Inspired and the Art of Denial

Blast from the past. Originally posted 12/29/2005.

Rabbi Yitz Greenman
Aish HaTorah / Discovery

Being involved in the filming of Inspired was truly a zechus for which I’m grateful to Hashem and a most enjoyable process from beginning to end. That being said, there were some sad moments and I would like to share them in the hopes that someone may benefit.

Several people, when asked to share their story, told me that they did not want others to know that they are BT’s. Okay, I may not choose that path myself, but I respect their choice. One old friend, who has led a particularly interesting life that many could have learned from in the film told me that his kids might find out. “Kids might find out?” I asked. “You’re kids don’t know that you’re a BT?” No, he told me. “Well, do you hide your parents and siblings?” No, he said, they’ve all become BT’s themselves. “Fantastic, but why hide who you are from your kids?” He shared that he doesn’t want them to feel “different” or “disadvantaged” in school. Okay, this is his choice and I respect him.

Here’s the rub however. I have met several people at various screenings who bemoaned [in private] the fact that they hid their identity as BT’s, because they felt that they had to in order to integrate into the frum velt. One woman came to me almost in tears after the film. What upset her I asked. She commented that the people in Inspired became frum and entered the Torah community in such a normal way, but she felt that she had to hide everything about who she was and the fact that she was raised secular. A couple came up to me at another screening and shared that they lived in their community for 25 years but no one knew that they were BT’s. It was as if they needed to share with someone: “Hey, we’re different, we’re special, please acknowledge us” but were afraid to let it out of the bag. This situation played itself out quite a few times.

Whereas I am a firm believer in healthy integration into the frum velt and whereas I understand and respect the decision of some BT’s for not wanting to share the fact that they are BT’s, I believe that people should be aware that this often times comes at a cost. The cost may be their own self image and damaged identity.

These people that I met appeared broken in some real way. Being born into a non frum family is not a sin and nothing to be ashamed of. Secular Jews are tinokes she’nishbau [kidnapped children] in a foreign culture. Our goal must be to reach them, educate them and integrate them into the Torah world, but not by telling them that their prior accomplishments were valueless and that their life had no meaning.

(For information on the film Inspired, visit

47 comments on “Inspired and the Art of Denial

  1. shlomo,
    Shalom. I have no arguement with anything you are saying. This conversation was blogged a year ago. If I remember correctly, what I wanted to bring out (without rereading it all) is that historic klal Yisrael has to be loved and respected FIRST, and then the non-observant part. I hear so many complaints againts “the frumeh”. The approach should be the exact opposite. We should want to be part of them. Not in a way that negates the self, but as simple recognition that the historic mitzvah observant population IS klal Yisrael. It is b’geder being makir one’s makom.

  2. What about Moshe Rabbenu? The Imahos? The Brisker Ravs idea about Midos vs. Deos? The gemara of mamzer talmid chochom bieng greater than Kohen (gadol) Am Haaretz! There are many layers to this and even the shitos that say what they say about yichus can be understood with the Vilna Gaons Sheker hachen= 0 and hevel hayofi=0 vishah yiras hashem = 1, i.e. with the yiras shamayim the other things actually make her a ten or a hundred… there are maalos to dor yesharim mevorach and so on zechus avos, eno domeh tefillas tzadik ben tzadik etc. when combined with the personal choices of the children. Menasheh wasnt any better off because his father was this close to bieng mashiach (perek chelek)- he still is counted in chelek (see there for full discussion) as ein lo chelek leolam habah.I think the idea bieng expressed here is that there is a maaleh to yichus- however distasteful that sounds- but not in the face of a lack of madrega in everything else!
    i sign off with ” Torah lav beyerushah hee”
    (see shvus yackov for an incredible,somewhat frightening explanation of these words)

  3. Some things necessary to clarify. This probably should have been included in the previous post, but I didn’t want to detract from the points therein.

    Regarding the issue “exclusion”.
    I’ve never personally experienced the examples given. While in aveilus every shul in my town was showed me the amud without failure. Also, my circle of friends does include FFBs, but somehow it never occurs to me to “take stock” of who comprises this chevra, since to me it’s hardly relevant.

    My chevrusa of 3+ years is FFB, and come to think of it, so is my wife.

    Pardon the “about face” but there might be some relevant material here to add some insight to “BT-FFB Tension”.

    Right after Yom Kippur and still thinking about new “kabalos” for the new year to improve my Avodas HaShem, I mentioned to my brother-in-law (wife’s sister’s husband) that I was considering taking on Cholov Yisroel but noticed a lack of support from my spouse.

    My brother-in-law replied, to my surprise, that because his situation, residing in a community where 95% are in kollel (he isn’t) he feels no choice but to follow the Cholov Yisroel discipline. However, for someone in my position, I could and should rely on Rav Moshe’s heter for Cholov Stam.

    He elaborated that for me it might sound fresh and intriguing to take on Cholov Yisroel, but my Bais Ya’acov educated wife just might see it as another external trapping that doesn’t add anything substantial to one’s true Yiddishkeit.

    Now, the point here is not making a pitch for or against Cholov Yisroel, not whether or not to rely on Rav Moshe’s heter, or about “chumras” in general.

    It was a personal case; an example that cited by my Lakewood-educated bro-in-law explained (ironically) with both bluntness and sensitivity to be aware of differences in my and my spouse’s outlooks espcially if it touches upon possible BT-FFB chasms.

    So perhaps, there are a lot of misunderstandings where the FFB through their experiences are somewhat more wizened to situations that BTs have yet to experience or understand.

  4. To Michoel,

    Rav Menashe Klein is of course considered a top-tier posek and some would say a Gadol HaDor.

    However, the personal anecdotes which accompany the Mekoros creates some lingering suspicion that something tangential is at work here as well.

    From comment #12:

    “When we see that baalei t’shuvah are less than appreciated in some circles, are we asking whether or not there are valid reasons for that exclusion? Maybe there are. We can’t disregard viewpoints because they are emotionally uncomfortable.”

    It’s one thing for a Posek/Gadol HaDor who is bringing down an opinion L’Shma, to confront and publicize crucial issues which happen to leave some or many less than comfortable or feeling warm inside.

    However, it’s another issue entirely when Ploni Ba’alHabus exploits a P’sak for personal reasons and patur themselves from among other things, Derech Eretz.

    This is course, and unfortunately, not unprecedented. One doesn’t even have go back as far as the Ya’acov Emden/Yonasan Eibushutz milchama. At least the respective followers turned it into a milchama.

    When Rav Moshe and the Satmar Rav disagreed on a P’sak, it was also regarded as L’Shma by Gedolim. However, many a layman follower used a machlokes l’shem shomayim for their own personal war and morphed into the maturity equivalent of “My Rebbe can beat up your Rebbe”.

    Also from # 12

    “When we see that baalei t’shuvah are less than appreciated in some circles, are we asking whether or not there are valid reasons for that exclusion? Maybe there are. We can’t disregard viewpoints because they are emotionally uncomfortable.”

    Yes, there is a mekor about one particular topic, but are BT-FFB tensions limited solely to HaRav Klein’s particular p’sak? Or to shiduchim only? To use your term, “exclusion” from what? From a planning or finance committee of a shul? From davening at the amud? From trusted circles of people who presently conduct lifestyles 99% identical?

    Point is, there are issues ad infinitum presented in the blog; one person’s justified issue is another’s incredulous one. To compact it all into one challenging (and yes, contentious) issue based on what may be an example of da’as yachid gives one the right to question intentions.

    “The prevalent attitude, when baalei t’shuvah encounter FFBs that look at them as being of inferior yichus, is to say that the FFBs have a problem that needs correction”.

    Maybe this attempt of an analysis is baseless but it’s worth a try. Your quote above is inconsistent. The reisha speaks about BT’s encounting PARTICULAR FFB’s who in the BT’s mind are less than amicable while the seifa implies that the BT’s ergo jump to a conclusive generalization that ALL FFB’s harbor identical prejudices.

    Regarding the earlier remark of being patur from derech eretz. In no way does this imply that this is Reb Michoel’s derech. Your admission that this personally pains you speaks volumes in a positive way and yes sometimes even in a cold world some cold water in the face is necessary if that’s what the truth requires. No one should find fault with that.

    However to borrow an idea from an Aish.Com article about the etiquette of being a guest: A guest should never berate the hosts’ children no matter how seemingly justified or if the hosts are doing the same. When the host berates his/her children it’s within the context of accompanying parental love and responsibilities.

    This analogy can be applied to Poskim and those who “take up” the p’sak. A follower of the p’sak is utilizing the Posek’s words alone and is free from the backbreaking responsibility (and in HaRav Klein’s case, an eye witness of Europe’s death camps) and the literal partnership with Hashem which is the Posek’s life and which frames the p’sak. Everyone should be aware of the differences and what the manifestations can bring.

    To once again borrow, this time from another post, thank you for your Mekoros and providing a virtual Beis Medrash aspect to this blog. Kol Tuv and Hatzlacha.


  5. I know this is a while after everyone else has posted and who knows if anyone reads this post now, but I have to say, I find this whole discussion completely disturbing and distressing. First of all, at what point does one say, “ah – I have reached BT status – I am growing – I now call myself officially frum.” What a ridiculous thought; there is no such thing as an endpoint in the journey of becoming more observant. And on the other side, does this mean that FFBs have “made it”? That they just “are”? This implies that they no do not grow – there is nowhere to move forward and frankly I was always taught that one is always moving forward in Orthodox Judaism, so there is something very wrong here.

    What right does someone – anyone – have to judge another person? To say, effectively, “this ‘past’ life of yours – and I define what is ‘past’ – no longer counts and is not part of who you are, and I don’t want to hear about it.” That is negating an identity. Someone said that a person is the sum total of their experiences, so how is it possible to basically discard a portion of someone’s life experiences? Like someone else said, it was not a mistake that someone was born FFB since Hashem doesn’t make mistakes; therefore, if Hashem doesn’t have a problem with it, neither should human beings.

    If one peruses the Aish HaTorah website, it is very obvious that those contributors have absolutely no problem discussing their past lives because those experiences are springboards for their growth. Our Chabad friends here are BT, and we frequently talk about their past lives; how the rebbetzin used to want to be a vet and how the rabbi was in a band and doing drama. And they have never expressed shame!

    If someone is uncomfortable with who I am, past present and future, too bad, I am not editing.

    I apologize for this rant, but if not in this blog, then where?

  6. Kressel wrote-
    “people aren’t supposed to talk about their past aveiros,… Are we supposed to be quiet for our kavod, or for other people’s comfort?”

    For neither, for Hashem’s kavod an aveira being negating of both His will and His Kavod. But here’s the rub; are Tinokos Shenishba capable of sinning i.e. commiting aveiros? IMO far from being a chilul Hashem admitting to having been in an Ashram and subsequently embracing yiddishkeit after being educated in it’s tenets is a great kiddush hashem.

  7. I spent an evening with some of my FFB in-laws last night and the topic of “Inspired” came up. One of them expressed strong opposition to the film because people aren’t supposed to talk about their past aveiros, and she was specifically opposed to Sarah Riegler’s admission to being in an ashram.

    So I’m puzzling over this. A person isn’t supposed to talk about it, but it must be that the people in the film got heterim because they are doing it l’toeles. So I wonder: for whose benefit is that halacha? Why should someone else react so strongly to someone else’s mention of their past? Are we supposed to be quiet for our kavod, or for other people’s comfort?

  8. Daniel- I can’t begin to tell you what a refreshing breath of fresh air the sentiments you expressed in comment 38 are. A new post went up today (1.24.06) about BT vs. FFB rivalry. I think you should re-post your comments there.

  9. Can people really hide? Maybe I wear my BTness too much on my sleeve (literally) but I’ve found that a person is more or less the same going in as going out as the saying goes.
    To REALLY change, if that is what a person wants to do, they need to work hard, and long. Putting on a specific garb and being a member of a community for X number of years and even going so far as to not telling any of their neighbors does not mean that the person actually changed. I often refuse to call myself a Baal Teshuva, because that assumes two things: A: that I am a master of something called return and B: that I have actually returned, which implies that I left to begin with.

    I never stopped being Jewish. I tell people that if I am a “baal” of anything it is of shyalot (sorry I can’t spell this Hebrew words).

    I am a master of Questions, not of answers. And really I say that in complete jest, because I haven’t mastered the art of the Question yet. That is for Gemorrah study. But I digress. Mainly I try to keep a level approach to this process and definitely agree with the Rav Greenman at being surprised to meet people who tried to deny their past.


  10. First of all, my compliments on “Inspired.” I saw the women’s version, and it was wonderful.

    Interestingly enough, there were some technical difficulties that delayed the showing of the film, so one BT got up and told her story. She was a very “obvious” BT. In the crowd of sheitels, including hats on sheitels, she wore a turquoise and fringy teichel which matched her clothes. But she got a great response from the ladies.

    After a while, I spoke up, too. I didn’t tell my whole teshuva story, but I did tell over the story I brought up here in my post Wearing the Label. It seems many people in the Chareidi world feel that that BTs should keep our journeys quiet. I personally can see it both ways. I suppose the balanced approach of neither hiding nor announcing it is probably the best approach of all. In “Inspired,” people were telling their stories l’tzorech mitzvah, and of course, that’s the best reason of all.

  11. Yakov,
    Just to address this:
    I thought the Rabban Gamliel/Rabbi Yehoshua precedent gives it enough of a foundation to render your source’s conclusion inconclusive. But that’s my opinion.

    That precendent is brought in the g’marra to show that very point which is a very powerful and important limud. It is inconceivable to me that the gadol hador held himself and / or his children were assur to marry but was m’vatel his daas to the other g’dolei hador, and yet there is no mention of the issue anywhere in Chazal, even in the sugyah that brings his shita that the product of an issur lav is a mamzer. We can speak confidently of “anywhere in Chazal” because such thing would be so outstanding that we would have heard about it. Is it conclusive %100? No. But m’farshim and t’shuvah s’farim rely on rayas that are less conclusive, IMO.

    If one would be willing to accept my “rayos”, we actually can now turn back around, and support the idea that in the time of chazal, even the amei ha’aretz were “frum”.

  12. Yakov,
    What I mean is, baalos t’shuvah tend to be extreme, but all of us are very zahir in hilchos nidda. Even people that are not so into learning will be careful to ask shailos about maros niddah etc. Reb Moshe zt”l himself was parush from his wife for years because he didn’t wan’t to rely on the mikvah that was available in the USSR, even though he allowed others to use it. Mesirus nefesh for proper t’vila is a major part of our culture. So if it important l’chatchila, how can we say it is not important bidieved? Do you hear what I’m troubled by?

  13. Mo,
    The point is not who Rav Menashe Klein is (although I don’t agree that his is a fringe opinion or that the is not a tremendous gadol batorah.). The point is what he wrote and the koach of his s’varas and rayas. As was mentioned, he quotes the Chafetz Chaim who says clearly that a ben niddah is one of the teishah middos that is nimshach l’doros. (Understood, that is a big machlokes rishonim). The Chafetz Chaim is a mainstream opinion, correct? See inside for his other arguments.

  14. Yakov,
    This is an interesting vikuach but I don’t have time to really pursue it.

    “A niddah who immersed herself without any intention [to change her status], i.e., she fell in the water, or simply entered the water to cool off, is permitted to her husband.”
    This means that if a woman KNOWS that she was tovel in an ocean (even without intent) she is now muttar. When we speak of baalei t’shvuah that are adults looking back twenty years later, we can be toleh that if they have nice middos, m’istama their mother went swimming without a chatzisa that is m’akev bedieved. An FFB can marry them on the assumption that they are not pagum because they are B’ETZEM MUTTAR IN ANY CASE. This definitely does NOT mean, that if the halacha was like Rebbi Akiva, ie that the product of relations that was an issur lav is a mamzer and assur lavo b’kahal m’doraisa, that Reb Moshe would be mattir them to marry a non-mamzer symply on the strenght of their nice middos (as PROOF that the mother was tovel in an ocean).

    Aside from this nice intellectual stimulation (thank you!), there is another issue that irks me. Our wives, the heligeh alumni of Neve, IYAHT etc, tend to be extremely farfrumpte and extreme when it comes to hilchos nidda. My rav here has had a lot of problems from baalos t’shuvah that were overly nervous about the subject (at least until a few years after marriage). It strikes me as something a stira to, on one hand, be very, very concerned that chas v’shalom we shouldn’t be nichshol in an issur kares and cause our children to be pagum, and then turn around and say “Nisht g’farelach! Mistama his mother fell off the edge of a dock!” Every thing Reb Moshe said was certainly emes gamur but there is still a concept of a p’sak being “mercifull”. I think this is such an example.

  15. I am surprised at the citation of R. M. Klein here. He is from an extreme Hungarian Hassidic background. He opposes the Artscoll gemaras for example, on the grounds that they are in English and that gemara should be learned in Yiddish instead. Do you follow him with that ? I assume most here don’t even give that a second thought. So why are you concerned about other things he has written ? He is the leader of just a small congregation, not the godol hador, so I don’t see why he should be cited here. It’s like if you are worried about what Satmar holds about something. You have to follow a poseik from your community, not some sect that is at the other extreme of things.

  16. Let’s be honest — the issue of ben niddah is taken more seriously the further into Haredi society you go. In the modern camp, the idea of not marrying a child of BT’s because the grandparents didn’t go to the mikvah is almost as foreign as Dinosaur Denial.

    I think this Ben Nidah siituation proves yet another reason–and there are so, so many reasons– why Ba’al Tshuvahs should be encouraged to practice a more Modern Orthodox version of Orthodoxy, and not a Haredi version of it.

    In Japan, there is a group of people who are not intermarried and face social stigma because their ancestors were the people who once upon a time handled the dead and hence, are still considered “impure.”

    Why subject your children to this sort of categorization?

    Sure we can choose to understand it, but why live under it?

    Keeping the Mitzvos — last time I checked, is hard enough without the horrible “tshuvah” aspect of the black hat world incumbent upon us. At some point, I couldn’t stand the way some pitied me (or had contempt for me) for coming from a secular-traditional background, and this whole ben nidah thing is just another excuse to generally look down on BT’s.

    Remember — outside of the Haredi world, the defiled and eternal bloodstains of nidah are really not such a big issue. I have enough problems and flaws to apologize to the world for. I don’t need these, and neither do my children.

    The socio-economic devastation (outside of the very rich, who are insulated from these side-effects) from joining the Haredim are too numerous to mention, some coming out of left field. The Ben-Nidah issue is just one of a never-ending list.

    All these things should be explained at the onset of a BT’s entry into the religious world, not leaked like a cracked windowless-bathroom door slowly letting the smell out.

  17. Michoel,

    Your second s’vara, I also thought about but I tend to think it is a bit dochek.

    I thought the Rabban Gamliel/Rabbi Yehoshua precedent gives it enough of a foundation to render your source’s conclusion inconclusive. But that’s my opinion.

    As for the first svara, you said

    Reb Moshe for sure held that having relations with a woman that did not tovel l’shem t’vila is assur. His only issue is whethet or not there is a presumption of p’gam bidieved.

    Let me quote from the link I provided above:

    R. Moshe then continues to explain that this is the case only when it is absolutely certain that the mother was in the halachic state of niddah at the time of conception. This, R. Moshe claims, is rarely the case. In the Gemara there is a debate as to whether or not tevila (immersion in a mikvah) requires specific intent for removing the state of niddut.95 The Shulchan Aruch rules: “A niddah who immersed herself without any intention [to change her status], i.e., she fell in the water, or simply entered the water to cool off, is permitted to her husband.” The Ramo notes: “There are those who are strict and require her to immerse again. It is preferable to follow this opinion a priori.”96

    He continues that, since Chazal provided us with a number of identifying traits of the ben-niddah and many Baalei Teshuva appear not to possess any of them, we can safely assume that although the mother never immersed herself in an actual mikvah, she most probably had gone swimming in a lake or ocean and in doing so became permitted to her husband before the child was conceived. The fact that the mother had no intention to “purify” herself halachically makes no difference. Even the Ramo agrees that a second tevila should be performed only if it is possible, and certainly if the status of the child is at stake he would accept the unintentional tevila as valid. If this particular Baal Teshuva is in all respects a fine person, we may assume that immersion took place at the proper time.

  18. Anon:

    Let’s to say that a particular person doesn’t have a problem with, for example, the kohen – non-kohen distinction because he happens to be a kohen. But, he does have a problem with another halachic distiction because it puts him in an “uncomfortable”(for lack of a better word)position.

    It’s important for that person to realize his bias. Since he happens to be on the side of the kohen distinction that provides certain priviliges (and responsibilities) and a certain level of halachic honor, he isn’t bothered by that distinction. It doesn’t bother him that non-cohanim may resent that distinction. It is a clear halachic distinction so what is there to gripe about? At the same time, he has certain problems with the other halachic distinction that may be limiting him.

    Such a person needs to appreciate that he is coming from a position of bias and that both distinctions come from the same source.

    Is that a bit clearer, anon.

  19. “If that is the case, we have to realize our bias in that particualr to the extent that we accept this particular distinction in a manner no different than all others. ”

    Huh? Please clarify

  20. Michoel:

    You are correct that there are some ffbs that will not date bts as a result of yichus issues. There are also some ffbs who won’t date bts for non-halachic background issues. That is a fact of life. On the other hand there are many ffbs that do date and marry bts.

    As to your uncomfortability with the issue of pagam, I appreciate your honesty in that regard and admire your ability to see that your pain does not invalidate the halacha.

    There are clearly issues of classisfication within judaism. There are varying roles and accompanying halachos for men and women, minors and adults, jews and non-jews, cohanim, leviim, yisroel, down the line. IMO, we often are hurt by the differnces that affect us most personally. If that is the case, we have to realize our bias in that particualr to the extent that we accept this particular distinction in a manner no different than all others.

    Have a great shabbos.

  21. Your second s’vara, I also thought about but I tend to think it is a bit dochek. The first s’vara I don’t hear at all. Reb Moshe for sure held that having relations with a woman that did not tovel l’shem t’vila is assur. His only issue is whethet or not there is a presumption of p’gam bidieved.

  22. Off the cuff, I can think of two reasons why your svora is not conclusive.

    First, Rabbi Akiva could have held like Rav Moshe Feinstein. Of course, he didn’t have the Igros, but since Rav Moshe’s psak is based on a svora it’s possible Rabbi Akiva held the same or similar. IOW, since even non-niddah-observant women bathe in places like the ocean such women are not necessarily assumed to be in a state of niddah when with their husbands.

    Alternatively, in practical halacha even Rabbi Akiva held like the majority — that a niddah is an exception to the rule that a union between people who would be chaiv kares produce a mamzer — despite his personal opinoin to the contrary. In famous maaseh of Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua the latter held a particular day was Yom Tov but nevertheless transgressed a doraysa by carrying his cane that very day since RG, who represented the majority or the psak din, held that day wasn’t Yom Tov. So there is precedent for a yachid transgressing what his personal opinions deems a doraysa if the majority holds otherwise. Perhaps that is the case with Rabbi Akiva.

    You make a good argument, and I’d like to research it more, but I don’t believe it is conclusive.

  23. Re David Linn and Anonymous:

    First David,
    I am aware of Reb Moshe’s shita on the subject and some of the other seforim that discuss this issue. I still feel that there are many, many sources that stress the importance of yichus and that those that hold that FFBs should not marry baalei t’shuvah certainly have a lot to rely on. Historically, there were families that would not make a shidduch with anohter family simply because the other family lacked a sefer yichus. This concept is an important part of yidishkeit. So, what I am trying to get across is this. Baalei t’shuvah should not react to yichus-based exclusion with an attitude of “they have a problem.” They don’t. They have a valid opinion which is personally painful to me, but that doesn’t invalidate the opinion.

    There is no question about the status of a ben niddah b’zman hazeh as pertains to mamzerus. I was answering Yakov who seemed to think there was no proof that Rebbi Akiva was not a ben nidda. We know he was not a ben nidda, because if he was then, according to his own opinion, he would also be a mamzer. We see that this was not the case. I hope that is clearer.

  24. “However, I don’t look at it as a spiritual pagam. I am only referring to possible cultural-related issues. Those I think are real — not impossible to overcome necessarily, but real.”

    To the best of my knowledge, outside of the chassidic world, there is virtually no one abides by R Klein’s position (Perhaps it is different in Eretz Yisrael?) and most do not think there is any problem with p’gum that is not compensated for by the person’s own midos.

    IME the bias is largely culturall, as per the quote above. I do know that when I was in my early 20s, as a FFB, I was somewhat reluctant to date BT. This was most adamantly *not* because I felt FFBs were “superior” to BT, or because I was concerned with p’sul in yichus. It was simply because like many kids that age, I wanted to “connect” and to be “understood” and had experienced a large cultural gulf with at least some BT. I did date one or two who’d become BT relatively young; the crucial variable for me was shared culture and experience. I was also willing to be proven wrong; I just thought it unlikely that I’d find what I was looking for among those who’d become BT at an older age, no matter how impressive or spiritual I found many BT. IME, this is the typical reasoning.

    Today, at an older age, these cultural differences seem much more superficial.

    Perhaps your experiences can be different. I am only writing this because it seems to me that people are making too much of the “spiritual p’gam” issue when the real barriers for shidduchim are cultural differences at an age where such differences can be hard to transcend.

  25. Michoel-we paskin like the cholkim on R’Akiva who hold that only korais prohibited unions produce mamzerim. Despite niddah being an Issur korais the vlad is a pogum not a mamzer. Maybe the same meeyut that makes niddah an exception l’didan would be applicable to R’Akiva’s shita as well. Hence no mamzerus from nidah l’kooley alma? Yasher Koach for the virtual Bais Medrosh

  26. Rabbis Mordechai Becher and Moshe Newman discuss the Ben/Bas Niddah stastus of Baalei Teshuvah in relation to marriage in their book After the Return (which discusses many of the issues we have been addressing here on the blog). Though the discussion there is short (p. 109 for those of you who have the book) the upshot as capsulized there is that many poskim including Rav Moshe Feinstein rule that one may marry such a person without hesitation so long as they see that that person has positive character traits.

    The book quotes an interesting psak by Rav Moshe Sternbuch who states that marrying someone whose parents did not observe the laws of family purity is permissible since any impurity has been purified and removed by the “fire of torah” that they have accepted. I’m not sure how this works from a halachic standpoint but it speaks volumes to the ability of teshuvah to rectify the past.

  27. A seemingly clear raya that Rebbi Akiva was not a ben nidda is the fact that according to his own shita, i.e. a child born of relations that were a mere issur lav, is a mamzer. Hence, if he would have born born a ben nidda, he would be a mamzer according to his own shita, and unable to marry a kasher bas yisroel. We don’t find this mentioned anywhere.

    In the subject of p’sulei yichus, there are things which are written in seforim, and there are things which are said quitely to individuals that ask.

  28. First, regarding the ben-niddah issue, this was discussed at an AJOP conference many years ago (among other places). Rav Moshe Weinberger published an excellent article on the matter, including sources from the Steipler and Iggros Moshe. Here’s a link to it (you have to scroll down a bit to come to the section entitled, “II. Ben Niddah.”

    Re: Rabbi Akiva’s birth status, although I have not seen the source mentioned above I researched this subject several years ago and found no conclusive source material for a claim either way. (I’d be thrilled to find a definite authoritative source that says otherwise.) Some say his father was a convert, some say the father was a descendant of converts. There was discussion, if I recall correctly, whether his father Yosef was fully observant. I found nothing about his mother that I can recall. If the father was an om haaretz — and we know that omei haaretz were not necessarily always particular in the details of observance (e.g. demai) — is it a stretch to say the mother was also not fully there?

    Either way, I’m not sure I agree that it’s correct to assume that all Jews, especially converts, were fully observant back then if they were classified as omei haaretz.

    The bottom line, though, is that the conclusions of those mentioned in Rav Weinberger’s article essentially render the point moot. According to the Steipler, “it is absolutely permissible to marry a child of parents who did not observe” the laws of niddah. And according to Rav Moshe, it too is not an issue except in “rare cases” (see link). Finally, althought there is “debate among the Acharonim as to whether such a marriage is advisable… the majority of contemporary poskim agree that one need not hesitate in marrying a Baal Teshuva who displays the exemplary qualities of a Torah-observant Jew.”

  29. Michoel- you make many valid points in terms of the need for attitudanal adjustments and greater humility in the face of “not-going-my-way” halachos or eitsaz.

    But here’s my problem with the prevailing FFB’s attitude: Many of us have major issues with chosen-ness. Raised in a supposedly colorblind society we are conditioned to try to assess people based on merit and performance, not on the basis of race and family background. It takes a leap of faith for us to feel both an intrinsic sense of otherness/ kedusha vis a vis non-Jews and a transcendant bond with other Jews who, while also Toarh observant, differ from us in terms of dress, language, education and attitudes.

    Does the typical FFBs share this torture of ambivalance? Do they hear a proposed match with a BT and say “efshee v’efshee elah mah eh-ehseh v’harey osra Torah- I would love to do this Shidduch, I am certainly not spiritually sensitive enough to discen the spiritual p’gam of thsi person apparently endowed with a sweet personality and wonderful middos, but what can I do this is a chok of the Torah and I must not try to rationalize a heter” or does it go something more along the lines of “WE ARE IT! G-ds gift to yiddishkeit and they are ‘Yichus shvartzes'”.

  30. Yakov,
    Although the example of Rebbi Akiva is not accurate, I agree with your point. There are and were very great people that were baalei t’shuvah in the modern sense of the term, and that should be a source of chizuk for us.

  31. Max,
    See my post above. Yes, Rebbi Akiva’s parents kept taharas hamishpacha. If you post an email address, I will glad to send you the lomdus.

    The sefer is called Kehilas Yisroel.

  32. Max,
    I mentioned at the outset that I agree with Yitz that going underground is a very bad idea.

    Rav Klein is speaking of baalei t’shuvah generally since ruba d’ruba were born of parents that did not use a mikva. I don’t want to go into details, but there are clear rayas that this did not apply to “baalei t’shuvah” such as Rebbi Akiva.

    The prevalent attitude, when baalei t’shuvah encounter FFBs that look at them as being of inferior yichus, is to say that the FFBs have a problem that needs correction. I am not sure that is true. I think we are required to have kavod for their view and be strong in ourselves despite the fact. I am working on how to do that.

    I haven’t seen it inside in a while but Rav Menashe Klein brings the Chafetz Chaim stating that bnei nidda is one of the teisha middos which is nimshach l’dorei doros. The Steipler does not argue with that. He only says that since a lot of FFBs don’t have such fabulous middos anyway, there is not such a nafka mina.

    A larger issue here is this: Are we objecting to things because the Torah tells us to or because we feel we should reagrdless of what the Torah says, and we really need to try harder to develope Torah attitudes. When we hear someone say “shvartzeh”, why do we object? (I personally beleive that the prominent message of the Torah is that such language is improper but there where and are people much greater than I that disagree.) When we see that baalei t’shuvah are less than appreciated in some circles, are we asking whether or not there are valid reasons for that exclusion? Maybe there are. We can’t disregard viewpoints because they are emotionally uncomfortable.

  33. Yaakov- we know that R’Akiva was an Am Ho’oretz (until 40) and a ben Geirim. Is there a source stating that his parents did not observe Tahras HaMishpocha? For the majority of Jewish History even the least educated in Torah were mitzvah observant. I think this (no Tahras HaMishpocha by the parents)is the relevant point in the correspondence between the 2 Poskim mentioned.

    Michoel-what is the name of the sefer? I’m interested in seeing it in context

  34. Charnie – Shidduchim is definitely an upcoming topic on Beyond BT. I have also scouted out some BTs who have successfully married off their daughters (which in this day is generally harder than sons) and I plan on interviewing them and posting some of their thoughts on the subject.

    There is also an excellent tape by Rabbi Yaacov Haber from the Life After Teshuva conference they we may excerpt on Beyond Teshuva in the future.

    And lastly our really big and audacious goals include BT conferences like those of Aguadah and the OU, where I am told, a high percentage of the people are networking for Shidduchim. And we will have other networking events so that we can work together on getting our children married.

  35. Of course, even if indeed there is a genuine psak or recommendation that FFBs not marry BTs, they just excluded themselves from marrying Rabbi Akiva.

    Our focus as BTs is to be true to our path and take it as far as it goes and let the chips fall where they may.

    Also, let me briefly add that I think there are real issues in FFB-BT marriages, not that they can’t necessarily be overcome, but there are definite issues there not extant in your typical FFB-FFB match. As a BT father of FFB children not terribly far off from marriageable age I am being forced to look at the issue from both sides.

    However, I don’t look at it as a spiritual pagam. I am only referring to possible cultural-related issues. Those I think are real — not impossible to overcome necessarily, but real.

    Let me just conclude by saying that to me there is no greater middah than personal integrity and no greater pagam than lack thereof, and in such a case it matters not whether one is BT or FFB. That’s no one’s psak. Just my feeling on the matter these days.

  36. Michoel-If I’m not mistaken, the Steipler himself dissents. Either way going undercover seems to lack halchic rationale. If we go according to the Steipler there’s no need to hide ones background and FFBs who are less than accepting have their own issues to work out. If we paskin like Rav Klein then concealing the past seems unethical and a kind of “putting a stumbling block before the blind”

  37. Yes, the Steipler says it is muttar and Rav Menashe Klein also says it is muttar. He just says that an FFB family shouldn’t do it. Rav Menashe Klein brings a ton of m’koros, including the Chofetz Chaim. It is worth seeing inside if you want to really do justice to the issue.

  38. Michoel:

    While I am far from being a Rabbi, it is my understanding that the Steipler explicitly wrote to Rav Klein advising that such a marriage is clearly permissible and stating that he had never poskened otherwise. Other gedolim, though not all, have spoken on the issue and have sanctioned such marriages.

  39. I’ve known many BT’s with kids (especially of the female variety) “in the parsha” who’ve been very careful to hide their identity, so as not to prejudice their children’s opportunities. Hope someone will be tackling this subject soon.

  40. While agreeing with everything Yitz said, I have a problem that I haven’t really found an answer for. How does one deal with Torah sources that view individuals who are born of less than stellar yichus (bnei niddah, people born from marriages that were only mutar b’dieved) as “pagumim”? Maybe this isn’t the place but if not, what is? Are those m’koros any less Divrei Elokim Chaim then other Torah sources? Rav Menashe Klein has a sefer of letters that were written back and forth between himself and the Steipler. He writes very clearly that No FFB family should take a baal t’shuvah as a son or daughter in law. This is applies regardless of the fact that the individual is now a ben or bas Torah and a baal middos tovos. If we are to be intellectually honest and really value the truth of Torah, we cannot just ignore those shitos. Yet we have to feel good about ourselves. It is clear that so many of us became frum in astoinding ways via hasgacha pratis. We sense that Hashem is with us and has nachas from our frumkeit. But at the same time Torah is Torah.

    I’d really like to know how others deal with this dichotomy.

  41. As Jews we are required to remember our past and to use it as an impetus for growth and a vehicle by which to come closer to Hashem.

    When we recount yetzias mitzrayim (the exodous from Egypt), we don’t skip over the fact that the Jewish nation had sunk to the lowest levels of impurity. On the other hand, we use this to broaden our appreciation for Hashem’s chesed (loving kindness (?)) and as a means of encouragement that no matter how far you fall, you can always raise yourself up. We also don’t hide the fact that Avraham’s father was an idol worshipper, that the Avos and Imahos had wicked children such as Esav and Yishmael, etc.

    Before someone tries to say that I am comparing our pre-BT days to Mitzrayim, relax, I am not. My point is that by hiding the fact that we weren’t born frum, we are depriving ourselves of a very powerful means of growth, understanding and appreciation. As mentioned in an earlier post, one of the speakers (I can’t remember which one, Mark help me out) at the Life After Teshuvah conference said that if G-d wanted to, he could have made you born in to a frum family in Boro Park. That is not what He wanted and He doesn’t make mistakes.

    The fact that some BTs wish to conceal their background is likely a result of the fact that some FFBs view BTs as something less than an FFB. This is certainly a problem that needs to be addressed but doing so by concealing one’s past (especially from their children), though with good intentions, seems to be compounding the problem.

  42. I feel like to be a true Emes, a BT needs to find his or her own true path and not worry about conforming to something that in the end he or she will resent and regret. To be so concerned about what others think that someone would deny who they are or were seems neurotic. This is not to say stam that a person shouldn’t consider what others think when deciding on a certain course of action or behavior. I once heard Rav Ilan Feldman of Atlanta say that if a person really wants to do something (not forbidden by halacha) and doesn’t because he or she is scared of what people might think, that he saw this as a big problem. (I take responsibility if I misunderstood what Rav Ilan said)

  43. yitz….. knowing you from the beginning of your time on this path and meeting your father i know you feel for the bt …educate educate… keep caring …..many blessings

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