Why Kiruv Sometimes Fails

By Shira. After getting married, Shira’s husband became a BT. They’ve worked together to patch a semi-frum lifestyle together which includes attending an orthodox shul, keep a kosher home, and keeping shabbos.

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 (or almost did), and some that came back, I’ve come to have a few ideas about why this happens.

Not in any particular order of importance:

1. Kiruv is generally one-sided, hashkafically. Recipients do not necessarily realize that other ‘brands’ are legitimate within Orthodoxy when what they are presented with is the ‘right’ way. Its not that other groups of Orthodoxy are ignored or put-down, so much as never mentioned. Someone says, “This is how you do this,” and a BT hears, “This is the way God wants us to do this.” Hearing, “This is one of the ways that Jews believe God wants us to do this,” would leave more paths open in a BT’s mind for questions of hashkafa. Hashkafa is such a muddy area for a BT to navigate, it should be made clear from the get-go that there are many ways to be orthodox, and one is not lesser or lower than another. In the kiruv environment, a lot of differences in how to do a mitzvah are categorized as different ‘levels’ of observance – and everyone doing at their own level of the moment. This implies that those who seem to do ‘less’ are doing a lesser form, when in fact many cases of differences in observance are based on equal but different interpretations of halacha, rather than instances of leniency and stringency.

2. Seeing immoral actions done by so-called frum people, and even by whole communities, is huge. Who counts as ‘frum’ seems to centre around certain types of mitzvahs, while other areas are neglected. Yes, outward mitzvahs are more visible, so its more easy to judge who is frum by them, but that doesn’t make it spiritually healthy for a community. A person becomes BT and wants to fit in… what seems to help one fit in most is to conform with those outward mitzvahs first. Shabbos, kashruth, etc. This is a problem in the frum world in general, not just the kiruv communities. Judgement of others, whether outright or subtly, needs to change. Emphasis on the good that a person does, the mitzvahs that a person does which are not necessarily ritualistic, should be made more of a priority. Assumptions about a person’s character, integrity, or commitment to Judaism should not be based on the visible trappings that person has taken on. When BT’s are turned off by the immoral actions of communities and community members, they are often given the line “Don’t judge Judaism by the Jews.” What a shallow answer to such a big problem. Judaism looks more like the Jews, today, than what God originally handed down at Sinai. Real Jews, who made immoral choices as well as good choices, created Judaism as we practice it, Rabbinic Judaism. So, its not so easy to tease out what is Judaism and what is “the Jews.” The answer just does not suffice. A better answer is to recognize that every group in the world contains good and bad people, including Judaism.

3. The Judaism offered 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 know enough to realize there are other streams of orthodoxy which might suit them better. They don’t realize that they can daven less than what the class they attended called the ‘minimum’ and they whip themselves internally for not living up to what they think are God’s expectations of all Jews.

4. This is a tricky one. When a BT is unhappy with how they are living, it isn’t necessarily visible to those around them. Its easy to hide behind the ritualistic day-to-day living and not let anyone know the difficulties that are going on inside oneself, especially if it doesn’t seem like anyone else is having those types of difficulties. If such a BT person does reach out, and ask tough questions, and question the Torah and mitzvahs, and generally express their unhappiness with what they are living, no one says to that person, “Stop doing mitzvahs.” The message given out is to ‘go slow,’ not take on ‘too much too soon,’ etc. None of it is directed to someone who’s already gone too far. 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 might get if you are asking for help is to ‘try harder’ or find different ways to get connection out of continuing the do the mitzvahs. For some people, who went too 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. Much of the kiruv experience focuses on how to practice Judaism… and the BT doesn’t encounter examples in Jewish history of characters who were ‘less than.’ Hasidic stories about about seemingly perfect rabbis. Efforts are made to interpret the ‘mistakes’ of the forefathers as ‘not really mistakes.’ There is a lot of guilt for a BT 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 just one spot, or just even slowing one’s descent, is more than a person can do. The idea that you must keep striving for better is damaging without more context. And especially this idea is very dangerous because it is often mixed up with the idea of ‘levels’ of practice, and differences of hashkafa.

Of those who I became frum with, who remained observant over the past many years, I’ve observed that they did so because they were able to reframe and find new reasons for continuing on, even when sometimes not completely satisfied. I think such people are less likely to be perfectionist, and give themselves much more leeway in making mistakes. They are people who are good at forgiving themselves, and believing that God forgives them. The BT’s who left, that I have encountered, for the most part seem to be people are are extremely deep thinkers, who have a very high sense of morality, who look for integrity in Judaism, who set high standards and ask very difficult questions.

I’m not really sure how kiruv people could even identify the type of person I was, in order to slow them down or give warning, or teach differently. I was the person who knew every answer in the kiruv classes, who conformed in most every way, who always had astute questions to ask, etc. I looked like a model student.

I also wonder how successful kiruv really is. How many of those who are brought in, stay?

Another thing I’ve noticed, which I didn’t see as a BT, was that even the most observant people I’ve met don’t necessarily put on and tie their shoes in the correct halachic order. The most pious Jews still have areas where they don’t know or don’t bother. Every Jew I’ve encountered who I categorized as ‘very frum’ turned out to have an area of halacha which they chose to ignore the fine details of. A blind spot. Something they’ve chosen not to find out more about, for fear of needing to change, or from lack of interest, or other reasons I can’t fathom. But its interesting that BT’s feel obligated to pursue and ‘do correctly’ any new halacha they hear of, while others who are long-time frum (BT or FFB) seem able to just turn a blind eye to some areas.

41 comments on “Why Kiruv Sometimes Fails

  1. Great topic, insightful comments.

    I live in LA, which is one big cholent pot of many different streams of Orthodoxy. From baseball caps to streimels, we’ve got it all. Because there is such a HUGE BT presence, it’s difficult to find a group within the community at large who does not have many BTs among their constituency. The community is definitely fragmented by different hashkafas as well as geography. However, due to the surrounding environs & general (lack of) morality in today’s times we are forced to work together albeit sometimes as one big disfunctional family.

    There is a huge emphasis on growth, from FFBs & BTs alike. In fact, many well respected long time community leaders are BTs themselves. In some cases, it’s so difficult to tell, that people are shocked when they find out that Rabbi Ploni is, in fact, a BT. And, after they know it, they often forget.

    I am fortunate to have friends from all shades & stripes of Orthodoxy and can honestly say that, for the most part, ALL of them strive for growth. So many of my FFB friends are “holding” in a very different place than they were even 10 years ago. You don’t have to be born a non-Orthodox Jew to be a BT.

    That being said, I think one of the most important messages within kiruv should be that HKBH only measures us against ourselves and what we, as individuals, are capable of. When one has this idea in mind, the pressure of “measuring up” against others fades away.

    The original post and many of the comments address the issue of quest for truth, i.e., being able to ask questions and having those questions answered. Unfortunately, not everyone in kiruv is equipped to answer the tough ones, but should be able to direct a seeker elsewhere, even if it’s outside their organization. One of my own (FFB) kids with a Yeshiva/Seminary education, has often said they would love to put on jeans and walk into a kiruv Yeshiva because that’s where questions get answered. Although our FFB kids can quote gemaras, mishnas, Rashis etc., they are going through the motions without the emotions (credit Rabbi Z. Wallerstein).

    There is something missing in our kids’ educations because Yeshivas are stressing more and more academics and less derech eretz & hashkafa. But that’s a whole other topic.

  2. Dk,

    Your take is definitely more concise, but I think some nuance is lost. Its not just that certain groups are the majority in kiruv. When I was wondering about which minhags to follow, which rabbis to ask, how to dress or act or think, I was told that its best to do like your ancestors did, the minhags of whatever country they came from, or to take on the customs of the community that ‘brought you in.’ I understood from that that the only correct path for me to take would be to follow what those in this particular community did… because otherwise wouldn’t I be picking and choosing? How would I decide which way to do things? I was taught that it would be illegitimate to choose for myself, or make a mish-mash of customs. The truth I see now is that really does ring true for many… but it is equally legitimate to forge your own path and choose customs that work for you. If there aren’t any customs passed down from my grandparents, then it really is up to me. God hasn’t directed that all BTs conform to the hashkafah of the first institution that m’kareved them.

    Recently, a nearly grown son of a good friend, whose family is definitely Hareidi, let his family know that he actually wants to become Bobov. He’s a lovely boy, and I was very surprised by the change. But there didn’t seem to be any problem with hopping camps. The parents even told me there is a specific class for boys who are moving from hareidi to chasidic communities. Until then, I’d always heard, and assumed, that what one was born to, one was obligated to continue. I had no idea that its legitimate to move from one group to another based on a person’s own affinities. If I’d encountered that long ago, it would have lent legitimacy to my feelings of ‘not right for me’. I was always under the assumption that, at least for girls, you could only switch your minhags by marrying someone with a different set.

    That was a bit of a tangent.

  3. Hi Southern Belle,
    I appreciate what you wrote, and I can see its probably true. I did see a lot of variety in the smaller communities I’ve encountered in the USA. I live in a large city in Canada, and I would think there would be less uniformity in a large city. There is. You wrote that its the person’s job to pursue whatever derech is right for them. That is a legitimate view. However, I don’t believe a person can pursue the right derech if they don’t know it exists, or have been given the strong impression that it is a ‘wrong’ derech. A person becoming religious tries to pursue the path that they believe God desires for them… and they may not have enough exposure to anticipate any path other than what is shown to them by those around them. So, its not so simple as “its your job to pursue it!”

  4. Shira,
    Some who have lived in so called ‘out of town’ communities would say the problems you complain of are less pressing when you get out of the NYC area. Schools and shuls must be more pluralistic. Jews of various streams work together to maintain communal infrastructure thus eliminating the attitude of “we don’t mix with that type.” Because such places are less homogenous, the emphasis is less on non-halachic external factors and there often exists more freedom in dress, acceptable passtimes, and approaches to growth. People of different ages, streams, and levels of mitzvah observance mix together.

    Because such places usually have a higher ratio of BTs, it is accepted that people are at different stages in their growth, and that while some excel in all mitzvah observance, others excel in communal affairs, chessed, etc., and that is OK. The rabbis who are successful there are not striving for people to “fit in” but rather to develop a relationship to H’. At least, this is my experience and that of others I know.

    I would just add that in terms of bad behavior by Jews, I know for myself that though I sometimes fail in my middos tests, I do so much less often than I would if I were not in a growth-oriented introspective community which strives for (if not always achieves) Torah ideals. Torah has helped me be more of a B+ in middos, instead of a more middling C. I try to think of my current “intown” community the same way!

    Rather than fault someone for not teaching you about M.O. or any other derech, if thats the path you are drawn to, its your job to pursue it!

  5. shira:

    great article, this is my not-so-PC way of interpreting what you are saying (and based on my own experiences):

    haredi kiruv organizations are presenting too much of a one-sided and narrow view of judiasm -that a BT when s/he gets a little more experience in the orthodox world realizes is neither the “only” way, the “correct” way, but one of many ways. In most cases, with a little hindsight, it wouldn’t be the path that that BT would choose.

    The reality is that most BT’s would probably fare best in a modern orthodox setting – but the haredi kiruv organizations and chabad get to them first.

  6. (rhetorical question)
    What is the ratio of the number of BTs who need advice or other help to function well within existing Orthodox communities to the number of “Kiruv professionals” within those communities?

    The ratio might be low overall, possibly even in communities with many BTs. If so,
    the moral would be that self-help and help from “Kiruv amateurs” such as neighbors are really important contributing factors to successful integration.

  7. The letters and articles in these publications are just BTs whining about not fitting in, needing support systems, attending intermarriage weddings, professionals wearing kipas, celebrating thanksgiving, etc.

    Ever hear of such a thing?

  8. Ron-we are devoted, loyal and critical readers of Mishpacha and Yated. I would not dismiss what appears to be a strong trend of articles and letters to the editor therein as well as that deal with the “round peg in a square hole” phenomenon that many BT and FFB parents experience with respect to the chinuch of their children of either gender. The Yated’s Chinuch Roundtable more often than not discusses such instances.

  9. Ron, I don’t think anybody, certainly not me, thinks that your responses lack any substance. G-d willing I’ll post in the future on a few points where I think you were incorrect.

    I personally don’t like the simple dichotomy of well-adjusted BTs, like Ron, and not well-adjusted BTs. My experience has been that many/most BTs are well adjusted and love the FFB community, while at the same time there are things which they think need to be addressed. The same is true of Kiruv, they are thankful in many ways and wish things would have been better in other ways.

    Instead of Good Kiruv vs Bad Kiruv, perhaps we can think in terms of Good Kiruv, which worked and works for many, and Better Kiruv, which also works for those which the current Good Kiruv did not work.

  10. Shira, thanks in turn for being a good sport. I think that Mark is indeed correct that your feelings, which were well expressed, do need to be heard. I think it is a mistake (not yours) to focus on “Ron Coleman, Master of Rhetoric,” which tends to suggest that my responses are, well, rhetoric — technique rather than substance. As you can probably tell, I have thoughts about many of these issues too. I even have feelings!

    Just kidding about the feelings thing.

    But I really think it’s important to understand I have written these comments not merely to express myself, and certainly not merely to be, or to be perceived as, the defender of the status quo. Rather I am suggesting that a silent majority, or plurality, or just a significant percentage of BT’s aren’t so unhappy, maladjusted or resentful of kiruv or the FFB community as it may sometimes sound around here. They don’t need me to speak for them but it may nonetheless be appreciated that I do — not only to be heard, but also to be reinforced.

    Well-adjusted BT’s need a little love too.

    Steve, regarding Mishpacha — I wouldn’t believe everything I read in that!

  11. This week’s Mishpacha, both the main and family edition, have letters re BTs and child rearing which underscore this issue-a lack of insopiration in our yeshivos and seminaries and sometimes stifling sense of conformity at the expense of legitimate religious values which are entirely within halachic and hashkafic norms.

  12. Neil — yes, the idea of turning your Torah studies into prayers (such as that you will be able to fulfill this teaching) is a teaching from Rebbe Nachman, one I also find very helpful. A couple relevant quotes in Likutei Eitzot: “It is a good thing to turn the Torah which you learn into prayers” and “Torah and prayer give strength to one another and illuminate each other.”

  13. Thanks for all the comments everyone. Ron, I appreciate your point by point criticisms. Some of what I wrote was self-contradictory. In my effort to limit length, I think I wrote less clearly than I wanted to. I haven’t written anything this ‘academic’ in years, and I’m distracted by children, so… thats my excuse. Consider this a first draft, and what you wrote made me think more clearly about many things. I disagree with much of what you wrote, but realize that I didn’t write what I meant clearly. I hope I’ll have time to respond sometime soon.

  14. Mark’s original post sums up the issue very cogently. As long as being a Torah observant Jew is peddled as a one way or the highway answer that allows for no hashkafic variance from a preordained catechism, as opposed to an approach that may not have all the answers to your philosophical inquiries and your prior pyschological and emotional baggage, as opposed to an approach that offers a profound and meaningful way of life, no matter what society you reside in, we will be reading about dissafection, surveys, and the responses thereto.

  15. Mark, could you or David Linn or one of Beyond BT’s rabbinic advisors make a formal presentation to AJOP based on the most important Beyond BT stories and ideas about kiruv? That would get their attention. Maybe present something at OU and Agudah gatherings, too.

    You could include a Pareto chart showing the kiruv concerns, etc., that have popped up on Beyond BT with significant frequency. It would be nice if some computer whiz could find a way to mine the Beyond BT archives for this type of info.

  16. Bob, Here are three possibilities:

    1) We need to internalize (which goes beyond reading) Shira’s message that:

    a) Getting closer to Hashem is a life-long step by step process and the goal of helping people get closer is to provide assistance to anyone in their individual lifelong journeys

    b) When helping others we have to start by meeting them where they are current holding

    c) We have to make great efforts to give them the advice and tools that they can use at each step along the way

    2) We can try to share this message with others and particularly those involved in Kiruv at AJOP, Project Inspired and other forums

    3) We can personally use these ideas to try to help the observant and not observant people we meet day in and day out in their service of Hashem

  17. How about in a private email? Just because you didn’t invite ME for dinner, too, why should I lose out?

  18. If we could extract from this article and discussion (and the zillions of similar articles and discussions til now) some genuine problems with kiruv as typically practiced, where should we readers of Beyond BT go from there? What’s our action that would follow from the critique?

    It would have to go beyond the validation and commiseration we do so well.

  19. Ross, I’m always a little nervous about that because of the famous statement from the famous Rabbi who said, “You can say over my Torah in your name, but please don’t say over your Torah in my name”.

    Right now I’m focused on trying to recreate Shira’s forest after Ron’s masterful rhetorical chain saw cuts down most of her trees.

    I do want to mention that Shira posted this originally as a comment and took the time to share more of her thoughts on my request because I, like the majority of commentators here, saw and understood the important messages in her words, even though the post was not written as exacting as a master of language like Ron would demand. (sorry for the possible run on sentence)

  20. Point five:

    The idea that you must keep striving for better is damaging without more context. And especially this idea is very dangerous because it is often mixed up with the idea of ‘levels’ of practice, and differences of hashkafa.

    I agree wholeheartedly with this and have written a piece on it which will be posted in the near future.

  21. Point four: Pulling back. Shira writes:

    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.

    “No one”?

    Now there is “someone.” Now I will speak to Shira: I’m telling you, Shira: Step back. Take a break. Reflect and, perhaps, don’t do it right now. Do less. Try again later.

    And email me, so I can introduce you to qualified rabbis and other kiruv people who will tell you this as they tell so many others. I am sorry you have not met them.

    This advice, which you have intuited well, is not only for BT’s, by the way. It is commonly given in yeshivas and seminaries, and certainly in any such institution where there is meaningful hashgocha [supervision], though of course it is not given with respect to firm religious obligations. But there are many practices that go beyond these obligations and, yes, can tear us up, get us facing the wrong way, hurt us or hurt others.

    And for BT’s, while it is hard to imagine where someone can get permission not to observe an halachic obligation… it may not be that this obligation is fulfilled the way you have come to understand it must be. Or perhaps there are other answers.

    You say, “Its easy to hide behind the ritualistic day-to-day living and not let anyone know the difficulties that are going on inside oneself …” This is true for everyone: BT’s, FFB’s, non-frum Jews, and gentiles. Isn’t it?

  22. “I had Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller over for dinner last night and I gave her the article to read. She had some points of disagreement…”

    Can you share some of her thoughts?

  23. Mark, I anticipated your comment! Which is not to say that I could stop myself from dissecting her post. I can’t, and not because I’m a meanie. I can’t because I don’t believe “we” or “kiruv” are obligated to lash ourselves or wring our hands over “problems” and “failures” expressed in vague, inconsistent and code-word-laden manifestos.

    I agree that there are problems. I agree that Shira’s words contain within them issues to which we can and should reflect and respond. But I am also weary of muddled right-wing-bashing that is big on buzzwords and accusation but slim on internal logic and specifics.

    And I am being this severe in this statement because I know, with all due respect, that just as there is a constituency that wants to hear from representatives of “kiruv” (which we are) that “it’s okay to have these feelings,” I am no less certain that there is another one that wants to hear what I am saying — and is grateful that there are people who will say what they are thinking and perhaps, with God’s help, can say it real good.

    I know this because they tell me so! ;-)

    Now what was the next paragraph…

  24. Like Rabbi Micha Berger above, I have some quibbles, but I think Shira’s points are extremely important and valuable for Kiruv professionals in particular to read. I had Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller over for dinner last night and I gave her the article to read. She had some points of disagreement, but she generally agreed with the overall message which is to meet people where their holding and focus on giving them a path that will work for them.

    Although Ron can and probably will use his masterful rhetoric to dissect and discredit this post I want to concur with the previous commentators of the importance of reading and truly hearing and understanding what Shira said.

    I hope that Kiruv professionals will read it, hear it, understand it and not nitpick it and as a result grow and become even better and what they do as a result.

  25. Point 3: The shallow religion:

    The Judaism offered by kiruv is most often very shallow. It doesn’t address real difficulties in life, it doesn’t bend for different people.

    I don’t really, really know exactly what “the Judaism offered by kiruv” is. I assume however, for argument’s sake, that it is the Judaism I practice.

    My reaction to this statement is that it contains sufficient self-contradiction not to require much reaction. Religions or moral systems that “bend” are the “shallow” ones. It is not the other way around.

    Sometimes, in contrast, it is we who are shallow. We see a challenge in Yiddishkeit and cannot imagine how we can reconcile ourselves to it. The only way we can consider this a failure of Torah and mitzvos is if we do not believe in the Divine and divinely-inspired nature of them. If we do, then we understand that the work to be done — the bending — is on our part.

    That is not to minimize the difficulty of doing this. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter said that it is easier to learn the whole Talmud than to change (bend) one character flaw. But, as it says in Pirkei Avos, “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.” I think this attitude — that there is forgiveness, and “bend,” built not into the goals, but into the meeting them, is the best possible response to the problem Shira perceives. Again, however, the premise is and must be that Torah is emes, and if by “bending” she has specific halachic issues that she believes are misstated by “kiruv,” I believe she should specify them.

  26. Next topic: When bad Jews do bad things. Shira writes:

    Seeing immoral actions done by so-called frum people, and even by whole communities, is huge.

    As in hugely damaging to kiruv efforts. Later in the same paragraph she writes,

    Judgment of others, whether outright or subtly, needs to change.

    This sounds as if Shira wants to be able to judge others — frum people — for their immoral actions, but doesn’t want frum people to do so.

    Another contradiction:

    When BT’s are turned off by the immoral actions of communities and community members, they are often given the line “Don’t judge Judaism by the Jews.” What a shallow answer to such a big problem.

    It may be a shallow answer, but is there a better one? Evidently not, because here is Shira’s suggestion:

    A better answer is to recognize that every group in the world contains good and bad people, including [the Jewish people].

    That sounds to me like the same answer, just a little less snappy.

    Let me suggest another way of looking at this huge problem, one that draws on something else Shira wrote in this paragraph:

    Assumptions about a person’s character, integrity, or commitment to Judaism should not be based on the visible trappings that person has taken on.

    This would seem to include judging “frum people,” as I said above. I have heard plenty of kiruv people say, “Why do you assume such-and-such notorious person is ‘frum’? Because he has a hat? Obviously, notwithstanding his cultural orientation, his actions demonstrate that he is not frum at all.”

    Having made that rhetorical point: Shira is right; every group in the world contains good and bad people, including the Jewish people. If all our deeds were known by everyone, who among us would be considered by “frum” by everyone?

  27. I agree with Ross — this is really many posts in one, and it will be tricky to manage discussion points here, but here are a few initial thoughts from me. I will break out the points into separate comments, which would probably make more sense if we had tiered threads here, “but still.”

    First topic: “Kiruv is generally one-sided, hashkafically.” This does not comport with my experience either as a newbie or as a veteran in kiruv settings. It is true that “it’s not that other groups of Orthodoxy are ignored or put-down, so much as never mentioned” because in my experience — even in Chabad — no “groups” are mentioned at all. Instead, indeed, the words are: “This is how you do this.”

    Shira is bothered, she says, because that last phrase is heard as, ““This is the way God wants us to do this” and would prefer,

    “This is one of the ways that Jews believe God wants us to do this,” would leave more paths open in a BT’s mind for questions of hashkafa.

    As usual, a problem I have with criticisms of this nature from “the left” is that it is vague and free-floating. What mitzvos should the kiruv-doer be hedging on, and in what manner? I’d like to know specifics on this point of Shira’s.

    Moreover, my experience as a Conservative-affiliated Jew when I first encountered kiruv is that the one thing I was tired of was hedging, qualification and compromise. At that point I wanted someone to tell me what he believed was truth and to convey it to me as truth. I will do the hedging, thank you; that I don’t need from kiruv. It’s part and parcel of “pluralistic” religion, education and morality in America already and I have mastered it well. (I still do it.)

  28. “Eventually simple loneliness drives many back to their old lifestyle.” (micha #3)

    Indeed. It’s a serious issue. I think singles, even guys, should try their hardest to board with a frum family. Look for ads, ask around…it really makes such a difference.

    “BT’s expect more of themselves than perhaps the religion expects”

    In the yeshivas I attended, we were constantly warned about taking on chumres. I guess I was lucky.

  29. About number 2, I can think of a couple more ways to address this. First, the prophets mention many times the problem of people being outwardly observant (doing sacrifices) but treating other people poorly (oppressing orphans, or whatever). So this is a problem that has been around for a long time, and we should try to help solve it by promoting neglected mitzvahs, whether through our own example or some other way.

    Second, there are some sources that argue that the interpersonal (non-ritual) mitzvot are ultimately more important, and the people who appear the most religious aren’t necessary so. For example, Rav Shalom Arush, best-selling author and Rosh Yeshivah of Chut Shel Chessed Yeshivah, says:

    “As a rabbi, and particularly as a rabbi that tries to help people as much as possible, I’ve noticed a peculiar phenomenon – when people make tshuva, they run to the man-and-G-d mitzvas – Shabbat, kashrut, mikva, Torah learning – but they often neglect the real tshuva, adam l’chavero – man & fellow man. Why do we call that the real tshuva? The answer is that we come to this world to perfect our character – to be less brutal, less arrogant, more kind and and more considerate. The way a person observes the commandments that govern one’s relations between man & fellow man is a barometer to the quality of his or her character. For example, you can’t be a tzaddik – even if you know the Gemara by heart – if you cheat someone or don’t repay a debt.”

    Finally, if this seems to be a big problem in one’s particular community, the best solution can sometimes be to simply move to a better community.

  30. 1. Kiruv is generally one-sided, hashkafically.

    I feel very grateful that I never walked into anything sponsored by a kiruv organization until long after I was frum. Instead, I walked into a modern Orthodox synagogue that was intellectually honest about the different paths one can follow in Torah. Not only do kiruv organizations tend to push only their own brand of Judaism, they often misrepresent Judaism. Yes, you can believe that evolution has occurred, that the universe is ancient, and that the rabbis in the Talmud did not get all the science right, and still be an Orthodox Jew.

    2. Seeing immoral actions done by so-called frum people, and even by whole communities, is huge.

    That does not trouble me. Every group will have its crooks, its sinners.

    What troubles me is that much of the frum community defends the sinners. Bank fraudsters, drug smugglers, and convicted spies get labelled as innocent in public media campaigns led by leading orthodox rabbis. Others cover up for child molesters. We are headed the way of the Catholic Church in Ireland if something doesn’t change.

    5. BT’s expect more of themselves than perhaps the religion expects.

    Fortunately I was advised simply to follow the halachah — and never to take on a chumra without first discussing it with a rav.

    ‘“The greatest source of alienation,” according to Buchwald, “is the failure of baalei teshuvah to find suitable mates.”’

    I met my basherte on frumster.com. She contacted me. I can not count the number of BTs I know who refuse to consider the internet as a potential place to connect. I even know nominally modern orthodox folks who refuse to consider any date that isn’t a fixup.

  31. “Rabbi Ephaim Buchwald contends that if Baalei Teshuvah marry, approximately 90% will remain observant. However, if they do not, the fallout rate is 50% or greater.”

    SOURCE: Page 275 of: Off the Derech: Why Observant Jews Leave Judaism, by Faranak Margolese, year 2005.

  32. …Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, director of the National Jewish Outreach Program [NJOP], even suggests why they [baalei teshuvah] leave [Judaism]:

    “The greatest source of alienation,” according to Buchwald, “is the failure of baalei teshuvah to find suitable mates.”

    Sociologist Danzger agrees. “Getting married and raising children is what ties you to the community,” he says.

    SOURCE: Defection Thinning the Ranks of Baalei Teshuvah by David Margolis, March 17, 1989, The Jewish Week, page 36

  33. Neil – there are m.o. kiruv organizations — You can always check out MJE in Manhattan. This is a very important article – thanks beyonbt for posting!

  34. This was an excellent article and should be emailed to AJOP.

    All of the items listed are important, but item #1 bring me a back to an idea that’s been voiced a number of times over the years, the lack of “modern orthodox” kiruv organizations. All too often, I see people who become frum and really don’t fit into the “black hat and jacket” all the time mode, but feel that for social acceptance they have to.

    Regarding the last paragraph of this post, “Every Jew I’ve encountered who I categorized as ‘very frum’ turned out to have an area of halacha which they chose to ignore the fine details of. A blind spot.”- I think that those who are are staying afloat and/or growing within our lifestyle (regardless of background) are doing so because they want to grow.

    Most of us have a “blind spot” as mentioned in the post. There are some who, as the writer says, “ignore” it. Other may be aware of it and feel guilty or are trying to improve themselves.

    Regarding stagnation, I’ve heard advice based on a teaching of Reb Nachman of Breslov, that when you learn something new, you should turn it into a tefillah to Hashem (as heard from R Moshe Weinberger).

    For example, I recently heard a discussion about the mitzvah of Ahavas Chessed (Loving Kindness) and that night during maariv I davened that that Hashem should open my eyes to opportunities to perform chessed and that I should truly love performing a chessed.

    Doing this not only helps you internalize your learning, but also reminds you that your learning, your mitzvos, your davening are part of an active relationship with Hashem.

  35. I don’t think many BTs (or FFBs) find themselves in “perfect” surroundings. Moving towards the belief and observance HaShem expects from us is a long-term process full of obstacles (including outright negativity) from within and without. Somehow, we have to stick with it, motivated by an intense desire to give nachas to our Creator. Somewhere out there are people who can help us, but it’s on us to try to find them.

  36. Shira, I think you’ve made some excellent points. I agree that Kiruv can tend to make BT’s crazy over details like which shoe to tie first, while not addressing practical questions like men and women in the workplace.

    I was fortunate that I married an FFB husband who had tons of common sense, who besides being very frum was also very practical and very down to earth. I think every BT needs a mentor or spouse or friend or Rav who has a ton of common sense and can help the BT navigate the down-to-earth everyday life of a frum Jew in today’s world.

  37. I think you missed the leading cause, although admittedly it’s prosaic: shidduchim! Someone goes from being a young person in the dating game to being an older single. Eventually simple loneliness drives many back to their old lifestyle.

    Quibbles with the list itself, emphasis on the word quibbles:

    1- I wouldn’t have listed item 3 as a stand-alone item, it’s more like 1b. Too much of kiruv is a marketing of Judaism rather than actual education. This means that the kiruv worker is motivated to present the Torah as though it provides the answers to all of life’s questions tied up in a neat bow. The presence of multiple approaches is part of the complexity that would undermine such a presentation.

    2- I’m not sure item 2 is a cause. I think the person who gets turned off from the news is already on his way out. Others know the difference between the Torah and people who claim loyalty to it. It could be a major factor on crossing the fence to actually leaving, adding a target for cynicism for someone who is already disenchanted. But for all I know the effect is usually to the level of leaving sooner rather than later.

  38. This is a load. This post could be kept up by itself for months and all of the points still wouldn’t be addressed.

    I always felt the main thing is to daven hard that you become connected with a Rav/Rebbitzin who has an interest in you and can read you very well, and with whom you feel no hesitations to discuss issues. Even better is someone who also inspires you with his/her actions every day, to the point where even if you feel sad, you can point to that person and say, I still recognize that’s how G-d wanted us to live, even though I’m having a “low” right now.

    But not everyone finds this, so it goes back to the last post about what type of support are we missing. Still, keep davening.

  39. Shira, thank you for your insights. I particularly like your analysis of the personality factors that influence how a person relates to the teshuva process.

    Your post spoke to me on a personal level because I see myself in this description, a person “who looks for integrity in Judaism, who sets high standards and ask very difficult questions.” I often wonder how some people can just be so light and cut themselves slack.

    And yet, I’m still working to find my peace as an observant Jew. I wrote a post about it that might interest you: http://allvictories.blogspot.com/2011/07/whats-keeping-me-here.html

    I must quibble with one thing. You describe yourself as “a BT who went off.” I know this is the language people use, but you, my friend, are not “off.” Your thoughtful post shows that you are, like all of us, striving to understand and grow.

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