Will I Ever Fit In? Do I Want to Fit In?

We thought this post by Josh Goldman was perfect for Beyond BT. Thanks to Josh for letting us repost it.

Spending a day in Brooklyn can be a little overwhelming for an out of town Ba’al Teshuva (born-again Jew). There are Jews everywhere. Jewish stores, Jewish signs, even Jewish license plates. It’s a bit much.

But it made me think about the religious lifestyle I lead, and how much it is different from my brethren who have always been frum. Can my own religious lifestyle ever be the same as theirs? Would I want my lifestyle to be the same as theirs?

I have a lot of freedom to objectively observe Jewish Law, independently of how it is commonly practiced. That is good and it is bad. For example, I had to choose my own prononciation of Hebrew words, which forced me to learn what the differences are, where they come from, and how they are viewed in Halacha. I think most Frum from birth (FFB) people just take their parents’ prononciations for granted, not realizing how much depth there is to even such a simple issue. Even if in the end we come out at the same place, I’ve gained so much in my approach.

Of course, there are also the many phases of Baal Teshuvakeit, from testing the waters to utter zealousness. I’ve gone through them all. I remember when I skipped any prayer that seemed remotely optional, even if it just had a smaller font. I also remember when I thought it was frummer to add in every page, paragraph, and bracket into my prayers. But there is a certain maturity that eventually develops.

By its very nature, my approach to Orthodoxy is at the same time fundamentalist and open minded. But can my perspective ever be the same as that of an always been frum person? Could I marry an FFB? I know many BTs go that route, and many stay amongst people from similar backgrounds. A lot of it results from the natural attraction between people of similar experience. But beyond that, can the wide-eyed evaluation of the BT coexist with the cautious eyes of the FFB? Do they balance each other out?

It seems that so much of Orthodoxy is merely cultural norms, not Frumkeit. How do you raise your kids with that open-mindedness, that honest search?

Will I ever fit in? Do I want to fit in?

Originally posted June 2006

42 comments on “Will I Ever Fit In? Do I Want to Fit In?

  1. There is a tremendous difference in attaining secular knowledge for it own sake as opposed to attaining it to see Hashem’s wonderous creations.

  2. Let’s say someone wanted to build a sandbox. Necessities would include things like:
    Builder with enough expertise
    Project plan
    Assembly drawing
    Materials for the box
    Place for the box
    Tools to dig a hole for the box
    Tools to build and finish the box
    Sand

    They are necessities in connection with the project and have value for that specific purpose. Some or all are not necessities for some other project.

    So someone who wants to assess whether or not secular knowledge of some type is a necessity should ask:

    What is my own purpose (now and in general) and is this needed to achieve it?

    Is there a best way to get this knowledge without side-effects at odds with my purpose?

  3. Correction required from # 37

    “One of the shiurim from some years ago was titled “A Sense of History”. He cited a Mishna B’rura Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 307 that when NOT involved in learning, it’s considered a positive thing to learn history

  4. One of the best sites for downloads of shiurim is 613.org run by Rabbanit Shira Smiles. It is a huge potporri of shiurim, drashos, etc and links from many Gdolim, Baalei Machshavah, etc of all hashkafic orientations. Anyone’s whose daughter has attended seminary in EY and spent any time with Rabbanit Smiles cannot help but be impressed to her dedication to this site and her Avodas HaShem in general.

  5. DK,

    ” You asked,

    “In the “Tolerance” thread I posed an open request regarding definitions of “MO” but got no response along the lines of the request.’ ”

    I assume that you addressed this to me by mistake. I didn’t ask the question, I tried to answer it!

    Jacob,

    I also agree with you regarding the value of respect for obtaining secular knowledge in a non-formal sense. I have heard of contemporary Rabbonim who had a personal interest in certain topics, and have obtained this knowledge on their own(I agree, it may be hard to do that way).

    I also recall reading in Hanoch Teller’s biography of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ZT’L how when riding on a bus in Yerushalayim, he tried to see or hear about the scientific texts that students were studying(I don’t remember the exact details). This made a great impression on me when I read it. Obviously, one can’t get a degree this way, but it shows his respect for knowledge, which is perhaps more important than the formal degree.

  6. “Rav AY Hacohen Kook wrote an essay where he extolled the virtues of ‘confrontation’.”

    Of course. My use of the word “confrontation” was in the context of something more controversial and not l’shma such as chevrusas battling it out over a p’shat meaning.

    Regarding secular knowledge……

    Rav Yisroel Reisman of Torah V’Da’as gives a Navi shiur in Flatbush every Motzai Shabbos between Sukkos and Shavuos.

    One of the shiurim from some years ago was titled “A Sense of History”. He cited a Mishna B’rura Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 307 that when involved in learning, it’s considered a positive thing to learn history.

    His rebbe HaRav Pam zt’l was known as quite the m’dakdek in grammar (Enlgish) not only for himself but for instructing his family and talmidim as well.

    Rabbi Gil Student’s Yashar Books includes downloadable books from his online Open Access
    http://www.yasharbooks.com/open. One fascinating work is Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhoffer’s “Bigdesh Shesh” which is likely best described as an anthology of hashkafa, machshava, history of yeshivas, darchei limud, and a comparative analysis of Torah Im Derech Eretz, Chasidus, Mussar, Hisnagdus, Torah U’Mada et al.

    In one of his personal anecdotes, Rabbi Bechhoffer who openly identifies with the “Torah Im Derech Eretz” camp expresses a combo of endearing respect but also bewilderment over Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein’s work “Torah U’Maddah”. Rav Lichtenstein is a proponent of the role of classical literature in developing and aiding one’s understanding of the briah and therefore of limud Torah itself.

    Rav Bechhoffer acknowledges Rav Lichtenstein’s passion and erudite writing but remains unconvinced of the thesis. He does acknowledge as part of the Hirschian hashkafa the role of learning about history in understanding the Jewish People’s place in “die velt”.

    While this presentation is for sure oversimplified (therefore recommending a read of “Bigdeh Shesh”) my point here is that the relationships of the above mentioned camps to “extra-Torah” studies is highly nuanced and not easily defined.

    On a personal note. During the years of “testing the waters”, that is, of figuring out where I could “feel at home” community wise, one litmus test was how I could get along with various groups based on the fact that while acknowledging that Torah is the essence of our lives, I could not just divorce myself from a deep-seated interest in history. English Lit and philosophy never enticed me much.

    This was often tested over Shabbos seudos at the houses of various Machnisei Orchim.

    If there were indications that secular knowledge pursuits such as history was considered across-the-board mamash treif, I doubt I would have followed through in throwing in my hat with the “yeshivish velt”.

    In some cases, I saw parents encouraging their sons to read history books during bein ha’zmanim.

    Of course, there were other incidents where those engaged in conversation return blank stares and quizzical looks.

    Perhaps one could make the case that FORMALIZED secular pursuits via college coursework (aside possibly from the undergrad requirements for those pursuing a degree) is avoided and not exactly encouraged.

    However, this was not a case of cognitive dissonance for me since I have enjoyed reading much more since acquiring my BA and no longer subjected to what was forced learning which for me stultified or at least didn’t increase this form of growth or enrichment.

    I can concur with Mark Twain’s quote “I never let school get in the way of my education”.

  7. Baruch Horowitz,

    You asked,

    “In the “Tolerance” thread I posed an open request regarding definitions of “MO” but got no response along the lines of the request.”

    I would suggest that the single greatest division would be how secular knowledge is generally looked upon.

    MO Jews tend to look upon it as a positive thing. Something that should be sought after and acquired.

    Haredim do not share that view. They have varying views, and pretty much all see the need for acquiring some secular knowledge, particularly basic knowledge, such as arithmatic and say, learning to swim, but most do not give a general check of “positive” to secular knowledge, particularly that with any cultural implications.

    I would say this is the most obvious division.

  8. Very well put, BH.

    I don’t even find the labels useful. Throughout our history, there have been what appeared to be significant differences. The binding factor is the commitment and obediance to Hashem through His Torah. There will be variants of that path; there always have been. Why did Hashem put us all here, if all he needed was one mind and one manner?

    Rav AY Hacohen Kook wrote an essay where he extolled the virtues of ‘confrontation’. In a rather ‘Maharalian’ approach, he points out that it is specifically through the clash of ideas and minds that we most deeply clarify what we know, think, believe within Hashem’s Torah. *Too* unified an approach (impossible, I suspect) would cause Torah to stagnate. Think how clear things become when you’ve ‘fought it out’ with your chevruta. Rav Kook (elsewhere) comments how certain beliefs were still being thrashed out until the Rambam…

  9. “In the “Tolerance” thread I posed an open request regarding definitions of “MO” but got no response along the lines of the request.”

    It means different things to different people. Although some MO don’t use the term anymore, and instead use the term “Centrist”, the differences relate to the way we encounter “modern issues”: Zionism, secular knowledge, women’s issues, to name a few. But I think that the label includes too many types of people to have one definition like “engaging the world, or integration vs. isolation”.

    The same applies to the charedie label: one can’t have a narrow or stereotypical meaning and say that it refers to people who “tremble before Hashem”, or are “rejectionist or isolationist”. Both the MO and charedi labels are so broad, that while they refer to differences which are real, they lose some of their meaning when applied in a broad fashion.

    Theoretically one can be Modern and Chredie at the same time; one could “engage the world and modernity” and be a yerei shomayim. If people want to have scholarly discussions on every issue which divides the two groups, it would be beyond the scope of this(or any) blog. Obviously, both groups have different perspectives on how to view issues of modernity, but I am more interested in what unites people than what divides them.

    I will end with a nice quotation from Rabbi Michael Broyde, who published a letter a while back on the cover of the Jewish Press outlining aspects of his Hashkafa. I agreed very much with his preface:

    ” Before discussing those things that divide Orthodox Judaism, one must remember that—notwithstanding the differences in the Orthodox communities throughout the United States in terms of hashkafa and halacha—much unites us. We share a commitment to detailed shemirat hamitzvot, daily Torah learning, gemilut chasadim (acts of kindness), as well as many other central Torah values. Those issues which divide us—serious as they are-are not as great as that which unites us…”

  10. DK wrote in # 30

    “Even the black hatters study and respect the Ibn Ezra. MO is just a new name, with a more specific classification and identification. It has (almost) always has been a force within traditional Judaism in some form. And it always will be as long as there are traditional Jews.”

    In the “Tolerance” thread I posed an open request regarding definitions of “MO” but got no response along the lines of the request.

    Well, I guess this is SOMEthing but it also raises more questions in deconstructing the statements above.

    Could someone explain how certain Rishonim are the sole province and ownership of particular groups?

    Also to repeat an any already cut & pasted string

    “It has (almost) always has been a force within traditional Judaism in some form.”

    What is the “it” here? MO is not the answer I was looking for. I was requesting essence and substance of the above subject pronoun.

    So to reiterate through paraphrasing, besides “sefer-centric” hashkafa, what is the essence and definition of MO that makes it a unique movement? Are there workaday/everyday aspects and communal rhythms that makes an entity and identity unto itself?

    And to repeat the caveat, the definition of “comparative” is not synonomous with abusive discourse hurled at it or other groups.

    In case of any lingering doubts, this is a sincere request for education and not some rhetorical trap.

    Is the only way to get info through confrontation and provocation?

  11. Ora,

    you know, only an Israeli can appreciate purple kippah for Givati, Brown for Golani, etc. :-) BTW, pity the poor fellas from special units who can’t have a kippah to match a beret because they can’t advertise where they serve (at least, that’s how it was when I was a young man). :-)

    On the general subject of fitting in, it’s really pretty intuitive. One does what one feels appropriate or internally necessary. That changes as we grow, and our life circumstances change. Forcing the issue makes for pizur hanfesh (to borrow a term from Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook ztz”l), a lack of spiritual and psychological integration. *That* likely has worse consequences over time than simply being a bit different.

    This whole topic, to me (like in some of my other posts), is a bit of an enigma. Your children won’t want a shidduch with someone who can’t respect and relate to their parents (at least, I hope not!). You won’t want to sit and learn or davven in a crowd that is literally and figuratively checking your tzitzit instead of welcoming your contribution to Torah, and helping you accomplish more. (BTW, accord. to the Sefardi mekubalim, a tallit should always be white…)

    As for the suggested notion(s) that Torah-true Judaism is a narrowly defined set of perspectives that excludes ‘Modern Orthodoxy’, secular education, etc….I guess I’m heretic. If by Modern Orthodoxy one means living Torah as espoused and taught by such giants as Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik, his great brother, and others; I suggest we are invalidating some very fine talmidei chachamim, their students, and their communities. We would do well to remember the deep regret and shame of those who advocated banning the Rambam…

    The path of Torah and halacha has borders, to be sure, but it was never as narrow as suggested here; not since Sinai until this very day.

    I apologize for my tone. I should be resolving some questions about a mesirat get, but this attempt at limiting and stultifying Hashem’s living, vibrant Torah just offended me (kano kinati…) I truly thank Hashem that I learned in yeshivot and communities where any and all talmidei chachamim were respected for what they brought to Torah…regardless of their style of kippah, or ‘secular’ education, or ‘political’ outlook. That not withstanding that we had our own very clear (and adamant) perspectives adn manners. But a little humility before Hashem was still called for…

    Rav Tzvi Yehuda always warned against distorting Torah, to be sure; but he always advocated respect for every sincere, halachically grounded path in Torah.

    Kind of makes me think again about the poem Mashioch’s Hat… :-(.

  12. Ed, I wasn’t trying to address the issue of children. Actually, I would agree that community is very important for children. From the time they are school age, kids need a group of peers, fun programs, community support, etc. Feeling that they are outside of the community somehow can be harmful. However, assuming that Josh/any BT will find the hashkafa that’s right for them and settle into a like-minded community, the problem should resolve itself. I don’t think that there’s any reason for BTs to stress about these things, or go out trying to change themselves to suit the community. My approach is, take it easy, do what comes naturally, and you’ll find the place that’s right for you.

    To attempt a more concrete example, it’s the difference between a BT who still finds secular literature, or non-frum/non-Jewish friends and family, or something else similar to be a major part of his life feeling: a. like he needs to change himself to fit in to a community that doesn’t accept those things or b. like it’s ok, he’ll wait a bit, and if he still feels that way a couple of years into being religious, then that’s who he is and he’ll find a community that suits his nature. Someone who follows path b will find the appropriate kehila for themselves, and their kids will have no reason to feel out of place.

    In this particular case, if Josh feels haredi at heart and finds himself drawn to the Brooklyn kehila, then eventually he’ll get used to expensive wigs and lavish parties (without necessarily approving, but without actively distancing himself either). If he feels like these things really bother him, and he doesn’t want that kind of life, then this just isn’t the kehila for him. There are plenty of frum areas with a different approach to spending money.

  13. Ed wrote,

    “BH, modern orthodoxy, while having a place 40 years ago when things were rather dire in the U.S., seems to be petering out.”

    LOL! Modern Orthodoxy’s death has been greatly exaggerated for decades! There will always be a Modern Orthodoxy. Even the black hatters study and respect the Ibn Ezra. MO is just a new name, with a more specific classification and identification. It has (almost) always has been a force within traditional Judaism in some form. And it always will be as long as there are traditional Jews.

    Ed wrote,

    “Especially on a blog dedicated to being supportive to baalei teshuva, I feel duty bound to share these perspectives with other BTs, i.e., if you want to embrace Torah-true Judaism, then try to do so in a manner not watered down, or encumbered by foreign ideologies.”

    Ed has a point. For instance, we should indeed reject the “New Earth” ideology being pushed by certain Haredi circles! It is the influence of fundamentalist Christian circles. We don’t need such crossover. Lo aleinu lo shelunu. The earth itself is millions and millions of years old. No problem for us! Let our children read books about dinosaurs.

  14. Ed, In some circles, having a child who goes to any other college program besdies Maalot, (yet plans to support a husband) compromises shidduch opportunities. Recently I wrote about girls who only want to marry learning guys but their parents are unable cough up enough support which hurts their shidduch opportunities.

    While “fitting in” has its benefits, there is also a point where fitting in becomes ridiculous and unbearable and one has to trust Hashem that if they use their sechel, Hashem will provide the right shidduch and a loving circle of friends despite the fact that one does not “fit in.”

  15. Ora, I agree with much of what you said, although regarding kids, I think you missed my point. In some communities, you could compromise shidduch opportunities for your kids, becasue kids are judged, in part, by their parents.

  16. “While they may not have ever considered being fully secular, most have more or less chosen their own way of life.”

    The truth is, I would say that this is the way that it should be. I would not recommend that people change the derech of how they were brought up. However, thinking about why one chooses, as opposed to merely doing things by rote, would seem to me, to be a means of strengthening one’s Yahadus in general and specific derech in particular.

  17. Yay for technicolor talitot!!

    OK, I know that it’s not actually part of the article, but I just have to respond to Ed’s comments on rainbow tallit stripes. My husband has a rainbow tallit that he wears on Shabbat (normal blue stripes for the week). When I first bought it for him before our wedding (he requested the rainbow, not me)(I got it at a very frum place, btw, not one of the tourist traps that has also completely pink/ tie-dyed/ non-halachic talitot), I’ll admit I thought it was a bit strange. But the thing is, the reason he wanted it is that somehow, back in the day, it became his family masoret (his family is religious). And it is pretty cool to see the men in his family together in shul, all in rainbow talitot (and often purple kippot as well–givati pride!)(it’ll be sad if his little brother ends up in golani, it’ll ruin the nice row of purple-clad heads).

    Anyway, our community is definitely religious, but in terms of strange and colorful clothing you can get away with a lot. So I’m not trying to recommend rainbow-colored anything for those attending haredi shuls. I just wanted to share a story where the rainbow talit is actually part of the family tradition, and not an attempt to deny it.

    As for the original post:
    I do think that “fitting in” is important at some point. Jewish life is meant to be communal. It’s important to find a community that you can feel a part of. There’s no deadline though; at some point you’ll just naturally gravitate to one particular hashkafa. That doesn’t mean that you have to accept bad behaviors that you see around you.

    Also, I think that the FFB/BT differences aren’t really so pronounced. Most FFBs have gone through some period where they questioned the values they were raised with. While they may not have ever considered being fully secular, most have more or less chosen their own way of life. You can find plenty of open-minded people and compatible personalities among the FFB population. If you’re looking in the yiddish-speaking ashkenazi haredi Bnei Brak/ Brooklyn crowd then there may be cultural differences to overcome, but your average FFB isn’t so hard to relate to.

    Finally, don’t worry about your kids. Kids are naturally curious, so unless you actively repress them, they should have plenty of spiritual questions and wide-eyed wonder without any effort on your part.

  18. Ed, I’m sure a mature person like yourself understands the importantance of the time, place and context in which things were said, and when and if they should be repeated.

    Our context here is not to label people, deride them, or push them away. I think that’s pretty straightforward, but if you have any further questions please email us at beyondbt@gmail.com.

  19. To the Administrator:

    Nothing I’ve said is original. If you are referring to my comment on modern orthodoxy – I rely on the writings of R. Avigdor Miller ztl and others, who categorized modern orthodoxy with reform and conservative! And R. Chaim Dov Keller’s wonderful article printed years ago in the Jewish Observer, and particularly applicable today, on the pernicious aspects of modern orthodoxy. Either one has emunas chochomim – or one lacks it.

    Especially on a blog dedicated to being supportive to baalei teshuva, I feel duty bound to share these perspectives with other BTs, i.e., if you want to embrace Torah-true Judaism, then try to do so in a manner not watered down, or encumbered by foreign ideologies. BH, modern orthodoxy, while having a place 40 years ago when things were rather dire in the U.S., seems to be petering out. I hear there’s a sizeable contingent of YU guys currently learning in Lakewood. And the “serious” YU graduates almost never send their own sons to YU or MTA, but to yeshivas such as Long Beach, Shaar HaTorah (Kew Gardens), and Mesivta Rav Zvi Aryeh Zemel (Passaic). Obviously, they know something that the BT would benefit by knowing, and helpful towards “fitting in.”

  20. Use your head! If your overall outlook pretty much matches that of an Orthodox group, and the only things holding you back from integration are superficial, like clothing…, do like Ed said and get with the program. There are plenty of opportunities in life to take a stand about something that really matters.

  21. Re: Chaim’s last comment:

    You say the author has not come to a decision re: whether fitting in is a desired objective. In my last comment, I told him, unequivocally, that it is desired. Josh was soliciting opinions – I gave mine, and you give yours.

    Regarding why I added the “yadda yadda above – when someone writes like the inside of a Hallmark greeting card, I tend to get mocking.

    Regarding nonconformity high on the curve – as you yourself demonstrated, that sort of nonconformity is reserved for singularly great individuals, Torah giants, and not for the more pedestrian types. That being said, even nonconformity high on the curve can be undesirable and downright dangerous. For example, witness the divisiveness that came from the garbled teachings of those who sought to infuse judaism with zionism. For all their “brilliance,” they as R. Schwab ztl aptly put it, lost daas torah. And it was the “high-level” nonconformity that you refer to that brought us such abominations as “modern orthodoxy.”

    Re: Talesim – the black stripes are a reminder of the t’cheiles – and that’s the way talesim have been for hundreds of year. The Reform Temple comment is my own feeling, not stated by the Rov. No, I don’t get enraged, I feel sorry for those who wear such talesim – they lack a feeling of a connection with their past.

    Finally – tyrannical? Me? There’s no tyrannical demands here. Rather, I have consistently taken the position that if one wants to “fit in,” then, “when in Rome do like the Romans.” Don’t do things to unduly set yourself apart. I’ve never been to the Stoliner Bais Medrash, but if there’s “tolerance,” then THAT is the communal norm for them (Boro Park is different than other suburban communities, in that it is so densely populated with different kinds of jews that there isn’t just one communal norm). So great – one can “fit in” over there, and still, at least in terms of dress – do his own thing.

  22. Thank you, Josh, for bringing up this topic. It’s something I have thought a lot about also, especially since I started becoming more observant at a much older age (late forties/earlyfifties) than many of you. Although my children, who have just finished their second year at day school, are fitting in beautifully, I think that at a certain point, there is just so much “catching up”, that you have to just do your best and realize that learning Torah and growing in your observance (from whatever point you are starting from) are more important than agonizing over the fact that that you will probably continue to ask “stupid” questions for a long time, and are unlikely to ever be mistaken for a FFB.

    While I certainly think we should try to conform in outward appearance to our communities, I believe that what is important about this journey is my relationship to Hashem. I also try to remember that I am as much a part of K’lal Yisrael as any other Jew. It helps me worry a lot less than I would otherwise.

  23. Josh,

    Thank you for clarifying some of your points.
    “Fitting in” never meant to me adopting all the bad traits of the FFB! You make an erroneous assumption that “fitting in” necessarily means also adopting the bad with the good. It does not.
    “Fitting in” is more a social issue, rather than a religious issue. Contrary to what the more politically correct may think, it’s an important social issue, since it, in turn, could positively affect your frumkeit. You SHOULD “fit in.” The idea is to find WHERE you fit in, and conform to that communal standard. Thus – my answer to your question is unequivocal, and I am totally confident in its correctness. You ask, “In becoming frum, should a BT focus more on copying others and fitting in (and thereby being “frum” too), or should they do as they see most “frum,” irrespective of what the communal norm may be? The answer is you should focus on copying others and fitting in – with the caveat that they be the “right” others. Do not take it upon yourself to “select” what you think is the most frum. You have neither the background nor the breadth of knowledge for such a determination, and you may well end up looking like a real misfit. It is essential, absolutely essential, to be a part of a kehillah with individuals who have been through the yeshiva system, where the others can have a positive impact on you. And Josh – I’m in a FFB community that eschews lavish simchas, and “exquisite wigs.” You need not compromise values.
    Finally – there’s one more facet to consider. Do you have kids? If so, then even more so, fitting in is absolutely essential for them, for their future.

  24. >If one desires to “fit in,” then conformity, at least in terms of dress, as well as in other ways, is essential. Look different – and you set yourself apart. That should be rather obvious, no?

    But the whole point of the post (as evidenced from the title itself) is that the author has NOT come to a decision as to whether or not fitting in is a desired objective. If you begin with the forgone conclusion that “fitting in” is desirable and possible (for all BTs) then by all means go ahead and attack his “attitude” but that “al zeh gufa onu donin” is the author’s quandary seems self-evident, no?

    >I’m certainly not “dismissing” them, nor have I ever advocated such behavior. And we all advocate, patience, tolerance, ahavas yisroel, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    If we all advocate it why do you mock it with “yadda, yadda, yadda” ?

    >By the way, I suspect that those who are lower on the growth/assimilation curve will care less about “fitting in” with the FFB than those higher up the curve.

    There is a nonconformity indicative of being lower on the curve, usually sourced in either lack of familiarity with what constitutes fitting-in, lack of familiarity with the primacy of fitting in or an insecurity about losing oneself by letting go too quickly of too much of their own pasts (which often had strong streaks of individual expression and “unsubtle” nonconformity [See this link https://beyondbt.com/?p=73 on this blog site for an interesting thread about subtle and in-your-face nonconformity ]). But IMO there is a kind of nonconformity symptomatic of being very high on the growth curve. It is AKA leadership and being a visionary and manages the neat trick of adhering to mesorah and tradition and yet, often creating a new norm for whole societies to now “fit in” to. The Ba’al Shem Tov, The Kotsker, Rav Yisroel Salanter, Rav S.R. Hersch, Rav Nachman Breslover, The Radziner, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, Rav Y.B. Soloveitchik, Rav Kook, The Satmar & Lubavitcher Rebbes, Sara Schnirer and Rav Hutner (to name a few) were all nonconformists of this type and I think that they were in the top 1 percentile on the curve.

    >the technicolor tallis is awful, for it demonstrates (to the world) one’s utter lack of appreciation for one’s mesorah. As a respected Rov in my community once said talesim, “Do you think that chazal didn’t think of such things???”

    It’s always been my understanding (I could be totally wrong on this) that Biyemei Chazal there were no stripes of any kind on Taleisim as the Mesorah for T’cheiles had not yet been lost. The minhag of dark/black/navy blue stripes on a Talis developed as a zecher for its contrasting color to the chutei lovon. Also, if I’m not mistaken Yemenite Yidden had multicolor stripes on their talit katans centuries before they became a hot item at J. Levine’s Judaica.

    >They belong in a Reform Temple or a Messianic Temple, where ignorance of mesorah is a desired trait.

    Is this an end quote from the Rov or your feeling? Either way if you do feel this way I can’t understand why the sight of it in your shul would NOT enrage you.

    Also I still don’t think you’ve responded to a question I asked of you in my last comment; why is their such a tyrannical demand for complete conformity to societal norms that are less than of 100 year vintage? Hat color et al is hardly part of anyone’s mesorah (unless you posit that the grey-hat wearing Slabodker/Mirrer Bochurim of pre-war Europe were on a moral par with the disrespectful rainbow talis wearing BTs of today and that mesorah respect demands turning the clock back even further). If I don’t go gaga over Chai Rotel Mashkeh does that make me a heinous disrespectful non-conformist?

    Have you ever been to the Stoliner Bais Medrash in Boro Park? There is no uniform there, or at least there is plenty of wiggle room within the basic Chasidisha uniform. Some bachurim and yungeleit wear ties and cufflinks others don’t. Some have short peyos, some long and straight some long and curly. Some wear satin bekishes other dark suits with short or ¾ jackets. Maybe I’m deluding myself but based on their warm easygoing manner I like to think that they tolerate a broad range of ideologies as well. IMHuO theirs is a model of tolerance and limited nonconformity that other frum societies would do well to emulate.

  25. Ok, couldn’t resist.

    Ed – I’m not saying that the goal is to fit in, while simultaneously complaining that my shtick is keeping me from assimilating. Coming from outside the community, a person would naturally seem to fit in more to the frum community the more they learn. You could say that all the pieces of growth that the BT picks up are all taking him to a place where he fits in to the FFB world. But most BTs are motivated to become more frum not by social pressures to fit in – in fact they rejected their entire social sphere to become frum. More likely, they are motivated by a search for truth and meaning. This may or may not lead them to fit in with the mainstream frum community. This leads me to my title – in becoming frum, should a BT focus more on copying others and fitting in (and thereby being “frum” too), or should they do as they see most “frum,” irrespective of what the communal norm may be? For example, one could question whether wearing exquisite wigs is in conformity with Tznius, even though they are prevalent even in Boro Park. One could argue that the lavish waste on engagement parties runs counter to Torah values as well. But should the BT reject these norms because they don’t seem to conform with his own (and many Rabbis’) understanding of Torah values? Or perhaps, in his quest to be accepted, he should take everything the “frum” community does for granted, and leave the policy changes to the FFBs?

    My conclusion is clear to me – I’d rather be what I consider frum than be what you consider frum. I’d rather not fit in to the frum world if it means compromising on the values that attracted me to the frum world in the first place.

  26. Thank you all for your feedback on my piece. You guys asked some serious questions and gave welcome advice. I am actually heading out of town for the weekend, so I don’t have an opportunity to immediately address everyone’s points, but I do look forward to picking up the dialog. Thanks again!

  27. Ed, Personally if I wore a tallis or any sort of jewish headgear/outerwear it would definitely have the bling bling thing goin on for starters . Ed ,You seem to have lost/never fine tuned the art of creativity and creating the fun and hyper sparkle out of the trite/ packaged and regular .

    Do you not see how a technicolor tallis or kippahs covered in blue and yellow topaz stones or Fuschia fur caps or Aquamarine suede hats just have so much more life and energy to them than the so packaged and trite black hat and kippahs.I’m not sure why technicolor tallis concept would go against the mesorah thing wasnt there a breastplate with stones worn by the highpriest in the biblical times.Could the bling bling concept not be classified as new and improved version knockoff of that concept of decorating holy objects with precious and semi precious stones.Creativity is as old as the torah.So are noserings.
    Your perspective is a pure and unadulterated recipe for Jaded Mint Julep Pie.

  28. Ed- For the life of me I can’t understand why the ‘fitting in’ conversation needs to or should revolve around dress specifically.

    And, speaking of dress, while nobody in this family wears anthing that stands out particularily, I have no need to “fit in” and dress my young children in dry clean only clothing that costs $100 a pop. Is it really necessary to dress a 5 year old in a $100 dress with $50 shoes and all the matching accessories? Is it really necessary to dress a 3 year old boy who is going to rough house in a $75 outfit available at many clothing stores?

    So, if dress means breaking the bank and then following up the breaking the bank with constant dry cleaning costs. . . count me out!

  29. Chaim,

    If one desires to “fit in,” then conformity, at least in terms of dress, as well as in other ways, is essential. Look different – and you set yourself apart. That should be rather obvious, no?

    I think you are misreading my posts if you think I’m angry. I’m not. As far as I’m concerned, if some BT wants to do crazy, outlandish, or unconventional things, fine! I’m certainly not “dismissing” them, nor have I ever advocated such behavior. And we all advocate, patience, tolerance, ahavas yisroel, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    But that BT won’t fit in. If fitting in is at all important to that BT, then he’d better learn how to get “with the program.”

    By the way, I suspect that those who are lower on the growth/assimilation curve will care less about “fitting in” with the FFB than those higher up the curve.

    Parenthetically, yes, I think the technicolor tallis is awful, for it demonstrates (to the world) one’s utter lack of appreciation for one’s mesorah. As a respected Rov in my community once said talesim, “Do you think that chazal didn’t think of such things???” They belong in a Reform Temple or a Messianic Temple, where ignorance of mesorah is a desired trait.

  30. But today – if a black hat is worn in your community – don’t get blue, grey, chartreuse, etc. – get black

    Err…Why? Once you factor Mesorah out of the equation (and I think we both agree that there is no mesorah for e.g. hat color) why is it so important to conform to the nth degree to community norms and more importantly, why do the communities establishing these norms have such precious little patience and tolerance for those who don’t, or don’t yet, abide by those norms?

    What are you getting so angry about? Is a Technicolor tallis some kind of chilul HaShem B’farhesya? If indeed a BT wearing so outlandish an arba Kanfos is “wearing articles of clothes that virtually shout “Love me, I’m a BT.” Maybe they are needy of a little extra TLC and should be extended as much (along with some tough-love hadracha, when they are capable of growing from it) instead of the dismissive judgementalism that they are so often welcomed with. I think that everyone has a different growth /assimilation curve and patience, tolerance and ahavas Yisrael are the order of the day. Basically you are taking a nuanced thoughtful, thought-provoking post and bludgeoning it with a sledge-hammer. Even your placing Josh’s name in quotes presumes that it is a pseudonym and meets these eyes as a putdown. C’mon take it easy.

  31. With regard to Chaim Grossferstant’s comments above – my comment did assume that the wearer of the very large Bukharian yarmulke was a more mainstream Jew of ashkenazic background. My point really is to be attuned to one’s mesorah, and also, be attuned to what’s “out there.” For example, we can all find pictures of some gedolim who wore hats different from today’s traditional black hat. But today – if a black hat is worn in your community – don’t get blue, grey, chartreuse, etc. – get black.

  32. I understood precisely what Josh was saying. My directness should not be construed as disrespect. “Josh” wanted to know about “fitting in,” and I think that’s a subject I know well. Fitting in has little to do with things such as whether the BT knows if his alter zaydie did or did not eat gebrokts, and whether he has the freedom to select. Fitting in has to do with a “style” and an “attitude.” Not wearing articles of clothes that virtually shout “Love me, I’m a BT.” Or saying jokes whose cutesy punchlines end with puns on hebrew words, because they mean something else in english. Or listening to some of the awful music out there that seems to be particularly geared to the BT, like “Journeys” or “Shlock Rock.” And the “freedoms” that the BT has should not be taken to mean that they he/she adopt the outlandish – not if one wants to “fit in.” Now I’m not saying that one cannot do all of the above- but if one does – then one shouldn’t complain about not fitting in.

  33. Ed,

    Those “silly huge yarmulkes that Piamentas wear” are a traditional l’vush of Bukharian Jews. I realize Piamentas may just be wearing them for shtick but still I want to ask you: Are Jews with mesoras other than your own silly? Or might Josh have a point to there being an element of “cultural norms” that regulate are much vaunted Mesorah? Consider the kaskettin and peaked cloth Yarmulkes that were the norm for pre-war Torah-true Litvishe kids and Rabbonim respectively (as in the iconic photos of Rav Elchonon HY”D and the Brisker Rav’s ZT”L family). If a huge talmid chacham and his kids were to sport that kind of headgear today in Lakewood or Monsey they’d get almost the same cockeyed looks and stares as if they prayed in a zion-tallis prayer shawl.

  34. Ed, I’m sure you didn’t mean to say it the way it reads, but please watch your tone and try to be respectful for people who have the courage and strength to share their thoughts and feelings.

    I think what Josh is saying is that in the absence of being born into a FFB family with it’s accompanying minhagim, he has some freedoms that FFBs don’t.

  35. With his attitude, this guy’ll never fit in, because he doesn’t “get it.” He states, “I have a lot of freedom to objectively observe Jewish Law, independently of how it is commonly practiced.” There’s often a mesorah behind why things are done in certain ways. There’s nothing “mere” about “cultural norms.” So, when I see BTs “choosing” pronunciations, or looking like fools in “rainbow” talesim or wearing those silly huge yarmulkes of the type that Piamenta wears, I cringe inside, and feel a sense of empathic embarassment for them. If you REALLY want to “fit in,” look around and ask, “Are those who have been at this for years doing what I’m doing?” It really isn’t hard.

  36. If you could see inside their hearts, you would find that FFB’s and BT’s are all individuals with unique qualities, attitudes, and life paths—despite the broad categories they may fall into.

  37. Josh-I agree that you need a rav-especially one who understands your issues,etc. The access to a Baal Mesorah who can answer your queries, help you and your family and serve as a role model simply cannot be underestimated.

  38. The concept of fitting in is so overrated .Its the global picture you should be focusing and working on .The local picture is just to assist with the global viewing and general hashkafahs .

  39. “Will I ever fit in? Do I want to fit in?”

    I dont know the answer to this $64k question but one’s thing for sure whether FFB or BT we’ve all got a unique tachlis that only we can fulfill – both on a mundane every basis and on a big scale “maybe for its time like this I’ve been put in position like this” basis.

    As Jacob said, BTs more than anyone need a Rav who understands BT issues well. Also worth checking out also Rabbi Tatz’s video download on “Individuality” http://www.simpletoremember.com/audio/Rabbi_Akiva_Tatz.html

  40. “How do you raise your kids with that open-mindedness, that honest search?”

    IMO your overloading yourself with questions that can’t be answered at once and as a result it can really drain the energy supply.

    You sound like a serious thoughtful person with your eye on the target. It’s hard to start off better than that.

    FYI I married an FFB but was not zeroing in on any particular labels. To me it’s a grave mistake to decide beforehand if you “want to fit in”. Whatever that means. If you’ve acquired a rav, a moreh derech, and he dovetails with the hashkafa you’re looking to pursue, that’s the solid basis one needs to find their niche.

    Hatzlacha Raba

  41. A few thoughts: as a BT I have gone through a couple of pronounciation transformations, and for different reasons. I think it well within the realm of possibility for this to happen to FFBs as well – travelling and settling in different frum “strata” from which they were raised.

    Secondly, (and I would enjoy hearing more of Josh’s thoughts on this..) how much of his reaction to BP was grounded in more of an “out-of-towner” reaction? –that is, might an FFB from Norfolk, VA or even Cleveland have a similar reaction?

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