Close this search box.

Rabbi Avi Shafran: Returns Welcome

editorial2.jpgMarried mere days, Dovid found himself seated at the head of a table with his new wife, in-laws and a host of strangers, including some rabbis with long beards.

He wasn’t nervous around rabbis; his personal journey from California teen-age martial-arts aficionado to 20-something Orthodox yeshiva bochur had been fueled by things he had learned over the years from just such rabbonim, and by the inspiration he gleaned from the lives he saw them living.

But this Sheva Brachos was different from the ones that had preceded or would follow it.  He was in a city he had never visited before, his parents weren’t able to be present and the only people he knew at the table were his new wife and in-laws.

The bride, seated to his right, had been looking for a young man with just Dovid’s combination of brights, calm, and ehrliche frumkeit.  Although Chana came from an frum family and knew that it was not common for someone with her background to marry someone who had not grown up observant, she knew when she first met Dovid that she had (if Dovid agreed) found her husband.  She in fact saw much of the sincerity and commitment that had so impressed her as directly related to the fact that Dovid had had to make choices in his life that she had been spared.

She knew, too, that her parents – somewhat atypically for their circle – would not hesitate to consider an otherwise qualified baal teshuva as a potential marriage-partner for one of their children.  Dovid’s dedication, reputation and middos were what had mattered.  To be sure, research into his Jewish genealogy, as in any such proposed match, would have to be done.  Sadly, the proliferation of intermarriage and substandard conversions over recent decades have served to call into question the halachic Jewish status of non-Orthodox families.  Once upon a time, observant Jews could take for granted that a family, by simple virtue of its affiliation with a Jewish congregation, was halachically Jewish.  But those days, tragically, are gone.

Dovid’s yichus, thankfully, was ascertained to contain no mixed marriages or conversions.  His European forebears had in fact been religious Jews; and his parents, although they were not raised Orthodox, had grown deeply proud of Dovid’s and his siblings’ adoption of Torah and mitzvos.

Dovid’s new in-laws were enamored of both him and his parents, and overjoyed at their daughter’s marriage.  They hoped, moreover, that their example might perhaps, in a small way, inspire other “frum-from-birth” Jews to entertain the possibility of such matches from outside their own community.

The importance of mishpacha is an understandable concern for many, to be sure; and there are other halacha-related issues that also come into play in such cases.  To some, such concerns may even be paramount, and that stance is their prerogative.

At the same time, though, it cannot be denied that there is something real and valuable that is gained, too, when frum Jew from a frum family marries an equally frum Jew from a different background – gained by the latter, by the former and by Klal Yisroel as a whole.

Dovid’s father-in-law was thinking precisely those thoughts at the Sheva Brachos, as a rov sitting to his left, the Mashgiach at the local respected yeshiva gedola, turned to the newlywed and asked him about his learning background.  Dovid responded with the name of a well-known yeshiva in Yerushalayim that caters to the newly observant.

The rov’s eyes lit up and he smiled.  “I learned there, too!”

It took a minute for the response to register.  “You?” Dovid asked.

The rabbi happily confirmed the fact and related what a wonderful rebbe he had been privileged to have there decades earlier.  Wide-eyed, Dovid replied that he had been taught by the same rebbe.  And so the conversation continued.

Overhearing it all, Dovid’s father-in-law felt a deep sense of gratitude to Heaven for the unplanned encounter.  That an alumnus of the very yeshiva Dovid had attended had become a talmid chochom to whom scores of talmidim looked up and learned Torah from was a poignant thing for the young man to see.

And then Dovid’s father-in-law’s smile broadened, as he remembered that the Mashgiach speaking with Dovid was married to the daughter of the Rosh Yeshiva of a well-known major American yeshiva.  Chana’s parents could take pride in that illustrious precedent.  They had hardly been the first frummeh Yidden to welcome a baal teshuva and his family into their own. 


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

35 Responses

  1. Ooh, how cynical, Dvorah. So what’s wrong with that message? Or is it that you’re just tired of hearing about this subject? (As it happens, I married a baalas teshuvah.)

  2. To Devora;
    C’mon, it may be the nine days, but there is a difference between mourning and being negative. (Or is it denigrating and negativism? One hopes not.)
    (I myself am a FFB, but i aspire to be a BT )

  3. Dvorah,

    Can you hold back the sarcasm sometimes?

    Bite your tongue (or your fingers) and infuse more dignity into the comments you wish to share with the public.

  4. Devora epitomizes the cynicism of the FFB world. I am the “Dovid” in my family, my wife the BY grad. What Devora doesn’t understand is what happens 20 years later. We have a daughter in the “parsha”. Everyone asks about the parents’ background. You can not imagine the agmas nefesh on my part when the answer must be given, or how to word it on her resume. She’s been redd to some wonderful families, and b”h they have have accepted her. But that doesn’t ease the worry my part. I guess Devora doesn’t understand that according to the Rambam, the only true BT’s are those who were FFB. You’d think at this time of year, evereyone would be trying to practice Ahavas Chinom in word and deed

  5. Oh come on! No one in his right mind asks questions like that for a shidduch. You can’t make your point if you use such ridiculous examples.

  6. Perfect & typical 3 week lesson. Can we extend this scenerio to include sefradim & ashkenzim, american & heimish, rich & poor, chasidim and litvish families, charedeim and mizrachim, American and European families? So many absurd barriers that have been erected, waiting for an Artscroll book which lists all family yichus of rabbanim without deletion (exception).!

  7. Devora

    you got to the YW editor beforeme.

    Ok so in your mind Rabbi Shafran’s article is “Ho Hum”. Does that mean you had to express that opinion B’Rabim?

  8. To Devora;
    C’mon it may be the nine days, but there is a difference between mourning and being negative. (Or is it denigrating and negativism? One hopes not.) You write the story is condescending. I read your attitude as being condescending.
    I am sorry to say we need more articles like this, to counter responses as yours. Your response is the prototypical NIMBY. (Not in my backyard). “Some of my best friends are BT.” I am afraid there is plenty to learn from this article, but the ones who need to learn it say “Nisht far unzere”.
    I am a FFB, and I admire and aspire to the erlichkiet and purity of a BT. Perhaps so should you. ( With all due respect i believe you don’t, and yes a BT TACHTER is as good as your kid)

  9. this is a story of Achdus and Ahavah and Chesed.
    yes it has been told many times before.

    and ive davened many times before.
    and ive said Tehillim many times before.
    and learned the Parshah many times before.

    if a beautiful story such as this does not awaken a smile and an appreciation of Am Yisroel, and the Chesadim of HKB”H….

    but rather it awakens a tiredness and cynicism and boredom, then it could be that such a person might need to stop for just a minute, not become defensive, think about it from a different perspective, and examine their Neshamah.

  10. any story of any Yid who finds his/her way home in inspiring.

    A friend of mine was once asked by the Skvere Rebbe Shlita, why he became observant. before my friend could answer, the Rebbe told him that the question should not be asked because the answer is “because it was the right thing to do” however, everyone has their own story and what
    was his?

    dvorah – no one obligates you to read any story here. read the headline and the first sentence that is shown and if their is no interest, don’t open and don’t read further. many times, I look at who is posting I read the post – some posts I skip based on who is posting (as I am sure some people do not read my posts) – your name is starting to get close to my skip list.

    to all my brothers and sisters out there, have a meaningful Shabbos Chazon.

  11. I wish I was a baal t’shuva! Having lived in a predominantly BT community for a number of years, every year on Yom Kippur I add a little extra t’fila that I should have the koach to have a better attitude to the BT.

    There is no doubt us FFBs are uncomfy around BTs because for the most part they do mitzvos with more of a bren than we do. Its something to envy and not to despise.

  12. Dvora: But the world needs to be brought up to speed. You find it condescending, but others NEED to hear this message. You would rather the message was not repeated endlessly, even if that results in people staying in their rut, their old, tired opinions firmly entrenched?

  13. Devorah

    It is not the community I live in. We count among our friends from Seruga to Streimel. Except for the individuals who I choose to tell, no one really knows where I came from. The problem is not with us, nor with the community. The problem is “why do you need something new?” The best Mussar Sefer ever written has never had a new updated version come out. And yet, every year we make a big party when the Kahal finishes reading it, only to start again.

    Maybe that’s the point the Novi tries to make. You can’t hear the same story often enough, until it makes the impression it is meant to

    shabbat shalom

  14. Your ho hom comment could be cnstured as offensive to Dovid. “so you are a BT, Why should I care about what happened at your Sheva Brachos?” To me, the story was very emotional. You see, after more than 2 deaces of learning with an Odom Gadol, I was zoche to make a significant siyum. A certain Rosh Yeshiva, a talmid of Reb Aharon, ztz’l, was in attendence, besides the other 7 Chasuveh Rabbonim. You may not be abel to relate to this, but for me it was overwhelming.

    I work with a number of Chashuvah individuals, for them, my guest list would have bee the “also rans”. They, like you, probably wouldn’t understand was the fuss was all about.

  15. RebMothcha

    i heard a case told by R” Yisroel Reisman, where it was very important to the Kalla’s mother to know if the boy wore loafers or tie shoes.

    some speculated that loafers implied to the mother, gayvah. some speculated that loafers indicated the boy did not want to be mvatal learning by taking time to tie his shoes

    ive heard of other incredible cases. i dont think the specific details asked for are in themselves thought to be important, some see them as a SIGN of certain midos or lifestyles.

  16. “I don’t believe I said anything hurtful to anyone.”

    The Sefer Chafetz Chaiim has a very long section in the 2nd clal, strongly stressing what a terrible type of lashon horah it is to belittle a speech or drasha one heard (i imagine this applies to a written drasha as well)

  17. Reb Motchka:

    The questions asked are very simply Where did the parents go to Yeshiva? Yo mean, you’ve never heard what I would imagine every FFB seems to be an innocuous question?

  18. I believe that many BT’s are better people, frummer, more idealistic than a lot of FFB’s.If my daughter or son would marry a BT, as long as his/her yichus was kosher, and he/she had good midos, besides frumkeit, I would not mind at all.

  19. What a beautiful story. Unfortunately, even with semicha, I was the victim of anti-BT bias. After 2 years of being an assistant rebbe in a yeshiva, when a rebbe’s position became available, I was told by the Rosh Yeshiva himself, that he wouldn’t consider me because my mother wears pants! The hurt has never gone away. It is reassuring to know that there not all BT’s are treated that way, and that some even became Roshei Yeshiva! During these days before Tisha B’Av, may the cause of the Beis HaMikdash’s destruction, sinas chinam, hatred for no good reason, be eradicated, and may we be judged on our actions, not on our background.

  20. As a BT myself (and B”H for that), this story was a joy to read. I understand Dvora’s position also but I for one see much more positive in the story than negative. Whether or not one of those is more important to pay attention to this time of year (I happen to believe very much in “time of year stuff”, ie yom tovim, chagim, and taaniyot. In my mind I should only try BS”D to believe in it more.)

    I am a little shocked, at the same time. I had heard stories throughout my teshuva that I would have a hard time finding a wife due to my past, Hashem Yerachem, and the fact that my parents and siblings are not religious. I have not found this bias to be present in my community, but reading this article and the comments makes it clear that things would be different, perhaps, had I chosen another city to call my home.

    Finally, R’ Shafran’s comment that that Dovid’s past “thankfully contained no conversions” struck me as odd. I understand the meaning – conversions would need to be investigated. It is true that unhalachic conversions (or no conversions at all, CV”Sh) abound in our times. However, at the same time, halachic conversions abound as well, and even if Dovid had been found to be a goy by circumstance of birth surely with his commitment he could have simply converted. We are commanded to welcome the ger tzedek as if they had been born to Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imenu themselves.

    It is probably true that I feel strongly about this issue because my mother was a convert. While she was converted via the Conservative movement, she did so before their early-70s decision to abandom Torah observance. This, coupled with the fact that the converting beit din had all received Orthodox smicha, led a Chassidshe rabbi with great yiras shomayim do give me a heter saying the conversion of my mother was absolutely valid. I can’t help but wonder, nonetheless, who would reject me out of hand even as a yid due to these circumstances.

    Though it was no factor in determining the halachic status of her conversion, it is also worth mentioning that when I was young, my father made the decision that we should stop davening at the Orthodox shul and go instead to the Conservative one. He also had my mother, against her will, eliminate separation between meat and dairy parts of the kitchen, ending the kashrus of our home.

    I don’t say these things against my father, CVSh, who has had a difficult life and whose decisions I understand even where I do not agree, but to illustrate that it can be the ger who is the champion of yiddishkeit. Since I have become haredi, my mother is also the only one in my family who supports my decision 100%. I’ll admit, this may just be because a mother always supports her son. Either way, I’ll take it.

  21. Beautiful story. Brings a tear to my eye. Put it in Chicken Soup for the FFB’s Soul. Write a story similar to this in which Dovid’s kid gets into yeshiva in Lakewood even though he’s poor, working and lives in the wrong development.

  22. Questions such as, “use plastic?”, “wear robes?”, “stack dishes?”, etc. ARE asked and may not be irrelevant. People raised in European homes have a difficult time relating to the laid back “robers” of the American “dress-down” culture. They see it as a lack of kovod Shabbos and kovod HaBri’os. People raised in a more “proper — old-world” home, would not understand plastic, stacking, or the like. It is as simple as that. These ARE — like it or not — barometers of how one expresses kovod. This is a very personal thing, IS VERY REAL, AND CAN EFFECT A RELATIONSHIP.

  23. Tolerance is not the same as acceptance. And hatred is not the same as not loving. The Torah tells us LOVE your RAY’AH (partner/friend) and DON’T HATE your BROTHER. I can love you as a fellow Jew and still feel you are making a grave mistake in halachah if you “use the local eiruv.” Juxtaposing Eiruv and loafers, your Gadol and TamTams, Touro and Yeshivah shows a grave misunderstanding and lack of appreciation for the relative importance of issues.

    Does loving/accepting all Jews mean we let them make mistakes or does it mean that we correct them, show them, guide them?

  24. dvorah i hope you realize now after shabbos, that before you posted your original comment you shouldve thought about what you were trying to accomplish and if it was intelligent.that is what yw is for, not senseless ones

  25. shuali
    Everyone deserves respect for their gdliness. How they express KAVOD is a cultural and family custom, which needs openness in understanding. You can FEEL whatever you’d like (feelings are personal and internal), acting on your FEELINGS is the difficult task of growth in middos.

  26. ok, enough bashing of dvorah. as to shuali’s comments, how superficial! are you actually saying that these irrelevant differences can affect a relationship? my family was never asked these asinine questions 25 years ago, and both families have gotten along and have melded wonderfully. aren’t people suppose to blend their families ideas?how superficial and silly can you be??

  27. Hey all,

    as a BT who has been frum for over 20 years, I have heard many, many (did I say many?) comments about BTs from FFBs ….myself included.

    In general, the response has always been very positive. very positive.

    I learn in one of the largest mainstream black yeshivos in the mornings. I see BTs who have been frum for a few years there…..they do stick out in small subtle ways. But they are almost always social, outward things…dress, talk etc. this all fades.

    In general, I find the FFB bochurim are very open to the BTs. BUT…they are still 20 – 23 year old bochurim and sometimes their youth shows…they have silly opinions, or immature ones.

    I have noticed that some of my friends who are BTs and who are frum 15 – 20 years, still have “frum low self esteem”. they just labled themselves as different at some point & filter everything that happens through this. One of my friends told me the other night (she is a BT, teaches in a beis yaacov) that she became friends with one of the teachers (who is from a “chashuv family”). she said that she had always thought she was a “FFB snob” who didn’t relate to BTs, but discovered she was simply shy!!

    Now, many of my friends would NEVER have brought the whole BT vs FFB issue into the picture. they would just thought she is shy or whatever….

    anyway….I lean towards not bringing the BT & FFB labels into my relationships….they very rarely have anything to do with what is going on.

    that being said, I realize that this has an influence on shidduchim as people have mentioned here. I realize this can be painful. Since this is not an issue for me right now….I will not comment on that.


  28. Yoel The problem Mamzeirus. A goy could be converted, but a Mamzer cannot be rectified.

    Shuali You are right. these things are very important. But if the husband means is seriously and has good sholom bayis, I am sure that his wife will do any think to enhance the yiddishkeit at home (and vice versa) even if s/he was not exactly brought up that way

  29. Rabbosai-

    The bottom line on what certain individuals think are stupid shidduch questions is MIDDOS!. The problem, howwe4ver, is that htere is no singular difinitive definition as to what “Good Middos” are, especially in Kovod Ha Brios. On my block, the Chassidish girls are always dressed to the T on shabbos, while the rest of the girls sometimes are in robes, sometimes not. Neither is wrong, just different. With my own daughter, isn’t looking for a boy who is learning in order to find a shidduch, but then what do we do about the boys show spend a year in EY and a year in Lakewood, just to be Yotze?

    For all of my compatriots who have become frum, at what point do you stop calling yourself a BT? And when do you stop referring to everyone else as an FFB. Form the day I made the decision to become Shomer Shabbos, I was frum. End of Story. No Label. That there are labels, reinforced by individuals in the community, is what leads to intolerance and non-acceptance.

    What I cringe at, is all those individuals who go on the radio and have to announce to the world “now that I am a BT , Buy my CD, my book, etc.” Kinda like the deviant population, Hamavdil, Coming out of the closet and then saying to the world “you discriminate against me because of my lifestyle”. While we all have what to be”proud” of, to be a Baal Aliya should be the norm for the whole Frum population. And if we were all Baalei Aliya, we would all be just the same.

  30. gingy: You are also right. There is no question that if the husband and wife share “the basics” (whatever they may be), and there is good sholom bayis, each will contribute and compromise to enhance the yiddishkeit at home. My point, which you clearly understood was only that these are not easily ingnored factors and maybe are even important enough (to some people) that they REALLY matter. After all one is OBLIGATED to suppoprt someone who has lost his wealth in the way he was used to living. This is Halachah l’ma’aseh. It probably apples to some degree in shiduchim as well.

    FayMemMemLamed: You are also so right. HaRav Shlomo Freifeld told (at least) one of his may — dare I say — BT’s that he should NEVER refer to himself (as an excuse or cut-down) as a BT. He is frum. He is accomplished. That being said, many Gedolim, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky among them, used to advise BT’s not to turn their backs on the training, education, etc. they received prior to becoming frum. Part of what he was saying was that it is difficult to ignore ones past. A BT sees things differently than an FFB. Even many years later. So, there is not blanket rule. And there are no absolutes.

    A thought: While it is true I have to be able to say “Bishvili nivra ha’olam.” But everyone else also must say it. So my “bishvili” is not to the excusion of yours. We are all important and needed. May we merit to see the binayn Bais HaMikdash BB”A.

  31. PMML: The story is told, that someone once asked the famous BT Harav Uri Zohar ShLiTA, until what stage will people refer to him as a BT, so he answered “when I start talking in the middle of davening”.
    It might be a joke but it is definitely a sobering thought for us FFBs.

  32. gingy-
    It’s Fmml not Pmml- Fay as in Fivel not P as in Pinchus-

    Not all “bt’s” are so righteous, I only stopped talking during davening about 10 years ago, and i’ve been shomer shabbos for 32 years!

  33. FayMemMemLamed: Chazak ve’Ematz! That means you are STILL a BT. Do FFB’s not say the 5th berachah in Shmoneh Esrei? Teshuvah, aliyah, growth are all synonymous with MAN and his avodah here. MAN is a holeich — always moving. The BT is always moving up. What can be said about the one running for the down escalator?

Leave a Reply

Popular Posts