Often Overlooked Internet Issues

Michoel, a regular contributor on Beyond BT, posted a comment on Kressel’s Cutting Connections post which we felt deserves attention.

I am, bli neder, going to take a haitus from personal web use. If anyone sees me on this site in the next 3 months, please tell me to get off immediately. I am going to list here some problems with web use as I see it. Understood, many don’t see these things as problems or manage to deal with the problems easily. So please don’t post to upshlug all my kashes. If you have advice as to how to deal with the kashes, please post them. Thank you to Mark and Dave for hosting a site where I have learned a lot and hopefully shared a few ideas that others have benefitted from.

1. Bitul z’man. A very big subject with lots of implications
2. Feelings of depression or mental sluggishness resulting from the media of interent use, regardless of content.
3. Weakening of gidrei tzinus in male – female communications
4. Reading apikorsis which weakens emunah
Read more Often Overlooked Internet Issues

Remembering Where You Came From And Where You Are Going

Several weeks ago, on Shabbos, my 6 year old son said, “Abba, I’m bored. What did you do for fun when you were my age on Shabbos”? I wasn’t sure what to say.

To answer my son truthfully, when I was 6 years old, I had no clue what Shabbos was. I wasn’t exposed to a true Shabbos until I attended an NCSY shabbaton in 8th grade. My son’s question made me think back to what it was like for me when I started my Teshuva journey. Like everyone, I had challenges and struggles along the way towards my current level of observance. I started keeping Shabbos right before I entered 11th grade. As the only frum teenager in my city, I kept Shabbos pretty much by myself until I graduated high school and went on to yeshiva.

My son’s question really got to me. If he associated Shabbos with being bored, then in some way, I felt it was a reflection on my own personal level of yiddishkeit. Had my life as a frum Jew become mundane? My wife and I have given our children what we hope is a nurturing home full of Torah and Mitzvos. We want our kids to have positive memories of growing up frum, not the opposite. This is one of those things that I, as a BT, feared…becoming like “everyone else” whose Mitzvah observance is on cruse control.
Read more Remembering Where You Came From And Where You Are Going

The Brilliant Bekiyus of Rav Daniel Feldman of YU

Many Baalei Teshuva unfortunately did not have the good fortune of sitting and learning for years in a single Yeshiva. But the benefit of this is that we feel free to partake of Torah in the many different forms that we find it. In Kew Gardens Hills we particularly reap the benefits of the tremendous Iyun (depth) of the Chofetz Chaim style of learning and the amazing Bekiyas (breadth) of the many Yeshiva University rebbeim and alumni who live here.

This morning the Vaad L’Chizuk HaTorah (of which Steve Brizel is an active participant) sponsored a shiur by Rabbi Daniel Feldman, a Rosh Yeshiva at YU (but not a KGH resident) on the Shesh Zichiros (Six Rememberances). With no notes, Rav Feldman covered an amazing amount of material in 75 minutes and at the end recapped the 50 or so points he made. Everybody in attendance was in awe of his tremendous mastery of the material and I thought some of the people here at Beyond BT might benefit from this great shiur.

You can download the shiur here.

You can purchase Rav Feldman’s recent sefer here.

In Gratitude to the St Louis Community

I can’t write another post without first thanking the community that helped set me on the road that I am on. In June 2002, I had just graduated from college and was living in my own apartment, on my own, in St. Louis. My boyfriend at the time (now husband) had inspired me to start keeping kosher, and so I decided that this new start in my life would be the right time to make the move. Even though I made sure to find an apartment within walking distance of a synagogue I knew about, I still did not know anyone in the area.

I knew that a good guide to kashrut would help me along with the details, as I already had a working knowledge of the subject, so I found a nearby Jewish library. When I walked in, no one seemed to be around, so I poked around until I found the kosher section and stood there reading and thinking. I suppose it was at this point someone from the back heard me, came out and offered some help. We introduced ourselves to each other, and that is how I met Rabbi Max Weiman of Aish HaTorah St. Louis (and a contributor here!). A little surprised at myself, I explained how I was living on my own, about to start a new job, and thought I’d keep kosher since my boyfriend was doing it and liked it. After helping me choose a book, Rabbi Weiman asked me if I had plans for the upcoming Shabbat. I wasn’t sure if I heard him right. Had I just been invited somewhere?
Read more In Gratitude to the St Louis Community

The Love That’s Due to Every Jew

There are no coincidences. In Rabbi Welcher’s Shabbos drasha he brought down the The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 24:7) which relates:

Rabbi Akiva said, “Love your neighbor as yourself – this is a great rule in Torah.” Ben Azzai said, “This is the book of the generations of man … in the image of God was man fashioned” is a greater rule, for one should not say, ‘Since I was shamed, so, too, should my friend be shamed with me. Since I was cursed, so, too, let my friend be cursed with me.’ “

Rabbi Welcher pointed out that although “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a great principal, there is an aspect of self focus implied in the words “as yourself”. Ben Azzai goes further and says that our love of our neighbor is based on the fact that he was fashioned in the image of G-d regardless of our personal view.

Later on Shabbos day I was learning Pirkei Avos with my son, which we are going through for his Bar Mitvah, and we came to Mishna 1.7:

Nittai of Arbel said, distance yourself from a bad neighbor, do not befriend a wicked person, and do not despair of punishment.

Read more The Love That’s Due to Every Jew

The Jewish Prince

The other night, I went to hear Rabbi Natan Gamzede, the Jewish Prince from Swaziland, speak. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his story, Rabbi Gamzede was born a prince in the African nation of Swaziland where his Grandfather was the King. Rabbi Gamzede eventually converted to Judaism and is now a teacher and lecturer.

Although I had previously met Rabbi Gamzede many years ago in yeshivah and I was fairly familar with his story, I was very inspired by his talk. Perhaps the thing that inspired me most was the level of sacrifice he had undertaken on his journey. Rabbi Gamzede grew up with, quite literally, anything money could buy. In fact, as a child his mother would attempt to shake him from his melancholy state by telling him “why are you so sad? You have everything money can buy!” After his conversion, Rabbi Gamzede’s parents cut off all monetary support and the Prince was now, quite literally, a Pauper. He would take odd jobs shlepping bricks for the building of a new shul just in order to make enough money for bus fare to and from Yerushalayim so that he could date. After marrying, he and his wife relied upon the equivilant of tomche shabbos packages (charitable weekly food donations). Yet, despite this dire level of poverty (not to mention the prejudice they endured) they were happy because they had Hashem and his Torah in their lives. Eizu hu ashir? Hasomeach b’chelko. Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion.
Read more The Jewish Prince

Understanding the Essence of Chabad Outreach

This essay was originally published as Why can’t Chabad be more like “Mainstream Orthodoxy”? I found it fascinating and the author was gracious enough to allow us to publish here on Beyond BT.

Why can’t Chabad be more like “Mainstream Orthodoxy”?
Yechezkal-Shimon Gutfreund

There are people who, when they encounter Chabad, are troubled by the distinctiveness and differences between how Chabad operates and how other “mainstream orthodox” groups operate. Why do Chabadniks have to be so different from everyone else? Do they think they are better than everyone else? Are they just “perverse” and choosing to be different merely for the sake of appearing distinctive?

I have tried to answer this question on various occasions, and what I have learned from the experience is that sometimes it is better not to try to answer the question directly. No matter how good your material is, if you try to answer a confrontational question, you always looks like an apologist. Each answer proposed only arouses the natural skepticism of the listener. They think that you are trying to excuse and cover up what truly is a problem. In effect, one has already given their question some validity by acknowledging it and trying to answer it.

So let me try something different. I am just going to tell some stories and observations, and I will trust that you, gentle reader, are intelligent, mature, and enough of a truth seeker that you will discover, absorb, and draw conclusions that you yourself will feel have the correct balance of truth.
Read more Understanding the Essence of Chabad Outreach

The Beauty vs the Burden of Keeping the Mitzvos

Dear Rabbi Lazer Brody,

I’m 17, and a junior in public high school. My parents belong to a conservative synagogue, and give me all kinds of flak because I don’t attend services or observe the high holidays. Being honest, I went to McDonald’s last Yom Kippur, and ate Kentucky Fried all Passover which drove them mad. Really, I have a great set of parents, but we fight a lot because of the religious issue. I read in a book that a person is not responsible for breaking Jewish laws under coercion. I didn’t ask to be brought into this world, nor to be born Jewish. Doesn’t that exempt me from keeping the commandments?

Yours truly,
Free Spirit from Philadelphia

Dear Free Spirit,

You are my kind of young man – sincere, straight shooting, and sharp. With your mind, you should either set your sights on law school or begin learning Gemorra. I’d recommend both…
Read more The Beauty vs the Burden of Keeping the Mitzvos

Advice For a BT Returning From Israel

OK, here’s the situation. How would you advise?

A young man 24-25 just returned to the US from two years study in a BT yeshiva. He’s flying spiritually. But it’s time to get serious about the next stage in life. He wants to get married –- his yetzer hara won’t leave him alone — and raise a frum family.
However, he:

a) is going to law school and has at least three years of schooling ahead of him before even thinking about making a penny.

b) is going to be a psychologist (5 years schooling) or doctor (5+ years).

c) he isn’t exactly sure what he wants to do, but is bright and has good grades and a degree from a good school to prove it.

How do you advise in each case? Does he go out? If not, how does he deal with Mr. Yetzer? How much information about the realities of frum living – e.g. like those on the Financial Realities thread – do you tell him about?

How does your advice change, if at all, if his circumstances change – if he is 27-28? 30-32? 32+?

How does your advice change, if at all, if we replace “him” with “her,” i.e. it’s a young woman just returning from Israel?

In the Face of Approaching Disaster

As many of us know PM Olmert has publicly stated that he is ready to divide Jerusalem as well as expel up to 70,000 Jews from their homes. To show support for Israel and to protest PM Olmert’s intended actions there will be a rally on Tuesday May 23rd, 12:00 Noon in Washington D.C. Taft Park at The Capitol Building. If you want to go on a bus from the NY, NJ, CT area, please contact Rafael V. Rabinovich, Cell phone (718) 514-4328, e-mail: rafvrab@att.net, rafvrab@gmail.com. For Information and Coordination Across the United States: Jonathan Silverman, (718) 304- 3193, e-mail: jonsilverman2002@yahoo.com.

Somebody sent us an email alerting us to the OU’s take on the rally. You can read the OU statement here.

Please read Rabbi Brody’s recent Open Letter to Hashem about this matter.

We want to thank Max Stessel of Chicago for writing the following piece with the goal of trying to sensitize us to the potential horrific situation facing our brethen in Eretz Yisroel.

Max Stesel
Chicago, IL

The Medrash tells us that when, as a young prince, Moshe Rabeinu went out of Pharaoh’s palace for the first time and saw Jewish slaves toiling for Egyptians, his first act was to join them in their back breaking task, to participate in their pain and partake in the suffering of slavery. This was done despite the fact that being a prince and a Levi, slavery was not a part of Moshe Rabeinu’s experience. He further could have argued that had the other tribes stood their ground when Pharoh invited them to volunteer for the sake of the state, as Levis did, they would not be subjected to cruel slavery. All reasons and differences aside, Moshe Rabeinu saw that it was his brothers who were suffering and he had to join them and participate with them.

Almost a year ago, possibly the greatest humanitarian disaster in recent decades struck world Jewry. More than 10,000 Jews were forcibly removed from Gaza. We might debate the diplomatic, security, ideological and other justifications and condemnations of that event. But one thing is undisputable, this was a humanitarian disaster. Destruction of communities, dreams, removal from spacious homes into crowded hotels and refugee camps, loss of personal property, transition from meaningful jobs to reliance on charity, complete uncertainty about future, strained family relations, depression. Today, most of these Jews still lack permanent housing and adequate employment. We saw it on the internet, read about it in newspapers, heard about it on the radio and what was our reaction? How did we respond to this momentous event?
Read more In the Face of Approaching Disaster

Yasher Koach to David & Sandy Linn

Yasher Koach to David & Sandy Linn on their being honored at the Jewish Heritage Center Dinner tonight. I’ll let you know how the speech went later, I’m sure it will be great.

Update: Back from the dinner. It was an amazing event. David spoke beautifully, but was too modest to plug Beyond BT. Rabbi Dovid Schwartz said a lot of very nice things about the Beyond BT community in the journal.

Yasher Koach to the entire JHC organization for all the wonderful things they do for the BT community.

What’s Up With the Hardcore Jewish People?

A friend sent us a link to a book called What’s Up With The Hard Core Jewish People? The excerpts help us understand a little better what some parents of Baalei Teshuva are going through:

“When our son, Carter, decided to blow off law school and stay in Jerusalem studying to be an Orthodox Rabbi, we were in cognitive dissonance. In our wildest dreams, we would have never expected such a thing. We needed to know what the hell just happened, why it happened, and what I needed to do to keep Carter’s desire to be an Observant Jew from breaking up our family. We had no one to turn to but the Hard Core Jewish People, and they’re no help. They thought what Carter was doing is the ‘bomb’. They lauded him for his courage — the consequences be damned. What about living 7,000 miles away from home on a different continent? What about the U.S. Department of State Travel Warning urging U.S. citizens to carefully weigh the necessity of their travel to Israel in light of the suicide bombings that were taking place on a regular basis? What about the divisiveness such a drastic lifestyle change can cause in a family? None of that matters because Torah rules! By learning Torah and teaching it to his children, Carter will be a part of the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition that has been carried from generation to generation for over 3,500 years. Oy!”
Read more What’s Up With the Hardcore Jewish People?

Pirkei Avos for the Baalei Teshuva

There are two sayings of Pirkei Avos that come to mind this week to give us guidance, support and strength as we face the trials and tribulations of the Baalei Teshuva.

The first is that of Yehuda ben Taima, who said, “Be bold as a leopard…”, meaning that we have to be bold to do the right thing, to do what the Torah requires in every situation. It’s often difficult in that we face pressures both from where we came and from our current environment. But we have to go through the process of determining what the right thing is and then be bold and do it, no matter what the challenges. I give thanks to one of my first Rebbeim, Rabbi Tzvi Kramer, for reiterating this lesson time and again.

The second saying is that of Ben Hai Hai who said, “According to the effort is the reward.” For the Baal Teshuva many things that may be relatively easy for those born into observant homes are a real struggle. But the key to Torah Judaism is to constantly grow through our struggle. Every obstacle we face, every effort we make contributes to us fulfilling the purpose for which Hashem put us in this world. This world is one of struggle and the effort we make overcoming challenges, enables us to build our own eternity.

The entire text from Perek 5 is down below.

Here is the link for an English Translation of all six Perakim culled from Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld’s translation and commentary at Torah.org.

Read more Pirkei Avos for the Baalei Teshuva

Shidduch Considerations – Seeing Challenges As Opportunities for Growth

My parents are divorced. No one else in my family is frum. I have a lot of non-Jewish cousins. Unfortunately, but realistically, my brothers will probably marry non-Jewish women. I live very far away from the rest of my family, seeing them about once a year.

All of these things are not normative in the frum community. Therefore, they are marks against me on the “shidduch market.” You often hear people say they want a girl from a “good” family, someone who has a great relationship with their relatives, someone not from a “broken” home. So, there are times when guys are suggested for me, and after doing a bit of research, they decide they don’t want to go out with me. Based on all these things that are not me, they are my family.

I agree that having these hurdles in life is difficult, and it certainly does make an impact. But the impact it had for me was to make me a stronger person. I learned how to work through my challenges, how to face adversity and make the best of it. How to carve my own life and my own destiny in the image that I feel is the right one.
Read more Shidduch Considerations – Seeing Challenges As Opportunities for Growth

Who’s Crazy Now?

by Akiva of Mystical Paths (mpaths.com)

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?

A Rockin’ Blog D’Omer in Kew Gardens Hills

I was driving home from The Shmuz (more on that in the coming weeks) last night where the topic was how chesed done by humans always has some aspect of self interest, but Hashem’s love and chesed towards us is totally pure and unbounding.

I turn the corner, and there were a bunch of police cars and a lot of people down the block from where I live. I parked the car and walked down the block and there was a bonfire, live music and people dancing in celebration of L’ag B’Omer. I danced, talked to a lot of my friends and neighbors and thought how fortunate we are to have a life like this, Hashem’s love truly has no bounds. We need to stand back on a regular basis and appreciate all the wonderful things we have.

I ran home to get my camera and there was Rabbi Lam on the answering machine wishing us a wonderful Blog D’Omer and giving a brocha that the blog should catch on fire this year.
Read more A Rockin’ Blog D’Omer in Kew Gardens Hills

A Matter of Perspective

My wife, daughter and I were scheduled to leave for Israel on a motzei shabbos.
Leaving home was nothing short of crazy, with shabbos ending at aprox 6:30 and our flight scheduled for 9, there was little time to spare. Little time to spare, three people needing to shower, six kids running left and right and an icy front porch, steps and driveway don’t go well. Somehow or other with the help of our good friend Meyer, we made it out the door.

Traffic moved well and we arrived at the airport with just enough time to spare. Meyer confirmed with the sky cap that we were in the right terminal for Swiss Air, helped us unload and said goodbye. The three of us, barely balancing our luggage and carry-ons, searched for the check-in counter. It just was not there. Upon inquiry we were told that the flight was a “codeshare” with American and would be leaving from a completely different terminal. Apparently, someone forgot to notify the sky cap of that fact.
Read more A Matter of Perspective

Rav Kook’s Vision of T’shuva and The Ease of BT Integration

Rabbi Mordechai Y. Scher

I begin this post with a clear modaah/disclaimer: this is *not* a finished product. I know that I have not carefully thought this through. I know that a talmid chacham (that’s not me, so I’m exempt? I can’t say that, at the risk of demeaning my revered teachers) doesn’t put out something unfinished/lo m’tukan. Yet…

There have been quite a few posts over time that return to the topic of ‘how long will I be a BT?’, or ‘when do I become integrated into general frum society?’, or the like. I have found it largely difficult to relate to these posts; and I (think) I realize now that different circles really do have different social dynamics, even among observant Jews. I know I’ve gotten older, my mind a bit feeble; but I just don’t remember I or any of me chevra being concerned about such things. I don’t recall opportunities to be accepted (shidduchim, a place in a particular yeshiva/beit midrash, invitations, etc.) being limited or circumscribed.

It seems to me that some of this has to do with what are considered seminal influences in those circles, and what are perceived as ‘end-points’ in those circles.
Read more Rav Kook’s Vision of T’shuva and The Ease of BT Integration