Thoughts on Judaism

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Jerusalem Compass


On the Observant Astonomer site, someone claiming to be "Moshe", the creator of the miracle device, and Zev, an interested customer, go head to head. Others of us also chime in. Moshe tries some evasion like appealing to the authority of his haskamas and accusing his questioners of malintent, both common ploys. He still has not explained how the device "defies the laws of physics".

Observant Astronomergets to the bottom of this quickly. For a mere 25 bucks, you can get an amazing compass that points toward Jerusalem, provided you are west of Jerusalem and you do not believe that the Earth is round. OA even asks if it can altered for Mecca. I would only respond that naturally Mecca and Rome do not give off the magic holiness rays that allow this amazing device to function. (Observer notes that some calibration of the device may be needed. He still cannot find the magic part.)

I think this guy wants a piece of the action too. Anyone who can make this compass perform as advertised, hey, $25 investment for a sure $1 million payoff.

And of course the obligatory Chabad version.

I knew I was in the wrong business. GET YOUR RED STRING HERE! PIPING HOT RED STRING!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Heshy of the Dor is Gone

Who will tell us why things like the holocaust, 9/11, and disengagement happen now that Heshy's House has closed shop? Seeming to be from no particular derech, he constantly provoked on behalf of the "UltraOrthodox" (his word, not mine) and against the MO. I was most certain that he was a provocateur until someone informed me that he had gone to school with the Navi HaDor. On the scale of predictability, Heshy was about as subtle and surprising as the 1970s Ohio State offense (for the uninitiated, not very, Griffin up the middle, 1 ,2, 3).

My heart is welling up with ambivalence. On the one hand, great choizek. On the other hand, he empasized how little of a life a person can actually have (I mean me and possibly this guy, not him). Yes, mister "coffins in the basement at midnite", "death to the infidel", "women in the kitchen", "come to my house but don't look at my chicks" Taliban frum guy, this Bud Light is for you!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Community Worthy of BTs

So let's suppose that the story had a different ending and Noam had decided that the Judaism that he had sought in Yeshiva was not really there. He wants to accomodate his family but he can no longer maintain any feeling for Jewish practice. Increasingly, he does less and less and drops any involvement in his community or its ritual practice. If anyone cares to discuss the subject with him, he is more than happy to tell them that Judaism disillusioned him, and he realizes that, while it is a wonderful life for some people, it is not for everyone, certainly not for him. He was expecting an ethical and theological base, and instead found situations with which he was not ethically nor theologically comfortable.

The reactions will be predictable Keibler Ross type reactions (if anyone cares to react all, and not just let him go):

1) Denial - Really, he believes in Judaism since no one could possibily leave for the reasons he states. There is something else going on with him. Really, just under the surface, there is some single question that is bothering him. Someone just said the wrong thing to him. It cannot be that there is something wrong with the community or the "system" ethically. Aren't all communities the same? No, people aren't leaving for central core reasons, only personal reasons.

2) Anger - There was something wrong from the start with him. It was personal problems. I'll bet there were problems with his yichus. He thinks HE'S so ETHICAL. He is just too foolish and arrogant to accept things that he doesn't understand. Just because it is beyond his understanding, or he doesn't have money, or someone said the wrong thing to him, he is going to reject all of Judaism. We will never again give him or his family the time of day. He is now an enemy like the goyim and all the other freiya.

3) Bargaining - Maybe he will turn around if we just ...

4) Depression - Oy what has become of such an ehrlich guy! Such a waste, gone to the wolves! No offense! What could we have done?

5) Acceptance - Good bye and good riddance.

But is this the healthiest way for a community to respond to someone who has decided that their lifestyle is not for him? Will they all forever view him as some dark, forlorn near psychopath who just could not see the light? Will they all view him as some evil emanation of the "other side" to be avoided, to be shunned? Interestingly, before he became frum, before he "knew anything", they would have welcomed him with open arms. What has changed now? If a person rejects the derech or voices their opinions openly, does the whole fabric of the universe collapse around it? Perhaps the question is even darker. Does Judaism, as practiced today, with all of its practical offshoots, bear examination in the light of day? Or are there some things we would rather hide? And if the latter is true, do we not owe Noam a little more?

I write this as a former kiruv-ist who has seen the situation from every side. I have seen every shade of Noam that there is to see. The Noam that never truly buys it all. The Noam that reacts with anger and fights back l'hach'is. The Noam that tries to resolve. The Noam that withdraws, freis out and doesn't care. And YES, even the Noam that happily grows and prospers, buys in more deeply. But if we, in whatever kiruv role we have, do not make an honest assessment of our product and the customer experience, if we are increasingly satisfied with our product and say that we are not interested in the special challenges of the BT, we sell what we sell and that's it, then we are not destined to gain many of the latter Noams. More importantly, the main mitzva of kiruv will be lost. That mitzva is not convincing the unaffiliated person that Judaism is rationally, theologically, or ethically superior. It is helping them to become part of a community that acts together to make it so, that admits its shortcomings, that works to solve them, instead of hiding them. The mitzva is not bringing BTs into the community, but making the community one that is worthy of BTs.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

via onionsoupmix

BT Permission Slip

I, ______, want to become frum, because I am convinced that Judaism is a viable path for life. I certify, under penalty of disillusionment, that I have read and agreed to the following stipulations.

(Note: Here, I get the life sized picture of Chico and Groucho doing the contract scene in Night at the Opera. "The party of the first part shall be known as the party of the first part ...")

1) Judaism operates just like any other lifestyle. People with money and power get special treatment and impunity. Jobs and critical life requirements are filled through nepotism and netwrok ties between family and friends. You will likely lose any such ties that you have, so be prepared to survive and build your empire on your own.

2) Judaism professes belief in some far out, magical, superstitious, anti-scientific (or outdated scientific), downright weird stuff. These things are vestigial remnants of ancient apologetics, retained for value that they provide in understanding lines of reasoning. They are not meant to be everlasting physical truths or mesoretic pronouncements. The BT agrees not to base his practice of Judaism on these matters, nor to promote them as proof, as said proof relates to reality, henceforth known in this document as REALITY.

3) BT understands that "Armageddon is coming", "Moshiach is coming today" etc. are only expressions of eagerness and hope, not a lifestyle. KP is not responsible for any damage caused by adherence to said philosophy as lifestyle.

4) BT understands that his efforts are not in any way "heroic", not to be challenged in any way by any statement made to or about BT by KP. All sacrifices of family and professional opportunity are solely the responsibility of the BT. No special consideration is due to BT from any party.

5) BT understands that he is now required to have many children, 5, 10, more, G-d willing. BT is responsible for all expenses, especially yeshiva tuition. Since this expense will likely exceed the cost of buying a new sports car or SUV every year for 15 years or more, BT is responsible to show proof of financial viability and sources of potential income before entering into this contract.

6) BT understands that certain mores of society such as considering Jews and non-Jews as equals, viewing intermarried couples as "living the lifestyle of their choice" rather than "an earthshaking tragedy", teaching science, rather than religion, in a science class, viewing the assimilated Jew as another person, rather than a "target", getting to really know a person before marrying them, advocating professional careers for women, must be specificly rejected by BT under penalty of expulsion.

6) BT understands that integration into a community is required for full acceptance of this contract. BT understands that said integration is entirely, wholly, utterly and completely, the responsibility of the BT. BT understands that efforts to gain emotional support or lifestyle advice within said community may lead to suspicion and ostracism.

7) BT understands that the lifestyle requirements are extraordinarily expensive. BT understands that external forces, rather than personal commitment may require him to keep very strict and contrived rules that increase this expense. BT understands that if he thinks he can get by on a normal income, say 80K to 120K (depending on where he lives and how many kids he ultimately has), he is out of his cotton picking mind. BT further understands that efforts to obtain more money may be hampered by said community restrictions, like forbidding use of the Internet, lackadasical adherence to announced minyan times etc. Accommodations will only be forthcoming at the discretion of the community parties, aka anyone affected by the ensuing lack of money.

8) BT is forbidden to ever read a weblog, henceforth BLOG.

I have read and fully accept this contract.

Signature of starry eyed BT here

I have read and made sure that no responsibility can be pinned on me

Signature of KP

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Better Kiruv

In better kiruv, less is more. But two things are paramount.

The first is the recognition that Noam doesn't happen in a vacuum. A potential BT is a real human being with real life. You are about to tell him that everything that he holds true is false. You are telling him that his common sense is really just an evil inclination. In doing so, you are changing his priorities, estranging him from his family, and challenging every survival skill that he has. But as the sign says, you break it, you own it. Recognizing that we asking nothing less of Noam than to leave everything that he knows about how to make a living (no more Shabos work, no shaking hands with the opposite sex, no lunch and dinner on late or unexpected assignments etc.), how to find a shiduch, how to relate to others in his world, and how to just fit in and get along and adopt to a new lifestyle. The KP is responsible to replace that family with a new family, people who are actively pursuing Noam's full and proper integration into the frum world. If you are not willing to go that far, don't be a KP, period. I am not just suggesting a passive role of answering questions and making sure that he serves your purposes. You must serve his purposes, making sure that he is going about things, pursuing a living, pursuing a shiduch, making a life plan, in a realistic manner, making sure that he is truly integrating with frum society, not just some idealized kiruv version of reality. Knowing Noam as we do, we see how very important is this point.

The second is to avoid ANY AND ALL APOLOGETICS!!! If confronted with the inevitable questions in deifficult areas, respond truthfully and there is only one truthful answer. I DON'T KNOW, and no one else does either. We do not have the means to resolve apparent contradictions between our tradition and apparent fact. Perhaps we will sometime in the future, but we do not have enough knowledge to understand this now. Do not quote kiruv sources or silly backwoods proofs.

The biggest proponent of this type of approach was the Chabad Rebbe. Regarding our first point, the CR demanded that everyone make a mashpia for himself. In Noam's situation, the KP is the natural person to do this, and the requirements are far heavier when we are taking away his baseline of survival and replacing with something foreign to him. The KP must make sure that he enters frum life as a savvy adult, not as a starry eyed child. Regarding the second, in his first directives on kiruv, CR announced twelve separate "military campaigns" or mivtzoyim. Each was a particular mitzvah. Never did he suggest to bolster it with apologetics. He offered apologetics himself only after much prodding and they were of a very weak and noncommitted nature. They were stated very softly as "perhaps we could say". Ultimately, he answered that if we do not have an answer for a question, we cannot put a time limit on finding it. This was obviously very wise. For instance, the entire ideas of relativity and QM, so popular among apologists today, were not available to apologists 200 years earlier, a mere blip on the Jewish timeline. Apologetics that were proposed 1000 years ago are now useless, based on long outdated science. They can only do harm, as they only convince the convinced.

Next: The BT permission slip. What the BT must sign to be allowed to become frum.

Monday, November 21, 2005


A comment below asks for a review of the acronyms, and I see his point:

KP - kiruv professional
SD - sugar daddy (pimary supporter(s) of the kiruv professional)
BT - Ba'al Teshuva
FFB - Frum from birth
KPB - the kiruv professional's brother (who runs the school in our case)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Revenge of the Myth - Part VI

As we have seen, the SD himself is not really the issue (the issue could be with any situation where an injustice is condoned based on external considerations, or considerations that are the opposite of our ideals), nor is the KP, nor even the community. The issue for Noam is reconciling the kiruv version of practicing Judaism with some truly practical lifestyle. Earlier, we offered up four possible endings for Noam, but our real goal is to resolve why Noam feels "misled". Obviously, he feels misled because he was learned that a Jew is a Jew, no matter what his level of wealth, no matter what his family name. He finds that this is not a practical way to approach life in any frum community, as wealth, family ties and other external matters obviously change the very people that have driven his ascent. The ideals for which Noam was enticed to pursue with mesiras nefesh have little place in the lives of "normal" people, other than lip service and the occasional project.

One can hope that the story ends like this. Noam is disillusioned, but not beaten. He decides that he must focus on life pursuits other than increasing his devotion to G-d and improving his practice of mitzvos. Not that he will abandon these goals entirely, but he will simply retrain himself to render lip service to the ideals, rather than take them so seriously. He finds a level that he can live with, and devotes more time to his family, his profession, making friends on the basis of common interest. He realizes that what he views as sacrifices are not necessarily recognized or viewed that way by others. Perhaps, he will drop some of his more strict or sectarian customs and simply do what is convenient.

What his children get at home will change a bit. He will tell them Torah verter about devoting oneself to Torah study but in practical and exemplary terms, he will no longer teach them to apply themselves fully to Torah study. He will encourage them to be careful with whom they form friendships, and he will give them insights into why some person might like them while another might not. In short, he will state one set of beliefs, yada yada, and then move on with his life. His relationship with the KP will change also, as will his attitude toward others that come for kiruv. The KP will no longer be a mashpia. He will listen to everything Jewish with half an ear, and pass it on with a grain of salt.

This is the best and most healthy ending that we can hope for. Other possibilities are 1) total frei-ing out, and possible attendant breaking up of the family, 2) total denial, which is like to last for only a short time, and 3) total orthopraxy, with Noam turning on Judaism with a passion.


A better kiruv

Friday, November 18, 2005

Mentalbloggers Take Up Arms

The rest of the story will be laid out after Shabbos. Meanwhile, a vigorous discussion has taken place on mentalblog, with representatives on all sides of this story. If you thought the characters or situation was not typical, just read some of the comments.

PS: This story can have a happy ending.
Good Shabbos all.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Relevant post from anonymousette

Anonymousette posted:

I was just having a thought about becoming a BT that I thought I would share. I think most BTs originally don't want to become Orthodox at all. They know that such a move will alienate them from their family and closest friends, and just make their life harder. For this reason, they rationalize why they are not Orthodox and why Judaism is wrong. There comes a point when they can no longer rationalize anymore, and thats when the realization hits that Orthodox Judaism is the only way to go. I think this is lost by becoming a BT through a kiruv rabbi, because I really feel able to combat any doubts I am having because I have had to rationalize all of them before I became a BT.

Rebel' note:
So you were better prepared for being frum WITHOUT any kiruv.

Revenge of the Myth - part V

First, a reminder that all of this story is contrived, for a purpose. We need to understand Noam if we want to keep him. Do we? Not everyone does.

After all, on the one hand, he has been handed a dose of old fashioned reality. On the other hand, he has laid down roots and he wants that part of frumkeit that he was striving for, the community, the egalite', the common goals of reaching G-d, by recognizing that we are all humbled before a higher source. He was willing to believe it was practical and achievable, but he finds that business is conducted in the frum community in the same way that it is conducted in the rest of the world, a world with ways that he spent years learning to reject and ridicule. He realizes that certain philosophical and theological problems have returned to haunt him. The beliefs that he is expected to promote are no longer the same as his true beliefs. In yeshiva, he was told that his common sense was just secular thinking, and if he truly trusted in G-d, he would proceed without calculations, based on mesiras nefesh and G-d would take care. And most of all, he realizes that he does not know who he can trust.

But, in our shteibel, there is also a non-kiruv FFB, call him Yitz. By non-kiruv, I mean that he has no real interest, other than a very mild acknowledgement of its theoretical value, in m'kareving Jews to Judaism. He keeps Torah and mitzvos and many chumras, just as he was taught since he was a child. Lack of secular education and disdain of the secular world has not enhanced his professional ambitions, but he has some holdings that his grandparents invested in for him, not much but something, and he is happy. He sits across from Noam, and overhears him telling someone about some of his concerns. He needs to go outside for a smoke, anything to get away from this kvetching.

He tries to concentrate on his brother's upcoming bris, when the family will all gather and celebrate together. His own son's bar mitzvah is coming up as well, and Yitz's father is already learning mishnayos, laining and helping the boy to commit his learning to memory. Yitz's mother, were she still among the living, would be beaming with pride. His sisters and nieces will take care of everything. None of them could be happier with all of the upcoming family simchas. And the SD always has some good funny story to lead off, often about his goyishe in laws. In-law stories are always the best.

He wonders why this Noam is such a downer lately. How could he not sense the joy in yiddishkeit? Our KPs forsake their own interests to m'karev guys like this, they take him into their home, when they have their own kids to deal with, their kids get a Jewish education, our KPs teach them how to connect with G-d, and here they are complaining about what they DON'T have. They come take our resources and then they are ungrateful. It is likely some personal problem, disguised as some question in frumkeit. It is well known that he and his wife often fight about money, he and his kids do not show up to some events when the entire community comes, and he shushes us during k'riah. Definitely, there is something wrong with that guy. If he doesn't like it here, who made him come? Let him go and stop whining. It is not like everyone doesn't have problems. We don't go whining about everything and blaming it on the next chair. Maybe he has some personal problem with the SD. WHO CARES! The guy was always a bit off.

He finishes his cigarette and returns to the room, avoiding eye contact with anyone.

Update: The first comment will testify to the point. It was entered by Shneur, the source of much fabulous information, on

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

BT Experince - part IV - Paradise Lost

Without getting into sordid details, let's just say that our SD gets caught doing something on a regular basis that most people would consider less than ethical, downright krum. Of course, we all know that this happens with any group of people. And let's just say that our KP is a nonjudgemental and forgiving fellow, at least when it comes to the SD. This is also understandable as the KPs entire livelihood may rest on this SD or a few like him. So Noam looks on. This SD will continue to get shlishi, shvi'i and maftir, he will continue to speak about how yidishkeit has changed the world, and he will continue to conduct business out of the public eye as he sees fit. Everyone will call him up to "say a few words" at public gatherings and simchas, and stammer on about how is a pillar of the shul and the community. Said people will continue to look with distain on Noam's old dusty hat, his old suit (a little short for the dry cleaner until the end of the month), and his loud kids.

Noam begins to wonder about the philosophy that the KP and his yeshiva teach. On the one hand, he is an authority on morality and ethics. On the other hand, he has rationalized this behavior and even found halachic rationalization, perhaps stretched out of shape somewhat, to support his position. Noam begins to understand how alone he really his, how, when the chips are down, it is money and standing that count, not the ethics and morality that had been drummed into him. Perhaps for the first time, he takes an honest look at the basis on which he was convinced to drop his entire repetoire of common sense, his basic values, his ideas on what it would take to make a living without "G-d helping", his acceptance of Jewish fundamentalist and mystical approach positions, the way he had built his life on a litany of chasidic or tzadik stories, and he begins to wonder what else he had been "sold".

Clarify here that it is not that the KP does anything wrong, per se. Noam understands the "grey area" of this case (though my caricature has drawn it more black and white). What he finds is that, (and if you miss this, you miss the point), contrary to what he was taught, he is not part of the "family". He has been told that his soul will burn in hell if he eats the wrong potato chips. He has given with mesiras nefesh so that he and his family can follow this philosophy. He estranged himself from his family of his youth. who told him that his crazy philosophy would lead him to disappointment and financial hardship. And now it has, and he finds that when the magic doesn't work, his symbol of frumkeit simply darshans it out of existence. When he confronts the KP, he is told that he just doesn't understand, that he is too new to Judaism to follow the nuance, that there is something wrong with him. Noam's bubble has now burst. He realizes that he has no landsmen, his family was not all crazy when they told him that his newfound philosophy, right off of the kiruv presses, was a bit starry eyed and not livable in the real world. He realizes that he must adjust quickly.

One of four things can happen here. 1) Noam will react with anger, reject Judaism and act l'hach'is publicly. 2) Noam will meekly accept the entreaties of his KP dutifully, and he will simply continue in his bubble, rationalizing that this is just a personal thing, and he needs to get over it. 3) Noam will join the many thousands that simply drop all enthusiasm and continue to practice outwardly for the sake of his wife and children. 4) He will adopt some middle position where he still believes in the dream that he chased to yeshiva, but with the realization that he has no basis to start from, no family to rely on, no real way to discern true from false or trustworthy from untrustworthy,

Philosophically, he changes radically. He knows that "G-d will help", but he does not know what that means any longer. He knows that "right is right" and "wrong is wrong", but he doesn't know what that neans either. He doesn't know if the people that he was taught were saintly and pure also have lackeys that rationalize away their faults.

And the sad thing is that it did not have to go down this way at all, even under the same circumstances. More on that.

And enter the nonkiruv FFB. He listens to Noam discuss his concerns. Perhaps Noam considers him a friend. But, his view may be totally different.

Next, Revenge of the Myth

Maven Yavin

4 of the Godol Hador's talented and learned chasidim, Krum as a Bagel, LamedZayin, S (Mississippi Fred McDowell) and ADDeRabbi have joined forces to try and fill the missing Godol's shoes (I mean that GH is missing not his shoes). As serious and deep as these guys seem to be, they are very likely to collaborate on a worthwhile blog that gives direct and deep consideration to the issues. Hatzlacha gentlemen, and I will look on with great anticipation.

The Baal Tshuva Experience - Part III

Roll back a few years. Let's have a look at Norman. Norman was a promising student, but he saw a life ahead of him that made him shudder. He is somewhat a loner, but not pathologically so. It seems that people are just not interested in his main interests. He is fascinated by Jewish history and Israel, he has a warm feeling about Judaism from his grandparents, but his family never kept anything. He hooked up with a Rabbi on campus, who is cool and seems surprisingly modern so he goes to synagogue and classes occasionally. The Rabbi insists on calling him by his Hebrew name Noam, which he finds a little annoying but quaint.

Norman grows a bit more mature and finds himself disinterested in hanging around with "kids" or going to bars to drink, pick up chicks for meaningless encounters, or just hanging around and watching a ball game. He decides to search for meaning in life, and who is ready with the answers? You got it. He attends more, and voila, he is getting hooked. A half ton of kugel and several gallons of chicken soup later, he is keeping kosher, keeping shabos and spending his free time at the student center / Chabad house. He dons yarmulke and tzitzis, and is that 5 o'clock shadow?

The Rabbi suggests that he take a little detour from his studies. Noam's burnout is all over that, so he decides to go to yeshiva or a discovery program associated with or in the midst of some heavily Orthodox community for a semester to "clear his head". He is still bothered by the questions of Torah / Science and fantasy stories that the Orthodox seem to believe, but he is drawn to the ethical pursuits, the promise of mystical secrets, the meaning of life, and the family and community warmth. He fears that he never would have been happy just caught up in the legal profession rat race anyway, where most of the people are workaholic balls of tension, bouncing between marraiges and life pursuits.

Noam's talent in law school translates well to yeshiva. He shows promise.

Fast forward, Noam is now in a shul with his 7 kids. He is happy enough doing mitzvos and teaching his children how important it is that they daven from the sidur with intense kavana and do the mitzvos with great love. He tells them that their grandparents love them, though we cannot get together too much because "they lived in hard times and never got to go to Jewish school like you. So they do not keep kosher etc." He has made the necessary accomodations at work to keep a good job, where he does not work Shabbos and Yom Tov, does not shake hands with women, and is not required to go to lunch with clients or anyone else. He hasn't a penny to save and he has just taken another large loan to pay for tuition this year.

It is worth it to him though. He is having mesiras nefesh and he enjoys his frum family. Until something goes very very wrong.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Our Little Shteibl (or Chabad House) - Part II

Now let's turn to the kiruv pro. He perceives his mission in life to bring the good news of Torah to every Jewish ear. And how can he lose? Does he not have great frum scientists in every field to ward off pesky questions while his wife cranks out the most modern healthy low fat yoga friendly foods? Can he not discuss modern current events, the rotten Arabs, the intrigues and secret antisemitism of the current US, Canadian administrations, whomever they may be at the moment, the chutzpah of the antireligious Israeli government, the heroism of the Yesh(a) settlers and so on? Can he not show how "migdal haPorayach b'Avir" preceded the Wright brothers by 2000 years? His voice will crackle with excitement and his manner exudes friendliness to every young unaffiliated face.

Financially, he must find a sugar daddy from among the wealthy yidden to fund his efforts and his own salary. As I said before, this person never hears the truth. He will sit up front, get every honor, donate the Max J. Goldman memorial solid gold candlabra (and pay the heating bill). He will get shlishi and shvi'i and maftir and musaf etc. If he has a problem with the mechitza, a compromise will be found. If something in learning might offend his sensibilities, it will be skipped or vigorously apologized for. Because, you see, our sugar daddy did not leave university to go to yeshiva, his wife worked as they spaced their two kids carefully so that both could pursue their careers with full attention. They would never allow their two kids to be as wild as the frum kids. The sugar daddy and therefore the kiruv pro look with derision upon the 40 something man who sits in the back and davens with force, looking very much like he has swallowed the alien seed from the original movie and it will burst forth any minute. He has 7 kids, no money, though he can discuss how the theories of Pasteur were actually foretold in the Parsha. It is not that he is not intelligent enough to be in medicine or law, but he simply has no ambition in those directions, as he will tell you that only G-d provides sustenance and not the profession. He dropped out of law school to go to yeshiva, where he learned how degrading it was to be a university trained professional, and how much a waste of time it was to do anything but sit and learn, and how women should really not work outside the home. He learned that he should not plan his life out, but he should marry and have as many children as G-d gave him, the results of which now have runny noses, are yelling and running indoors, and the youngest of them have come to shul today, primarily because mom needed them out of the house for a few hours. He makes good money, but not enough for his extravagant lifestyle of feeding kids, clothing kids ... oh yeah and educating them. (The KPs brother JUST HAPPENS to be in charge at the school. Small world.)

So this kiruv professional has just devoted years to turning people like his SD into people like this young man. He has courted his SD for that express purpose. And here the three of them sit. Until something something goes really, really wrong. More to come ...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The BT Expericnce - Part I

Are Baalai Teshuva justified when they complain about being "misled" in kiruv? Or, is it just them? Let's take a closer look.

The student or prospective candiddate wants or yearns or aches to know more about Judaism. Throughout this study, we will use "he" for convenience, where either "he" or "she" is applicable. (Note from Rebeltzin: Why can't we use "she", it is just as convenient or are you too lazy too type an extra letter?)

From there, the candidate is romanced, courted with attention, enticed with Shabbos meals and shown the delights, the intellectual stimulation of yeshiva learning, the fascinating "proofs", and the life structure that frum life affords. In other words, as mentalblog has it, love bombing is the weapon of choice. And none of what is presented is untrue. Even the "proofs" work on a certain level. We've hooked him. Let's get him to a BT discovery or yeshiva program quickly.

The old addage goes that rich men and beautiful women never hear the truth. So let's assume that those are not factors in our case. The kiruv pro (KP, henceforth) pats himself on the back, job well done, NEXT! The BT gets the works, he is introduced to Torah learning, he is taught how to keep mitzvos, and he is taught simplistic defenses against the vast questions of hashkafa that we all know and love. In short, he is "brainwashed" with mystical approach and flimsy apologetics. By mystical approach here, I mean that our hashkafa affects our reality directly. If a Rav paskens that something is kosher, then that very psak will allow the animal to live 12 months. The Rebbes and gedolim become mythical supermen, secretly performing miracles and wonders at the blink of eye, and directing every aspect of our lives ex-cathedra. Their words become Torah and are therefore infallible. Flimsy apologetics refers to ... OK, you know what that refers to. He is fearful of life's difficulties, but the KP assures him that "G-d will help", perhaps bolstering it with some formula variety Chasidic stories.

Then, the BT is ready for shiduchim. Generally, mixed marraiges, BT and FFB families are not encouraged, though this is changing nowadays, in the U.S. And then comes life. And here is where "misled" enters the picture.

1) The BT will find himself at odds or with strained relations with his family. This is unavoidable. The BT has rejected the way that he was raised, and often has taken on a completely alien way of life. "Why so many kids?" "Why can't you go to cousin Jeffrey's wedding to Christina?" "Isn't she heroic having served the Peace Corp in her native town in Korea?" "Why won't you kiss your female relatives?" And even if they understand this, they certainly do not have the same priorities as he does. He will spend family celebrations in the little corner reserved for the Kosher relatives. He will leave uneasily as the female rabbi sings whatever new age song is in vogue. They will be uncomfortable and out of place at his simchas.

2) Then comes little Mendy. Little Mendy is struggling in Jewish studies and needs more one on one help than the Rebbi can provide. Hopefully, the BT has enough yeshiva to help him. Otherwise, little Mendy will probably have to go to tutoring besides, or go without, once the money runs out.

3) The BT is overpowered by expenses. They trusted in G-d, and after kid number 6, BT has achieved a high income. However, he is broke, because astronomical yeshiva costs, large enough house, large enough car, kosher food, tznius clothing, hat, sheitel, household help just to keep the dirt level down below the sights of DCS, support for children drive him to the brink and into the credit cards every single month. And that is just basics. Relatives wag heads and say "we told you so". It is hard to know whether the financial strain is the hard part or the lack of emotional chizuk from a family who supports what the BT is doing.

4) Marraige suffers under constant financial and daily stress level.

5) Along comes Sarale in the baby carraige. Mommy is in the hospital for two days and gets an infection. She will need bed rest. No relatives are coming to help. The house goes utterly hefker as the remaining healthy parent runs from job to day care, to school, to hospital, to home, to pharmacy. Hopefully, the community will pitch in.

6) Relatives come to visit. Mendy and Sarale wonder why Zeidi and Bubby drive on Shabbos and Tom Tov. Aren't they Jewish?

While the FFB will experience some of these conditions sometimes, the BT will almost invariably experience them all the time. This is the BT experience. Many FFBs will resent my saying this because they were not really part of the KP structure. These BTs are just competition to them, just more people coming to drain resources of the community and bitch about it the whole way. The BT wonders where the luster of life, the stories of Jewish achdus through thick and thin, the KP style expressions of heroism in their recounting of their lifestyle choice has brought him.

So where did this tale go wrong and how can it be righted? More to come. Plenty more.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Kiruv Business - Hakdama

The Kiruv Business

has effectively created a blog for ba'alai teshuva who have gone off the path to share the experience together. Among the oft repeated points is the feeling of being misled by kiruv professionals. FFBs respond by blaming the BTs for being gullible, for having unrealistic expectations, for blaming personal problems on frumkeit, and intimating sometimes that the BT is a little ... you know ... odd. They conclude that "misled" is whining or griping. Mentalblog had a weeklong discussion (search for Love bombing and following posts) on the subject some time back, featuring BTs and FFBs trying to break through the rift of understanding that seems to separate the two groups.

In this matter, I am in a unique position to examine the issue. For years, I was a "kiruv professional". I had some regular Jewish education growing up and was on again off again frum. Sorry that is a long story and a digression for another time. By the time I reached adulthood, I wanted to be frum, I could speak Hebrew well, I knew halacha and gemorra well enough to "sit and learn" after a short time. At that time, I decided that I wanted to bring the good word to all the corners of the Earth, and set out to do that. I was not an FFB, not a textbook BT, sort of an in between larval stage of something frum. As an idealistic youngster, I loved the fervor of Chabad, especially.

I do not regret having been a kiruvnik, a Chabadnik or anything else that I have been. (OK, I occasionally regret when I have been a jerk, but I rarely admit it. The Rebeltzin has to beat it out of me.) But, I feel that the parties in this dance really do not understand one another at all.

This series will be on BT - FFB relations and the kiruv business.

First installment - The BT experience
When a corporation reviews its practices, often the meetings concern themselves with the "customer experience" in dealing with the company, or why would people want to deal with us? The first mistake kiruv pros make is to act as if they are in a corporation and that their job is to get customers. In Chabad, they even have the ignoble practice of logging "tefilins", "lulavs", "menorahs" or whatever they happen to be doing, building a "Din V'Cheshbon" of numbers, instead of trying to affect the life of the person.

During the course of posting, we will cover the BT side, the FFBs nonkiruv pros' view, the special challenges of the BT, and above all, why the kiruv pro MUST MUST MUST face that when they mekarev someone to frumkeit, they need to replace the family and familiarity ties that they are removing. Perhaps BTs should be required to fill out a full disclosure form stating that they have been informed of the advantages and disadvantages of frum life FOR THEM, and that they are making an informed choice.

Please stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Even Geocentrism is not Geocentric

Observant astronomer does it again, showing that even the geocentric models do not support geocentrism. He links to his earlier discussion of "strong" and "weak" geocentrism.

The reason why this is important to our discussion is that apologists tend to want to defend the "strong" geocentrism position as a "Torah" position, and they use medieval astronomy liberally, leading down some silly alleys. Even the Rambam clearly operates based on what Observer says here. Besides the modern reasons that he set forth before, even the ancients, who believed in it, could not make it work.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

New Noach Question

Besides the miracles that we enumerated before, there is something that puzzled me in flood land. Rashi says that Kol HaChai refers to Shaidim, spiritual entities usually associated with harm, like demons. I understand why Rashi says this, since the pasuk says kol Basar already, why say kol Hachai, so it must refer to a "chai" that is not basar. I wonder:

a) Does Rashi hold that medrashic demons are D'Oraisa? Obviously so, though they are never directly mentioned.
b) Does Rashi hold that demons are real? Again, obviously so, since they are "CHAI".
c) Why save the demons? Let 'em drown. I know, Iknow, why create them at all ...?
d) Why do they need to be on the Taiva at all? Can the water harm them?
e) Were they there to keep the dinosaurs at bay? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
f) Do they procreate male and female, as implied?

Another puzzlement. It says that the water covered "all of the mountains of the Earth". Yet, Rashi says that the water only went 15 amos above the peaks of Ararat, some 17,000 feet. Obviously, there are mountains in Pakistan and Himalayas that are twice that high. Therefore, the water could not have covered them. Homework: Answer this without resorting to nishtaneh Hateva or miraculous mountain manipulation.