Rabbi Mayer Schiller – The Biggest Challenges Facing Baalei Teshuva

Rabbi Mayer Schiller is stopping teaching, so we are paying tribute to his wonderful career by reposting this great piece that he wrote for Beyond BT when we first started in December 2005.

Part 1 — Challenges

I have been asked to write on the “biggest challenges facing baalei teshuva.” Of course, every Jew in his life’s pursuit of Hashem and His Torah encounters challenges. However, the challenges we face and how we respond to them is forever colored by who we are and where we come from. Thus, much of what follows may be relevant to all Jews but it strikes me that these challenges are of particular concern to baalei teshuva.

The tikkun that each individual’s life is to achieve requires a realistic assessment of the nisyonos that are specific to one’s place in life, human/Jewish history and cultural context.

Also, any discussion of this issue must be colored by much subjectivity. We can, in the end, only speak with authority about our own “challenges.” Part of us is always alone in the world. Yet, life is also a shared experience. Hopefully some of what I – and others on this site – have to say may resonate in the heart of another and together we may be worthy of giving and receiving a bit of chizuk as we seek to ascend the har Hashem.

In all honesty, I have encountered so many challenges, born of the baal teshuva experience, that one almost doesn’t know where to begin. Plus, the challenges change, some deepen, while others become weaker over the years, as one spends more time in the Orthodox community.

At the beginning, I think a baal teshuva is haunted by a certain loneliness in, and sense of alienation from his new environment. Everyone else practices Judaism as a matter of second nature. To baalei teshuva, at first, everything done, learned and experienced is new, startling and , at times confusing. Everything is a big deal. Everyone else seems to know what is a big deal and what isn’t.

As part of this problem there is the, at times, blasé attitude of FFBers who seem less than enthused about things that the BT has been taught are of the utmost importance. This too can be most disconcerting.

Before long, one realizes that Orthodoxy is not a monolith and that there are many different models of how to live in the Torah world. Should the baal teshuva select a significant sage to tell him where to go or, should he seek a derech that fits his own soul’s needs as he perceives/experiences them?

Perhaps, the most daunting challenge faced is the ever growing awareness that not all Orthodox Jews are paragons of empathy or kindness or patience or even honesty; or even very much engaged in proper study and prayer. Further, to some of them, their religion is simply a rote practice, little cherished and almost no source of inspiration to them. The personal encounters with all the above can give many a baal teshuva moments of pain and doubt. To a degree that pain will never pass. We all entered Yiddishkeit in search of a good, more meaningful and certainly more spiritual, moral and ethical life. The grim knowledge that this is often far from the reality hits baalei teshuva very hard.

Indeed, the pain for the BT intensifies when he later confronts the fact that his children are FFBs and often far less passionate about the same things that inspired him.

Often the BT learns by experience that it is even those Torah teachers that may have once seemed so perfect to him that are, in reality, flawed human beings as well.

For the thoughtful BT the process of engaging with Torah and halacha may at times prove disquieting. Laws and ideas concerning non – Jews, women, the disabled, slaves and the like are apt to be unsettling and the proposed answers often apologetic and/or seemingly inadequate.

Finally, there is the general stance of Orthodoxy in relation to non – Orthodox (or haredi towards Modern Orthodox and, more surprisingly, Modern Orthodox to haredi) society both in Israel and America as self absorbed, insular tribes with little interest in or responsibility towards “outside” groups /individuals, be it of a material or spiritual nature. This attitude inevitably costs many BTs some sleepless nights.

All or some of the above are among the challenges BTs face. As a BT member of the Beth Shraga Beis Medrash said to me in the summer of 1968, “In the end we are different. It is not just that we can’t go home for Shabbos. We are built differently and always will stay that way.”

This is both a blessing and a curse. Just as the BT will often carry some alienation and doubt throughout life, he will also experience Torah in powerful, wondrous, insightful and joyous ways that might be inaccessible to most FFBs.

In my next entry I hope to discuss the possible means (thoughts, seforim, leaders, books, communities and the like) that will help a BT through the moments of darkness just outlined.

For the interim, the essential issue is to retain the fervor and devotion of one’s initial experiences in Torah while living in the real world with its ambiguities. complexities, paradoxes and disappointments. This is the calling of the mature, thoughtful BT.

May we all be worthy of success and joy in our service of the Ribbono shel Olam.

Rabbi Mayer Schiller

Originally posted on December 9th, 2005.

56 comments on “Rabbi Mayer Schiller – The Biggest Challenges Facing Baalei Teshuva

  1. A Sephardic Talmid Chacham in my city once said that if you don’t have character, your yichus isn’t worth one red cent.

    All that yichus means is that you know you are a descendent of someone like the Vilna Gaon. It is certainly nice to brag about, and in some circles, it helps with shidduchim.

    If you want to do genealogical research, you may find someone of note in your family tree too. As for me, I’ve got Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. If I’ve also got some black sheep, I don’t want to know about them.

    By the way, if someone is so worried about a ridiculous thing like your yichus, you don’t want him in your family. A shadchan is a shaliach. Ha Shem makes matches, and he’ll watch out for you.

  2. We are told that Baalei Teshuvah are on a higher level than tzadikim gomrim. Don’t believe all of the mishugas you hear. (There is plenty to go around.) Put on some nice music, and get ready for a great Shabbos. Let’s get our priorities straight.

  3. When I read the shtooyoat here about superior FFB bloodlines due to “Bnel Niddah”, my blood curdles. I live in Israel and I am slowly becoming religious. Jews of all paths should be looking for things that unite us and not separate us. Any Jew that suggests that a “Bnei Niddah” is somehow inferior IMHO is judging G-d wisdom. Why did G-d put that particular (Jewish) neshama in the womb of a non-religious Jew?

    My suggestion to those Jews (particularly those in the galut) who judge that “Bnel Niddah” are somehow inferior to BTs or chillonim for that matter….should take a trip up to Tzfat and jump 50 times in the Mikva of the Ari.

    Shabbat Shalom

  4. Hello Rabbi,

    I am not sure if I’ve come to the right place, but I suppose I’ve got nothing to lose. I am a Ba’al Teshuva of over a year and I am encountering issues/problems that are not ordinary. With Hashem’s help, I was able to get custody of my daughter and pull her out of a very horrible life. Since doing so and coming back to yiddushkeit, it has been very difficult to be accepted in a Jewish community. I feel this mostly has to do with preconceptions and conclusions that people come to after meeting me one time. Although I have a Yeshiva education, I also have a very rough past which occurred after my parents divorced. I am aware that people fear what they don’t know, but if a Jew is making a consistent effort to keep a Glatt Kosher home that is Shomer Shabbat, does Torah-Mitzvot, is supporting minyanim and is engaged in Tanya and Germara study, why are there ugly politics involved in just existing in a community? The subject of Ahavat Yisroel is constantly preached but it seems to be rarely practiced unless you are a ‘preferred’ member of the community. I will not mention the community I am in, but I am about sick and tired of the isolation, Loshan Hara, jealousy and unequal treatment. We are poor. I am a sinlge parent with a 9-year old daughter that loves Hashem more than anything. I am a professional musician, have learned to be a Chazzan (one thing they do like the way I sing) and also can function as a backup Ba’al Koreh. I have witnessed my daughter (who is converting) being rejected from Yeshiva while the children of full-blown goyim are being admitted into the school. Maybe someone can tell me: Is Hashem trying to tell me something? Do I just not belong with my own people? The entire experience of Ba’al Teshuva has been a miserable road of suffering and degradation.

    Anyone who knows what Ahavat Yisroel is and cares about it, I welcome them to get in touch with me. It would be a shame to come such a long way and have it fail. I can be reached at sephardic.chabadnick@gmail.com

    Bracha Vi’Hatzlacha

  5. Everything he said resonanted. I am R. Schiller’s age and am rediscovering my Judaism within the context of an intermarriage and a 15 yr. Old son with no religious training. I attend shul alone and I know that my new found Judaism makes my spouse (lapsed Catholic with solid parochial school education) very insecure, as if I will become disloyal to our family.

    R. Schiller has wonderful insights and would like to write to him directly, but I know that it would a burden.

  6. In our times, many people connect Baalei Teshuvah with Bnei Niddah, but that connection is a very new one, that is not mentioned in the old books, so far as I know.

    Mr. Cohen, does this really need to be explained to you? A baal teshuvah in the “old books” came from a religious background. All Jews were presumed to keep the basic mitzvahs in family life. Yes, there were sinners, slackers, and individual heretics, but there was no such thing as being secular like there has been for the masses of Jewry since the Enlightenment.

    From their perspective, the normative RWUO community has every right–and perhaps to some extent an obligation– to look down their noses at the BT as an inherently damaged spiritual being.

    My only issue is that I want BTs to understand this going in, and not be fooled by the dismissive dissembling that so frequently takes place.

    People have a right to know where they will stand in a community that actively recruits them.

  7. Orthodox Judaism, even with all its faults, is the only segment of Jewry outside the Land of Israel that is actually growing. Orthodox Judaism is the only hope for the future of the Jewish people.

    It is well known that great Rabbis praised the greatness of teshuvah, but what is less well known is that they also praised Baalei Teshuvah. Somehow those statements do not get the attention they deserve.

    Chananya Weissman, the founder of End the Madness (ETM), points out that the concept that Baalei Teshuvah should be discriminated against in marriage, is NEVER mention in the Talmud or any other Jewish sacred text.

    In our times, many people connect Baalei Teshuvah with Bnei Niddah, but that connection is a very new one, that is not mentioned in the old books, so far as I know.

  8. Mr. Cohen (49),

    You are right about the various attributes that are part of human nature, and its essential component, the yetzer harah.
    Part of our job as Jews is to fight the yetzer harah.

    We’re supposed to be a light unto nations, and to each other. We don’t accomplish that by being like the rest of the nations in their negative ways.

    Ethnic and racial jokes are all the rage among many frum Jews. Most of those same jokes are told about the Jews by the same groups that we want to fit in with. Yes, for all the talk about “our” way of dress and “our” midot, some who are outwardly the frummest of the frum often sound more “goyish” than the coarsest “sheggetz.”

    It’s equally disheartening to hear a name come up in conversation, or to have a person walk into a room, and to be told how great that person is because he is “loaded.” I don’t blame the person for being wealthy and for enjoying life. I do have issue with those who make those parts of the “loaded” person’s life their primary object of admiration. Unfortunatley, the talk doesn’t continue with a recounting of the person’s tzedakah and chessed, but rather a recounting of his fleet of automobiles and the size of the pool in his basement.

  9. Gary, bigotry and materialism seem to be part of human nature, regardless of our religious beliefs or the language we speak.

    They exist in every generation and in every nation and race, because they are part of the classic Yetzer HaRa, along with: lust, envy, and laziness.

  10. A big challenge —

    Finding out that the bigotry and materialism that turned us off in the “secular” world are alive and well in the “religious” world.

  11. One rav wrote in his book, “Yichus is often a code word for money.”

    Gelt (lots of it) goes a long way toward correcting any flawed yichus status.

    It’s all about the Benjamins (and I don’t mean the Binyamins).

  12. I believe that even the most prejudiced FFB families would allow their child to marry a BT, if he owned $50 million in assets, or even a puny $5 million.

    I once learned a Jewish sacred text which said: Money conceals all flaws, or something very similar. I was not wise enough to record the exact source of that quote, but if anyone knows it, please feel free to tell us.

  13. Dear Mr. Cohen,

    Thanks for # 42, in which you stated that you’re aware of one obscure exception in which flawed yichus can be corrected. Your answer in # 28 renders the matter moot, since there you hit the nail right on the head:

    “QUESTION: So WHY are FFBs superior to BTs?

    ANSWER: They’re not!”

  14. Judy,

    Perhaps the cognitively young men are in demand not because they are frum from birth, but because their family is “very wealthy”. Different problem, still a sad situation.

  15. Dear Gary:

    With only one extremely obscure exception, I am not aware of any way to correct any flawed yichus status.

    If anyone knows how to do that, then they must be much smarter than me.

  16. Halachic question: If a convert, after study and one trip to the Mikvah is considered an equal member of the Jewish people, is there a similar procedure to “correct” ben niddah status?

    Human relations statement: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

  17. Yeah, but don’t forget, maybe WE wouldn’t want to marry THEM either.

    In my “day job,” (which I won’t go into here as it requires a lot of explanation), I happen to meet a lot of chasidic and right-wing ultra-Orthodox young married couples. I am continually saddened by the definition of “normal” in that world.

    Two of these young married men of my professional acquaintance are brothers from the same ultra-Orthodox very wealthy family in Great Britain. They both have pronounced cognitive and psychological disabilities, to the extent that neither young man is literate or numerate. Neither one can read, write or do even simple math. This is not an obvious condition like Down syndrome, inasmuch as both young men are of average appearance, looking the same as any other young ultra-Orthodox male. They warm the benches in their local batei medrashim, so the wives can say their husbands are “learning.”

    I find the biggest irony in that these marriages are considered to be “normal,” whereas for their wives to have chosen instead to marry BT’s or Gerim with college educations and secular professions and above-average intelligence would have been considered to be shocking and disturbingly abnormal.

  18. DK wrote in message 32: “Superior bloodlines.”

    Dear DK,

    That FFBs always have superior bloodlines is a myth.

    I personally know an entire family of FFBs who are challalim. This means they are permitted to marry mamzerim, but their girls may not marry kohanim.

    As for me, I trace my ancestry back to a famous kohen gadol who died 30 centuries ago, who was the teacher of Shmuel HaNavi. He was the only Biblical figure, other than Moshe, to act as: Chief Justice of the Sanhedrin, leading prophet, Head of State of Israel and Kohen Gadol, all at the same time.

    My ancestors lived in Yerushalayim from the late 1400s to the early 1900s. There is a small street in the Old City of Yerushalayim named after my grandfather’s grandfather, who was a great Rabbi.

    Baal Teshuvah yeshivahs like Ohr Somayach have students who are descended from: The Vilna Gaon, the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, etc.

    Mr. Cohen

  19. Gary, you are 100% correct. The idea of being tainted (or innocent) from one’s very conception is too much like the non-Jewish idea of “original sin.” I won’t even get into the writings and controversies of famous non-Jewish theologians about this subject. Back in the Middle Ages in Europe, when religious beliefs were taken pretty seriously, people could get themselves burned at the stake for expressing the “wrong” viewpoint on this topic.

    A Hilchos Niddah booklet for women printed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, being a bad English translation from a Yiddish edition printed in Hungary some eighty years ago, sort of discusses the idea of “tainting” one’s children. The English to Yiddish loses a lot, not just plain language but the cultural and religious concepts not being translatable. Also Eliyahu Kitov deals with this topic in his book, A Jew and His Home, which is also a translation (from Ivrit to English). Again there’s the whole cultural problem, especially dealing with concepts like “impure” and “pure.”

  20. Judy (#34),

    Whatever halachic significance there may be to being a ben or bat niddah (BN), no FFB (who may be a closet BN or descendent of BN’s anyway) has the right to classify BT’s as “inferior.” Nobody knows, or has the right to ask us, or has the right to make presumptions about the intimate lives of our parents.

    I also think that we owe it to ourselves not to classify ourselves as “inferior” Jews based upon any actions or omissions of our parents.

  21. Question: So why are FFB’s superior to BT’s?

    Answer: Generally FFB’s are conceived without the taint of Tumas Niddah.

    (I am a BT).

  22. For myself the hardest thing to overcome after becoming frum was the deep dissapointment discovering the shortcomings of Orthodox Jews.I’ve also been fortunate enough to witness the heroic self-sacrifice and wonderful qualities of Orthodox Jews as well.It’s worked out better for me since I’ve learned to train myself to concentrate on the positive and not worry about the things you can’t control.

  23. Mr. Cohen,
    I happen to be fan of your comments (especially when you site sources for things), but this article, written a number of years by R Schiller, doesn’t even bring up your question.

  24. “…not all Orthodox Jews are paragons of empathy or kindness or patience or even honesty; or even very much engaged in proper study and prayer. Further, to some of them, their religion is simply a rote practice, little cherished and almost no source of inspiration to them.”

    QUESTION: So WHY are FFBs superior to BTs?

    ANSWER: They’re not!

  25. “For the thoughtful BT the process of engaging with Torah and halacha may at times prove disquieting. ……. and the proposed answers often apologetic and/or seemingly inadequate.” Thoughtful FFB’s go through the same process at some stage or another, and it can be positive or negative depending on the attitude one takes. For example the idea that Avrohom Ovinu kept the whole Torah, I personally found very difficult to believe. Well I discovered that the difficulty may have bothered the Vilna Gaon too. In fact every explanation by the great Rabbis always began with an incomprehensible idea or a contradiction leading to a novel solution that can be very satisfying in its result. So go ahead and question and even challenge but do it to discover the truth, not to demolish the truth.

  26. I recently revisited this concept. I think that the key for any BT on this issue is that the Torah community-regardless of its label-consists of a communal and/or sociological structure. Think of a pyramid of sorts. Then apply it to playgroups, preschools,nurserys, elementary schools, high schools, summer camps, youth movements and yeshivos and seminaries. Once a BT couple has a kid in the pyramid’like structure, integration occurs-at events like a shiur, kiddush, Shabbos guests, a Yarrtzeit, Siddur or Chumash party, Bas Mitzvah, Yom Hanachas Tefilin, Bar Mitzvah and Chasnah are all important keys to integration in any community and IMO go a lot further that thinking interminably about what role what one occupies in the larger Torah world..

    Davening as a Shliach Tzibbur either on a Shabbos or weekday is another measure of integration. IOW, at all these seemingly small lifecyle events, noone cares about your background or lack thereof because you are in the same boat as everyone else. FWIW, I consider these events the best cement and proof of integration that exist within the Torah world.

  27. BTA and Toby Katz write about being objectively hard to believe. I am bothered by the term. Can any of us be objective? We all have our biases. Only Hashem can be truly objective. And I think that is our job, to become more objective, more in tune with His perspective, which means more in tune with a Torah perspective. That may not be the objectivity touted by scientists and the New York Times, but I don’t think any of them are free from bias.

    Does objectivity imply a material perspective, i.e. only looking at physical objects? Judaism concentrates at least equally on the spiritual side, which is true but not usually measurable. Judaism doesn’t advocate blind faith. The Torah in many places tells us to “know”, implying that it is possible to do so. However, it takes a lot of study to know, a lifetime. Sometimes we have to do without understanding. We said “Naaseh V’Nishma,” we’ll do and then try to understand. I think when we have doubts our perspective should be, “I’m not there yet.” That may seem like blind faith or apologetics, but I think most of us, looking back, can remember instances where we had doubts, and later we got there, our doubts were cleared up.

    Not every Orthodox rabbi has “Daas Torah,” a 100% Torah perspective, but there are many who do. Our challenge may be to find those who do and can guide us properly or to study enough so we can attain it ourselves.

  28. BTA wrote, “I just want to throw out there that many BT’s are disillusioned because so much of OJ is hard to believe, and objectively so.” I would like to point out that we are all in an existential human bind, because EVERYTHING is objectively hard to believe. It is hard to believe that OJ is true but it is even harder to believe the truth of any other religion besides Judaism. (Jesus? Mohammed?) It is certainly hard to believe in the “truth” of Conservative and Reform forms of Judaism, which do not even make any truth claims. It is especially hard to believe in atheism — to believe in a world that just created itself. Pick a belief, any belief, and you will find holes in it. I’m an FFB but have had my crises of faith, as I think all intelligent people do sooner or later. After a great deal of study (of both Torah and secular subjects) and a great deal of thought, I have come to the conclusion that the preponderance of evidence is strongly weighted toward “There is a G-d” rather than “There is no G-d” AND towards “If any religion is true, Judaism is true.”

  29. If there’s anything I can do to help, feel free to contact me.

    FYI, living a Torah observant life does not immunize oneself against existential angst (or at least angst, in general).

  30. Yaakov–

    I appreciate the response. I know davening isn’t supposed to be a burden, but one can’t tell someone that a) he must do something; and b) it can’t be a burden. It’s really one or the other.

    As to my intellect having led me to this, yes, you are correct. However, what got me here was the conclusion that Conservative Judaism was simply contradictory. Alas, a defect in Conservative Judaism is not, per se, a defense of Orthodox Judaism, and I fear I glossed over that point. Of late, the intellectual side has been a bit of a fizzle, as I keep hearing what I have to do (or not do) and no particular justification as to why I should believe a word of it.

    In the end, you may be right that I need to sit out the occasional minyan until I’m ready to participate with a better will. Hopefully, I’ll get there.

    I suppose I have a fair amount of thinking to do– hopefully, I’ll work this out in time to avoid infecting my child with my existential angst.

  31. BTinMD

    Sorry to hear about your rut. I was an avel last year and can relate.

    Even if we weren’t BTs, sources are explicit that our davening, if nothing else, should not feel like a burden.

    I’m not giving you any halachic advise, but as one BT to another I’ve had to do what I need to do at times to keep my sanity, especially in the earlier days.

    Sometimes getting out of a rut means doing less, but sometimes, paradoxically, it means doing more, or at least more qualitatively. (E.g. they say to learn mussar 1/2 hour a day; but I don’t have time; learn mussar and you will find you have time.)

    Rut generally means uninspired. If you step back and think about the bigger picture sometimes you can find the inspiration that helps you get out of your rut, at least mentally.

    Also, when it comes to our parents, I know this is hard but the reward corresponds to the difficulty. As a father I know now firsthand that it’s not always a cakewalk raising kids. We make a lot of sacrifices. Kaddish is one of the greatest mitzvos because we’re doing someting for our parents they can’t do for themselves. They’re totally dependent upon us. Is any sacrifice too large?

    I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty. I’m saying do what you need to do to get out of your rut. It may very well be better for your parents that you stay an inspired BT than a burned-out droput — even if that means missing kaddashim. Look at the big picture and do what you know is right. Your intellect and instinct led you to Torah and mitzvos to begin with; they should hopefully serve you now in determining your priorities and the right thing to do in this case.

  32. All that isn’t really my problem. I don’t feel overwhelmed and excited by details that seem to bore FFBers– on the contrary, I’m mystified that they seem to be able to put up with the amount of time that Judaism demands. OK, I’m Jewish and even glad to be a Jew– as a BT, I’ve come to accept that this carries with it any number of obligations.

    However, the amount of time that I’m expected to put into being Jewish now far exceeds my interest in the topic. Sadly, the more I force myself into attending services multiple times per day (being an avel, I have a special chiyuv), the more resentful I find myself becoming of the seemingly endless impositions on time I’d rather spend elsewhere. I’m not sure how to get out of this rut…

  33. Menucha,

    Thanks for your words of encouragement.

    I really don’t like your answer A). I’ve heard it too much. There comes a point where it becomes an excuse or, worse, self-fulfilling prophesy, i.e. because we’re perennial victims we cannot be blamed for victimizing others. (And, therfore, we cannot help ourselves when confronted with the temptation.)

    Even if it doens’t become self-fulfilling it’s like saying to a victim of rape or murder: Well, the perpetrator had a bad upbringing; we have to give him a lenient sentence.

    Point B), though, was well said and true in my experience. It’s the everyday tzaddikim that keep me going or that at least help me offset, as much as possible, the negative experiences and frum failures I have encountered.

    Everyone’s situation is different. It seems like I have been somewhat of a lightening rod to these really bad experiences. It’s almost Job-like in its uncanniness. If so, people like Shamai are not insensitive — just lucky not to have what happened to me happen to them.

  34. Shame on you Shamai! You exhibit the same lack of empathy that has dealt Rob so many crushing blows. FFB callousness is no myth and there is no use denying it.

    Rob- I don’t think it’s endemic and a few bad apples seem to have soured you on a whole civilization. Whenever an insensitive FFB makes a comment that gets under my skin I…

    A) Try to cut them slack as “Tinok Shenishbas” in the Mentsch department. Remember… growing up as they have in FFB societies that were formed in the crucible of a harsh golus where antisemites tried to rob and kill them and their own brethern tried to steal the souls of their children they were conditioned to view “Goyim”and the secular in a way radically differnt from our own. We know how slow personal change can be. Societal change is even more gradual. FFB society has been very slow to evolve in reaction to the unprecedented realities of the post-war post-60s American Golus. I know that it’s hard sometimes… but be patient with them.

    B) I always remember the many sweet beautiful people who extended themselves to me when I began to return. They reached out to me and nurtured me with empathy, love and understanding and they were almost all FFBs. Obviously at least in some quarters love, empathy, respesct and being non-judgemental is being taught at Yeshivas and Bais Yaakovs. Try focusing on these ideas the next time some insensitive slob tries to put you down. IMO and experience the loving Jews with are the rule rather than the exception.

  35. Rob-
    Which type(s)of satanic evildoers is Boro Park chock full of? Homicidal maniacs, serial adulterers or trinity worshipping idolaters?

    I have taken scrapings from the walls of many shteebels, submitted them for chemo-psychoanalysis and they were found to contain levels of Marginilization-B gas in quantities insufficient to gas a fly to death. Toughen up guy!

    To paraphrase that great statesman President Ahmadinejad – if the old-boys DWEM FFB network is convinced of their historical crime against you then they ought to allot you a chat room of your own on one of their whine and rant blogsites. Why must the oppressed BT people of the world pay for their crimes by having to read your scurilous tarring-with-a-wide-brush calumnies against major portions of K’lal Yisrael in our blogosphere?

    Most people yearn for personal trainers or personal chefs. Congratulations… you’ve earned your very own personal Holocaust denier!

  36. If you read or listen to a wide sampling of Rabbi Schiller’s works, I think it is clear that he is more surprised that “modern orthodox who are, generally, more open-minded would have, what are implied to be, negative feelings toward chareidi ideology?”

  37. In an otherwise excellent article, I found the following by Rabbi Schiller to be unsettling,

    Finally, there is the general stance of Orthodoxy in relation to non – Orthodox (or haredi towards Modern Orthodox and, more surprisingly, Modern Orthodox to haredi)

    The idea itself has merit, but it’s that little phrase in apposition, “more suprisingly”, that got me wondering. What did Rabbi Schiller mean by that? Is it surprising that modern orthodox who are, generally, more open-minded would have, what are implied to be, negative feelings toward chareidi ideology? Or, he understands how people can think negatively of the non-frum or modern orthodox, but how could someone think that way of Chareidim?

    I would hope it’s the former, but having heard Rabbi Schiller speak and skewer modern orhtodoxy I fear it’s the latter.

  38. Having moved from secular through the dedicated Reform Jew stage into OJ and a commitment to living in a major Orthodox community, I find that mmny, many Jews of all stripes really have no understanding of what Juda-ism is. Whether this is because they never learned, or they learned “wrong” or they drifted through their learning years, the result is a Judaism that has limited substance, which is not a true part of their everyday lives, thinking and decision-making.

    In a sense, The Rambam found a similar situation of Jews drifting within his society which prompted him to write his monumental “Guide for the Perplexed”.

    No, I don’t put myself in any way near the level of The Rambam. But along my own growth path Hashem gave me the ability to understand and explain to Jews at all levels some of the most fundamental concepts in Judaism.

    Now an as yet unpublished book, this work has received a Rabbinic Haskama and has passed the reading test of several dozen Jews (and one non-Jew). From now until December 31, 2005 I am offering anyone who requests it an MSWORD copy of this book: “So Many Gates to the City… A Guide for the Modern Perplexed – A Book About Jewish Belief and Understanding, and Making Some Sense Of It”.

    May it help you and those you care about as it has already done so for my small circle of readers.

  39. Rob – It might makes sense to look at the greatness that is possible with a Torah lifestyle. Part of that greatness is the potential to reach high levels of G-d awareness and to become more “G-d like” in our behaviors.

    Judaism does not hold out the promise of perfect human beings. We strive towards perfection while realizing that we are far from it – as individuals and as a people.

    And part of our individual greatness is to find the greatness in others, even as they display their failings. We certainly need to correct the failings individually and collectively. Judging positively and not speaking Loshan Hora does not mean we should be naive, but that we should focus on the positives and the beauty of the observant community and the non-observant community and all the people of the world whenever possible and practical.

    I just want to say that I am not nearly at the place I want to be in this regard, but I’m hoping that collectively we can make reaching that place a little easier.

  40. I guess my comment is, If all these negative interactions with the already-frum community occur (and I’ve not only experienced the ones you mentioned, but those and then some) why be frum?

    It’s a harsh question, but did we not come into this lifestyle because of our ideals, because of our commitment to pursuing truth?

    The usual answer is that, Well, as bad a people can be they would be worse without Torah?

    I don’t automatically discount that answer, but there seems to be — for lack of a better description — a frum “culture” embedded with attitudes and hashkafas that engender and abet the negative behaviors — behaviors that you don’t necessarily find a problem in the secular world.

    Or not.

    I’m not poskining. I’m asking. Why did I give up a maybe little (or a lot) better material life for one populated with people who often lack basic derech eretz, empathy, who are not paragons of ethical/spiritual excellence, whose leaders are “in reality, flawed human beings,” who are suspicious and adversarial toward “outsiders” (even within orthodoxy), and who are even guilty of at least two of the three cardinal sins Jews are supposed to give up our lives for?

    I could have gotten all that in a secular lifestyle. I didn’t need to become frum to observe those vices and even be victimized by them in many instances? In a secular lifestyle, even if I would have not been better off materially in the end I would not have had the disappointment of thinking I was entering a world populated with a higher grade of human being.

    The answer may be that even given all the human failings and disappointments the gains outweigh the losses. I think that’s probably what I believe. But it’s also possible that even that’s not necessarily true, and, in the final analysis, this might be a question without an answer. It may be my holocaust, my test by God to not lose faith even as I’m being led, metaphorically, into the gas chambers. Maybe it is just a test of faith.

  41. The issues that you have touched upon are all very familiar. I believe that the fundamental problem of the BT is a lack of a family support system or, for many, any support system. I hope that this site will help to fill the void. I appreciate your time and effort in particating in this site and I look forward to reading about your thoughts and opinions.

  42. The truth is, coming from a modern orthodox background and parochial schools, the hardest part when I decided to become more religious while still deeply respecting my family and upbringing was the judgemental attitude of my fellow BT’s. In many circles this is dubbed BTD, Baal Teshuva Disorder. I encountered many people who overnight presumed that they had found the way, the only way, to be frum and scoffed at my efforts to find a balance I was comfortable; ie. going to a secular university in Israel, keeping my old sneakers instead of black loafers, listening to the music I have always loved. As a result, I did not remain close with any of the women I was learning with and keep company with much more accepting and open-minded FFBs. In fact, I married one.

  43. This is an honest post. I just want to throw out there that many BT’s are disillusioned because so much of OJ is hard to believe, and objectively so.
    FFB’s are trained from such a young age, their bechira is severly limited. Only the baddest of apples goes off the derech. And the majority are consigned to a comfortable life, but one lived in the dark.

    Again, one can’t really blame BT’s or FFB’s. Rather, it’s the basic premises of OJ that simply don’t add up without a lot of self-training in apologetics and shutting off the questioning side of one’s mind.

  44. Wow. Just found this site and this article struck me particularly hard (in a mostly good way).

    The problem with the flaws of other religious people are certainly one of my large issues. Another is seemingly apologetic of facile answers to challenges to personally problematic halachic rulings, lines from chazal, etc.

    As far as our flawed FFB friends go, I think it is important to keep the question in mind, what would they be like if they were not Torah Jews? If a Jew is bending halachah (or completely distorting it) to suit devious ends–such as some married, ‘religious’ yidden who make pseudo-halachic excuses for sleeping with prostitutes in Tel-Aviv–I doubt it is (in most cases) their Torah lifestyle which has driven them to such actions, but rather a yetzer harah that even their Torah upbringing did not overcome.

    But plainly negative actions are actually easier for me to explain than those who are basically good Torah Jews, but live Torah without any passion, without a sense of wonder. I have actually had FFB friends poke fun at me (not in a mean way) for closing my eyes and really concentrating when making a brachah. Comments like “you are SUCH a baal teshuvah.” In one case that comment was even meant explicitly as a compliment, but it revealed something I found disturbing. Luckily I have found some FFBs who are as impassioned and inspired about Torah as I am, and though it may be a facile response, I’ll generally take an uninspired person lazing along on the right path over one passionately striving in the wrong direction entirely.

    Looking forward to the next entry.

  45. BS”D

    That was beautifully written and IY”H, I’m going to try and get hold of your book. But I must say, as a BT living amongst FFBs, most FFBs are as enthusiastic about mitzvos as we are, and may Hashem help that my children should always be so.

    But I very much relate to what your friend said about our being different. I feel the difference, though I must say, if my FFB friends notice it, they’re gracious enough not to say anything about it, or perhaps those differences are relatively unimportant. Fundamentally, we’re all serving Hashem, and that’s the most important thing.

  46. BTs are always somewhat alien in not only the frum community but in the secular environment as well. Having been involved with secular and non-Jewish friends at a certain level all our lives, we suddenly give that up for another ‘reality’, where sadly we also don’t quite fit in.

  47. There is a lot there and not enough time before shabbos to comment thoughtfully. Just along the lines of your future post about books, The Way Back is a phenomenal book for BTs and since you wrote it, I am getting that out there now so your humility does not preclude us from benefiting.

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  1. […] More than one person commented that we’re putting out too much good stuff too fast and people don’t have time to digest it all. We were originally thinking that three substantive posts a day plus a few links was a good target, but let us know if you think that’s too much. I’m moving Rabbi Schiller’s great post toward the top of the blog, since its Friday posting date did not give it the full exposure and commenting it deserves. […]