Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Seven Points To Tshuva-For The Baal Tshuva Institutions

The Seven Points to Tshuva for the Ba’al Tshuva Institutions - by David Kelsey

Some in the comments section have begged me, as a board member of the Un-Orthodox Blog, to elucidate how the Ba’alei Tsuva Houses of Horror could improve. I have agreed to do so, not out of any hopes that my recommendations will be implemented, but to illuminate to the Jewish world that it could be easily improved in important ways, and to catch Orthodox and secular eyes on how, and to then collectively ask why it isn’t like that.

If you think it is impossible that anyone would have a constructive criticism of the wonderful quiescent fundamentalist world of the Ba’alie Tsuva institutions, please stop reading now. Go here instead.

1 One year program maximum for those younger students who have not finished or (like me at the time) not even started college. – Every University overseas programs are for one year max. Modern Orthodox Jews have one (and only one) year in Israel. They all go for one year, and then they go to and finish college. There is no way to justify the horrible practice of encouraging years on end. If these yeshivas want to encourage a welfare lifestyle, let that be the choice of college graduates. This is not a good idea for young ba’alei tsuvas. Got a problem with that? Worried about their souls on campus? So set up Dark Light (Ohr Somayach ) or Fire Hazard (Aish) Houses on campus as a competitor to Chabad. They have a point with this.

2 –Athletics – This means more than having a field or basketball court around in case someone is actually inclined to do something more cardiovascular than wave his thumbs or shuckel. A responsible, more athletic student should be given responsibility to lead a game of basketball or the like everyday. These people can ensure that a loser is on hand to present a cake for mishmur and schedule a guest “vort” on something or other in the middle of the night on Thursday; so they can find surely find some willing soul to facilitate a daily sports activity. Now I know – in the prestigious yeshivas in Lithuania they didn’t play ball or jog, but these aren’t the five most prestigious yeshivas in a land twenty below zero in September. They are ba’alei tsuva yeshivas. They can no longer chase girls or do any activity they once considered normal. They need to blow off steam. Make sure they do. If someone doesn’t want to, no one is going to make them; it’s kind of like Ma’ariv. But it would be helpful if occasionally one of the junior Rabbis joined in to show this is considered a good thing.

3 – Full-Time Social Worker on the premises and the need for personal goals beyond “being frum” or “finding a shidduch” - You don’t need some shrink handing out Ritalin, but this is not an easy transition, from a secular to a religious lifestyle. Sorry if I am saying something too provocative for your kushera neshumas, but that’s the truth. If it is easy for someone from a secular background to make this transition, he is probably just a chameleon.

The social worker will be the busiest member of the faculty on campus. Trust me on that one. He must have a meeting with every student at least once every three months. No exceptions. Life and vocational goals must be discussed with the student. This is not about “haskafa”, it is about tachlis. Too little of that usually at these places.

4 – Only college educated Rabbis as faculty – I don’t care if a guy came from a lineage as chasuv as the direct descendent of the Grand Rabbi of Chelm, or if he was a heavy metal party animal who saw the Dark Light and never tires of telling his stupid journey to any new, potential recruit. If the faculty member is not college-educated, they will not be able to understand how to teach the ba’alei tsuvas. They will only be able to tell them why everything they ever learned was meaningless. THAT’S WHAT ISLAM IS FOR. College educated faculty ONLY.

5 – Language – You can babble about hashkafa and how crazy the world is out there until the seventy-two minutes have finally passed and a new horrible week has begun, but in the end, this stuff won’t stick, and the backlash will hit. The only question is how hard.

What will stick and what students will never resent long-term are any skills gained.

These include but are not limited to:

A) Hebrew. You don’t have to be an orange t-shirt wearing Zionist to understand that much of are texts were written in a language not taught in most public schools in the U.S., and not well-taught at Hebrew School. A serious understanding of the language is critical. Every student – every single one – needs to be taking a Hebrew course, not just a couple of beginners who have not yet divested themselves of their Zionist narishkeit. It should include frequent tests – not to grade only, but for the student to understand what he knows, and what he is weak on. This should include a heavy emphasis on diction and conjugation, not just vocabulary of the words for various vessels in the temple. I know it sounds treif, but it’s not. It will only help a student, and he will hate you and himself less later if you make sure he gains these skills. Watch for little protest on this particular point in the comments section, even from Shlomo.

B) Aramaic – Please see my point A about Hebrew. The Talmud’s language is difficult. Can we learn the basic language, please? No, of course not. That would be empowering, and you would see real growth, and not the kind you wear from the Hefker pile of clothing. ALWAYS BETTER TO FOCUS ON HASHKAFA.

(Note - in my research for this post, it seems that some of the ba’al tsuva yeshivas have, to my shock, begun to make some small steps towards increasing academic empowerment. I will be happy to listen on the details of exactly what has improved, and what has not on this issue. I would point out that if the Rabbis teaching were college educated and BTL’s don’t count – this would have occurred a long time ago. It wouldn’t have taken 35 years for these illiterates to begin to figure this one out.)

6- Discouragement of Stringencies – “I don’t want to say you shouldn’t do it…” No - say it, asshole. These guys aren’t sure what’s the ikur and what’s the tuffel. Teach them. Teach them not to be freaks. Otherwise most will stop on their own, and resent that you didn’t tell them that in the first place. Explain that six hour between meat and milk means into the sixth hour. Explain that you can wear your tzitzis in sometimes. Explain that you can walk between two women when you have to chas v’ shalom go to Manhattan. My former shalosh sheudas “Armegeddon is coming” Rosh Yeshiva would side with me on these issues when a couple of the other bochurim would try to insist I act more frum, and I hate him a little bit less because of it.

Just a little bit, but every little bit helps.

7 – Discourage poverty. I haven’t met very many ba’al tsuvas who enjoy a standard of living greatly reduced from the one they grew up in. I have met many ba'al tsuvas who are never the less doing just that. Try to encourage them to find ways to avoid this, or at least limit the difference. You can’t do it for them, but you can encourage them to find ways themselves. That means (once all are college graduates as per my previous demand) approving internships and graduate school as a “good idea,” and talking about it openly. As a good thing, and not something to be “pushed off” indefinitely.

Does my path to repentance sound like good ideas?

Then let’s promote it. If you’re with me.

With us.

First of all, we need to mobilize the general Jewish community to monitor what is happening at these places. Disgruntled parent or former student? Email UO or me, but also email everyone you think needs to know these proposed reforms.

Liberal Jews ask all the wrong questions on Jewish Fundamentalist institutions. The UnOrthodox Blog is here to teach you the right ones.

Cause it’s all about the right questions, right?

And we got ‘em.

Now that we have learned the right questions, it is time to pressure the anti-cult program of the UJA to more closely monitor the Ba’al Tsuva institutions.

We don’t (yet) need to demand that the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Task Force on Missionaries and Cults declares them a cult, we just need that possibility (for now) as a threat to induce improvement. Wanna be listed with Jews for Jesus and the Kabbalah Centre as predators of secular Jewry? Then keep up the bullshit!

Email them here: info@tfmc.us

With OU’s and board permission, I would like to suggest we start cataloging stories of insanity at these places.

It’s time to clean house. Or it will be cleaned for them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Great post. The UJA however, is a garbage organization. We don't need them.

Saturday, September 03, 2005 9:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Sholom Elyashiv said...

I too encourage people to write in.
You have my haskama.

Saturday, September 03, 2005 11:45:00 PM  
Blogger Shlomo said...

Mandatory psychiatric evaluations should be prerequisite to admission in order to weed out the whack jobs like you DK

Sunday, September 04, 2005 12:19:00 AM  
Anonymous SB said...


I told you I wasn't going to read it, but something made me do it. Now that's the kind of power I'm talking about. Nice work.


Sunday, September 04, 2005 12:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that all Ba'al Tshuva yeshivas should be modeled after Oxford University, or Duke, Harvard, or the University of Virginia. In other words, ba'al tshuva yeshivas need to create the kind of ambience that comes with wealth, prestige and...tradition! Judaism has more tradition than anything else on earth, so...in order to create the best ba'al tshuva atmosphere, all bt yeshivas should have old stately and grand buildings, a distinguished, pipe-smoking faculty, well-appointed lounges with leather furniture and oil paintings on the walls...squash courts, Olympic-size pool, fraternities, and drama, music and chess clubs....then, we be getting somewhere!

Sunday, September 04, 2005 1:28:00 AM  
Anonymous George W. Bush said...

I too agree with the above.
You have my haskomo.

Sunday, September 04, 2005 2:51:00 AM  
Blogger David Kelsey said...


I would like to take do a psychiatric evaluation of BT's who are entering these institutions, and then to test them six months later.

On which do you think they would score worse, Shlomo? Before 6 months in Dark Light or Fire Hazard - or after?

Sunday, September 04, 2005 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Un-Orthodox Jew said...


You are the biggest crackpot of 'em all.

You always come after us as loshon haranikers and rechilus peddlers.

Can you come up with ONE constructive suggestion?

I have in six months NOT seen one idea that makes any sense at all!

The people in the mental institutions also say EVERYONE else is crazy but them.

You are one sick idiot!

Sunday, September 04, 2005 1:39:00 PM  
Blogger Shlomo said...

I thought u might be 21 or 22, now I'd say it's closer to 11 or 12. You just regurgetate the same inane mindless drivel day after day. Your blog is worthless and so are you. My constructive idea for today is for you to shut your fat immature trap ASAP. All the best! P.S. I'd say the one filled with all the anger all of the time is the sicko. I guess that's you. Try getting married or get a pilegesh it might release all the pent up anger. YOU ARE A LOSER WITH NO PURPOSE!!!!!!! Now that I've regressed to your level I'll sign off. L A T E R

Sunday, September 04, 2005 6:54:00 PM  
Anonymous yitzy said...

My parents are Bt,s from the early 70's neve & R, Noach Weinberg each respectively they are both very successfully people and happy but let me tell you its not easy no one said being frum is easy, not for a ffb and not for a bt,
I once heard from a good Jew "a Bt has it harder but at the same time is ahead of most people , most hope when they leave the world they are better than when they arrived a bt is guaranteed to end off better My Father now learns half a day and works half a day
he spends every spare second learning its the love of his life
from studying him and other bt's I can tell you its different for every person He never finished his degree He learned for many years and when he needed money
he looked at what he is good at and said lets see if I can succeed with that
he was able to. if he had to go back to school he would have
I agree that people have all different types of instincts we do need yeshivos for secular people who have become inters ted in a religious life style that at the same time cater to there needs, before the try lead them to change there life and people who understand the beginners nisyonos and where a secular person is coming from and what are there mindsets
many of the rebbeim in these yeshivos love learning and understand that a Jews purpose in this world is to become the biggest talmid chochom he can become they hope to give every secular jew a opportunity to to lead such a life
we all understand for a person to enjoy learning he cant be involved with physical pleasure such as girls food sports if he wants to learn in a dedicated way he will have to change his life
the thing is to get everybody what the need some need just a bed and food for starters some need more
some like to learn
some rather schmooze
some want to play basketball

some need to continue on there degree and not stop to learn for a few years like you advocate but not all, some find there lifes true desire with a blatt gemorah once the basic needs are filled,{ like a wife a home some stability etc.}
the rebbeim of these yeshivos try to direct these searching souls to whats they think is best for them
all Gedolim will tell you and for that matter any one who tried to learn to become something, even just a good jew
that if you learn for your degree and try to learn gemarah you will not get anywere Gemarah need a total devotion and immersion

you cant do both at once
you might be able to do one after the other if you still have intrest in the second one

Sunday, September 04, 2005 11:26:00 PM  
Anonymous snoopy said...

The points made here are very well taken, although I don't know if anything practical will come of them. Although yitzy seems kind of incoherent (probably not an English speaker), he has a point if I understand him correctly, and that is that not everyone is the same, and therefore the specifics which David recommends are perhaps too specific.
I think that the real cure for these institutions, if any of them are willing to listen, is very simple and probably includes most of what David said: They need to become serious educational institutions, with clearly stated goals and timetables for those goals. For example, a one-year program at the end of which the student will be able to learn Gemara, standard halacha sefarim, Chumash, etc. on his own, a two-year program leading to in-depth skill in Gemara and Poskim, and similar ideas. No more open-endedness and ill-defined things like "This z'man we'll learn Bava Kama". Everything else flows from this.
And the other side of the same coin is that they have to become only educational institutions and not places which try to mold character or help people assimilate into frum society. The Rebbeim at OS, Aish, etc. have enough to improve on their own characters to keep them busy for 120 yrs. at least without trying to be role models for grown men only a bit younger than them who probably have a thing or two to teach them about being a mentsch. And if someone wants to join the frum community, let him do it in the same way he would join any other society, by mingling with people and seeing how they live their regular lives. If that's not possible in the frum world, it's a good indication of how sick that world is, and no amount of institutional simulation of a perfect society is going to help; just the opposite, it gives the BT all sorts of false impressions which may take decades to get out of his system.
Although some of the critics of this blog (such as Shlomo) seem quite juvenile, they do have one point: almost everything here is phrased in a negative way rather than a positive one. This post is somewhat of an exception, although it also tends towards breaking down rather than fixing. I would like to point out one institution which I have a positive impression of from my days in OS 25 yrs. ago, and that is Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim. It doesn't get the same kind of publicity as OS or Aish, and when I was at OS, we sort of looked down at it, but looking back, it seems to have been a much more normal sort of place. The Rosh Yeshivas, Rabbi Carmel and Horowitz, are college-educated and broadminded, as well as Rav Yoel Schwartz who is one of the biggest advocates of normal working and living in the Haredi Israeli society today. As I recall, the students I knew from there continued their careers and did not become lifetime yeshiva students. I haven't had much contact with Dvar Yerushalayim recently,
I don't know if it is still the same, but this seems to be the sort of thing we should be encouraging.

Monday, September 05, 2005 3:03:00 AM  
Blogger Un-Orthodox Jew said...

Firstly, I thank David for a thought provoking and heartfelt blog.
His first hand experience is important to readers who are not really interested in hearsay.

Yitzy's comments are obviously well intentioned, but just because his parents "made it" through the BT system; it does not mean that all is well with that system.

I take umbrage with the philosophy that in order to learn and understand gemorah, one MUST ONLY do that and nothing else.

That may be the formula for a year or two, certainly if one is to become a parent and a husband( not in that order),lack of parnassah is the one factor that will break the back of a BT(and many a FFB).

Snoopy,you got it right.Every institution, BT or FFB, has to stop the assembly line approach.

Every person has their own individual needs and whims.Yes, professionals must be involved in chinuch(atleast a frum psychologist in every school),who meets daily with the students however briefly.

I agree that once someone is grown, the "molding" of ideas becomes nothing more than brainwashing.

Each person MUST be encouraged to follow a lifestyle within the confines of halacha, that they can live with; if not it WILL NOT LAST.

Finally, for now, the percentages of BT's that remain frum are dismal.
Tens of millions of dollars are spent yearly for these programs.
The vast majority of people that enter these institutions say, THANKS BUT NO THANKS!!!!!

Monday, September 05, 2005 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

UOJ, I thought you *were* married?

Monday, September 05, 2005 10:10:00 PM  
Anonymous yaakov said...

BT or FFB.In tehillim it says "Yegias Kapecho kee sochel"by the work of your hands you shall eat. Chazal also say "torah be'lee melacha sofo batalah" learning Torah without a vocation will end up with the torah being forsaken. Also, the gemorroh in keddushin mandates that all fathers are responsible to impart upon their progeny a skill that they "make it" in life. Obviously our sages understood the importance of having a skill or profession to be able to earn a proper and befitting livelihood. Todays religious institutions are sadly lacking when it comes to comprehending this important staple in the recipe of life.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005 3:17:00 PM  
Blogger Un-Orthodox Jew said...

You keep up with your understanding of the REAL WORLD, and maybe when you grow up we'll ask you to be a guest blogger. Who knows???
Check with Gross and David.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005 7:06:00 PM  
Blogger David Kelsey said...

The real tragedy is that Yaakov's pro-work position is actually considered controversial.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005 12:02:00 AM  
Blogger BTA said...

Great post. I truly hope newly-minted and yeshiva-bound BT's heed your warnings and that yeshivas do as well (I won't hold my breath).

The sick thing about yeshivas is that they know how sick they can make some guys, but give no informed consent document ahead of time! In fact, they sometimes even make jokes about those "other yeshivas" where the "other" guys are crazy and over the top...

Thursday, November 24, 2005 1:21:00 AM  
Blogger YS said...

For example, a one-year program at the end of which the student will be able to learn Gemara, standard halacha sefarim, Chumash, etc. on his own, a two-year program leading to in-depth skill in Gemara and Poskim, and similar ideas.

Snoopy, you seem to be assuming that anyone who walks in the door is saying: feed me. If that is the case then your program is spot on. I have met guys who walk in a say I've decided I want to understand this Jew-thing, please tell me what it's all about. For most BT (or even FFB) yeshivas that is a dream come true in a boucher.

I think the hashkafa programs and the feel-good Yahadus these guys get is because there interest is not one of a student entering Harvard for his pre-med degree. You know how many guys show up at these places. The question you might need to ask is: Should we be using the "pull 'em off the Wall" approach or should Yeshiva attendance be like coming to learn in a religious seminary of any other religion. I'm not saying I have an answer to my last question here but I think that in light of your comment above, it's a question.

Saturday, November 26, 2005 5:29:00 PM  
Blogger Drew_Kaplan said...

Thanks for posting these suggestions - I really like them, especially having spent some time at Ohr Somayach.

I also appreciated Snoopy's comments.

Saturday, November 26, 2005 10:41:00 PM  
Anonymous OnTD said...

Problem is all of us are generalizing and oversimplifying. That's the same problem with a lot of the BT Yeshivas, cookie cutter, doesn't matter who you are you get the same progeam.

Maybe an exception is Machon Shlomo. Mostly bright college grads, limited to two years and all walk out with solid learning skills.

Thursday, December 08, 2005 5:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While in OS I was barely taught how to read Hebrew or Aramaic. Why? Well the rav had no language skills. They tried to teach us as went along in the text. The few times they attempted a grammar course, it fell apart within a month.

Right now I am getting my Masters in Theological Studies. Both Greek and Biblical Hebrew are requirements. My Hebrew professor can dance circles around the rabbis at OS, and he is a goy.

These yeshivas NEED college educated faculty working for them. They need faculty with degrees in language to teach Hebrew.

I think yeshiva should be more like Christian seminaries. You only attend after you finish your BA. If yeshiva is for a student then his major in undergrad should be in divinity or rabbinical studies.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 12:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OOPS the above is from me, Mendy

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 12:55:00 AM  
Blogger SM said...

How 'bout adding an eigth point regarding proper preparation for shidduchim/marriage. When I was a student at the 'happy light,' and dating my (now ex) I was still uncertain after about 3-4 dates, but was being pressured to make up my mind by my gemara rebbe.

When I asked him "don't you think BT's should be allowed more time to make up their mind?" he responded "Absolutely not."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006 3:11:00 PM  

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