What do BTs have to do to be accepted?

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In all the articles and comments about whether Ba’alei Teshuva are fully accepted in Frum from Birth communities, one major factor I haven’t seen mentioned is the character of the individual BT. This applies also to gerim (converts). I know a convert who is a sweet, outgoing, pleasant, talented, easy-going person, and she finds the charedi community to be delightful and wonderful. Everyone is good, warm, intelligent, altogether admirable. I know another convert who is sour, dour, prickly and altogether a difficult person, and she finds the Orthodox community to be cold, unwelcoming, uncaring and exclusionary. And both of these women formed their impressions while living in the same neighborhood! Fancy that.

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44 Responses

  1. Phil says:

    Toby, I noticed right away the “one major factor” phrase, and saw your entry in that light. I was bothered that people treated your theory as if it explained everything, or that you were hiding or ignoring something. I was surprised it took 31 posts for someone to mention it (and it was you.)

  2. yy says:

    “By taking on the awesome responsibility of being shomer mitzvot, they should feel overall spiritual upliftment”

    All these S-H-O-U-L-D-S! The pt is that there are plenty of reasons, not only within the BT’s loaded psyche, why that upliftment doesn’t happen, or suddenly stops happening, which then leaves the the BT dangling haplessly as a fish out of water. Often there’s no familial support; no cultural givens to fall back on; no decent Parnassa and the concommittment identity it gives, especially to those raised Secular; let alone questions of emuna that may start grating on the soul.

    Hence comes the giant responsibility of those raised as insiders to go out of their way to help them feel at home.

    To do so only when these people are pleasant and successful, freshly uplifted and inspired, is a profound corruption of the ffb duty of our generation. Granted that ffb are also susceptible to the viscissitudes of life and thus can’t be taken for granted as constant support systems, but NEVER does that justify treating the suffer outsider with a “fancy that”!

  3. Rishona says:

    It is a shared responsibility for sure…of the both the frum community and the BT/Ger to ensure that those who choose to live a life guided by Torah are comfortable and have the means to do so. Baalei Teshuva and Gerim leave the much larger secular/non-Jewish world to embrace a much smaller, rigorous community. No doubt, they will need ample support and encouragement while doing so.

    However, a BT/ger who becomes embittered by their new community and their new lifestyle should surely self-reflect. By taking on the awesome responsibility of being shomer mitzvot, they should feel overall spiritual upliftment (this is not to say that everything will be coming up roses…), not grudges or spite. Frum Jews are still human; and their shortcomings should not interfere with Hashem’s divine plan for you. To all those Jews who are bitter (even FFB)…do you try to learn Torah daily? Do you daven with kavannah? Do you attend or listen to shirium? Do you interact with the community performing acts of chesed?

  4. Tal Benschar says:

    Members of my family (FFB) have a number of in-laws who are very prominent, yet who are sour, dour, prickly and altogether difficult people (to paraphrase TK). These people are unconditionally accepted and admired (!) — Chava

    Chava: I very much doubt it. They may be admired from afar — they may be lauded for the big tzedakka checks they write, for example — but if they really are difficult people as you describe they, I have little doubt that they have considerable social difficulties. I have seen it myself in many frum communities, both among FFB and BT.

  5. Dag says:

    Rebetzin Katz,

    I do NOT think it appropriate to use learning disabilities as an insult!

    Dag

  6. G says:

    With all due respect, TK, you are capitalizing the wrong word:

    –begin quote–
    In all the articles and comments about whether Ba’alei Teshuva are fully accepted in Frum from Birth communities, one major factor I haven’t seen mentioned is the character of the individual BT.
    –end quote–

    your take:

    OK, for you dyslexics out there, let’s read this slowly and carefully. Did you get that phrase “one major factor”? Let’s look at it again. *ONE* major factor.

    let’a try it another way…Did you get that phrase “one major factor”? Let’s look at it again. one *MAJOR* factor

    –kind of leaves a different taste in your mouth doesn’t it?

  7. Yaakov Menken says:

    Since I’m supposed to be in the group insulted by Mrs. Katz’s remark, permit me to say that I’m not. I think Mrs. Katz is unnecessarily defensive in her more recent comments, but there was nothing at all wrong about the original post. Perhaps it is a pity that it had to be written, but we shouldn’t shoot the messenger — it is, sad to say, a fair observation.

    There are factors beyond our control, and factors within our control, and it behooves all of us to recognize the difference between the two. From my distinctly non-Haredi upbringing, I recall a prayer about the ability to change what I can, the serenity to absorb what I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    There is “discrimination” of all kinds in all communities. I have experienced it in very painful ways. But like Toby Katz, I live in an Orthodox community with such a substantial BT presence that exclusion is outside the realm of possibilities. I don’t think anyone denies that there are schools and circles where the acceptance of BTs proceeds “only so far,” but that doesn’t mean that BTs who make the effort to integrate themselves don’t benefit from their own hishtadlus.

  8. Chava says:

    Whether or not it is one of the major factors is irrelevant. The fact that a BT’s personality is scrutinized, but but that of an FFB is not judged to the same degree, is the point. Members of my family (FFB) have a number of in-laws who are very prominent, yet who are sour, dour, prickly and altogether difficult people (to paraphrase TK). These people are unconditionally accepted and admired (!).

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Maybe blogs are becoming one negative factor, all things considered.

  10. SM says:

    Mrs Katz,

    I don’t think I suggested that you were in charge of the editorial policy. I do, however, suggest that it is no defence to say that you behaved just as badly as the other person.

    You clearly feel under attack and I am sorry about that. I acknowledge that you said you wanted to add something about ‘one major factor’. But that factor was then placed front and centre by you – which was entirely your choice.

    My question – which you have not answered – is how you come to place the emphasis on the BT’s behaviour to the community, when the Torah clearly places the emphasis on the community’s behaviour to the BT. That question perhaps suggests that the reason you have not seen your point addressed elsewhere is because it is wholly irrelevant. It seems to me that is a discussion worth having, however negative you find it. I am sure that you are a big enough person to admit you are wrong, if you are.

    A Chodesh tov.

  11. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I find this whole discussion really enlightening and really saddening. It seems that it is very true, and obviously so, that the way people react affects the way others react to them. It is obviously true that that is not the ONLY factor. The subsequent counter-comments prove that. What is left is for people to learn mussar or chassidus or whatever they do to work on themselves to improve the way they respond to other people. That won’t change what other people do, but it will change you. That’s how we change the world, one person at a time.

  12. Toby Katz says:

    Mrs Shear, you wrote: “…in concert with intellectual honesty, the 2 examples you cite hardly constitute a scientific poll”

    That’s an incredibly insulting and condescending remark. Did I claim it was a scientific poll? Do I have to cite footnotes and sources, before I can write one paragraph on a blog?!

    You then wrote:

    “As an example: For over a year I gave a Shabbat shiur on the parsha. Every Shabbat a certain woman walked over a mile, rain or shine, hot or cold, to attend this shiur… And then, when she found out my status, everything changed.”

    How ironic! You made your point — by bringing an example!

    Possibly you yourself realized that the pot was calling the kettle black, because you quickly added, “I have far more anecdotes.”

    Well, guess what? So do I.

  13. dovid says:

    Dear MIRIAM SHEAR:

    I have been very critical of Toby Katz’s original post, so much so that one of my comments didn’t pass the scrutiny of this blog’s radar. I truly sympathize with the experiences you described. But truth to be said, when the bus incident took place (in Yerushalaim or Ramat Beit Shemesh?) and I was very critical of you, Toby Katz asked me in a direct e-mail to change the tone of my comments and to be a mensch because you are a geores, a fact I wasn’t aware then. We blunder now and then (I more than others), but the great majority of us have great respect for gerim and are in awe of them for leaving the relative safety afforded by the annonimity of being part of ummos haolam in order to carry out ratzon HaShem in the best fashion. With best wishes

  14. Toby Katz says:

    To SM: You wrote “I was dismayed at Toby Katz’s comment No.5 which is unnecessarily personal and unpleasant. Moreover, I know that another comment (not mine) has been rejected which was no different.” First of all, my “unpleasant” comment was in response to a sarcastic,personal comment directed towards me, a comment which WAS published. Second of all, I am not the editor of this site and I am not the one who decides which comments are allowed and which comments are rejected.

    To Abe and all my other critics:

    It is astonishing to me that people find such difficulty simply reading the words on a page (or on the screen). Three quarters of the comments here would have been rendered entirely moot had people simply READ my opening sentence. Here it is. Read it. It answers all criticisms:

    –begin quote–
    In all the articles and comments about whether Ba’alei Teshuva are fully accepted in Frum from Birth communities, one major factor I haven’t seen mentioned is the character of the individual BT.
    –end quote–

    OK, for you dyslexics out there, let’s read this slowly and carefully. Did you get that phrase “one major factor”? Let’s look at it again. *ONE* major factor.

    And did you get that bit about “In all the articles and comments…..”? Huh? Huh? See, that means “There have been a LOT OF ARTICLES AND COMMENTS and they raised a lot of points and I don’t have to rehash EVERY SINGLE POINT EVERYONE EVER MADE before I can add one more comment of my own!”

    I just wanted to add ONE factor, one factor that nobody else mentioned. I did not want to, and did not need to, repeat what everybody else has already hashed and rehashed ad infinitum, about everything that is wrong with Orthodox Jews. It’s coming out of my ears already. Got that? OK everybody now go away, all this negativity is totally getting on my nerves.

  15. MIRIAM SHEAR says:

    Mrs. Katz, I can accept that attitude and how one greets the world certainly plays a role in the response one gets from others. But, with all due respect and in concert with intellectual honesty, the 2 examples you cite hardly constitute a scientific poll much less enough “material” to use as a barometer either way.

    There is a reason why the Torah commands us to treat gerim properly – because the human condition makes it easy not to.

    As an example: For over a year I gave a Shabbat shiur on the parsha. Every Shabbat a certain woman walked over a mile, rain or shine, hot or cold, to attend this shiur, even arriving early to discuss questions she had. And then, when she found out my status, everything changed.

    Please! I could go on and on – on both sides of the page – that gerim are definitely not always “treated as everyone else”. I’ve been in this for over 20 years. I have far more anectdotes to challenge these 2 flimsy examples. But, by far, most people have been kind and respectful and welcoming. Those who aren’t are not worth my time or angst. I suggest the same attitude to other B.T’s and gerim. Save your energies for those who treat you properly and blow off the rest of them. They don’t count.

  16. Abe says:

    Ms. Katz said:

    but in all the communities that I am personally familiar with — in Israel and NY — BTs make up a significant proportion of the community and are well integrated.

    End quote

    I want to make sure that I get this right. Are you for segregating BT’s into their own communities? Perhaps we should establish separate but equal Shuls and schools, probably well funded ones too, for these folks so areas where mostly FFB folks live should not be exposed to the Harry’s.

    I’d also like you to respond to my comment on Geirim.

  17. Chizki says:

    Ms. Katz,

    “When they experience discrimination or have negative experiences, they need to know, first of all, that there are as many different kinds of people (negative and positive) in the Orthodox community as there are in any community”

    Had you included the above sentence (or an equivalent) in your original post, practically all of the comments critical of your post would have never been written. By only citing the personality/disposition of individual BT’s as the cause of anti-BT discrimination in the frum world, you made it extremely easy for your readers to misinterpret your post as suggesting that it is the primary, perhaps even the only, factor at work. That’s certainly the way in which I understood your post when I first read it.

  18. Daniel Weltman says:

    Toby, you write in response to Gil: “When they experience discrimination or have negative experiences, they need to know, first of all, that there are as many different kinds of people (negative and positive) in the Orthodox community as there are in any community and, second of all, that they have it in their own power to influence other people in a positive direction.”

    I don’t know if you realize this or not, but this is nothing like what your original post implied. If this is what you meant, you should have said it. What you actually wrote was much more like blaming the victim then empowering him.

    Don’t you see this?

  19. SM says:

    I was dismayed at Toby Katz’s comment No.5 which is unnecessarily personal and unpleasant. Moreover, I know that another comment (not mine) has been rejected which was no different to Mrs Katz’s comment save that it did not support her view. That is unfairness and hypocrisy. Either all such comments should be published or Mrs Katz should apologise for comment No 5.

    Regardless of comment no 23, the original post made it clear that the community would respond to the BT as the BT behaved to the community. That is factually inaccurate in a large number of cases. The original post did not admit that a different view could be held or that experience’s might be different.

    Further, the original post emphasised the BT’s behaviour. The Torah emphasises the community’s behaviour. That transfer of emphasis means something. The post suggests that BT’s should only expect to be welcomed if they behave nicely. There is no other sensible way to read it. That is not how a very large number of us understand the Torah and it is legitimate to challenge Mrs Katz on how she comes to understand the position in a way that seems inimical to what the Torah teaches. She has not responded to that challenge – Comment No 23 is an attempt to restate the original post rather than an answer to the issues raised. That is a disappointment.

    One does not empower a victim by focussing on the victim’s behaviour. That a Jew should not realise this obvious point is staggering.

  20. Tal Benschar says:

    Yes, but sour, dour, prickly and altogether difficult people who are frum from birth have no problem getting this kids accepted to Chareidi schools or finding shidduchim for their children.

    I don’t know about Charedi schools, but as far as shidduchim are concerned, the comment is so far from the truth as to be absurd. Shidduchim are so fraught with difficulties and hang-ups, both legitimate and off-the-wall. Many, many FFBs as well as BTs have a hard time with shidduchim.

  21. Toby Katz says:

    “Why don’t we solve the problem in our community instead of blaming the victim?”

    Comment by Gil

    >>>>

    This is not “blame the victim” but “empower the victim.”

    It doesn’t do BTs any good to walk around with a chip on their shoulder. When they experience discrimination or have negative experiences, they need to know, first of all, that there are as many different kinds of people (negative and positive) in the Orthodox community as there are in any community and, second of all, that they have it in their own power to influence other people in a positive direction.

  22. Toby Katz says:

    In the particular community that I live in — North Miami Beach — BTs and gerim are fully integrated into the Orthodox community and have no trouble getting into schools or finding shidduchim. They make up such a large percentage of the religious population here that it would make no sense to discriminate against them, and the community could not survive without them.

    My point about how people respond to you was not “A BT should put on a false smile, and overlook all the nastiness that FFBs throw his way.” It was, “If you are nice to other people, they will be nice to you.” This is a worthwhile lesson for everyone to learn, not only BTs.

    It is in Mishlei (Proverbs 27:29): “As water reflects a face back to a face, so one’s heart is reflected back to him by another.”

    In some communities BTs are more readily accepted than in others, but in all the communities that I am personally familiar with — in Israel and NY — BTs make up a significant proportion of the community and are well integrated. By now there are already adult children and grandchildren of BTs, and no one can distinguish between the individuals whose grandparents are FFB and those whose grandparents are BTs.

  23. Neokab says:

    No doubt personal dispositions of character play a role in the way we are perceived. On the other hand, the true BT is by definition happy for having found the “emet”. If they are unhappy even while remaining BT then there must be some serious causes – very likely the way so-called frummies relate to them or some other external reasons in their lifes.. Did Toby ever sit down with the unhappy ones and ask them why they are the way they are? If not, how dare she sit in judgment over them? Certainly not the attributes of ahavat Yisrael and gemilut chassadim!

  24. Tzei U'lmad says:

    Toby Katz’s comment is self evident in all human endeavor…. it also completely misses the substance of the issue.
    Everybody comes into the Frum Velt with a history and skill set. One of the key issues for a BT is how much of their being do they vacate and what do they keep. If all that the frum velt wants is a chameleon Polly Anna whose drive to conform nullifies every other consideration, including the essence of who they are, then you will get people who you will find very flattering and everybody can sit around feeling good about themselves and the state of Yiddishkeit. One of the challenges for some FFB chevra is to overcome a near-narcissistic tendency to want to see themselves mirrored in BTs. Part of the value of the BT is that some of them have reinvigorated and brought back to the frum velt their stregnths and substance – but in a way that is Halachically and Hashkafically consistent. Naturally, those who wish to forge a path in Torah, but who see a value in who they were before they came into Torah, may find themselves pushing against narrow perspectives and prejudices that may have no grounding in Halacha whatsoever – in that struggle to both form and retain a coherent identity there may be some “sour, dour and prickly” along with the “sweet, outgoing, and pleasant”. If it’s a choice between “being liked” vs “being’, some choose the latter.

  25. Abe says:

    Perhaps Ms. Katz would like to read the Torah where there is a positive commandment that deals with the manner in one must treat Geirim. Even if they don’t behave according to Ms. Katz’s preferred behavioral pattern once must go out of their way to ensure that they feel accepted.

  26. Baruch Pelta says:

    As a baal teshuva — and an extremely skeptical one at that! — I have yet to knowingly experience the oft described discrimination

  27. Jameel @ The Muqata says:

    I know another convert who is sour, dour, prickly and altogether a difficult person, and she finds the Orthodox community to be cold, unwelcoming, uncaring and exclusionary.

    Yes, but sour, dour, prickly and altogether difficult people who are frum from birth have no problem getting this kids accepted to Chareidi schools or finding shidduchim for their children.

  28. dovid says:

    A quote from the weekly e-mail on Sfas Emmes by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff: “…and FFB’s who treat Ba’alei Teshuva with condescension rather than the admiration that their achievement merits.”

    I don’t know whether Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff is a BT. I am. Maybe Mrs. Katz should have shifted the emphasis on her write-up from BTs to FFBs, ie, what FFBs need to do to facilitate the absorption of sincere BTs into mainstream Jewish Orthodox observance. My experience with FFBs of Lithuanian persuasion was much more rewarding. In their view, I am not doomed. Their attitude is: What, you don’t know? Sit down and learn. Then, you will know. Their attitude is based on the Gemara.

    My two pennies’ worth to BTs and Gerei Tzedek: Have a mentor who keeps encouraging you, especially when your morale is low or when you blew it. Don’t bite more than you can chew. Keep learning and drop silly items of levush, silly attitudes, and your previously held world views one by one as you advance in your learning. Consult with your mentor before taking on a practice. You may not be ripe for it, or it may not be for you. Your non-observance should recede as you learn more. Do what you have to do. As you integrate into genuine יהדות you will justly earn the admiration of Jews of the highest caliber. But that’s not the goal, it’s only a by-product of your achievement and your new self. See to it that you should not remain a half-baked BT like those who march proudly holding the BT flag high and expect a medal for becoming observant. How? By learning. May HaShem give all the BTs and Gerei Tzedek the clarity of mind to see the truth and the fortitude to withstand the condescension of the fools.

  29. Daniel Weltman says:

    Instead of hearing how different personalities perceive the community, I would like Toby Katz to answer a simple question: Do you admit that there is discrimination against BT and Gerim?

    It is the community’s responsibility to make sure that it does not discriminate.

    Whether or not a cheery disposition can help a person see past discrimination against themselves is entirely beside the point.

  30. NoPeanutz says:

    I was an eid at a conversion a few weeks ago, and the Rav mentioned that before the completion, the person is going through a conversion process, but since the conversion in the Mikveh, the bracha and the signing of the teudah, we no longer refer to that person as a convert or as having undergone a conversion.

    We think of us having converts in our people, but that idea seems to be false. There are just Bnei Yisrael, all of us, equally. Your first problem, TK, sounds like it is that you cannot see the convert as a Jew having a gripe or issue with her neighbors. Instead you are wrongly viewing her as a bitter convert (and the other one as a pleasant convert, which should also be wrong).
    Try ignoring her past as a convert (not status, since there is no ‘convert’ status in modern Judaism). Then see if your problem, what some would call prejudice, goes away or is altered. In any case, the fact that she once converted is immaterial.

  31. ralphie says:

    I find Mrs. Katz’s comments totally legitimate. The same is true of the existing community members, of course – nice ones will be accepting while bitter ones won’t. But that doesn’t mean that the nature of the incoming member is irrelevant.

  32. Big Maybe says:

    The Torah anticipates a poor attitude towards converts. There is a commandment to love thy convert, which is in addition to the obligation to love your fellow. So the fact that we sense some discrimination against converts shouldn’t be a surprise, it is an entirely normal tendency that we are enjoined to suppress.

  33. happy now says:

    I recently left an Orthodox community that I found to be cold, unwelcoming, uncaring and exclusionary to join a liberal community where everyone is good, warm, intelligent, altogether admirable. Since I am the same person, I can only conclude that the difference is in the members of the two communities and not myself.

  34. cvmay says:

    In other words “ATTITUDE” is the defining factor.

  35. Hanoch says:

    Sickening. One thing is for sure in almost all Chareidi communties. if the BT is a gvir, they accept them with more tolerance and patience etc than if he/she is not :(

  36. yy says:

    Toby, I’m sorry to say, I highly doubt your father would agree. The more Torah we know, and certainly the better the circumstances we’ve been blessed with for integrating that Torah into our very persons, the greater the responsibility for assisting or brothers and sisters.

    It’s true that a rape victim who’s nice and grateful will be much easier to help than a bitter and frightened one, but woe to thse who insist she “merits” our help!

  37. zalman says:

    Please add my rejection of this post and its tone (“fancy that”). Perhaps if enough commenters express their rejection, some toelet may still come from this post.

  38. ClooJew says:

    Mrs. Katz makes, lulei demistafina, a valid comment – basically what the Gemara says: “Kol haposeil bemumo poseil.”

  39. Gil says:

    Why don’t we solve the problem in our community instead of blaming the victim?

    BTs and Gerim are subject to many different forms of discrimination, some of it is overt, some is systematic, and some is unconscious. You know it and I know it, lets be honest and real and deal with it instead of sweeping it under the rug.

  40. Toby Katz says:

    Oh now I get it.
    All Cheredim are sweet and nice….
    Comment by mb — July 27, 2008 @ 3:06 pm |Edit This

    —–
    Not around sour, sarcastic people like you they aren’t.

  41. LOberstein says:

    One would think that there is no one answer to the question. There are many sub-groups that are called “chareidi” and some welcome outsiders more than others. Some communities in the USA are more open than others, but this is not only a frumkeit issue. I once sat down at Seudah Shlishis at the synagogue where my son is a new member. He wasn’t there and not one person at the table acknowldeged my existence, they talked around me like I was invisable. This was a centrist shul, not chareidi. I felt badly about it but people told me that maybe I picked the wrong table and other people in the same shul would have not so totally ignored me.Maybe these people were snobs. It wouldn’t happen in the shul I daven at , we would have said hellp to any newcomer. So it’s a menchlichkeit issue.

  42. mb says:

    Oh now I get it.
    All Cheredim are sweet and nice, and if all BTs and Geirim were, everything would be fine.
    Toby, I expect better of you.

  43. Steve Brizel says:

    These examples are interesting and anecdotal, but IIRC, there are Torah obligations directed to the FFB of all generations to accept a ger or BT, despite the personality of the BT.

  44. Bob Miller says:

    Both subgroups have their share of sunny and dour personalities, so both good and bad interactions might be anticipated. However, greater exposure to the Torah and the Torah way of life ought to improve the way a person interacts. Where this is not the case, we need to find a solution.