Many years ago, Rabbi Ben Tzion Kokis, formerly the Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshivas Ohr Somayach of Monsey wrote an article titled Helping Baalei Teshuva Be Themselves.
Here is an excerpt. Please read the whole article below.
This is one of the most crucial, yet painful, stages in a baal teshuva’s development: the realization that in the world of Torah he cannot follow his own hunches in deciding what is right and what is wrong. The average baal/baalas teshuva grew up in a culture where there were no, or precious few, moral absolutes. Very often, society places pleasure and gratification as the only criteria for choices in life. Even when a sense of moral correctness is sought, the main standard of judgment is the dictates of his own conscience: are you being true to your own sense of justice and decency? Suddenly, having made a commitment to a life of Torah, things are no longer so simple. He may very likely find that compared to the past, he is having a much harder time making decisions, because he no longer can think only in terms of what he thinks is appropriate, but rather what is really right, through the eyes of the Torah.
Here is the whole article:
The gemora tells us a revealing event which took place in the early stages of Rebbe Akiva’s growth. “Rebbe Akiva said: ‘At the beginning of my study, I once chanced upon a “mais mitzva” (abandoned corpse) by the roadside. I strained for four parsaos to bring the body to a cemetery. When I came to my teachers and told them, they said to me, “Akiva! Every step you took was like spilling innocent blood, because a mais mitzva should be buried in the place where the body lies.” At that time, I resolved never to leave my teachers’ side.”
This reaction of Rebbe Akiva to his well-intentioned error is probably familiar to all of us, but especially to the ba’al teshuva. How often the halacha runs counter to what our intuistion would have dictated, and how easy it is to make an assumption about the right way to do things, only to discover that the halacha says otherwise.
This is one of the most crucial, yet painful, stages in a ba’al teshuva’s development: the realization that in the world of Torah he cannot follow his own hunches in deciding what is right and what is wrong. The average ba’al/ba’alas teshuva grew up in a culture where there were no, or precious few, moral absolutes. Very often, society places pleasure and gratification as the only criteria for choices in life. Even when a sense of moral correctness is sought, the main standard of judgement is the dictates of his own conscience: are you being true to your own sense of justice and decency? Suddenly, having made a commitment to a life of Torah, things are no longer so simple. He may very likely find that compared to the past, he is having a much harder time making decisions, because he no longer can think only in terms of what he thinks is appropriate, but rather what is really right, through the eyes of the Torah.
Even questions which would seem to call for a purely subjective evaluation are not left up to the inclinations and preferences of the individual. Defining beauty, for instance, becomes a complex proposition when a lulav or esrog is concerned; the Torah’s requirement of “hadar” is not left up to one’s aesthetic instincts. On occasion, the opposite is true: the esrog which you may consider “pretty” may be barely kosher by the Halacha’s standards, while the real “m’hudar” could be less than dazzling in everyday terms. The more one becomes conditioned to the world of halacha, it would seem, the less valid individual preferences become.
Succeeding in this transition is a milestone in one’s integration of Torah, and perhaps could even be viewed as the watershed event in the whole process of teshuva. However, this success is often accompanied by the seeds of a serious problem, which, if not acknowledged and dealt with, can have a negative effect on one’s entire life. There are areas in life in which it is absolutely crucial that one be very much in touch with his own feelings, and those feelings must be taken seriously. Too often the ability to trust one’s own instincts is a casualty of the transition of teshuva, with the result that even in personal issues the healthy input of internal judgement is not part of the decision-making process.
Consider the (true) story of S—-, a woman in her early thirties whom this writer had occasion to meet. She is a highly intelligent, strong-minded person, who was very proud of her skills and accomplishments as a special-ed teacher. She had taught successfully in an inner-city public school, a fact which spoke volumes about the strength of character which lay beneath her otherwise mild demeanor. She was also the mother of an infant, and had been recently divorced, after a marriage of …less than a month. S—–described how her advisors had urged her to marry a particular young man, also a ba’al teshuva, although she had very little feeling for him as a person. Several years her junior, he was a nice enough person, but just did not have the character and maturity which a woman like S—- expected from a husband.
After a tense few weeks, it became clear to their advisors that there really was no hope for the marriage, and a divorce was arranged. What I found astonishing was not the divorce; rather, the decision to get married in the first place was incomprehensible. How could such an intelligent and independent woman have allowed herself to enter a lifelong relationship with someone toward whom she felt so little? When I posed this question to S—-, she replied that there had been pressure to get married- she wasn’t getting any younger, of course- and individuals whose opinion she respected reassured her that everything would be OK, afterwards it will be different, etc., etc. So, although deep down she had misgivings about her decision, her strength of personality was able to squelch those doubts, and she went ahead with the marriage.
This may be an extreme example. It is clear, however, that such decisions do not occur in a vacuum. They only occur if one has previously relinquished a degree of personal judgement, and developed a distrust of his or her own instincts. This phenomenon may all too often accompany the transition of a young man or woman into a life of Torah, and it is specifically the most sincere and idealistic personalities who are susceptible to falling into this pattern.
Considerable care is therefore required on the part of those who are involved in this area of chinuch. Tremendous sensitivity must be used in order to ensure that the growth of a ben- or bas-Torah not come at the cost of a diminishing of a personality. A clear distinction must be made between yielding one’s judgement in halachic matters, and maintaining a secure sense of identity in personal decisions. And, as was suggested above, the problem is not that the individual is a “weak” personality. Rather, it may be a side effect of the process of teshuva itself.
Conflicts similar to the shidduch situation described above may arise in other areas. Let us examine several more common examples of this phenomenon.
The question of spending significant time in yeshiva and kollel, or becoming involved in the world of parnoso, confronts every ben-Torah to some degree. But the guidance given to a ba’al- or ba’alas teshuva in this regard must take into account that this individual is a product of cultural and educational influences which, for better or for worse, played a great role in forming his personality and attitudes. Both external and internal factors influence a person to define accomplishment in secular terms. Externally, the values of one’s family and friends create certain expectations; even more importantly, an individual learns to gauge his own fulfillment, and accordingly to feel self-worth, in terms of career goals and material success.
When the Hashgochoh provides a young adult with the opportunity to be exposed to Torah, there is a tendency to view the previous years as being irrelevant to the “new” person who is developing in the yeshiva. But in reality, while an individual sincerely admires and identifies with the emes and gadlus of the Torah, and the rabbeim and senior chaverim who have become his role models, this does not mean that he has become a totally new person in the span of a few months. One cannot just slip on a set of attitudes like a new suit of clothes. There are many underlying issues of self-esteem which must also be dealt with, specifically because he is a ba’al teshuva, before a total transformation has taken place. Therefore, there are bound to be a different set of considerations when advising a ba’al teshuva in this regard.
It must be borne in mind that the challenges which he will face will be very different than those facing other b’nei Torah, and less emotional support is available to him, as compared to “conventional” yeshiva or Bais Yaakov students. The latter grew up in a social and educational system which was structured to encourage and facilitate dedication to Torah and mitzvos, and sacrifices made for that cause are generally supported by family and friends. It is so painfully different for the ba’al and ba’alas teshuva!
Several years ago a young man approached me a few days before his wedding. He was close to tears. He had been under tremendous pressure to take care of numerous arrangements for his chasuna, since his family were not able/willing to be involved. He was paying for a good part of his own wedding. In addition, the plans for his oyfruf were being complicated by his family’s insistence that they would just drive in on Shabbos, since they didn’t feel comfortable staying with strangers who had offered hospitality. But this was not what had caused his distress. A kollel member who had in fact been very helpful to the choson as he progressed in his Torah learning, and whom this bochur held in the utmost esteem, had scolded him sharply for being so distracted from his learning in the days before his chasuna…”Your kallah will lose her respect for you!” was the message that he had heard, from someone whose opinion meant an awful lot to him.
How unfair it was to criticize this sincere young man, who was doing his best to make his own chasuna, by applying standards that would only apply to a bochur whose parents are taking care of all the arrangements!
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that ba’alei teshuva shouldn’t dedicate themselves to learning Torah in a serious way. But it does mean that decisions should be made carefully, with full awareness of the specific needs and capabilities of this individual. Many times, peer pressure or a tendency to conform to conventional norms, rather than measured guidance, seem to be prime factors in making major decisions, and nisyonos which could have been avoided are instead created. The obligation of “aytza tova” would certainly dictate that a mechanech should look to the long-range benefit and health of his or her talmidim.
It is crucial to note that this is the counsel which gedolim have taught. Take the following incident, for example, as related to this writer by the rosh yeshiva of one of the major yeshivos for ba’alei teshuva in Yerushalayim.
A talmid of the yeshiva had been studying in a prestigious European university, and had a few months to go before earning a Master’s degree, which would virtually guarantee him a teaching position of his choice. However, having become enthusiastically involved in learning, he saw no point in completing his studies, since at this point he felt no desire to ever re-enter the academic world. The rabbeim of his yeshiva expressed misgivings at this course of action, and suggested that he invest the few months of study to finish his degree, and then continue learning, so that his options will be open in case the need will arise at some future date to seek a teaching position. (It is important to note that his field of study was not problematic from a Halachic standpoint.)
The talmid said that he appreciated his rabbeim’s concern, but it was clear to him that he had no desire to be a college professor, so he had no reason to stop learning. His Rosh Yeshiva then suggested that they discuss the issue with Moran HoRav Shach, shlit”a, and the bochur quickly agreed, confident that he would find total sympathy for his position, since Rav Shach’s stand on the primacy of learning over all else is well known. Much to the surprise of the talmid, however, the advice of Rav Shach was to finish his degree, and then devote himself totally to growth in Torah.
What is noteworthy is that this advice was based on a consideration of the unique issues which face ba’alei teshuva, and would not be applied across the board to the conventional yeshiva talmid.
A similar situation exists with connection to something which is taken for granted in the Torah world: that as a young man or woman enter adulthood, it is natural and desirable that they plan on marrying and raising a family. This is no longer a given in the general society, and in many cases, ba’alei/ba’alos tehuva were educated to look with disdain at this way of life. A mechanech cannot underestimate the influence of “yuppieism” and Women’s Lib on the attitudes of his students, and thoughtful attention must be paid to the underlying issues of sharing and responsibility that are so crucial in establishing a successful home. The stamina and understanding that are so necessary for building a strong relationship and raising children, do not suddenly form out of thin air when a young man or woman becomes committed to Torah and mitzvos.
The question must always be asked: Is this individual emotionally ready for marriage? Or is he or she responding only on a mental, hashkofoh level to what seems to be the “expected” thing to do in the Torah community? Again, sensitivity to the personal dimension of chinuch is indispensable, and will do much to avoid later complications and anguish.
An exceptional young man had become religious, and was learning most of the day in an established Yeshiva for ba’alei teshuva, while running a family business for part of the day. He started the shidduchim process, and for approximately a year was meeting young women, with no success. After a while, one of his rabbeim began to wonder: This young man seems to have everything going for him. He’s very intelligent, sensitive, has a good livelihood, a warm personality; why isn’t he connecting with the young women whom he’s meeting? The rebbe had an insight, and asked the bochur, “Tell me something. If you hadn’t become religious a few years ago, would you also be dating now with intent to get married?”
The young man thought for a moment, and said, “No, I wouldn’t.”
“Why not?” the rebbe asked. The young man told him that several years before, he had ended a serious relationship, and had been hurt very much by the break-up. He didn’t feel emotionally ready yet for this level of commitment. “That’s understandable,” the rebbe replied, “but if so, how can you be involved in shidduchim now?”
The answer was, that this is what you’re “supposed” to do when you’re frum! But it was not yet where the young man was in his personal development. Once this point was recognized, he dealt with the issue, and was engaged a few months later, and is building a beautiful home.
We have attempted to describe a few areas in which the integration of the ba’al/ ba’alas teshuva into the world of Torah requires special sensitivity. The common denominator is that young men and women must be taken seriously as people- both by their teachers and by themselves- to ensure their healthy and mature integration into the fabric of Klal Yisroel.
Professionally, I agree with the advice to seek out your local orthodox rabbi. Having said that, I know of couples (not many) who’ve been through this experience of one spouse becoming observant-with different and varying results over time.
If you like, I may be able to help you get in touch with a rabbi in your area to help you folks sort this out, and maybe one couple who’s been on that path for many years now. Just as different couples have different experiences; different rabbis may have different insights and provide different guidance.
Feel free to email me. I may be a little slow to respond, but I will respond.
Rabbi Mordechai Y. Scher
Santa Fe, NM
First of all: We are an older couple and taharat hamishpacha is not an issue, thank G-d. Second: OK, if someone wants to start a new thread about this whole issue, sure, go ahead! I’ve searched and searched, and it just is not a topic anyone has thought about. I keep seeing books and blogs about non-observant parents or non-observant children…but nothing at all about a spouse. If it makes any difference, I am a wife.
PL- The situation you are describing is best handled by your local orthodox rabbi. The reason it isn’t discussed is because it involves taharat hamishpacha (family purity) and those issues are not considered suitable for discussion on-line. You owe it to yourself to discover what these laws are, what the rabbis say the punishment for violating these laws entails, and whether you and your spouse are willing to keep them, before you continue on your journey.
PL – that should be the subject of its own “parasha”! does the expression “changing horses midstream” mean anything to you :)
there is no one size fits all answer but perhaps the role model for those situations might be Avraham our patriarch – he lived in such a way that people just wanted to emulate him – the inability of a spouse to change religiously with the other is often a symptom of something deeper – however, sometimes when a spouse sees the tranquility that keeping shabbos has on the other, they want to join in the simcha – where there are children it sometimes gets a bit hairier b/c frequently the parents subtly (or not too subtly) jockey for the hearts and minds of their kids sowing future seeds of conflict, lo aleinu. Include your spouse whereever possible – bring fresh flowers for shabbos, sing eishes chayil with true tears of love and appreciation in your eyes, then there’s always the famous “washing the dishes as a segulo for sholom bayis” also comes to mind. But most importantly, pray hard for Hashem’s help and it will come. I speak from experience. The TV blaring I hate to say is more a basic consideration issue much as turning it down (or waering headphones) allows a tired spouse to sleep – that’s a negotiated space issue masking as a religious battle
Perhaps someone wants to pick up this thread independently – -it’s too important to have buried as a footnote elsewhere
What I don’t see in this article (or anywhere else) is how to deal with becoming a BT all alone AFTER one is married. What if the spouse is still totally immersed in the secular world and has no interest at all in becoming a BT? This is the invisible problem that no one is even aware of, because it is never talked about. How does one enjoy Shabbat, let’s say, when they go to shul but their mate is not there on the other side of the mechitza? And then when they come home to try to celebrate Shabbat, the TV is blaring?
Bob Miller, you wrote,
“As for the grad school story, you ought to appreciate Rabbi Kokis’ perspective, even if you don’t share it. I’ve come to understand that my own education (undergraduate and graduate at MIT) had far less depth and meaning than what I’d have found in a top yeshiva.”
That’s great, but it seems to me it isn’t just about depth and meaning. It is also about not scuttling (nevermind building from scratch) a solid career path in the off chance that depth and meaning don’t pay the bills.
You interpreted my criticism to Rabbi Kokis’ specific essay as a claim that all yeshiva students are discourage from thinking for themselves, and brought a proof from Rabbi Miller “that it wasn’t the role of the Rosh Yeshiva to spell out every single instance in life” according to everyone in the yeshiva world.
But my criticism wasn’t about the general yeshiva world anymore than Rabbi Kokis’ essay was. Thing only “generalizations” I made were towards Rabbi Kokis’ essay, his institution, and other comparable institutions. An FFB yeshiva is hardly, as I qualified, “a comparable baal tshuvah yeshiva,” nor would Rabbi Kokis claim it should be. After all, the majority of Lakewood students did not “grow up in a culture where there were no, or precious few, moral absolutes.”
Mordechai Y. Scher, you quoted Rabbi Kook,
“The human morality is pragmatic (machshir); that is it serves as a means to normative social interaction. Since the foundation of human morality is intended to be of practical benefit (toalti), it can evolve towards a private benefit which can cause damage to others. The divine morality also goes down to the practical processes of individual’s lives, but it remains true to it’s original, superior spirit.”
This specific quote strikes me as a more normative Orthodox outlook than the one offered by Rabbi Kokis. I never meant to suggest that his outlook is one held ubiquitously by Orthodox Jews. It is not.
But this specific essay is hardly unknown, which is why I felt the need to address it previously elsewhere. My concern is the popularity of this essay in some circles, and what this popularity means. The ideological implications are troubling, but the pragmatic ones are what bother me much more.
DK-Let’s assume as a given that secular societies work from some moral framework, albeit and obviously not a Torah based orientation. Yet, we know that a moral and cultured society can perpetrate a Holocaust, ignore starvation in Africa and justify political ties,trading and commerce with totalitarian societies while permitting their culture and educational centers to become the centers for propragating anti Semitism, moral decadence and post modernist ethics.
Look at the verses in Exodus where Moshe comfronts an Egyptian overseer beating a Jew. Moshe looked again and saw a depraved two legged monster with no redeeming moral qualities despite a veneer of cultural and moral sophistication. I think that only a Torah based society for Jews gives us the moral foundation that we would not otherwise realize is one of the ways by which we show that we are different and fulfilling a Divinely given mission.
David Kelsey has noted that the ‘non-dati’ cultures are not amoral; rather they have different and probably less rigid morals.
This particular nuance seems to have stirred up a little controversy. Allow me to ‘add some fuel’, in honor of starting Pirkei Avot, with some comments of Rav Kook’s for the opening of the masechet, from Orot HaKodesh and as quoted by his talmid, Rav Neriya z”l. (Note: I translate ‘musar’ as moral discipline/morality, in keeping with words like ‘moseirot’ or ‘kaasher yiyaser ish et b’no’.)
“Our tractate of moral discipline, tractate Avot, opens with “Moshe received Torah from Sinai”, to teach us that also teachings of moral discipline were given at Sinai. It is necessary to discern between two sources of moral discipline. There is moral discipline of Divine origin, and there is moral discipline of human origin. The Divine morality is independant; it’s principle aspiration is the purification (zikuch) of a person and his characteristics. The human morality is pragmatic (machshir); that is it serves as a means to normative social interaction.
Since the foundation of human morality is intended to be of practical benefit (toalti), it can evolve towards a private benefit which can cause damage to others. The divine morality also goes down to the practical processes of individual’s lives, but it remains true to it’s original, superior spirit.”
In Orot Hakodesh (the beginning of Book 3) he writes: “Secular morality is not deep, it doesn’t penetrate to the inner workings of the soul. Even though a person is drawn by it to good, by recognizing through it the forthrightness/honesty (yosher) of rational thought, this cannot withstand the onslaught of various desires, when they awaken in a strong manner…There is no other advice but for a person to be guided by Divine moral discipline.”
Clearly, the Rav doesn’t say there is no morality outside Torah; rather he is concerned with it’s practical and spiritual limitations.
Happy learning Pirkei Avot!
Yaakov Astor was on target regarding his comment that the “average” Ba’alei T’shuva simply doesn’t fall into broad generalizations as described in articles such as the one featured in this thread.
The reasons behind a BT’s decision to take live according to the Torah may be as nuanced as any pilpul shiur and using black & white illustrations fail to accurately describe the motivations and ultimately fail in obtaining any accuracy whatsoever.
That said, here is one of DK’s comments
“In other words, the baal tshuva is taught that his thinking is generally the opposite of the true Torah Jew, and can’t be trusted. On anything. He needs to ASK. On everything.”
I wish I could present something more concrete, but IMO there’s evidence to prove the opposite. In one of Rav Avigdor Miller’s tape he explains that one physically cannot run to poskim for every single inyan (issue) and an Avreich from Lakewood who although not a posek was otherwise qualified to act as a mentor once explained that it wasn’t the role of the Rosh Yeshiva to spell out every single instance in life.
Some will inevitably require a shailoh (religious question) but otherwise there’s encouragement for independence. Once again, not the most concrete of evidence but enough to inform (myself at least) that regarding this issue, DK is not immune from generalizations either.
For the record, as a ben zikunim (child of older than usual parents) of a father and mother who were children of East European immigrants and who lived through the Great Depression and served in WWII, it’s not that there was a lack of moral absolutes or the virtues of honesty, modesty and the value of money, but rather outside of a frum environment it required constant (and seemingly pointless) justification of such “old fashioned and naive” ways of life.
The parents of my peers were at least 10 and sometimes 20 years younger than mine and often I could detect a a wide gap in their respective attitudes towards ideas mentioned above.
Considering this, not living on ones assumptions and hunches need not be negatively construed. Considering Rav Miller’s often scathing criticism of contemporary norms that have infiltrated aspects of frum kehilas, it’s reasonable to conclude that the Rav didn’t consider constant introspection to be the sole province and responsibility of the BT.
The Torah has plenty to say about life’s proper direction, and not only in the narrow field of “religion” (read Rabbi S.R. Hirsch’s works on this issue). Our Chachamim are not dispensers of religious platitudes to dress up our otherwise perfect lives. Taking their advice seriously and doing the needed introspection pays off spiritually. If one such advisor doesn’t help you, seek out another. You are capable of greatness, but don’t think you can get there alone.
Understand that Rabbi Kokis’ points are generalized from his experience base, just as yours are generalized from your experience base. If you don’t fit the picture he draws, you still need Torah advice as we all do.
As for the grad school story, you ought to appreciate Rabbi Kokis’ perspective, even if you don’t share it. I’ve come to understand that my own education (undergraduate and graduate at MIT) had far less depth and meaning than what I’d have found in a top yeshiva.
This is why I feel it is so terrible, an excerpt from a longer response to this very essay:
Rabbi Kokis writes,
This is one of the most crucial, yet painful, stages in a baal teshuva’s development: the realization that in the world of Torah he cannot follow his own hunches in deciding what is right and what is wrong. The average baal/baalas teshuva grew up in a culture where there were no, or precious few, moral absolutes. Very often, society places pleasure and gratification as the only criteria for choices in life. Even when a sense of moral correctness is sought, the main standard of judgment is the dictates of his own conscience: are you being true to your own sense of justice and decency? Suddenly, having made a commitment to a life of Torah, things are no longer so simple. He may very likely find that compared to the past, he is having a much harder time making decisions, because he no longer can think only in terms of what he thinks is appropriate, but rather what is really right, through the eyes of the Torah.”
In fact, most baal/baalas tshuvahs did not grow up in anarchy, nor were they taught nihilism, but rather, were taught a different, if admittedly less rigid, moral code. This is a tremendous exaggeration about what life is like in the secular Jewish world.
And whom is the baal tshuvah supposed to consult, now that he is understandably “having a much harder time” every time on every subject? In case you aren’t sure that’s what’s being advocated, read the next paragraph.
Even questions which would seem to call for a purely subjective evaluation are not left up to the inclinations and preferences of the individual. Defining beauty, for instance, becomes a complex proposition when a lulav or esrog is concerned; the Torah’s requirement of “hadar – beautiful –” is not left up to one’s aesthetic instincts. On occasion, the opposite is true: the esrog which you may consider “pretty” may be barely kosher by the halacha’s standards, while the real “m’hudar” could be less than dazzling in everyday terms. The more one becomes conditioned to the world of halacha, it would seem, the less valid individual preferences become.
In other words, the baal tshuva is taught that his thinking is generally the opposite of the true Torah Jew, and can’t be trusted. On anything. He needs to ASK. On everything.
A talmid of the yeshiva had been studying in a prestigious European university, and had a few months to go before earning a Master’s degree, which would virtually guarantee him a teaching position of his choice. Having become enthusiastically involved in learning, however, he saw no point in completing his studies, since at this point he felt no desire to ever re-enter the academic world. The rebbeim of his yeshiva expressed misgivings at this course of action, and suggested that he invest the few months of study to finish his degree, and then continue learning, so that his options will be open in case the need will arise at some future date to seek a teaching position. (It is important to note that his field of study was not problematic from a halacha standpoint.)
The talmid said that he appreciated his rebbeim’s concern, but it was clear to him that he had no desire to be a college professor, so he had no reason to stop learning. His Rosh Yeshiva then suggested that they discuss the issue with Rabbi Shach, l”xz, and the bachur quickly agreed, confident that he would find total sympathy for his position, since Rabbi Shach’s stand on the primacy of learning over all else is well known. Much to the surprise of the talmid, however, the advice of Rabbi Shach was to finish his degree, and then devote himself totally to growth in Torah.
What is noteworthy is that this advice was based on a consideration of the unique issues that face baalei teshuva, and would not be applied across the board to the conventional yeshiva talmid.
This shows the resistance and contempt for secular studies and a profession like nothing else. Look how carefully Rabbi Kokis is to couch the anecdote in terms acceptable to the frum (literally religious, but usually suggesting ultra-Orthodox) community. The student need only “invest a few months” to finish a graduate degree which would “virtually guarantee him a teaching position of his choice.”
And still, it was (and is) a big shayla. In fact, it had to go to the Godol Hador. Why did he think it was a bad idea? Because he had been taught it was a bad idea. And he wasn’t taught that in graduate school; he was taught that at Ohr Somayach, or some comparable baal tshuvah yeshiva.
And the qualifiers are incredible. This particular field of study was “not problematic” from a halacha standpoint. Well, which ones are and which ones aren’t, might I ask? Can’t say! Consult your O.S. professional, please. ALWAYS ASK A SHAYLA.
Let it be clear – students at these institutions are not just taught how to be observant Jews. They are taught to repent. Hence the name “tshuvah,” and to regret things that maybe they shouldn’t be ashamed of.
That in fact, they should be proud of, and should continue to pursue.
The yeshivah world rightly criticizes the chassidim for asking their Rebbes for medical advise. They should be going for a brucha, not what medicine to take or not take. And the Rebbes are considered at fault by the B’nai Torah when they don’t defer to the chassid’s doctor.
But they act the same when it comes to vocation and secular education.
And plenty else.
David, I just read your comment (#2). Why is it so terrible to ask a question if you don’t know what to do?When you don’t know what to do you ask someone who knows such as a Rav. That’s how we learn. I don’t think it advocates the opposite of empowerment.IMO, becoming frum and knowing who to ask is empowering. Once, some years ago, I was walking down the hall at school with the teacher (an FFB) discussing different things and I told her that I’d never felt so free as I did when I became frum. Nowadays, I guess you’d call it being empowered. Most of the BTs I know also feel the same way. It’s not just the community we live in now but it’s been that way in every community we’ve lived in (from large to small). You have to find a support group (help is out there;have all you have to do is look. It may take a while but it’s there).
I think the point of the original article was that many are helped to become frum but few are helped to STAY frum, whether it be finding an appropriate shidduch, making your own wedding, raising your children, etc. The article was not directed towards BT’s in particular but rather at frum people in general, suggesting they consider increasing their level of support for the newly frum. The kiruv group issue is an aside: Yes kiruv groups are grossly under helped, but it is not the BT’s responsibility to pick up where that kiruv group leaves off JUST BECAUSE he or she is BT. It is the whole community’s responsibility but yet the disproportionate burden falls on those who still need alot of help themselves, the BT family with many children. Ask yourself when was the last time you had over a single BT, and when was the last time you had over a family of six or more headed by two BT’s. If it was last shabbos, kol hakavod to you. If it’s been longer than that, maybe pick up the phone and invite me!
I should add, Just like we were helped, and it is assumed, are willing to help others.
After I stopped nodding my head in agreement with Anonymous’ relating the difficulty of raising a family with no family support, I started shaking my head no when she started complaining about being asked to host new BTs or young families by some kiruv organization. Really, “No” is a legitimate answer if you are overwhelmed. If you say “yes” and then complain about the added stress, you should reconsider if you are the best candidate for this particular chessed. I am asked all the time to do various chassadim, such as cook for the elderly homebound, bikur cholim, hosting for kiruv, etc. My name is on many lists. I say yes more than I say no, but I do say no.
I don’t think any chessed is complete when it is resented, particularly when it is dealing with people such as kiruv or helping someone to integrate. I hope Anonymous will reconsider if she is saying yes too often, or if she resents simply being asked, she should politely ask that her name be taken off that list. Kiruv organizations are grossly under-helped and reach out to many individuals whom they may not know. Please do not judge them harshly. They are just trying to help all those Jews out there who never had a taste of Torah.
Decision making is a hard thing for anybody, anybody thoughtful I think. Even those in empowered positions, politically or whatever, have advisors, cabinets, others to consult with. We have the added awareness, hopefully of trying to determine what H” wants from us in any given situation. This, besides being sometimes difficult, actually enhances our entire existence and mundane activities to a heightened awareness and sensitivity. Especially when we choose what we know to be right., it is gratifying and gives us confidence. And even when we don’t, that awareness still leads us to hope for the future., and better choices and actions.
As far as guidance with practical details, I not only have had that from the beginning twenty years ago,k but still do and through every new stage, hopefully will. The difference now, is that I am also in a position to give guidance to others regarding things I have gone through myself, or through helping others. That goes for practical help as well, though I am sure it cannot compare to generations of frum families. Many friends and neighbors help each other out, that happens more out of town or where generations don’t live nearb y I suppose, but it happens. And not frum family can help as well and usually do. BTs do have a support system amongst themselves as well, I’ve seen that in many communities and states. Perhaps certain supports and relationships we have to seek out or build, but life is like that. That includes Shabbos invitations at any stage also. If there are times where we feel we are not in a position to give, so we must nurture ourselves and our families first, ob viously., b ut hopefully those times will pass and the beautiful cycle of chesed and giving will continue to go around.
I like Rabbi Kokis, but I have to disagree with some of his generalizations.
The average baal/baalas teshuva grew up in a culture where there were no, or precious few, moral absolutes.
Moral absolutes? What exactly does he mean by that? Secular culture, for all its faults, has its moral underpinnings. We live in a society that essentially upholds the sheva mitzvos bnai Noach. Murder, theft, even adultery, etc. are considered immoral, if not illegal. Yes, abortion and homosexual behavior are advocated in opposition to Torah values, but I don’t think that detracts from the basic premise that the general society in which secular Jews grow up in is essentially moral, at least in the sense of agreeing with the sheva mitzvos.
Very often, society places pleasure and gratification as the only criteria for choices in life.
Only? I would say, from my experience, very often it places pleasure and gratification as “a” criteria or can tend to over-emphasize it to the detriment of others, but I think “only” is hypbole. Also, if you haven’t noticed many parts of frum society place quite a great deal of emphasis on huge homes, magnificent chandeliers, cars, clothes, sheitels, etc.
Even when a sense of moral correctness is sought, the main standard of judgment is the dictates of his own conscience: are you being true to your own sense of justice and decency?
In truth, the sheva mitzvos bnei Noach are said to be instinctually knowable, otherwise how would a ben Noach be chayiv if he didn’t keep them. True, the instincts can become distorted and we need Torah, ultimately, to make sure our moral compass is pointed in the right direction, but to denegrate secular society because it makes moral choices based on the dictates of conscience is, IMO, to misunderstand the great value of our God-given moral instincts.
I think, of course, that there’s many valuable and positive reasons to become frum, but I never felt comfortable with the approach of doing so by contrasting it to a secular world that is not moral, interested in morality or capable of determining morality independent of Torah of largely only interested in hedonistic pleasure and self-gratification. Can’t we promote an hashkafa that emphasizes the beauty of our position without relying on the argument of black vs. white, moral vs. immoral, selfless vs. hedonistic, which is overly simplistic and often not truly accurate?
Also once you are a poster child for successful integration into the frum world you are expected to be a role model and hostess for more recent BT’s. So not only do you not have support from others, but you also are pressured to accept adult ‘children’ into your life when you don’t even have time to raise your own children. The major kiruv groups, who didn’t mekarev you in the first place, come to you and ask you to ‘inspire’ others they have already inspired, but they don’t have the time to continue to support them. So you have young parents coming to you saying “what are the words to hamalach hagoel oti” or even “what is this song I’ve heard some kids sing before bed?”. These are not social responsibilities that you think about when you decide to accept the mitzvot in your teens or early twenties.
I was trying to make two points… not only is there no guidance in sorting through mundane issues like where to buy tznius clothes (as opposed to halachic issues for which one would consult a rav) but there is no ‘help’ help. Alot of frum people go to relatives for yuntiv or shabbat to catch a rest. Relatives help when a new baby is born, or take the kids so you can go to Israel, etc. BT’s don’t have that support system.
Anonymous’s point is very well taken. If you are a BT without frum relatives, etc, you have to find both a rav and friends who can help you thru issues as mundane as finding a pediatrician or as important as where to daven or which yeshivos to send your kids to.
I did read the whole article with great interest, especially the part ‘Raising the Kids… All By Yourself’. As a baalat teshuva of more than 20 years, I have found being a baalat habayit the most demanding, stressful time of my life. I do not have parents, siblings or in-laws who can help me with the task, unlike those who are frum-from-birth. I do not have even anyone to guide me, since once you are frum you are ‘on your own’ in most communities. You have to glean whatever you can from the internet or with breif interaction with older frum women (it’s not like we get shabbos invitations nowadays…)
Did you actually read the whole article and only get that out of it?!
In actuality, the article advocates the precise opposite: individuality and personal differences/choices.
I guess Simon and Garfunkel got it right: “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
On a business trip once, I spent Shabbos with people who hosted a variety of dinner guests. One guest went on at length about his experience with mystical meditation and spoke of the power such activity gives one. I wasn’t too impressed with his basic attitude, especially his emphasis on power, and I thought to myself that it would be better if people like him were not too powerful. The point is that you don’t hand an untrained or incompletely trained person a loaded gun. A degree of empowerment can be good and necessary, but not before a person has done his/her hoemwork. A Jew’s homework includes personal contact with rabbis, poskim, teachers, etc, asking questions (with the right content, to the right people), and acting on the answers. Even the empowered person needs to remain humble enough to know when to ask.
I wrote about this article at length. It is terrible revealing how everything need be “a shayla.”
It advocates the opposite of empowerment.
Gut Moed ( Moadim bSinmcha)to all! This article should be read by anyone who tries to assist a BT in any phase of his or her life.