Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

Aren’t We Supposed to Question?

Posted on | March 1, 2011 | By Bracha Goetz | 54 Comments

We had a bunch of guests over for Shabbos lunch. This was on a summer afternoon, just a couple of years ago. Since my husband hadn’t returned yet from shul, everyone was passing the time in the living room, waiting. There was a relatively new guest, David, seated on the couch, who had only just started coming to us to experience Shabbos. Sitting on chairs across from him, was a couple who had become Orthodox about fifteen years ago, and a few others guests were milling about too.

The couple was discussing something about what the rabbi had said in shul, and David piped in with a question about what the rabbi said. I don’t even remember anymore what the actual topic was. All that I remember vividly is the brief exchange that transpired next.

The wife stated very emphatically that one must never question a Rav. David responded very innocently that he thought that Judaism was a religion that welcomed questions, so rabbis would welcome being questioned. “Aren’t we supposed to question?” he asked, and a stiff silence followed. Nobody responded to David. Not even me. I just didn’t know what to say then. Another guest must have changed the subject, thank G-d, and the conversation in our living room shifted somewhere else. But David’s comment had scooped me up out of the living room, and it got me sailing back through time.

Back to an innocent time of questioning. Over thirty years ago, the wonderful Orthodox rabbis that we discovered – or that discovered us – encouraged the questioning of everything. They taught us that Judaism was all about questioning, and then questioning more, until you reached greater and greater levels of clarity. Keep asking until you find emes, we learned, within the Torah and within yourself. And we thrived on this – this freedom to examine and sift for absolute truth.

No stuffing dogmas down our throats – as in other religions, we learned. No more unconsciously accepting assumptions – as in the subliminally anti-religious mind-sets we hadn’t even realized we’d adopted. Develop delving skills, sift for truth! We were so thrilled to see that the way to study Torah was through questioning. It was open for genuine exploration, earnest close examination, and so were its welcoming teachers.

We loved discovering that wise people learned from everyone. And even though the rabbis and rebbetzins who taught us, had so much more Torah knowledge than we had, they let us know that through our questions, they were gaining new and refreshed perspectives on just about everything. They really helped us understand that we were expanding and deepening their wisdom through our challenging inquiries.

Then I was jolted back to the present. When did the encouragement of questioning stop?

And why don’t we feel safe anymore to question?

I’ve been trying to figure that out ever since.

It no longer tastes like the Torah we were first offered, when those with clout invalidate sincere questioning by dismissing it as being presumptuous.When people only feel unafraid to voice their doubts and questions as anonymous comments on frum blogs, we can be grateful for these opportunities for suppressed voices to be heard, but it also highlights that a fear of speaking up is prevalent. Instead of feeling threatened by these anonymous comments, and seeking to forbid them by imposing bans on these venues, we need more leaders who can garner genuine respect by encouraging as much open questioning as possible. Then they too can actually benefit from the perspectives and challenges presented.

Critical feedback is needed by all of us, if we really want to improve. The man recently caught on video kissing a mezuzah before stealing from a store, can serve as a kind of ridiculous caricature to keep in mind of how far off the derech we have gone, with plenty of our extra stringencies or just mere cultural trappings covering up – from others and even from ourselves – our inner spiritual lacking.

Painful experiences have taught us to fear communal reprisal, arrogant attacks from those who wield power, and mafia-like intimidation tactics within our midst. We discovered that our leaders made decisions based on financial backing and political favors, instead of on pure spiritual motivations. And we found out that this has been going on unquestioned. As we learned a little more Torah that we hadn’t initially been taught, we also came to understand that in the hands of unscrupulous people, Torah can be misused as a deadly poison (Yoma 72b).

Thank G-d, this isn’t supposed to be the religion that promotes viewing its leaders as infallible or even unapproachable. Throughout Jewish history, there has been an ebb and flow of leaders who became mired down by corruption. Power corrupts, and the Torah emphasizes concern, in reference to a Jewish ruler “lest his heart become haughty over his brethren” (Devarim 17:20). The ruling elite can too easily come to place its own preservation above all else, if left unchecked.

Nearly every day I hear from a baal teshuva who has become disgusted by an excessive focus on the superficial aspects of frumkeit at the expense of the intrinsically meaningful aspects that initially drew the individual to yiddishkeit. They describe their disillusionment with the stress on the façade and on sheer phoniness in place of underlying true moral behavior. Many of those who have been burnt by the corruption that has become entrenched, have been slinking away, but that’s exactly what intimidators are trying to achieve.

The ones whose eyes have been opened and the ones whose hearts are full of essential questions, could be just the ones needed most to help us all return to more pure practice.

Yes, we are supposed to question, alright.

Hope you’ll come back someday, David, along with everyone else who left, disillusioned. I’m sorry it took so long for me to have the clarity to answer. Your question really helped.

Originally posted here.
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Comments

54 Responses to “Aren’t We Supposed to Question?”

  1. Shira
    March 1st, 2011 @ 9:22 am

    I really wonder if anyone knows how many leave Orthodoxy after experiencing what you describe? Does any institution keep track of that? If the number were large, and kiruv organizations didn’t track it, they might think they are being successful, but could the attrition rate actually show otherwise? If a large enough number are leaving, and it became known, then perhaps kiruv tactics would actually be changed.

  2. Bob Miller
    March 1st, 2011 @ 10:23 am

    We’re often tempted to think we have now arrived and can settle into a routine. In fact, the process of seeking never ends. A Jew who is newly committed to Orthodoxy (this can be a BT or FFB!) will encounter people and situations that don’t look right. We need to maintain the faith that if we continue to look hard enough for long enough, we’ll find better people (more committed, less superficial…) and better situations.

    Rabbis and other Jews are not always as advertised, or as they would like to be thought of, or as they think themselves to be. This is just a fact about people. Our job is to strive for emes and associate as much as possible with others who do likewise.

    We have to combine reverence for Torah authority with a realization that, in our era particularly, some authorities we encounter might not measure up to our expectations. However, other authorities meet and exceed our expectations. They can be found but not always easily or quickly.

  3. Alex
    March 1st, 2011 @ 10:31 am

    Kiruv “tactics” … !?!
    Would you describe advice on maintaining shalom bayis as “tactics”?
    The problem with kiruv is that it’s a game
    An ego game
    With tactics and strategy and winners
    and losers
    And just like history
    the losers are forgotten
    In a real relationship
    Which kiruv ought to be
    As the term “kiruv” would seem to imply
    you don’t focus on “tactics”
    you are emotionally committed
    for the long term
    through whatever decisions the other makes.
    A small number of kiruv “targets” are leaving
    Some are leaving their families
    Some are just leaving
    Due to questions, corruption, disillusionment
    But even more have decided to stop questioning
    Most want to forget everything they used to know and believe
    To pretend to be someone else, to start over
    To do whatever it takes to be “accepted”
    And to ensure that their kids are “accepted”
    And if such a person stays “frum”
    By mimicking the externals and staying quiet
    Then this is a kiruv failure of a much greater magnitude.

  4. Shira
    March 1st, 2011 @ 10:41 am

    That’s true as well.

  5. Bob Miller
    March 1st, 2011 @ 10:58 am

    Every campaign to accomplish something needs strategy and tactics. Those aren’t dirty words somehow. The strategy and tactics should not be misleading (except to the enemy, which includes the yetzer hara!). Approaching every Jew as an individual is also a strategy, and sharing profound Torah thoughts is also a tactic.

  6. ross
    March 1st, 2011 @ 11:28 am

    I’m not a suspicious person by nature, but the words “tactics” and “strategy” conjure up pictures of manipulation for the sake of victory, (heh, heh…Ve must get heem to follow us…Ve vill succeed!)

    I wouldnt mind if people were discussing me behind closed doors in regards to helping me grow and doing what’s best for me, but if I heard people were discussing me behind closed doors regarding “tactics”, I would run for my life.

    It’s just vocabulary, but it means something.

  7. Alex
    March 1st, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

    “Every campaign to accomplish something needs strategy and tactics. … Approaching every Jew as an individual is also a strategy, and sharing profound Torah thoughts is also a tactic.”

    That is how to think if you want to manipulate people, not relate to them.. We use tactics to defeat the yetzer hara because we want to manipulate it, to defeat it — not to have a relationship with it.

    You want to “accomplish” something with people? You don’t use people to “accomplish” something. A “campaign” … ? What are you, a politician? You want everyone to vote for you? You want to convert everybody? All on behalf of God, of course. On your Crusade to Save the world from Irreligious Jews.

  8. DY
    March 1st, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

    as the world around us becomes more and more trite, frum society disintegrates too. things just don’t seem to matter any more to many people in ways that are significant, meaningful or life-transforming. it takes much more to get a positive “rise” in our lives today. effective inspiration has gone up in price in a market flooded with banal interactions. many people, even truly frum people, turned on the cruise long ago without realizing it. and when someone new comes along and rocks the boat with wide-eyed wonderment (let alone questions), it is annoying, disconcerting.

    ouch.

  9. shmuel
    March 1st, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

    In response to Bracha Goetz’s post, and unrelated to others’ posts about it, I am unfamiliar with her description of communal reprisals and intimidation so I cannot comment.

    But on the issue of whether one can or should question a rabbi, the question is of course yes. It is merely a question of how (of course respectfully) and when one does so. There also may be things that one wants to ask a rabbi but should actually ask someone else (the new BT who is present for a shiur by a visiting rosh yeshiva should probably ask “what is ma’aser sheini” to one of his friends rather than the rosh yeshiva himself).

    Equally important in my view is the example from the story of how NOT to act –whether around someone who is starting to become interested in Torah or anyone else. Who appointed the wife referred to in Bracha Goetz’s story a guardian of doctrinal and behavioral purity? Who even told her that she knew enough to do so? And who told her there is ever an excuse for rudeness?

    Even if she knew what she was talking about, there is a time to be quiet, and there is a time to say: “Interesting. A different perspective that I’ve learned is…” Correcting someone publicly rarely is effective especially if done by someone NOT in any position of respect or authority.

  10. Bob Miller
    March 1st, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

    I notice that some are too sensitive to abide words with military overtones like “campaign”, “strategy”, “tactics”, or “accomplishment”. Evidently, with the right euphemisms or evasions to cloak our serious intent to spread Yiddishkeit, we’d be sure to succeed (but are seriousness and success objectionable, too?)

  11. Alex
    March 1st, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

    The military terms are completely at odds with the ahavas yisroel that is a prerequisite to kiruv.

    I do not agree with the stated objective “to succeed” at “spreading Yiddishkeit”.

  12. Bob Miller
    March 1st, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

    I respectfully disagree.

  13. Mark Frankel
    March 1st, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

    Alex,

    How would you phrase the objective we should have individually or as a community in regards to our fellow Jews?

    Do you think we should have any objectives?

    Do you think that the teachings of the Written and Oral Torah include helping our co-religionists get closer to G-d via observance of the Torah?

  14. Shades of Gray
    March 1st, 2011 @ 3:55 pm

    I think the issue is trying to share what you have, versus any other motivation. The former is not objectionable, if it comes from a position of humility vis a via the other person.

    Re. “tactic”, it’s defined as “a device for accomplishing an end” or “a method of employing forces in combat”. R. Yitzchok Lowenbraun of AJOP mentions the word “tactic” in connection with kiruv(see link below), but it is in description of a decidely unmilitary approach:

    “The tactics that work in kiruv work everywhere. It begins with love and unconditional acceptance. It requires being open to questions and making it safe to ask anything. Observe, askanim who are most successful with “at-risk” kids are invariably the ones who are most accepting and least judgemental of the troubled youth they work with”

    http://matzav.com/what-yiddishkeit-means-to-you

  15. ross
    March 1st, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

    Love and unconditional acceptance are not devices for accomplishing an end. It is an end. Because even without objectives, or even if I see I’m not accomplishing my goal, there should be love and unconditional acceptance anyway. It’s just that I hope it will lead to others coming close to Yiddishkeit, and it may in most cases…but that’s not why I’m doing it. If it is and it fails, I drop the love, saying, Oh, well, it didn’t work?
    Once you make it into a tactic, it’s conditional.

  16. Menachem Lipkin
    March 1st, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

    In many segments of orthodox Judaism there is growing philosophy of infallible leadership. This has had a chilling affect on people’s sense of independence and freedom to question. My impression is that more and more new BT “recruits” are given the illusion that they are free to question, but if they are “mainstreamed” into one of these restrictive environments they quickly co-opt a new straight-jacketed mentality.

  17. Steve Brizel
    March 1st, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

    What a tragic and unfortunately too common story. The notion that one cannot be either a BT or FFB by passively and robotically accepting everything in a Pavlovian manner should be rejected as contrary to the fact that Torah learning and observance is predicated on actively being engaged with the Mesorah of Torah Shebicsav and TSBP via Limud HaTorah which by its very definition, requires and is predicated on questionning. We should never forget that R Yochanan never recovered from the tragic loss of Resh Lakish, his Talmid Chaver and Baal Plugtga on every page of Shas.

  18. Steve Brizel
    March 1st, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

    I would suggest that gauging “success” in Kiruv does not necessarily mean that someone suddenly shifts gears from being totally assimilated in terms of one’s lifestyle and carreer to learning 24/7 in a Kollel or the equivalent. I think that a person’s religious growth is dependent on the Bchirah Chofshsis of any potential BT, and how much progress he or she makes at the many stops, both horizontal and vertical, in becoming a Torah observant Jew, regardless of the hashkafic orientation. I once heard R Frand emphasize that neither Kiruv groups or individuals involved in kiruv efforts should keep a list on their belts and brag that so and so is now a BT because of my efforts.

  19. Steve Brizel
    March 1st, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

    As a follow up, I would like to point out that just as Rashi, Ramban and other Rishonim never hesitate to say “I don’t know”, when someone asks a question that poses either a hashkafic or halachic difficulty or requires a detailed and thought out answer, there is absolutely nothing wrong in saying “that’s a great question-can I get back to you with a properly thought out approach?” as opposed to parroting an answer that raises more questions than it purportedly answers.

  20. Martin Fleischer
    March 1st, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

    Questioning is the only way you learn! I know that, when I started out on this path many years ago, I thought that whatever was in the Torah is it, done done done! But, while the Torah is our guidebook, it is encouraged (or should be) that you make your own FAQ page for whatever it is you don’t understand, or how what is in the Torah can fit any situation you are in, or want to know more about. I have learned that if you give an answer of “that’s the way it is..you have to accept it” without explaining anything (if you can explain it), you will lose that person, or at the very least, have that person cast doubts on being Frum. If you don’t have the answer, you could do some research on it, or discuss it with a Rav or Rebbe.

  21. Shira
    March 1st, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

    Steve Brizel,
    Sometimes there isn’t any answer, however. I never encountered anyone who didn’t want me to ask questions. But I definitely had my ego stroked for certain sorts of questions, and was discouraged from asking other sorts of questions. Rabbi Steinsaltz in “Teshuvah” wrote it out so I could understand it better. He wrote that questions of Judaism that stem from a worldview outside of Judaism, simply can’t be answered satisfactorily. The ethics of both systems are incompatible. So many of the questions I asked, to which others said, “I don’t know the answer” or “Let me go find out” were unanswerable. And I never felt like anyone was giving me anything to work with. No one, until I read this book, explained it this way. But anyways, there are questions where there are no answers, and people should be honest and say that, rather then rationalizing an answer… or coming up with an answer that pre-supposes belief in God. It all seemed like cyclical reasoning to me.

    The answer, Rav Steinsaltz wrote, is to learn more, about everything, and the learning shifts one’s worldview, and eventually those big unanswerable questions become less concerning and eventually aren’t worrisome at all. He doesn’t suggest addressing them specifically. And, I can see now that he is right. Although, I can’t tell if its a spiritual reality, or a psychological reality. The more you learn about Adam and Eve, the easier it is to think about Creationism as true… but that might just be a matter of getting ‘used’ to the idea. We tend to absorb the ideas that we are surrounded with. I’m still confused about that.

    Whatever the mechanism… Steinsaltz is right, I believe. There were no answers to my question of why Amalek’s genocide was okay, but genocide against the Jews was wrong. “My God said so” never cut it with me.

  22. Shira
    March 1st, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

    Martin,
    Sometimes the person is struggling with a halachic question, and the person they ask is only willing to give halachic answers. So, they are told not to attend the wedding of their sibling to a non-Jew, and told how to smooth things over if it ends up badly. But what if that person just wanted to go… but doesn’t feel it would be a legitimate choice. I’ve learned recently that people who are long-time frum or FFB, have a convenient blind eye, and often don’t ask questions (just do what they want) if they don’t want to know the actual halachah because it won’t suit them. BT’s don’t know how to do that, I guess.

    Has a Rabbi ever told someone who asked how much to daven to daven nothing? Or told a couple who want to observe Taharas Mishpacha to not observe certain areas of it? Or to not keep kosher? Or told a woman asking about hair covering not to cover her hair?

    When people told me to ‘slow down,’ no one explained what that meant. No one said it was legitimate to do less in order to do more in the future. No one let me know it was okay to back up and do less than I was. No one explained, beyond halacha, how to become BT in a healthy way. And I’ve recently read a series of books for BT’s, guides to help them get through it in a healthy way, and each book stressed that BT’s should not loose themselves, should maintain their interests and friends, etc… but only within the confines of halacha. As I read that last bit in each book’s advice, I was not happy. Steinsaltz’s book, Teshuva, is the only one I’ve read which didn’t stress that.

    There is an assumption that if a person asks about something halachic then they are looking for a halachic answer. But sometimes the right answer for a BT might be something that the halacha doesn’t allow at all… but the BT doesn’t know that they just shouldn’t ask if they aren’t ready for the answer. And then they feel obligated to the decision. Or that person doesn’t realize, after they get an answer that they know won’t work for them, that they can go back and ask for even less.

    I remember when my father was very exhausted a lot of the time. He had trouble with his davening, just staying upright and awake. He asked his rabbi, and was told that if he needed to, he should just lie down in bed and say the Amidah that way. I was full of disbelief. That was a really great rabbi.

  23. Gary
    March 1st, 2011 @ 11:50 pm

    Bracha,

    What was the type of question that was asked by David asked and dismissed by the other guest? Was it a matter of factual detail, hashkafah (outlook/orientation), ritual, halachah (Jewish law) or something else?

    I think that the permissiblity of questioning how Hashem’s world works is clear. Here is an excellent example of such activity right on this website: http://www.beyondbt.com/2007/01/09/do-i-need-to-reconcile-science-and-torah/

  24. ChanaLeah
    March 1st, 2011 @ 11:59 pm

    Just want to throw out a real-life question to BT parents — I was definitely caught off-guard and not knowing how to respond to this when it happened, some years ago…. How will you answer your son/daughter in middle school or high school, when they tell you their Rebbeim or teachers ignore or refuse to answer the students’ hashkafic questions?

  25. HaLeiVi
    March 2nd, 2011 @ 12:10 am

    With regard to Amalek: The main answer is, of course, that Hashem, their Maker, knows them through and through. Hashem told us to kill them out. There should be nothing illegal or immoral about listening to Hashem.

    The issue is that anyone can get up and announce, ‘my God told me so’! That is why, although we know that Judaism is the only real law that came from Hashem, we champion freedom of religion. Although any religious person believes that anyone practicing any other religion is practicing the wrong one, we all agree to the current setup of you-don’t-bother-me-I-don’t-bother-you.

    However, when it becomes obvious to all that Hashem is one and supreme there won’t be the need for allowing atheistic education anymore. When the existence of Hashem is a matter of undoubted fact, it is very reasonable to act out what He commands, even if it sounds too harsh.

    All this is only useful to those who actually believe in Hashem. The next question is, how do we face the outside world with it. For that it is worth mentioning that we don’t complain about people’s literature; we complain about their behavior. The only reason it is common today to point to violent passages in the Quran, is to point out how deeply rooted the violent behavior is. Had there not been a concept of Terrorism today, nobody would be pointing fingers to what it says in their literature.

    Another thing to realize is that we are mixing times and cultures and applying morals and circumstances wrongly. At that time, a war was not fought by a select few who were either drafted or signed up. All able bodies went out to fight. In the Sefer Hayashar it mentions even the woman of some of the nations fighting. Amalek was a group of warring people that were out to decimate us (as we’ve seen many years later).

    At the time it was commanded, it made complete sense. Today, it wouldn’t make sense to kill the inhabitants of a city who’s leadership went out against you. We are not commanded to kill today. Therefore this shouldn’t really be such a source of trouble.

  26. Charlie Hall
    March 2nd, 2011 @ 12:51 am

    “When did the encouragement of questioning stop?”

    For me, it never has, at least in my community. I could not imaging living somewhere where questioning was discouraged.

  27. Martin Fleischer
    March 2nd, 2011 @ 1:53 am

    Shira,

    I used to think that there were religious Jews or not…and all the Frum Jews were all one level, and had always been that. The concept of BT never occured to me at all many many years ago. It took me a while to realize how many levels of Frum people there really are…and that a lot of Frum people were not always Frum! Over the last 20+ years I have learned a lot.

    It is always encouraged to “go at your own pace” when it comes to becoming a BT. Some can do it “cold turkey”, but most of us have to do at a level that is most comfortable for them, even if it takes many, many years.

    Marty

  28. shmuel
    March 2nd, 2011 @ 10:10 am

    Chana Leah–

    your situation hasn’t happened to me yet, but I would approach it on two levels –(1) encouraging my child to approach or approaching with/for them (depending on age) our communal rabbi with their questions so that the questions get answered appropriately; (2) trying to understand by taking to the rebbe and/or school administration why the school rebbe won’t answer such questions and acting accordingly depending on the response.

  29. Shira
    March 2nd, 2011 @ 10:25 am

    HeLeiVi,
    I have problems with your answers to the Amalek question, but I don’t have time to go into it now, and its not relevant to the conversation. Amalek was an example of questions that don’t have good answers, or that are discouraged in subtle ways from being asked.
    It would be most honest for rabbi’s to say to some questions that there isn’t any answer that would make the problem moral by our standards. We have different morals today. It just can’t make sense to us. Rationalizations for why it was moral back then don’t seem to really help me. As a BT, I wanted to be a part of something good and moral, something better than what is out there, and God-sanctioned genocide didn’t seem like it was better at all. Its a real conundrum, and bet other people have worried about it too. If our religion glorified adultery, I would also have a problem with that, even if it didn’t apply in current times. I would question the validity of the whole system if some part seemed to be so immoral.

  30. Stephen H. Weiner
    March 2nd, 2011 @ 11:07 am

    My rabbi, Rabbi Nesanel Lerman of The Young Israel of Sunnyside (Queens), says publically and privately that questioning is welcomed. I have witnessed him living up to this with other shul members.

  31. Always a BT
    March 2nd, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

    There are so many insightful posts regarding this topic but #16 really nailed it for me. Too much emphasis is put on blindly following and not making waves, lest anyone think you are an apikoris.

    There are many factors in asking (or answering) questions.

    how the question is worded–does the person you have posed the question to really understand what you’re asking in the 1st place?
    is it asked in an attacking way or a respectful way
    what type of question i.e., philosophical or shailah
    to whom are you directing the question; some people adopt a “one shouldn’t question” approach when they are insecure in their own knowledge
    is the Rabbi a posek, educator, shul Rav, etc. which has an effect on the type of answer
    is the question being asked of someone capable of answering that type of question
    is the questioner a shomer mitzvot, interested in growth, just curious or just a rebel
    why is the person asking the question in the 1st place–some people ask questions just to ask–they are not really interested in hearing the answer
    some Rabbaim are better equipped than others to answer those who are searching or wavering
    does the Rav understand where the person is coming from; a good Rav will take that into account when answering a question

    This is just what immediately came to mind–I’m sure I could think of even more.

    I once asked someone (who did not know me) for clarification on something I heard in her shiur & the 1st thing she said was, “o.k., but something else is bothering you–what is it?”–I was amazed at her insight. She then proceeded to answer my question which turned into a discussion on a much bigger scale. I felt a lot better afterward.

    The bottom line is if you ask a question respectfully to someone equipped to answer and your motive is sincere, they will either answer or look further into it & get back to you. I have girls who go/went to haredi schools. Most of the teachers were products of the same system. The girls were discouraged from asking philosophical questions–it was seen as a sort of rebellion. Sometimes it was, but sometimes the girl just wanted insight. Unfortunately, it’s the kids in haredi schools who are wavering that get this “don’t ask questions” message the most. I think most educators in the haredi schools discourage questions b/c they CAN’T answer the difficult ones & they are afraid of giving a wavering teenager an answer that will send them OTD. What they don’t realize is that the kid may ALREADY be wavering & they are actually doing more damage than if they just said “I don’t know–I’ll have to look into it”.

  32. Always a BT
    March 2nd, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

    I think kids in MO schools are not discouraged from asking questions as much as in haredi schools.

    My girls got much more clarification on what they were learning when they went to seminary (& even more once they came home). We also encourage questions within the family & we often have philosophical discussions. I think it also helped my kids to hear about our BT journey b/c they see how important Yiddishkeit is to me & my husband & how we strive to grow.

  33. Steve Mantz
    March 2nd, 2011 @ 12:50 pm

    I really don’t think one should ever tell someone that they “can’t ” question something. let the Rebbeim do that if necessary. in a personal conversation, the appropriate thing to do is to answer the person’s question. you can answer firmly if you want. but your answer should relate to the topic of the person’s question. not to some external dogma which barely touches upon the actual topicc of what they were discussing. just my two cents. thanks.

    [Revision of earlier post; pls delete previous. thanks.]

  34. Life On A Cotton ball @ Blogger
    March 2nd, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

    It is a major problem that people are being educated not to ask. I can thank G-d that both my parents and my teachers in school throughout the years always encouraged asking questions. I am who I am today as a result of that ability. The being told not to ask questions is the cause of so many people ‘going off the derech’. it is something which must be fixed!

  35. ChanaLeah
    March 2nd, 2011 @ 11:16 pm

    “is the questioner a shomer mitzvot, interested in growth, just curious or just a rebel”
    Always: Good advice, I only take exception with this ….I don’t think it’s for us to decide what the motivations are of a Jew who questions. Sometimes hearing the right words can change a person’s direction, even if the inquiry wasn’t made in a perfect manner. I’m not sure if you meant to discredit the questions of someone who might be just curious or just a rebel.

  36. tzirelchana
    March 3rd, 2011 @ 4:27 am

    Bracha, great post. This is just what this website needs and Yiddishkeit as well. thank you for giving voice to what is in so many hearts. Best

  37. Bob Miller
    March 3rd, 2011 @ 9:11 am

    The people who try to stifle questioning would be better off providing good answers. Maybe part of the problem is that they “know” something but can’t express it properly, which means they need to upgrade their knowledge and presentation.

  38. Always a BT
    March 3rd, 2011 @ 11:22 am

    Chana Leah #35
    I am not saying to discredit the questioner, but the way one answers should be tailored to the person asking. I think that someone who is interested in growth should get a more detailed answer

  39. Mark Frankel
    March 3rd, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

    I think we need to look at three types of questions:

    1) A Shailoh/Question is a request for another point of information.

    2) A Kashe/Difficulty points out something untrue or unpleasant in a statement or idea.

    3) A Steirah/Contradiction disproves a statement and totally disproves it.

    Part of the problem that Rebbeim, teachers and lay people face in answering questions is from which perspective the questioner is coming from.

    Rabbi Orlofsky gave a shiur in Queens a few yers ago on how to answer questions. He gave some good examples, but I thought that some of his answers were just brush-offs. I ran into him at Mincha and I asked him why he gave brush-off answers to some of the questions. He told me that some questions require time to answer. His experience with non observant people was that after 5-10 minutes they really weren’t interested in the answer.

    If you pose, your question as a Shailoh, most people would answer it. When it’s posed as a Kashe or/a Steirah it starts becoming more of a statement then a question and people react to that.

  40. Steve Mantz
    March 3rd, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

    I feel that all of us have missed one extremely important part of this post which was further down, and which i feel should also be discussed. It is, namely:

    “Nearly every day I hear from a baal teshuva who has become disgusted by an excessive focus on the superficial aspects of frumkeit at the expense of the intrinsically meaningful aspects that initially drew the individual to yiddishkeit. They describe their disillusionment with the stress on the façade and on sheer phoniness in place of underlying true moral behavior. Many of those who have been burnt by the corruption that has become entrenched, have been slinking away, but that’s exactly what intimidators are trying to achieve.”

    I feel this is an issue of importance which we should try to address and to discuss here. I think it raises some very valid point. I especially we need to discuss whether an over-emphasis on appearance has led us to overlook some important issues and concerns which are on a somewhat more basic or more philosophical level.

  41. Bob Miller
    March 3rd, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

    When the person being questioned jumps to conclusions about the questioner’s motivations, because the questioner seems to fit some stereotype, that can start the process down the wrong road. It’s no sin to probe a little in a friendly way before answering.

  42. Bob Miller
    March 3rd, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

    Steve Mantz,

    People speak from their direct experience. Somehow or other, I, in my travels, have not encountered pervasive “facade/sheer phoniness/corruption/intimidation”. If some places are truly that way, BT’s may be best advised to live elsewhere.

  43. Steve Mantz
    March 3rd, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

    Bracha; this sentence of yours is extremely important. would you perhaps be willing to explain further? it would be good to be able to discuss this to some degree. thanks.

    Many of those who have been burnt by the corruption that has become entrenched, have been slinking away, but that’s exactly what intimidators are trying to achieve.

  44. Judy Resnick
    March 3rd, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

    A young Russian-Jewish woman once told me that she had been turned off from Judaism because in her yeshiva for Russian-Jewish children, they weren’t allowed to ask any questions. Now, that doesn’t sound right, but as I don’t have any further information about what happened to her as she was growing up (I didn’t push the topic any further) I have no idea as to what actually occurred in her school. Certainly kids have lots of curiosity about Judaism, particularly smart Russian-Jewish kids, so I can’t imagine how or why or what went on when kids asked questions.

    There’s an interesting story about HoRav Avigdor Miller, zatzal. Once, in his Bais Yisroel of Rugby shul in Brooklyn, there was a group of nonreligious Jewish kids who had been brought in to see him. Rav Miller specifically encouraged these kids to ask him questions: “Don’t pull any punches!” Right away, one of the kids boldly asked him,”How do we know there is a G-d?” Rabbi Miller excused himself and came back a few minutes later with…an apple. He then talked for about half an hour about how wondrous an apple really is, “cooked on the tree,” acquiring a luscious color and scent to attract an eater just at the moment of best flavor, with all the instructions for a new apple encoded inside its tiny seeds.

  45. Bracha Goetz
    March 4th, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

    Thank you, Steve Mantz, for highlighting that important part of my essay. Just one instance of the type of corruption to which I am referring can be found in Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz’s vital post this week on his site: http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/PYes/ArticleDetails.cfm?Book_ID=1440&ThisGroup_ID=238&Type=Article&SID=278. The title of his piece is “Stand with and Support Victims of Child Molesters – Silence Encourages the Oppressor, Never the Victim.” Many more signatures are needed to provide much-needed support to all those in our midst who have been oppressed. Change is possible, and BT’s are, B’H, creating a lot of the impetus to wipe out the corruption in our midst.

  46. Steve Brizel
    March 7th, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

    Mark Frankel wrote in part:

    “Rabbi Orlofsky gave a shiur in Queens a few yers ago on how to answer questions. He gave some good examples, but I thought that some of his answers were just brush-offs. I ran into him at Mincha and I asked him why he gave brush-off answers to some of the questions. He told me that some questions require time to answer. His experience with non observant people was that after 5-10 minutes they really weren’t interested in the answer.”

    I heard a similar talk by R Orlofsky when we were in EY for our grandson’s bris, and I had a similarly troubled reaction to R Orlofsky’s statement.

  47. Steve Mantz
    March 7th, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

    Bracha; thanks for your reply. however, is that all? i thought you would mention something which is more endemic or pervasive. such as materialism, over-emphasis on appearances, over-emphasis on status, etc etc. i understand your concerns on this issue of course though as well. please feel free to post others if you wish. thanks.

  48. Bob Miller
    March 7th, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

    Sometimes, we generalize too much about classes of people, which can lead us to treat them all the same when they differ. In a Q & A format this stereotyping can make the A not really germane to the Q.

  49. Always a BT
    March 8th, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

    People are judged by externals. Someone who wears a particular “uniform” will stand out from the rov of secular society & be held to a (sometimes impossibly) higher standard than someone who doesn’t. People who judge seem to overlook the important fact that frum people have flaws just like every other mortal being. Externals don’t neccessarily equal actual levels of frumkeit. We are all works in progress–isn’t that the real meaning of “Baal Teshuva”?

  50. Bracha Goetz
    March 8th, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

    Yes, there are many forms of corruption that have become entrenched. Well, we’ll never be bored – we’ve got plenty to do,to try to help get things back on a more pure course, G-d willing. You probably are, thank G-d, not aware how pervasive a problem molestation is in our community. I wasn’t either, until recently. Now I know much more than I ever wanted to know about abuse and its cover-up in our communities.

  51. Mr. Cohen
    March 9th, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

    from Rabbi David Orlofsky, a teacher at Yeshivah Ohr Somayach:

    Judaism has always stood apart from other religions in the willingness of its adherents to deal with questions.

    Think of any Gemara shiur [Talmud classroom], the boy who asks the best questions and can shlug up [refute] the shiur [lesson] is considered to be the top bochur [young student].

    No university professor would welcome the type of rigorous scrutiny we use when learning Torah.

    I once met a woman who had been a born again Christian. She kept peppering her priest with questions. Finally he [the Christian priest] told her: Sister, our Lord wants you to cut off your head and come to Him with your heart.

    At that point, she left and started exploring Judaism. Today, she is a giyoret [female convert to Judaism].

    She told me: The Rabbis I met not only did not shy away from questions, they welcomed them, taking the ideas further until I was given more information than I even wanted.

    SOURCE: Bassi Gruen, Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly, 2008/4/16, page 82

  52. Mr. Cohen
    March 12th, 2011 @ 9:39 pm

    Rabbi Daniel Mechanic:

    Many Frum Jews have a profound misunderstanding of this concept [emunah peshutah, simple faith].

    They think emunah peshutah means that Yiddishkeit [Judaism] is based on blind faith, that there is no rational basis for Yiddishkeit, that you can never ask questions</u.

    That is not what emunah peshutah means. This type of approach is categorically different than emunah peshutah and it is what Christianity and Islam are based on.

    SOURCE: article by Bassi Gruen, Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly, 2008/4/16

  53. Larry Lennhoff
    March 13th, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

    For a different view on Judaism and asking questions see this speech by Rabbi Aharon Schechter in Teaneck. Part 1 Part 2.

    Rabbi Schechter pretty clearly thinks some questions are off limits.

  54. Shades of Gray
    March 13th, 2011 @ 11:27 pm

    Larry,

    A more basic way of framing this perhaps is that Chazal in Chagigah speak about not thinking of certain questions, yet the Rishonim below(Emunah V’deos(Hakdamah, 6) and Moreh Nevuchim(1:32)) discuss the paramaters of the Mishnah(it’s also interesting that the Chovos HaLevavos at the end of Shaar Habitachon discusses the futility of questions such as those mentioned in Chagigah, despite having written Shaar HaYichud, see link).

    http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/mahshevt/kapah/hakdama1-2.htm#6

    http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/mahshevt/more/a8-2.htm#3

    http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/mahshevt/hovot/4-2.htm

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