What’s the real BT Impact to the Religious Jewish World?

by Reb Akiva from Mystical Paths

One often wonders, what’s the real BT impact to the religious Jewish world? After all, most of our vaunted institutions are run by rosh yeshvot with yichus (distinguished family heritage), and the institutions are often a generational family project. Similarly the big and famous rabbaim (rabbis), those giving the shiurim, heard on tape or DVD, often are big name “son-of” people. No difference if one enters the chassidic world, the Rebbe’s are all distinguished lineage back to the talmidim (students) of the Baal Shem Tov or the Maggid of Mezirich.

It’s enough to give a BT a complex. Kind of like (l’havdil) arriving at the court of a king, where all the advisers are dukes or barons or what not, and you’re just a guy (or gal). And we see this feeling in religious society as the older BT’s all go under cover. You never hear “oh that’s Rav Ploni (so-and-so), a BT”.

But I’m here to tell those not so far along the path, the impression is wrong. BT’s are spread throughout Jewish religious society, and not in small numbers. Religious schools are swelled with children of BT’s. Professionals throughout Jewish religious society are frequently BT’s. And even in Meah Shearim, perhaps the most closeted religious Jewish community, if one goes to the mens mikvah, one will be surprised at the number of older and old men with a tattoo (forbidden by Jewish law, and I’m not referring to a Holocaust number tattoo).

Some of our rosh yeshivot are BT’s from _their_ teens or twenties. Some of our rabbaim from before or after. Even a known tzaddik is a BT.

So while yes, religious Jewish society remains a bit wary of BT’s, the impact and influence of BT’s is there at all levels, as are the BT’s themselves. For there are no limits in Torah.

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

Rabbi Francis Nataf, Executive Director of David Cardozo Academy

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

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

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

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

All Jews owe a debt of gratitude to Chabad but we ba’alei teshuva owe more than anyone else.
Read more Fear Within, Fear Without: Why the Movement Could have Changed the World and Why it Didn’t