How Would You Start on the BT Path?

Dear Beyond BT

I am just starting out on the BT path. How does one focus on making a particular step successful without feeling overwhelmed by everything “non-kosher” in their life? Would such tension be alleviated by jumping in head first and just dealing with issues as they come? Or is it really best to stick with one thing at a time?


12 comments on “How Would You Start on the BT Path?

  1. I would advise you to find a mentor and friends who will aid you slowly mitzvah by mitzvah, and also serve as someone to bounce off ideas, concerns and doubts. As Ben David wrote, there are a number of hashkafic POVs that are all eually valid. Some of the greatest personae in the Torah and the Talmud had the ability to think for oneself, as opposed to being merely clones.

  2. I’m a big proponent of slowly. One would probably choke if they attempted to swallow an apple whole, but bite by bite, it’s delicious. In my own journey, it took me perhaps a year to stop eating outright treif (cheeseburgers, Chinese etc). I eased in. Ironically, I found Shabbos observance to be quite easy by comparison. You have to know your own comfort zones.

    Most of all, find people you are comfortable with who do not criticize whatever level of observance you are or aren’t up to. A friendly shul, a Rav you can ask questions of, and a mentor. What city are you in?

  3. Since Pesach is only two months away (yikes!) you might want to start thinking about your arrangements for the holiday. You don’t want to get closed out, or find yourself frantic about finding a place for the Seder at the last minute.

    Becauze preparing for Pesach is so difficult, particularly for a single BT, it is best to try to get an invitation (or plural, invitations, from several families) for the holiday. There are people who genuinely enjoy inviting others for Yom Tov, especially for Pesach.

    You might also want to think about purchasing an electric hot plate, a small cooking vessel, and a frying pan, and putting those aside just for Passover use. This year, all of Chol HaMoed is on the weekdays, so you might need to do some Kosher for Passover cooking on your own, like a fried egg or boiled sweet potato. Keep it simple.

    Rabbi Shimon Eider OBM wrote an excellent and practical guide to preparing for Pesachm which is available at many Seforim stores at a reasonable price. You should also get hold of a local Orthodox rav who can answer your Passover questions (“Do I have to throw out the bottle of XYZ apple juice in my fridge?”

    Advance thinking, and preparing, is the key to having a great Passover.

  4. Try to outline your objectives and come up with a game plan (subject to revision as you learn more and interact with more people). It has to take your personal qualities and situation into account.

  5. I happen to like comment #1, although everyone is making great suggestions.

    I will only add that while it’s important to learn the process of doing mitzvos, don’t forget it’s important have feelings associate with mitzvah performance.

  6. You really need a live support group to do this, not just your cheering section (us) out here in cyberspace. By a support group, I mean any and or all of the following:

    — A friendly congregation within walking distance where the other women welcome you to be part of the Shabbos and Yom Tov davening;

    — A local Orthodox rabbi who encourages you to ask questions and never makes you feel like you’re bothering him;

    — Another female BT or Giyoris (convert) who is also somewhere on the path to accepting Orthodox Judaism and can empathize with you in long telephone conversations;

    — One or two Orthodox Jewish families who can be counted on for an invitation for Shabbos or Yom Tov meals;

    — A sibling or other relative also on the path who can help you stand up to any possible antagonism from other family members.

    Having people to share with makes it feel a lot less lonely, and having a Rabbi for halachic questions helps you avoid doing the wrong thing just when you’re trying to do the right thing.

    If you don’t have your support group as yet, then I suggest you create one, first of all by choosing a friendly synagogue to become a part of. That will help you to find the rabbi and the families who will eventually become your support group.

    Tizku le’mitzvos. Good luck!

  7. If I had to start from zero again, I’d start by doing part-kashrus (no unkosher animals, no unkosher meat even if animal is kosher, at least an hour b/w meat and dairy) and part-shabbos (no job-related activity, candlelighting, dinner, shul, lunch, havdalah). Same thing for yomim tovim as for shabbos, at least the first day, plus the major yom tov positive commandments (megillah, seder, etc).

    I think doing the things above would make you conscious of your Judaism on a daily basis and feel like a real change in the tone of your routine. But it shouldn’t strain any of your current relationships with non-frum people and non-Jews or be too overwhelming (unless it majorly interferes with your job).

    If you’re already doing some of that and want to do something all the way to Orthodox standards, then I think kashrus is by far the easiest of the big three (kosher, shabbos, THM) to start with. But YMMV (your mileage may vary).

  8. I think it’s important to remember that the most transcendent thing about being a human being is our very ability to transcend.

    To translate that from aphorism to plain English: We’re all finite. Compared to the Infinite G-d we are trying to emulate, we’re all infintesimal fractions of the Ideal. What makes us like Him at all is our ability to change, to choose to be something different today than we were yesterday.

    Thus, we aren’t measured by how close we are to the Image of G-d — that “distance” is infinite. We’re measured by the journey we’re taking. Which brings me to my opening thought: What is more in G-d’s Image about us is our very ability to become more and more like Him. Not in the similarity we already possess.

    So if He put you in a particular situation, one that gave you less exposure to the Torah or less reason to find it attractive than He placed others, but you are actively journeying toward Him, you are transcending, self-creating, and thus in the image of the Divine.

    Everything is in the journey.


    PS: Any echoes you hear of existentialism and of Rav Dessler’s notion of the ever-moving “decision point” are intentional.

  9. The book “After the Return” has a chapter called “Priorities in Mitzvah Observance” which provides a good overview of the different approaches to this question as far as it relates to mitzvah observance. The authors begin and end the chapter with the advice of finding a Rabbi or mentor to guide you. Within the chapter, they discuss the various approaches such as whether to begin with avoidance of transgressions vs fulfillment of proactive commandments, the importance of observing community based mitzvos (communal prayer, shabbos, communal torah learning and attendance at weddings, etc.) and areas such as kashrus. While everyone is different and will have an individual path, the chapter provides a good synopsis of the various approaches. Again, no matter which path a person chooses, finding a Rabbi, teacher or mentor to guide you is critical.

  10. Look around within the Torah world.

    No – really look.

    Many BTs develop tunnel vision – locking on to the style/institution they first made contact with, and accepting them as “gospel”.

    There is a lot of variation within Torah observance – the major vectors being devotion to Torah study, mystical vs. rational approaches, and attitude to the secular world, with maybe support for the state of Israel as another factor.

    Make sure to look around and try different approaches to Torah living.

    Also make sure to learn about various philosophical paths – I’ve known BTs who were very advanced in their commitment to Torah living before they understood that Chasidism was a recent innovation in Judaism, and not mainstream. That ignorance had led them to accept their mentor’s judgmental attitude to classical Sephardic rationalism and other approaches – which might have been a better fit for them, personally.

    Spend less time worrying about “fitting in” or “getting it right” and really look around. And keep thinking for yourself.

  11. Regina:
    You don’t tell us much about your circumstances, so it is hard to be too specific.

    I would offer two pieces of advice:

    1. Find a teacher/mentor (male or female) that you are comfortable talking to. This person need not be a rav, but they should have access to one.

    2. Take small steps. Don’t feel like you must do everything at once. The small steps may not feel like much, but collectively they will add up to big things.

    I wish you much success.

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