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Isn't it pretty?

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Plight of the BT

I've had too much reading about Baalei Teshuvah* this morning. First, this article at Beyond BT, which I just don't agree with. I respect so much that man for getting up in front of a congregation and making those mistakes. Because, most likely, a year or two ago, he couldn't have even tried. So instead of being looked at with awe at how hard he has worked in order to even try, he get snickered and laughed at because he is not perfect.

Then, this post from Kallah Magazine's blog, which discusses an article in a jewish "family" magazine (some family values they are espousing, certainly not Ahavas Yisrael*) that apparently disdains every ounce of character that many Baalei Teshuvah should feel proud of. (I have a good hunch as to which magazine said article was published in, but upon checking their website, found that the articles are available only for a cost, which I choose not to support. And I refuse to give them publicity in this blog also, since they obviously like to denigrate part of the future of the world they supposedly are proponents for.) If this is the attitude out there, then I might as well completely throw off all the work I have done, because even my children don't have a chance at being look at as normal. I'm doomed, my kids are doomed - to when does it go until the future generations of my family will be accepted? You know what? If that's the attitude, I'd rather they were never accepted.

My question is, since when is it the baal teshuvah's responsibility to completely forget his past and where he came from, and what brought him to the point that he is now in, and "blend" into the "frum"* culture. Why should he? Hashem* created each person with his or her own unique personality and talents and I believe we should use these to serve Hashem rather than subdue and deny our uniqueness in order to "pass" for FFBs*, especially if the attitude that we will receive is that we will never be good enough anyway.

I occasionally get comments from people saying that they didn't realize I was a baalas teshuvah, because I seem so normal and balanced in my frumkeit*. Those comments are not necessarily something I take pride in - why should I blend? I know how hard I have worked to get where I am and I think I should be proud of that rather than try to hide it. My non-religious past, the fact that I grew up in tiny Jewish communities, made me work harder at and have a stronger Jewish identity than many I know who grew up frum. It's not something I feel I should hide, it's something that I think I should be proud of.

Sorry, I had to rant for a moment. But give me a break - these people who believe in the "purity" of frumkeit need to think again. Because if they don't stop looking for ways to keep people out, then they are going to no longer have anyone to keep in.


Baal teshuva, baalei teshuvah, baalas teshuvah - someone who is not born into an Orthodox Jewish tradition

Ahavas Yisrael - love of your fellow Jews

Frum - Orthodox

Hashem - God

FFB - someone who is "frum" from birth

Frumkeit - religious practice


  • One of the things that drive me crazy is the labeling of "Baa' Teshiva". ALthough I was brought up in the conservative movement,I was always taught that a Jew was a Jew. Not he is a "Baal Teshuva", he is not or whatever other labels are used.

    By Blogger FrumWithQuestions, at 8/28/06, 1:55 PM  

  • you know, this is a great post. i've been thinking a lot about this topic lately. when i was first becoming frum, i felt like i really had to be like all the rest of the ffb's. a big part of that was ditching the amazing, creative young woman that i was (am!). over the years i've reclaimed those wonderful parts of myself. i think it's just a part of the whole BT trip - to go through those phases. on another note, i have been thinking about this inyan in regards to matisyahu, the "chassidic reggae superstar." i feel he really is fulfilling his tachliss and his shlichus, by being the JEW THAT HE IS, and not trying to be otherwise. i give all of us a brocha that we become the yidden we are meant to be, that we come to our truest selves. elul is the right time for it, hey?

    By Blogger Maven, at 8/28/06, 2:07 PM  

  • That article quoted in the KallahMagazine blog made me sick to my stomach! So just by the virtue of someone being an FFB, they will be a good parent? Give me a break? I am literally nauseated.

    By Anonymous Sara K, at 8/28/06, 4:18 PM  

  • OK, I'm neither FFB nor BT, so I'm "neutral". And this kind of attitude sickens me. I thought we, as a Jewish community, are supposed to show a united front, and be supportive and welcoming even towards strangers, much less each other. *shaking head* I think it's complete hypocrisy to treat BT's as if they are "something different" or "second class citizens" or something. One thing is to express your opinion on how YOU think Judaism should be practiced, and completely different to denigrate others for deviating from your imaginary ideal.

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 8/28/06, 8:20 PM  

  • FWQ -
    I have issues with labeling in general, because it's often difficult to fit into any of them well. Perhaps one day we will be able to look at everyone as Jewish.

    Maven -
    I think it's important for everyone, BT or FFB, Orthodox or not, Jewish or non-Jewish, to be able to express their unique identities and talents. This is often difficult, especially in a restrictive religious environment, and I think it's beautiful when someone like Matisyahu manages to find his place within it.

    Sara -
    Completely hear ya.

    Irina -
    Ahavas Yisrael is supposed to be a major pillar on which we practice Judaism, no matter what denomination we practice. I hope that everyone is able to work on that in the coming year.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 8/28/06, 9:47 PM  

  • Its really sickening the attitude u describe...
    I do have to say..I've never encountered it.

    The bottom line is..one day we're going to lugh at all these superficialitied and trappings..and realize that the anshei emes..the truth seekers..are those that will inherit..

    By Blogger David_on_the_Lake, at 8/28/06, 11:41 PM  

  • well i'm not a jew and hence not much accustomed to what is the discussion all about...but what is really appreciated about this post is the glossary...it helped me to understand a little more of the things i don't understand...lol it would be great to have glossaries as often as possible and other blogs as well...thanks :)

    By Anonymous h2oil, at 8/29/06, 2:28 PM  

  • David -
    Thank God, it's been a rare occaion that I have encountered such an attitude, but in the dating world, it does come up. I hope that the day soon comes when we see the emes through all the fog.

    h2oil -
    Glad the glossary helped! A recent comment mentioned that not all posts were clear because of the Hebrew and I am working hard on trying harder so everyone can understand what I am talking about.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 8/29/06, 10:03 PM  

  • ‚ÄúSometimes, baalei teshuva maintain close connections to non-frumrelatives and friends. Their youngsters are then exposed to alternative lifestyles modeled loving good people. [sic! &sick, too!]"

    Sick, indeed! This quote horrified me (even more than the rest of the points in the article). Let me understand, if you become religious, you are supposed to just cut ties with your family and friends? From the first word in that sentence, "sometimes", it makes me think that many newly-religious people actually do this!

    Please, say it ain't so!

    By Blogger RR, at 8/30/06, 12:55 PM  

  • First off ... I'm a Ger Tzedek so that puts me into a similar category, perhaps worse, perhaps better.

    What I wanted to say, as I read posts like these about the "plight" of BT in American Orthodox society is this: move to Israel.

    Admitedly I do not live in the Yeshivot/Charedi mileu but the so-called National-Religious ... but I have never experienced any "discrimination" during my thirty three years in this country. (And neither have my wife (daughter of a Rabbi) or children heard behind my back.)

    By Blogger Yoel.Ben-Avraham, at 8/31/06, 5:39 PM  

  • RR -
    I fortunately don't know a lot of people who cut ties with their families. However, I do know, from experience, that the relationships do get harder to maintain in many ways. I still love and have a good relationship with my family, but I do live a good distance from them and don't get the opportunity to see them very often, in large part because of my religious growth.

    Yoel -
    Moving to Israel is certainly something to consider.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 8/31/06, 7:27 PM  

  • I've stopped considering myself a BT ever since I became egal, and I think the kind of attitude towards BTs in that articles is one of the reasons why I stopped being "frum." That, and I had given up a huge part of my personality to become frum. Some of it I regained while I was still frum, but even then I wasn't really happy, and I never felt frum.

    So yeah, people should be nicer to BTs (though I feel like in the Modern Orthodox world it's less of a problem) and more accepting of their uniqueness. Otherwise they're just setting themselves up for disaster.

    By Blogger Knitter of shiny things, at 9/7/06, 4:23 PM  

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