Ready To Be Orthodox, But No Place to Go

letter-447577_1280

…. Would the Lord the giftie give us
to see ourselves as others see us….
-Robert Burns

The resurgence of Orthodox Judaism – from down for the count to the most dynamic sector of Jewish life – calls for stock-taking. Here is a faithful paraphrase of the perspective recently shared with me by a highly intelligent baal-teshuva:

My seriously Jewish friends and I are in a state of confusion about where we belong in Jewish life. Reform is too far gone for my taste, and the Conservatives are wishy-washy. That leaves only the Orthodox, but the two major groupings in Orthodoxy -the Modern Orthodox/Centrists and the yeshiva/haredi world – both make me uncomfortable.

Let’s look at the M.O. first. Forgive my simplifications, but I am sharing broad impressions with you.

The MO strike an occasional responsive chord within me. While Torah study is primary for me, I am in favor of some secular learning, want to be part of the world, and support fully the State of Israel.

But there are aspects of MO that give me pause. I find them too casual, and careless, about their Judaism They with their tiny knitted kippot held on by hair clips (why can’t they use larger kippot that will stay on their heads? Are they trying to make their headgear inconspicuous?) All right, those are externals. But maybe the kippot are a statement: I am cool, carefree, not really all that frum, and not very different from the world outside.

More seriously, I find in the MO an emphasis on material success and careers – just like in the majority culture. While I agree that a Jew should be part of the world, I think the MO tend to blur the narrow line between involvement with the world and yet resisting the vulgar values that permeate that world. Movies, theater, TV, with all their crassness, are all normal aspects of their daily lives.

This inability to resist contemporary life shows itself,for example, in their flirtaton with so-called “Orthodox feminism” and its aliyot for women, female Simchas Torah celebrations,female megillah readings, and frenetic attempts to imitate men. With one eye cocked on the fashion du jour, MO seems to be today’s precursors of tomorrow’s Conservative movement.

Yes, they are technically observant, but it’s an observance that to me seems superficial, robotic, without passion. In many MO day schools, Torah study is a subject among other subjects: Talmud first period, mathematics second period, biology third period, etc. This reflected is some MO lives. Although obeisance is given to Torah as the supreme value, Torah is compartmentalized as one of a number of pursuits.

I don’t want to be super-critical, but this casualness shows itself in what seems like an unending search for Kullos. When was the last time you heard of a MO chumra? Their only religious passion is directed against those who are more religiously passionate than they are.

I would like to identify with them, but I am uncomfortable with the whiff of compromise that they exude.
——————————-
Where then is my spiritual home? With the yeshiva/haredi world?Not really.

For starters,there is simply too much regimentation there. It is not only that everyone wears the same black and white clothing. ( After 120 years, are we to be asked about our hat color and brim width? Do we burn in hell if we wore a gray hat, or a blue one? Is admission to heaven denied to those who wore suits of gray or blue, or, heaven forfend, a sport-jacket?)

But it is not only their monochromatic sartorial habits that get to me, but also their black and white world view. In the real world, there are gradations of gray between black and white – there actual colors out there ! – but for the haredim these do not exist. I fully realize that many individual haredim are kind,, generous, charitable, but the group as group comes across as self-righteousness and intolerant of other viewpoints, even within the parameters of Orthodoxy.

Lately, for example, they have been banning certain books as heretical when the books dare sugest that some things are not black and white. If a writer hints that not all gedolim were born perfect, or — basing himself on solid authoritative sources – that the science of the great Sages, tho containing hidden and profound truths, is not congruent with contemporary scientific knowledge ( while fully committed to all halakhic rulings of the Sages) his material is forbidden. (Which turns humdrum books into best sellers.)

Such behavior tends to remove some of the beauty and holiness from Torah life. Jews should be sensitive to book burnings, whether real or symbolic.

In general, haredim seem to want to close themselves off from the world of art music, culture – and one cannot blame them. After all, it was the cultural elite of the 20th century who were also the leaders of 20th century brutality, playing Bach while the crematoria did their work. Nevertheless, there is a world out there that helps us understand Creation: physics, biology, mathematics – even music.

I fully appreciate the sacrifice that full time Kollel learning involves – many luxuries and comforts are surrendered. But within their world, is there also room for genuinely pious and learning people who also work, earn livelihoods, have university degrees?

Despite all this, the haredim have been most successful, and have really defeated the MO on the battlefield of ideas. They have a charismatic leadership, a consistent ideology, they are intensely Jewish, they sacrifice. Their is purpose in their lives, spiritual strength, sanctity, self assurance – and these have attracted many Jews under their umbrella.Unlike the MO, they have little difficulty is retaining their next generation – though they do have some problems in this regard).

I realize there is a vast difference between Israeli and America haredim ( the former being more closed than their USA counterparts- as indicated by the most recent book banning that was not endorsed by several of the leading U.S. Roshe Yeshiva).
But I am both attracted and repelled by this haredi world – as I am by the MO world.

——–

My friends and I are in despair. Orthodoxy is genuine and authentic, and we belong there. But is this all that Orthodoxy has to offer these days — either book bannings or tiny knitted kippot hanging on by a thread – plus a disdain for other Orthodox groups? Is this the way of holiness?

***

My young interlocutor finished his disquisition. For a change, I had no immediate response, Instead,I am turning it over to the blogosphere for reaction. What would you tell him?

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46 Responses

  1. A. Feldman says:

    I may be the only one responding on the “pro-charedi” side of things.(as oppsosed to the MO, and the “Straddle the fence responses that don’t really address the issue). In short, the shortcomings of the Charedi world are really much less encompassing as those of the MO. Even though they seem rigid and unsubmitting, you will never find as much devotion and chesed to fellow jews as in the Charedi world. In fact it seems that the more religous, the more selflessness there is. Secondly, even if they were true to the same extent, the charedi “problems” are indicative of a deep commitment to the survival of the Jewish way of living as G-d wants it, where the MO “problems” are revealing of a basic laid-back approach to everything spiritual, and shows where priorities are; and when halacha must “fit in”. Shouldn’t the choice be clear?
    RESPONSE to “bnai levi” – although you are correct about their “brother”hood, there is absolutely no “pro-ban” attitude in either of these torah giants, and HaRav Ah. Feldman went through unspeakable personal lengths just to clarify and “limit” the ramifications of the “ban”; as oppsosed to just taking a “pro-ban” attitude as you suggest.

  2. Eliyahu Skaist says:

    I struggle with this problem constantly. There is a large but quiet sector of the Chareidi world that could be termed “Reasonable Chareidi” but it is not an organized group. The reason it cannot be organized is because what makes this group reasonable is that they have not lost their personable and human compassion for individual Jews. The minute it becomes a movement it runs the risk of taking on its own purpose. I suggest that anyone frustrated by this painful aspect of the Golus should turn their focus completely on their own Avodas Hashem and view these situations of adversity as opportunities to rise above, be compassionate for, and to teach others what a true Yid is all about. Stewing in the frustration, anger, and loneliness only serves to feed on itself and increase the bitter feelings. I believe that this situation is one aspect of Chevlei Mashiach, may he come speedily in our days.

  3. Sammy Finkelman says:

    Don’t worry that there’s not too much that’s exactly right – juust tell people that there’s not too much that’s exactly right – so they’ll keep on looking. And what did Avraham Avinu do anyway?

  4. Sammy Finkelman says:

    You have to find some small group – a shul perhaps – that is exactly what you want. It’s going to be small. You can be sure that it is there – in many places. Look around. You can find people or institutions to endorse. People who now do not think of themselves as unique.

  5. DZ says:

    Tell him to go to a community like your very own Beth Jacob in Atlanta, where there is a beautiful fusion of FFB and BT. The BT’s tend to help the FFB’s who relate to them take the edge off their “Chareidi”keit. It is the best of both worlds, and, according to the Maharal, is actually G-d’s plan to help energize and ignite new passion into the Chareidi world by having them fuse with the BT’s. THe FFB’s teach the BT’s a solid Torah Hashkafah, and the BT’s “force” the FFB’s to act less harsh, be less black and white, and maintain a healthy balance and appreciation for whatever is of value in the secular world.

  6. DZ says:

    Tell him to go to a community like your very own Beth Jacob in Atlanta, where there is a beautiful fusion of FFB and BT. The BT’s tend to help the FFB’s who relate to them take the edge off their “Chareidi”keit. It is the best of both worlds, and, according to the Maharal, is actually G-d’s plan to help energize and ignite new passion into the Chareidi world by having them fuse with the BT’s. THe FFB’s teach the BT’s a solid Torah Hashkafah, and the BT’s “force” the FFB’s to act less harsh, be less black and white, and maintain a healthy balance and appreciation for whatever is of value in the secular world.

  7. Batya Medad says:

    I think that the searching Jew hasn’t seen enough of the Modern Orthodox. Many wear large, proud, colorful kippot, that don’t hide in their black hair. Many study Torah besides working in all sorts of fields. The person just needs to find the right community.

  8. Barney Martin says:

    It strikes me that too much is made of MO versus Hareidi. Both can be correct. Elu v’elu divrei Elokim chaim.

    The prospective BT should put hesitation aside. If he makes a wrong choice, and later realizes that he did so, what is to stop him from making the right choice at that time? Who says you only get one shot at being a good Jew? Some folks have spent all their lives trying to be good Jews, and frankly admit that they are still trying. Which, I think, is the point. Trying is a lifetime commitment – the colour of one’s kippah does not determine one’s worth.

    He should, as Rebbe Nachman advises, joyfully accept the challenge and forge bravely forward, overcoming all obstacles put in his path by the yetzer ha ra.

  9. YU Educated says:

    It seems strange that one who edited a magazine of leading MO thought-Tradition-so magnificently could attack MO. I hope that Rabbi Feldman is not attacking many of the Rabbis who he worked with for many years. I remember the kind words he wrote about the Rav ZT”L-although not a YU musmach. It is possible that some of the attack on MO is meant to be the subset of MO who are Torah lite-who frankly maybe are not Orthodox but for whatever reasons pay membership to Orthodox synagogues, send children to MO schools hoping they will not be exposed too much. However, I think the attack would be unfair if it is interpreted as one on the ideology and the practitioners of MO. I believe Rabbi Feldman knows many of them from his active distinguished membership and leadership in the Rabbinical Council of America.

  10. ezra shapiro says:

    Already orthodox and comfortable in quite a few places

    Im orthodox and am so comfortable living amongst such a wide range of jews and rabbanim. I neither cringe at the sound of Rav Elyashivs shlitas name nor at the sound of Rav Ahron Lichtenstein shlitas, they are both tremendous gdolei olam and yirei shamayim, I should only reach their ankles. I realize that no “system” has proven itself for someone who is not working constantly to notice areas to improve, each system has its challenges which has to be compensated for and worked on through self chinuch, otherwise avodat hashem wouldn’t be an avoda it would be a train ticket. Each system being more or less challenging for different people. When I bring up my children I evaluate which challenges I will be able to overcome with my own chinuch.(with the full awareness of the reality which the “baal tshuva” might not yet realize that there are more than enough exceptions to the stereotypes on both sides that you really wont feel uncomfortable as a learned and observant person living in a MO community or as a menshlich open minded person living in a yishivish community) I’m personally pretty optimistic at the general trends and growing opportunities in both communities for growth. Try to picture the perfect society one which is openminded and protected, involved with the world and unaffected by it. You cant create that with a system, only with hard work; either by trying to become openmided in a protected world or to become more protective in an open world. both of those are the exact options which we have. Enjoy it’s a wonderful growing and challenging jewish world, as long as you think.

  11. Joel Rich says:

    Dear R’ Feldman – it’s my favorite quote but I think you quoted it by heart and assumed the poet shared your frumkeit – it’s not “Would the Lord ” but rather “Would some power the giftie..”
    KT
    Joel Rich

  12. Rav Feldman: I am quite happy to see you in this forum! Especially on this subject that we have discussed in times past. I wonder if the question might be more valid — and the answer more easily approached — if we were to consider other elements of Orthodox Judaism, which are as historically or philosophically valid as the ḥaredi or MO streams. For example:
    (1) Edot HaMizraḥ and Sepharadim, who have been subsumed by the yeshivish world but would do well to flesh out their own heritage instead. They would be a force to be reckoned with in this debate if they would just remember what they are bringing to the Jewish world.
    (2) The “Ḥaredi Leumi” or MO “ḥazzakim”, whom have already been mentioned in this discussion, and who are quite serious about living according to Torah ideals (albeit perhaps still too reactionary to the ḥaredi world).
    (3) Fringe ḥassidic groups who, although I don’t like it personally, are apparently going to have a say in the future of Judaism.
    (4) And those of us who have chosen to cast our lot with the Land and State of Israel by living here, which forces us to reflect on our choice of camp nearly every day. As you well know, our children’s educational choices (as well as a myriad of other life-style choices) are more sharply defined here than in Huts-le-Arets, and that makes this whole question more real. When I look back to the U.S. and to those who can make a patchwork quilt out of said life-style choices, I say, “Enjoy it while you can”.
    Your thoughts?

  13. Jennifer says:

    Rabbi Feldman,

    I am so happy to see you on the internet posting. I have looked up to you for a great long while. As a sometimes visitor to Beth Jacob and Rabbi Silverman’s beginners minyan (I live 5 hours from Atlanta), and a reader of your books, I myself am waiting to become orthodox (just as soon as my gentile hubby decides to convert with me).

    I would be delighted to hear what you finally tell your BT friend. Me, I would tell him to go MO, but not a tiny-kippot-wearing MO. There are great examples of MO people with huge black velvet kippot, who say a bracha when partaking of a cookie crumb, but who can relate to the rest of the world with joy.

    My hubby has been scared off by the charedi when visiting their neighborhoods in Fairfax. They were unfriendly, cold, and self-absorbed, he says. Is this the fishbowl HaSh-m wanted us to be? Who would join such a group? How can the Jews lead the way if they close themselves off entirely from the world?

  14. Ilana says:

    1) Being a fresh BT gives you at least a few years of time to pick and choose from here and there and not fit entirely into any particular community. More or less until your oldest child enters school. And even when you’ve chosen a primary affiliation, you don’t need to conform 100% (especially if you’re careful about the externals). Lots of people don’t.
    2) As has been pointed out, some of this depends where you live. There are “chardal” (chareidi leumi – very serious about mitzvot and about the State of Israel) communities in Israel, “modern chareidi” enclaves in chu”l, etc. Small communities have advantages and disadvantages – one advantage is that in a town with only one Orthodox shul, everyone belongs and people with fairly divergent hashkafot can get along surprisingly well.
    3) Being Orthodox does not guarantee that you or anyone else will be a tzaddik or even a mensch. Plenty of us are shallow, materialistic, selfish, arrogant, close-minded, etc. So are plenty of non-Orthodox people. The Torah gives us the tools to transform these middos, but it’s a lifetime’s labour. Realize that there are remarkable people within every segment of Orthodoxy, and don’t let a few individuals tarnish the reputation of an entire outlook.

  15. Moshe says:

    When people as me what I am, I say a “Jew”. And who’s your father? I am a ben Avraham, Yitzchak v’Yaakov. Seems to work ok…

  16. Shira Leibowitz Schmidt says:

    When I studied engineering one method that we learned for making decisions under uncertainty was the minimax theory. Applied here it would mean that opting for the haredi world might lead, at worst, to narrowness. But opting for the MO world might lead in a worse case scenario, Heaven forbid, to leading a person (or his descendants) out of Judaism.
    20 bShvat

  17. Moshe Feldman says:

    Your comments show that you have met the less serious MOs and not the more serious ones. While the majority of MOs in the US are less serious, there are increasing numbers of the more serious ones, especially among graduates of Yeshiva University who spent time studying at yeshivot in Israel. And in Israel, the situation is even better–there are many communities where large numbers of the populace are “Torani,” i.e., serious MOs. I live in one such community. Many of us make sure to study Torah every day, teach our children that Torah education is more important than secular education, and are critical of the materialistic culture of the Western world.

  18. Jack says:

    I belong to a Conservative shul, but often daven with a mixture of MOs and Charedim who themselves are a mixture of BTS and FFBs. I find the comment that Conservatives are wishy-washy to be just silly. Wishy-washy about what.

    Now I am not advocating that this man become Conservative, but I will say that I have been told frequently that I know a surprising amount for a Conservative Jew which is really nothing more than a back handed compliment.

    To me this is all part of the problem of tolerance within our community as a whole, not just Reform, Conservative or Orthodoxy, but Jews in general.

    We must find a way to stand together or we will find ourselves standing alone.

    That being said I would advise the man to try and make a list of pros and cons and then analyze that to see if it provides more insight into where and what he wants to be. Good Shabbos to all.

  19. How’s this for “Modern Orthodox” chumra: Participating in the defense of the State of Israel. “Or filing honest income taxes. Or treating blacks, gays, and women with a modicum of respect. Or displaying tolerance for multiple viewpoints.”

    Those are not chumros. Honest income taxes are a chiyuv. The other things are merely your desiderata.

  20. Michoel says:

    Mrs. Toby Katz, please come over here and upshlug this terrible defamation that charedim don’t have a modicum of respect for their wives. I am shocked.

  21. ADDeRabbi says:

    How’s this for “Modern Orthodox” chumra: Participating in the defense of the State of Israel. Or filing honest income taxes. Or treating blacks, gays, and women with a modicum of respect. Or displaying tolerance for multiple viewpoints.

    When did “chumra” start pertaining exclusively to how much matza one eats. A wise man once remarked, “It’s not that Charedi have all of the chumrot and MO all of the kulot. Rather, Charedim have a tendency toward chumra in Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deah and toward kulah in Choshen Mishpat, whereas the reverse is the case in the MO world.”

    And a more fundamental issue: What the heck is this, color war? Since when must my religious world be determined by synagogue or political affiliation. Didn’t all 3 million Jews at Sinai hear something else? Do we all need to label ourselves as being on one ‘team’ or the other? Does your BT friend need to make a ‘choice’, or can he just observe that he doesn’t fit either of the 2 major trends within Orthodoxy, become confortable on his lonely path toward God, and quit try to shoehorn himself into one camp or the other.

  22. dovbear says:

    It occurs to me that your charecterization of the MO is 100 percent unfair. You know better, so why did you attack them without mercy?

  23. Shmuel says:

    Akiva,
    As someone of a similar mind and currently involved in shidduchim for my daughter. I hear you LOUD and CLEAR.

  24. Joe says:

    As someone whos ometimes does feel stuck between the two worlds described, I can say that it’s not really so hard! (As one of the posters above noted at least this is the case int he US, perhaps not in EY) In any case, he seems to paint MO community with a pretty wide brush. Are all those who wear knit kipas, take the claims of science seriously, and take halakha very seriously and spend at least as much of their spare time learning as people in the black hat world subject to the same criticisms? Or are they not “really MO” as some say?

  25. tova taragin says:

    I agree with many previous posters…I think one is, here in America, able to take from both camps and “straddle the fence”, being well educated, “in this world”, yet being good frum Jews. I think what the questioner has to be guided in is ahavas chinam…appreciating all Jews and not being judgemental on either side of the above mentioned fence. T.T.

  26. Michoel says:

    Nachum Lamm doubts Rabbi Feldman?!! Block that apikorus from posting on this website!! Just joking of course. But I don’t think there is any reason to doubt that Rabbi Feldman had an actual conversation with an actual baal t’shuvah.

  27. Bobby says:

    Rabbi Feldman,

    This sentiment is probably one of the things that most preoccupy the members of the Orthodox world. I think the problem goes deeper, though. The issue is that in order to function in Torah, one has to have a rebbe. But the problem is, where do I get this mystical rabbi? The selection is finite, and each has a deficiency. The idea is not just to have someone to fix treifed up silverware, but someone who serves as a signpost showing me which is the road to what G-d wants me to be, because he will need to correct me when I need it and if he doesn’t know the way, I will be even more lost.

    Thus, one is left with a conundrum. I can pick the one to whom I can relate, and thus can more easily follow a similar road as him, but if he is so much like me, he has similar flaws and how will he lead me down the right road. On the other hand, if he is so different from me, how can I follow a similar path and still retain something of myself?

    Personally, I look at the gedolim – at least the chareidi gedolim, since I don’t know of any MO gedolim – who do not dress the same as me, do not speak the same language as me (even if it is nominally English), study close to 24 hours a day, and I ask myself, even if I could change myself to be like them, what would be left of me? And if I don’t change myself to be like them, how far off the correct road am I?

  28. Nachum Lamm says:

    Rabbi Feldman, you are guilty of that which you accuse others. (I’m afraid I don’t buy this “someone asked me” game.) Being Modern Orthodox, I can only speak for them, but aren’t you making the same black and white distinctions you decry in charedim? To you, does living a modern lifestyle automatically equal a less serious attitude toward Torah and Halakha? I’m sure you know quite a few Modern Orthodox Jews who don’t fit that definition. At least tell me this isn’t an effort to be “even-handed” by criticizing “both sides” as having faults. (Incidentally, lack of seriousness toward those things can be widespread on the right as well.)

  29. chana lahav says:

    Rabbi Feldman!!
    With your experience as a Rabbi, your knowledge of Torah , the Jewish world and its people, and your background in dealing with Baalei Teshuva, you should have been able to answer this one!

  30. E. says:

    Rabbi Feldman, Your article was apt. Be assured that there are many, many people who take the best from both the MO & Charedi world. I know – I am one of them!

  31. Seth Gordon says:

    Being “seriously Jewish” is hard work, so it’s not surprising that many people in Orthodox communities end up going with the flow, so to speak, either in conformist kulla-chasing or conformist black-hat-wearing. At the same time, if you get to know enough people, you will find individuals–MO and haredi–who exemplify the ideals of the communities they belong to.

    Your friend needs to ask himself two questions: (1) What hashkafah best describes the relationship that I think I should have with Torah? (2) What community will do the most to help me live in accordance with that hashkafah? It may be, for example, that your friend is philosophically close to the haredim, but he would be less distracted by pressure among the Modern Orthodox to be materialistic than he would be stifled by pressure among the haredim to shut out the rest of the world. A lot depends on your friend’s own personality and the specific communities that are available to him.

  32. Moishe Potemkin says:

    Well, the good news is that when one actually jumps into any section of the pool and meets real people, he’ll find precious few that actually conform to the stereotypical caricatures. That guy with the small kipa hasn’t missed a minyan in 40 years, and the harsh-looking black-hatted fellow (who’s actually originally from Omaha) has non-religious guests at his Shabbos table almost every Friday night.

    People aren’t just one thing.

  33. Binyamin says:

    I grew up Chareidi, and I share your freind’s sentiments. I usually look at the community more as a background than an integral part of my life. We do not have to define ourselves only according to the people we assosciate with. There are alot of problems with both communities, which means that everyone has to choose their own way of doing things, and then they have to choose which community provides a better setting for what they have chosen.

  34. Akiva says:

    Rabbi,
    This is not limited to BT’s. There are many FFB’s who are not comfortable fully identifying with either camp in the current clash. Many of us wonder why it necessary to choose between these two radically different camps. Can’t one simply be a Torah Jew who is commited to Shmiras HaMitzvos and Kiyum HaTorah anymore.
    Not too many areas have to be black and white. There are countless shades of grey.
    Many of us feel like men without a country- unable to fully feel a part of either world.
    Rabbi, I think you understand me, as I believe that this is true about you as well.

  35. David Brand says:

    Well, as Hanan pointed out, everyone to the right of me is farfrumpt and crazy; anyone to the left is a shaigetz. Isn’t that true? :)

  36. Circle/Square says:

    Right now he can take the ‘pick and choose’ approach many of your repondents have mentioned, but when he has children and they grow up and get to shidduch age, he will have to adapt ‘conformity uber alles’ – and it’s getting worse with time.
    Maybe we can continue to explore this here in the blogoshere.

  37. Yehoshua Karsh says:

    With great respect for the Rav, I would suggest something similar to the point Elitzur made. That his lifestyle should be an expression of his relationship with G-d, and that his community will develop out of his lifestyle. He may eventually decide to physically move near the people who share his values and goals, or he may decide to live amongst those who don’t, and grow from the eventual sharing and conflict that will arise. His relationship with G-d will never neatly fit into one sociological category, and as it matures he may find himself leaving one and moving into another. The categories are places he visits on his path, they are not him. Finding a Rebbe makes all of the above doable, on your own its a lot of mystery and uncertainty, a Rebbe can help you see more clearly and develop more fully.

  38. Hanan says:

    I think you guys already know where you are. Not to the left, not to the right… but that twilight region right in between. Its the perfect place to be, for at least you get to tick off both the MO and the Charedi :)

  39. Yaakov Rosenblatt says:

    Dear Rabbi Feldman,

    This young man may do very well in Dallas, Texas. The core of the yeshiva community is ba’alei teshuva, the leadership is Charedi but open (e.g. the Kollel’s Board of Directors includes many, many women; the yeshiva elementary school celebrates Yom Ha’atzmaut but focuses on the greatness of the land, women come to shul on Shabbos as often as men), the level of secular studies in the yeshiva schools is intense and thorough (the average SAT score at the Beis Yaakov High School is 1360), and the spirit in the air is one of personal growth, Shemiras Mitzvos, and reverance of Gedolim. And yes: tan suits and maroon shoes are perfectly acceptable.

  40. Michoel says:

    He has some good points but I think it should be pointed out to him that he, also, is being somewhat superficial. (An inside secret… I think that both the MO and Charedi camps would agree that sometimes baalei t’shuvah seem very self-righteous.) Let him wait until he has lived as a frum Jew for a while with 5 or 6 tuitions hanging over his head, and then he can share his pearls of wisdom! If I had to advise him, I would tell him to make seeing good in everyone a central point of his avodah. If he really feels that things need to change, he should set an example.

  41. Rabbi Feldman, I can say this, even if a rabbi can’t: Get over it. There is a culture war going on out there, and the time for shades of gray is not this time. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a vivid and varied intellectual life. But if as you say Torah study is primary for you, you should be with us. Once you settle down and prove that you mean that, find a rav with whom you can relate. (I can make suggestions.) It may not be a rav who is himself a “Torah im Derech Eretz” adherent, nor someone who shares your intellectual and psychic interests, but one who can understand why one would and is sympathetic to the inquiry. Don’t get hung up on the hat and jacket business; it counts for less than you think. (That doesn’t mean to go into a yeshivish minyan in shirtsleeves just to prove a point.) Once you settle in, you will learn how to interpret and use the signals and guidance that comes from the gedolim — and to distinguish it from the shtick that masquerades as the same thing — without sacrificing your internal uniqueness and intellectual honesty. No one said it would be easy; this is a subculture that has distinguished itself by surviving the worst oppression and flourishing, in its way. It’s not reasonable to expect to be able to “port” your complete self into it.

    And remember, you will always be a baal teshuva, no matter how well you pass. That’s the choice Hashm presented us with. Be as good a Jew as you can and ask yourself where you want to see your children in 20 years. And remember the humility: Everything you once knew, after all, turned out to be wrong. Maybe some more of it is, too.

  42. David Brand says:

    R’ Feldman,
    I should start by saying that I’m a huge fan. Your book “Tales Out of Shul” is the story of my wife’s life, growing up in a smaller, midwestern town. To the questioner, I think that the answer lies within our very community. There are many who simply refuse to fit into any category, or be categorized. After all, what makes someone traditionally Jewish is the sum total of what they DO rather than the group they identify with. For example, if they choose not to attend movies/to be makpid on cholov yisroel/to learn with a chavrusa 5 nights per week, then those choices say much more about what type of Jews they are, rather than to worry about which so-called grouping they fit into. It goes without saying that your questioner MUST find a competent Rov for guidance. Even then, I think the focus should remain on building a Torah home in which they experience both Toras emes and Toras chaim. That is, that they should see the Torah’s truth, while seeing the beauty of a Torah lifestyle. I forgot which gadol it was that was speaking to a big g’vir. The gadol said that he was not aware of what his olam haboh would be compared to the g’vir, as the g’vir had supported much Torah learning. However, the gadol was CERTAIN that his olam hazeh was better! Many people miss out on the fact that HK”BH gave us a much more pleasant way to live. For those who are newly observant, seeing the beauty of yiddishkeit could alleviate what seems to be a superficial concern about where they fit in.

  43. A Simple Jew says:

    Interesting post with good questions.

  44. Elitzur says:

    Challenge everyone, learn as much as you can and blaze your own path. There are all sorts of mixtures and degrees. Looking at the two sides – who cares? Find a rebbi willing to answer all of your questions seriously and will listen to your arguements. Fell free to disagree and don’t let him push you off! I’m sure it’s not easy as a ba’al t’shuva to do these things given a lack of background. But you have no choice…

  1. January 28, 2005

    Cross-currents and Orthodox debates
    I really don’t have time right now to type, but I have read yet another series of blog comments that just don’t get it. Gil gets it, but many members of his comment community don’t. For weeks, people have been…

  2. January 28, 2005

    R’ Emanuel Feldman on Slifkin
    Cross Currents published an article from R’ Emanuel Feldman about the Slifkin controversy. Keep in mind that R’ Aharon Feldman, Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel / Baltimore, is the brother of R’ Emanuel Feldman (andhis pro-ban opinion has mentioned here b…