Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Are You In a BT Yeshiva?

Mis-nagid suggested I link to this post .

I want to respond to your sincere concern as to whether this blog will do any good, or better- more good than harm.My plan is to make something that saves a lot of potential BT's a lot of strife. To make it personal, I am glad I became a BT. It opened me to new sensitivities I am certain I would never have. It got me sooo much closer to my whole family, nuclear and others. On the other hand, the true harm came in my being cajoled and pushed into levels of observance. Why the rush? Why indeed. There are only so many kiruv rabbi's out there and a lot of prospects and not too much money. I think they want to push and get on to the next one.BT yeshivas provide the perfect solution- the rabbi's just give you cholent and kugel for a while,learn a shtickle torah with you while mainly playing psychological games on you. Then, they pass you off to yeshiva. I went to machon shlomo. It's a
well known BT yeshiva with a reputation for smart guys. I won't tell if I went 1, 2 or more years for identity reasons. I will say that they have a 2 week summer program where the head rabbis come to the US and do a little road show, complete with BBQ's and science and torah lectures mixed in.

The atmosphere is very laid back and the kiruv part gets ratcheted up by the end. You get tefillin and learn about tzitis, etc. You get Kelemen style lectures that are supposed to put aside your doubts. The rabbis are nice and smart and credible. You figure, it can't be all that bad.The yeshiva focuses on getting as many doctors, lawyers, scientists, mba's as possible to the yeshiva. The strategy is: get these guys whipped into shape in 2 years (they get you to agree to 1 year, then make you feel like a loser if you don't keep going) then married and off into the world. However, a lot of the guys there in recent years seem to be learning more and more after the 2 year period is up. The guys are in demand from single girls because of the rep for nice, smart well off educated guys. Not bad catches at all.I think they
like to graduate these guys for another big reason: if someone sees a frum
doctor or PhD or lawyer, it's great advertising for machon shlomo and yiddishkeit in general. People think, "if they got over their questions and became orthodox, hey then I can too!"However, questions are NOT part of the machon shlomo curriculum. In fact, guys are hand picked for their competitiveness and non-questioning nature. The rabbis know that the guys will hit the ground running and compete with each other to learn.

They really hold the shidduch thing over their heads as well. Guys go there for 1 year thinking they'll get married. By the end of that year, they're socialized into another year. "Then," they are told- "you can be truly great!"There are divorces and unhappy marriages behind the scenes. There are unhappy guys. The place should tell potential BT's everything up front. Otherwise, it's a major stumbling block.Since machon shlomo and other places like it (aish and ohr someyach) aren't straight with potential talmidim- just schmoozing them up to get them in- then my blog will do a lot of good by making sure there is something on the net for them to consider first. When I went, there was nothing on the net about OJ. The net was still young, and there certainly were no blogs!

I started thinking- any guys in Machon Shlomo, Aish, Ohr Somayach, Shapell's, etc. that are reading this (as of now 24 hour old or so) blog? One day you may hit on this blog just researching the above institutions.

Since I say a lot derogatory about Machon Shlomo, I should point out, the guys that go there are smart, and most are pretty well adjusted. I have met Ohr guys from the Center program and they are similar, perhaps more laid back. I also want to state a lot/most of these folks are very happy they went to MaClone Shlomo, whoops, Machon, but one has to admit it is a cookie-cutter institution with a very set hashgafa. Shapells seems to have a diverse body of rabbeim from different streams.

So, any of you BT yeshiva guys, if you think I'm way off, or if you have some nagging issues that are not going away, please consider this the forum for your thoughts. You should consider a guest post, since that's how I hope this blog evolves- collectively.

I think each yeshiva has its own way of dealing with "questions." My biggest complaint about machon shlomo and R. David Gottleib on his ohr someyach website isn't much better- is that they pretend to have an answer for EVERY question!

Now, there are 2 kinds of answers- those that put the issue to rest and those that create new questions. I'm curious how the rabbeim are addressing your questions. They OWE it to you to try! In my opinion, they owe you disclosure before you go. I mean, once you've invested so much time and money, perhaps quit a job or dropped out of grad school/medical school (they always get a few of those) you are over a barrel. Then, they hang the shidduch thing over your head.

Come to think of it, these places are rather cult-like aren't they? Well, let's hope not all of them. And, I was at machon shlomo a long time ago, so maybe they've changed since then, though I doubt it. Let's hear from you soon. Don't be timid- it's anonymous!


Blogger Tam said...

I spent a few weeks at Aish between semesters (about 10 years ago) and they were dishonest every step of the way. I don't really even mean the theological issues you're looking at (although there was plenty of that as well). I mean the practical day to day things. What I would be learning when I got there, what level the classes were on, what the classes were about, tiyulim, if they had vegetarian meals or not, etc.

11/02/2005 5:09 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Did you call them out about it? I know they might say they are underfunded/understaffed/disorganized and "can we have a check?" :)

I'm curious if it was more of an innocent thing or simply bait and switch.

Also, you mentioned the "v-word." I think vegetarian BT's are more and more prevalent. Do you care to voice some thoughts about being a vegetarian and how it fits in or hinders your yiddishkeit experience?

11/02/2005 5:14 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I think MisNagid meant you should post your comment as a post. I agree.

11/02/2005 5:14 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

also- Tam- did you become "frum" as a result of your Aish experience? Have you stayed frum? It's always interesting to hear others' stories. And, don't use your real name, just in case you'd like to be anon in the future.

11/02/2005 5:16 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

ezzie- I know, just took the lazy man's approach. Plus I don't want to just slam machon shlomo outright in the post, although it's hard not to. I want to get other viewpoints.

I'll try to tidy it up later, though thanks.

11/02/2005 5:18 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Also... (sorry about all the advice!) Perhaps putting the description of yourself that you wrote in your profile? (When I first asked on GH.) And Hanan should do the same, if he ever joins...

11/02/2005 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Another misled BT said...

Mazol Tov and G,D Bless you BTA! We need your voice: Open and honest information, as well as mature insights(at least as much as one can given the situation) about kiruv and becoming frum, including all the good, all the bad and most of all -all the info on the deceptions that takes place.

I hope to participate soon --when I have time--and share my own experience becoming Frum.

11/02/2005 9:22 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

thank you and welcome. this blog is a bit different. I am looking for it to be more like cross-currents, with different contributors (but no censorship!) Please tell us your story soon.

11/02/2005 9:41 PM  
Anonymous hayim said...

Honestly, I hope that anybody learning in Aish, Ohr Somayach or whatever is not reading this.

I know I have been indoctrinated for 3 years (or, as one of the rabbis put it : "we, brainwashing you ? Listen, son, if your brain got dirty because of the shhmutz of the outside world, of course it needs some cleaning !").

But really I do not regret it so much. No way I would have chosen to become observant had somebody tapped on my shoulder and told me : "Look, the Torah looks like ANE sacred litterature, is full of inconsistencies, typos and anachronisms, abounds in moral dilemmas, etc., etc.... BUT ! You should still abide by it !".

Most likely "intellectually honest kiruv work" is an absolute oxymoron. Let's face it - there is to my knowledge no Modern Orthodox Kiruv Organization, and for good reasons.

This might sound a bit naive - looking back in my religious evolution, I think my time in BT yeshiva as the childhood. As a kid, it is acceptable that your identity is subsumed into your parent's choices.

Then comes the time of crisis : teen age ! At some point in the religious evolution, it is time to challenge and critically re-evaluate past choices. This is I guess the people who should be reading your blog.

Then comes the next and final step : adulthood. Ach, but who is ready for that already ? :)

Speaking of a non cult-like yeshiva, Steg had a nice post about a BT yeshiva recently... I think it was Ohr Somayach Monsey, must look it up.

11/03/2005 5:20 AM  
Anonymous Inni? said...


Thank you very much for setting this forum up.
I have only just discovered the wonderful world of blogs. (and what a bittul z'man they are!)

I myslef became BT at school I never actually attended a BT yeshiva. I did, however, spend many years in a well known MO Yeshiva.

I'm not sure if this is wise, but I am going to admit that I also took semicha.

But after all this time i find myself in a very difficult place. I'm not sure I believe any of it any more.

So here it is - I'm a Rav who thinks the whole thing, potentially, is a very clever, man made,intelectual edifice designed to chain us to a guilt ridden, patriarchal boys club!

I'm married with kids and to be honest I feel quite trapped.

Any suggestions?

11/03/2005 9:56 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...


11/03/2005 1:39 PM  
Anonymous Ms. U. Gaas said...

inni, you are not alone.

11/03/2005 3:08 PM  
Anonymous Hanan said...

inni?, are you open with your wife about your situation?

11/03/2005 3:33 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Inni, Welcome, and I commend you for being open. Before I reply, I will say this disclaimer: my opinion is just that, an opinion. I have no training or experience helping others in our situation, I only know that once I opened the door to doubt, the whole process took a certain trajectory.

As I said in the first post, it can be pretty disconcerting to doubt OJ, because it is just so all-consuming. And, sure, it's easy to find tons of information and writings to support sceptical views, but where do you go from there? Nevertheless, the more honest I became with myself, the better I felt, because at least I knew what challenges I had to deal with.

Also, you absolutely did the right thing by telling the details you did. However, that being said, you are new to blogs and must follow a few guidelines. Don't disclose where you live or hint at it. Don't name anything in terms of yeshivas, etc. Right now, you could live in NY, London, Baltimore, Israel, who knows? So that's number one. Don't say how long you've been married, how old your kids are, how many you have, how old the oldest is, etc. And you'll be fine.

Now, with that huge blog piece of advice out of the way, here is my take, and I really hope others out there will think through their responses and respond as well.

It's easy to say "go for it, go off, since it's all bull anyway!" or "just find another Rav/daven for emunah" etc. Guys, please take what has been given factually and speak from there.

Ok. First, you are not the first Rav to feel as you do. Have you ever read the 19 Letters by Rav Hirsch? If you read the student's first letter, which is a critique of OJ from the perspective of a thoroughly enlightened German Jew in Rav Hirsch's time, it will strike you as amazing. It says it just about all on the money.

And it was written by Rav Hirsch! He wrote both the Naftali side and the Ben Uziel side. He could perfectly enunciate why one wouldn't want to be frum. It is so thorough and devastating. Some kiruv rabbi gave me that book to read and it had the opposite effect on me- because the first letter was so much stronger than any of the responses in the rest of the book.

Take your initial comments. They are expressed the following way by Hirsch: "The religion turns all of life into a continuous monastic service, where even the minutest details are referred directly to God." The hundreds of daily brachas such as asher yotzer come to mind. I remember asking a rabbi, where does it say that god commands us to do nitilas yadayim? Isn't that a false statement? Same for hallel. The same reply always follows: in the mitzvah of "listening to the rabbis." Well, the miztvah is actually to listen to the sanhedrin! They lose all credibility with answers like those.

There are also some interesting things I read in Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo's books, Judaism on Trial and Thoughts to Ponder. Of course he is an OJ rabbi, but also a Phd from Oxford in philosophy. So, it was interesting that in one of the books (I could look it up for you) he says he was surprised by a very established chareidi Rav in Israel asking him "how can you believe all of this with all your training? It's all I know and I'm finding I believe it less and less." I'm paraphrasing.

Something tells me, Inni, that you aren't the first Rav to have doubts! One more note. It is historical fact that the super-choshuv Lithuanian yeshivas prior to the holocaust were filled with atheists. The reason given was that this was the only place they could go to train their minds, since college was not an option for them at the time. But, it goes to show that you are not "a sign of the times" or an anomoly.

Even in the gemara, there is the famous story of the sage who went off the derech when he saw a boy die falling out of a tree. The boy was fetching eggs at his father's behest and was first shooing the mother bird away. Both kevod av and shooing the mother were associated with long life. The gemara says he was a fool for going OTD for various uncompelling reasons, but again, we are talking about someone from the holiest generations walking away.

Now, all that is just to let you know you are not crazy and there is a ton of information out there. I do think that there are a lot of very sceptical Rabbeim out there who have learned to stay with it and their questions because of the other beneficial aspects of yiddishkeit.

Look at Rebel Jew's post from the other day. It sums up the "stick with it" mindset of a sceptic who stays on the derech.

But you are a BT, a truth seeker. You may lose all interest, if you are black and white like a lot of us, if you lose the illusion of it all being true. In fact, you may become quite embarassed for believing it at all. I did. I really beat myself up, "how could I have fallen for this, it's so obviously full of holes?!"

I liken it to the Wizard of Oz. Once you see it's just some feeble old guy behind the curtain, you realize how much so-called emunah was really just superstition, with its concommitant hopes for good fortune in life as a reward for being a good boy.

Now, that aside, you have a lot at stake here. You are married with kids and unlike me, you are a talmud chacham. You didn't specify if this is your career or not.

But you are quite invested in this.

I think the time has come to ask some difficult questions as well. How much of your questioning is due to or triggered by unhappiness in you marriage or with other aspects of your life?

I know my doubts were not triggered by the desire for lobster, but rather for simply hating davening from day one and not finding it getting any easier. Having davened in english for the first few years, I know what these prayer are supposed to be saying. I would look around the minyan during Kedusha and say, "look at these guys," going up on their tippy toes and supposedly quoted angels- this is insane! And the fact that it is standard to daven at lightning speed, that also was bizarre. Doesn't it matter to know what you are saying? I realized most folks turn off their minds and just press on, after all that's what a mensch does, right? Be a team player.

Of course, the 39 melachas are pretty hard to swallow as well. Learning is emphasized because when you learn, you read in between the lines as well as the lines themselves. You get all kinds of subliminal messages from the gemara or the commentators about just how important it is to get it right. The Wizard,er...Hashem is watching, and he'll be verrrrry angry with you. Or worse, whatever your doing won't "count" and you'll lose out on "points." Just look at the chofetz chaim's halachic writings for example. Written in the last century, they are nevertheless imbued with fear of god's wrath. That's pretty hard to have. I'm here to say there has been no wrath, and if you want to talk about divine retribution somewhere in the afterlife, fine, but that isn't what the torah says in the shema for example or in any of the curses in dvarim. I and many non-believers like me, am "blessed" financially and with a happy life. In fact, I look at my circumstance and realize that, the more constrained I would have been, the more I would not have had the luxury of doubting. There are a lot of rich Jews who do kiruv and show off their fancy houses to potential converts. These prospects think "hmm, maybe god will bless me, too." Yes, it is quite common I assure you.

Now all I've said may have set you back to your Rav training "these are all klutz kashas, I know the answers for this stuff." So my question is, why aren't the answers working any more? It is to do with a midlife crisis (desiring new women or experiences) or is it to do with the religion itself?

Have you spoken to rabbeim who specialize not in halacha alone, but also in all the questions of judaism? Of course don't say which ones. I know I spoke with some very smart and also respected rabbeim in israel. They would be perhaps one tier below american gedolim and thus one or two tiers below the gedolei torah in israel. But they spoke english and they knew secular subjects. And they weren't kiruv clowns.

And, the interesting thing is- unlike the kiruv clowns who knew so little, these rabbeim validated all of my doubts! They didn't threaten how hashem would give my whole family cancer and the like. They understood. They are nevertheless passionate about learning and frumkeit. I think they find it incredibly stimulating, and being scholarly, that does it for them. They feel you can come to believe it is true through learning, but they acknowledge you can also come to the conclusion it is not true through learning. In other words, they are circumspect and don't lay claims to proof like the lightweight Akiva Tatz's and Kelemen's of the world who thrive on sophistry.

I think given your situation, you owe it to yourself to try to find a way to have it work, perhaps less frum. You can't just shake up everyone's lives overnight. And, if you have already made that effort, then let's talk further. But it sounds like you've only recently begun to have serious doubts.

Your relationship with your wife is the guiding factor here. If you feel the relationship is going nowhere, it could just be the religious doubting and frustration. If you can work it out at all, you should, for your kids sake and hers. Divorce is a devastating thing, but sometimes it is the right thing.

Anyway, I hope I did you post some justice with this reply. I hope others will chime in.

And no- this is not bittul z'man- this is life. You can get back to learning for learning's sake when this is a little more clear.

11/03/2005 4:18 PM  
Blogger Mis-nagid said...

BTA, You must post that last comment as a blog post. Not link to it; post it.

Also, it makes me so sad to read you. You're obviously a bright person with a tremendous yen for Judaism. It's a tragic shame that your introduction to it was kiruv clowns. You owe it to yourself to give Judaism the chance it deserves. No, you won't be Orthodox, but you may find that it gives you what you've been looking so hard for in it.

You've written that non-Orthodox Judaism doesn't appeal to as it doesn't seem authentic. Remember, if only tradition grants "authenticity", and the tradition is wrong, then it's authentically wrong. There's no great honor in that.

11/03/2005 5:20 PM  
Anonymous YS said...

Hell of a site. Coming from an FFB background I found myself in a BT yeshiva back in the late '90s. As cliche as it sounds, I started to discover a new side of Judaism. I was always jealuous of all these guys who had chosen their path rather than me being handed one. Slowly I started reading, listening and thinking. Even though I continued for a few years in a more mainstream yeshiva I started to think of my self (and still do) as part BT. It is the part of Judaism I admire - open, friendly, and thinking. I still deal largely in that world, date within that world, and enjoy the relaxed attiudes of "I'm on my way but haven't arrived." Whatever arrived means.
And that's sort of my conclusion. "Arrived" or FFB is a falicy. Yes, I would need one hell of a good reason to pull my car out of my folks driveway on Shabbos or eat at White Castle, but I'm ok with being "on my way" somewhere.
I have a few basics down. Partly because I've looked into it "ad ha'sof" and partly because I believe.
1)There is one God who created everything.
2)There was a revalation on Sinai to Moshe. The Kuzari's thoughts on this ring true to me.
3)I have yet to hear another religion with even close to as plausible a backstory as we have. Though some have excellent moral/ethical systems.
Other stuff I work with are extrapolations from 1 & 2. Am I sure that every "Jewish" thing I do is "do it or burn in hell" - no.

Ok, I'm rambling and I don't have the time to sit and give it my usual 3 or 4 edits.

*I have amazing respect for, and am still jealous of BT's. In any shape or form.
*I'm ok with a form of OJ that is relaxed while still keeping the law.
*It's harder be true to your God while in the midst of a community that is "frum".

I'll stop here.

11/03/2005 6:45 PM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

My gut and experience tell me that the push for MORE zeal, MORE fundamentalism, MORE piety, MORE picayune observance, MORE exclusivity MORE MORE MORE entices a lot of starry eyed BTs. Once the novelty wears off, the MORE MORE MORE becomes a drag. What the person loved about Judaism becomes its greatest drag. Were people allowed to settle at a level they are comfortable with, many more would stay, or at least not leave disgruntled.

11/03/2005 7:17 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Mis-nagid, will do. I'm just not an html maven. I'll poke around with the formatting tools.

As for your concern, I appreciate it. But all is not lost. I'm clearly open to some judaism and it doesn't have to be orthodox. I just haven't figured it out yet. That's part of what the site is for: selfish brainstorming on my part.

I liked the MO Miskalim discussion on Godol's site today, but I can't help but think he'll be the same day in and day out. On the other hand, I agree with YS it IS hard to drive off on shabbos from your in laws. And I don't really want to, like I've said. I like shabbos.

I'm more conservative, but just what I've seen with them seems almost as silly with all their talk of "halacha."

Please paint a clearer picture for me of what you've arrived at. Are you happy with it? What vestiges of OJ work for you and what do you borrow from other streams. I am really open to suggestions and will ultimately go with what sits well with me. The past month of yomim tovim and all most decidedly did NOT sit well with me!

Rebel- I agree with your points. You must be a good dad, too.

11/03/2005 7:56 PM  
Anonymous YS said...

There are folks out there who have searched and found OJ and are still relaxed people. And by relaxed I mean "You do what you do and you're still so welcome in my home." But saying it honestly. I find it's an attitude that comes from being in constant contact with people who you love and respect but for whatever reason don't celabrate their Judaism as you do. It's rare in the USA because everything is so fragmented (also in Israel). In South Africa, Europe, and Australia, or maybe in any smaller community people are more open. Also the brand of "not my way of doing things" is different. In the US, if you didn't go to an Orthodox shul, you went (or not went) to a conservative or Reform one. In Capetown, your once-a-year shul was the Orthodox one.
I.E. the shul I don't go to is the OJ one is much more frequent. A good thing IMHO.

11/03/2005 10:49 PM  
Blogger RovaYehudi said...

it is really a shame, I agree with a lot of what you are saying... you should really try bircas hatorah, very different approach, much more honest, open, straight, real, etc.

7/09/2006 5:05 PM  
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10/30/2006 2:18 PM  
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10/30/2006 2:19 PM  
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10/30/2006 2:19 PM  
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10/30/2006 2:27 PM  
Blogger Jacob said...

uncertain 1

I was considering going to Machom schlomo and I saw the whole rode show going on. Yet I found somthing special about the rabbis teaching there, and I feel there is things I can learn about life from them. Yet I have no idea if I believe in god to begin with. the way it sounds is that this place does not adress questions like this. I orginally thought I could learn from these people just how to become a better person, a more giving person. Yet now im told there not really there for questions. Just out of curiosity from all you people who did go to machom shlomo, what did you get out of the program? am i correct that it is possible to go there and get the self improvement techniques out of these rabbis and then not become religious? What should I be thinking when Im trying to figur out if I want to explore Judism more

6/18/2007 10:24 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Hi Jacob. Great questions! I would think you might get more out of commenting on the latest post, since there are 3 machon shlomo guys posting there, myself included.

You will find a bias against MS most likely because the other guys are not coming to the blogs either out of fear of being discovered, apathy, or they are happy with their experience.

I'll post your question there and encourage you to check in.

I'll answer your question there as well.

6/18/2007 11:33 PM  

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