Getting Beyond The Externalities


Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to “What more can I do?’” which expressed the emotional pain of being “outed” as a Baalas Teshuva.

As a Baalas Teshuva myself of 33 years duration I empathize with your pain. I know how deeply such an encounter can hurt. Unfortunately, it is an all too common BT experience. You are not alone.

At some point along your 15 year journey, after having transformed yourself into a sincere and committed Baalas Teshuva, a well intended but clueless kiruv mentor convinced you that being a BT was somehow a shameful condition which needed to be concealed from FFB society. Someone assured you that your new “spiritual” goal was to conceal your BT-ness and dupe FFB’s into thinking that you are one of them.

When BT’s are given the message that they have to disguise what they are in order to gain social acceptance, “fit in” & “blend in” with FFB’s, the result is dysfunctional for the frum community as a whole. Socially pressuring thousands of individuals into disguising what they are in order to deceive others cripples everyone emotionally. There is no societal incentive to acquire the tools that are needed for accepting others who are different.

Both BT’s and FFB’s are socially pressured, albeit in different ways, to conform in ways not necessarily mandated by the Torah. The result of all this pretending is that very few people will ever feel truly accepted & loved since only facades are being held out as worthy of acceptance & love. It implicitly encourages everyone to lie, compare, compete, and of course conform.

Many well intended but clueless people get involved in kiruv for the wrong reasons: the amazing “high”, the validation of their own Yiddishkeit, the confirmation of their position in the hierarchy, the self esteem rush etc. that comes from doing kiruv. Everyone knows that the cheapest way to feel good about one’s self is to feel superior to someone else.

Forgive the individual (or individuals) who unintentionally misled you by “laying this trip” on you. They didn’t have the self awareness to understand their own motivations for doing kiruv, and they didn’t understand the implications of their message that it is shameful to be what you are, that you must hide yourself away. They didn’t know better.

Instead of encouraging you to seek to find favor in H-shem’s eyes through internal, spiritual growth, you were directed to seek acceptance from FFB society through externalities that make up your disguise. The end result is that who you are (neshama, a cheilik Elokai m’mal mamesh) has become confused with externalities.

While it is unarguably halachically necessary to cover your hair, wear tznius clothing, send your kids to Torahdik schools and keep a kosher kitchen, a subtle shift away from the actual mitzvohs themselves to externalities has occurred in your outlook. Your sheitle, your clothing, the type of hat that identifies the school your children attend, and your kitchen are what you use to compare yourself to the woman who “outed” you. Externalities, and the comparing, competing and conforming that accompanies the focus on externalities, are really all about social approval seeking.

Rabbi Naftoli Weinberg wrote, citing the Chovos HaLevovos, that performing mitzvohs in order to impress others (social approval seeking) is tantamount, in a way, to avodah zarah (Yated, Center 20) in the very same issue of the Yated that contained “What more can I do?”. Social approval seeking is spiritually self destructive, and a big waste of energy.

Only the mitzvohs remain yours forever : the mitzvah of kesuei harosh, the mitzvah of tznius, the mitzvah of chinuch, and the mitzvah of kashrus. The externalities will not remain. Your sheitle and your clothing will be given away or thrown in the garbage, the hat style used to identify your kids’ schools will go out of vogue, and your kitchen will be remodeled or sold with the house it occupies to someone else.

Forgive whoever unintentionally misdirected, and confused you. The focus on externalities, mitzvohs done with a social agenda — because everyone around you is doing it, and you will hurt your children’s shidduchim chances if you don’t, etc. — is perhaps all that they’ve ever known. They certainly couldn’t provide you with a better motivation if social approval seeking/social pressure is what motivates them.

Be that as it may, when we look for the good in everything, instead of focusing on the painful, we will inevitably see H-shem’s love. Every experience no matter how horrible has a gift for you. It is essential to remember that you are the one choosing what to experience.

Although being “outed” by a stranger was undeniably painful, since you have the choice of perspective you can use that experience as an opportunity to acquire a healthier, more authentic, internal, spiritual sense of self and embrace a better, truer spiritual goal for the future.

Rabbi Dovid Gottleib (a BT) wrote in a Jewish Observer article nearly twenty years ago: Once a BT, always a BT. No matter what you do, or how long you’ve been frum you will never be a FFB. Never. You didn’t need to be one in the first place.

It would have been a simple matter for H-shem to have created you as an FFB, but your truest self (neshama) needed to experience His love and guidance in a way that most FFB’s never will. Your BT-ness is a testimonial to H-shem’s involvement in the affairs of human beings, and a monument to your own integrity and courage.

The frum community is comprised of many different cultural groups and many different types of people. Every group and every Jewish person is essential to fulfilling the collective mission of Klal Yisroel. Your BT-ness is not a stigma that needs to be concealed, any more than it is a stigma to be Sefardi instead of Ashkenazi, Litvishe instead of Chassidishe, French instead of South African, or brown eyed instead of green eyed, etc.

The truth is going to be a problem for a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be your problem anymore.

It’s time to stop scrutinizing yourself in the mirror to try to figure out what part of your external disguise you need to adjust in order to conceal your BT-ness. As long as you seek to be someone else, you have no chance to discover who you are meant to be. Peace comes to each of us when we stop pretending to be something other than our true selves.

Give yourself the acceptance, approval, and validation that you have been trying to get from FFB society. Why look to them to give you something that you can give to yourself?

Every movement towards authentic, internal, spiritual self definition (neshama), as opposed to disguise/identification with externalities for social acceptance, produces what Gila Manolson (a BT) in Outside/Inside calls a positive ripple effect in the frum community. By accepting the real you, you help others in the frum communtiy to accept the real them. It makes for a spiritually & emotionally healthier environment for everyone.

The Torah cautions all of us against this human tendency to try to be someone that we are not. The second of the Aseres HaDibros reads: “You shall not make for yourself [lecha] any carved idol [pesel], or any likeness of any thing…” (Shemos 20:4). The Degel Machne Ephrayim points out that the word lecha can be understood as “of yourself”, and the word pesel is related to the word pesolet (garbage). Understood this way, H-shem is telling each of us: Don’t throw away who you are! Don’t see yourself as garbage! Don’t make yourself into a “likeness of any thing” by trying to be someone you are not! (Outside/Inside p.90).

Most BT’s (and their children who may be FFB’s) experience some level of painful social and institutional discrimination. Once a secular Jew has undergone the total life transformation to Yiddishkeit, he/she ought not to be misdirected into to a life of concealment and disguise. Duping FFB’s into believing that you are an FFB too is not one of the 613 Mitzvohs. Give yourself permission to stop the madness.

This misdirection is a cause of recidivism on the part of disillusioned BT’s and their children who do leave the frum community altogether. The externalities needed for social acceptance by FFB society are not spiritually or emotionally sustaining, and could not sustain those who left. A G-d oriented, internally focused spiritual life could have sustained them and kept them part of the frum community. Acquire a G-d oriented, internally focused spiritual life for yourself and for your children. Klal Yisroel needs you.

All of us would do well to take a closer look at what is happening: As the ranks of Baalei Teshuva continue to grow the systemic problem of concealment and disguise will become more and more untenable. It will invariably trigger a great deal more unnecessary pain like that experienced by the anonymous Baalas Teshuva writer of “What more can I do?”. It also threatens to result in destabilizing, large scale social backlash. With insight and planning both can be avoided.

Project Inspire and Acheinu are now trying to turn more FFB’s into front line kiruv workers to staunch the hemorrhaging of Klal Yisroel brought on by assimilation. Both programs need to give those they are recruiting to do kiruv, FFB society, and those who are being m’karved better spiritual & emotional tools to achieve the healthy social integration of more sincere, committed BT’s into the frum community. Every Jew is important, and every Jew counts.

Much has been learned in the last 40 years about what works and what doesn’t work well when it comes to kiruv. It will benefit none of us if these lessons are ignored, and everyone just keeps repeating the same old dumb mistakes over and over again.

Monsey, NY

This letter was originally published in the Yated.

Today is the 15th Yahrzeit of the Lubavitch Rebbe

Today is the 15th Yahrzeit of the Lubavitch Rebbe. has a whole subsite devoted to the Rebbe.

In this article, Ten Absurdly Simple Ways to Live Higher, ten “first step” mitzvahs which were suggested by the Rebbe are explored. Here are the mitzvahs the Rebbe suggested:

1) Put a pushka on your desk and start giving Tzedakah
2) Buy and read Jewish books
3) Put up mezzuzahs in your house
4) Light Shabbos candles
5) Keep Kosher
6) Put on Tefillin
7) Women should go to the Mikvah
8) Enroll your children in a Jewish Day School
9) Learn Torah
10) Do Chesed

What is Torah Judaism (in 500 words or less) #6

Purposeful Creation

Judaism provides a foundation to understand the physical and spiritual world and to use that understanding to perfect ourselves and unite the entire world. The first axiom is that life has meaning and purpose because it was created by a purposeful, spiritual G-d. The word spiritual at its most basic level means anything that can not be physically sensed or measured.

Being absolutely perfect, G-d had no need to create the world, rather he created the world to bestow good upon man. Because G-d defines the essence of good, the ultimate goodness is experiencing and communing with G-d Himself. For anything to be appreciated, some degree of contrast is needed and therefore G-d created the physical world where spirituality can not be measured or accessed with our senses.

Free Will

Man was uniquely created with a physical body, a spiritual soul and free will. Free will empowers us to overcome our physical side and become G-d like givers as opposed to physically centered takers. By continually making proper choices we strengthen our soul and become more spiritual beings. Knowing our spiritual development is due to our own choices and not because of compulsion allows us to truly experience the pleasure of our accomplishments.

From the spiritual perspective, closeness is defined as the similarity of things. When we develop our spiritual side, we become G-d like and unite and partake of His goodness. The reward of spiritual development lasts for eternity since the soul exists after death.

Spiritual Mission of the Jews

In the first 20 generations, the world failed at its spiritual mission until Abraham’s kindness and spiritual awareness resulted in G-d choosing him as the world’s spiritual leader. Isaac and Jacob further developed this spiritual inheritance by excelling in self-discipline and mastering the balance between giving and discipline.

Jacob’s 12 sons and their families were exiled to Egypt for 210 years to remedy certain spiritual deficiencies. This ended with the Exodus and Moses reaching the highest level of spiritual development and prophetically receiving the instructions of the Torah at Sinai.

Developing Our Spirituality

The Torah provides us with instructions to make the free will choices that will maximize our spiritual development and unify body and soul. These mitzvos prevent us from damaging our spiritual selves and teach us the positive acts which further develop and strengthen us spirituality.

Mitzvos such as Shabbos, the Jewish Holidays and prayer enable us to become more aware and appreciative of G-d. Man to man mitzvos such as helping the poor and showing love and respect make us spiritual givers and unite humanity. Self-development mitzvos like eliminating arrogance, envy, and unbridled desire correct our self-centered negative traits.

By freely choosing to follow the mitzvos, a Jew develops his spirituality. When a significant number of Jews develop high levels of spirituality, a process will have begun which will culminate in the entire world uniting in spiritual harmony and experiencing G-d and the world at the highest possible level.

Note: A few friends thought this was a little too philosophical for the average non-observant Jew, so I am back to the drawing board.
Please send in a contribution to this series remembering the goal is to interest somebody to learn more about Judaism.

Turning 50, Reflecting on 35 Years as a BT

In January my wife invited the family for Shabbat in celebration of my 50th birthday. Except for my dad (who we’re working on), everyone lives here in Israel. (We managed to grab a quick picture after Shabbat). It was truly very special to be surrounded by all these loved ones for this momentous birthday.

As a special treat, my daughter emailed a few of my friends and asked them to write a little something for the occasion. We had a lot of fun over the course of Shabbat as she read the responses and I had to guess who wrote them. One of the responses was from the Rav of my Shul back in Edison, NJ. In part he wrote:

Michael – you have done amazingly well with the first 50 years of your life. You are constantly redefining yourself and becoming a new and improved version. You are a living model of Hachodesh Hazeh Lochem. I think if someone would have met you once a decade for the past 50 years, each encounter would be a surprise because you continuously have changed.

As a person involved in software design, the idea of creating new and improved versions struck a chord with me. Isn’t that what we’re really all about? The Teshuva process, and of course this isn’t just limited to BT’s, involves an effort to constantly create and release new “versions” of ourselves. Some versions are just “patches” while others are major revisions.

Selecting 35 years as the amount of time I’ve been a BT was an interesting exercise. How do you define version 1.0 of a person’s development? Even though I attended a Yeshiva day school through 8th grade it wouldn’t be accurate for me to consider the things I did while I was there as a part of the process since these were things I did just because I was told to. For example, though I wore a Kippa and Tzitzit to school, I’d throw them off the minute I got home.

Even so, much of that early “programming” must have had an impact, as within just a few months after entering 9th grade in public high school I experienced, what I consider to be, my BT starting point. Just around my 15th birthday I flew down to Florida to visit my grandmother in Boca Raton. On the way down I ate the regular airline meal, but on the way back I ordered a Kosher meal. The process had begun.

Over the next year and a half I attended no less than 30 NCSY Shabbatons. During that time, among other things, I began walking 4 miles to Shul on Shabbat. In the beginning I’d actually return from that 8 mile round trip trek and hop in the car with my folks to go to a mall or the beach. But by the end of that period I was pretty much Shomer Shabbat. There wasn’t yet a lot depth to my Frumkeit as, well let’s face it; I was involved in NCSY mostly for the girls. (Something which turned out to be a good thing as I met the girl who was to become my wife during those years.)

My first philosophical epiphany came in my senior year of high school during the course of an anatomy elective. No, it had nothing to do with the fact that the cheerleading captain was my lab partner. It did have to do with the fact that we spent nearly a year dissecting a cat. After becoming so intimately aware of the intricacies of this magnificent creature, it became impossible for me to believe that this extremely complex creation wasn’t “designed”. I now had the belief to go along with my actions.

Yet, still I cruised through college and the early part of my marriage with a very basic level of observance. The combination of the birth of my first child and the death of my mom soon after forced me to confront a couple of key issues. How was I going to transmit the beauty of Torah observance in a “do as I say not as I do” mode? And, if I truly believed that, as part of this religious system I now adhered to, my mom was in an afterlife. shouldn’t I be more consistent and careful in how I approached everything? If this religion thing was for “real” then I had to treat it as such. So I embarked on an effort study and apply as much Halacha as I could.

This led me on a path to the “right”; in the shuls I attended, the schools we sent our kids to, and even my appearance. As, it seemed to me then, that’s where all the serious people were. Eventually, though, I ran into some obstacles. Not the least of which was that I consider myself a Zionist and even in the most laid back of right-wing Shuls this is not always an easy fit. Zionism has always been a core part of my belief system, even since before I was Frum. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my dad’s middle name is Herzl. Whatever the case, I was finding it difficult to be in a place were people were, at best, neutral to, what I saw as, the numerous miracles evident in the founding of the modern state of Israel. Like in my high school anatomy class, it had become just as impossible for me not to see the “design” in the founding of the Jewish state as for me not to see the design of that cat. I endeavored to tread the line between being to the right and being a religious Zionist. Though this is not easy to do in America, I managed with this tension until we were finally able to make Aliyah.

We arrived in Israel nearly five years ago. Here in our community and Shul in Beit Shemesh I found my ideological home. Our Rav is a major Talmud Chachom, our congregants are very serious about their Yiddishkeit and we are all proud religious Zionists.

Living in Israel, however, has brought a whole new set of realizations and challenges. For instance, there are many very Frum and learned people who don’t look the part, at least as we defined it in America. Conversely, there are many who have the “look”, but who are sorely lacking in many areas. There are others who aren’t Frum as we traditionally define it, but who are nevertheless very religious. And there are still others who are neither, yet through their contributions to the nation and its security have earned great merit.

Partly as a result of this exposure, I’ve experienced a shift in emphasis from the personal to the communal. I find that here in Israel, much more so than in the U.S., our individual religious choices impact on the broader community and even the nation as a whole in ways that are complex and far-reaching. This realization is leading me to reweigh my priorities. Even the last 3 years I’ve spent learning in Yeshiva part-time has caused some unexpected shifts in the way I view my role in the Torah world. It’s a work in progress.

So, as my Rav predicted, I’m in the process of changing again. My goal is always to become an “improved” version. With the help of G-d, wonderful Rabbis, friends and family (my beta testers) I will continue to endeavor to do so. I hope to report back in a few years and let you know how version 6.0 is doing.

A Cure for Troubled Times

A Teenage Beyond BT Fan

As we all know the world that we live in has gone out of control.

To start with, the recession we are in now is just terrible. Thousands of people have been laid off this past year. And that’s just the least of it.

We are in danger regarding North Korea. They have nuclear bombs that are ready to rock. There’s also the problems of the Middle East, especially in Israel. Iran says straight out that they want to wipe Israel off the map!

We may look at all this and say, “There’s no hope”, but that’s not true. There is hope. If we Jews do what we are supposed to do this will all end!

It is brought down that if every Jew keeps two shabbos in a row, Moshiach will immediately follow. Some people think “I can’t bring moshiach.” But that’s not true. Every jew can help bring moshiach!

What could you do?

Learn one Mishnah every day. Say Tehillim. Pick up a Hebrew or English sefer and learn. Do an extra chesed. There’s an endless list of things that you could do!

As I said before every Jew can help bring moshiach. What Zchus it would be if every Jew did his or her part.

May Hashem bring Moshiach through joyful means and let this year’s Tisha B’Av be a Yom Tov.

What Must One Believe to Be Considered a True Torah Jew?

Dear Rabbi Weiman:

Hi! I read your article “Hell No” on the Aish Website, and that led me to your website, Although I am FFB and was fortunate to have a typical Bais Yaakov education, my views on what Hashem is and wants is somewhat unique in my community. Your perspectives were like a breath of fresh air and reaffirmed what I have always believed. I will be a frequent visitor to your site. Thank you!

I have a question that has been bothering me for some time and hope that you will be able to answer it for me. The short version of the question is: what commentaries and aspects of the Oral Torah must one believe to be considered a true Torah Jew?

I will explain: obviously, I know that the Oral Torah is an integral part of our religion. Many mitzvos cannot be performed properly without guidance from oral traditions. However, I also understand, that not every commentary is necessarily accurate. For example, there are various opinions regarding Rivka’s age at the time of her marriage. Clearly, they can’t all be correct.

Also, I remember learning a pshat in school that why did Avraham tell Sarah that he knows that she is beautiful (before entering Egypt and hiding her)? Rashi provides various explanations, including one that according to the Midrash, they were very modest and now, when he saw her reflection in the river, it was the first time that he saw her beauty.

To be frank, this explanation made me somewhat uncomfortable. Is it okay not to accept it? Does that make one a heretic? So back to the short version of my question: is there a clear distinction regarding oral traditions that must and may be accepted?

If you can provide some guidance, I would be immensely grateful.

Thank you.

Dear S.

Thanks for your email. Since you have a background I’ll tell you that my material on the basics come from The Way of God, Path of the Just, Duties of the Heart, and the Sefer HaChinuch.

These sefarim have deep ideas that many people gloss over. Luckily I had Rebbeim that brought out the jewels that others miss. Many FFB’s would say similar things when they would go to Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s classes. “Nobody told me the Almighty loves me. They just taught me to do mitzvos or I’ll go to gehennom.”

You didn’t mention which specific perspectives you feel at odds with your community on, but please consider bolstering yourself with some sources and spreading the truth somehow. Teach, share, set out print outs of my articles and others that support your views. Maybe together we can change the world.

On to your question. The short answer is no, it’s not clear. This is a very complicated question filled with aspects that I don’t feel qualified to deal with, and email is an awkward medium for. But lets clarify a few things.

There are three relevant commandments:

1. Know there is a God. #25 in Sefer HaChinuch
2. To Listen to the prophet speaking in His name. # 516
3. Act in accordance with the Great Sanhedrin. # 495 (#496 would also be relevant)


I’m not sure what you mean be “considered a Torah true Jew”. Considered by God? Considered by the frum velt? Rambam’s books were burned. Ramchal’s seforim were buried. Many gedolim held beliefs that were considered wrong or even dangerous, or even sometimes heretical. Recently a rabbi wrote some books that had viewpoints that the present gedolim didn’t like and his books were banned. Yet every one of his statements could be backed up by Rishonim. He’s branded a heritic but based in Chazal. “Considered a Torah true Jew” to other Jews leaves too much open to debate. So I’m going to assume what you mean is “What beliefs does the Torah obligate me to have?”


Our tradition is based on the truth of the Torah, so it would seem that without belief that the Torah is true we can’t have the religion at all. The Torah commands belief in God, but not specifically the Torah. Yet if you don’t already believe in the Torah, then you aren’t commanded to believe in anything. Therefore while not a specific commandment to believe in the Torah, belief in the Torah is a prerequisite. You can’t command it, yet it is a prerequisite. That the Torah is still in tact is also a prerequisite, not a commandment. Yet there is a commandment to listen to the Prophets which may include all of the written law. The Oral tradition seems to follow the same line. That the Mishna and the Talmud are the definition of the Oral law and without adherence to them we don’t have Judaism. Since the Oral tradition is partly in the hands of the sages, it also falls under the commandment to listen to the sages.

The main question seems to be what are the parameters of the commandment to listen to the sages. Is it only the Sandhedrin? Is it the sages in each generation? And if there is a debate amongst the sages how far to take the commandment whose opinion do you follow? We have an obligation to follow the psak of our “Rabbi” but does that include his psak on hashkafah? Can you poskin hashkafah? You sent me a sheilah, are you obligated to listen to my answer? These questions involve the area of psak halacha and are also the subject of debate. We can’t deal with Psak Halacha in one email.

Hashkafot in general that come from the Torah are sometimes debated and therefore we are at a loss to decide which hashkafot we are obligated in. Maimonides wrote up a list of 13 principles of Jewish thought. Are we obligated to accept them? They are in the Artscroll Siddur. Does that imply a psak? Duties of the Heart lists commandments of belief and attitude. Are they psak? This area of Judaism is not clear and if you find a Rav who has clarity on it, do you have to listen to him? I am leaving these questions open.

One thing is for sure, Medrash in general is homiletic and therefore open to interpretation. You can’t be bound to something that is not always taken literally. Therefore what age Rivkah was can’t be obligated as a belief. What Rashi means or the Medrash means by Avraham’s not seeing Sarah is open to interpretation. He loved her, was married to her, and presumably complimented her on her looks, her dress etc. But he may not have looked at her through the eyes of inappropriate pagans. Once he looked at her through their eyes he realized that they would be very attracted to her. This brings out another point, which is that when dealing with Medrash on the Torah, by not accepting the simple explanation, you may actually be giving the Torah more respect and your questions may lead to a deeper understanding. Isn’t that what study is all about? We encourage our children to ask questions at the Seder hoping they’ll never stop. If you accept something blindly your understanding stops there.

We seem to be bound by the halachic aspects of the Talmud, but there are homiletic parts called aggadta that are in the same category as Medrash. You can’t be bound by them either. Unless all the commentaries are in agreement as to how to interpret a passage or a Medrash, you are free to say, “I’m not sure I understand this correctly. It seems that a frog the size of Manhattan jumping through Egypt might be a metaphor, and not literal.”

In short the Torah obligates us to follow the Torah shebicsav and the Torah shebalpeh. (Unless the issue is clearly avodah zarah, even if it is potentially heretical it is between you and God. Duties of the heart says most frum Jews are unwitting pantheists.) We are encouraged to have emunas chachamim, and trust that the gedolim are honest, and the mesorah was in tact up until the time of the Rishonim. Therefore if all the Rishonim agree on an explanation of the Talmud or Medrash we should accept their interpretation. For halacha it is clear that we follow their opinion. For hashkafah there is often debate and it isn’t clear whose opinion to follow. Most of the time it there are no practical consequences. You have every right to side with a particular opinion who is a recognized sage. (However, you might be put in cherem if you print it in a book.)

Regarding your feeling of being uncomfortable with something. You never have to accept something that makes you uncomfortable in the way you mean it. Always try to articulate what is bothering you. That’s part of Machkim es Rabo, one of the 48 Things from the 6th Chapter, 6th Mishna of Pirkey Avot. You may have an obligation to say, “I’m not clear on what this means.” “I find this hard to understand.” And you should badger teachers and Rabbis until someone can explain it to you in a way that sits right with you. However, many great sages had questions that made them “uncomfortable” for years. We don’t always get an answer, but we go to the grave trying.

Thanks again for your question.

Max Weiman
Kabbalah Made Easy, Inc.

Are We Advocating Pick and Choose Torah to Fit One’s Needs?

A friend recently wrote in pointing out that comments of the form “it depends which Rabbi or neighborhood you live” pop up recurringly on Beyond BT. This could easily lead to picking a Torah that fits us, instead of changing ourselves to fit the Torah.

While most us us do recognize that there are multiple paths within Torah, we certainly don’t advocate molding Judaism to fit ones needs.

How do you view this issue?

Can the the expression of multiple opinions here mislead newly observant Jews into believing that a BT can tailor Orthodoxy to fit their needs?

If it is a problem, any suggestions on how to deal with it?

There’s No Going Back

In the beginning of the BT journey, it’s easy to feel on fire, excited about what is ahead, determined to plow ahead no matter the obstacles. Then, as the years unfold and the children start coming, and growing, and requiring more money than we can fathom for their stellar yeshiva education, I would presume that most BT’s have a few conversations like the one I had the other day with a friend.

My friend, we’ll call her, “Tina”, and I were commiserating about the new bill for rising yeshiva tuition, the increasing property taxes for the community we live in, and the ever-rising price of kosher food, insurance, clothing, and all other needs, combined with both of us worried about husbands employed in very volatile jobs. It’s easy to joke about pulling the kids out of yeshiva and sending them to public school, or selling our homes and moving to a place in the country where housing is a fraction of the cost. We can pretend this is a viable solution in a moment of panic, but both of us know the truth – we are way too far down the path to ever turn back. No one ever said it would be easy. Sometimes, it feels much harder than we ever imagined it would be, but she and I have been frum for a decade or so, and the option of chucking it all and moving to an inexpensive community with kids in public school, is as much an option for either one of us as donning a nun’s habit and joining the cloisters.

A few days ago I had a “kitchen accident” that was, in its own way, a strong metaphor for this conversation. I was cooking some meat and I placed it in an ovenproof glass pan and roasted the meat for a few moments at 450 degrees.

I opened the oven door and with my oven mitts, pulled the pan out of the oven to check the meat. Within a few seconds, the pan exploded. With a loud boom, the glass pan, apparently unhappy about the transition from the hot oven to the room temp of my kitchen, shattered into thousands of pieces of glass – all over my kitchen, the oven, and me. There are no words to describe the mess it created (and I’m an author by profession!) It was just awful. Meat was intertwined with glass, meat gravy was splattered all over my nearby fridge and my clothing, and my kitchen floor was now coated in tiny pieces of glass.

Apparently, my “ovenproof” pan was not a good candidate for the oven, after all.

It took me hours to clean up the mess. It is now, as I am writing this column that it occurs to me that it serves as an excellent metaphor for the “no going back” statement. I could just as soon put my kids in public school and move to Hobunkville, as I could separate out the meat from the glass and serve it for dinner. It’s not happening. It’s too late. There’s no going back.

My husband and I daven every day that Hashem will continue to give us the means for providing for our family, so that our children should grow up to be under the chuppah, then B’ezras Hashem, become parents themselves, so that they can have the same conversation with their frum friends: “How are we going to do it?”

It’s a much better question than, “Should we do it?”

Syndicated newspaper advice columnist and author of twelve books, Azriela Jaffe is an international expert on entrepreneurial couples, business partnerships, handling rejection and criticism, balancing work and family, breadwinner wife and dual career issues, creating more luck and prosperity in your life, and resolving marital conflict. Her mission: “To be a catalyst for spiritual growth and comfort. Visit her web site here.

ShirHaLev.Com – Free Jewish Songs and Jewish Music was created to help Jews learn songs and therefore help increase their enjoyment of Shabbos, holidays and many other occasions.

There’s lots of material there. And it’s all free.

You can even submit your own songs following these guidelines:

The recordings should be 1 male singing, no instruments, not too fast and clearly and accurately pronounced. Once received, we will go through them and decide to put them up or not.

Definitely worth checking out.

Should We Give Up the Dog or the Apartment?

By Ellen

Peleg and I have a dilemma, and we’re asking the Beyond BT community for their input.

Last September I was approaching my car after work, and I noticed a dog romping around, unattached (to a leash) and without a collar and name tag. An old childhood fantasy suddenly reared its head, and I found myself wishing there was no owner and I could take it home. My mother, a Holocaust survivor who had hidden in an oven deep into a wall, had miraculously been spared by a Nazi’s search dog’s search into the oven, and like the dogs in Egypt who remained silent as the Children of Israel escaped, this dog, too, emerged from the oven without so much as a “yip”.

Nevertheless, she remained frightened of dogs all her life and we remained dog-less. The woman whom the dog trotted over to begged me to take the dog home to “foster” since she already owned 2 dogs and she worried that this homeless creature would end up in a “kill pound”. She promised she’d try to find it a permanent home. So I ambivalently accepted the leash, doggie toy, and food she gave me, and I took it home.

Surprisingly, not only was my husband accepting of its temporary presence, he grew so attached to her that we ended up adopting her. Our frum landlord said nothing since there was nothing in the lease saying we couldn’t have pets, but it became clear that not only did they disapprove of the dog, most of our frum neighbors in our Brooklyn neighborhood were at worst scared to death, and at best, somewhat askance at their new neighbor, named Twinkie (Yiddish name Twinkel). The kids were intrigued with her, and some even ventured to pet her. We checked out in our sefer regarding hilchos Shabbos (Shmiras Shabbos by Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth) that dogs could be walked even outside an eruv on Shabbos (without the name tag), although cleaning up after her is a problem because we’d have to carry the bag (and its contents). To resolve this issue, my husband goes out after Shabbos and cleans it up.

Now the dilemma: yesterday the landlord came to renew the lease that was up, and was willing to keep the current rent in place, BUT, we have to get rid of the dog, no ifs, ands, or buts. The reason given was her barking whenever anyone enters our two-family house (we’re on the first floor and the landlord is on the second). When I called today to ask if we found a way to get her to stop barking (dog obedience school or something) (he’d never heard of such a concept) he said he’d speak to his brother-in-law (co-owner of the house) and get back to me. Later I ran into the owners’ mother-in-law, who actually lives in the house (the landlords do not), and I proposed the same to her. She hemmed and hawed, kept blaming the dog-ban on complaining neighbors, and then finally blurted out that she was embarrassed to have a dog in the house, that everyone that comes to the house (and gets barked at from behind closed doors) says to her: “You have a dog in the house? Why do you let them?” She continued with FFB finality: “WE (as in REAL frum Jews) don’t have such things, dogs, cats…” When I told her in Europe many Jews owned dogs and cats, she shrugged. I, of course, felt relegated 30 years backwards to BTland, too “prost” to be considered part of the mainstream (B”H my kids are married, otherwise they could never get a shidduch).

So what’s the word out there? Am I halachically out of line? Minhagly out of line? Do we get rid of Twinkie and stay in the apartment? Or do we keep her and take ourselves “chutz la’machaneh” (which translates to an apartment building where pets are allowed, in a reasonably frum neighborhood) but we’ll have to pack all over again and leave some friends behind (which translates to a few blocks away)? Am I now a goy?

Please help. We have to have an answer in a week and a half!

Applying Metrics to Increased Observance

The past several months I have been taking some intensive classes for my job. I’m working on Black Belt level certification for Lean Six Sigma (LSS). It’s not some new form of Karate, it’s a process improvement methodology. (

One of the principles involved in LSS is that you can’t tell if your process is improving if you don’t have a way to measure it. (The cover of our text book states “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it!”) In fact, that’s one of my LSS projects for my job. My office will be undergoing major changes in the next few years, and we know we’ll be losing people. I’ve developed a way to capture a measurement of skill levels in the workforce currently, and we’ll be making measurements periodically to see if we are losing skills, or if we have enough skills in reserve so when we lose people, we’ll still be able to continue our function.

So what does all this have to do with BeyondBT? In my classes we’ve discussed different metrics to measure for different situations. So I’ve been wondering… are there metrics I can use to measure my growth in increased levels of observance? I can think of various elements, such as now keeping completely kosher, being Shomer Shabbos, etc. But for the most parts they are either/or. I’m doing it or I’m not doing it. (although I did build my way up to them in some cases) Maybe learning? Learning X amount of material one year, Y amount the next year.

Ultimately though, I couldn’t come up with a satisfactory metric to measure this. At least not so far. The closest I’ve been able to come is the feeling in my heart… feeling closer to Hashem, closer to Judaism, closer to feeling “right.” However, none of those are
measurable by any yardstick I’m familiar with. Maybe some things just aren’t meant to be measured; as measurements result in cold, hard numbers, rather than more subjective results. Still, if you have any thoughts on metrics, I’d like to hear them.

Under the Radar Ways to Contribute to Your Shul

From Shua

~ In many shuls hundreds of siddurim are taken from the shelves on Friday night and, despite pleas to the contrary by the gabbai, are not returned. On Shabbos morning arrive early and return some of them.

~ The electricity bill is usually onerous, yet people often leave shul lights on. Shut the lights off when they are unnecessarily on and wasting money.

~ After daily post-Shacharis libations, many people leave their dirty plates and cups for someone else to clean up. Clean them up when you see them.

From Nathan

~ don’t talk unnecessarily

~ arrive early, not late

~ do not bring disruptive young children

~ don’t litter

~ keep the bathroom and your hands clean

A Challenge to Religious Liberals

By David Klinghoffer

Over at the interesting website Beyond Teshuva, devoted to issues raised by Jews returning from secularism to Judaism, Kressel Housman comes “out of the closet” as…a liberal. As someone “raised on liberal values,” she reflects:

I know liberalism is unpopular in frum [religious] circles, and I know there are good reasons for it. Israel is number one, of course, but then there are matters like abortion and gay marriage.

I salute the author for being open, and for giving me an occasion to formulate Klinghoffer’s Law, based on my experience of hearing many people’s personal stories:

Jews who return to Jewish tradition often become more politically conservative, sometimes stay as they were, but almost never become more liberal. This is a strong indication that the natural political stance of a believing Jew is conservative, not liberal.

I suspect a similar dynamic could be identified among Christians who have experienced a renewal of or return to faith. I bet it’s also true of Reform and Conservative Jews who were previously less committed. If true, this poses a major challenge to liberals who see their religion as supportive of their politics.

Think I’m wrong? Let’s put it to a test. I invite readers, Jewish and Christian, to share their own experience. Did your spiritual recommitment translate into changed political views?

If so, how? My hunch is that we will find few if any cases where religious involvement translated into a leftward movement across the political spectrum, but many cases where it translated into enhanced conservatism. Again, if you think I’m wrong, and if you think you can prove it — not with insults, please, but with examples — go right ahead.

If your experience fits my proposed Law, please also let me know.

In my own memoir about teshuva, or spiritual return, The Lord Will Gather Me In, the political element was among the most controversial. My current book, How Would God Vote?, goes into detail about why Torah’s politics are so conservative.

The argument in a nutshell is that conservative views on a variety of issues (though not all) are linked by a common insistence on personal responsibility, an emphasis that pervades Torah, especially as understood by the great modern Orthodox sage, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.

Originally published on BeliefNet.Com.

Is There Anything Wrong With Not Being Active in Shul Affairs?

Dear Beyond BT

I’ve been frum for over 16 years and I’ve noticed that the most people in Shuls do not get involved in a significant way.

It’s certainly admirable to donate your time to communal affairs, but if a person decides he’d rather allocate his time differently, why do some people have a complaint against him for not getting involved.

If a person pays his dues, is there anything wrong with being a passive Shul member.


Ayelet Waldman and Me – or – Dear Lord….Do Not Bring me to Challenges and Ordeals.

My Toughest Jewish Moment.

In my other life—when I’m not being Anxious Ima, I’m a freelance journalist and it isn’t an easy road. Good writing gigs are hard to come by so it was with great delight that I snagged one — interviewing Ayelet Waldman for a top national webzine.

I didn’t know much about Waldman, just that she was a home girl, married to Pulitzer prize winner novelist Michael Chabon and that she’d written a new essay collection intrigningly titled called “ Bad Mother, A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. ” Anxious Ima meets Bad Mother. It sounded so perfect that I got goose bumps just thinking about it.

I emailed the publicist for an advance copy—for free, a journalistic perk and embarked on what started out as a fun, easy read.. Waldman has a good message, that mothers should give up on judging themselves, an engaging style and a wicked sense of humor. Several of the chapters are gems . My personal favorite was the one detailing her nearly superhuman efforts to express breast milk for her newborn cleft palate baby.

Another chapter explores Waldman’s own handicap, hereditary bipolar disorder and its role in her wrenching decision to abort a possibly deformed infant. I know that she’s taken a lot of flack for that, but I wasn’t troubled. In my halachic mind, I sensed ample grounds for a heter, though Waldman didn’t seek one out (she probably never even heard of that option) chosing instead , to confess her “sin” publicly before her reform (Jewish) congregation on Yom Kippur. To my orthodox mind, that was somewhat misguided, a bit odd but not enough reason to make me wish the book had never been published.

It was when Waldman veered into the area of sexuality that I started to wish that censorship would come back into style. True, Waldman lives in Berkeley, not Meah Shearim, but am I the only one out there who thinks that placing a bag of colorful birth control devices in a preteen boy’s medicine cabinet is over the top? And when Waldman gushed about how delighted she would be if one or both of her sons turned out to be homosexual I was about ready to empty the contents of my lunch onto the book.

With gay marriages rapidly becoming legal all over the US map is this the new normal,? I certainly hope not and it certainly isn’t for us orthodox Jews who take their cue from Leviticus 18:22.
Now I had a dilemma. How in the world was I supposed to interview someone who wrote stuff that went against my deepest core values?

I could called Waldman on what I saw as her garbage, but the publication was so left-liberal that raising the red flag of protest, would have most likely resulted in a rejection for my piece. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the risk of alienating this publication. They had given me the best gig I’d gotten the whole year, perhaps in my whole writing life. Wasn’t there a way to do this job and be true to myself and G-d.

A local Rov suggested that I focus on Waldman’s good parts and ignore the bad but I heard a reluctance in his tone, that he didn’t feel good about his advice.

I thought about following his advice and somehow finessing the interview but it just seemed like a whitewash, not the kind of journalism I wanted to do. I wanted to be real but how. Waldman’s book had unleashed an existential crisis in me, the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since I was a teen. With grey hairs and wrinkles sprouting each day, I stood in the mirror and asked myself who I really was,—a Yiddishe Mama with a sheitel and black hatted sons in yeshiva or a media hipster? Could I be both? For years, for years I told myself that I could. Now, I was no longer sure it was possible.

With the deadline looming near, I consulted another Rav, a son and nephew of gedolim, sages, who has known me and my family well for years.

“This book espouses views that are anti Torah. Why do you want to have anything to do with it,” he asked. His words got to me, I think because he said them so softly, lovingly without even a drop of condemnation.

Yes of course he is right, I thought feeling that brief flush of joy that our wise men say comes with the resolution of doubts. Then, before I could change my mind, I sent out two emails, one to the publication and the other to Ayelet signing off. No explanation. I couldn’t imagine that any explanation I could give would make any sense to them.

And now I see that the book getting good press all over the media. When I read the reviews my heart sinks a little. No one seems to notice what I noticed.

I’m alone here, like Abraham the Patriarch, looking on from the opposite side of the river with a tear in my eye for Waldman, a talented Jewish woman so far away from her essential soul that she can take a public stand against her Creator without even realizing that she’s done something wrong.