Adults at Risk

This article was posted at Rabbi Horowitz’s first site.

By Rabbi Mordechai Becher and Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon

For those of us that have been involved in outreach and fighting assimilation, whether as a full-time senior lecturer (as is the case with Rabbi Mordechai Becher) or as a lay activist leader (as is the case with Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon), various acronyms have become an accepted part of our mainstream “working lexicon” e.g. B.T. (Baal Teshuva), F.F.B (Frum From Birth) and F.F.H (Frum From Habit) … It is for the last mentioned category that we have coined the phrase “Adults at Risk.”

Our analyses of this phenomenon will emphasize some primary causes of the Adult at Risk crisis and more importantly, some proposed solutions. At the outset, however, a clarification of the topic at hand is essential …

What does “Adults at Risk” really mean?

Perhaps the best way to define the topic is to relay a conversation between one of the co-authors of this article and Rav Nachman Bulman, (Mashgiach of Ohr Somayach) Z”TL, a few years before he passed away. One of the most common objections to Torah heard from secular Jews is that they “… know an Orthodox Jew who was not honest in his business dealings and whose character left much to be desired …” In hearing this complaint the Mashgiach repeated the maxim that “ it’s not whether you go through Shas, its whether Shas goes through you …”

Rav Bulman, ZT”L pointed out that if a person’s learning and involvement in mitzvos do not make a fundamental change in his character, behavior and outlook, he could end up (to paraphrase the Mashgiach) going through life like an empty shell. Not only will he not have a sincere relationship with the Almighty, but most frighteningly, he convinces himself that he is a true oved Hashem…

Based on the comments of Rav Bulman, Z”TL, we may define the “risk” that is under discussion as the risk of going through life as a “spiritual zombie.” In other words, living an Orthodox lifestyle out of habit and convenience because it is a familiar routine; a good way to get off from the office a few extra days a year, and good for the kids, as long as it does not involve too much sacrifice.

While there may not be an immediate “risk” of these “Adults at Risk” going off the derech in the traditional sense, we submit that paradoxically “Adults at Risk” should present as much of a “wake up call” to our communities or perhaps even more than their “Kids at Risk” namesake. Unlike “Kids at Risk,” “Adults at Risk,” are not only unaware that they personally have a problem, but sadly, many of these “Adults at Risk,” for obvious reasons, are likely to contribute to the creation of “Kids at Risk.”

Case histories illustrating the extent of the Adult at Risk crises

In order to appreciate the magnitude and broad spectrum of the Adult at Risk phenomenon in our communities, we have outlined some case histories that we have been involved in first-hand. If any of these examples resonate or maybe even remind you of the person davening two seats away from you, perhaps you will agree that the word “crisis” is not an exaggeration:

* Following a lecture at a recent Shabbaton in Canada entitled “If Hashem loves me why do I feel so much pain?” one of the co-authors of this article was approached by a frum-looking gentleman, who talked and dressed in a yeshivishe manner.

His anxiety and confusion were obvious … “Rabbi,” he said somewhat sheepishly, “I’m almost embarrassed to say this but I’ve spent my entire life in mainstream Yeshivas … I have a wife and five children … why didn’t I learn this stuff in Yeshiva?”

Further probing made it clear that some basic concepts discussed during the Shabbaton, such as the fact that “Hashem loves you more than you love your own children;” and that “there is a big difference between feeling pain and something being ‘bad;’” had never formed part of his understanding of Torah.

When asked why he felt that he had not ever had the opportunity to get some clarity on these issues as a student, the response was all too predictable … “Rabbi, we were never encouraged to ask existential questions, and worse, were made to feel like fools if we showed interest in anything other than the classic Gemara curriculum.”

* A scenario that is becoming all too common … One of the co-authors is asked to speak with a young man who grew up in a Chassidishe community … Again the dialogue is one that has been repeated in several other such consultations … it goes something like this: “… Rabbi I have spent my whole life in good Yeshivas in the Williamsburg area … I had to leave kollel to get a job … I was always told that the outside world was filled with only immoral and dishonest people … In my experience so far, I have found that not to be the case … If that is not unsettling in and of itself, I have been asked questions about Judaism for the first time by co-workers and I don’t have the answers … This is all very confusing … I am starting to question some of my basic beliefs for the first time … ”

* A complaint that we hear frequently is, to paraphrase a cliché that they feel all-dressed up in Orthodox garb with nowhere to go. They are well versed in the outward manifestations of keeping the Torah, but lack simchah and inspiration in their Torah observance … “Rabbi” comes the complaint, “I grew up in the heart of [fill in your favorite frum community] and I only heard about sacrifice and mesirus nefesh. I never heard about emunah, joy, love or inspiration. … shul was always dull … and I remember my father always impatient in shul, looking forward to reading a newspaper, and rushing through the seudas Shabbos so he could sleep …”

Some of the major causes of “Adults at Risk” …

Lack of solid foundation in areas of hashkafah and emunah

Yeshivas such as Ohr Somayach and Aish Hatorah which are directed to towards students with a secular background and world view, provide a strong foundation in a classic Torah hashkafah and emunah, but equally as important, encourage and embrace questions, arguments and existential discussions.

Most students who spend time in these environments will become familiar with some of the best known English, contemporary “building block” works on hashkafah and emunah that, to quote one prominent Rosh Yeshiva’s haskamah, have become “essential reading for people serious about these topics.” Some of these publications include – Rabbi Lawrence Keleman’s “Permission to Believe;” Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb’s “Informed Soul;” Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s “If You Were G-d,” and “Living Inspired” by Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz.

We are not suggesting that our classic seforim on hashkafah – such as the Ramchal’s Mesilas Yesharim or Rav Chaim Volozhiner’s Nefesh HaChayim – can be replaced by the aforementioned contemporary works. Rather, it is often the case that a contemporary style, language and approaches designed for a skeptical beginner, may provide clarity, and on many occasions, life changing insights because it speaks in a familiar language, and confronts familiar issues that may not have been addressed in their Yeshivah education. These works and classes of a similar genre have been able to supply people with information and inspiration that they did not receive in their Yeshiva education.

In short, if Yeshivah graduates were better equipped from a philosophical, hashkafic and emunah perspective, they would not become unglued and de-stabilized when they face challenges to their beliefs, questions about Torah, or just the inevitable bumps in life’s journey.

Burnt out teachers generally produce students ripe for “burn out”

The old adage that one cannot “kid a kid” rings even louder in the case of chinuch … The phenomenon of a burnt out teacher who is not able or willing to relate to his students and disseminate the rich beauty of Torah in a manner that will build a deep foundation is often the catalyst for an “Adult at Risk time bomb” that ticks softly until a full blown crises detonates it.

We have both been asked many times to administer “spiritual emergency treatment” in the frum community to prevent another adult F.F.B from becoming an Adult at Risk. Too many of these “patients” have attributed their problems to negative experiences during their formative Yeshiva years for us to believe that such cases are anomalies. A burnt out rebbi who resorts to verbal abuse (or c”v physical abuse) in his desperate attempt to make a point when patience runs thin is planting the seeds for an Adult at Risk down the road.

Continuous negativity toward everything in “the outside world” sows the seeds of destruction

A plethora of studies in the fields of psychology and education underscore the importance of positive reinforcement and of building students’ self-esteem of students in order to ensure an all-round balanced and happy individual.

A recent story shared by a bitter, former-yeshiva student with one of the co-author’s makes the point about the consequences of being over-critical:

A yeshiva student was happily dancing at his former room-mate’s wedding, and pushed his way “to the middle of the circle” to entertain the chosen and kallah (successfully, we should add) with a break-dance (ask your teenager if you don’t know what this is). He was in a great mood, full of simchah, full of love for his fellow Jews,and feeling good about himself, until his Rosh Yeshivah pulled him aside at the chasanah and strongly criticized him for a dance step “from the street.”

What will the Rosh Yeshiva say after 120 years when he learns that his comment was one of a series of little pushes, and perhaps even “the last straw,” that eventually sent this promising student “out of the circle completely” and out of Torah observance?

On the other hand, Orthodox parents who preach to their children the importance of Torah (i.e. getting good grades in Gemara etc.) while discussing nothing but current affairs, headline news and work at the Shabbos table, are sending the type of mixed message to the next generation that will only increase their fascination with everything but Torah, by showing that the “real action is outside the four cubits of Torah.”

Our obligation to stop the “Adult at Risk” phenomenon from spiraling even more …

Before suggesting some solutions to curtail the “Adult at Risk” syndrome, a word or two on our obligation to expend the time and energy necessary to ensure that we have no further hemorrhaging within our own ranks …

The chiyuv that we all have to reach out to our unaffiliated brothers and sisters has been the topic of much literature. Aside from the Torah principle that “kol Yisrael arayvim ze le ze” and the outspoken calls to action from the time of the Chofetz Chaim, we are all aware of the recent public declarations of our Gedolim for every Torah Observant Jew to be participatein the mitzvah of kiruv rechokim. But what of our obligation of kiruv krovim?

If anything, all indications are that the obligation that we have to “stop the bleeding” within our own camp is at least as great an obligation. Apart from the devastating effect on families and communities, in the case of an F.F.B that becomes an Adult at Risk the “tinok shenishbah” card cannot be played. In addition, many readers may be familiar with one of the battle cries of the former Munkatcher Rebbe, that, “before trying to “make a profit”, one should ensure that he is not losing what he already has.” While many Gedolim disagreed with the Munkatcher’s objections to kiruv rechokim[1], there is no question that they wholeheartedly agreed with the need to preserve and guard what we already have.

Proposed solutions to the Adult at Risk syndrome …

Some general solutions are implicit in the comments above. More specifically, some approaches that have proved effective include the following:

Validate, do not castigate doubts and fears …

One of the greatest mistakes one can make is to reject a question or questioner out of hand. Our experience has shown us that for a frum person who is experiencing doubts and questioning an axiom of Torah, nothing is worse than being made to feel abnormal or crazy or to be told “don’t ask questions”, or “what are you? An apikoros!’

On the contrary, a person suffering from a spiritual existential crisis is in tremendous pain. They need to feel validated and encouraged to ask whatever questions are causing them confusion. Our prime directive is to listen to and accept without prejudice or criticism (or even reaction) any question at all on any topic.

Encourage the study of Taamei Hamitzvos …

The study of Taamei Hamitzvos, often a neglected field in standard Yeshiva education is vital to giving an Adult at Risk a sense of meaning in what he is doing. The verse states, “Taamu ur’ooh ki tov Hashem” (Tehillim 34:9) “Taste and see that Hashem is good.” Rav Moshe Shapiro Shlita explained this as an exhortation to look into the taamei hamitzvos (the ‘taste’, or reasons of the commandments) and that when one does so, one will see immediately that Hashem is good and that He has commanded us these mitzvos for our benefit. Classics such as Sefer Hachinuch, and Horeb by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, as well as contemporary works in this field abound.

Refreshing kiruv type seminars should be embraced in frum communities …

In our experience in numerous seminars and classes, people with kiruv oriented skills are often best equipped to recharge the confused and tired “spiritual batteries” of Orthodox adults suffering from burn out. In addition to the hashkafa and communication training that we have, it seems that F.F.B’s find it is less embarrassing and perhaps less threatening to speak with people who regularly confront these questions rather than shock or “lose face” in front of their shul Rabbi. Moreover, after many years in the field, there is hardly a question that will be a total surprise.

Some of the kinds of programs that every Orthodox community and/synagogue should embrace include the following:

– Project Chazon under the leadership of Rabbis Daniel Mechanic and Yerachmiel Milstein, which presents comprehensive Hashkafah seminars on the Yesodei HaEmunah to Yeshiva and Bais Yaakov high school students throughout the United States and Canada. To date, over 1200 programs have been presented to over 100,000 students in over 200 schools.

– Gateways’ staff of internationally acclaimed lecturers has had a profound effect on the lives of thousands of observant Jews who have attended Gateway’s Retreats during Pesach, Shavuos and Rosh Hashanah, as well as their advanced-track seminars presented on a frequent basis throughout the country.

Avoid a “fire and brimstone” approach

The Adult at Risk candidate should have a totally new type of learning experience dissociated from previous negative experiences. The learning interaction has to be as friendly and informal as possible with no “put downs” nor “hakpadahs” by the teacher. The text should be fresh to them e.g. something like Kuzari , Michtav MeEliyahu or Maharal, as opposed to texts that they are likely to have studied in Yeshivah or seminary. Most importantly subjects should include the Ikrei Emunah and the authenticity of the Sinai Revelation, and the Torah Sheba’al Peh, the Oral Law.

At the end of the day, our experience has clearly shown us that the feeling that there is someone

who truly cares, that one is not being judged, and that it is normal to have ups and downs in one’s spiritual journey, is at least as important as the content and information of the class. Love, warmth and friendship are perhaps the most vital ingredients in dealing with a crisis in faith.

F.F.Bs and B.Ts – a symbiotic relationship …

Much has been written about the importance of ensuring that people from a secular background who have turned to Torah and have committed themselves to Yiddishkeit should aim to become integrated into the mainstream Orthodox community. To that end, the F.F.B community plays a significant function as role models and mentors.

Paradoxically in the case of the Adult at Risk, which occurs almost exclusively within the F.F.B. camp, Baalei Teshuvah can serve as the spark that rekindles the flame of inspiration in the established frum community. Recordings of shiurim by “kiruv” lecturers, reading materials that address questions F.F.B’s so often feel too embarrassed to ask, and the popularity of kiruv type seminars in the heart of frum communities are now common sights …

If there is any positive fall-out from the looming Adult at Risk crisis it seems to be the fact that as the kiruv and teshuvah movements mature and expand, the newly observant and the traditionally observant worlds are becoming more intertwined in a positive and mutually beneficial way … After all, at the end of the day, we all report to the same Boss!


[1]Heard directly from HaGaon Rav Moshe Shapiro Shlita

The sub-title of this article, “Will Your Grandchild Be Jewish?” is a “play on words based on the title of Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon’s article and accompanying demographic chart entitled “Will Your Grandchild Be Jewish?” which he co-authored with Richard M. Horowitz, the North American President of Aish Hatorah and which was first published in the JO in 1996.

Rabbi Mordechai Becher, originally from Australia, is a Senior Lecturer for the Gateways Organization. Before joining the staff of Gateways, Rabbi Becher taught at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem for 15 years. Rabbi Becher received his Rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. His latest book Gateway to Judaism was published by Artscroll last year and is now in its second printing. He has co-authored two books on contemporary issues in Halachah and has responded to thousands of legal, ethical and philosophical questions on the Ask the Rabbi website. Rabbi Becher lives with his wife, Chavy, and their six children in Passaic, New Jersey.

Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon, originally from South Africa, has been a frequent contributor to the JO on topics related primarily to kiruv rechokim and Jewish demographics. Chanan has been involved in issues pertaining to outreach on a national and international level for the past 15 years and has assumed leadership positions in various capacities including, Chairman of this years’ AJOP Convention; serving on the Board of Gateways and chairman of The L.A. Kiruv Coalition. Chanan received his Rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and Pirchei Shoshanim. He graduated with a Fulbright Scholarship from the Harvard Law School and is the Managing Director of Investor Relations for East Avenue Capital Partners, a hedge fund. Chanan lives with his wife, Lebe, and their five children in Los Angeles, California.

Originally posted October 2007

49 comments on “Adults at Risk

  1. Tuvia: In my experience one cannot change the dressing, thinking, marrying & raising kids all of a sudden. These changes require some learning, thought and gradual adjustment, and it takes some time.

    As for the changes feeling impossible, they don’t at all, if one is making changes voluntarily and desires the change. Each individual has different motivations that attract them to orthodoxy–if these motivations are used as the vehicle of entry into frum life, other practices will usually follow naturally and don’t feel impossible at all.

    It helps if you can spend time in a frum community, if you don’t already live in one. Most larger communities are set up to take in Shabbos guests who are “sampling” the lifestyle.

    BTW, thanks for reaching out here and re-opening the thread.

  2. this is obviously a discussion that has drawn to a close in this comments section. I am a sort of BT, with some very observant BT cousins who got me to go to Aish Jerusalem where I had a TERRIFIC time. Great rabbaim, just the best in many ways.

    That being said, I am far from fully observant and struggle quite a bit — read blogs all the time and other stuff — to “resolve” why I can’t join the club!

    Things I notice: being frum is the strangest double edged sword. You are joining a community — who really has one of those these days? We all flit in and out of groups at will in the U.S. But if you become frum — so much changes, and the change is 24 hour a day style. How impossible does that feel?

    Second, you are both shoring up your ego when you join — Hashem loves you, etc. AND you are flattening your ego like a pancake (dress like this, think like this, marry a girl like this, raise kids to think this…).

    That is very hard too.

    Finally, people often feel anxiety about life — and wind up seeking religion for understanding and guidance. But the anxiety can be triggered even more deeply by 3x daily minyonim, or the expectation to believe in Torah Shemayim, or the pressures of living in a Torah community full time.

    I am never more fully part of the Jewish people then when someone is knocking Jews. I am never more alienated from the Jewish people than when I am spending a lot of time with observant Jews.


  3. Shalom Dave!

    Sorry, I got distracted and neglected our conversation here.

    Re: methodology, I respectfully disagree with you. I don’t think I pulled a switch. In the realm of Torah, we can find some pretty surprising results/conclusions to inquiry. I have no problem there. I may squirm a bit; but that is my insecurity, not an invalidation just because I don’t like the result.

    If, OTOH, the whole approach to the inquiry does not adhere to the standards of Torah, then to me it is just someone’s arbitrary literary musings. That is because I accept certain beliefs about Torah. If someone wants to submit an article to a (Western) medical journal, the review committee will first ask about experimental design. If the answer they receive is “I believe in a different approach to research”, I don’t expect that article will get printed.

    I fully subscribe to the notion that Torah is internally consistent. There are certain assumptions and methodologies that are required to understand Torah in it’s own terms, as ‘Torah from Sinai’. The pursuit of Torah scholarship at it’s highest quality requires a genuinely rigorous understanding and application of approaches and methodologies. If one chooses other methodologies, predicated on other beliefs or even just on poor understanding and application of methodologies, then the grounds for the discussion change. That is an emphasis on assumptions and methodologies; not results or conclusions.

    The principle questions to settle sufficiently then are not ‘Torah as literature’, but rather about ‘Torah as Divine writ’. That determines the later course of inquiry.

    I guess all I’ve done is reiterate what I said above, and for now I pretty much stand by it.

    The green chile stew this past Shabbat was awe-inspiring both for the delicious flavour and the ‘heat’ it produced! Some of us serious folks went back for seconds and thirds; the lesser mortals sufficed with ‘uh, that was delicious, but I’ve had enough thank you.’


  4. It was wonderful to meet Rabbi Becher at a DATA retreat a couple of years ago. But, you know how it is when a rabbi gives an inspiring talk – it’s full of all kinds of examples of Jews who came back and became BTs. I finally went up to Rabbi Becher and asked him what about the stories that don’t have happy endings. He said that not everyone comes back. While I appreciate his candor, it didn’t give me much hope, and made me wonder why the problem of those who never come back isn’t addressed more. Do we always have to put on our best face in order to be mekareiv? I don’t want to be told that the stories always have a happy ending. I want more of a reality check so that I don’t feel I have failed when I cannot interest someone close to me in Yiddishkeit.

  5. Ah, Mordechai–

    Your last post was a valiant effort, but I remain a bit skeptical.

    First, I’d have to say that all notions about Torah (or anything else) ARE potentially equal, at least until they’ve been heard. Moreover, the fact that something has been “resolved to [your] present satisfaction” is well and good; however, the moment you refuse to consider a plausible contrary argument, the thing is really no longer “resolved.” It’s merely an idea to which you adhere because of faith, not reason, because you have refused to consider what may (or, admittedly, may not) be a refutation of your idea. If you consider your idea beyond refute, then you are operating purely in the realm of faith.

    Mind you, I’m not saying that all ideas about Torah (or anything else) are, in fact, equal– merely that they can’t be dismissed based on their conclusions.

    I would also respectfully submit that you pulled a bit of a switch in your post– you argued that any science journal worth its salt would critique experimental design and methodology before looking at results. However, in the case of the Torah, you’re rejecting ideas based purely on results, without giving a thought to experimental design or methodology. How come?

    If, in fact, you do give me your book to review, I’d have to consider what you wrote and judge whether the evidence you mustered justified your conclusions (I reserve the right to offer comments on literary style, as well). However, from what you wrote, above, if I were to give you my book to review, you’d skip to the end, and decide whether it was good or bad based on the conclusions without regard for how I got there! Maybe we should both wait for the movies to come out.

    I’m not a cholent fan, but I’m intrigued at the green chiles.

  6. Moreover, the fact that there is a group or sector of BT-dropouts who frequently mention the fact that they were viewed as targets to be made over ala a reality show, and the comments made on this blog on this blog show that many BTs wrestle with the issue of incorporating or integrating their pasts or themselves into a FFB world IMO is evidence that BTs , in many cases, welcomed if they wholly assimilate into the FFB world, without being recognized for their unique talents and their own growth in Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim.

  7. What if a friend proudly related that because of their determined efforts, they have finally been able to overcome distracting thoughts of business during prayer, and have been able to significantly improve their Kavannah.

    Would you

    1) Think less of them for taking pride in their accomplishments
    2) Feel joy and voice verbal support for their accomplishments

  8. What if a friend proudly related that because of their determined efforts, some people they know are becoming observant?

    Would you

    1) Think less of them for taking pride in their accomplishments
    2) Feel joy and voice verbal support for their accomplishments

  9. He was “railing”? I’d like to hear that. Whom did he mention, specifically? What practices was he condemning? Which kiruv professionals admitted to him that they have this attitude, and what did he do to get them to change before he saw it necessary to “go public” with their sins?

    Now we’re getting somewhere.

    Awaiting more specifics, I remain, etc.,…

  10. I have heard many speakers and Baalei Mussar such as R Y Frand rail about the fact that FFBs and Kiruv professionals view BTS as their Chesed brownie points and criticize the undue and even unseemly focus on how many people became frum through their efforts as if they were wearing notches of sucess on a belt.

  11. Shalom Dave!

    You’re right, I recall hearing that Kugel is at BIU now. I was surprised that my alma mater (though I didn’t graduate from there) has him on staff.

    Good question, but I think it is sort of a non-question. If you accept that all notions about Torah are potentially equal, that is a particular definition of the subject matter and allows for a particular range of approaches to the Torah.

    If your *definition* of Torah is more particular, that will likely limit the possibilities.

    I think this is why some educational approaches prioritize dealing with basic questions/issues of belief. What I believe really does determine what I consider legitimate discourse. This is true in all academic pursuits.

    If you submit an article for review and publication in a research journal, they will critique your experimental design and methodology before they even look at the results. I suspect that my wife’s physician colleagues wouldn’t have a witch doctor run a session at a conference on endoscopy. My nurse colleagues, OTOH, might bill him as a resident scholar (we’re so broad-minded, sometimes I think our brains will fall out)!

    So, if the issue of Torah from Sinai is resolved to my present satisfaction, that will certainly determine which methodologies and notions I am willing to entertain. If I wasn’t cognizant of that, or somehow denied that to be the case, THAT would be intellectually dishonest.

    I’m guessing that certain premises that I subscribe to, you don’t; and maybe vice versa. That will account for different approaches; but neither is intellectually dishonest.

    It will mean I can’t give you my book review, though. ;-)

    BTW, green chile stew/cholent is great in Santa Fe!

  12. Shalom right back at you, Mordechai.

    Kugel is (I believe) currently at Bar-Ilan in Israel, although he did teach at Harvard.

    I’m curious about something– you mentioned intellectual honesty a few posts ago, and now you just said that there “is so much Torah from traditional sources that [you] haven’t learned or don’t understand, that [you] have little time to try and learn Torah from someone who doesn’t know or believe in the Torah that [you] do.”

    While the traditional sources are both voluminous and impressive, they’re not the only game in town. Moreover, while I’ll readily grant that nobody has time to read all of what’s out there and must, perforce, be selective (especially with the ’75 Triumph manual waiting in the wings), I have an uneasy feeling that refusing to read someone’s work because he comes down on a different side of the issue from yours is not quite in keeping with the strictest intellectual honesty.

    What say you?

  13. Shalom David,

    I haven’t read anything by James Kugel. This is the guy at Harvard Divinity School?

    I’ll tell you exactly when I was turned off to Harvard Divinity. About two years ago I was writing a paper for a medical ethics class then required in my coursework. The topic (xenografts; grafting animal tissue into humans; actually grafting across any species) was assigned. I always took an opportunity to write about these assignments from the perspective of Torah. A good chance for a some more learning. :-)

    I came across a transcript of a PBS program. The expert speaking was a Harvard Divinity prof; I don’t recall who (I have the transcript somewhere). He asserted without a doubt that xenografting is forbidden in both Islam and Judaism. He even explained the logic that since the animal in question wasn’t kosher, it would be forbidden to have in the body.

    The problem is, the ignoramus was dead wrong! I don’t know what Islam says; nor am I concerned about it. I do know that a number of teshuvot/responsa have been written on the topic; and there is no problem. This is true for porcine drugs such as certain insulins, and it is true for actual tissue grafting. This prof took upon himself the mantle of expert because he teaches Bible at Harvard. I don’t know what he knows about ‘bible’; but he clearly knows nothing about how the Torah works and how halachic decisions are made.

    There is so much Torah from traditional sources that I haven’t learned or don’t understand, that I have little time to try and learn Torah from someone who doesn’t know or believe in the Torah that I do.

    If I’m going to other reading (and not something like nursing research which I am procrastinating on at this very moment), it will more likely be the shop manual for the ’75 Triumph T160 so that I can that motor rebuild under way…


    No, we don’t stone apikorsim in Santa Fe; though around here there are a lot of old stoners. There are even a few like that in our hevra, all finding their particular place in Torah.

    The first snow is already on the mountains above town. It looks very pretty during a Shabbat walk.

  14. Mordechai–

    I think we are capable of subjecting the Torah to reasonable scrutiny, and I’m not sure it always stands up so well. By way of example, I think I’ve seen enough evidence on both sides to come to conclusions about whether or not there was a “Noah’s flood,” whether it was likely that 3,000,000 people left Egypt, and whether laws concerning agunot are truly just or reasonable.

    I’m curious as to your reaction (if any) to James Kugel’s new book, which I’ve been chewing over in the last couple of weeks.

    All that said, Santa Fe does sound pretty cool. Do they stone apikorsim there? :-)

  15. Baruch-I wasn’t speaking about you or your point. I do think that the one of the major issues that the kiruv movement has to address is to view BTs as individuals qua individuals as opposed to targets of an industry with quotas for achievements.

  16. Boruch Horowitz,
    I dont think the “cast thy bread upon the water and it shall return” slogan fits in so perfectly, mostly cuz (correct me if im wrong obviously) your insinuating that the supposedly pious persons casting the bread are A) ffb’s and B) are perfect bread throwers that received goodness for all their pious effort from an unexpected source,probally cuz of that wonderful slogan about giving ………

    Maybe its the non-religious persons casting the bread with their good deeds/ righteous behaviour and sense of goodness towards religious persons (and judging favorably nowadays is also way up there) and in return the bread of religion is returning to them to help them return.
    When I first read “symbiotic” I read it with the connotations of dissimilar groups living together.Which is wrong, cuz if ure jewish thats all that matters mostly and everyone is similar in that way………
    Mutualism also has that connotation. But I guess those words swing bothy ways and could be read as mutually beneficial “relationship” tooo which is probally what you meant.
    Anyway so the fact that the one casting the bread is receiving back bread, should not come as an unexpected suprise or bonus cuz of good deeds of the past.But rather should be expected as in any sound mutually beneficial relationship.
    Which all jewish brothers and sisters should be loooking foward to as we speak…….

    In any case its not necessarily the ffb’s that are casting the bread, in this specific religion oriented scenic scenario it could be any jewish person doing the casting upon the water……….

  17. Dave,

    I have to agree about the consistency thing; especially if you use the comparison you do! Judaism is certainly a more demanding and more significant choice either way.

    I think my point there is even important issues such as medical care, engineering issues, choosing a spouse (THAT one is often way irrational), big business decisions – we require a certain extent of proof or conviction. My wife and I both know that is true in decisions we make about patient care and our own care when we are patients. Realistically, we are probably not capable of subjecting the Torah to greater scrutiny. Yet we often, in the name of ‘honesty’ subject it to endless challenges far beyond what we do even in physical life-or-death decisions.

    Rav Y.D. (that’s JB in America)Soloveitchik purportedly said ‘nobody ever died from unanswered questions.’ Personally, I think it *can* torture us at times.

    So, when’re you coming to Santa Fe for Shabbat?


  18. Steve Brizel,
    I’m not sure where youre going with your comment about bt’s and ffb’s or why ure goin there and i hope youre not goin there cuz of my comment?
    When I said care bear rabbis ( as in rabbis that just smile warmly and offer their heartfelt concern with no answers in sight) I wasnt background or name specific, but i could name seven right off the top of my typing and most are FFB just for the record.
    I did not mean to differentiate between any jew of any specific background.not even sure how you got that.
    And The only reason I was able to make any sense of religion is cuz of beyondbt,and specifically Mark Frankel’s and David Linn’s posts and some others.Any bit of religion i practice nowadays is probally cuz of them and this blog.
    And thats after having gone through 12 years of jewish school complete with too many ffb teachers.
    So i have no idea where ure getting your ideas from .
    Also, my other point was kiruv organizations dont generally care about ex religious people.

  19. Or the cheder class Trotsky was in could have produced five more rashaim who would have been led by his gifted skills at orating and persuading on behalf of evil.

  20. There is no doubt that Judaism can survive with or without me. However, without Judaism, I would be like a tree without roots.

    My grandfather speaks about the Leon Trotsky as a gifted orator who attracted huge crowds of followers. Imagine if he had not been expelled from Hebrew school in childhood. Who knows? He wouldn’t have been assassinated, he wouldn’t have become a Marxist, he would have used his talents to sanctify HaShem’s presence on earth.

    Every Jew has potential for strengthening our people, our Torah, and our purpose as Jews.

  21. Jaded Topaz,

    I agree that the situations aren’t the same, but I think the authors were saying that there can at least be some form of “symbiosis” in some instances(there are actually some BT’s whom I consider a mentor of sorts, but I don’t have time now to elaborate).

    “I think that we should be using the wonderful forum of this blog to state more forcefully that BTs are not the FFB’s world Chesed Brownies project”


    I don’t think you were referring to me, but I wish to state that I agree, as well. My point was in fact the opposite, that both sides have what to offer the other(I used the passuk I quoted simply as metaphor; similarly, Rashi uses it as such, in terms of Yisro, Moshe, Sanhedrin, etc.).

  22. Bob–

    No doubt, I can (or could) get it if I “really want.” Inded, there were several years when you (and others) would have praised me for my commitment to “it” and been full of admiration for how well I “got it.”

    But whether or not I could “get it” is not an argument, as the underlying question is not whether I can train myself to believe something, but whether or not it is a good idea for me to do so. That question is still pending.


    I agree that there are many legitimate approaches to Judaism (although that is certainly not the opinion of our gedolim, who ordered the burning of R. Slifkin’s books), or, indeed, of many other groups within Orthodoxy.

    As to “Hashem’s Torah,” sadly, I question the existence of such a book. Thus far, all I’ve found is a “Rabbis’ Torah.”

    I think, however, that you made two good points. The first being about intellectual honesty, and the second being about the standards that I’d use to judge any other idea.

    Regarding the first, where I fall short, I am certainly willing to be shown the error of my ways, as I always do strive for honesty (intellectual or otherwise). I’d also note that I fully believe that you are trying to do the same thing here, and appreciate your efforts.

    As to the second point, I think I am being consistent. But consistency is not about treating everything the same– it’s about treating things that are the same the same. Judaism is quite different from almost everything else I do, in that it makes an endless stream of demands on me, including sacrifices of time, food and lifestyle. Should this not receive much closer scrutiny than (say) whether or not I choose to join a club, embrace a particular political party, or subscribe to a magazine?

  23. 119. i’m an adult-off the derech 10/22/07 – 10:33 AM

    a year & a half ago- i participated at a panel organized by the Carlebach Shul regarding “off the derech” – one of the panelists, Rabbi Stauber, made a good point – he said that throughout history there has always been a very large attrition rate in Yiddishkiet ie. 80% of the Jews died in Makos Chosech who didn’t want to leave Egypt. Judaism is an opportunity & a privilege- whomever doesn’t want it-here is the door- ( Judaism will perpetuate with or without you )- though this sounds harsh- i believe it’s an important piece of the picture.

  24. All the halachos relating to advertising apply even to advertising of spiritual goods and services. Sensitivity to this now can prevent “buyer’s remorse” later.

  25. yes, Steve, it’s “one mitzvah and one person at a time.” That really is the crux. But not just for BT’s. Just that if we try to kid ourselves, we get slapped in the face much quicker! Every single Jew is “at risk” of losing the battle of growing in his relationsip with H’ the more he sees it as a commodity of the marketplace. We just have so fewer smokescreens.

  26. Let me suggest that one idea that we should be discussing on this blog is doing away with the nomenclature or terminology “kiruv industry”. Kiruv is not a product whereby some well meaning “professionals” peddle a product with “answers” that is called “Torah Judaism”. I think that we should be using the wonderful forum of this blog to state more forcefully that BTs are not the FFB’s world Chesed Brownies project. IMO, when we use the term “industry”, we are forgetting that the process is one Jew at a time, one mitzvah at a time, as opposed to some messianic like process. A movement, as opposed to an industry, is sensitive to the needs and backgrounds of individuals. Perhaps, the problem that afflicts our families, educational establishment and communities is that we are far too insistent in stamping out cookie cutter people who look alike, tbink alike, sound alike and dress alike but who in the long run may be internally devoid of any spiritual values. This may indeed sound radical, but when one uses Madison Avenue sales pitches to “sell” Judaism as opposed to showing its profundity-whether to FFBs or BTS-one sees an industry at work that is concerned about the “final product” as opposed to a movement that is concerned about one person and one mitzvah at a time.

  27. Boruch,
    I love that cast thy bread upon the water slogan and use it often.
    I dont think it fits very well into the scenic scenario your creating for many reasons.
    Have you ever even heard of kiruv orgs reaching out to ex religious adults.
    The care bear rabbis are proud enough typing up essays of care and concern in true care bear fashion.
    The questions/concerns and difficulties between individuals that are contemplating religion from the vantage point of having never tried it are different than those with questions/difficulties with religion from the disadvantage of having been brought up with the wrong flavor.
    On so many different levels actually.

    Also, if I or any of my friends was an adult at risk, would we need a care bear writer in the jewish observer or mishpacha to a) Advise us that we are indeed adults at risk ? b) Would eloquent essays in quaint hareidi publications, by authors elucidating and expounding on their piously personal displays of care and concern, fix our souls at risk status ? c) Which self respecting adult at risk even reads hareidi literature these days ?

  28. “Do the authors think they stumbled upon some new neuroscientific discoveries or something that predispose certain non tinok shenishbohs to behaviours generally reserved for tinok shenishbohs.”

    I don’t think it’s a novel concept, but like any community issue, it’s crucial to bring it to public attention, so I think it’s important that the Jewish Observer published the article.

    I found the last section interesting, which was titled “F.F.Bs and B.Ts – a symbiotic relationship”(I’m not sure if that’s a neuroscientific connection, but it is a biological one :) )

    My own thoughts were to the passuk in Koheles Chap 11, “Cast your bread upon the water for after many days you will find it”(see Rashi).

    The true motivator for establishing Kiruv programs/systems shouldn’t be to benefit one own community/self, but it is interesting how, according to the authors, such investment might have ended up benefiting the FFB community as well(there could be other examples of this “symbiotic relationship” as well).

  29. ChanaLeah ,I’m not sure I understand your question. You can join the fanfare and fun over at Rabbi Horowitz’s posts with their corresponding emotionally concerned comment parties anytime. You dont need a personal invitation from the adults at risk over here really.

    I also dont understand the point of this article, other than stating the glaring obvious. The kind of obvious thats been around forever..
    Do the authors think they stumbled upon some new neuroscientific discoveries or something that predispose certain non tinok shenishbohs to behaviours generally reserved for tinok shenishbohs.
    I vote we continue stating the obvious in various pseudo caring hareidi venues, as the obvious becomes more uncomfortable to live with.
    And the more caring & concerned Rabbis we can get, to write about how concerned they are in so eloquent a fashion, the happier we can all function as fully functioning adults at risk.
    What more do we really need than care and concern from the care bears ?

    I’m feeling better about this whole at risk thing already, after reading this eloquent piece laden with care and concern.Arent you ?

  30. Ch.Leah said: “is it on some level too frightening to acknowledge, after we’ve worked so hard to join the frum world?”

    I must admit, something in me resonates with that. I also feel the nature of the conflicts I experience in the frum world are mostly much more complex than portrayed here. Bottom line: while we should fully acknowledge the existence of mature frum Jews being at risk of seriously falling, especially among Bt’s, I think these blogs are far from the best place for dealing with it. Validating the issues — yes. acknowledging the struggles — yes. Encouraging and stimulating solutions — by all means.

    But as one who considers himself to have worked very, very hard to achieve his level of emuna and chochma and standing within a frum community, I admit the fear to thresh out these matters in public.

    May H’ send appropriate guidance…

  31. Hi Dave,

    As a believing Jew, I’ll have to answer your question with ‘yes, Orthodoxy is the only way’. BUT, what the heck is ‘Orthodoxy’ anyway? Before the latest spate of movements (starting with Reform in Germany in the mid-1800s), there was just Torah and Judaism for long time. If you look, you will see it was hardly monolithic. There were tremendous variations as to how Jews lived their lives (‘Judaism’), even though it all flows from one Torah. Torah has almost indescribable breadth and depth. Even the esthetics of Torah vary from place to place.

    There have been, and are, more legitimate approaches to Torah than we can easily count. If it is Hashem’s Torah you seek, then seek out the teacher and community that actually suit you. It’s all out there because it needs to be. If it is intellectual doubts you are having, then seek out the people who value such things. It is obvious that ‘kiddush and kugel’ won’t satisfy that particular need (though kiddush and kugel sounds pretty good just now as Shabbat is approaching!). Even among the hasidim, there is Breslov and there is Kotzk. Different paths in Torah for different folks.

    I don’t think the fault is with Hashem’s Torah; but I certainly don’t think from your few comments that the ‘fault’ is with you either! But it is obvious that you haven’t found a good framework for your Torah. Just remember to be intellectually honest. That includes not demanding more answers than you would in any other area of your life. Apply the same standards to seeking answers across the board. No matter what, there will be questions where you won’t find a satisfactory answer. That happens in every realm of endeavour eventually.

    Shabbat Shalom!

  32. Dave,
    Jimmy Cliff once said, “You can get it if you really want”. Our Sages have said much the same thing, and in greater detail and depth. If the approaches and teachers you have seen (in person) in Orthodoxy didn’t work for you, remember that Orthodoxy has other approaches and teachers. The problem is not with you per se but with your lack of recognition that you haven’t exhausted the possibilities.

  33. “I don’t see from your comments that you’ve made enough effort to understand or to find your place in the Torah world.”

    I’ve actually made quite a bit of effort, Bob, and have been at it for enough years to recognize some patterns. One of the most common patterns goes like this: someone raises a doubt or an objection to some Jewish teachings, ideas, or practices, and is told that the problem is with him– not the material– and that he just needs to study more.

    Please tell me honestly; do you believe that’s a valid response? If so, why?

  34. Dave, you owe it to yourself to look at Judaism in a less superficial, stereotypical way. You may actually feel turned off or burned out, but I don’t see from your comments that you’ve made enough effort to understand or to find your place in the Torah world.

  35. “HaShem put us each here to carry out an essential personal mission, tied in with the broader mission of the Jewish people.”

    I think the point of this article is that there are quite a few people who don’t feel very convinced of that.

    “What could be more invigorating than to discover what your own mission is right now and to know that your family, friends, and community all want to help you succeed at it?”

    Hard to say. It depends on what that “mission” turns out to be. If it’s sitting around learning Torah for 11 hours a day, then, for many people, “invigorating” is not a word that readily comes to mind. Is it possible that it simply comes down to a matter of preference, and that Orthodoxy is just not the best way for all Jews?

    “What could be more deadening than to become convinced that you are a copy of everyone else in your group and have nothing, or should have nothing, individual to contribute?”

    Sounds like plenty of Orthodox institutions.

  36. HaShem put us each here to carry out an essential personal mission, tied in with the broader mission of the Jewish people.

    What could be more invigorating than to discover what your own mission is right now and to know that your family, friends, and community all want to help you succeed at it?

    What could be more deadening than to become convinced that you are a copy of everyone else in your group and have nothing, or should have nothing, individual to contribute? If we have individuals, communities, or institutions that have fallen into this attitude, current events are the wake-up call.

  37. The Navi Yishayah coined the term “mitzvos anashim mlumadah” ( 29:13, IIRC) and subsequently, one can find this term used in Baalei Machshavah, Musar and Chasidus as a description for going through the motions of observance. One can argue very well that pre WW2 European Orthodoxy was confronted with ideological and intellectual “isms”. The Torah world of today, regardless of how it describes itself, is confronted by issues that one can trace to poor parenting, an unwillingness or refusal to address hashkfafic issues in schools and an obsessive demand for communal conformity at the expense of real spiritual growth. IMO, unless we address the issues, as opposed to gasping in horror at the stories of people who go off the derech, we will unfortunately continue to read more cases about this phenomenon, which shows no signs of abating and which knows no hashkafic boundaries.

  38. Regarding defections by “adults at risk”:

    If anyone at any age sees that the people around him lead a life of going through the motions without fire and inner commitment, he will more easily come to view that type of life as undesirable. All the more so if they openly express that their duties, or aspects of them, are a burden.

  39. Some really knotty questions can never be definitively answered by a philosophical approach, which is part of the reason why the classic blog arguments about Judaism never end. They spread from blog to blog like germs or fungi, and ultimately nothing is gained. People are so invested in their own arguments anyway that the main purpose of philosophical discussion becomes self-definition and identification with a particular “team”.

  40. ChanaLeah:

    Of course the issue impacts BTs! I think there are more and more “frum skeptics,” and plenty of these are BTs. It will always be hard to estimate numbers, since many people in this situation prefer not to be “outed.” Still, anyone who has noted the fear and suspicion with which the Yeshivish world views the secular world will understand that exposure to that secular world generally leads to questions that Judaism cannot answer to everyone’s satisfaction. Doubt and questions are just a part of existence, here as elsewhere.

  41. Debates between frum people and skeptics often lead to “hot” threads, if we measure “hot” by the number of comments.

    The vast vast majority of people don’t comment, and if you would look at the ratio of readers to commentors on Rabbi Horowitz’ site you would come to the same conclusion – that since most people don’t comment, they don’t care. I don’t think lack of commenting indicates lack of caring.

  42. On R. Horowitz’ website this article came across as a hot topic which generated over 100 concerned and emotionsl responses, including several confessions. It was followed today by an article warning that we are “running out of time” to deal with these problems, and this, too, generated nearly 50 responses. One could believe that the issues of apathy and hypocrisy among frum adults, and the trickle down to kids at risk, were being turned over by frum Jews across the board.

    So I am wondering, why the lack of interest among us Beyond BT readers? Is this seen as having “nothing to do with me–someone else’s problem?” Or is it on some level too frightening to acknowledge, after we’ve worked so hard to join the frum world? Do BT’s imagine this phenomenon doesn’t impact them? Or do people think the whole issue is an exxageration? Or is it not worth the effort because, as one commenter put it, the resistance to change is “extreme”?

    Would appreciate hearing any opinions as I am trying to gage the potential of this new wave of conciousness-raising.

  43. The article was quite interesting, but I saw no suggestion that a reader with existential questions and issues might just benefit from reading non Charedi Baalei Machshavah. However, given the fact that the article was published in the JO, I doubt that such approaches would be viewed as proper or “mainstream” by those who approve the contents of the JO.

  44. Interesting. But the solutions are all for emotional issues. There seems to be no recognition of the possibility that people might simply have intellectual objections to Judaism that do not result from lack of study, burnt-out teachers, or unhappy synagogue experiences. I don’t think that these people can easily be brought back into line by rehashing what they heard in their Aish/Discover Seminars…

    Still, I’m glad someone is looking to address this.

  45. “Kiruv krovim” — a powerful term! It’s really what will make or break this generation. I’ve often thought that the fact that the last period of outstandingly righteous Torah decisors, before the Shoa, was known as “achronim” (last ones) was a heavenly allusion to the fact that the generations after the Shoa needed to be of an entirely different order. What comes after the “last ones?” In Kabbalah we speak of the “ohr pnimi” (inner light)and the “ohr chozer”(returning light). The classic chassidic seifer, kdushas Levi, remarks that these concepts are hinted at in the months of Tishrei and Nissan. For Torah calls Nissan “Aviv,” which begins with aleph beis (Ohr pnimi), whereas Tishrei is written with letters from the END of the Hebrew alphabet…pointing to the yod (the essence of the Yid, first letter in shem HaShem, etc).

    We are a generation of Tishrei. Returning light, who’s primary task is advance from the Yomim HaNoraim (Days of Awe, between R.H. & Y.K) til SIMCHAS Torah.

    Educating for anything less than reaching that inner light of Torah will indeed produce “spiritual zombies” — at best!

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