction with oneself or one’s life, and a craving for a product to “cure” it, can be generated externally. And advertising often sells product; why else do they spend the big bucks to advertise? So this is a counterexample to the Mets/Yanks fan model above.

    Of course, some people abuse advertising in general and advertising for kiruv in particular, and hook others on the wrong thing for them.

  41. It was for something meaningful, although I’m not sure a quite realized it fully at the time. Looking back, I see that’s what it was.

  42. Ross, When you were searching for something else, was it just a new form of fun and entertainment or were you searching for something meaningful?

  43. There are many ways you can help a person, even if you don’t share a belief system!

    In addition, if we accept the assumption that Torah is true, then we believe that everybody has free choice and can use that choice to develop a relationship with G-d.

    I don’t think the example of the die-hard Met or Yankee fan represents a person’s search for truth, meaning or a relationship with G-d. Met and Yankee fans may never change, but people will seek truth and meaning.

  44. You can only “help” a person insofar as you share a belief system with them. If two people believe that it’s important not to waste money, then the advice to call Geico might be well received. If two people believe it’s important to live a live in accordance with halacha, then advice along those lines might be well received. But lehavdil if one person is a Mets fan and the other is a Yankees fan, then the unsolicited advice on where the view is better in Citi field would be perceived by the Yankees fan as irrelevant at best, or more likely as arrogant and condescending. The best a Mets and Yankees fan can do is to speak objectively, in a detached way, about the relative merits and weaknesses of their respective teams, with the common denominator that they are baseball fans. But in the normal course of events, even if they did once, they’ll never root for your team again. And you shouldn’t “help” them to see why your team is better. Or why they’ll be “happier” or “live a better life” if they root for your team.

  45. I’m of the opinion that you can help people and should help people in whatever ways possible.

    Sometimes that help takes the form of sharing thoughts and sometimes it takes the form of just listening and relating.

    Sharing your thoughts is not bossing people around and does not in anyway neglect or diminish an adult’s right or capabilities of making their own decisions.

    If our assumption is that Torah is true and it’s a necessity for a Jew to achieve their purpose in the world, then sharing Torah with people is an important and worthwhile goal.

    With a given individual at any given time that might not be possible and in those cases I wholeheartedly agree that maintaining a relationship is still valuable.

  46. “The focus of this post is how to match the implementation of the Torah’s plan to an individual’s life and what to do when it’s not working for them.”

    No it’s not – the focus of the post is how to relate to those for whom it’s not working. Not “what to do” or “how to help” or “what to say” or anything of the sort. We are discussing adults here who are capable of making decisions on their own, not children who we can boss around.

    “How can we help those individuals who have not found a Torah life that is working for them successfully move towards a life where they can connect with Hashem through the observance of the mitzvos of the Torah in the environment they currently find themselves?”

    Like I said above, we cannot “help”. I suppose we can davven for them. And for ourselves as well. What we can do is listen to them and accept them as they are, but we must not as Judy says feel “sad” for them, as this is just another manifestation of the condescending attitude that the original post refers to.

    Again, our job is not to move others towards the life choices we see fit for them, nor to feel sad or angry if they refuse to make the choices that we think they should make. Our job is to try to relate to people. Well intentioned or not, it’s nothing more than an ego trip to offer advice or guidance as to how someone else ought to live their life (unless the advice has been requested.)

    Bob, “thanks” for the Breslov info – ironic – weren’t you the one who complained about non-sequitur replies?

  47. I didn’t join the Torah club because I thought it was the truth, or because of anyone who told me this or claimed it. All religions say they have the truth, “so there, thank you very much, and don’t you dare disagree or there’s a h-h-hot place waiting for you!”

    I became frum because I was looking for something else. Then, I slowly experienced the wonderful things of what a Torah lifestyle had to offer, along with the meaning it brought, along with the chumash learning, and then later delving in halacha and gemorrah…

    It took root, developed at it’s pace, and, as a fuller picture was being formed, ONLY THEN I understood then this was the TRUTH. And I have many personal reasons for deciding this (not that the TRUTH needs my haskama), and I know I’m right, “so there, etc.” ;)

    But it didn’t start with the TRUTH being dumped on me.

  48. Alex, I was focused more on the mutual respect aspect in my comment and I want to thank you for toning it down. I want to hear what you have to say, and your continued avoidance of personal attacks is much appreciated.

    Simply stated, the Torah’s truth is that there is a G-d who created and continues to guide the world for a purpose and He communicated to man the means to achieve that purpose through the Torah and it’s mitzvos. We can discuss how each individual can know these spiritual truths, but let’s circle that for the time being and assume that we believe the previous statement at some level.

    The focus of this post is how to match the implementation of the Torah’s plan to an individual’s life and what to do when it’s not working for them.

    One answer is to blame it on the community, the Kiruv professionals, or those who strongly believe in their path to the full and/or partial exclusion of others as some in this thread have done.

    Another approach might be to accept the fact that communities, kiruv professionals and derech-committed individuals have their faults and as a result we have many struggling BTs who we care about and would like to help. For now let’s skip over the answer of move to another community, because that’s not a viable answer for many.

    How can we help those individuals who have not found a Torah life that is working for them successfully move towards a life where they can connect with Hashem through the observance of the mitzvos of the Torah in the environment they currently find themselves?

  49. There are a lot of people who feel it has to be 100 percent or nothing, that they are “hypocrites” if they are “a little bit” religious, and therefore must give it all up when/if there’s a problem.

    Then there are other people who understand there are many paths going in the same direction, and if you outgrow your original mentor it’s OK. These people accept that a 98 grade isn’t failing. Neither is a 78 grade.

    I know that a “Torah true” life works for me, as I’ve been living one for the past 36 years. So I’m not personally threatened by others who decide to leave it. I feel sad that it didn’t work out for them.

    A suitcase of gems isn’t heavy. If your suitcase is too heavy to carry, it doesn’t contain gems.

  50. The real issue is not so much as adherence to Halacha,which I would analogize to having far less room for disagreement on the basic nuts and bolts and where sometimes Chumros and Hidurim are confused with what is required Me Ikar HaDin, especially if a BT lacks a connection to a community, friends and a rav or rebbe who he or she identifies with as their link to the Mesorah. OTOH, Hashkafa is similar to Parshanut of Tanach in that it is far more fluid and one can argue that there are multiple Hashkafos within the Mesorah and routes to Teshuvah-a fact that RYBS mentioned that we underscore when we mention the Neviim and Ishei HaTanach at the end of Slichos.We do ourselves and BTs much harm if we insist that one must accept a certain catechism on issues of Hashkafa when, in fact, there are numerous legitimate paths of Hashkafa.

  51. Few people have become 100% objective but all should still value objectivity.

    “There may be many lies, but there is only one truth.”

    There are many truths in our world, such as, the truth within a person, the truth of Torah and the truth of the Tzaddikim, but they all contain one main truth – God. “Hear O Israel… God is one.”

    Reb Natan said that a person must always beg and plead with God to lead him on the path of His truth. With our own truth we can many times deceive ourselves, but God’s truth is the real, the ultimate truth. “How can you know the real truth when you see it? If you know in your heart that you really desire the truth (only the real truth), and you ask God to let you be worthy of His truth and give all your actions entirely over to Him, then, however He guides you will be the ultimate truth” Likutei Moharan, 4:24).

    What’s a seeker to do?

    Reb Noson writes that somehow, in some amazing fashion, despite the constant, daily attacks, God protects and preserves the essence of truth from being falsified or adulterated. He quotes Rebbe Nachman: “Gott firt tamid ois; God is constantly finishing” His work of perfecting the world. One who seeks the truth even after thinking he’s found it, will continue to seek it. He will observe the effect of his giving charity. Wrong charity will lead to dissension; kosher charity will lead to shalom.

    But! warns Reb Noson, peace is not apathy! To let wrongdoing continue because one doesn’t want to be a troublemaker or is content with his situation, is flattery and falsehood, not shalom. Real truth cannot be done away with, and will not be silenced. Shalom can only be established when the lies surrender, and submit to the truth.

    May the One Who makes shalom above, make shalom between us and between all Israel. Amen!

  52. Mark,

    Bob is the one who is not interested in dialog, as he subverts the intent of the original post with his “What’s the alternative to the Torah’s truth if not falsehood?” straw man.

    Bob, the alternative to the Torah’s truth is someone or something else’s truth. Given that you “don’t pretend to understand Torah nearly as much as a Jew should,” why do you unceasingly promote a black-and-white view of the “Torah’s truth”? Another alternative would be simply ignoring the concept of “truth” altogether and focusing on the many other aspects of life, such as relationships with ones fellow Jews, regardless of their lifestyle choice.

    The question posed in the original post was, is it possible for every Jewish individual to self-actualize or otherwise realize his potential in a “Torah True” life. I don’t think that the way frum communities are currently organized that it is possible for everyone. There are two equally painful, difficult alternatives – stay anyway or leave. And I think that the ones who leave are making as difficult a choice as they made originally when they decided to join, and they should be commended for being true and honest with themselves and for taking the painful steps they need to take to live their own lives. And yes, those who stay in the fold ought to feel threatened, and they ought to take steps to deepen the quality of their relationships with all Jews and to broaden the scope of frum life so that less Jews are alienated from it.

  53. His reason was that when you’ve progressed down a path certain behaviors are expected, and it is often not acceptable to significantly deviate from those behaviors. This is probably more true in schools then in communities where you can hide your observance practices.

  54. 2 b) At the same time I don’t think it’s correct to say all paths are equally valid

    You’re right. Most think that the path they’re on is the “most” if not “only” valid.

    This attitude directly addresses 3 b) since it’s a very difficult for people on one, seemingly better, path to help divert someone in need to a path that’s better for them.

    Also, the “truth” of 1 c) is very variable from micro-involvement to macro-involvement.

  55. Mark,,

    About your
    “c) A friend pointed out that both FFBs and BTs are often only left with the option of going totally off-the-derech when they have difficulties. Adopting a different form of observance during the difficult period is often not an option’

    Not an option because:

    1. Other options unknown?
    2. Emotionally hard at that point to focus on options other than total escape?
    3. No other options locally?

  56. There are different aspects of truth.

    1) The truth of Torah, specifically:
    a) There is a creator who creator the world and man for a purpose
    b) He communicated to man that purpose and the means to fulfill it
    c) He is continually involved with His creations as He guides the world towards the fulfillment of it’s purpose

    2) The truth of the differing paths for a person to fulfill his purpose:
    a) We should acknowledge that there are differing paths which are appropriate for different people, in different places and it different times.
    b) At the same time I don’t think it’s correct to say all paths are equally valid
    c) Finding that balance between following your own path and truly understanding the pluses and minuses of other paths is a challenge for most people I’ve met

    3) The truth of a given person not being successful in following a given path
    a) This happens all the time and I think that’s the question writer’s main issue
    b) We have not developed sufficient mechanisms to help a person who is having difficulties with his present path
    c) A friend pointed out that both FFBs and BTs are often only left with the option of going totally off-the-derech when they have difficulties. Adopting a different form of observance during the difficult period is often not an option

  57. Alex, true meaningful dialog requires respect from both parties and I don’t quite see that in your post.

    For the record, I’ve maintained a mutually respectful dialog with a number of ex BTs. The key is mutual respect.

  58. “these variations are traceable via our Mesorah to our national Kabbalas HaTorah on Har Sinai”

    Bob, that’s a ridiculous statement for a thinking adult. God handed Moshe a Shas and a Zohar? Just as ridiculous is your labelling someone “unJewish” because they’ve “given up”, deciding that fundamentalism isn’t for them. Have you invited any ex-BTs over for coffee? Do you maintain contact with them and express your full acceptance of their lifestyle choice? If not — who is giving up on who? Who is acting unJewish?

    Do you agree that condescension and derision is fine for Jews who have decided not to live an observant live? Do you believe deep in your heart that unless a Jew serves God in one particular way, then such a person can’t possibly be a good person, can’t contribute to society? Do you believe that you know how another person ought to live, that you know better than the person himself? You claim that “We know there are different Orthodox schools of thought on various aspects of Torah law and Torah outlook” but based on your history of blogging here on this site, I don’t believe that you believe that. It’s clear you are a literalist who wants to believe that every single word uttered by Chazal and by Rashi and by your local orthodox rabbi have all been inspired by ruach haKodesh and that there is only one way to think and to act, all the worst cliche’s of the “frum” world with their irrational hashkafos, hero worship of gedolim, fundamentalist readings of Bereshis, large families and lifestyles that they can’t afford, and squashing anything remotely resembling personal creativity or independent thinking (which would be anti- the concept of “Torah True”). I will state again for the record — the miracle is that anyone stays frum, not that they become frum.

  59. Alex, you don’t know me or my background or beliefs, so I’ll pardon your non-sequitur reply. I don’t pretend to understand Torah nearly as much as a Jew should, but aim to improve. We know there are different Orthodox schools of thought on various aspects of Torah law and Torah outlook, but these variations are traceable via our Mesorah to our national Kabbalas HaTorah on Har Sinai. Those who ignore or misrepresent our Mesorah are outside this framework.

    So, in this, I’m pretty much on board with what Menachem Lipkin said, except for the “maybe”.

  60. I would say that, theoretically, the Torah should be able to “work” for everyone. The slight shift in language above from your question regarding a “Torah True” life “Torah’s Truth” is important. I’m not saying this applies to Bob or Mark, but many orthodox people think that they “know” the Torah’s truth and as such constrain their brand of Judaism within that perceived truth and reject those that appear to fall outside of it.

    Maybe there is an objective “truth” in the Torah, but since the Torah was given to us and is “not in heaven” anymore there are multiple legitimate paths to being a “Torah True” Jew.

    I’m not threatened by your situation, but I have to wonder if you explored other paths or was just one presented to you?

  61. This article may have been better titled: Is Torah True Life….? Note the omission of the word “THE.”

    Not all “conversions” are sudden or miraculous. Neither of mine were,anyway. The difference between my first and second adoptions of “Torah True Life” is in the process. Ross’s quote of R’ Wasserman applies in my case.

  62. Bob: What’s the alternative to the Torah’s truth if not falsehood?

    There is no such thing as “the Torah’s truth”. You probably allude to the pressure of conforming to your notion of an ultra orthodox right wing irrational, and often financially irresponsible lifestyle. Maybe that’s Bob’s truth, but it’s not the Torah’s truth. YU is also a Torah truth. Ger Chassidism is also a Torah truth. Rigorous Bible scholarship produced by some Conservative, Reform, even Goyim also contain elements of Torah truths. But you create an all-or-nothing community — and you m’karev kirovim to a specific ideology, hashkafa — and present no alternative within the halacha.

    So, yes, there are alternatives to the heavy-handed tactics of the common kiruv message of “your secular life is miserable, join us and be happy”. The real miracle is how and why anyone stays frum after popping out of the kiruv process.

  63. Someone once asked HaRav Noach Weinberg tz’l why Torah isn’t old fashioned and out-dated
    (it might’ve been good for the rabbis of the Middle Ages, perhaps, but we are MODERN with computers, etc.etc.)

    He answered simply: If something works, you stick with it.

    It works. It’s appropriate (and meant) for every Jew. Like Rav Simcha Wasserman tz’l said, Torah is sweet, but if it doesn’t seem so sweet, than there’s something wrong with the person, not the Torah.

    By “wrong”, he means the person didn’t go through the process correctly…either he jumped ahead, or he has too many preconceived notions which prevent him from moving forward.

    Or, as was pointed out, perhaps he isn’t in the right environment which could help him discover and grow properly. But whether in the end it’s his “fault” (I know, “fault” is not a good word) or not, the Torah is sweet, and meant for all Jews, but there is a sensitive way of getting there.

  64. Bob, you correctly point out that finding the truth can take a lot of effort.

    I think that’s because spiritual truths, such as believe in G-d and Torah are not provable by the physical methods which we are comfortable with in the Western World.

    During that process, if you’re not in the right community and/or don’t have the right support it can be an unpleasant experience which can cause the person to abandon the quest.

  65. Bruce,

    What’s the alternative to the Torah’s truth if not falsehood?

    The real truth can take a lot of effort and prayer to find, and a specific community where the truth is sought may not be the most appropriate or congenial one for the seeker. But to just give up on the whole quest is unJewish.

Comments are closed.