Politics, Religion

A Call for Submissions – The Other Ba’al Tshuvah Stories

It was only a matter of time before current or former ba’alei tshuvahs banded together to oppose the kiruv world’s radical policies, excesses, and lies.
That time is now.
If the Ultra-Orthodox compilations, essays, and movies about Ba’alei Tshuvah are to be believed, most stories follow a similar arc. Secular Jew discovers Ultra-Orthodox Judaism.  Rejects secular world in its entirety.  Marries like-minded newly religious spouse.  Lives very fulfilling and meaningful life, and achieves higher and higher spiritual levels.
What is not discussed is the socio-economic devastation to middle-class recruits, the lies, the discouragement of secular education, the dissatisfaction in performing low level jobs for those who listen, the discouragement of vocational ambition, the lack of intensive hard skills offered need for proficiency in Hebrew and Aramaic, the preference given to those from wealthy families, the encouragement of stringency, the encouragement of neurotic and obsessive behavior, marriages arranged not on love but on a value system assimilated usually for only a couple of years, the push for isolation from friends and all but immediate family, and the eventual massive dropout rate of ba’a’lei tshuva.
They must have had a hard time finding anyone with such problems. 
So that’s why we–Failed Messiah (Shmarya Rosenberg) and David Kelsey- have teamed up to write a book that tells your story. We want to help!
If you or anyone you know is a ba’al tshuvah or former ba’al tshuvah, we want to hear his/her story.  The unedited version.  The version not fit for the holy Artscroll. Essays needed as well! Specific topics preferred.
Please contact us.  For more information, please go to Kiruv Stories.
Or email us @  [email protected].
We need your help!

20 thoughts on “A Call for Submissions – The Other Ba’al Tshuvah Stories

  1. “If the Ultra-Orthodox compilations, essays, and movies about Ba’alei Tshuvah are to be believed, most stories follow a similar arc. Secular Jew discovers Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Rejects secular world in its entirety. Marries like-minded newly religious spouse. Lives very fulfilling and meaningful life, and achieves higher and higher spiritual levels.”
    you forgot “have massive mounts of children to fill the ranks of the army of the Lord.”

  2. It’s important to tell these stories. I would go a step further and use another label instead of “ba’al teshuvah”, since equating “becoming haredi” with “teshuvah (repentance)” delegitimizes non-haredi Judaism. See ZT’s post for more.

  3. Don’t forget one of the most important elements of all. Before a woman becomes a BT, she has rights and privileges, including those as stated in the United Nations Human Rights declaration, where she gets to marry AND DIVORCE anyone. I one confronted Noah Weinberg on this –yeah THAT Noah Weinberg–and asked him if AISH told women that once they entered to the marital relationship that they were reduced to chattel, and that even if their husbands beat the crap out of them, they were solely dependent on him for their freedom, and that if he didn’t want to grant them a divorce, they were screwed for life. I asked him if AISH told the women that if a husband lifts a hand to them, they must, AL PI HALACHA, leave immediately and never go back, because if they do, that means that they are maskim (agreeing) that getting beaten is perfectly fine for them and that a get will never be granted unless he delivers.
    Thought you might want to know that.

  4. you forgot “have massive mounts of children to fill the ranks of the army of the Lord.”
    I’m curious as to what happens to these kids when the parents become BT dropouts.
    I’m a former Conservative BT, and I’ve sort of dropped out, but we still send our kids to non-O Jewish dayschools. That’s partly becuase Ms. Apikoris thinks that the local public schools are crap, and I’m inclined to believe her.
    But then Conservative Judaism has no organized kiruv movement, I decided to do the CJ BT thing on my own, and I grew up belonging to a Conservative shul, so attmepting to become more observant, and then deciding that it’s not worth it isn’t really that much of a change in my lifestyle.

  5. I’d also love to see an article written on the similarly striking phenomenon (in my admittedly anecdotal experience, at least) of the large numbers of self-described “refugees” from orthdodoxy who find themselves leading much more fulfilling lives in Reform and Conservative congregations…

  6. The Orthodox community has its problems, sure, but you should be mindful in your hunt for ammunition against it that not everything is so black and white. Don’t forget that there are plenty of people who become more religious and are completely happy with their new lifestyle and do not take everything to excess.
    Some progressive Jewish blog, making generalizations about one of its own. But I guess that’s ok, as long as it’s not racist.
    Kyle’s Mom, does Aish actually teach women to become chattel to their husbands?

  7. no. Aish doesn’t tell women that halachically they are chattel who are bought for a few zuzim or whatever the monetary unit on is in the ketubah. They don’t advise the women to get prenups from the RCA to protect themselves and their future in case the male they marry happens to be vicious wicked mamzer.
    It leaves that part out–just like it doesn’t tell them they are subject to the whims of the “patriarchal tribal leader” they married, (who couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag without consulting his rabbi) and they don’t tell women they give up their basic human rights as women.
    they don’t tell them about the agunah problem and the way the Orthodox crapped over Rabbi Emmanuel Rackman, one of their very own, who tried to find solution to a terrible blackmail and extortion problem promulgated by corrupt and venal batei din, greedy and misogynistic rabbis and disgusting recalcitrant husbands.
    they tell the women nothing about those realities, thereby giving the women phoney choices. They never tell them it;s all about money.
    Grossly distorted lies for women is what they offer.

  8. Marriage in Judaism can be disastrous…as in any religion. I’m sure that there is an alarming amount of abuse and neglect in religious households (I would like to see actual numbers though), but to say that most BT women who get married end up as property that is bought and sold without any rights is a mischaracterization. I’m sure that most BT women–and most Jewish women–end up treated well by their husbands.
    Understand that in Judaism, the ideal is that no person is complete until he/she finds his/her spouse. This ideal is not always upheld in every single household, but there is always a few that slip through the cracks, and most cases are treated seriously.
    You make it seem like women are forced into this contract without any choice. You are dead wrong. While there is something off about that two-week dating thing in some circles, both parties have a choice in the matter. There are pressures on each party at times, but a woman can get out of the marriage whenever she wants. And the agunah issue is very rare. I know it sounds naive, but let the facts speak for themselves.
    Many might object to the process of monetary exchange in this PC day and age, but that is largely overshadowed by the festive aspect of nisuin. Basically, there are enough positive, more beautiful aspects that outweigh the contractual elements. The contract aspect really isn’t that bad even. It’s just the way that agreements were made back then. It is a technical part of the process that has much more illustrious overtones.
    While you should be concerned about these issues, they don’t happen on large a scale as you imagine. Scores of Orthodox women aren’t being herded into the evil clutches of conniving young Jewish men, excited about their newly acquired property. That rabbis trick BT’s into become mindless brides is a narrow-minded and gross mischaracterization of marriage for Orthodox Jews, raised religious or not.

  9. David, do you believe in G-d; that He knows every thought and motivation that you have?
    It is hard to tell from your postings. You have, however, teamed up with a sad excuse for a do-gooder or for that matter a do-badder. Your partner just feels sorry for himself and worries less about if he is on the “right” track by attempting (BH unsuccessfully) to drag others down the same slope.
    You seem to have more influance than he.
    It would probably be wise to reflect on your motivation and the potential outcome. What are your chances of fixing anything? Compare your answer with the potential for leading entire families away from the nourishment their souls thirst for.
    I am not suggesting that anything is perfect; only that the chances of fixing anything this way pale in comparison to the liklihood of igniting numerous already potent yetzer horas.
    Think about it.

  10. the percentage of domestic violence in the Jewish community has remained at about 30% for the last decade, with an increase in the Orthodox community–and while those numbers are usually not “out there” (we have beaten this horse to death on any number of occasions, including the time my life was threatened on AOL in the agunah girls’ mailboxes oh so long ago), they seem to have remained constant.
    what has changed in the ultra community is that it is getting tougher to sweep this stuff under the rug, and Ohel has helped hugely in the last ten years to make that change. also, after speaking to some chassidishe ladies from Monsey in the last couple of months, they told me that a couple of years ago, the girls were being told the facts of life–and not to go back in case they are beaten, along with other life-saving advice.
    However, in the BT community, which is full of people who are a little bit lost in the first place, not all the information is given out, and no, they do not tell you you are giving up your human rights, They haven’t even told many Orthodox women that…so please, cut me a break. You think I didn’t live this stuff and witness it in my youth? Puhleeze!

  11. DisaPointed,
    I like my partner just fine. That’s why I approached him. And the argument you are offering for not publishing our book is the same one always given for not addressing a situation in the utra-Orthodox world.
    And hey–they can do what they want, but I am not willing to write off Jews who became BT’s. Those guys are my people. Not children who need to be protected from proper concern and skepticism.
    The BT movement is unwilling to address these problems, so we will provide a format for doing so.
    You asked,
    “What are your chances of fixing anything?”
    I don’t know. No one has bothered to try.
    If these anecdotes and essays strike a chord, it is not my problem how the kiruv world responds, or if it declines to respond.
    The secular world will respond. With better education. And a better understanding of the problems as well.

  12. I notice that you neglected to answer my first question. Even if you do not wish to answer it publicly, think about your real answer as it should clue you in to your motivation.
    By the way, I think that something does need to be done. I only question your motivation in tackling it in this reckless manner and in partnership with an individual that has demonstrated his warped cynicism and self-pittying attitude time and time again (and I am being generous).
    An alternative more responsible approach might be to collect the data and take it to people in position to correct it. You could always use the threat of going public with the collected data to force them to take action.
    It would be much less thrilling but might actually make a difference while eliminating at least the certain cooling down of sincere baalei teshuvah.
    Maybe someone else has a better idea.
    Of course, if your motivation is merely the thrill of creating a scandal and if you don’t believe in G-d in the first place there is no question that not only is there nothing wrong with your approach in the first place—besides that it will be a blast………….

  13. DisaPointed,
    Go to cross-currents with your ‘first we have to determine your theological position before we discuss any specific policy.’
    You claim you have concern and a better, positive approach for achieving change since you concede “something does need to be done.”
    So go do it your way. We’ll do it ours. I have more faith in the secular community to respond appropariately than I do in the “people in position.”
    Stay off the personal insults about Shmarya. This is your warning.

  14. Actually my postings were your warning. Whether you believe in Him or not some day you will. al korchach atoh osid lten din vcheshbon etc.
    Don’t worry you won’t hear any more from me.

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