Sunday, January 21, 2007

And Joseph Recognized his Brothers

A recent posting by Gil Student raised the question of the degree of acceptance of returnees by the Orthodox Community. It's a subject to which I've given a great degree of thought over the years. I regret to say, though, that experience has shown over and over again that despite its readiness (nay, it's joy) to trumpet the wave of returnees to Tradition, all sectors of the Orthodox Community are guilty (to one degree or another) of neglecting (at best) and actively discriminating against (at worst) those who were not born into Orthodoxy.

This manifests itself in many different ways, depending upon the sub-community involved. Thus, among Hassidic groups, BT's (=Baale Teshuvah) are not allowed to marry FFB's (=Frum From Births), on the assumption that they were born to mothers who did not go to Mikveh. [Here, the Litvaks are ahead. It is asserted in the names of both Reb Moshe Feinstein and Rav Ahron Kotler, that the fact that a person sought out Torah and Mitzvot proves that this is not a consideration.] Among Misnagdim, it is extremely rare to find BT's who rise socially or institutionally. On the contrary, in Israel, they are all too often shunted to different schools and social groups. In addition, there is woefully little follow-up or support for BT families, who are often not prepared for the stresses that accompany Haredi LIfe. Indeed, when problems arise, they are dismissed as being a result of the individual's being BT's, and farookt at that. [Part of this phenomenon is portrayed in the movie Ushpizin.]

The Modern Orthodox Community, and its Dati-Leumi counterpart, have a much better record in this regard. They still, however, have much in their houses that requires ordering. There is resentment at the way that BT's highlight the failings of the FFB's. (Remind me of a certain comment that Tosfos makes about converts.) Socially, and institutionally, these communities also function very much as closed shops. BT's are at a loss as to how to get 'in there' with the members of their new communities. Very few, if any people are there to help them. Indeed, the socialization of the BT is a far more perilous process than is the acceptance of the yoke of Torah. (I recall telling a neophyte to spend a year at YU, despite the fact that he was already quite learned. My idea was that being able to intelligently discuss Mr. Parker's food [both ע"ה] would prove an invaluable tool in his future life as an Orthodox Jew.)

It all comes down to a sermon I delivered at Lincoln Square Synagogue on Shabbos Chanukkah, 5751, during the two weeks that I was in the running for Senior Rabbi. It was Parshas Miketz (of course) and I discussed the verse that Joseph recognized his brethren, but they did not recognize him (ויכר יסף את אחיו והם לא הכירוהו). Behind the acculturated facade, Joseph was a Jew and recognized the authenticity that his brothers represented. They, however, did not recognize him. They remined alienated from him even after he revealed himself to them. מעשה אבות, סימן לבנים. The Brothers didn't 'recognize' R. Akiva's uniqueness (child of convert's after all). They didn't recognize returning forced converts after 1096. They made trouble for escaping Marranos after 1492. Nor was there a lot of consistent affection and support for Western BT's after two or three generations of assimilation. (Dare I mention Ethiopians, Russian Jews after 70 years of Communism, and a fortiori the Bnai Menashe?) We pay a heavy price for this, a price which we cannot afford.

Is this true globally? Absolutely Not! On the other hand, since when do we push aside one soul in favor of another? [אין דוחין נפש בפני נפש.]

Just something to think about, as we keep up efforts to rejudaize and save the country (and the remainder of the people).


Menachem Butler said...

Surely there must be a differance between ba'alei teshuva and Ethiopians and Bnai Menashe; if the latter would proceed towards entry into Orthodox/Traditional Judaism in the same manner as ba'alei teshuva, then, no doubt, they'd be just as welcome as ba'alei teshuva. No?

Jeffrey said...

Prima facie, I agree. Except that the ethiopians do convert lehumra and the Bnai Menashe totally. The issue is sociological, not halakhic.

Ben Bayit said...

mass institutionalized kiruv rechokim means sowing the seeds for another Shabttai Tzvi fiasco and more kabbala kooks
(since you mentioned the returning marranos)

i agree whole-heartedly with what you are saying on an individual level. i just think that the proportions need to remain 11 "native" tribes to one "returnee" Joseph. Some thought needs to be given to quality as well - not just quantity.

Anonymous said...

written like a true bt ;)

im with bb here. perhaps a moratorium on bts/geirim for a generation or so? not pc, but it will allow ffbs to regain some equilibrium without having to deal with bts.

Jeffrey said...

I am dumbfounded, absolutely dumbfounded, by the last two postings. Who are either of you to advocate a selektion as to which Jewish soul should live and which should die? FFB complacency, and arrogance, is as profound a sin as any ever committed by a BT. FWIW, Teshuva is not restricted to those who grew up outside of the Orthodox Community.

And what was that 'written like a true bt'? What gall! What patronising, odious gall. From what I've seen over the years, the home and the depth of Jewish learning with which I was raised beats out anything acquired by FFB's in the 60's, 70's and 80's.

Jabojr said...

Ben, as an admirer of your blog, I'm also a bit stunned by your post here. Surely you cannot mean that a Jew raised in a non-observant home should not be allowed to become frum? He has a complete biblical obligation to be observant. Will you stand in the way of someone else's Torah observance?

There is of course a difference between BTs and potential geirm i this regard... a goy does not have a chiyuv of of observance... but a Jew!

And what does Shabtai Tzvi have to do with it? Messianism is no greater among BTs than any other group of Jews... and weren't the followers of Shabtai Tzvi FFBs (as everyone used to be)?

Assimilation is a silent holocaust. Shall we sit by as millions of Jewish souls get snuffed out?

Jabojr said...

"A moratorium" on bts for a generation would be a mort-a-torium, a death sentence. There will be many fewer non-observant (halakhic) Jews in a generation, and their level of interest will be even more attenuated.

The moment is now, there will be no second chance or later. And don't worry about a mass flood bts. (There is a theoretical concern with geirim, since there are theoretically 5 billion potential candidates.) But secular Jews, like there religous bretheren, are stubborn and willful. If you could make 10% of them frum it would be a tremendous accomplishment, and still would not "overwhelm" already-observant Jews.

So on the left we have Jews who despise the Land of Israel, and wish to turn away from it... on the right, people who despise the people of Israel, and wish to turn them away. I fear we'll get the worst of both worlds, no-people, no-land.

avib99 said...

Not to pasken halacha here, as doing so is way out of my league, but couldn't welcoming BT's back into the Orthodox community be posed as a Mitzvah? I believe the Pasuk says, "V'ahavtem Et Ha'ger." Well if there's a mitzvah to embrace gerim, someone born gentile who decides to observe mitzvot, isn't it a kal va'chomer that there is an obligation to embrace a fellow
Jew who decides to observe? Or maybe, since the individual was always Jewish, the mitzvah would be included under "Ve'ahavta Le'Rayacha Ka'mocha."

Anonymous said...

writing a two paragraph response when "dumbfounded?" interesting choice of words.

what i am saying about bts is that ffbs need to regroup -- in many ways. if someone chooses to become religious, more power to her. but actively trying to make people religious, kiruv programs, etc.? ill pass, at least for now...

and you should take my "written like a true bt" comment with the humor it was intended, as indicated by the accompanying emoticon. perhaps it is true what they say, ba-dati le-umi ain humor.

Ben Bayit said...

I said I agree with what was written by Rabbi Woolf on an individual level. It is the "institutionalization" of kiruv - to the detriment of other programs - that I am against. The fact is that economic resources are scarce and everything comes at a price. I don't believe that "losing" 20-30% of FFB's while replacing wthem with a 20-30% inflow from BT's is beneficial. Eventually the required balance will be upset and one will see even more isolated BT communities such as R. Woolf noted. Therefore communal resources have to be allocated accordingly.

There is a strong school of thought that attributes the shabbtai tzvi phenomenon to returning Marrano families. FFB's jumped on board later. It was also noted that the returning marranos brought some of their "foreign" ideas with them. So WADR to the idea of Tshuva mentioned above, Judaism is not Catholic and I can worry about my own soul - and also worry about the educational environment of my children and what they may or may not be exposed to, and how the community alloactes its resources.

Jabojr said...

"kol israel arevim ze ba ze"
and "you shall surely rebuke."

We can't ignore the fate of Jews simply because they are not religious. I'd be more sympathetic to this view if I thought the 20-30% frum attrition rate cited by Ben was accurate; I think it is off by an order of magnitude.

Moreover, FFBs who go off the derech often stay connected to Judaism in some signficant way -- it is a tragedy for them and their families, but not a total write-off for the Jewish people. As for the non-frum, they are one step away from disappearance. So it is simple triage.

Also, if you're worried about your children's schools, presumably you're not talking about BTs, who are usually in theie 20s or 30s when they do thsuva, but rather the CHILDREN of BTs, ie kids who are FFB. So not one needs yichus to play with your kids? It is disappointing to see such attitudes from the national-religous camp. Oh well..

What about aliyah? What about military service? Would you also take this "look after myself, not care about anyone else" attitude?

Shabtai Tzvi was vastly popular in Easter Europe, and I don't think there were morranos there. There were Cossack massacres, and that is generally cited as the chief (and sufficient) cause.

Ben Bayit said...

I don't believe that my "attrition rate" is off for the modern orthodox community. 1 out 4 FFB MO kids leaves religion. period.

Some of the worst self-hating Jews are FFB's that went off the derech.

I'm not talking about the kids of BT's - my concern is with kids in general who are packed 30-40 in a classroom in run-down buildings with parents struggling to make second mortgage payments in order to afford the exorbitant tuition bills for third-rate teachers, all the while "kiruv", "renewal", "continuity" and "dialogue" programs rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in fundraising. A secondary concern is that a too large proportion of the teachers in MO schools are BT's and I have "mesorah" problems with this, in that I view school as in loco parentis and I'm giving my kids what I learnt from my parents and they learnt from their parents, etc. - not by taking a book off a shelf. See Moshe Koppel's article in Tradition - Letter to My Son. But that is secondary.

A fundamental principle in Judaism is to look after one's own spiritual well-being and the physical well-being of one's fellow Jew. It's when these are reversed that problems arise (supposedly this is attributed to Rav Yisrael Salanter). This is why Shas' kiruv works - they do it right by looking after welfare needs of their constituency - not by shifting funds to all sorts of "programs"

Rabbi Woolf - when you write "From what I've seen over the years, the home and the depth of Jewish learning with which I was raised beats out anything acquired by FFB's in the 60's, 70's and 80's." I assume your referring to the Modern Orthodox community. You can't seriously mean FFB's that were raised in heimisiche baaalbatishe families that sent their kids to Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, Mir, Chaim Berlin, Reb Yankev Yoysef, Bobov or Tomchei Temimim in the 60's, 70's and 80's? I'll be the first to agree that even tzaddikim gmurin can't stand in the place that chozrim betshuva stand, but such a suggestion would be pushing the envelope as far as communal chinuch standards, I would think.

On the issue of Shabttai Tzvi - recent research indicates that the initial "push" for Shabbtai Tzvi came from the marrano returnee communities in Turkey and other mediteranean areas and only then spread to Poland.

Anonymous said...

i more or less agree with the thrust of bb.