Should We Mainstream Baalei Teshuva and Their Support?

Many people have complained that there is not enough post-Teshuva support among Kiruv organizations. In fact, that was one of the driving forces of Beyond BT. Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky recently wrote:

My formula is that for every dollar devoted to getting someone interested in Torah, ten dollars should be devoted to nurturing and developing that interest, educating and supporting the individual towards the goal of becoming a well-adjusted, knowledgeable Torah Jew.

Some people feel that the task of BT support is more appropriate in the communities, particularly the Shuls. Obviously every Shul is not suited for BT support, but with Shuls with BT members there is a wealth of knowledge and support available within the context of the mainstream community.

In general, do you think we should encourage BTs to join and daven at mainstream Shuls as soon as practical, or do you think they should stay in primarily BT environments?

Do you think Shuls are suitable places for supporting BTs or do you think we should try to raise more money for Kiruv organizations for that task?

19 comments on “Should We Mainstream Baalei Teshuva and Their Support?

  1. When BT-specific needs are not met by your area shul(s), despite appeals to meet them, there is still the option to found a new congregation, if numbers and resources permit. If that new entity is thought of as a BT shul, so what?

  2. Steve Brizel,
    No idea what your point is.

    But as a counterpoint to your set of sentences, an FFB shul is a shul which based upon its rav , membership and outlook, welcomes and views FFB’s as an asset to its community, regardless of whether the hashkafa of the shul is MO or Chahredi. Such shuls were probably found in Vilna, Volozhin, Austria, Germany, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia and other similar locales with serious lithuanian like scholars (i.e gra) in previous centuries.

    Just as an aside, the perfect shul was the gra kloiz in Vilna.

    One cannot deny that not only is there no such thing in 2012, but there is no place for serious FFB unmarried women in any shul that could be compared to the gra kloiz (including the no partition and the level of serious learning), MO, Chahredi and or some other orthodox fabrication of authentic tradition.

    I also have no idea what R’ Karlinksy’s point is.

  3. How could a BT not be an asset to a kehillah? Technically speaking, if you aren’t a BT, then you are either a tzadik gamur or not yet a BT.

  4. A BT shul is a shul which based upon its rav, membership and outlook, welcomes and views BTs as an asset to its community, regardless of whether the Hashkafa of the shul is MO or Cahredi. Such shuls can be found in KGH, Passaic and Baltimore. One cannot deny that other communities in the Charedi and MO worlds are not known for the same.

  5. I am reminded of a famous saying of Rav Avigdor Miller, zatzal: A man is known by what he praises. Three men go to a Shalosh Seudos at a local shul. The first man praises the depth of learning and erudition in the Rabbi’s drashah. The second man praises the ruchniusdik atmosphere and the spirited Shabbos zemiros. The third man praises the freshness and quality of the herring.

  6. In regards to the tangential point of the type of shalosh seudos served, I offer my own experiences. There are at least 4 shuls in my neighborhood that serve a modest sh”s, but not what Mrs. Resnick suggests. It is a more spiritual affair and that is what Mr. Cohen is referring to. The more spiritual, nice singing, inspiring divrei Torah, and of course enjoyable salads and chips etc., builds the comraderie and sense of community this post is about.

    I agree Charlie that there “really” shouldn’t be such a thing as a BT shul. Only that the Rov should be able to relate to those with a BT background. (I remember being at a shalosh seudos where the Rov referred to most of the kehilla as having learned in Yeshiva and having frum backgrounds. I politely went up to him afterwards to remind him that there were in reality quite a few baalei teshuva in the kehilla.)

    I was very fortunate to have been in regular shuls in my early development which progressed to davening in a kollel because I always had the feeling that I needed to measure up to the mesorah of those I was aspiring to latch onto. Without those aspirations, I don’t know what I could offer my family today that would be of substance.

    I think the approach should be similar to what Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zl responded regarding the mezuzah on a child’s door: It should not be lowered for him. He should get on a stool and reach up to it because that is what the halacha requires.

    When we are learning, either in a shiur, b’chavrusa, or by ourselves, we are stepping on that stool and raising ourselves to our Zeydes and Bubbes. Without that perspective, are we just baalei teshuva for our own growth? Don’t we want to step up and see a much bigger picture of Yiddishkeit that is beyond the last 30 years?

    I think this is the answer to the question. Of course, each person needs a moreh derech. But in the general perspective, we all need to be a part of a shul with a mesorah that teaches us how Yidden used to be, and how we can replicate that for ourselves and for our families. This is how we will impact future doros so that Yiddishkeit remains pure, lively, and relevant for dorei doros.

  7. For a fascinating range of articles on the multiple approaches to kiruv, intended audiences, and the obtacles with respect to Kiruv reaching more of the great unlettered American Jewish community, the following link and the articles are well worth the time of any interested reader. All of the responses prove that no one response works for everyone.

  8. It seems that Tesyaa is correct:

    Seudah Shelishit is mentioned over 200 times in Halachah books that I recently searched.

    Seudat Shelishit is mentioned one time:
    Sefer Shaarei Teshuvah, end of chapter 471.

    ספר שערי תשובה – סימן תעא
    סעודת שלישית עם פת רשאי ויאכל

  9. To Mr. Cohen #8: Unless we’re talking about a fancy Seudat Shelishit such as for a Sheva Berachot or a Bar Mitzvah boy’s family members, usually it’s an extremely low-key and low-cost affair. The gabbai pulls out a couple of jars of herring and or gefilte fish from the back of the shul fridge, a few already opened boxes of matzos are set out on the table, and voila, there is seudat shelishit. Cost: maybe 50 cents for each of the mispallelim (depending upon the quality and freshness of the food served). Sometimes leftovers from a gala morning kiddush are brought out for the mispallelim, which would be thrown out anyway after Shabbat.

    Shabbat night and daytime seudot, in contrast, require more money, time and effort to prepare. Because women show up at the dinner and lunch meals, they have to look nice as well (and there have to be healthy sides such as salads), plus usually these seudot involve meat and or chicken, which becomes really expensive for a crowd. If you’re talking challot, lukshen kugel, roast chicken, cholent, kishka, green salads, all of a sudden it is now a catered affair that will cost at least $15 per person, per meal.

    Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great idea, and it’s feasible as long as somebody in the shul pays for it, and somebody in the shul takes charge of arranging it.

  10. Many Orthodox synagogues offer free seudat shelishit for anyone who prays with them.

    I suggest that Shabbat night seudot and Shabbat daytime seudot be offered the same way.

  11. I never spent any time in a “BT Shul”. I just went to an ordinary synagogue and was accepted immediately. Isn’t that the way it is supposed to be? At my current main shul (my third since becoming observant), there are a lot of BTs and gerim, but also a lot of FFBs.

  12. In addition to “it depends”

    While shul is a more obvious center of gravity for men who have the happy chiuv of t’filah b’tzibur,that is not necessarily true for women at all. There are communities/kehillos where few if any women daven in shul (on Shabbos obviously) so that seemingly organic gate to absorption is not available to them.

    Some situations are more favorable to adjustment than others. People coming to Torah in a seminary/yeshiva environment in Yerushalayim in their 20’s or 30’s might have resources for support in place. That cannot be said for kiruv of individuals in the US through seminars, phone learning etc.

    it is probably fair to say that in general people will deal with the “next step” issues how and where they are. Some of us have an excellent sense of self, direction and goals with social skills to match. Some of us are more shy or uncertain of where we fit in so having some transitional organizational options would be helpful.

    There is of course the ever present question of who is the real Jewish me, the Torah me? Do I adopt a new identity or do I just bring mitzvos to who I am now? Where I go and what happens to me once I have been (as above) “hooked” depends in part at least on my perceived or presented goal. While that end point often self-corrects, it can shape my interim decision to mainstream or not

  13. bs”d ….

    “In general, do you think we should encourage BTs to join and daven at mainstream Shuls as soon as practical, or do you think they should stay in primarily BT environments?”

    The answers as usual is, “it depends.” If we have learned anything thing about BT’s, it’s that there’s nothing “general ” about us!

    For sure, all the options mentioned in the post should be available. Our needs as BT’s change as we change.

    I am troubled by the title of this post however, or perhaps I just do not understand it. Who is the “we” in the title? There is no question that BT’s need support … to find the right community, find their zivug, build their home, educate children… and we need to recognize that these needs are both on going and often changing as the BT grows in observance and enters various stages of life..

    The BT needs tremendous support, from shuls, from kiruv organizations and as Project Inspire is so successfully demonstrating, from families everywhere who can reach out the BT. All the resources we have are essential, and no one group can do it alone.

    I have for a long time felt that kiruv organizations have a gaping hole in their programs. And that is what is hinted to in this post: there isn’t nearly enough follow up or support once you’ve “hooked” someone! A BT’s whole life often turns upside down, and they face daunting challenges as they take on mitzvos; BT’s enter a whole new world often without support from family and friends and sometimes even under intimidating circumstances.

    The answer to the questions in this post is Yes Yes Yes… BT’s need understanding and on going encouragement to stay the course. Every resource should be available!!

  14. Single BT’s may find it doubly difficult to fit in, as many shuls seem to be both FFB and family-oriented. It’s extremely hard when a BT or Gair needs to live in a certain metro area for parnasah reasons, but can’t find a supportive shul within that metro’s frum community. In general, I would suggest that BTs and Gairim follow the wise advice of Pirkei Avos to “make for yourself a Rav, acquire for yourself a friend.” Kiruv organizations are great for imparting Judaism 101 to the unlearned, but not as good for assisting those “post-graduates” ready and eager to tackle real life and Judaism 613.

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