The Baal Teshuvah and Israel

by Reb Akiva of Mystical Paths

As you become interested in Judaism and start reading the tefilot (prayers), you notice reference after reference to Israel. As a Jewish American (order intention) who’s looking to learn more about religion, the constant mentions of Israel are downright confusing.

Learning a bit more it gets even more confusing! Why do we say “moreed hatal” or “mashiv haruach umoreed hageshem” (who makes the dew fall or who brings the wind and rain) at different times of the year which may not match the local weather pattern? Because that’s when it rains or doesn’t rain in Israel!

Sitting back as an American, why am I suddenly expected to be praying about Israel all the time? Isn’t this kind of a political thing? Do I have to instantly become a zionist and supporter of the Israeli government to be religiously Jewish?

It takes some time to learn the proper balance and perspective. That is…Israel is the Holy Land and G-d’s gift to the Jewish people. Judaism is intimately tied up with Israel, such that over half the commandments can ONLY be fulfilled in Israel, every set of prayers and even birkat hamazon (blessings after a meal) mention Israel and the mystical side of Judaism teaches that all our prayers must travel via Israel on their way to the kisay hakavod.

While it is possible to be Jewish and religiously Jewish in any part of the world, Judaism is designed around Israel, Jerusalem, and the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Temple currently in ruin with a mosque sitting on the site). This is not a political statement, this is religious statement that is a fundamental part of Judaism and Jewishness.

Now how Jews should deal with this in relating to a secular Jewish Israeli government operating a secular Jewish nation-state with a majority Jewish population in PART of the historical and biblical Land of Israel and incorporating Jewish culture and holidays is another question altogether.

But regardless of one’s political position there’s two things that can’t be denied. Judaism and Jewishness is directly tied to the Land of Israel. One cannot deny this without denying the Torah, the Mishnah, the Gemora, the Mishneh Torah and the Shulchan Aruch.

And the current State of Israel has a whole lot of Jews living there. Just about 1/2 the Jews of the world currently live in Israel, with Jews from 63 different countries making their home there. The threats to the State of Israel are existential, meaning life and death, existence or genocidal slaughter.

So one quickly learns as a religious Jew that the Land of Israel involves every Jew and every Jew’s essence of Judaism. And while the State of Israel as a political entity is a separate matter, the threats to the Jews living there make it a matter of Ahavas Yisroel (love of your fellow) to support their safety.

Unity in Diversity in Ramat Beit Shemesh

In the US, and I suspect in other Jewish areas such as England as well, the Jewish community in any given area tends to be rather monolithic. For example in New Jersey, Passaic is Litivish Ultra-Orthodox, so is Lakewood. Morristown is Chabad. Monsey (ok, NY but just outside of NJ) is majority chassidic, some parts of town pretty exclusively one chassidic type or another – other parts a mixed bag. Teaneck, Elizabeth, and West Orange.

Yet I up and moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. For those who don’t know, Ramat Beit Shemesh has become, outside of Jerusalem, the premier destination for people moving to Israel from English speaking countries. (And there’s a nice contingent of French speakers there also.)

While Jerusalem somewhat follows the standard monolithic pattern above (again just substitute in neighborhood names to find the chassidic neighborhoods, the Litvish, modern orthodox, sephardic, etc), Ramat Beit Shemesh tries to perform the same exercise on a single street or two at a time. This leads to a level of intermingling that other areas lack.

Walk across the street and go from a more modern area to a litvish area. Another street and it’s chassidic. As an example, on my nearby street corner there’s a litvish shul, a mizrachi (modern-ish) shul, a sephardi shul, and a Chabad shul. There’s even a street of non-religious Jews that drive, slowly and carefully, in and out of the neighborhood on Shabbos.

Ok, people aren’t davening together on Shabbos – everyone has their preferred nusach, Shabbos songs, siddur, etc. But when walking down the street the guy in the shtreimel and gold stripped long coat (Jerusalem bekeshe) says Good Shabbos to the guy in the suite and tie.

Achdus, unity, isn’t becoming the same. It’s respecting each other. And in Ramat Beit Shemesh, that’s a good point.

(For some Torah from Ramat Beit Shemesh, check out Yesh Ma L’asot’s Emunah Institute at )

Akiva blogs at Mystical Paths.

The Roots of Chabad Outreach

What are the roots of Chabad Outreach? Perhaps the best way to understand it is to hear how the Rebbe himself describes it (from his collected talks, Shabbos Parshas Behar-Bechukosai, 24th Iyar, 5740)…

(The words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe…)

In certain segments of the Jewish community, the expression ‘Kiruv Richokim’ — drawing close those who are far — is used to describe the efforts to reach out to Jews who are presently estranged from Torah and Mitzvos. This expression is improper. Our sages tell us that it is forbidden to tell a convert “Remember your initial deeds.” Similarly, it is forbidden to remind a Baal Teshuvah of his previous behavior by calling him a Richuk — someone who is (or was) far away. It is true that the Talmud comments on the verse “Peace, Peace to the close and to the far,” stating “to the far who drew close.” However, it is improper to address those whom we wish to draw to Torah with that expression. For this reason, the Rebbeim never used such phraseology. They stressed the importance of loving all Jews — even one whom we never saw, — but they never used the expression ‘Kiruv Richokim.’

No Jew is ever Rochok — far away — from Yiddishkeit. The only reason the aforementioned text of the Talmud uses the terminology is because “Torah speaks in the language of men.” From the perspective of man, such an individual may be a Richuk, but from the perspective of Torah, Yiddishkeit is close to him.

Hence, there can be no condescension in the attitude with which we reach out to our fellow Jews. We must realize that “more than the rich does for the poor, the poor does for the rich.” When giving charity, the rich must give with a pleasant disposition, without letting the poor man feel that he is poor. The same principle applies in spiritual Tzedakah. In such a case, we are reinforced by G-d’s promise, “Since you gave life to the poor man… I will remember the Mitzvah you have done… and repay you soul for soul.”

(end of the Rebbe’s words)

When presented in his own words, it would seem rather difficult to disagree with.

In my words, we don’t dump on a Jew or consider him ‘lower’ because his circumstances weren’t as good as ours or have the learning opportunities ours have had. That ‘innocent’ neshama, from the standpoint of never being exposed to Jewish learning, isn’t of any less value than the neshama of the talmid chacham.

To use Rabbi Brody’s language from his shiur at BeyondBT in Passaic a few years ago, was there no room for another neshama in Boro Park or Bnei Brak?

Is that Jew of less value because he wasn’t born in to an observant Jewish home? Frankly, that neshama may be on a much higher level that it can take the challenge, with a chance of success, of being born outside a Torah community and immersed in a non-Torah upbringing and still having a chance of returning and reconnecting to Torah.

So do you walk in looking down on all the poor ignorant masses that you’re about to share your deep Torah knowledge with? You who were raised in Boro Park, served chalal yisroel milk from childhood, licked honey off the alef beis at 3, had rebbe’s and rosh yeshiva’s directing you from the day the sandek held you, or do you rejoice that these neshama’s are overcoming their challenges by coming to you, and be so thankful that Hashem Yishborach has given you the opportunity to help them on their path?

Even thought the answer is obvious, it is something we need to work on internalizing.

Akiva writes regularly at Mystical Paths.

What’s the real BT Impact to the Religious Jewish World?

by Reb Akiva from Mystical Paths

One often wonders, what’s the real BT impact to the religious Jewish world? After all, most of our vaunted institutions are run by rosh yeshvot with yichus (distinguished family heritage), and the institutions are often a generational family project. Similarly the big and famous rabbaim (rabbis), those giving the shiurim, heard on tape or DVD, often are big name “son-of” people. No difference if one enters the chassidic world, the Rebbe’s are all distinguished lineage back to the talmidim (students) of the Baal Shem Tov or the Maggid of Mezirich.

It’s enough to give a BT a complex. Kind of like (l’havdil) arriving at the court of a king, where all the advisers are dukes or barons or what not, and you’re just a guy (or gal). And we see this feeling in religious society as the older BT’s all go under cover. You never hear “oh that’s Rav Ploni (so-and-so), a BT”.

But I’m here to tell those not so far along the path, the impression is wrong. BT’s are spread throughout Jewish religious society, and not in small numbers. Religious schools are swelled with children of BT’s. Professionals throughout Jewish religious society are frequently BT’s. And even in Meah Shearim, perhaps the most closeted religious Jewish community, if one goes to the mens mikvah, one will be surprised at the number of older and old men with a tattoo (forbidden by Jewish law, and I’m not referring to a Holocaust number tattoo).

Some of our rosh yeshivot are BT’s from _their_ teens or twenties. Some of our rabbaim from before or after. Even a known tzaddik is a BT.

So while yes, religious Jewish society remains a bit wary of BT’s, the impact and influence of BT’s is there at all levels, as are the BT’s themselves. For there are no limits in Torah.

In the Eye of the Beholder?

by Akiva of Mystical Paths

Recently I had a humorous post up on my blog about an interesting morning at the (mens) mikvah. For those who don’t regularly utilize a mens mikvah, let me say that the conditions are (often) equivalent to a busy gym locker room.

I was somewhat taken to task for putting up a post that discussed (humorously) these conditions. After all, mens and womens mikvah experiences are just not the same.

The men coming through are very business like, taking care of a holy _optional_ ritual with alacrity, quickly spiritually cleansing themselves for the start of their day. Like when one goes to the gym, men are not usually not put off by the … heavy use conditions. They’re in and out, and on to other things.

This is significantly different from a womens mikvah. Their experience is once a month, the community often invests significantly to make sure the womens mikvah is a very nice place, and the mikvah attendants clean the facilities after every single use. Further, as an obligatory mitzvah, the concept of hiddur mitzvah (enhancing the mitzvah by enhancing the facility) can be applied. And of course, many woman would not tolerate, and indeed would possibly (G-d forbid) not perform the mitzvah, if the sanitary conditions were not of a high level.

So when we discuss mens mikvah experience, we discuss stories such as the Baal Shem Tov taking a mikvah in a frozen river. We discuss thousands of men who do the same by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Uman every erev Rosh Hashanah (where the river is not frozen that time of year, but is very cold and rather muddy, or so I’m told). We discuss the mikvah Ari in Tzfat (Safed), which bubbles out of the side of a mountain and has a chill that will take your breath away (and of which it’s said if you dip there, you won’t leave this world without doing teshuvah).

When we discuss womens mikvah experience, we discuss the beauty of the mitzvah and the facility to go with it. We discuss those who may travel far, very far, to the nearest kosher mikvah, and sacrifices to perform the mitzvah in it’s full beauty.

In the case of womens mikvah facilities, we have a halacha that a community must have a womens mikvah as a first priority, more important that a synagogue, even if one must sell the synagogue to build one. In the case of mens mikvah facilities, well, lets just say adequate is the rule, optional is the case, and it’s often late on the community’s list of things to get to.

Few men are put off by locker room conditions. You go, you change, if it’s not pretty you barely notice (same if it is), you get on to your workout. You finish, you shower off quickly, get dressed and get out. Neither the style of the tile nor a little mildew is going to affect you.

Few women would accept mens locker room conditions. And that’s ok, there’s nothing wrong with maintaining a higher standard, our ladies are worth it.

Some people get put off when you discuss some practical facts of Jewish observance. I think thats a bit sad. While we don’t focus on the fact that there’s a bunch of plumbing carrying away unwanted products in the bathroom, when that plumbing has problems we’re going to be faced with some unpleasantness. If we never discuss that it’s there at all, people are going to be ill equipped to deal with those occasional … back ups.

Ultra Orthodoxy: Not So Inclusive Just Yet

by Akiva of Mystical Paths

In “Can Beyond BT Be More Inclusive” (here), Alan asks an interesting question. He says, “Beyond BT has established its place in the right wing of the Orthodox spectrum” and asks “Can Beyond BT make room for a Left Wing Modern Orthodox BT like myself?”

While I won’t try to answer this relative to Beyond BT, I’d like to expand the question, has the orthodox Jewish world “moved right”, and “is there room for left wing modern orthodox”?

The net answer, I think, is somewhat interesting. For generations, observant Judaism was under attack and in retreat. From the outside, such as Czarist Russia conscripting Jewish children, from the inside, as the haskala developed and presented the Jewish community (especially the young) with ‘alternatives’, and sometimes with them combining forces, such as the haskala recommending governments remove the community rabbonim and put their own in place.

After World War II, orthodox Judaism was broken. All of the strongholds of Torah, the great yeshivas and the great chassidic courts, were crushed. By the blessings from Above and the incredible efforts of those who escaped and those who survived, literally just a few handfuls, the seeds for the future were just barely planted. Many a yeshiva was rebuilt by 1 or 3 rabbonim, or sometimes not even that (just a surviving student!) Many a chassidus was literally just a rebbe or a rebbe and a few chassidim, not enough to fill an average living room.

The end of orthodox Judaism was predicted, major social studies were done that showed the future appeared bleak. In this environment, the rabbonim struggled to maintain the basics, Shabbos, Kashrus (not glatt kosher, not mehadrin, not 3 cheshers, just basically kosher), Family Purity, Education for the future generations.

There’s an interesting mitzvah in the Gemora, targeted at the rabbonim, at the leaders of the generation, that says (essentially) ‘don’t turn the community into sinners’. Meaning, it’s one thing to work to improve the failings of the community, it’s another to focus on those failings such that the whole community basically sees themselves as violating the Torah. In essence, don’t do the Accuser’s work for him. The community should consider itself good, and be taught how to be even better.

But we have another mitzvah from the Torah, be a nation of priests, a holy people. When the nation or community is in trouble, we’re not going to focus on the level of kashrus, the level of tznius, or the general aspect of what it means to be a holy people. While just barely kosher really isn’t good enough (we can debate whether 5 cheshers and 10 chumras are too many another time), when the other choice is not kosher, we’ll make whatever allowances necessary, as far as we can, to keep people in kosher status. If, thank G-d, people are keeping kosher and Shabbos, we’re not going to shout about covering hair, or the length of sleeves, or praying with a jacket, etc.

Through the post-war generations, things gradually improved. Modern orthodoxy sprang up first, trying to combine some strength of the past with the draw of the modern world to create Torah u’Madda. As a kosher alternative to Conservative and Reform, it held it’s ground and grew to an energetic community. While it’s balance created an energetic, thriving and, quite important, prosperous community, that higher involvement in the modern world resulted in the primary energy of the community being involved in the world. The Modern Orthodox community, beyond it’s initial structures (YU for example) was not generating the Torah scholars or high intensity Torah focus of the future.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Torah powerhouses of the past were, slowly, beginning to rebuild and regrow. The planted seeds grew, many yeshivas were rebuilt, most bigger than before (unfortunately, not all, some are lost forever). The chassidic courts recovered (those that could, some quietly faded away and some were lost) and grew bigger than ever. But it took a lot longer, 3 generations.

What happened then is a tipping point was reached in the Torah world. The majority of the Torah world, the focus of the Torah world, returned to the powerhouse yeshivas and chassidic courts. If you want to learn Torah, you to go Ponevitch, Mir, if you want to live Torah you go to Satmar, Chabad, Belz, etc.

And so, the day school students came too, and returned home with a black hat and a jacket or a long skirt, long sleeves and a commitment to covering their hair.

One of the challenges in the new balance is that the ultra orthodox community finds itself having slipped almost unaware into the Jewish world leadership position. Suddenly, the pronouncements of gedolim are being eagerly listened to, and responded to, throughout the world. The external leadership functions pretty much don’t exist yet. The shift in mindset from taking care and protecting the community to taking care of Judaism and the Jewish world is just beginning to be understood as a responsibility.

Part of this is the matter of tolerance versus defense. For the last 3 generations, the ultra-orthodox community has fought with all their strength to defend themselves, the Torah way of life, and grow. Thank G-d, this was successful. Now we need to transition from complete defense to developing functional relationships, and even respect, for our brothers who may not follow exactly the same path (yet still a kosher path).

So for Alan, the answer is, there is room for every Jew, especially every Jew who is mitzvah observant. Yet, the ultra orthodox community is new to it’s bigger role, and is not yet comfortable across the board in dealing with all aspects of the wider Jewish community. However, I am sure, with G-d’s help, we will learn to work together and respect each other as brothers before Hashem.

When Things Aren’t in Sync

Seems like I’m frequently sending in the “warning” story. While it’s not, G-d forbid, my intention to be negative on interactions between BT’s and the frum community, it seems I run across my share of people who have, well lets just say, misunderstood peoples intentions or perspectives, to their personal detriment. This story is one of those, from first hand knowledge, and happened in the last year. Names have been changed, loshon hara is not the objective…

— Leah’s Story —

Leah was a young woman in her early twenties when she first encountered a Jewish outreach organization. She spent some months with them and her soul was ignited. She burned to learn more. The organization encouraged her to attend their women’s yeshiva in New York, and she worked hard to arrange to be able to do so. With great joy she learned for about a year and half, and took an apartment with some of the other young women students in Boro Park (NY City very-frum community). As she learned, she looked around her neighborhood and idolized her neighbors. The women with 4 or 5 or 7 young children moving organized down the street in and out of the stores, walking regally with their husbands and children on Shabbat, this was her goal, and a worthy goal it was.

And her neighbors were warm, helpful, inviting. The children, as children almost always are, were engaging, and a large table covered with a white tablecloth, Shabbos finery and the warm smells of Shabbos food, oh, she ached for such beauty in the norm in her life.

One day, after she’d been there a year, a neighbor invited her in for a cup of tea. The neighbor asked, “what would you think of a shidduch offer (a marriage proposal)?” Well, she was thrilled! She could be the one regally walking on Shabbat, and preparing the fine Shabbos table, it was all within reach! The neighbor continued, “there’s a young man in Williamsburg, he’s a Michlov chossid (fictional chassidus name replacing the real one), who would make a nice match.”

Now we pause a moment for some explanation. There are some frum groups that are heavily involved in outreach, and their communities are full of BTs. There are some that are lightly involved, and their communities have some BTs. And there are those who are not involved at all and are, frankly, pretty darn insular. Among those, well I guess the word sects is appropriate, that are involved in outreach, some in those communities greatly appreciate the BT fervor and zest for Torah and Hashem, but there are those who don’t… because it’s different, because it shows a family problem, because it creates lots of relationship complications. Those that don’t would have concerns about their children marrying a BT (straight up, they would discourage it).

Most living in Williamsburg, a wonderful place full of Torah, are in the insular category. Let’s just say when it comes to having their children marry a BT, it wouldn’t normally be considered. And with that, back to our story…

So Leah consulted her Rosh Yeshiva. He expressed strong concerns and advised her against considering it. She spoke with her rav, same answer. But, this was her dream and she was chasing it…so she went on a date. He was a nice looking young man, had an income, and his family was extremely, extremely, welcoming. Another 2 dates and the match was agreed. But why? Why would a nice looking young man from an insular chassid group with a good family and parnosa be looking so far outside his community for a match? I mean, Leah is a nice young woman of average looks, no special job skills, and from an average family (no special wealth)?

The Rebbe of the chassidus gave a bracha, but also strangely went on about how he was there should she every have a problem, she shouldn’t hesitate to come right over and discuss it.

The wedding was nice, the kallah was beautiful, the music was good. The Get, the divorce, came 6 weeks later. See, he had dropped out of the community (so he no longer was considered an acceptable match for anyone in it) and, supposedly, returned. But in reality, Leah was headed up, he was headed down, she was burning for Torah and Hashem, he was burning with other, less savory, desires. To the shadchun, the matchmaker, it looked like they were in a similar place. But their ships were headed in opposite directions, and when they arrived in the same house, this became apparent very quickly.

— Zahava’s Story —

Zahava’s story starts similar. Her father passed away when she was young, and her mother was part of a marginal community but moderately religious. Full religious education was not available in her area, but in college she became interested and starting looking to learn more. She actually ended up in the same women’s yeshiva as Leah, at the same time. For Zahava, the whole family picture was the draw. Ah, look at the couples lovingly walking together and making their life together. She didn’t grow up with that, and she desired it.

The story from here is similar. A neighbor, a shadchan (matchmaker), a chossid of Memlachta from a Williamsburg family (though living in Flatbush, a bit odd right there). This one takes some interesting twists though… The chasan’s family (groom’s family) wanted to make sure it was properly kosher for their son. So, first, prove you’re Jewish. Well, the mother doesn’t have actual paperwork (do you?). So they push her to go through a geiurus safek (a conversion of doubt). Then, what kind of properly chassidic name is Zahava? So they make her take on an additional name, now she’s Fraida Zahava. They took her to the store and set her up with the right wardrobe (according to their Williamsburg chassidic standards), right down to the type of underwear.

The wedding just occurred, all proper. But again, the question of why an insular chassidic family is taking a BT for their son stands out. A few tidbits have leaked out, and indeed, there’s a reason he was living in Flatbush and not in his chassidic community. Perhaps, G-d willing, it will work out, yet it would seem that again, they are headed in opposite directions.

My dear friends, there are many who greatly appreciate the zeal and drive BTs bring. Yet others don’t appreciate the background BTs bring. Whether this is fair or not is not the point. If those that are known for not appreciating that zeal are suddenly involving themselves with you (as a “BT”), just keep your eyes open and try to recognize why.

Keep the Enthusiasm, Beware the Naiveté’

by Akiva of Mystical Paths

As people become religious, or rather as they encounter Torah and a religious lifestyle, and people with a connection with Hashem, the soul awakens, it bursts into flame through the grunge and piles of dirt of life. An enthusiasm, a thirst is born. And it’s a joy to have, and a joy to see. Even to the point, for some who have grown up within the religious world, it’s almost scary. Such a yearning and thirst for Hashem and Torah, it’s weird, seems unbalanced. It’s not, it’s just a soul coming alive.

And, thank G-d, the Torah world has many people who devote themselves to helping make this happen, and helping people take their first steps towards a Torah life. And as those people arrive with their enthusiasm, they flock to these wonderful ‘outreach’ people as a source of the light, emissaries for Hashem. Doesn’t matter whether the outreach people are from Chabad, or Aish, or Lakewood, or any of the many wonderful organizations. With their beard and hat, their kind words and teaching, their warm wishes to help and thoughts of Torah, relationships are developed and people are guided.

Yet, sometimes these people stumble. They are faced with many challenges, pressures of money, competing people in need, organizational expectations, etc.

My dear brothers and sisters, BT’s and BT’s to be, a tremendous amount of the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, and the Talmud, are devoted to the laws of relations, and money. Every .. single .. person .. has a yetzer hara, an evil inclination. The yetzer hara doesn’t come to the rabbi (or rebbetzin) and say, each treif (non-kosher). He says, “it’s just a moment, it’s ok to be alone with the person, what you are doing is important.” It’s not ok, it’s never ok, it leads to problems. He says, “just borrow the money, it’s for the community, it’s ok if you really don’t know if you will be able to pay it back, Hashem will help”. It’s not ok, it’s never ok, someone is going to get hurt and burned.

Please my friends, these wonderful people are, B”H, wonderful people. They have indeed devoted their life to helping people, to helping you. But they are also human, just like everyone else. This wonderful and incredibly challenging mix of a spark of G-dliness in a mundane physical body, an animal that has desires and wants to be fed. Because they give so much, it’s common to put them on a pedestal. Yet the Shulchan Aruch doesn’t say, don’t be alone with the opposite gender except if its the rabbi or rebetzen. It doesn’t say, give them a loan with no contract or signed and cosigned and agreed repayment schedule up front.

Help them stay on the pedestal. If he/she wants to do something that doesn’t seem quite right, don’t help them do the wrong thing for the right reason. Keep in mind, everyone, everyone gets challenged, and it’s often tricky and it’s often in the weak spot. The beard and yalmulkah, or shaitel and long skirt, doesn’t make one exempt.

May Hashem help us all to overcome our yetzer hara, and may we all help each other!

Embarrassment and Truth

A few nights ago, I visited the local Whole Foods grocery store with my 9 year old son. The store is new in our neighborhood, it’s pretty, well organized, mostly oriented around organic products, a high percentage of which are kosher. The employees also make a point of being friendly. We browsed through the produce, amazed at the variety of fresh hot peppers and mushrooms. I’d love to say that we were picking out great organic produce, but actually we were there because I’d found they have the widest selection of soy ice cream (brands and flavors) and fruit pops I’d ever seen, most of which are kosher.

We’re passing by the well lit well layed out fish department and I’m pointing out to my son what the various creatures are. See, here’s this fish and that fish, and here’s shimp, treif, crab, treif, squid, treif and yuck, tentacles, scallops, treif. We stopped at the clams, oysters, mussles, and cockles, because they were open access and some of the clams were busy trying to crawl away (and I thought that would be really interesting for a 9 year old boy, and it was.) The friendly fish guy comes over and demonstrates how the clams will close if you touch them, picks out a dead one and opens it up so my son can see the inside, and is discussing his product.

So my son tells him, in a loud voice of course, “well, we don’t eat these because they’re not kosher, not because they don’t taste good, because my father ate them before he became religious and told us that some of them do, but because Hashem says we don’t in the Torah.” Well, I was so proud of him while I was simultaneously trying to crawl away inside myself. Hey, see this guy here with the beard, big black yamulka and long white strings, HE ATE CLAMS.

Proud, because a message that apparently only a BT can testify to had reached my children. They’d come home from yeshiva and were discussing the various kosher versus non-kosher sea creatures, discussing the signs of kosher. As they were discussing non-kosher commonly eaten sea creatures, they were busy saying yuck, disgusting, and so forth. I’d stopped them and said, “You know it says in the Gemora that we don’t eat non-kosher because Hashem said so, not because it doesn’t taste good. Because let me tell you, it does.” And I’d gone on to tell them that many of the non-kosher foods they were yucking were very tasty, some wonderful, and indeed some not-so-wonderful (at least to my taste). So if they go off believing that every non-kosher food is yuck and, G-d forbid, one day get a taste otherwise, they might believe that kosher doesn’t apply. So I told them, loud and clear, “We don’t eat non-kosher because G-d said so, not because it’s not healthy or not tasty, only because Hashem said it’s not kosher.”

My past, at least this one little facet of it, has become a positive message for my children. But OMG, how embarrassing!

A Touchy Subject

Sexuality is a very touchy subject within the religious world, and understandably so. As I’ve tried to explain to my teenagers, this drive, right after the basic need for food and water (and those needs are met for most people most of the time) sexuality is the strongest natural (aka animal oriented) desire that humans have.

Though this subject is very touchy and must be discussed with the utmost discretion and care, still the religious world does a good job of educating those less knowledgable about kosher relationships, the mitzvot related to close contact between men and women, the obligations of family purity (those mitzvot regarding use of the mikvah for women and appropriate times and boundries for a kosher marital relationship).

However, there is a touchy subject within this touchy subject that is rarely dealt with, sexuality for men, especially the single man. Given that this is a more appropriate topic for a private discussion, it’s going to be tricky to get across some important concepts and still maintain the absolute G rating of this forum. But, I’m going to give it my best as I feel this is critical information that is, unfortunately, rarely shared.
Read more A Touchy Subject

Teshuvah, Tzedakah, Tefillah

Repentence/Reconnecting, Charity, Prayer…

Time has slipped forward while we were barely looking and the great and holy days of awe are upon us. That great and holy time when we crown the King, the King of Kings, and he judges his nation, his people, and the world.

The awesome moment, the awesome words, who will live and who will die… spills from our lips.

Everyone says there is This World and the World to Come. We believe that the World to Come exists. It could be that This World also exists – somewhere. But here? From the suffering everyone goes through the whole time, it would appear that this is Gehenim. (Jewish purgatory)” – Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Likutey Moharan 2:119.

I do not know if my teshuvah, repentence and reconnecting to Hashem, has been acceptable or even if it’s truly teshuvah. Perhaps it’s unworthy of consideration by the King. I do not know if my tefillah, if my prayers, are appropriate, had the proper concentration for even a moment, or even worth
listening to.

But I know I can take a dollar or shekel or pound or euro and alleviate someone else’s suffering, if only for a few moments.
Read more Teshuvah, Tzedakah, Tefillah

Who’s Crazy Now?

by Akiva of Mystical Paths (

When I was a bit younger, a year or two from bar mitzvah age, my uncle went crazy. Or, so I was told. You see, he became ‘religious’, and the whole family told me my beloved uncle had gone absolutely bonkers. If he was coming to visit, they’d put their arms around me and say, “Akiva (though they didn’t call me Akiva back then), be careful when your uncle comes over, he’s gone crazy.” And, on a couple of occasions when I went to visit him with my grandmother, a”h, she’d carefully prep me, “Akiva (though she didn’t call me that back then), he and your cousins may act funny on Saturday or have funny food demands, don’t mind them because they’re crazy.”

Now my uncle is a man I greatly respect. He has a certain powerful presence, has done big things and is even a little famous. I respect his opinion and his intellgence, but of course didn’t respect anything about religion becase he was crazy. My cousins are close to my age, we always had fun together. When visiting, when they went to synogogue on Saturday I followed them and went with the flow. But of course, I didn’t pay much attention to what they were actually doing or what it meant, because they were crazy.
Read more Who’s Crazy Now?

Death and the BT

by Akiva of The Mystical Paths Blog

Often family events are a challenge for the BT. Whether dealing with the religious ramifications of attending family holiday events, which may involve non-kosher food, non-kosher attitudes or approaches, or dealing with the additional complications of family visits with less or non-observant family, it’s challenging. In many ways, this is one of the top challenges of becoming religiously observant. This especially true in the U.S., where there is no respect for religion anymore. I mean honestly, do you think it would be easier to arrive home and announce this is my same-sex-boyfriend Joseph or this is my Rabbi Yoseph?

But back on topic, though this is the month of Adar when we increase joy, joyful events don’t always occur (though how we deal with them is up to us).

While those family challenges are very difficult for the good events and the gathering events, what happens when the other end of events come?
Read more Death and the BT

Using BT Passion for Outreach

I had the pleasure of joining the BeyondBT crowd with Rabbi Brody this past Motzie Shabbat. One point he made was BT’s are great at outreach, because they’re always burning with passion.

In his previous post, Rabbi Horowitz notes his surprise at the amount of separation between the religious and non-religious in Israel. This is absolutely the case, with very limited interaction between the two. Except for the BT. Since BT’s come from a wide variety of backgrounds and professions and often continue to work in their field, they’re often the sole bridge between worlds in Israel.
Read more Using BT Passion for Outreach