Should Baalei Teshuvas Mainstream?

There has always been discussion in the BT and Torah Observant communities about mainstreaming.

Baalei Teshuva Oriented Shuls
1) are sensitive to the needs of BTs
2) make it easy for BTs to fit in
3) keep BTs segregated in a comfortable environment

Mainstream Orthodox Shuls
1) are not focused to BT needs
2) require more effort to fit in
3) integrate BTs with the larger observant community

Which do you think is a better path? Why?

What are some other characteristics that differentiate between mainstream and BT institutions?

Why You Need Shul Bylaws

Check out Why You Need Shul Bylaws on Shul Politics. There’s even some great sample bylaws to get you going if you need them.

Here’s the opening paragraph from the post:

You can hear the sound of a collective eye roll when you mention Shul bylaws. They’re usually found only in democratic shuls or independent minyanim. Like legal contracts, they can be boring to the non-lawyers among us, but they’re very important for a Shul’s functioning, especially when critical issues come to the forefront. If you don’t have bylaws, it might be a good idea to create them now.

Chanukah: Torah and Play Do Go Together

By David Feiner

One of the more interesting and different stories related to Chanukah are those surrounding Dreidels. According to many traditional accounts, the Dreidel was used as ruse to cover up the studying of Torah when Greek soldiers would come upon groups of children with their teachers. Rather than observing Torah study, they would see a bunch of children playing with a top.

While the stories surrounding Dreidels are amusing and cute, there is a serious, yet ironic lesson that can be learned from them. The irony comes from the fact that the Greeks attempted to do away with Judaism and the study of Torah and the fact that Chanukah is generally considered to be a time when extra Torah study is encouraged and may even be considered a second Matan Torah similar to that stated by the commentaries on Megillat Esther.

However, consider the following:
There is considerable focus on succeeding in Torah learning. This pressure is mostly felt by children, who are expected to be studying all the time. In fact, several Rabbonim have said (or in some cases, had proclamations attributed to them) that it is better for children to study Torah all the time and have no time for play or to rest than to have a vacation and risk having someone go OTD. However, one could learn the exact opposite from this part of the Chanukah story – that in fact one should take breaks from learning. This is especially so since study of Torah never ceased and one could argue that the study was even more intense in the years that followed.

In addition to this, many people are shamed of their hobbies and distractions. Ba’alei Teshuva as well as FFBs are subjected to this and as a result many have feelings of guilt when it comes to taking time from learning and using it for something different, such as vacation. With this pressure and guilt, it is nearly impossible to succeed in learning on any level.

Therefore one can learn the following lesson: It is true that Torah is our life-blood and we are expected to study whenever possible, as the verse in Yehoshua states. One should absolutely be Kovea Itim. However, it is necessary to take time and relax and if necessary, do something completely unrelated to the study of Torah such as playing baseball. While it is true that the playing with the Dreidel was in a life-threatening situation, it could also be said that non-stop Torah study with no breaks can also cause a similar situation, except that the individual becomes burnt-out and loses interest.

The time will be considered well used since upon returning from a break, the mind is refreshed and can process information better, which means that learning Seder will be more productive. Consequently, this year, let us take a lesson and study Torah as best we can, but also take the time to relax when necessary.

Can the Ends Really Justify the Means?

In this week’s Mishpacha magazine, Yonoson Rosenblum’s weekly column presented an interesting point. He writes:

“Chazal enjoin us in many places to carefully consider the impact of our words. Yet in many instances, it is impossible to know in advance what that impact will be, or to anticipate the ways in which the same words will have a radically different effect on two people. That is perhaps why Chazal also commended silence so highly — an option not available to columnists.

Last June, I had an opportunity to interview my friend Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz on the early teshuvah revolution in South Africa. The discussion turned to his first book, Anatomy of a Search, which describes his own path toward religious observance and that of a number of other baalei teshuvah. Written with the fervor of a still relatively recent baal teshuvah, the book contained one sentence laden with adjectives decrying the emptiness of secular society. When he subsequently showed the book to Rabbi Aharon Feldman, rosh yeshivas Ner Israel, Rabbi Feldman told him that he thought the book was very good, but he would have left out that particular sentence, as it would only alienate those he wished to reach by making them feel under attack. And indeed that was indeed the reaction of at least one set of Rabbi Tatz’s relatives, who told him that they felt personally offended by the sentence in question, and had promptly put the book down.

But here’s where it gets a bit complicated. Some years later, Rabbi Tatz met another South African, approximately his age. He described how as a young attorney, he and his wife had left South Africa as a personal protest against apartheid. They then spent a number of years in India as part of an idealistic search for meaning. Eventually they ended up on a beach in Israel, where it seemed to them that their search had reached a dead end, with no further avenues to pursue. At that point, the husband came across Anatomy of a Search, and was struck by the sentence in question, which seemed to encapsulate all the feelings about the secular world that had launched him and his wife on their journey in the first place.

All this took place many years ago. The former lawyer went on to learn for many years in yeshivah, and is today a rosh yeshivah.

Unquestionably, Rabbi Feldman’s advice was correct: Rarely is there any purpose served by making ones message unpalatable to those whom one is trying to influence. But in this case, davka the sharpness of the phraseology was what hit a young couple, at a moment of desperation in their lives, when they were prepared to make a dramatic change.”

If you could travel back in time to before you decided to connect more closely with Judaism, how would you have felt about these words? Does the fact that these precise words motivated one young couple (and, I assume others) excuse, justify or outweigh the fact that they turned off or offended others?

Parshas Toldos – FFB and BT Tzaddikim

Rabbi Yaacov Haber has an interesting piece on Parsha Toldos where he points out:

– Rashi says that Yitzchak’s prayers were answered instead of Rifkas because he was a Tzaddik, who was a child of a Tzaddik, while Rivka was a Tzaddik who was the child of a Rasha.

– This seems to contradict the Gemora which says that a Tzaddik can not stand in the place of a Baalei Teshuva seemingly because a BT has a harder job and therefore more reward. And therefore Rifka’s prayers should have been answered because she worked harder.

– Rabbi Haber says that a FFB has it harder than a BT because the BT approaches Judaism with more enthusiasm.

– Therefore Yitzchak’s prayers were answered because he was still a Tzaddik even though he was an FFB (the son of a Tzaddik).

But we all know that to many that BT enthusiasm we have to keep on learning, so here is Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Toldos. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

Toldot
#25 Esav Sells Birthright to Yaakov
#26 Rivkah in Palace of Avimelech
#27 Yaakov Takes Blessing from Esav
#28 Yaakov Goes to Padan Aram

#25 Esav Sells Birthright to Yaakov
* Rivkah is barren
* Rivkah’s painful pregnancy
* Prophecy that she will give birth to twins – two great nations
* Yaakov completely honest, Esav deceitful
* Esav sells birthright to Yaakov

#26 Rivkah in Palace of Avimelech
* Famine
* ‘Don’t go down to Egypt’
* G-d’s promise to Yitschak to be an Eternal G-d & inherit the land forever.
* Avimelech almost takes Rivkah
* HaShem makes Yitschak exceedingly wealthy
* Avimelech tells Yitschak to leave his land
* Three wells of conflict: Esek-Sitna-Rechovot
* Yitschak goes to Be’ar Sheva
* HaShem reassures Yitschak: “Don’t fear, I’m with you!”
* Yitschak builds an altar
* Agreement with Avimelech
* Esav marries at 40 years old

#27 Yaakov Takes Blessing from Esav
* Rivkah persuades Yaakov to impersonate Esav
* Yitschak blesses Yaakov believing him to be Esav
* Esav’s blessing
* Rivkah tells Yaakov to flee from Esav

#28 Yaakov Goes to Padan Aram
* Yitschak tells Yaakov to go to Padam Aram
* Yitschak blesses Yaakov
* Esav marries Mahlat, daughter of Yishmael

Why Kiruv Sometimes Fails

By Shira. After getting married, Shira’s husband became a BT. They’ve worked together to patch a semi-frum lifestyle together which includes attending an orthodox shul, keep a kosher home, and keeping shabbos.

As a BT who went off, daughter of another BT who went off, and having encountered more than a few who were BT, went off (or almost did), and some that came back, I’ve come to have a few ideas about why this happens.

Not in any particular order of importance:

1. Kiruv is generally one-sided, hashkafically. Recipients do not necessarily realize that other ‘brands’ are legitimate within Orthodoxy when what they are presented with is the ‘right’ way. Its not that other groups of Orthodoxy are ignored or put-down, so much as never mentioned. Someone says, “This is how you do this,” and a BT hears, “This is the way God wants us to do this.” Hearing, “This is one of the ways that Jews believe God wants us to do this,” would leave more paths open in a BT’s mind for questions of hashkafa. Hashkafa is such a muddy area for a BT to navigate, it should be made clear from the get-go that there are many ways to be orthodox, and one is not lesser or lower than another. In the kiruv environment, a lot of differences in how to do a mitzvah are categorized as different ‘levels’ of observance – and everyone doing at their own level of the moment. This implies that those who seem to do ‘less’ are doing a lesser form, when in fact many cases of differences in observance are based on equal but different interpretations of halacha, rather than instances of leniency and stringency.

2. Seeing immoral actions done by so-called frum people, and even by whole communities, is huge. Who counts as ‘frum’ seems to centre around certain types of mitzvahs, while other areas are neglected. Yes, outward mitzvahs are more visible, so its more easy to judge who is frum by them, but that doesn’t make it spiritually healthy for a community. A person becomes BT and wants to fit in… what seems to help one fit in most is to conform with those outward mitzvahs first. Shabbos, kashruth, etc. This is a problem in the frum world in general, not just the kiruv communities. Judgement of others, whether outright or subtly, needs to change. Emphasis on the good that a person does, the mitzvahs that a person does which are not necessarily ritualistic, should be made more of a priority. Assumptions about a person’s character, integrity, or commitment to Judaism should not be based on the visible trappings that person has taken on. When BT’s are turned off by the immoral actions of communities and community members, they are often given the line “Don’t judge Judaism by the Jews.” What a shallow answer to such a big problem. Judaism looks more like the Jews, today, than what God originally handed down at Sinai. Real Jews, who made immoral choices as well as good choices, created Judaism as we practice it, Rabbinic Judaism. So, its not so easy to tease out what is Judaism and what is “the Jews.” The answer just does not suffice. A better answer is to recognize that every group in the world contains good and bad people, including Judaism.

3. The Judaism offered by kiruv is most often very shallow. It doesn’t address real difficulties in life, it doesn’t bend for different people. BT’s don’t know enough to realize that there are leniencies and ways around. They don’t know enough to realize there are other streams of orthodoxy which might suit them better. They don’t realize that they can daven less than what the class they attended called the ‘minimum’ and they whip themselves internally for not living up to what they think are God’s expectations of all Jews.

4. This is a tricky one. When a BT is unhappy with how they are living, it isn’t necessarily visible to those around them. Its easy to hide behind the ritualistic day-to-day living and not let anyone know the difficulties that are going on inside oneself, especially if it doesn’t seem like anyone else is having those types of difficulties. If such a BT person does reach out, and ask tough questions, and question the Torah and mitzvahs, and generally express their unhappiness with what they are living, no one says to that person, “Stop doing mitzvahs.” The message given out is to ‘go slow,’ not take on ‘too much too soon,’ etc. None of it is directed to someone who’s already gone too far. No one tells a BT to stop doing a mitzvah, if they look unhappy. No one says to step back, take a break, reflect without doing, do less, try again later. The advice you might get if you are asking for help is to ‘try harder’ or find different ways to get connection out of continuing the do the mitzvahs. For some people, who went too far too fast, it would be better to tell them to stop practicing some parts and give themselves time to catch up with their changes.

5. BT’s expect more of themselves than perhaps the religion expects. Much of the kiruv experience focuses on how to practice Judaism… and the BT doesn’t encounter examples in Jewish history of characters who were ‘less than.’ Hasidic stories about about seemingly perfect rabbis. Efforts are made to interpret the ‘mistakes’ of the forefathers as ‘not really mistakes.’ There is a lot of guilt for a BT in not living up to what is perceived as the base-line. It doesn’t help that the idea of “If you aren’t moving up, you are moving down” is common. Sometimes the effort of staying in just one spot, or just even slowing one’s descent, is more than a person can do. The idea that you must keep striving for better is damaging without more context. And especially this idea is very dangerous because it is often mixed up with the idea of ‘levels’ of practice, and differences of hashkafa.

Of those who I became frum with, who remained observant over the past many years, I’ve observed that they did so because they were able to reframe and find new reasons for continuing on, even when sometimes not completely satisfied. I think such people are less likely to be perfectionist, and give themselves much more leeway in making mistakes. They are people who are good at forgiving themselves, and believing that God forgives them. The BT’s who left, that I have encountered, for the most part seem to be people are are extremely deep thinkers, who have a very high sense of morality, who look for integrity in Judaism, who set high standards and ask very difficult questions.

I’m not really sure how kiruv people could even identify the type of person I was, in order to slow them down or give warning, or teach differently. I was the person who knew every answer in the kiruv classes, who conformed in most every way, who always had astute questions to ask, etc. I looked like a model student.

I also wonder how successful kiruv really is. How many of those who are brought in, stay?

Another thing I’ve noticed, which I didn’t see as a BT, was that even the most observant people I’ve met don’t necessarily put on and tie their shoes in the correct halachic order. The most pious Jews still have areas where they don’t know or don’t bother. Every Jew I’ve encountered who I categorized as ‘very frum’ turned out to have an area of halacha which they chose to ignore the fine details of. A blind spot. Something they’ve chosen not to find out more about, for fear of needing to change, or from lack of interest, or other reasons I can’t fathom. But its interesting that BT’s feel obligated to pursue and ‘do correctly’ any new halacha they hear of, while others who are long-time frum (BT or FFB) seem able to just turn a blind eye to some areas.

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller on Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller will be lecturing around the United States for 2 weeks, starting today. Here is her itinerary.

She will be speaking at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel on Monday, November 21 at 8:30 PM for Women on the topic “Closing the Gap Between Mind, Heart and Action” . The address is 147-02 73rd Avenue, Kew Gardens Hills, NY 11367.

You can read Rebbetzin Heller’s articles on Aish and her site and you can download some of her mp3s on Torah Anytime and on Naaleh.com.

In here most recent newsletter, Rebbetzin Heller wrote a hesped for Rav Nossin Tzvi Finkel zt”l. Here is an excerpt:

My daughter Miri’s husband Shmuli, (who some of you know) studies at the Mir, and has been close to the Rosh Yeshiva since he came to Israel close to 20 years ago. The Rosh Yeshiva had an intensely personal relationship to him, and to virtually every other student who really wanted one. His son asked if he really knew all 5000 by name. He said, “I’m not sure, but I know that I like them all.” He enjoyed the students visiting him before the holidays and bringing him Torah thoughts that they developed from whatever section of Talmud they were studying. He would say, “That makes my holiday.”

Shmuli came with his little girl (who he took with him to make it easier for Miri to finish things up). He left in more than ample time to get home before Yom Tov. Minutes before the holiday began, Miri called me. “Mommy, what do you think I should do? Shmuli left for the Rosh Yeshiva hours ago, and he still didn’t come back. He left his phone here by accident. I don’t know where they are. Do you think I should call the police to see if something happened?” I told her that before she calls the police, she should call the Rosh Yeshiva’s house to find out when he left exactly. Maybe he was delayed there for whatever reason.

She called, and the Rosh Yeshiva himself answered the phone. After Miri identified herself, and told him about the reason for her call, he said, “Of course they were here. Your little girl looked so cute. Her pink gingham dress is so adorable.” He went on to discuss her socks, and how the ribbons on top matched the ribbons in her hair. Bus schedules were soon on the agenda. Miri didn’t know what to make of the entire conversation. Why would the Rosh Yeshiva spend so much time on small talk? As he was soldiering on (is the material wash and wear?) the doorbell rang and Shmuli came in. When the Rosh Yeshiva heard Shumli’s voice he immediately wished her a good Yom Tov and hung up. He was sure that Shmuli would be home any minute, and kept her on the phone to prevent her from becoming hysterical. Shmuli told her about the suspicious object that prevented the bus from getting to Har Nof on time, the absence of taxis on the road, and finally the trek home with the baby, who by this time looked considerably less adorable than she had hours earlier.

Would you have seen the outfit?

I doubt that I would, and even if I did, that I would be sensitive enough to know what to do with the information filed in my mind under “trivia”.

Rav Finkel started out in Chicago, went to Arie Crown Day School, and was known as Natie. He came to Israel wearing a baseball cap (although, he would quip, “I knew enough to leave my golf clubs back in Chicago). He obligates all of us to question our level of our caring, dedication, courage, perseverance and most of all love of Torah.

What Type of Support Are You Missing?

BTs tackle the Torah life on their own and need to develop their own support systems.

Perhaps we can classify the type of support into 5 categories:

1) Teachers of fundamental and advance Torah topics
2) Rabbis who can rule on halachic questions
3) Mentors who act as surrogate parents and help with major topics like Shidduchim and Parenting
4) Friends who act as spiritual coaches and tell us to slow down and inspire us to move up
5) Spouses who are soul mates on our spiritual journey

Would you add any more categories?

Do you have all the roles filled in your life?

Which were/are most necessary for you?

Which are you missing?

What priority would you outline for a new BT?

The Zoo in You

By Rabbi Ari Taback

It has got to rate as one of the most bizarre news stories of the decade.

A few weeks ago, authorities in the town of Zanesville, Ohio began receiving alarming calls about exotic wild animals roaming their neighbourhood. On investigation, they zeroed in on a smallholding belonging to a man by the name of Terry Thompson, the owner of Muskingum County Exotic Animal Farm. Thompson, who had recently been released from a one year prison term for unlawful possession of firearms after more than one hundred illegal guns were confiscated in a raid on his home, was more of an animal collector than a zoo-keeper. His private menagerie included some eighteen Bengal tigers, seventeen lions, two grizzly bears and a host of other decidedly hazardous creatures, all housed in a strange assortment of cages and enclosures on the farm. A wolf was reportedly confined in the interior of an abandoned car. Thompson was apparently under significant financial strain, and on October 19, he tragically took his own life. He left no note, and for some inexplicable and macabre reason, he chose to first open all the cages and enclosures of his fierce faunal collection before pulling the trigger.

Within a short time, wild animals were being sighted in and around the small town. Police were mobilized, as were Ohio Wildlife and Parks officials. Staff members of the Columbus Zoo also raced to the scene, including former director of the world-renowned zoo and TV personality Jack Hanna. With daylight fading, they soon realised that the animals could not be safely darted, and considering the significant threat they posed to human life, the chief of the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office issued his officers an instruction to “shoot to kill”. By the end of the evening’s carnage, all but six of the creatures were dead, including all of the eighteen rare tigers. A missing monkey was assumed to have been eaten by one of the lions. Hanna, a veteran animal keeper, is reported to have commented that “It’s like Noah’s ark wrecked here in Zanesville, Ohio.”

After reading the news reports and various commentaries on this story, it struck me as intriguing that the incident occurred only a few days before we read the portion in the Torah dealing with our famous ancestor and his floating zoo. The Torah describes in great detail how Noah was to collect the creatures which would ride out the deluge with him in the ark, and how he should construct its various sections. We are taught that the craft consisted of three decks, the uppermost for its human residents, the second tier miraculously had enough place for all the animals, and the lowest deck was reserved for the waste.

The structure of the ark serves as a fascinating model for the human being. Torah sources write that like in the ark, there are three sections to every person. The uppermost section, his head, contains his mind, the seat of his elevated Neshama and the element of his spiritual being which makes him uniquely human. Beneath this is the upper torso, containing the heart and lungs. This section of the person contains a more “animalistic” life force and is associated with the world of emotions. In the lower torso is the digestive system which processes a person’s food and stores the waste products, the most basic necessity for life. This directly parallels the three tiers of the ark, the uppermost deck for human beings parallel to the mind, the middle deck for the animals parallel to the emotions, and the lower deck for the waste, parallel to the digestive system.

It is not by chance that the head and mind occupy the uppermost space of the human body. It is the role of the mind to harness and care for our emotional energies, like Noah who from his top floor was instructed to care for and contain his animal passengers.

The dramatic events in Ohio serve as a powerful demonstration of the critical role that the zoo-keeper plays in the care and containment of the creatures in his charge. But as an analogy, it perhaps highlights how when the mind stops playing its crucial role, the emotions of a person can run rampant. So often we see people who lose all sense of reason when their honour is slighted, or how a person will become consumed in the irrational pursuit of a particular physical vice. It is the role of the mind, the keeper of “the zoo in you”, to contain and care for the energies which lurk in the deck below.

But emotions are not intrinsically negative. On the contrary, the emotional forces which swirl around in our bosoms are the very life force which gives our lives passion and energy. Not only must the mind not suppress our emotions, but they must be cared for and channelled, “taken for walks” and trained, so that they can express themselves in a positive way.
The Mishna teaches: “Said Rabbi Yehuda ben Teima: Be strong like a lion, bold like a leopard and swift like a deer to do the wishes of your Father in Heaven”.

This is the Torah’s advice on how to truly utilize the powerful energies of our emotions, and to properly care for “the zoo in you”.

The 60 Second Guide to the Book of Bereishes

In the beginning (Bereishes), G-d created the universe, but Adam and Chava and the next 9 generations failed in G-d’s plan of subjugating their physical to their spiritual side.

Noach was the only righteous man of his corrupt generation, which was destroyed by the flood, and he restarted the spiritual mission, but after another 10 generations mankind was corrupt, and failed at fulfilling their mission.

Avraham went out (Lech Lecha) from his home and achieved unparalleled connection to G-d, Who chose Avraham and his children to inherit the land of Israel, and lead humanity towards creation’s goal, and his first wife Hagar was expelled from his home, and his first son Yishmael was circumcised with Avraham.

Three Angels appeared (Vayera) to Avraham to inform him that Sodom would be destroyed, and that his wife Sarah would give birth to his spiritual heir, Yitzchak, who Avraham was prepared to sacrifice for the sake of G-d.

After the life of Sarah (Chayah Sarah) ended, Avraham’s servant Eliezer found a wife, Rivka, for Yitzchak.

The generations (Toldos) of Yitzchak begin with his twin sons Esau and Yaakov, and Yaakov’s spiritual superiority resulted in him getting Esau’s birthright and Yitzchak’s blessings.

Yaakov went out (Vayeitzei) from his birthplace to escape Esau’s wrath, to his uncle Laban, and married his daughter’s Leah and Rachel, their maidservants Zilpah and Bilhah fathered 12 sons and 1 daughter.

Yaakov sent (Vayishlach) messengers to appease Esau who reconciled with him, and his daughter Dina was captured by the people of Shechem, who were subsequently destroyed by Shimon and Levi.

Yaakov settled (Vayeshev) in Canaan, but his sons faked favored son Yosef’s death, sold him, and he was taken to Egypt, purchased by Potiphar whose wife falsely sent him to jail, where he helped the Pharaoh’s butler get released.

At the end (Miketz) of two years after the butler’s release, Pharaoh had 2 dreams interpreted by Yosef, who was made viceroy and prepared for a famine which caused his brothers to come to Egypt, where Yosef deceived them and imprisoned the youngest brother Binyamin.

Yehudah, the brother’s leader approached (Vayigash) Yosef for Binyamin’s release, and Yosef revealed himself to the brothers, and sent for Yaakov, who moved with the 70 members of his family to Goshen in Egypt.

Yaakov lived (Vayechi) in Egypt for 17 years, and before his death he blessed all the brothers, who were reminded by Yosef, before his death, that they would eventually be taken to the Israel as promised by G-d.

Which of the Five Shul Types is Best for a BT?

The second post has gone up at ShulPolitics.Com titled Who’s The Boss? – Shul Types and Authority. It discusses the five shul types:
1) Yeshiva Minyanim
2) Shtiebels and Rabbi-centric Shuls
3) Chabad Shuls
4) Beis Medrash/Independent Minyans
5) Democratic Shuls

Go give it a read and correct any misconceptions in the comments there.

You’re back; good.

Which Shul types make sense for BTs as they go through the BT life-cycle
1) Stage one – years 1-7 – getting your feet wet
2) Stage two – years 8-15 – understanding more and getting involved
3) Stage three – years 16- 40+ – almost indistinguishable from an FFB

My Non-Observant Sister’s Wedding

Hi,

My sister got married on Sunday, and I have written down some thoughts I have, the day after. I wondered if I could post them to beyondbt, as I could use some chizuk from others who have experienced similar things.

7th November 2011

Last night they finally got married. And it’s a major anticlimax for me. My sister met her boyfriend 5 years ago, when I met my husband. In that time, I have got married and had two children and she has continued dating him. They got engaged on New Years Day this year and moved in together a couple of months after and yesterday they stood under the chuppah and are now husband and wife.

I had been so thrilled for my big sister. She is 3 years older than me (31) and it was about time too. Now her relationship which has been so worrying to all the family is a kosher one and all is done and dusted.

They tried so hard to include us, the caterer was kosher, we had a hotel room paid for in the swanky five star hotel for us all, and a babysitter paid for the whole day so that we would be able to enjoy the wedding and that our children would be able to participate when they could and be looked after when they were too tired or noisy. I had an outfit made to measure which was as tznius as could be, as well as really gorgeous. But the whole event just underlined to me just how not frum they are, and how different our lives are.

The dancing was the hardest. We are a musical family and it was just so hard to not be able to join in the dancing. It wasn’t that I wanted to be dancing to “Living on A Prayer”, but I wanted that I would be able to be fully taking part in my sister’s wedding. My sister, who I love so much, who I am so so happy that she is finally in a committed relationship, that she is a wife, I wanted to be able to celebrate with her by dancing around the room, like I do at my friends’ weddings and even strangers!

But I had to stand on the other side of the hall, trying to bite back the tears. Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to be emotional at your sister’s wedding, so I didn’t have to explain them. But it was so so hard to feel part of the celebration.

They kindly hadn’t filled me in on any of the details of the night as they knew I wouldn’t be able to attend and that I’d prefer not to know things which will upset me. But one thing I did know was that she, her friends, my mum and her mother in law had all learnt a dance routine which they performed to the rest of the guests. I wanted to see it, but then it was so painful to not be one of them doing it. I should have been able to perform a shtick with my sister, but instead I couldn’t, because they are just not frum. It really really hurt and I nearly ran out of the hall to not collapse into tears. We really are a very musical family and singing and dancing are such a way that we express ourselves. Not being part of the dancing was far more difficult than I had imagined.

Yes, she looked beautiful, yes the shul was magnificent, and the hall for wedding looked spectacular with the attention to detail incredible. The wedding favours, flowers made out of ribbon with sugared almonds enclosed looked enchanting. The real flower arrangements classy and refined. But that’s it. It was all the superficial details of beauty without the depth of a frum wedding. The best man’s speech was cringeworthy, all the silly things the groom had done growing up. I couldn’t bear it. When Michael gave his speech, I had the briefest of mentions, something along the lines of, “and thank you Jacqueline, my beautiful new sister in law”, which as well as being in contrast to the great shpiel about her other three bridemaids who are friends was bizarre for me to have anyone other than my father or husband tell me that I look beautiful. It was such a formulaic thing to say, rather than being applicable to me. No mention was made of my son (who was a page boy) or daughter (little bridesmaid). I’m sure that was just an oversight, but when I was already feeling sidelined, it didn’t help.

It all just made me feel like any old guest at the wedding rather than the sister of the bride.

The bedeken was beautiful though, and I mean that honestly. It was just the immediate family and I was called in for that, although they asked that my children weren’t there (which made sense, they’d never have stayed still or quiet and it was a tiny room). Both fathers blessed their children and his Dad even spoke to him about the meaning of the words, who Efraim and Menashe were and how that is applicable to him. The Rabbi at the chuppah spoke really nicely about the unity of the two families, and our families are families which really do work on keeping in touch with distant relatives. The chazzan happened to be an old neighbour of ours who sang beautifully. It was really special.

But then the party was just so so not.

When we’re in our frum bubble, it is so easy to forget what it is like to not be frum, and here it all was in all it’s glory.

I suppose that because they are so respectful of us when on our turf, I don’t realise what they do when they are in their own environs.

I had one cousin telling me all about the octopus and other interesting foods he’d eaten on a recent holiday to the far east, and how that’s really his sort of thing because he really likes prawns etc. He wasn’t trying to make a point, he was just sharing details of what he’d been up to.

Then there are my non Jewish cousins flitting about from various intermarried parts of the family.

And my little 4 year old chareidi son, in his kuppel and tzitzis, totally overtired, and during the meal, dancing to the background music. Thank G-d he isn’t any older yet, because it would have been far more problematic. He won’t remember what the lady singing looked like (I won’t go into it), or what the music was. He is just a musical boy and he wanted to dance.

At the end of the wedding, everyone kept coming over and telling me how lovely, beautiful and delightful my children were, which was nice, but I do wonder what he will tell the Rebbe tomorrow in school about what happened at Auntie Elizabeth’s wedding.

I just wish that they were all frum and that we could be fully part of each other’s lives. I want to say, I try my hardest, but maybe I don’t. I do try hard to maintain the contact with the non frum parts of my family, to remain parts of each other’s lives, but this event just made me realise how very different our lives are, and how it isn’t really possible to be fully part of each other’s lives even if we wanted to.

-Jacqueline

Should Jews be Paid to Study Torah?

I signed up this year to participate in a Bet Midrash program for international students studying abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The program pairs local English speakers with students to study in a one-on-one chevruta. I had participated in a similar program as a young professional back in Washington, D.C. and got so much out of it that I committed to studying full-time for a year in Israel. Feeling like I also want to share Torah with others, I was excited for this opportunity. Plus, I’ve been looking for a weekly chevruta anyways.

It turns out that there is another program that also sets up students with a chevruta, but it pays them and their partners to learn. I’m familiar with this arrangement. I recall being approached as a college student to participate in a weekly learning program, at the end of which I would receive $800. Not bad money, especially for something I was interested in. But, the money offer turned me away. I’m suspicious of a product that can’t sell itself!

In encouraging fellow Jews to come closer to Torah, why do we feel we have to provide a financial incentive? I’ve heard two basic arguments:

1-Busy people need to choose wisely how to spend their time, and if you offer a financial incentive, it allows them to dedicate time to Torah instead of a part-time (or full-time, but I’ll get to that later) job.
2-Paying a stipend for someone to learn is widely accepted in the secular world (academic scholarships and stipends), so why should it be so for religious studies?

I haven’t had an answer for a while, though my gut instinct still wouldn’t accept it. Here is what I think makes offering money for Torah study problematic:

1- While it’s true that we need to be judicious in how our time is spent, $800 really wouldn’t offset the income from a small part-time job, and there are a lot of things one can learn from working, especially when studying already all day long.
2- Torah study in and of itself is free. There is no cost to going to a local synagogue, private or public library, and sitting down with a sefer, or reading many Torah articles online or listening to shiurim. In fact paid shiurim are a pretty modern phenomenon (I’m not against those by the way).
3- Paying someone to learn full-time requires its own discussion, but I believe that the kollel lifestyle of learning all-day long, for protracted periods of time, especially at the expense of serving in the army in Israel, is against what the Torah explicitly says. (Let the barrage of comments begin!)
4- Paying someone to study Torah is different than an academic stipend, because academic stipends are conditional – you need to be receiving certain grades, produce a thesis (which then becomes property of the university), etc. Paying someone to study and expecting nothing in return than to listen to the material provided, is different.
5- When you’re paid, you’re beholden. There are 70 faces to the Torah, and when one explores freely, they have access to 70. When you’re paid to come to shiurim, you’re going to be fed a certain outlook, and it’s more difficult to challenge someone when he is holding a check.

Not everyone is going to buy, but I believe that the Torah sells itself. By being a mensch, a good person whose ways are influenced by the Torah’s teachings, and by opening up our hearts and our homes to fellow Jews, many will be attracted in a much more authentic way.

Parsha Lech Lecha

Lech Lecha is such a foundation parsha and probably the most popular one for BTs to start with when they start learning. Minimally you can read an Art Scroll translation to fulfill the mitzvah of Shneim Mikra V’Echad Targum and there’s so much available in English and Hebrew on the Parsha.

Here’s a link to Rabbi Welcher’s shiur on Shneim Mikra V’Echad Targum where he says that Rabbi Chaim Sheinberg Shlita says you can fulfill the targum requirement with an Art Scroll Translation.

YU Torah has close to 200 free mp3s for download on Lech Lecha. Enjoy.

Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Lech Lecha. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash very inexpensively here.

Lech Lecha
#12 “Go!”
#13 Lot Leaves Avram
#14 5 Kings Battle 4 Kings – Avram Goes to War
#15 Contract at Beyn HaBetarim
#16 Hagar Expelled
#17 Circumcision

#12 “Go!”
* ‘Leave your homeland’
* ‘I Will make you a great nation’
* ‘I will bless you’
* Avram was 75 when he left Charan
* HaShem promised land of Canaan to Avram’s seed
* Avram built an altar
* Avram moved to Bet El and built another altar, called it ‘Shem.’
* Moved south (Negev)
* Famine
* Descends to Egypt
* ‘Say you’re my sister’
* Pharaoh lavishes gifts upon Avram
* Pharaoh takes Sarai
* Pharaoh stricken
* ‘Take her and go!’
* Pharaoh sends royal escort with Avram and Sarai

#13 Lot Leaves Avram
* Avram returns to Negev and finally Bet El
* Conflict between Lot and Avrams’ shepherds
* Avram offers Lot to leave but will remain loyal as brother
* Lot goes to Sdom
* HaShem promises the land of Cana’an to Avram’s seed forever
* HaShem promises Avram his seed will be like the dust of the earth
* Avram walked the entire land of Cana’an to acquire it
* Avram moves to Chevron and builds an altar

#14 5 Kings Battle 4 Kings – Avram Goes to War
* Battle of 5 kings against 4 kings
* Avram saves Lot
* Malki Tsedek blesses Avram

#15 Contract at Beyn HaBetarim
* Divine Vision
* ‘Fear not, your reward is very great!’
* ‘But I’m still childless?!’
* ‘Count the stars!’
* ‘How will I know I will inherit the land?’
* bring 3 calves, 3 goats, 3 rams, 1 dove and 1 pigeon
* Split them in half
* Deep trance, prophecy of 400 year slavery
* ‘You will die very old’
* 4th generation will return to the Promised Land

#16 Hagar Expelled
* Co-wife Hagar
* Hagar expelled, three angels appear to her:
#1 Angel tells her to return to Sarai in submission;
#2 Angel promises Hagar will give birth to a large nation;
#3 Angel names her future child ‘Yishmael’, ‘he will be a wild rebel’
* Yishmael born, Avraham is 86

#17 Circumcision
* 99 years old, ‘Walk before be in simplicity’
* HaShem adds the letter Hey to Avram – Avraham
* HaShem promises to be an Eternal Omnipotent G-d to his seed forever
* HaShem promises Eretz Yisrael will be an eternal heritage to us, forever.
* Avraham commanded in circumcision
* HaShem adds the letter Hey to Sarai – Sarah
* Avraham laughed
* “If only Yishmael would live before you!”
* HaShem promises Avraham that Sarah will mother the Jewish nation
* ‘But I will bless Yishmael as you requested’
* Avraham 99, circumcised entire household, Yishmael was 13

Advice for People Who Want to Develop Their Spiritual Side

If you were giving advice to someone who knows very little about Torah Judaism and is over 30, but seriously wants to develop their spiritual side what advice would you give them:

a) Call Partners in Torah for a one-on-one learning partner
b) Contact the nearest Aish branch
c) Find the nearest Chabad
d) Take a look at these books (name the books)
e) Learn to pray
f) Browse the web for Torah information (list any particular sites)
g) Attend classes on Judaism
h) Other (please specify)