Self-Hating Frum Jews

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“Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” – Groucho Marx

I was browsing a forum for Orthodox Jewish women the other day, and one of the threads was discussing newly religious Jews. This forum has participants from all walks of Orthodox life – modern, Hasidic, Yeshivish, etc., yet most of the women seemed to agree that anyone choosing to become Orthodox of their own volition must have problems.

There is a little discussed undercurrent of thought in the frum community that baalei teshuvah are people who couldn’t make it in secular society, and so, turned to Orthodoxy for a fresh start and the acceptance they never had before finding religion.

The implication is that baalei teshuvah are troubled people. They might be former drug addicts. They are often assumed to have led promiscuous lives and been hurt by abusive relationships (this carries more stigma for the female baal teshuvah). There is often talk of instability and flightiness – baalei teshuvah may have experimented with various religions and forms of spirituality before returning to their religion of birth. Mental illness is also a topic that sometimes crops up when describing the general baalei teshuvah population.

Although there is a lot of lip service paid to the holiness of the baal teshuvah – the strength of character needed to give up worldly freedoms and take on the restrictions that being a Torah observant Jew requires – the actual attitude toward the newly religious is often quite different.

The Jewish Worker blog described an article that appeared in a 2005 Mishpacha magazine:

“Mishpacha had an article last week (I think by a Baal Teshuva) about the problems that they encounter in the Charedi community. The main one is that their kids are not accepted in mainstream Charedi schools. She told a story of a new school that started that originally accepted the children of Baalei Teshuva and as soon as they became successful they kicked them all out. Of course this continues on with Shidduchim.

This week they published a response. The woman who responded is married to the son of a Baal teshuva. She explained that she originally also felt very bad about this but a relative in Chinuch explained the situation. He said that many Baalei Teshuva stay in contact with their non-religious families. Therefore they are a tremendous danger to everyone else. After all, the friends may actually see a non-religious person in the house etc. Of course she threw in the obligatory anecdote about such a thing really happening (going off the derech due to the influence of a baal teshuva friend). Therefore she concluded, that it is better to hurt individual baalei teshuva then to put the whole community at harm.”

While there is a prohibition to publicize that a person is a ger (a convert), there seems to be no such qualm about reminding a baal teshuvah of their status. It seems that one can never fully integrate into the frum community, unless they cut all ties with their non-religious friends and relatives. As long as there are non-religious people who still play an active role in a baal teshuvah’s life, there will be people in the frum community who won’t want to associate with them.

I find it ironic, as in the quote above from Groucho Marx, that there are frum from birth people who think that someone would have to be crazy to become Orthodox. Does it make them question their own choice to stay religious when they see the types of folks who are attracted to this lifestyle?

When they see the “hippies,” the “former addicts,” the people who “couldn’t make it in general society,” wholeheartedly embracing their new frumkeit in a loud and open way, do they feel lumped in with that crowd? Do they wonder if that’s how non-religious people also see them and cringe? Why do some frum people try to distance themselves as much as possible from baalei teshuvah?

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9 thoughts on “Self-Hating Frum Jews

  1. I have been part of the Frum community for 40 years,
    I have Smicha and am a mental health professional.
    I have encountered people both FFB and BT who hide behind religion to about facing issues.
    People of all backgrounds face a multitude of challenges.
    Ever Jew should be a Baal Teshuvah, we all are imperfect.
    The concept of Kiruv Rechokim is a falsehood, only G-d can judge who is far and who is near.
    A man in a Shtreimel can be far and one in jeans can be close.
    Those Rabbis who discourage the newly religious to separate from their families are wrong, they are playing G-d, which by definition is an idol worship.

  2. How is treating Baalei Teshuvah this way anything less than violating several Issurei D’ohreisah with regard to humiliating a fellow Jew?

    (Orthodox) Jews who behave this way are simply evil people.

    • Every Jew should view themselves as a Baal Teshuvah.
      FFB and BT are superficial terms.
      Kiruv Rechokim is a sanctimonious accolade which bolsters unhealthy thinking.

  3. At least they are being honest about their fears: There is a terrible danger of them becoming aware of the outside world. I know this can be unsettling if you wish to protect poor kids against secular thought.

  4. My (nonobservant) parents gave me the very best Jewish education, made possible by a Rav who never turned away a Jewish child; as a consequence, one generation later, my (observant) community is not only richer, but larger, due to all the other children of nonobservant parents who are now pillars of their (Orthodox) shuls. So, I’m a BT with an FFB education. And I’ve never encountered this kind of discrimination. On the other hand, I’ve never sought to become a member of such a community; it seems I haven’t missed anything. Baruch She’Ptarani!

  5. Im a baal Teshuvah Millernik and I literally believe Im superior to everyone, BT and FFB.

    I hope my picture of the Rebbe (Satmarer) comes in soon.

  6. In my expierence, BTs are generally nebbish individuals (Chabad especially, though they arent really part of Klal Yisrael anymore and eventually the fact will be cemented by our merciful Rabbanim), but occasionally you will find one who is legit. Often, they are of Iranian descent. Like me.

    (I used to post under Chaim Danzinger, I use this name now because I want to make people angry 🙂 )

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