Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Aruch HaShulchan and not Shulchan Aruch


Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that I have been writing quite a lot about Baalei Teshuva (Jews becoming religious later on in their lives). As soon as I mentioned that Baalei Teshuva as well as converts to Judaism are not always too accepted within the Jewish frum society, I got a few upset comments. Most of them (or even all of them) were from Baalei Teshuva claiming that it doesn't concern them. I would be so wrong and Baalei Teshuva were totally accepted; even in Satmar and Toldot Aharon.

I can say about myself that I have been dealing with the subjects Baalei Teshuva, Haredim and the whole society Shtick for quite some years. At least in Israel I have seen a lot ! Plenty of born Chassidim told me that, in their group, newcomers are accepted but it wouldn't be the same when there is someone like that (new). One Toldot Aharon woman even let me know that someone really chassidic has to be born chassidic.

I heard many opinions and why I am again referring to the subject is my Shabbat experience I had last week. I was invited in Mea Shearim and the Baalei Teshuva subject came up again. I am planning to write some further details but for today I just want to stress that, according to my opinion, it also depends very much on the convert or Baalei Teshuva. How does he / she deal with the environment ? Does he remain calm or is he one of those who keep the Mitzvot in a fanatic manner ?
Once I was invited at a litvishe Baalei Teshuva couple and they tried to keep every single little detail. Everything had to be perfect. The whole Shabbat had to be so unbelievable perfect that it was too much. No enjoyment due to perfection. Or in other words, they drove their guests nuts.
Such fanatics are one of the worst kind.

The Jerusalem Rabbi Mordechai Machlis once told us that many Jewish American secular parents call him up and want to know what happened to their child while studying in one of the overseas programmes. Suddenly the kid became frum and after his return to the States, he is driving his secular or reform environment crazy. Telling everyone what to do and asking the parents to keep a kosher kitchen.

A few months ago, I read a book called "Freaking Out" describing certain ways of Baalei Teshuva behaviour. Unfortunately, the book was only referring to US - Baalei Teshuva and included too many dry statistics. This was, at least, my personal impression.

Rabbi Machlis, however, told the following story:
Once a new Baal Teshuva who had formerly studied in a Yeshiva in Jerusalem, went back to his parents in the States. As soon as he got home, he demanded from his family to keep Mitzvot. Furthermore, he told the local Rabbi what to do, as it says this and that in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law). The Rabbi just looked up and said that in his community they don't follow the Shulchan Aruch but the Aruch HaShulchan. The Baal Teshuva became very quiet, as he didn't know what that is.

There are some newly religious (guys and young girls) who study in a Yeshiva or seminary and after a few weeks or months they think that they know everything. I experienced this plenty of times that a newly Yeshiva guy / seminary girl came up to me and told me what and how to do something.

I can understand that there is an excitement and I once experienced the same. Being proud to learn something and having the desire to share it with others. However, it very much depends on HOW you share it. Going on people's nerves or being patient.

A Baal Teshuva should always be accompanied by an experienced Rabbi advising the Baal Teshuva how to undergo the whole process step by step, and not to freak out and end up being problem for himself and his surrounding.


  1. I agree--problem is the BTs are so "full of themselves" they are convinced that everybody must accept them as they are the greatest. While I greatly admire the determination to start a new path, I just can't be around such people because instead of being about Hashem it is only about them. As for Chasidic groups, my experience is that they are generally nice and welcoming, but on the "born to the society" are the ones that are in. Thanks for putting the truth out there--maybe some of the "in" people will tone down a bit and become nice people.

  2. B"H

    Not ALL Baalei Teshuva are so full of themselves but there are many becoming a kind of arrogant. I overheared many conversations between newly Yeshiva guys making up their own statements and if anyone doesn't agree, he is seen as a heretic.
    On the other hand, I saw quite a few Aish HaTorah guys returning to the States and there going back to their old secular lifestyle.

    Real honest Teshuva is a long process and doesn't end with a one year Yeshiva programme.

    Personally I do prefer talking to born Haredim because from them I am getting the questions to my answers right away.
    As soon as I mention a name to a born Chassid, I am getting a whole story around the family. Who is with whom, since when and why.

    You would never hear this from a Baal Teshuva. It is not their fault but when you say that they are not "in" ---- they are really not IN. Just name me an accepted Rabbi within a chassidic group being a convert or a Baal Teshuva !

    It doesn't matter which chassidic group, the born in ones (those whose families have been there for generations) make up their own society within the group. Even in Chabad !