Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

Fear Within, Fear Without: Why the Movement Could have Changed the World and Why it Didn’t

Posted on | January 26, 2009 | By Guest Contributor | 77 Comments

Rabbi Francis Nataf, Executive Director of David Cardozo Academy

Synopsis.
Many BTs in the 70s and 80s felt that the ba’al teshuva movement was going to change the world by providing the bridge to bring back the lion’s share of world Jewry to a vibrant Orthodoxy. Unfortunately many of the framers of the ba’al teshuva movement were not interested in hearing some sort of new synthesis of the ba’al teshuva. Even if the BT continued his Torah studies to a higher level, one of the keys to his success in the system was to stop being a ba’al teshuva.

The BT movement, even more than the rest of Orthodoxy, values conformity and subordination. Letting the movement attempt to reach it’s potential involves risks and Orthodoxy is not prepared to take these risks. Judaism is in need of serious creativity and the author invites ba’alei teshuva as well as non-BT’s to seek to realize their true G-d given creative potential, not only for your own good, but for the good of the Jewish people and ultimately for mankind as a whole.

Given the recent events in India, I think it would be inappropriate to discuss the BT movement without mentioning the critical and pioneering contribution of the Lubaviticher Rebbe z”l and his shlichim. (Of course, when I say z’l, don’t mean to make a political statement)Though many people in the movement are unaware of it, or would prefer to be unaware of it, the idea to bring mass numbers of non-Orthodox Jews back to Orthodoxy has its origins in Crown Heights. Perhaps that is the main reason that last year when we asked our students to choose who they would describe as the greatest Jew of the previous century, to my surprise, they overwhelmingly choose the Lubavitcher rebbe. This, even though we had not a single Lubavitcher and we had many who were heavily impacted by the teachings of Rabbi Soloveitchik and others who might well have been alternative choices.

But well beyond providing the impetus for the movement’s origins, it is the Rebbe’s vision that assured the viability of much of Ba’al Teshuva life by sending out his shlichim to all the places that Ba’alei Teshuva would find themselves. I can only give you an example from my own journey to Orthodoxy. Intellectually, I was never really attracted to Chabad (I don’t know how many times I learned the first page of Tanya and still can’t tell you what it’s about) and so started my own path at a non-chassidic yeshiva in Israel. Still, when I came back to my college in Portland, Oregon, Chabad shlichim were the only ones around to nurture my continued interest in Judaism. Nor was there anyone else near my home in Santa Monica, California. These shlichim and their families, black suits, chalav Yisrael and all, bore the discomfort of moving to the most challenging places imaginable to sustain our connection to Jewish tradition. I found them in Portland and in Santa Monica, and on my travels to Berkley and Florence and, had I joined many others with such an interest, also in Mumbai. Had they not been there, I can’t be sure that I would be in front of you now.

All Jews owe a debt of gratitude to Chabad but we ba’alei teshuva owe more than anyone else.

No doubt, some of the things that I have to say will sound similar to thoughts of my friend Dr. Malamet. They will certainly be variations of the same theme. At the same time, I want to be sure that you won’t come out of this session saying that I basically said the same thing, if only not as well. For one, while I feel that Dr. Malamet gave the impression that things could be different, I will be a bit more pessimistic and suggest that the problems about which we are speaking are intrinsic to the movement, as it is currently structured, and thus unlikely to change. Moreover, if Dr. Malamet focused on the clash with Western ideology as the central ideological issue that has prevented the ba’al teshuva from making his proper contribution, I will focus more on the sociology of mistrust that pervades the movement. I will also seek to understand how it is that the ba’al teshuva has accepted his or her subservience as dictated to by the movement’s architects. Thus, fear of ba’alei teshuva by others on the one hand and the fears of ba’alei teshuva themselves on the other underlies the title of my talk, “Fear Within, Fear Without.”

Though we’re all interested in a good story, I will spare you the biographical notes of my return, especially since they are very similar to Prof. Malamet’s. One difference that I think is relevant, however, may be in our more recent connection to the movement. As opposed to what Dr. Malamet reports about himself, I have kept a foot in the world of the ba’al teshuva. Both as an on-again off-again teacher in one of Jerusalem’s ba’al teshuva programs and as a Shabbat host for just about every ba’al teshuva program in the holy city, I have been able to keep my finger on the pulse of this movement. That being the case, most of my talk will be based on my personal experience as an educator as well as a participant in this movement over almost thirty years.

Before I speak to you about why the movement is not doing what some of us here tonight would like it to do, I do want to take you back to the promise that some of us felt when we first joined it. One of the things that drew many people like me to the ba’al teshuva movement almost thirty years ago was the feeling that we were going to somehow change the world. (Remember, being a college student in the late 70’s and the early 80’s usually meant looking up to the protest movements of the 60’s as some sort of ideal – we still believed in social justice and in ideals.) This was not the only, nor even the most basic, reason – I think most of us at the time were what Faranak Margolese calls truth-seekers. And yes, we were also attracted to the warm fuzzy feeling of kumsitzes and Shabbos meals and fascinated by the world of learning. But we also wanted to see ourselves as social revolutionaries – we believed we could significantly change the world for the better, a vision which according to Thomas Cahill and unbeknownst to any of us at the time, is one of the gifts of the Jewish tradition. In fact, I remember the glee we all felt when one of our roshei yeshiva, referring to this movement, proclaimed “It’s a revolution!”

But what was this revolution and exactly how were we meant to change the world? Very simply, the great hope was that we would turn the tide of assimilation and movement away from tradition – that we would somehow provide the bridge to bring back the lion’s share of world Jewry to a renascent Orthodoxy. Since we, the BT’s, would be able to speak the language of our Reform or Conservative or secular friends and families, we would be able to win them over to what we found so exciting. It appears that the confident young rabbis who engineered the movement really believed that the future belonged to Orthodoxy – that it was only a matter of time until the movement would win over the majority of the Jewish people. This was, indeed, an exciting vision and an empowering one for us particularly, their disciples – we understood that we were the critical link in the transformation of Jewish society and through it, possibly the whole world. We indeed, were given a historical dream. So that was the dream, a dream that at the end of the day, its dreamers did not dare to play out. For the dynamics of the movement prevented it from taking the risks inherent in the full trajectory of the project, as we shall explain.

Of course, on a technical level, ba’alei teshuva were trained and sent out to be kiruv workers (except from one yeshiva which felt that even this was too much for the “handicapped” ba’al teshuva). Eventually they became outreach professionals as it became more politely known, even creating a professional association called Association of Jewish OP, AJOP, to make them feel more established. Who ever heard of a trade association of revolutionaries – has anyone heard of the Association of Maoist Agitation Professionals? But this would not be a problem, since, as we said, the revolution was never executed. You see, the framers of that revolution were too scared to really let these people loose. Instead, these BT’s that were sent out were trained in the ways of thought of the orthodox community. They were told that they didn’t know enough to develop their own vision of Judaism – “we, who know more than you, will tell you what Judaism is all about it – we are not interested in your opinion.” Thus, the leaders chose to use the cultural language and professional abilities of their BT proteges, but not their intellectual creativity and personal essence. In short, they were told to just translate, not to creeate. And there was the rub and perhaps the tragedy. Granted, a person who knows nothing about the Jewish tradition cannot offer an intelligent opinion after two months in yeshiva. (Reminded of joke about mussar yeshiva – ich bin a garnicht). But my point is that the framers of the ba’al teshuva movement were not interested in ever hearing some sort of new synthesis of the ba’al teshuva. Even if the BT continued his Torah studies to a higher level, one of the keys to his success in the system was to stop being a ba’al teshuva. (So much so, that Rav Steinsaltz has been disqualified due to his lack of “mesora” – similarly Rav Wolbe, who for all of his greatness, publicly towed the party line, could, nonetheless, not completely escape a similar label being attached to him.)

Lest we think that truly asking the ba’al teshuva for his own independent approach to Judaism is a wild suggestion, we should look back at Jewish history and note that especially at critical formative periods, it has often been the ba’al teshuva or another type of outsider that has been the one to be able to see Judaism freshly enough to reinvigorate and it give it the new creative impetus to move forward as from time to time it inevitably must. This is certainly true of the first Jew, Avraham Avinu. It is also true of all of the Emahot. As I have written and am writing more about in my next volume on Shemot, Moshe Rabbenu did not grow up in a Jewish home, let alone a Jewishly observant one. Rebbe Eliezer and his student who eventually turned away from him, Rebbe Akiva – perhaps the two greatest rabbis of the Talmudic period and who could so be seen as the main architects of rabbinic Judaism – were both Ba’alei Teshuva.

Ancient precedents to the side, the architects of this movement must have been aware that no one would know exactly what would come out of the this new movement – that it was a risk. Though the hope was perhaps to create the Maharal’s golem who would serve his master’s needs, it must have occurred to more than one rabbi, that the golem could in fact turn out to be Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, who would turn on his master. (Apparently, a third choice of creating someone who would eventually become benignly independent was not seriously considered.)

Thus, it is worthwhile noting that not all rabbinic leaders thought the Ba’al Teshuva movement was a good move. Opponents would refer to it as a para aduma, that it would contaminate the pure even as it purified the contaminated. Moreover, what would be of all the bad influences that they would bring with them – pop culture, foreign values, lack of refinement in speech and behavior? And if there was concern about the influence of the ba’alei teshuva themselves, there was perhaps just as much concern about the connection they would likely still have with non-religious parents and siblings who would, willy-nilly, continue to expose the ba’al teshuva family to these negative influences and through these families would affect the orthodox community at large. Another question raised was about the stability of the potential ba’al teshuva – was someone who was ready to completely change his life in a few months time emotionally stable? Would orthodoxy just be another experience to be traded in for something else one he would have his mid-life crisis? Would he be truly committed to marriage and family, since he himself was often the product of a broken home? By the way, though I think the ba’al teshuva movement is one of the most important achievement of contemporary Judaism, I think it is important to admit that every one of these fears has materialized in one capacity or another.

As a result and certainly leshem shamyim, there was a need to control the movement and make sure that it would not turn into a negative force, which as I said, we should not summarily discount. And so, one finds a veteran rabbi in the field giving the following advice and I again don’t want to discount what he is saying as having no place – he says as follows: I would venture to say that (like BT’s) most FFB’s also don’t have a Rav to guide them. (but BT’s are in greater need of someone to tell them) how to really “live” their lives, since BTs don’t have that frum parental and grandparental wisdom to rely on.” Another rabbi warns BTs about the likelihood that they will experience “spiritual vertigo, which will prevent us (the BT’s) from “know(ing) whether we’re up or down” and so this rabbi tells them explicitly “not to trust their own judgment.” In other words, the only one that the BT can really rely upon is, not himself, but someone from within the system. By the way, as these BT’s became parents and started to send their children to school, their insecurity became compounded by their own children, who reinforced this message and questioned the values and instincts of their parents, summarized so beautifully in the Hebrew by the statement commonly aimed at these erstwhile revolutionary parents, “ Atem lo yodeim mehahayim shelchem.”

That many of the BT’s had been looking to find clear answers in a general society that was turning more and more away from clarity prompted them to accept such an unusually authoritarian structure, wherein BT’s were encouraged, as we just saw, not to trust their intuitions or feelings. When I say they were encouraged to distrust their feelings, let me give you an example: I don’t know how many of you are ba’alei teshuva – those of you who are probably remember the uneasy feeling you first heard one of your rebbeim or shabbat hosts using the word “schwartze. ” (By the way, don’t think that it’s better in the supposedly tolerant Sephardi world – do you know what they call blacks in the Syrian community? Abed – anyone know what that means? Slave!) For most ba’alei teshuva, this was a moment of cognitive dissonance and for some it was even a moment of crisis – here we were hearing people for whom we had developed great respect yet who seemed to have no problem using a crass and generally gratuitous insult for fellow human beings, who in the humanistic tradition we had come from, we had accepted as not so different than ourselves. After getting over the initial shock, the average ba’al teshuva felt the need to do something to remove that dissonance. For most, learning to distrust one’s intuitions, especially if those intuitions were supported by contemporary Western culture, provided the answer.

As I mentioned earlier, I had the fortune of teaching ba’alei teshuva for a number of years. Both within and without the institution where I taught, charismatic and otherwise inspiring teachers were telling my students things that stretched their credibility to the point that if they were ever to present some of these things to their non-orthodox friends and families back home, they would be considered lunatics. The point here is that they were told things that certainly did not fit in with these students’ ways of thinking – the result was that this furthered the student’s feeling that they could not trust their own intellects or their intuitions. In response to this, I would always tell the students that if you hear something that forces you to twist yourself into a pretzel – for goodness sake, question it! Find out if it’s the only view and consider whether you really can respect yourself for accepting it. And occasionally, some students were willing to hear this.

A student of mine wrote the following about what she was coming to accept: “I have been learning to be confident with my decisions. That Judaism endows man with the strength to use his mind. Instead of looking for a short cut to the truth, which is what I had been doing until I came in contact with this approach…, I have to trust myself and maybe take the longer route or the one less traveled on. I have to be intellectually honest. What does that mean to me? It means to be real about life. Instead of just swallowing what’s being taught, it means asking questions. It means challenging foundations and hypotheses. It means being okay with the discomfort of not having all the answers….” But, my friends, like her teacher, this student was the exception to the rule.

As one of the BT’s who refused to buy in to such a scenario, I remember more antagonism from my peers than from my rebbeim. Which was an indication that the control mechanisms had worked and that the movement would go, and continues to go, the way of the compliant majority and would leave those like me to find our own way. And so we did – some bitterly went back to their former lives and others went to Jewish studies departments in universities while still others went to various segments of established Orthodoxy – strains of Chassidut, mainstream charedi yeshivot or, as in my case, Zionist and Modern Orthodox yeshivot. Thus, the ones who were willing to chart their own course dispersed to various corners and allowed the others to inherit a movement which, even more than the rest of Orthodoxy, values conformity and subordination.

So, I became the unusual BT who not only made his way up, but maintained his BT perspective. As an example of what that brought about, I remember discussing a certain series of children’s books with a kindergarten teacher working for me a few years back here in Israel. I told her that I did not feel the books were appropriate as they caricatured all the non-Jewish characters as stupid and/or evil. She responded by saying that she did not understand what I meant and that it must be that I had a somewhat “goyish” view of things. When I was criticized by my employee, I had two advantages that most ba’alei teshuva do not have. First, I was her supervisor and thus, goyish or not, I was the one who made the final decision. Secondly, I had pursued my Torah studies to the point where I could feel self-confident in my own understanding of Jewish tradition.

I had pursued smikha, taught Jewish studies and quickly rose to the position of principal. Eventually I started writing and public speaking, allowing my thoughts to be read and heard by many people. In short, I became somewhat of a success …but did I really?

(I don’t know if I should speak for Rabbi Cardozo as well, and he can correct the record later if not, but that as perhaps the only institution that could describe itself as an institute focused on Ba’al teshuva thought – not kiruv, but the original work of BT thinkers who refuse to give up their roots (Here I speak about the leadership, Rabbi Cardozo and myself, as well as some, though certainly not even most of our staff)). Primarily through the Cardozo Academy, I have a modest following, but only a small percentage of that following are BT’s. Even more significantly, the vast majority of BT’s have no interest in becoming part of that following. Or I should say no will. I remember once approaching a wealthy and intelligent BT about supporting our program. We had a nice conversation and he seemed to strongly agree with what I was saying, until he asked the question which I knew I could not answer to his satisfaction, “Who is your Da’as Torah?” In other words, he was saying “I don’t trust you. I like everything you say but I don’t trust myself either.”
In this regard, I often like a leader of a movement that doesn’t exist.

To say that the BT movement has developed in way that has not fulfilled its revolutionary potential is not to take away from its important accomplishments, nor to take away from the talents and hard work of those involved in it, both the teachers and the students. I remember hearing that the goal of one of the major roshei yeshiva in the movement was simply to stop every Jew that he could from intermarriage. And for thousands of Jews, that his movement has done, and much more. A former teacher at this yeshiva, though even more critical than I, once pointed out the tremendous merit that these people have for bringing so many people back to the fold, people who would certainly have otherwise been lost to the Jewish people. Moreover, by and large, BT’s have brought a sincerity and a seriousness to the Orthodox world, the positive impact of which cannot be denied. No doubt, these are major contributions and should be viewed with respect and gratitude by all of us, all the more so by those of us directly affected.

Thus, even such as it is, the movement had done a great deal. My question is could the movement not do much more? I have a background in history and so have a tendency to see things in historical terms – (maybe that is a curse, as it makes things look much more depressing than they may seem otherwise). To put it into colloquial terms, at least for the North Americans in the audience, the movement has, no doubt, hit a home run. My problem is that, from my reading of history, we are in the bottom of the ninth inning and even after the home run, we are still losing. Of course, if you are not aware of the home run’s context, as I would argue that most are not, the home run is worth celebrating.

(In other words, could not the Orthodox leadership have encouraged the BT to use his intellectual background or his artistic sensitivities to enrich his Torah studies and eventually provide him, and more importantly, the rest of contemporary society, with a truly new and creative, if hopefully still authentic, vision of Judaism. From a different perspective, one could perhaps even suggest that there was a Divine hand at play giving us the BT movement to shape history; that is was meant to give Orthodox Judaism what it was lacking, through the infusion of fresh thinking – something much more critical to the future of Judaism than the fresh blood the movement offered. Historically, the ba’al teshuva brought his background in a time when Orthodox society had still not formulated a successful formula towards modernity and as the world was becoming more intertwined, there was a more pressing need to formulate such a new strategy. Indeed, the main approach was and continues to be an outdated defensive isolation inherited from the Eastern European rebbes and roshei yeshiva. So couldn’t the ba’al teshuva movement have done more?)

Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I think the answer is no. Letting the movement do what I and others here tonight would like involves tremendous risks as we discussed and Orthodoxy is not prepared to take these risks. And this is the true problem – something that I have discussed in many other contexts – Orthodoxy is too insecure to take the risks needed to hit the grand slam that we need to win the game. What I have reminded whoever is willing to listen, is that not taking risks may end up being the biggest risk of all. Home run or not, at the end of the inning, we will have lost the game.

(I believe that Western society is at a crossroads and that the next century will see some dramatic changes in how we think and how we structure society. Classical liberalism and traditional religion are both going to be here for the foreseeable future. Yet over two hundred years after the eclipse of the ancient regime, these two systems of values have not learned how to coexist. And lest we think that this is strange, we should know that this is far from a simple matter. The religious reservations many of us feel about a state that is somehow supposed to be both Jewish and democratic are well summarized by Christian Yale law professor Stephen Carter, who says that we have every right to “ask why the will of any of the brilliant philosophers of the liberal tradition, or, for that matter, the will of the Supreme Court… is more relevant to (public )moral decisions than the will of G-d. So far, liberal theory has not presented an adequate answer.” (The Culture of Disbelief, p. 226) So the problem in Carter’s America and our Israel and in most of the world is that our citizenries are torn between two systems that so far have no room for each other. Ideas for their coexistence have been put forward, but so far, nothing has truly worked. Man will have to work harder to find a solution to this impasse. My hope is that Judaism will play a leadership role in the paradigm shifts that I feel are around the corner, but my fear is that we are completely unready to play that role. At this point, I don’t see the BT movement living up to the revolutionary vision that might have addressed this lack of readiness, but as Rav Shlomo, used to say, “You never know.”

But one thing I think that I do know – whether inside or outside of the movement, Judaism as well as mankind in general, is in need of serious creativity. That means challenging the limits of Academic thought just as much as it means challenging the limits of religious thought. The great creative corpus that we are heirs to, should make us realize that Orthodox belief and practice is meant to discipline creativity, not to stifle it.) Though I am not optimistic about the future of the BT revolution, I invite ba’alei teshuva as well as non-BT’s to seek to realize your true G-d given creative potential, not only for your own good, but for the good of the Jewish people and ultimately for mankind as a whole. At the same time, I remember hearing a story about someone asking Rav Soloveitchik what are we to do – the world is falling apart. The Rav responded simply that we have to remember that G-d runs the world and that the problem ultimately belongs to him. I am still worried, because the Rav’s answer is only correct when all else has been tried – Hashamayim leHashem veHaareta natan levnei adam. So, even if my challenge is ignored, though tonight is Chanukah and not Purim,, I can only tell you that which Mordechai told Esther, Revach vehatzala ya’amod leyudim memakom acher…. The rest of the verse I would rather not quote.

Thank You.

Comments

77 Responses to “Fear Within, Fear Without: Why the Movement Could have Changed the World and Why it Didn’t”

  1. Gil Student
    January 26th, 2009 @ 9:55 am

    I have great respect for Rabbi Nataf and enjoyed meeting him in Toronto a few years ago at a Torah In Motion conference. But I strongly disagree with the main point of this lecture/essay.

    Creativity and independence are important but they must be grounded in the Jewish tradition. This means that both BTs and FFBs need a strong grounding before innovating new theological paths. I hope I’ve proven that I’m not some right-wing fanatic. However, it is not just dangerous but dishonest to create new methods when you aren’t familiar with the sources of Judaism.

    I agree that BTs need to progress at their own speed and need to be able to respect themselves and think independently. But no one in any field — whether math, philosophy, history or theology — would dare to innovate a new approach without first studying the subject comprehensively. Even moreso in a religion that is based on an ancient tradition.

    I am also wary of controlling teachers who take a “my way or the highway” approach. In truth, there are many approaches within Torah Judaism. But every educational institution needs advisors and heads of departments who are experts in their field. Your “Da’as Torah” is your rabbinic advisory board. There is nothing medieval or stifling about that. If you select a “Da’as Torah” who stifles you, then you probably have chosen the wrong advisor(s).

  2. Mark Frankel
    January 26th, 2009 @ 10:10 am

    Gil, I think Rabbi Nataf agrees with you as he wrote

    “Granted, a person who knows nothing about the Jewish tradition cannot offer an intelligent opinion after two months in yeshiva. (Reminded of joke about mussar yeshiva – ich bin a garnicht). But my point is that the framers of the ba’al teshuva movement were not interested in ever hearing some sort of new synthesis of the ba’al teshuva. Even if the BT continued his Torah studies to a higher level, one of the keys to his success in the system was to stop being a ba’al teshuva.”

    In fact, some of my friends on this site wear as a badge of honor, the fact that no one would know they were BTs. The passion and creativity is subdued and the goal becomes successful navigation of the existing system.

    My complaint with the essay is the blame game. If we haven’t changed the world we can only blame ourselves.

  3. Michoel
    January 26th, 2009 @ 10:21 am

    The writer clearly feels that his creativity and the creativity of baalei t’shuvah in general has been stifled.

    “The great creative corpus that we are heirs to, should make us realize that Orthodox belief and practice is meant to discipline creativity, not to stifle it.”

    But this just begs the question: If one feels stifled, perhaps he is just pushing the limits of discipline too far. Each individual has to find the correct balance for himself. When one comes from a world of hefkerus, they feel somewhat stifled. That is only natural. And the concerns of the frum world about baalei t’shuvah taking things too far, or introducing negative influences are very well founded.

  4. Bob Miller
    January 26th, 2009 @ 11:48 am

    Having heard Rabbi Nataf speak and having read some of his articles, I’ve developed the nagging sense that something in his (bugles sound!!!) Weltanschauung is seriously off. This piece clarifies the problem, which Gil and Michoel seem to have touched on above. That is, Rabbi Nataf appears to be much too invested in a countercultural stance towards Orthodoxy (past and present) and its leadership and program.

    Not everything that turns a BT (including a BT Rabbi) on intellectually/spiritually is the real thing. BT’s do not need to have their ardor dampened for no reason, but do need a solid grounding in and association with traditional Judaism before venturing to offer high-level advice.

    I have great respect for Rabbi Lopes-Cardozo, but feel his current institution, which Rabbi Nataf helps lead, has stepped too far into the unknown.

  5. Mark Frankel
    January 26th, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

    Perhaps we’re focusing too much on Rabbi Nataf instead of his ideas.

    Do BTs have the potential to bring vast numbers of Jews to Torah Judaism through their knowledge of both the secular and the Torah worlds and the thought processes in those worlds? Do we have the potential to bridge the gap?

    If the answer to the above is true, then why have we failed in reaching that potential?

    If the answer to the above is false, then we should by all means just move along and try to blend in to the scenery.

  6. Bob Miller
    January 26th, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

    “Do we have the potential to bridge the gap?”

    Our potential is great. The real challenge is using it in the best way. I’m not ready to take on faith that BT’s and their potential have been stifled in general by the Orthodox system. The biggest obstacle to our effectiveness in outreach is the satisfaction our assimilated brothers and sisters have with their status quo.

  7. Mark Frankel
    January 26th, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

    Bob,

    I’m a little confused.

    To the question of “Do we have the potential to bridge the gap?” your answer seems to be yes.

    And I’m with you on the second statement to try and avoid the blame game.

    In the “biggest obstacle line” are you retracting your faith in our potential because the obstacle is too great?

    Can you just clarify for me – at the end of the day, do we have the potential and if yes are we meeting it?

  8. Bob Miller
    January 26th, 2009 @ 12:36 pm

    Yes we can! But there are formidable obstacles to think our way around. Rabbi Nataf’s countercultural excursion is a distraction.

    As we know, everyday advertising tries to create a need even when the targets think everything is OK. In our case, we Jews have a genuine need to connect with HaShem, and possibly the unsettled times will give us an opening.

  9. miriam
    January 26th, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

    I thought this post was going to be about infusing and encouraging creativity in O J.

  10. Bob Miller
    January 26th, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

    If you want just any old creativity, that won’t do.

  11. DK
    January 26th, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

    Focusing on things such as “creativity” and “individuality” dances around the most profoundly problematic issues surrounding a BT.

    Those issue are: functionalism and isolation.

    Functionalism: Young BTs face pressure to consider much more limitations on the types of careers they may choose, as well as pressure to deemphasize the importance of satisfying careers generally. This is in striking contrast to how secular and liberal Jews are raised.

    Isolation: BTs do not share the same network as FFBs, and are strongly encouraged to weaken their relationships with old friends. Only a portion of BTs will be satisfied with a completely or near-complete new network.

  12. Bob Miller
    January 26th, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

    Despite the pressure for conformity from both their old circles and their new ones, many BT’s have remained in contact with at least some relatives and some friends and associates.

    Someone who tries to bridge a societal gap will be asked “which side are you on?” Not everyone is cut out to excel in that role.

  13. DK
    January 26th, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

    Someone who tries to bridge a societal gap will be asked “which side are you on?” Not everyone is cut out to excel in that role.

    We aren’t disagreeing on this point, Bob.

  14. Bob Miller
    January 26th, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

    Correct!

  15. Gil Student
    January 26th, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

    I don’t think BTs have any more opportunity to “bridge the gap” than FFBs. But, then again, I support a broad education for FFBs. If you live in a community that does not, then presumably they will not value that particular perspective of BTs anyway.

  16. Steve Mantz
    January 26th, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

    Quote: “Focusing on things such as “creativity” and “individuality” dances around the most profoundly problematic issues surrounding a BT.

    Those issue are: functionalism and isolation.

    Functionalism: Young BTs face pressure to consider much more limitations on the types of careers they may choose, as well as pressure to deemphasize the importance of satisfying careers generally. This is in striking contrast to how secular and liberal Jews are raised.

    Isolation: BTs do not share the same network as FFBs, and are strongly encouraged to weaken their relationships with old friends. Only a portion of BTs will be satisfied with a completely or near-complete new network. ”

    I am quoting your excellent comment, mainly because I greatly value any comments here which seek to get to the specific heart of an issue, rather than dancing around the real issues and trying to use generalities.

  17. Steve Brizel
    January 26th, 2009 @ 10:20 pm

    I thought that R Nataf raised some very important ideas wbich IMO really focus on whether BTs can navigate in and offer their POVs and unique perspectives to either the Charedi or MO worlds or whether their “success” is simply integrating and losing their unique perspective which as R Nataf points out really is POV that one can find in the greatest figures in Jewish history going back to the Tanaim, Moshe Rabbeinu , the Avos and Imahos.

  18. Steve Brizel
    January 26th, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

    DK-It is possible for a BT to be a professional and also be a committed Torah observant Jew in every sense of the word. It is also possible and even preferable for a BT not to sever his or her relationships with family and friends.

  19. DK
    January 27th, 2009 @ 12:35 am

    Steve said,

    DK-It is possible for a BT to be a professional and also be a committed Torah observant Jew in every sense of the word.

    That isn’t what I said. Fact is, being a lawyer or accountant isn’t for everyone. No offense, Beyond BT guys.

    t is also possible and even preferable for a BT not to sever his or her relationships with family and friends.

    That is a minority Kiruv opinion, just as Modern Orthodox Kiruv is a minority opinion generally.

  20. tzirelchana
    January 27th, 2009 @ 4:51 am

    Interesting post. As to Rabbi Nataf’s point, I’d say yes, but. Judaism is and has always been inherently conservative and a lot of that comes from the self preservation instinct. We can’t just ride any wave that comes along.We need to exercise caution and due dilligence. This has always been the way of our sages. As to the contemporary orthodox community, Rabbi Nataf fails to point out a basic principle–that one cannot judge Judaism by the Jews. I can’t think of any halachic justification for the term “shvartzes.” As I understand the Torah, we are obligated to respect all humans as all of us, not only the chosen people are created in the image of G-d. What Jews do, whether it be indulging in petty racism, cheating on income taxes or regaling in conspicuous consumption doesnt reflect the Torah. Just read through the Prophets. This has been going on for longer than Rabbi Nataf has been around. He’s got an interesting point of view but seems to be drifting away from da’as Torah into some murky waters (adulating the Lubavitcher Rebbe whose followers nearly caused a breach in Clal Yisroel and quoting Reb Shlomo, hardly a model of normative Jewish conduct) . I wish him the best of luck in navigating a safe path.

  21. Gary
    January 28th, 2009 @ 12:07 am

    “I can’t think of any halachic justification for the term “shvartzes.” As I understand the Torah, we are obligated to respect all humans as all of us, not only the chosen people are created in the image of G-d.”

    Well said, Tzirelchana.

    Unfortunately, the “s–” word is one of the milder perjoratives currently in vogue. There are other Yiddish and Hebrew code words out there, and it is not at all uncommon to hear the “n–” word itself at Shabbat tables, in synagogues, and in other “frum” settings.

    There is simply no excuse for it. Our rabbis should be condemning this type of talk, rather than acting as spectators or participants when it is used.

  22. Toby Katz
    January 29th, 2009 @ 7:39 pm

    R’ Nataf wrote:
    “Given the recent events in India, I think it would be inappropriate to discuss the BT movement without mentioning the critical and pioneering contribution of the Lubaviticher Rebbe z”l and his shlichim. Though many people in the movement are unaware of it, or would prefer to be unaware of it, the idea to bring mass numbers of non-Orthodox Jews back to Orthodoxy has its origins in Crown Heights.”

    It is true that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was a man of great vision and great accomplishments for Klal Yisrael. It is also true that his shlichim work with amazing dedication and mesirus nefesh.

    However, it is not true that he created the ba’al teshuva movement or that he was the driving force behind it.

    The teshuva movement was not his idea, and did not originate in Crown Heights.

    It was not the brainchild of any individual but a product of the zeitgeist, engineered by Hashgacha Pratis via many groups and movements within the Orthodox world and pioneered by
    many dedicated individuals (including my father, R’ Nachman Bulman zt’l).

    The teshuva movement has never been monolithic and BTs come in every imaginable style and type.

    The entire Orthodox world likewise is anything but monolithic, and the relationship between individual BTs and the broader Orthodox world of which they are part varies tremendously from place to place and from one person to another.

    Many BTs have found that their talents, creativity and unique contributions /are/ valued within various Torah communities while others have found themselves in situations that demand more conformity and less originality.

    R’ Nataf’s complaints are valid some of the time for some of the people, but certainly not all the time for everybody in the Orthodox world.

  23. DK
    January 30th, 2009 @ 4:28 am

    Toby Katz wrote,

    The entire Orthodox world likewise is anything but monolithic, and the relationship between individual BTs and the broader Orthodox world of which they are part varies tremendously from place to place and from one person to another.

    This was not the point of the discussion. The point of the discussion was the reality that the kiruv movement has not brought the Jewish masses back to traditional Judaism. R. Nataf’s concern is, “where and why is this movement failing?”

    Blaming the usual suspects (materialism, narcissism, etc.) do not really explain what the internal flaws are. And there are internal flaws.


    R’ Nataf’s complaints are valid some of the time for some of the people, but certainly not all the time for everybody in the Orthodox world.

    Who said everybody? This is straw man arguments, used by people on both the Left and the Right who want to avoid discussion of uncomfortable questions.

    The questions is, who holds the reigns of the dominant strains of kiruv. And what problems do these strains have, and how compromising to the claimed goals of these movements are they?

  24. Mark Frankel
    January 30th, 2009 @ 9:37 am

    I also read Rabbi Nataf as focusing on the fact that Baalei Teshuva have not helped bring the masses back to Torah.

    As much as a admire and respect and laud the work of all branches of the Kiruv world (Chabad, Aish, Ohr Somayach, Darchei Noam,…), there has not been great success in bringing the masses back.

    I think the fundamental problem is how to integrate the Kodesh and the Chol. It’s a very difficult question and it’s not a one size fits all. For some, all Kodesh all the time is the solution, while the majority of Jews in the world need a different mixture with much more Chol.

    I think this is the number one issue facing Orthodox Judaism on both a practical and hashkafic level.

  25. Michoel
    January 30th, 2009 @ 9:55 am

    The Klausenberger Rebbe (Rav Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam) once said (and this is a rough paraphrase of a paraphrase) that the entire idea of kiruv rechokim should not be necessary. That if we (frum Jews) would live fully and vibrantly as frum Jews, there would be no need for kiruv because the beauty and truth of our lives would do the kiruv on its own.

  26. Ellen L.
    January 30th, 2009 @ 4:27 pm

    I also read Rabbi Nataf as focusing on the fact that Baalei Teshuva have not helped bring the masses back to Torah.
    I’m not sure that the Baalei Teshuvah or anyone else can do the job on the masses. I think we each need to look at what brought each of us back. For some of us it was an intellectual or philisophical search, but not everyone is on that search, nor are all the Jews that are on it necessary sold on it. Others of us were on a trip to Israel, perhaps checking out the Wailing Wall, and were intercepted by a warm kiruv person inviting us for Shabbos dinner. But not all of us were invited, not all of us accepted, and many of us enjoyed it as exactly what we ate, Shabbos dinner (and something to tell the folks back home). Some of us were on college campuses, trying to figure out who we were in this world, and a Chabad shaliach showed up at a time we were vulnerable. Some of us were raising our children, and wondered what values we were supposed to pass on to our children in an increasingly sick world, and somehow, whether through Chabad, a shul, whatever, well, you get my drift. I personally became frum as a teen in the 60′s when the whole world I’d known decided to upend and stand on its head, forced by parents to attend Bnei Akiva (because they wanted to make sure I’d meet more Jewish boys than the boys in my high school), and was finished off when at the huge rally in Washington during the 6 Day War it was suddenly announced that there was a ceasefire and Israel had won (how dramatic was that?). It helped that there was a cute Ner Yisroel boy on the bus back to Cleveland (when talking to girls wasn’t punishable by death) who talked yiddishkeit to me all the way home.
    Bottom line, one size does not fit all. (And how many of us tried our original kiruv jobs on our families. Not too rewarding an experience. Enough to discourage a number of us from moving on to others. Or not. Ver vais?)

  27. Toby Katz
    February 1st, 2009 @ 10:30 am

    I thought that Rav Nataf’s main point was that BTs are not encouraged or allowed to be creative and to use their unique talents within the Orthodox world or within the kiruv movement[s]

    My response was that he was overstating his case.

    If instead his main point is that BTs haven’t succeeded in bringing the masses of Jews back to Yiddishkeit, well duh. Of course they haven’t. Whose fault is that? R’ Nataf seems to think that it is somehow the fault of the mainstream Orthodox communities, that BTs can’t engineer a mass movement back to Yiddishkeit (though I am not sure I understand quite what he’s getting at) but I think it is not the fault of the Orthodox world that the masses remain far from Torah.

    Which is not to say we couldn’t be trying harder and doing more.

  28. yy
    February 1st, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

    The “zeitgeist” BT complaint that this article is giving expression to, Toby, is that the established Orthodox society that guided so many of us inside the Torah world, fanning at times our penchant for utopia and revolution, was somewhere going through the motions; somewhere more interested in restrengthening the fort with our adoration of and submittance to the Halacha they knew so well than really working with us to carve out a new, Geula ushering era.

    You’re right that it’s silly and self defeating to fault the establishment of the helige Torah faithful. Yet, as your father zts”l taught so often, simply “trying harder” is not enough. Rather, as the author says, “Orthodox belief and practice is meant to discipline creativity, NOT TO STIFLE it.”

    WHO of stature since your father is crying that cry and really puting his weight behind it?

  29. yy
    February 1st, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

    … that is, there’s a value in simply groaning that groan together. It’s a fine line before entering the world of self pity or, worse, deprecation. But the groan must be heard. We haven’t come this far to just keep oiling the machine!

  30. Bob Miller
    February 1st, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

    Any visionaries we choose to follow have to have the proper combination of personal midos, grounding in Torah, and creativity. If they are not advanced enough in midos and Torah, their enthusiastic followers may become diverted into heterodoxy masquerading as Judaism.

  31. Shades of Grey
    February 1st, 2009 @ 7:55 pm

    “Both within and without the institution where I taught, charismatic and otherwise inspiring teachers were telling my students things that stretched their credibility to the point that if they were ever to present some of these things to their non-orthodox friends and families back home, they would be considered lunatics…Find out if it’s the only view and consider whether you really can respect yourself for accepting it. “

    R. Nataf is making a valid general point about “creativity”. However, when discussing ideas such as “creativity”, “tolerance”, “elu v’elu”, I like to define terms and limits with specific examples.

    Are you talking about chumras in halacha, controversial hashkafa questions(eg, the age of the universe), or something else? What does it mean to be “creative”, and what are the things that “stretched their credibility”? Values such as “creativity” and “tolerance” in Torah Judaism, as general points, can be agreed on by people from YU to Satmar!

  32. Peleg Strauss
    February 2nd, 2009 @ 4:18 am

    We once had a friend over for a meal, a FFB, and, in reponse to a comment I made about the Godolim, about how I automatically don’t swallow everything they say, she hit it squarely on the head. She said that because I was a BT, I never learned to subjugate myself to authority. She is so right. And I think that is one of the struggles I have, and perhaps a few more BTs also have. When you are weaned on democracy and free-thought, it is next to impossible to unlearn it. That’s one problem, and as far as I am concerned, that shouldn’t be solved. I don’t think it is EVER a good idea to automatically, blindly,accept anything anyone says. If it doesn’t seem to make sense, if it somehow ‘smells’ wrong, I’m going to be cautious about it. And my thinking is not without basis.

    How many of us can recount stories of a corrupt Bas Din and rabbis acting in less than ethical ways? I’ve got at least one outrageous story where someone I know was mangled by a corrupt rabbi on the Bas Din in Baltimore. I used to respect the guy, as did everyone else, until I heard what he did to her.

    These stories, because they are so common, destroy all trust in authority. Guys you thought you could rely on prove to be unreliable and untrustworthy. If it were an aberration, it could be discounted but we all know it is not.

    Recently, I heard a rabbi, a really ‘Big’ guy, you all have heard of him and probably still think he is wonderful, give a talk at a Mumbai lecture. At the end of his lecture, he added a rant against the Internet, even admitting such discussion had no place at the current event. First, that shows his sick preoccupation with the internet and its supposed evils. That alone should call his judgement into question.

    But the really, really stupid thing he said was that the internet was a cause, a major cause, of kids going off the derech. I couldn’t believe how clueless this supposed Gadol was. I wonder if he’d ever actually talked to a kid off the derech. Perhaps he has, but I am certain that he never really LISTENED to the kid. Otherwise, he couldn’t say something so utterly void of relevance to the problem.

    I have talked to a some of these kids, heard their stories, and not one of them ever said that they went to a secular humanist site or a porn site and then decided to go off the derech because of what they saw. Rather, what they all said is that they were in pain and no one would listen, they had questions, and no one would answer them. Yet, these same supposed mentors, rabbis, teachers, and parents, who professed openness and love, refused to hear their pain and smacked them down when they asked the really tough questions.

    So, since the people they were supposed to believe lied to them in the worst ways, let them down when they needed them the most, they came to the obvious conclusion that everything else they were saying was also a lie and unreliable.

    The frum world is rife with such leaders. I think that a lot of people really know it, but won’t ever say it. (Except me.) Instead, they just do what they want, largely ignoring what these guys say. And so, frumkeit suffers because there are no credible leaders. Well, there are a few, but they get crushed by all the chaff masquerading as rabbinic authorities.

    And what is the universal frum answer to how to deal with the outside world? Bury your head ever deeper into the sand. That means running from the contamination that us BTs represent in their eyes.

    Don’t you think there should be some sort of BT organization that would be the foremost kiruv organization? There ain’t. That would be too scary to these authorities. It would be a challenge to their authority, they’d actually have to think about the secular world and understand it. Answer kids with the tough questions. Actually care about people. The danger in their mind is that some of these secular ideas may turn out to be valid and valuable. Can’t have that, now, can we? A goy with a good idea. Perish the thought. An ethical goy, without G-d? Can’t admit such a thing is possible. If it doesn’t come from Torah, it has no validity, of course. Better to demonize all such things and build ever higher walls and dig deeper holes for our heads. So, they don’t do anything to foster kiruv organizations, and certainly not let any BTs run and populate the ranks.

    Trust a BT to understand Judiasm and represent it to the world. No, too dangerous. And to foster, in a really big way, kiruv? NO, NO. Can’t allow too many contaminated people into the fold. I used to wonder why you don’t see much kiruv being done by the mainstream yeshivas and their communities. After all, who would be better representatives of yiddishkeit than them? Now I understand.

    Still, I hang around, and just roll my own Judiasm, because I don’t judge Judiasm by the Jews, even those who are called Godolim. It is the little guys, like a lot of the guys at the two shules I go to, and the rabbis at those little shules, who know one has really heard of, who represent to me what yiddishkeit is supposed to be. They are free of ego and pretense. These are the people I trust. These are the people who define yiddishkeit for me. They live it with sincerity and enthusiasm, with love and acceptance, yet with confidence in the rightness of their ways. They know how it should work and be lived day in and day out. They are not cloistered in a bais medrash, but deal with the real world, as it really is, and not how they wish it was. And it is a wonderful, workable, beautiful, religion and way of life that I’ve learned from these little, average guys.

    You just gotta know who to believe and trust.

    So, there is no BT kiruv movement because, like it has been said above by others, too many of us have sold out, under tremendous pressure, to the mainstream and lost the most valuable parts of ourselves. We actually let them place us in handcuffs and enslave us, and believe them when they tell us that what we were was all bad. We’ve become the enemy. I’m surprised BTs will marry BTs. But I guess we have no other choice most of the time.

  33. yy
    February 2nd, 2009 @ 9:19 am

    Peleg — I’m astounded at the saatya d’shomaya you got in rolling that all out with such clarity and aplumb. Most everything you say is the G-d’s honest truth and I pray that this thread will serve as a respective springboard for us to finally DO something about it!

    That said, as could be expected, there are all kinds of little innuendos in what you say that don’t strike me as so pure. Like the portrayal of the less than best Gdolim as “masquerading”. While there definately are many a “Rabbi” who does play a mean game or two, amongst the Gdolim we must be very, very hesitant.

    Not only because in theory that would knock so much of our theology (Infusing so much Torah and Avoda simply cannot allow for such corruption), but my experience AND discussion on the topic with real yirei H’ shows that most of those less-than-straight Gdolim simply are overwhelmed with the enormity of the task of captaining this ship in such a storm.

    You asked: “Don’t you think there should be some sort of BT organization that would be the foremost kiruv organization? There ain’t. That would be too scary to these authorities. It would be a challenge to their authority, they’d actually have to think about the secular world and understand it. Answer kids with the tough questions. Actually care about people. The danger in their mind is that some of these secular ideas may turn out to be valid and valuable.”

    I don’t believe it would be so much an authority issue but as you put it next,a requirement to UNDERSTAND the secular world. This IS scary, more than you may realize. Giving the reigns over to the BT simply because they’ve managed to pull themselves out of the swamp does NOT mean their better equipped to dry up the swamp!

    Yet fearlessly confronting that swamp is definately the call of the hour and we BT most definately have what to contribute.

    Thank you again, Peleg, for thrusting this conversation significantly ahead. I hope there’ll be much more tachlis discussion.

  34. Bob Miller
    February 2nd, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

    The people in the the secular world might not understand it too well either!

  35. DK
    February 2nd, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

    Toby Katz wrote,

    t I think it is not the fault of the Orthodox world that the masses remain far from Torah.

    As long as large and dominant swaths of the BT world are connected to sects of Orthodoxy that view rejection of inconvenient science, history, and technology with contempt and suspicion, there will not be a serious BT movement. No matter how nice shabbos is, how wonderful the frum lifestyle is perceived, etc., etc., none of this will defeat the dominant Haskallah.

    I would also note that the RWMO acceptance of such P.O.V.s as legitimate help delegitimize RWMO itself to some degree.

  36. Bob Miller
    February 2nd, 2009 @ 9:07 pm

    The truth of Torah will ultimately defeat lies; it’s our job to push the process along. DK telling religious Jews how to succeed is sort of like Obama telling Republicans.

  37. DK
    February 2nd, 2009 @ 11:05 pm

    Oh. Bob, I’m not really telling you how to succeed. I am telling you why you will continue to fail.

  38. Steve Brizel
    February 2nd, 2009 @ 11:09 pm

    Peleg Strauss’s comments are IMO important, but are hardly unique among BTs in describing their encounters with the FFB world. DK’s latest point simply illustrates the results when kiruv groups fail to either show that Halacha can work with science, technology and history without being or feeling compromised or setting forth that halacha has its own approach to answering “why”, which neither science, technology nor history can answer in a complete manner.

  39. Mordechai Y. Scher
    February 3rd, 2009 @ 4:30 am

    I think Steve’s summarizing observations are correct. And DK was correct when noting that Modern Orthodox kiruv is a minority.

    Now – so what? The fact is, there IS INDEED a large world of Torah that is influenced by the likes of Rav JB Solovietchik, Rav Kook, and in our time Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Yehuda Amital and Rav Yisrael Meir Lau, and… So what’s the problem? We all teach Torah as we learn it. Since my approach to Torah, as learned from my teachers, requires a broad education and involvement for the sake of contributing to an ever developing society, that is the Torah that I introduce to those who I have a chance to do so. DK and I once had an argument on this elsewhere. The fact that my kehillah includes physicians, engineers, rocket scientists, etc. is normative as far as I am concerned. That being the case, we also teach that as normative to others. We just don’t claim that Torah is monolithic or there is only one norm.

    What surprises me is how often the objections are raised, but we don’t turn to the legitimate alternatives.

  40. Bob Miller
    February 3rd, 2009 @ 8:37 am

    At this late date, I don’t see the value of pointing to the number of professionals, including scientists and engineers of various types, who inhabit our Orthodox congregations. Today their presence is not limited to MO shuls, as many Beyond BT readers can confirm.

    Obviously, kiruv groups need to prepare themselves to answer the questions posed by potential and present BT’s with as much accuracy and in as much depth as possible. Superficiality and dismissiveness won’t cut it.

  41. yy
    February 3rd, 2009 @ 9:37 am

    Chevreh, you’re avoiding the heart of Peleg’s cry:

    “too many of us have sold out, under tremendous pressure, to the mainstream and lost the most valuable parts of ourselves (…)We’ve become the enemy.”

    Why is it whenever someone comes onto a thread with a profound sense of betrayal, let down and the such, the tendency is to snap back asap to the sterile pshat that this complaint is “hardly unique”??

    Comeon now. There is REAL pain here. He’s absolutley right about the sense of emotional rape in hearing a “Torah Leader” blame all the ills on the outside!

    A little EMOTIONAL validation, please.

  42. Bob Miller
    February 3rd, 2009 @ 5:53 pm

    I don’t deny his pain, but I don’t agree with his points overall, either.

  43. yy
    February 4th, 2009 @ 3:31 am

    Not denying and not VALIDATING are worlds apart. I understand your hesitancy, Bob, if you find his overall message problematic. Still, I would think that a format like this is meant, among others, for a certain brotherhood in sharing our misfit experiences.

    This is undoubtedly a big one.

    Personally I don’t think we’ve become the enemy, as he’s describing it, but I do believe there is a common tendency for disdain and dismissal of “outsider” sensitivities that is somewhere CRIMINAL in the way it clobbers the raw Neshama of many BTs.

    We’ve had to give up so much, certainly in terms of belonging. So when we hear this “THAT kind of thinking or value is not apart of us,” as opposed to soberly and lovingly EDUCATING for what is, it can make us snap.

    This must be understood and repented over if our generation is going to make any more serious inroads into kiruv; those falling OFF the derech being a most obvious case in point.

  44. Peleg Strauss
    February 4th, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    Toby Katz said: “As long as large and dominant swaths of the BT world are connected to sects of Orthodoxy that view rejection of inconvenient science, history, and technology with contempt and suspicion, there will not be a serious BT movement.”

    I think that is a serious problem for a lot of people. Torah seems to require one to deny the plain facts in front of one’s eyes. If one is seeking a better way of living, of thinking, and one of them tells you that you either gotta become skilled at double-thinking or denying the facts, most people would flatly reject that system because of its obvious intellectual dishonesty. How does one resolve, for example, the conflicting claims that the earth is either 5,700 years old or 4.5 billion years old? These numbers are 6 orders of magnitude apart (one is a million times larger than the other).

    Up until 500 years ago, and perhaps even as recently as about 200 years ago, there wasn’t much conflict between Science and Torah. Science wasn’t all that well-developed and didn’t pose any significant challenges to Torah. A skeptical person could reasonably adopt the Torah view as easily, and in fact, in tandem, with the Torah view. Science advanced in its ability to describe the physical world and Torah didn’t. That’s when the problems started.

    I’ve found myself an answer to this problem that is very comfortable to me. Full disclosure: I’ve been frum for about 35 years. I set out, about the age of 11, to become a chemist, then in college, a nuclear physicist, and now I’m a computer programmer. I consider myself solidly in the secular, humanist, scientific camp as well as in the Torah camp. On the face of it, it may seem an impossible task, and for a long time, it caused me a lot of confusion and difficulty. But I finally figured out an answer, and it is deceptively simple, even if some may consider it heretical.

    Science and Torah are more than incompatible world views, their world views are totally separate. These view don’t conflict in my mind because they never intersect. As philosophical, knowledge systems, they are completely separate. Therefore, it makes no sense to reconcile them, to compare them. They are fundamentally unreconcilable and uncomparable.

    If you want to have a debate, you first gotta establish some ground rules. You have to decide what consitutes evidence, what establishes an assertion as fact, how an argument is logically structured, and what does it mean to win the debate. Science and Torah can’t have a meaningful debate because they can’t agree on any of these fundamentals.

    In Science, evidence generally comes as a result of a series of observations or experiments. Anyone can repeat the experiment or observation at any time and expect the same result. No one could reproduce the Pond and Fleischman experiments on cold-fusion so Science concluded it was either a mistake or a fraud.

    In Torah, well, Torah is evidence. If it’s written there, then it’s a fact. No question about it. Moses hit the rock and water came out. It’s a Torah fact. Hey, I’d like to reduce my water bills, and I’ve got some rocks in my garden… Shucks, no matter how much I hit them, caress them, beg them, cajole them, bribe them, they just stubbornly sit there, refusing to cooperate. But still, Moses did it, and so it must be a fact.

    Or, if a Rabbi says it, it is a fact. Sure, they offer some support for their contention, but it is often based on what other Rabbis have said, and so it all comes down to proof by authoritative decree.

    In Science, no matter how famous or successful in the past a scientist has been, his pronouncements are not taken as fact until he or someone else tests the assertion. Sure, a guy with a Noble Prize is taken a bit more seriously than I would be, but his assertions are still not accepted until they are tested, just as mine would be. It doesn’t matter what other facts it is based on, or how many other big scientific guns agree with him, it has to be taken into a lab and tested.

    These rules of the game are so different, so at odds with one another, that it is impossible to look at Science through a Torah perspective and it is equally impossible to look at Torah through a Science perspective.

    It’s like this. Some scientists are sitting around playing Monopoly. A rabbi comes over and joins the game in progress. He rolls, lands on a square where another marker is sitting and then the rabbi moves the other marker back to GO. The scientists protest, asking him what in the world he is doing. The rabbi says that’s how you play the game. “What game?”, the scientists ask. “Parchesi, of course. What other game is there?” “Well, rabbi, we are playing Monopoly, and that is not how you play Monopoly.” The rabbi retorts, “But that’s how you play Parchesi.” So, the scientists offer, “Look, rabbi, we are playing Monopoly now. If you wanna play with us, you gotta follow the rules of Monopoly. If you want, we’ll play Parchesi with you after this game. But you gotta play by our rules to play our game.” So, the rabbi, instead of playing by the rules of Monopoly, walks out in a huff, proclaiming the stupidity of such a game.

    See the problem? It actually works both ways.

    What is the sense in trying to play a game by the wrong rules? What can be accomplished, what can be gained? How can you win?

    Instead, I have learned to play both games, and I hope with some skill, and when it is more productive or appropriate to play one game rather than the other, I play that game. It works wonderfully well. Instead of resticting myself to one way of approaching and understanding the world, I have two rich and useful ways to navigate through my life. I don’t try to compare them, or figure out which one is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ because that now becomes a meaningless exercise with no possible resolution. I simply use the one most appropriate and useful to the task at hand.

    For example, if you want to find out how to build an atomic bomb, you won’t find any useful information about it in Torah. However, if you want to find out if using the thing is the right thing to do, then Science can’t address that question.

    There are those who say “everything” is in Torah, you just have to know how to find it. That is so obviously not true. Torah isn’t a book about natural history or physical science. It isn’t supposed to be, so what is the problem with admitting that? I guess in the past when Torah was about as good a description of the physical world as Science was, one could get away with saying “everything”, but Science has progressed in this area and Torah has not.

    OK. So, I’m a heretic. I can deal with that. Since I’m choosing, I’m choosing to be a heretic rather than a blind, dogmatic, fool. (Sorry, Rabbi, but you also made your choice, didn’t you?)

    When Torah tries to “prove” that the world is only 5,700 years old, and that the fossil evidence was just planted by G-d to challenge us, it just makes it all the more difficult for someone to become frum because of how transparently dishonest that statement is. If you are going to try to impress someone who is looking for something to believe in, you can’t start by insulting his intelligence. You can’t expect him to believe in a G-d who apparently was the inventor of April Fools Jokes. A being like that seems too much like my Uncle Manny to be my G-d.

    We gotta start telling the Truth, to outsiders and to ourselves. There is Torah, and there is Science. They don’t have any inherent conflicts because they are not structured the same way and they don’t address the same problems. They are completely separate systems of knowledge.

    We need to stop arguing about Evolution and start appreciating what we can learn from Breshis to make us better people and to have better lives. We need to stop worrying about whether the world is 5,700 years old or not and start being fascinated by a vast universe, filled with incredible wonders. All at the same time.

    We have to, for example, stop these silly Discovery seminars and holding out the Torah Codes as proof. They are dubious at best, and don’t really present what Torah and frumkeit are about. We shouldn’t be taking such a negative approach, that is, arguing that the secular, humanist, scientific world view and knowledge derived from that world somehow falls short, isn’t really right. It is a total waste of time.

    The Torah that tells me how to be a better person, that teaches me right from wrong, that makes my life richer and more meaningful, that gives me a reason for being, that gives me pride and comfort in being part of a nation that has brought so much good to the world is the Torah that should be offered to someone thinking about becoming frum. Who would not want to become an active, card-carrying member of that club?

    We don’t really do this. We should.

  45. Mark Frankel
    February 4th, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

    Peleg, I’m sorry you haven’t been exposed to any of the possible reconciliations between Torah and Science. Actually, there’s been a lot of progress here in the last 50 years in the Torah world, I’m surprised you haven’t seen it.

    As far as science goes there are facts established by repeated experimentation and hypothesis based on those facts. There is a difference which you might want to investigate.

    Torah doesn’t try to prove anything. When one learns Torah, as seen through the eyes of Chazal conflicts arise and it is our task to reconcile these conflicts. Often the problem lies in our misunderstanding of the Torah and/or Chazal.

  46. Bob Miller
    February 4th, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

    It’s hard to see what science could assert about conditions and events during any period of creation that preceded the completion of the system of physical law.

  47. yy
    February 7th, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

    Peleg — was I completely off when I tried rally the forces to empathize with your “outsider” experiences being blithely dismissed??

    You said: “I have learned to play both games, and I hope with some skill, and when it is more productive or appropriate to play one game rather than the other, I play that game. It works wonderfully well.”

    Somehow I no longer hear the first Peleg who lamented with an element of humility about his “struggles” and how it feels “next to impossible to unlearn” the ideologies within which he was educated!

  48. Nathan
    February 8th, 2009 @ 12:50 am

    Our universally accepted Jewish holy books: Tanach, Mishnah, Jerusalem Talmud, Babylonian Talmud, Midrashim, Rishonim, Acharonim and Responsa NEVER teach that Baalei Teshuvah should be automatically disqualified as candidates for marriage, contrary the popular practice of the contemporary world of Orthodox Judaism (Frum Olam).

    If Baalei Teshuvah are blocked from marrying FFBs, then who are BT kohanim supposed to marry? Answer: Nobody cares.

  49. Ruth
    February 8th, 2009 @ 11:58 am

    Nathan,
    Although many FFBs may prefer to marry someone from a similar background, it is not true that BTs are automatically disqualified as candidates for marriage to FFBs. I am an FFB married to a BT and I know many others, including newlyweds. And, in your last paragraph, you are doing some disqualifying of your own. Not every female BT is assur to a kohen, only those who had relations with a non-Jew or (according to some opinions) whose fathers are not Jewish. I know BTs married, halachically, to kohanim too.

  50. DK
    February 8th, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

    it is not true that BTs are automatically disqualified as candidates for marriage to FFBs

    Often, not always. You don’t need always for something to be an issue.

    However, this general trend sets a standard in other things well beyond marriage. BTs are generally perceived as second class citizens in ultra-Orthodoxy. They should understand that going in. The better this is understood, the fewer will enter in the first place.

    A proof of how problematic and prevalent this phenomenon truly really is can be readily perceived by how much time is spent insisting that a BT is “on a higher medregah” than the FFB. Such misappropriated and misapplied mantras would not be bandied about so frequently and furiously if, in fact, the BT were really perceived as being on even a comparable “medregah.”

  51. Mark Frankel
    February 8th, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

    In most worlds you are considered second-class if you are not part of that world. That’s pretty obvious. So what – that’s how the world works.

    As far as being on a higher medregah, in Judaism, it’s not where you start but where you grow to that counts, and thus the spiritual merit of BTs is real!

    However a FFB who has the growth trajectory of your average BT can reach levels most of us can only dream of.

  52. DK
    February 8th, 2009 @ 8:12 pm

    In most worlds you are considered second-class if you are not part of that world.

    No, not at all. We are talking about when you join that world. There are differences. If you are a Jewish from the Conservative movement, and join a left-wing Modern Orthodox community, you are not considered second class. But if that same person joins a right-wing ultra-Orthodox community, there is usually a significant difference in terms of how the joiner is perceived as opposed to those who were born into it.

  53. Mark Frankel
    February 8th, 2009 @ 9:45 pm

    DK, That is because the worlds of the Conservative movement and the Left Wing Modern Orthodox overlap in the areas of secular pursuits and therefore the Conservative can move in to the Left Wing Modern Orthodox world relatively easily and quickly.

    In the right-wing ultra-Orthodox world, much more change needs to take place to be accepted because the worlds overlap very little.

  54. DK
    February 8th, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

    And because the baal teshuvah is all but synonymous with “ben/ban niddah,” a lineage flaw that receives quite a bit of amplification of facile denials, but none the less persists in these societies.

    Lineage flaws are quite different than mere overlap vs. little overlap, agreed?

  55. A Wandering BT
    February 8th, 2009 @ 10:30 pm

    Peleg wrote: “in reponse to a comment I made about the Godolim, about how I automatically don’t swallow everything they say… She said that because I was a BT, I never learned to subjugate myself to authority. She is so right. And I think that is one of the struggles I have, and perhaps a few more BTs also have. ”

    Since when is this an obligation in Judaism?
    Prove it with sources.

    I imply that it isn’t, and so there is no reason to view this as a “struggle” but rather as an advantage. The “submitters” are the ones who are off. Submission is the name of a different, very unfriendly religion, in fact.

  56. Mark Frankel
    February 8th, 2009 @ 11:20 pm

    I think there are a number of factors which make it difficult for Baalei Teshuva to integrate and achieve acceptance into Ultra Orthodox communities, lineage flaws, secular interests and non-frum relatives and friends are three of them.

    I’m personally comfortable with people deciding who they want to marry.

    I also am thankful that Baalei Teshuva have so many wonderful communities across the United States where they can find acceptance.

  57. DK
    February 9th, 2009 @ 1:07 am

    Mark, I appreciate you agreeing that these are difficult issues. It obviously emanates from a place of sincerity and confidence. For real.

  58. yy
    February 9th, 2009 @ 4:47 am

    A Wandering BT — you don’t really want to open up this can of worms, do you? Submission to Daas Torah is the bedrock of Torah shel Baal Peh. All our professional kiruvniks can easily roll out all the psukim and psak Halacha on the matter.

    The principle is simple: The Creator does not need to prove the validity of His Will to anyone; only to those who sincerely seek it, who l’chatchilla understand that its upon them to prove their worth in recieving His direct guidance, will He reveal it.

    Besides that, in His great compassion He has designated certain times and activities as most auspiscious opportunities for doing that submission. Like tfilla, Shabbos, the chagim.

    Is this “unfriendly”?

    It depends on the aim. If its submission for its own sake, since the basic belief is that there’s no value to independant human volition — then yes. VERY unfriendly, dangerous and disgusting!

    If it’s meant as a springboard for bringing out the best and holiest within US — then no. It modern jargon this is called “tough love.”

    The problem is why the established Torah faithful are not doing more to help BTs make the awesome transition between a strident world that has educated them to believe in indepenant willfullness above all (as Peleg originally referred to the nature of his struggle), towards one that insists they strip themselves of this klippa (extraneous spirit) before they can even BEGIN!

  59. Bob Miller
    February 9th, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

    This story about the Turkey Prince has some relevance here:

    http://www.nachalnovea.com/breslovcenter/articles/article_tprince.html

    It illustrates one way to navigate a transition to Torah values.

  60. FFB
    February 9th, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

    WHY WHY are you wasting your time?

  61. Bob Miller
    February 9th, 2009 @ 10:58 pm

    WHAT WHAT do you mean?

  62. FFB
    February 10th, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

    I meant yy (why why). He shlepped me out of the quagmire once and I want to return the favor. As soon as I saw Peleg’s attack on our “godolim” (mistransliterated several times), I recognized the old animosity of the am ha’aretz to the talmid chacham. Would you read a book entitled “Criticism of Fiziks” or “Criticism of Jeometry”? The least a guy criticising a subject should know is how to pronounce/spell it.

    As for “Rabbi” Francis Nataf, he sounds exactly like Moses Mendelson (who was also a rabbiner). I wonder what his new brand of Judaism will be named. “Reform”, “Conservative”, or “reconstructionist” would do nicely, but they’re taken already. How about “Creative Judaism”? Is that too close to “Creationism”?

    A source for submission to Da’as Torah: את ה’ אלוקיך תירא, לרבות תלמידי חכמים (Talmud).

  63. FFB
    February 10th, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

    I can’t resist quoting a quote attributed to the Satmar rav zt”l: “In other circles, if the rebbe would take a knife, shecht a chazer, and eat it, the chassidim would say that the knife is the maacheles (used by Avrohom Avinu for Akeidas Yitzchok), the chazer is the ayil (sacrficed instead of Yitzchok), and the rebbe is a tzaddik. The way I taught my chassidim, they would say, the knife is a knife, the chazer is a chazer, and the rebbe is a shaygetz.”

    Subbmission to Daas Torah, yes. But only as long as it’s Daas TORAH.

  64. A Wandering BT
    February 10th, 2009 @ 3:05 pm

    “Submission to Daas Torah is the bedrock of Torah shel Baal Peh.”

    Not when your definition of Daas Torah is slavery. On Pesach we leave behind slavery for freedom. That’s not “modern jargon” but reality. What is left behind also includes the slave mentality.

    The commenter who insulted Rabbi Nataf is obviously defensive and insecure about something, but more importantly, they ought to do teshuvah for their slander.

  65. FFB
    February 10th, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

    You’re right. I’m defensive about our beleaguered torah umesorah and I’m insecure about the future of Orthodoxy seeing such people parading as Orthodox rabbis. As for slander, the Chofetz Chaim himself, as well as his greatest talmid R’ Elchonon Wasserman, did not hesitate to reprimand sharply and publicly those Jewish leaders who veered from the true Torah way. הלא משנאיך ה’ אשנא ובתקוממך אתקוטט.

  66. Bob Miller
    February 10th, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

    The word Orthodox must still be held in high esteem—otherwise why would anyone want to fake it?

  67. yy
    February 11th, 2009 @ 2:58 am

    It’s true that this is basically a futile fight. Ppl who want to vent and espouse will seldom grow and give. Yet, there are times. Like with the Ben HaRasha at Pessach. We invite him each yr and let him say his thing — because we have what to respond.

    But it’s short and “sweet.”

    And so you’ve done, ffb, at present, more elegantly than either of us usually do. You’re letting the Torah defend itself.

    A.W.J: She gave you a pasuk. There are plenty more. Simple, straight forward ones. The Orchestrator of the Exodus states over and over again that the reason is to SERVE Him; that one, impure slavery should be replaced with a different, higher, purer one.

    Go learn.

    And then come back and we can cry together. It’s HARD. Terribly, excuciatingly hard, when something in your soul has been touched by the divine spark of freedom that those who’ve rebelled against orthodoxy have made a point of fanning into a wild, impure flame!

    “Al tikra charus elah cheirus”, Chazal famously teach. We’re supposed to find “freedom” within the “engraved” commandments (same root). It’s an unbelievably compelling truth. The problem is whether we’re seeking pshat for how to LIVE it or a chochma for how to ESCAPE it.

    Both can give a momentaty high. But only the first can maintain its integrity over time.

    Pshat: G-d wants us to discover the freedom within the choosing to enslave ourselves to His Will; to learn to mesh my Will into His.

    Escape: ANYthing but actually submit to a higher Will. Freedom means staying YOU!

    Believe me, I say all this out of real struggle of my own. I, in contrast to ffb, took in the escape-education deep into my soul. But thank G-d, my truth seeking is stronger.

    Isn’t it time we try to help each other get there?

    Thanks again ffb. I’ll try again to keep every limb out of the quagmire. ShOVaVYM is almost over!!!!!!!

  68. FFB
    February 11th, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

    Thanks a lot, yy. I really thought I was talking to the wall.

  69. yy
    February 12th, 2009 @ 8:02 am

    The echoes from walls can sometimes be deafening!

    Now we might appreciate a little more how H’ (kivyachol) feels: “Im shamoa tishmau…”

  70. yitzchak horvitz
    February 15th, 2009 @ 2:35 am

    being a lubavitcher bt for over 30 years now, i find that i am still a baal tsuva, ie. i have the constant fight & yearning of the bainoni (as in the tanya) and try to help others with mitzvas of many kinds whenever & wherever possible.

    when you put tifillen on someone at work or on the street, when you explain a concept in yiddishkeit to someone on the plane, you renind yourself that the “job” isn’t over until we have the complete redemption.

    of course, we have to stay far away from jewish politics and bring out the positive in all cases in order to mekariv another yid, but we also have to be strong while leaving the door open & inviting all to enter and grow. i am not a shliach per se, but each and every jew has to perceive themselves as the shliach when incountering any other yid & even the goyim with the sheva mitzvahs.
    may we all grow from strength to strength ourselves and realize that the job isn’t quite over even if we are getting close.

    every little advance (or mitzvah) is a step closer to the geula.
    hatlacha rabba
    yitzchak

  71. A Wandering BT
    March 2nd, 2009 @ 9:19 pm

    “The Orchestrator of the Exodus states over and over again that the reason is to SERVE Him; that one, impure slavery should be replaced with a different, higher, purer one.”

    And when did I say that we weren’t supposed to be servants of Him? You selfrighteously presume too much. Much like your friend. And no, slavery is not replaced with SLAVERY. It’s replaced with freedom – true freedom, or, what freedom truly is – to serve Hashem appropriately as a holy nation.

    Even if we learn it like you and say we are now “slaves” to Hashem, this does not excuse a ‘slave mentality’ – which is the mentality of a slave not-of-Hashem- but of Egypt, the type of mentality the Ibn Ezra describes, which is commonly lingering in former slaves (not of Hashem) accustomed to their old ways, and which we must liberate ourselves from, in order to actualize our potential.

    Getting back to what originally caused this discussion Peleg wrote: “Peleg wrote: “in reponse to a comment I made about the Godolim, about how I automatically don’t swallow everything they say”

    It would actually be quite difficult to “automatically swallow everything they say” considering they often disagree with one another. Then you’re left with ‘dueling daas Torah.’

  72. yy
    March 3rd, 2009 @ 6:37 am

    AWBT — I don’t have the time to enter a gnarled debate, nor do I sense a genuine willingness to get to the core. But I hope I’m mistaken on the latter.

    Let me just say here:

    1)You gave the impression of criticizing the CONCEPT of any intrinsic value to avdus when you said “Not when your definition of Daas Torah is slavery. On Pesach we leave behind slavery for freedom.”

    2)To say “slavery is not replaced with SLAVERY. It’s replaced with freedom…” is a semantic confusion. As said, I’m not going to start teaching here the basics of chazal about how true freedom is found only within Halachically grounded avdus. I’m very aware and sensitive to the fact that this diametrically threatens some major principles of Western thinking. But it remains rock bottom Torah Judaism nevertheless.

    So don’t fight with me but chazal. And for that matter the Torah itself, which all over the place demands our being “oived” Him, citing the Exodus as the basis of His right to that radical, totally counter-intuitive claim on our lives.

    3) How to distinguish between the soul liberating divine avdus and the psychologically inhibited thinking patterns that emerge from experiences of counterfeit avdus to far from divine human masters — it’s a good question. And one I’ve made clear I profoundly struggle with myself.

    So maybe you’d like to think twice before you toss out another label and group my thinking with another commentor.

    b’hatzlocha!

  73. tzivia esther
    November 22nd, 2010 @ 6:23 pm

    If Rabbi Nataf is implying that there is an inbreeding of ideas within F.F.B. circles, and Baalei Teshuva are being affected by it, then we are in complete agreement. It strikes me that Baalei Teshuva are expected to give up a piece of themselves in order to blend into the community as a whole. The piece of myself that I gave up wasn’t my independence of thought. What I paid for remaining true to myself is that I no longer feel that I am at liberty to share my thoughts with anyone aloud without being condemned. Having gone to grad school, I learned to question. I deplore having that right taken away from me. I find it oppressive. If I were to speak out at lectures, I’d be asking Rabbis to show me perek and pasuk before I’d accept anything they said. It would not be a question of apikorsus. I had the right to make my own conclusions in college,and I want to benefit from the self same privelage here in the Orthodox Jewish World. I feel that I should be given tools so that I can learn to learn. I want to be in a Jewish environment in which lively debate takes place. I refuse to be made into a clone. It is an insult to my intelligence.

  74. tzivia esther
    November 22nd, 2010 @ 6:56 pm

    Getting back to Rabbi Nataf, if I understand him correctly, then he is suggesting that we examine the Maimonidean model of Judaism in general, and the concept of the Shevil Ha Zahav in particular. While it is dangerous to generalize, historically speaking, the Sephardic world has been more moderate than the Ashkenazic one. The Ashkenazic World was developed in isolation. (no exposure to the secular world) The Sephardic World was not. Maimonides held the Sephardic World together via his writings. The face of the Sephardic Word is changing due to the influence of the Hareidim. At the same time, an atmosphere of tolerance still remains to some degree. The use of a Maimonidean model would enable the Orthodox World to become one of moderation. Frankly, if I understood Rabbi Nataf correctly,
    once again, I am behind him 100%.

  75. tzivia esther
    November 22nd, 2010 @ 8:47 pm

    Perhaps I should make one last comment. Kiruv work is a skill. The worker needs to be open and flexible. He must be familiar with human nature, and he must recognize the needs of each individual he works with. The worker in question needs to have exemplary middot, as his students will learn more about Judaism example than anything else. Lastly, he must educate his students in such a way that living a life in which they are Shomrei Mitzvot is a choice that is made through the use of logic rather than coercion.

  76. tzivia esther
    November 22nd, 2010 @ 11:04 pm

    If anyone wants to read an interesting article which challenges some standard Hareidi assumptions re:Daas Torah, go to Aspaqlaria and look up “Today’s Daas Torah”. You may also want to “google” the term. The definition, surprisingly enough does vary from circle to circle, if I understand things correctly. The moral of my story is keep questioning anything and everything you are told!

  77. Bob Miller
    November 23rd, 2010 @ 8:58 am

    “The Ashkenazic World was developed in isolation. (no exposure to the secular world)”

    Prove it!

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