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!

Calling All Guest Bloggers!

Now that the site is up and running (and my soul brother Hanan has yet to come through with the goods) I am opening the board to guest posts that fit with what has gone so far. Please read what's up there and submit a guest post to me at

As long as you are in keeping with the issues raised by the board, you are welcome to post. And yes, if you are a kiruv professional, this is your chance to explain your side of the story.

All guest posters can remain completely anonymous. Let's see how it goes. As I said, this is not a job for me, but rather, I want a forum for BT's and potential BT's and likeminded FFB's who have seriously questioned their faith.

What's Your Dream Version of Shabbos?

The few times I go to shul, I usually spend thinking "this could be so much better." Of course, my version would cause mass panic and gnashing of teeth, so clearly I mean that in a subjective sense.

Godol Hador has commented extensively on potato kugel as an almost mystical aspect of the enjoyment of Shabbos. I just don't like potatoes so much. I do like cholent, and feel there is much argument to be made for cholent as the quintessence of OJ enjoyment.

Anyway, in a comment to the first blog, I joked that I'd love a shul with a 1 hour minyan and a 2 hour kiddush. But, it's true. I like to socialize with the guys at shul. It's funny just how interesting they become on Shabbos. The rest of the week or year, I could care less if I see most of them! So, in response to the OU ban on kiddush clubs, perhaps my shul would be kiddush-centric with davening clubs! :)

I truly would be happy to have a stripped down version of davening, perhaps with some different prayers. Mussaf would be the first to go. The prayers would be meditative and you could sit, stand, whatever you wanted. It would be silent- no moving whispering lips to prove to the tzibur you're really davening. Then, the parsha reading, and someone knowledgeable would give a drash. Now, you might be thinking- just go to a reform/conservative temple. But they lack the no driving on shabbos rule. I think that's a must. You need people to live nearby the shuls in order to have a community.

I also happen to like the deprivation of tv's microphones and lesbian rabbis, so those other movements are out for me.

What's your dream shabbos? It might be helpful to think of a place you went away to for a "shabbaton" and no one in your community would find out. Hint: it may help you decide what you really want out of yiddiskeit, since recall how important it is to have a positive game plan in life.

And if you just hate shabbos, the "god-idea", and jews, then... nevermind. I probably wouldn't want to come to your house for Shabbos anyway if that's the case!

OTD- What, Now What, So What?

I once had a mentor tell me a no-nonsense self-help approach to gaining a fresh perspective on a problem that is bugging you. He called it "What, Now What, So What?"

Let's take being an off the derech BT/FFB (or an on the fence about being off the derech (hereinafter, "OTD"). Now, you're an OTD BT or OTD FFB or and OTFABOTD BT or FFB, you savvy?

Irrespective of our label, we are confused- how do we deal with this? We had our lives all mapped out at one point and now they aren't so clearly mapped out.

Step 1: The approach is to say "What"- in this case the issue is my future. You have to DECIDE at this point and cannot delay deciding without delaying having any clarity whatsoever.

Step 2: So, let's say you decide to go off completely, you ask yourself "Now what?" This too is critical, especially for married guys. And especially, especially for married guys with kids (like me- too bad step one isn't quite effectuated just yet). Now here's why. I have heard from enough guys that their wives aren't taking too well to this OTD thing. In fact, the wives really don't like limbo. They know they like yiddishkeit for the reasons I postulated in the comments to the first post. The are uncertain about the future. You have to have a plan that is reassuring, yet true to yourself.

Ask yourself, are there compromises you are willing to make that you are sure you can live with? No sense repressing your intellect or true nature and imploding after a month. (See Freud on this one). But for me, I know my wife would be happy with shabbos done "properly." I have no problem with that. She'd like to keep strictly kosher in and out of the home. I'd like some flexibility out of the home, but not mcdonalds. I can work with that. She'd like the kids to go to an OJ school in the community. Hmmmmm, I guess I would in theory, but what happens when they bring the midrashic parsha sheet? Do I go ballistic? Do I shrug? Do I reinforce the lessons, perhaps with gold stars even? But I digress. I'm just keeping with the AA format of self-disclosure... The point is, you have to set these boundries, but you also have to be considerate of your spouse- give him/her a game plan that is positive about the future. You should not just be throwing in the towel. There must have been *some* things you liked about OJ?

Step 3: Now What? At the moment you resolved step 2, you take a look back. Even though it was just seconds ago, think about it- you have resolved a major source of conflict in your life. You feel relieved at the clarity. You feel inspired to carry out your new life's game plan.

Too many of us are on the fence OTF for too long. Life is too short (particularly so for the atheists among us) to wring our hands about what "could have been" or the "good old days."