How Do We Handle This?

In the past, we’ve had some discussions here about former-BT bloggers and we’ve often discussed how to deal with “skeptics”. Now, the issue has taken an unexpected turn, we are being addressed by a stand-alone-blog, Unmasking Beyond Teshuva, aimed directly at us.

We have considered writing a polite email to the bloggers. Or maybe we should just ignore it?

What are your thoughts on how to best handle this?

Inspiration in Everyday Life

When I was a Yeshivah student, one of the rabbis brought us to a meeting with Rav Shlomo Wolbe. A question was raised in that meeting by a married student, which I didn’t really grasp. “How can someone deal with the spiritual letdown of being involved in mundane affairs? After a day learning in Kollel, I come home and have to deal with diapers, shopping, bills, dirty dishes, etc. How does one remain spiritual in face of this? What can I tell my wife, who has to deal with this all day?”

At the time, being unmarried, I couldn’t relate much to the question, except in a theoretical way. Years later, I was returning from the Beis Midrash on Yom Kippur, during the break between Mussaf and Minchah. Wearing my white kittel, feeling spiritually elevated, the nigunim of the Yom Kippur service reverberating in my mind, I entered my apartment and soon found myself in an encounter with a six month year old baby and a heavily soiled diaper. That’s when the question finally sunk in and I recalled Rav Wolbe’s answer:

“Once, I went with one of the students of Beer Yaakov to buy a piece of jewelry for his kallah. We took the bus to Tel Aviv, and while we were walking down a thoroughfare, he asked me: ‘Rebbe, what are we doing here? Why should we leave the spiritual environs of the Beis Midrash to walk in this commercial district, a completely materialistic environment, for the sake of a piece of jewelry?’

“I answered: ‘Here, we are walking in the world of chesed. The Beis Midrash is the world of Torah and Tefillah. This is the world of chesed.’”

The world of chesed (loving-kindness). The Mishnah says: “The world stands on three pillars: Torah, Divine Service, and acts of kindness.”

For many years, I used to condition myself for 30 seconds before I entered the home: Now, you are entering the world of chesed. Put aside the intricacies of the Gemara, leave the yearning to be close to Hashem in prayer, and focus on chesed!

Different parts of our day have a different focus, and different stages of our lives have a different focus. Focusing on the great opportunities that await us in the world of chesed brings a spiritual uplift to the mundane affairs of everyday life.

How Does One Determine Appropriate Parental Control?

Many BTs were brought up in an environment of very permissive parenting and have witnessed the perils of such an approach. In the Torah world, there are clearer distinctions between proper and improper conduct and much closer guidance between parent and child. However this can lead to an over-exertion of control and BTs may be more susceptible to this, due to their lack of Torah guided parental models in their lives.

The general question is how does one determine appropriate parental control?

Let’s try to focus on a few specific questions.

– Should you steer your children away from friends whom you deem inappropriate?
– How much of a homework helper should you be?

Obviously these are not yes/no questions, but sharing your thoughts and experiences would be helpful.

For a good article on this subject, see Relinquishing Control – The difficult art of letting go. by Rabbi Noach Orlowek.

Rabbi Horowitz has an article on “Bad Friends”.

Escaping the Past

This post is for baal teshuvahs and/or those who had a colorful past before discovering the Torah way of life, or even other spiritual paths for my non-Jewish friends.

It’s pretty wild how news regarding our “past lives” (meaning how we used to live our current lives) can affect us in the present.
More importantly, when one sees (especially in bold newspaper print) how choices made by old friends & acquaintances have completely ruined their lives, it just solidifies & strengthens 1000-fold the choice I made to live a Torah-observant life.

I used to hang out with these guys. I might have been privy to some of their activities in the 80s & 90s.
I easily could have taken a different path and went along with that lifestyle.
Then you would have also seen MY name in the paper today, with the 60+ indicted alleged Gambino family members & associates.

Baruch Hashem that of those of us who were tested, many have made the correct choice regarding which road to choose.

The FBI on Thursday, 2/7/08 claimed to have brought down the heirarchy of the Gambino crime family, by indicting 60-something alleged members & leaders.

We didn’t learn about “mafia life” by just watching movies like “Goodfellas”, “Donnie Brasco” and “The Godfather”.

We lived amongst it. I personally am on first name basis with many of these guys from back in the day, and did (legit) business with some of them.

So sad how so many of my former fellow club-attendees, Flatlands Avenue hanger-outers, Fort Lauderdale Spring Breakers, friends, acquaintances & neighbors have wound up being indicted, in prison, rehabbed or dead.

To my fellow Canarsians, if you haven’t yet seen the indictment, your jaw will remain open as you recognize about 1/3 the names from Old Canarsie.

Posted by Jeff Neckonoff
aka the Studio 54 Rebbe


By “Reuven”

About a month ago I posted The Parental Shidduch Crisis. It was a candid sharing of the crisis I was going through as we searched for our eldest son’s soul mate. The commenters, by and large, were very sympathetic and encouraging. Many also appreciated my insights into this monstrous obstacle for those not raised Orthodox. Suddenly, in the midst of the growing discussion, my sob story radically changed. It looked like we had a shidduch! The joy and suspense of our son’s first “date” was shared with the forum and by the time we announced the Vort there were calls for a sequel. The following article is it.

Now the interesting thing is that just as I was putting the final touches on this post, including the title, I spotted the following comment on Can Beyond BT Be More Inclusive?:

UO = Ultra-Orthodox

This can mean a group that:

1. takes traditional Judaism seriously enough to believe and do it without compromise,


2. one wants to stigmatize as fanatical or quaint.

On the whole, the UO term is frowned upon by UO people. It’s also frowned upon by others who think the term is not pejorative enough!

Two days later came a full fledged post on this topic, entitled: Ultra Orthodoxy: Not So Inclusive Just Yet. Well, talk about Providence! Apparently there’s much more here than just my personal story.


In The Beginning we were spry and pure hearted, drawing unbelievable inspiration from finding our Creator within some of the most unorthodox of places. Then we discovered Torah. And Orthodox Judaism. The latter were obviously means towards the former. Authentic, time-honored, holy means – but still means. My wife and I respectively made our ways to the Holy land, determined to live an unadulterated life of fulfilling our Creator’s Will.

That’s when we met. Love at first sight.

Our first post marital aim was to find a place where I could learn without towing a party line; where there would be models of genuine Torah wisdom accessible to us both; where it would be understood that we were in search of truth and not Orthodoxy, per se. Certainly not ULTRA Orthodoxy, for G-d’s sake!

With tremendous, humbling guidance from above, we found an exceptional Orthodox Rav who was at ease across the traditional Jewish spectrum. I had the subsequent privilege of learning tons from him, his community, Kollel and home over the next six years. But there were blips. A few very painful ones. We emerged bruised in our view of the integrity of Orthodoxy.

So I returned to university and studied education and psychology. I went on to become an educator among the secular and marginally Orthodox while plugging away at instilling core Torah values within my family. Thank G-d I succeeded in both, but especially the latter. Far more than I could have dreamed of! Especially with our first child, who proved to be quite gifted, (not to tempt the evil eye!), including matters of emuna {faith}. He taught me so much. Thus began a fabulous journey of learning together “what the Torah r-e-a-l-l-y means” as I meditated awestruck on that famous messianic verse:

And he (Eliahu) will return the hearts
of the fathers (back to G-d)
by way of the sons

Slowly but surely my enthusiasm for Orthodoxy returned. And then some. As I was getting progressively familiar with the more esoteric literature and seeing how well my son gained by my filtering it his way, I began to identify with those, um, er, hate to say it, but yes… Ultras. By the time our little tsaddik reached 7th grade we shipped him off to a special chassidic cheider in the next town, donned the garb, I dropped my non-Orthodox teaching career and returned to intensive Torah learning.

Yep. We had become bona fide Ultras.

A few years later, with the encouragement of our new Rebbe, shlit”a, the entire family moved to the community. As much as there were many awkward aspects of trying to integrate into such an insular communal life in midlife, including my utter befuddlement about how to earn a living without compromising on all the newfound spiritual ideals, the nachas we gained from the kids’ progress made it worthwhile. Every day brought new heights of excitement in helping them grow in chochma, kdusha and emuna.

And then came Shiduchim {the time for matchmaking}.

I honestly can tell you that “crisis” barely describes the experience. My heart sunk into places no man has ever gone before. All this talk about people as schora tova {good merchandise}, about sleuthing information from shadchanim, teachers and friends, about nosing into each other’s yichus {lineage}. What can I say? It just didn’t fit my picture of what a life dedicated to G-d was all about. In fact, it felt more like placing my son into a sub-cultural coffin and inviting the community to rejoice over the pounding in of each nail!

And that’s not to mention my dreams of his finding his soul mate as clearly and vibrantly as I had found mine.


In Elul the phone calls started. He had just turned 19. We sat our beloved firstborn down for a few long talks. Was he sure he’s ready? Well, he accepts with complete faith that he should try, if this is the norm of such a holy community. Did he know who she should be? Yes… mostly. Are you clear on the life you want to lead? Yes… mostly.

So we swallowed hard and started answering those calls… mostly. At first we played the hush-hush game. Not even the potential groom was to know who was calling. But soon the kids were hopping and giggling with each new ring and we were finding that our heads were spinning with all the non and dis and simply inappropriate information. There were grand offers, creepy offers and a lot of blur in between. How to know? No one was asking about his character nor telling us about her dreams. It was more like why not this or how about that. Like when you’re putting a puzzle together during a cheery vacation laze. Let’s see now, does this one fit? Maybe that one. Well, if not, let’s force it a bit…

My kishkes turned.

Then, one girl from a very reputable family was suggested. Everything about her values and intelligence fit our son. But when we saw her picture and my wife interacted with her in Shul… we just couldn’t connect. The look. Ugh! But is that a reason? Aye-aye-aye. So I asked the Rebbe. He said, before I could barely get the words out: “Trust her. Your wife’s intuition is reliable.”

Pshhh. So much for the proverbial fanaticism of those Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis!

About a week later, the rumors spread like wildfire. They were engaged!! Mazal To…. Oh, really? They’re NOT? Oops. Some friends explained: This can be a tactic to get parents to reconsider.

Double kishke turn. Apparently not all the Ultras are as pure as the Rebbe…

Finally, a couple of months later, just as he was rounding 19 1/3 (the supposed ideal time) we started involving our son in the process. He had always taught us so much, maybe he’d pull through here as well. It was uncomfortable for him, to be sure. It certainly disturbed his learning. But nebach – what could he do. His poor parents needed help!

And so our spirits re-lifted as we observed how deftly he deciphered the wording behind this suggestion and questioned the tones behind that one. He filled us in on the character of this family and the scholarship of that one. It was starting to feel a little fun! Like putting a puzzle together…

Then we heard the spectacular suggestion that led me to write “Shidduch Crisis.” She was perfect. A genuinely modest girl with a noble personality and, most importantly, an aim in life that fit his like a glove. And she didn’t have that weird look. She actually appeared quite charming. So what were we waiting for? Well, hmm, the Shadchan stammered. Her mother, you see, has this thing for yichus {noble lineage}.

Nu-nu. We’ll get around that one, we told ourselves with “perfect” faith. The Rebbe himself, after all, so often emphasizes what an exceptional bachor he is. And her father is gung-ho. And, and, and.

But no. The Ultra-mother wouldn’t budge. She refused to even speak with us.

Ugh, ugh, UGH! Horrendous waves of sadness began to flow. Then came the outrage. Towards G-d! How c-o-u-l-d He? Why bring us all this way and drop us like a sack of potatoes? Why, why, WHY! No. COULDN’T be. It must be “them.” All those twisted, devious Ultras…

Our Kallah was suggested a couple of weeks later. I knew something was up by the way the Shadchan sheepishly approached me. He had been actively involved in trying to make that yichus case go. He knew I was broken. So walking over on egg shells, he gently asked if he could suggest something… perhaps… as a friend………. and son?


Yes. You see, his father, who had hosted us for a number of Shabbos meals during our transition into the community, had mentioned a few times that he’d love to see a match for our son with one of his granddaughters. So if we happen to be “available,” would we consider helping him do this kibud Av {honoring of his father} and hear an offer about the daughter of his brother?

Pshhhhh. THIS was pure. STRAIGHT from Above. For the first time in four months, I could feel my whole system calm down. Soon it would break out in prayer:

ki lo khalu rakhamekha;
ki lo tamu khasadekha

for Your compassion is unending;
for Your kindness has never ceased

The Vort {declaration of intent to engage} was three weeks later. The Tnoiim {official engagement} is scheduled for Sunday, iy”H’. As much as I’d love to share with all of you how exactly the meetings went, I don’t have permission to do so. But I can share a crucial lesson that I humbly admit took me way too long to learn: ULTRA-ORTHOS ARE NOT ALL FANATICS!

Rather, they are ordinary folk who strive to live according to the highest Torah principles. Some succeed, many don’t. What can we do? Serving G-d is h-a-r-d. The hardest thing in the world. But it beckons everyone.

The term ultra, in itself, is actually quite beautiful. According to Webster it means “beyond the range of; on the farther side of.” Don’t you see? That’s what we ALL should be striving for. It’s not the ultra that is the problem but the orthodoxy. The complacency with any one way of thinking. Once we realize how “orthodox” we all are in resistance to our Creator, then we can begin to climb down from our high horses and follow His lead. As the Proverb chides (19:21):
Abundant are the thoughts of man
but the advice of G-d
will prevail

The Holy Zohar explains: What is Divine advice? The 613 Mitzvos. Advice for what? Dveikus, cleaving to your Creator.

Paradoxically, then, Ultra-Orthodoxy is really the most liberating of all traditional Jewish orientations. For people who subscribe to this are devoting their lives to the blessed eternal One. What can be more liberating than that? To be sure, just mouthing or dressing this belief doesn’t do it. In fact, many who merely play the part are greatly suffering and causing others to suffer due to their tremendous pangs of conscience for leading a life of the worst hypocrisy. But this shouldn’t detract from the truth of the aim: “to get beyond the range of, on the farther side of” Orthodoxy.

The side of G-d.

I know this transition is possible if at the least because of what the Rebbe, shlit”a, told me at the end of this whole ordeal. I had asked him about all the Ultra-talk of tying the knot with her family “like everyone does.” He said, in his inimitably sobering way:

“G-o-o-d and s-p-e-c-i-a-l people often DON’T do what everyone does!”

Quote unquote.

He went on to encourage me to stand up for some unusual requests. Like not rushing the Vort immediately upon the couple’s readiness to marry. It’s important for everyone’s yishuv Ha’daas, presence of mind, he stressed, that one comes to such a point after all the issues are settled. Similarly, he supported my interest in writing into the legal agreement that in contrast to all other holydays, her parents should have no expectations of the couple spending Pessach Seder with them. As per the verse (Ex 13): “You should tell it to your son on that day, saying: because of this that G-d did for me in my exodus from Egypt.”

Whoa. Isn’t that extreme? Fanatic? Unfairly imposing on a family to forgo being with their daughter at such a special time? No. It’s a matter of truth. Deep, soul truth. Father-son truth. Truth like I knew way back then, when I was spry and pure hearted; when I was seeking something like the light that’s now dancing within the eyes of my wonderfully Ultra-Orthodox son and new daughter-in-law.

Mazal Tov !

* * *

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.

And so it begins…

My oldest daughter, turns 5 this summer. That means it’s time to start kindergarten. Before we were married, my wife and I had discussed schooling. I was raised in public schools and thought they were excellent. She was raised in private schools, and the only thing she had heard about public schools were all the problems reported on the news. Still, I had told her at the time that I wasn’t saying ‘No’ to private school, I just wanted to consider all the options. Especially since we now live in an area that has excellent (nationally ranked) public schools. People move to our neighborhood so that their kids will go to the local elementary, junior, and senior high schools.

After we were married and had our current two daughters, and I started becoming more religious, I saw more value in the private schools. Not so much because of problems with public schools (I still think they are very good), but because I wanted my girls to get a richer Jewish education than I had received. They are both in the local Chabad preschool, and are quickly absorbing material that I’m still struggling with myself. (e.g.

So now come the hard decisions. Where we are located, there are basically 4 choices for schooling:

1) Public school – No Jewish education, and would have to do the “Kids need Yom Tovs off, no food other than what we provide, etc.” dance pretty often.

2) Local Jewish Day School – There is a local Jewish Day School. However, it was developed by many people in the area and while it’s a good school, it’s not at as high a religious level as what we wanted for our kids.

3) Send to more religious Jewish Day Schools – There are a few Jewish Day Schools that are more religious, but they are not as local. The travel time during “rush hour” is about an hour each way, assuming no major incidents. Our neighbor does this with their current kindergartener, but others in our community wait until the kids are a little older before putting them through such a commute. On the other hand, the neighbor’s son does seem to learn a great deal there.

4) A new school – A few families in our community are working with our shul to see if we can start up a new program, initially at the kindergarten level, maybe to go up to first or second grade. It would be a more religious focus than the local JDS, but a smaller group of people, an untested program, and is currently still struggling to get organized.

We are still working on deciding what we will do. The application for the local JDS is due this month. We haven’t even checked when applications are due at the schools farther away, but really don’t want to see our 5 year old commuting that long. Our best hope is with the new school, and we are participating in meetings and all, but are afraid of putting all our eggs in one incomplete, untested basket. We’ll probably apply for the local JDS, but if the new school does fly, go over there. Hopefully we would know before the various payments are due.

I usually try to have a nice neat conclusion/learning experience at the end of my write ups, but this one is still very open ended. However, if anyone has suggestions/comments, I welcome them.

Can Beyond BT Be More Inclusive?

Dear Beyond BT

Although I don’t like labels (who does?), for the purpose of this post, I would describe myself as Left Wing Modern Orthodox. That means that I watch TV, listen to secular music and have no objection to teenage boys and girls socializing with each other, among other things. I have made great strides in my Torah observance and keep Shabbos, kosher, pray regularly and keep all the generally observed mitzvos.

I was pretty excited when I first came across Beyond BT as there were many issues discussed that were relevant to me. However over time it seems that Beyond BT has established its place in the right wing of the Orthodox spectrum.

Am I correct in stating that Beyond BT has moved to the right? If so, why has that happened? Can Beyond BT make room for a Left Wing Modern Orthodox BT like myself?


Bilvavi – Re-evaluating our Judaism

“The beginning of a person’s task is to clarify for himself what the purpose of his life is.”
– opening line of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh (A Sanctuary in my Heart)

It sounds a lot like the opening of Mesillas Yesharim-(the Path of the Just), but Bilvavi changes our understanding of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato’s mussar classic. In the traditional understanding of the Path of the Just, we view spiritual progress as a ladder starting with Torah, through working on our observing of mitzvos to chassidus and dveikus (closeness) to Hashem, and then to higher levels.

Bilvavi makes one significant change in this understanding by focusing on this line of the Ramchal and answering the question of our purpose posed in the opening line:
“In truth, the only true completeness is closeness (dveikus) to Hashem. As Dovid HaMelech said “And for me, closeness to Hashem is good.””

Bilvavi zooms in on this concept and says that the focus of our Yiddishkeit must be developing a constant connection, awareness and closeness to Hashem. He goes into great detail in defining what this closeness is and how to achieve it. It goes beyond kavanna in brachos, mitzvos and davening to a constant awareness of Hashem. In fact he states that our entire Olam Haba is based on the degree of constant connection and awareness we establish. The author states that many (perhaps most) people, even those sitting and learning in Yeshiva, are missing this critical point.

Bilvavi teaches this experiential (and not just intellectual) Emunah and closeness is available to anyone who works on it, from the manual laborer, to the professional, to the person learning full time in the Yeshiva.

So what should a growing BT or FFB do? To start with

1) You can read the entire first two seforim in English or Hebrew at Bilvavi.Net.
2) You can go to Dixie Yid’s posts and mp3s on the sefer and it’s author.
3) You can hear Rabbi Yossi Michalowicz shiurim on the entire sefer.

We Need You!

In the over 2 years since we’ve started Beyond BT we’ve had hundreds of great posts, thousands of great comments and hundreds of thousands of reads. We want to take this opportunity to thank everybody who visits these pages for helping making this project a success. One of the greatest successes is found in the sharing of our struggles with others in similar situations. It is a comforting feeling knowing that you’re not alone.

One of the issues we face is that many of our contributors only participate for a limited time period, which is fine with us. However, that means we are always looking for fresh voices. So, if you are willing to write something about once a month, please contact us. You can do it anonymously, if you prefer. We usually send out suggested topics every 2 weeks or so, but you can post on whatever topic you want. We also accept guest contributions, so when the spirit strikes, type it up and send it in.

We would also be interested in suggested topics that you would like to see and we’re always looking for a good question of the week. Thanks again and please consider taking your participation to the next level. Our email is and we’re hoping to hear from you.

The Whole World In His Hands

A blast from the past. Originally posted January 24, 2006

The most empowering moment of my life was when I learned that the torah was written by G-d. Immediately, I understood that my actions affected the entire universe. If I did a mitzvah I brought the world that much closer to the coming of Moshiach, and conversely, if I did an aveira, chas v’shalom, I delayed his arrival even longer. There was so much to learn so I left my life behind to go to yeshiva and tried to make up for all of the lost time.

Today B”H I am married to a wonderful woman and I am blessed with two beautiful children. I wear a yarmulke, tzitzis, a black hat, and payos. I say modeh ani when I wake up in the morning, wash nitilas yedaim, make brochas, daven three times a day, keep kosher and the laws of taharas mishpacha. I keep Shabbos and I am kovaya itim. I’ve even been zocheh to make a number of siyumim. However, for all of my changes and accomplishments, I am not so sure I am a better person.

As much as I try to improve, I still have many of the same bad middos I possessed before becoming frum and I still allow my yetzer hara shlita over me during moments of weakness. I am neither as kind nor as patient nor as charitable or magnanimous as I’d like to be, and I could certainly improve in many other areas.

As much as I have integrated the Torah into my life, I am still far from the level I would like to be. I still view my life as lacking in many ways both spiritual and physical. I know this is not torah thinking and I know intellectually that Hashem gives me everything I need.

When I first started learning and becoming frum it seemed so clear to me that my every action made ripples and was affecting the universe. Now that I am so much more entrenched in the everyday of life (family, work, learning, health, growth, etc) and don’t have the leisure to sit and learn in yeshiva all day, my actions don’t seem as potent as they once did. I wonder if I wasn’t better off back when I felt so clearly that I held the keys to the coming of moshiach in my hands.

Moshe the First BT

By Yaakov Eric Ackland

Like most BT’s, Moshe is born a stranger in a strange land. He’s born a Jew in a powerful non-Jewish culture, and though he has the love of his family, he’s from a very early age set adrift downstream in the dominant culture with his parents’ faint hope for his survival as a Jew. He even grows up bearing an Egyptian name, and although he was given a Jewish name by his parents, he never uses it, even after becoming “reaffiliated.” much later in life. And though he knows that he’s Jewish, he lives the life of a Jewish Egyptian Prince in this dominant culture. He grows up with a dual-identity, divided loyalties, and likely in his youth felt more Egyptian than Jewish. As one of the elite, approval, success, power, and comfort are his for the taking as long as he stays on track and doesn’t try to shake things up.

In the first recorded episode of his adult life Moses, at around 40 years old emerges from his palace, sees the suffering of the Israelites, and kills an Egyptian who was beating a Jew. He awakens to the fact of suffering existing outside his sheltered world, and perhaps it is the first inkling of a real bond with the Jewish people. Over the next several episodes, Moshe intervenes for justice between two Jews fighting, between two sets of strangers (his future wife and sisters-in-law to be and the sheppards who were harassing them at the well) and then (in the Midrash) he goes after the one sheep that was lost, and carries it tenderly back to the herd. Like many a secular Jew today, Moshe is upset by any form of injustice or suffering, not just amongst his own people, but for that of (apparently) all sentient beings, and more uncommonly, acts on his perceptions. And Moshe acts almost instinctively; he does the right thing, solely because it feels like the right thing to do (Interestingly, this story of Moshe going forth from his sheltered life, witnessing suffering, and then throwing off everything he knew to leave his home and experience life and suffering directly, before ultimately returning to enlighten and free his people has an Eastern parallel, in the life of Buddha.).

So Moses has lived straddling two worlds, neither of which is truly his “home.” He’s a double exile. After killing the Egyptian, and abandoning Egypt, Moses enters his third level of exile: he’s now a Jewish Egyptian Prince in an alien land: he’s lost the protection of his comfortable life, and he’s disillusioned: it seems that justice doesn’t pay in this world: he’s an outlaw with a price on his head, and he had no gratitude from the man whose life he’d saved, or the people of the man he’d saved. Despite the disillusionment though, he persists in doing what’s right, because it is right. In essence he’s dropped out of the dominant culture, as a significant number of secular Jews have long done. After his third act of justice though, by defending the women at the well, he’s offered one as his bride, and he accepts. Maybe justice is rewarded in this life, he now thinks, maybe now I can have a comfortable life. And like a typical secular Jew, he’s met a nice gentile girl, and only subsequently presumably persuades her to convert (although her conversion isn’t documented in the text.) He settles down and builds a conventionally successful life amongst strangers.

But then Moshe encounters G-d who commands him to return to Egypt and save his people, and bring them to the land where they were intended to live, to the culture they were intended to live in. And very likely, it is Moses’s keen sense of justice, and his willingness to risk his life to live his values that has qualified him for the job. And like the average secular Jew first encountering the idea of Divine commandedness, Moshe argues with Hashem, in essence saying, “Sounds great, a noble task, but not for me. You’ve got the wrong guy.” For Moshe, though concerned about justice, though caring for the oppressed and for their suffering, has thus far been motivated entirely from within to do good. He’s valued his autonomy and perhaps he’s even become enamored of his status as an outlaw and a rebel; as someone who has done things his own way, and has made a life for himself different than that of his peers. Unlike Abraham, the paradigmatic Knight of Faith who unhesitatingly was ready to sacrifice his son upon G-d’s command, Moshe hesitates and passively stalls. Humans resist even that what we wish to do, if it is demanded of us. We like to be flattered into thinking that we have a choice. Any book on modern management will confirm this. Moshe’s refusal may be couched in terms of modesty, of unfitness for the job, and our tradition states that Moshe was the humblest man who ever lived, but a little deeper psychology might reveal these further causes of resistance: fear of loss of comfort and status, loss of his self-identity, loss of autonomy, and fear of failure.

Moses protests and stalls Hashem five times before he accedes. And even after all this, he goes and asks permission from his father-in-law to leave: almost as if he were hoping his father-in-law would deny him permission. Really, if Hashem tells you to do something, do you have really need to ask permission of anyone else? Many a BT has similarly learned what he or she is supposed to do in a certain instance, argued with Hashem, argued with Rabbis, been finally convinced that it must be done, and still sought for pretexts to delay or abstain committing. During the time Moses is back in Egypt, he dickers with Hashem another three times. We can even see a parallel between the repeatedly hardened heart of Pharaoh, which despite repeated oppressive miracles keeps rebounding to that same place of resistance and rebellion and the as yet not fully submitted heart of Moses despite having spoken directly with God. This parallel may be highlighted by the similarities of Moshe’s first response to Hashem’s command, “Who am I that I should got to Pharaoh and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?” and Pharaoh’s first response to Moshe’s demand: “Who is Hashem that I should heed his voice to send out Israel?” Why the parallel? Perhaps to highlight how much Moshe is still Egyptian as well as Jewish, and can’t deny or purge himself of his past.

Just as the contemporary Jew who finally encounters Hashem, and Torah, and the idea of commandedness ultimately strives to submit (if he or she is intellectually honest) so too did Moshe. And just as it is axiomatic in Judaism that G-d never gives us a challenge we can’t meet, Moshe must have begun the process of internalizing the understanding that with Hashem’s help he cannot fail, and must have felt an exhilaration at finally having discovered the proper outlet for his passion and talent. And so he uprooted from his third level of his exile to head to his fourth level of exile: back to his “home” turf, but this time with a two-fold mission: to punish Pharaoh and to free his people, and this time his sense of justice is subordinated to Hashem’s sense of justice, and is thus tightly and properly focused.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Moshe, like many modern people who first encounter G-d’s repeated hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in the Torah and the unleashing of these awful plagues upon all of Egypt, may have felt instinctively that this was a bit over-the-top and unnecessarily ruthless, –especially as he must have had many fond memories and ties of affection to that dominant culture and to some of the people within. Under the spirit of submission to Divine commandedness though, Moshe did what was required of him. And though the mission must have seemed impossibly daunting, he succeeded in bringing forth a portion of his people out from Egypt.

And yet now he was in a fifth level of exile, and the Israelites as yet were unhabituated to the idea of commandedness; not habituated to Jewish culture; even resentful of having been pulled out of their familiar enslavement to the dominant culture. They perpetually lag at least a step or two behind Moshe; and they rebel against his leadership –and this stage lasts for an entire generation. They encounter Hashem directly, and even then, they can’t entirely subordinate their will to his; they can’t put their full trust in Him and in Moshe. Just as modern Baalei Tshuva struggle to acclimate themselves to Jewish Law -Halacha, to Orthodox cultural norms, and may even engage in periodic lapses of adherence or in rebellious behavior, and may cling to mementos, music, and memories of the culture they were raised in, so too did the Children of Israel, and yet they ultimately stayed within the fold, and had children: FFB’s who were better acclimated to the Law and to the culture, though still having some taint of their parent’s home culture, and who were prepared to fight the battles necessary to settle the promised land, so that the third and fourth generations could grow up as they were intended, in their home culture, in their homeland, as whole-hearted Jews. Moshe himself never got to see the promised land: he died in exile.

Perhaps we can take from this admittedly non-traditional analysis a greater understanding that Hashem knows what we’re going through as BTs; that He’s seen it all before. Moshe and our other ancestors went though this same struggle to subordinate themselves to Hashem and to Torah. They went through stages; took two steps forward and one back, but resolutely strove to continue to advance towards the goal. BTs, along with FFBs are still in exile, and still 90% of the Jewish people are completely immersed in the culture of Egypt (Western culture), and we ourselves will never be 100% free of it’s allure and influence, and will always feel split between cultures, fully at home nowhere, often uncomfortable, often struggling, and perhaps it will only be our grandchildren or great-grandchildren who will be completely prepared to live a comprehensive, fully immersed Jewish life, but out job is clear, if daunting –as daunting to us as Moshe’s was to him: we need simultaneously to acclimate, learn, teach, and lead: we need to learn to bow our stubborn necks and subordinate our will to Hashem, and most crucially we need to rouse our brethren from their comfortable status as slaves of Egypt. We need to have them see that the discomfort of growth, of self-transformation, and of uprooting, of being prepared to spend a lifetime in the wilderness, is the most vital thing, and it begins when we begin to submit to Divine commandedness. We needn’t however beat ourselves up, and judge ourselves harshly at our failure to be one hundred percent submitted and committed, for Hashem already knows how hard it is. If Moshe struggled and the Bnei Israel struggled, and they experienced Hashem more directly than anyone has since, then surely we, who are so far away from all that, can take some solace and sustenance from this. Moshe is our model.

More Information Please

By Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum

After granting us permission to reprint this article on Beyond BT, Rabbi Rosenblum wished to add the following notes:

I’m highly skeptical that ba’alei teshuva kids constitute anything like a majority. I think Kiryat Sefer is a special case. Lakewood and Gateshead have lots of drop-outs and few BTs.

My criticism of the kiruv is mostly centered on Eretz Yisrael, and not on America.

I recently had an opportunity to speak at length with someone who has a broad familiarity with most of the institutions created in Israel to deal with chareidi kids who are outside of any regular educational format. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned a recent column, in which I noted that the dropout phenomenon is even more severe in all chareidi communities than in mixed communities.

The explanation of everyone to whom I spoke, including two major talmidei chachamim, was that such communities generate a degree of social pressure that proves unbearable for many youth, especially those who have their own “issues.”

My conversation partner, however, offered a very different explanation. In his opinion, it is the higher percentage of ba’alei teshuva drawn to the all chareidi cities that explains the differential. He claimed that at least 70% of the drop-outs in one such community are children of ba’alei teshuva.

If that is true (and that remains a big “if”), then we as a community should be asking some hard questions about the conduct of all our kiruv efforts. One immediate question would be: Is it better for ba’alei teshuva to move to all chareidi enclaves or would it be better for them to either join existing communities or form their own in the places they are already living?

The challenge of many of ba’alei teshuva who move to all chareidi enclaves is twofold. First, the parents often have little familiarity with the predominantly kollel society that they are entering, and therefore find it hard to guide their children. Second, many ba’alei teshuva already have children of various ages. It is profoundly disorienting for those children to find themselves suddenly thrust into a totally different society. Even children and teenagers who come from the frumest seminaries and yeshivos in America to live in Israel often struggle to adjust to very different standards in Israel. How much more so those who just a few months ago were living in non-religious homes.

The problems of children of ba’alei teshuva also suggest that there may be something askew about our current models of kiruv: Are we overemphasizing the numbers brought in through the door while devoting relatively little effort to guiding new ba’alei teshuva once they have taken their first steps in Yiddishkeit?

A major kiruv activist told me that many ba’alei teshuva harbor bitterness to those who were mekarev them in the first place, but who do not remain available to guide them in the latter stages of the process. They feel that they were the esrog upon which the person who was mekarev them performed the mitzvah of kiruv, and that once they were safely within the fold, those who were mekarev them were off again in search of new “mitzvos.” That may be a complete misperception, but it nonetheless generates feelings of anger.

(One of the beauties of the phone chavrusah program of Ayelet HaShachar, which has grown from 2,000 to 4,000 chavrusas in the last year alone, is that it is based on ongoing one-to-one relationships that intensify over years between the volunteer and the one seeking to learn more about his or her Judaism.)

THE TRUTH IS that we have relatively little hard empirical data about the drop-out phenomenon. Most of what we know is based on anecdotal experience from which we extrapolate wildly. Each person in the field comes at it from his own vantage point. Thus those who work in the area of learning disabilities tend to see learning disabilities as the primary cause for dropping-out. A child whose problems go unaddressed and experiences school as misery may feel embittered towards the society that imposed that misery upon him, and which offers him few hopes for the future other than more of the same.

Those who work with shalom bayis problems tend to see the absence of shalom bayis as the primary cause. And no doubt among the families that they work with there are many children who are floundering in the system. As the Torah tells us, when parents do not speak with one voice, then they are more likely to produce rebellious children.

Others will tell you that the problem is poverty, or, in America, affluence. Those who deal with sexual abuse see that as a major cause.

My own guess is that virtually everyone is right — to a degree. For one thing, many of these phenomenon overlap. Both great affluence and poverty, for instance, positively correlate to different sorts of shalom bayis problems. As Chazal say, “Arguments are not found in a man’s home, except as a consequence of [a lack of] grain” (Bava Metziah 59b).

Certainly no one explanation fits every case. There are families in which every child is thriving except one — sometimes that one suffered by virtue of being in a family of such successful siblings – and others with multiple children at-risk. There are drop-outs with learning disabilities, and those who breezed through their early years in yeshiva. There are those from homes of ba’alei teshuva, and children of prominent roshei yeshiva.

In short for every anecdote, it is possible to cite an opposite one. Yet it remains crucial to get some hard data, based on high quality research, to understand the interrelationship of different factors, and which ones are most prevalent.

Devising solutions depends on knowing the causes and their relative importance. If, for instance, poverty is a major cause of alienation from the Torah world, there is not much to be done in the short-run. But if, on the other hand, learning disabilities turn out to be a major factor, much can be done: early psychometric testing in school, training avreichim and counselors how to learn with children who often have way above average intelligence but suffer from some form of disability, pharmacological interventions.

A second stage of the research, then, would involve assessment of the long-term effectiveness of different intervention strategies. Yad Eliezer has thousands of avreichim learning with boys from single-parent homes. Rabbi Yaakov Rushnevsky has created a model in a number of neighborhoods of intense after school tutoring for boys who are floundering in large classroom situations, which involves constant interaction with the cheder rebbe as well. And there are many other such programs. Evaluation can make such worthy programs even more effective and help determine which models should be emulated.

The drop-out phenomenon is but one example of a general rule: good decisions require good information. That is true of our world as well.

This article appeared in the Mishpacha on January 30 2008.

Wrestling with Negativity

The Torah was given to a nation of baalei teshuva. Egypt is a combination of two words. maitzar / constriction and yam which has a numerical value of 50. The immorality of Egypt squeezed the Jewish nation to (but not including) the 50th level of impurity, the most dire of all levels. However, during the subsequent 50 days, the nation rose to the exalted 50th level of purity, at the giving of the Torah.

The Jewish people were fused into a nation during those 50 days in the desert. Like the nutrients ingested in a developing fetus, the power of teshuva molded their very reality. Therefore, teshuva and the power of elevation are forever an inherent part of our very makeup.

This week’s parsha immediately follows the giving of the Torah. We are given the commandment “Don’t cook the kid in its mother’s milk” / the laws of meat and milk / kashrus.

Hashem now enabled the Jewish Nation to continue the aforementioned pattern of elevation, achieved through the preparation of the giving of the Torah. They were given the opportunity to elevate the entire mundane world through the mitzvah of eating.

To illustrate, a plant receives nourishment from the minerals in the soil. It soaks up the sun’s rays. It absorbs carbon dioxide and it drinks in the rain. In turn, an animal eats the plant. When a Jew ingests this animal with the noble intention of serving Hashem through the food, he elevates the soil, sun, air, rain, plant, animal etc. In fact, the entire creation can be elevated through this holy service.

I would like to suggest this concept is evident through the after blessing al hamichya. We say “Have mercy, please, Hashem our G-d, on Israel, Your people; on Jerusalem, Your city; and on Zion, the resting place of Your glory; upon Your altar, and upon the heichal (the Holy of Holies).” Perhaps we are saying that through eating with the proper intentions, the Jewish people elevate the food spiritually to Israel, to Jerusalem, to the place of the Bait Hamikdash (the Holy Temple), to the altar and finally to the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies is the “shaarei shomayim”, the gateway to heaven. Therefore, through eating, the entire creation can be elevated to the greatest of all levels.

Mystically, all negativity in the world stems from one of three negative shells (klipah). It is explained that these shells are so tightly tied to negativity that they can never be elevated. For example, a non-kosher piece of pig can never become kosher. It is forever forbidden and negative.

A person’s body mass is a consequence of everything that one has consumed. Throughout the duration of one’s life, food’s nutrients are ingested and become a part of his very being. Hence the expression, “You are what you eat”. The apparent tragedy is that if a person were to consume pig, he would become one with it in essence.

“Nothing stands in the way of teshuva.” Therefore, apparently for this sin as well one can achieve repentance.

The Tanya explains, however, even with teshuva the problem can still remain. The pig is this individual’s very body mass. Like broken glass, the damage is real in the world and can never be entirely rectified. He is forever one with this negative reality?!

There is one exception. When a person does an intense teshuva of ahava rabba / through a great love, the impossible is achieved. When the very distance created through the performance of the sin invokes a deep desire to return to Hashem, these negative shells that are apparently forever tied to the negativity, are elevated.

“In the place a baal teshuva stands a perfect tzaddik is unable to stand.” The definition of a tzaddik is one that has never sinned. The tzaddik can not accomplish this most wonderful elevation. He has never consumed pig and therefore he can never elevate it. (Of course this is only after the fact. One is never allowed to sin in order to repent and elevate in the future. We are talking here only about the opportunity to elevate the negativity once the sin has already been committed).

A ba’al teshuva has wrestled with negativity. The distinguished status of a baal teshuvah is the unique quality to encompass and elevate the darkest evil in the world. He/she has the ability beyond the tzaddik to take all negative experiences and not only rise above them, but elevate them in the service of Hashem.

Good Shabbos
Rabbi Moshe Zionce

Rabbi Moshe’s weekly lectures can be accessed at

Why People Leave Torah Observance

Here are some different thoughts in the comments from this recent thread


1) It is easier to be secular than to be frum.

2) The values of outside society tend to contradict a lot of things found in Torah. Many Jews I know who became less religious/irreligious had problems with the prohibition on intermarriage, the distinctions between Jew and non-Jew in halacha, the different roles for men and women, the prohibition on gay relationships, etc. It can be hard raising kids as American Jews or Israeli Jews (for example) when Americans and Israelis tend to see Jewish law as backwards, restrictive, and even homophobic and racist.

3) General society tends not to be religious, and tends even to have negative views of religion and certainly negative views of a religion that requires adherents to eat, dress, and pray in a certain way. It can be hard to be religious when there’s a tendency around you to see religion as “the opiate of the masses” or some similar insulting thing.


I don’t think anything is more devastating to an idealistic, sensitive person — and sorry, but absolutely everyone who reads this blog, and certainly everyone who contributes to it, is in this category, whether they want to admit it or not! — than encountering people and institutions (which are just collections of people) who fail to live up to the ideals of Judaism insofar as how they treat others.

I believe each and every departure from “the derech” has this at its heart.

Everyone makes his own decisions in life. Everyone is responsible for his own soul, even if other Jews are “guarantors.” There’s plenty of rationalization in the air around all of us. And as has been said here many times and in many forms, it does not follow logically that Judaism (much less Hashem) should be judged by individual Jews and their actions.

But I believe at the heart of every social damnation, every purported halachic breaking point, every demand for the application of non-spiritual paradigms (e.g., science) to spiritual questions by those who say they can’t or won’t do it any more, is a series of inexcusable, unforgivable and callous actions or omissions by one or more orthodox Jews.

It could be in the old country. It could be in a yeshiva or seminary. It could be in the workplace, or a bus stop, or even online. But reading between the lines of the many, many Jews whose hearts now spill out their pixelated pain, it seems that the personal, spiritual roshem (mark, impression) of a Jew’s actions in this world can be at once the single most inspiring, or the single most devastating, phenomenon any other Jew can encounter.

And I really don’t know, in terms of the negative part of that equation, what we can do about that, except pile as much onto the positive part as we possibly can, and have faith in Hashem and ask for His guidance for all His people.


IMO, the kids at risk phenomenon will not abate unless we work on the three main factors outlined by Farak Margolese-dysfunctional families, schools that avoid or discourage inquiry into hashkafic questions and communities across the hashkafic spectrum that unfortunately embrace social conformity as opposed to genuine growth in Avodas HaShem.