Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad World?

A recent comment by one of our readers registered a louder sound to my early-warning system than a stampede through an active minefield. Since the usual first responders did not rush to the scene of the carnage, the task has fallen to me.

The general topic was the buyers’ remorse of some baalei teshuvah (or their progeny) about aspects of charedi life. The specific contention that elicited the comment was made by yours truly. I had written:

They needed to hear that they should embrace their past rather than escape it. They needed to be told that the hashgacha peratis in their lives – the loving Hand of G-d that brought them to observance – did not begin with their first contact with authentic Judaism. The years they had spent outside of it, the interests they developed, the careers they had chosen, had all been influenced by the same Divine guidance that eventually sat them at their first Shabbos table. Their job was to eat the fruit and discard the shells – but not to disown their essential selves or their self-confidence.

The comment:

99% of what a BT (or a curious, adolescent Beis Yaakov student) gains from or observes in the secular world is quite harmful for a Torah lifestyle. It’s true that a few hobbies, disciplines, or say, classical music appreciation have value and are sometimes things we lack, but think of what most people in the secular world are immersed in – movies, pro sports, rock music, video games, etc. (much much worse in the “etc.”). For the vast majority of people I really can’t see the transition from secular to BT as a modest refurb, but something much more resembling a major tearing down. It’s true that it can go too far and it has to be done carefully and judiciously. But an honest look at most of what the non-religious are involved in (especially at the typical age when people become frum) tells me that the change has to be a drastic one of rejecting so much of what they valued and ran after in the past. I can never stand it when kiruv people make it sound like become frum is a smooth, simple transition: “Life is for pleasure. Enjoy life all the same, just first make sure there’s a hechsher on the label.” It just ain’t so, and to me there is no simple way of getting around this.

The commenter is spot on regarding what we might call pop culture. That is probably what he meant. We must caution, however, that there are plenty in our community that make the mistake of applying his words to literally “99% of what a BT… gains from or observes in the secular world.” That is a horrible, horrible error. Regrettably, it is an occupational hazard of hanging out in parts of the charedi world that harbor an excess of bitul – of the need to tear down, undervalue, mock, and disparage everything outside their precincts. (Why this is phenomenon exists where it does will have to be a topic for a later discussion.)

Much of pop-culture and many, many of the underpinnings of secular life in the West are harmful, and must be rejected. But those things do not make 99% of what people are. The world from which the BT comes before his/her joining the Torah community is full of many, many things that are healthy, admirable and vital. In that world there is much generosity, happiness, loyalty, self-sacrifice, striving, achieving, common decency and much more. (Decades ago, a friend who had been frum for many years remarked that if you wanted to meet people with really good midos, you could find them among upper-middle class secular Jewish professionals in the bedroom community of Connecticut from which he hailed. He was, at the time, already one of the most important voices in kiruv in the US.) There is much that BTs gained from the ordinary, good people they encountered in their past lives.

I contend that anything more than a modest refurb is indeed a major mistake in most cases. Sort of like trying to cure a headache though a bilateral frontal lobotomy. You would be removing far more than you should. While BTs may indeed have to turn their backs on many of their former pastimes, they must be allowed to hold on to – and admire – the good that they absorbed from their families and friends. That good, in most cases, shaped and defined far more of what they are than their recreational pursuits – or their vices.

A cynical aphorism that we brought over from Eastern Europe is a pithy dismissal of all that is out there: Der velt shtinkt. I don’t buy it. I think that much of is smells pretty good. Teaching our children that only we have it right, and everything else out there belongs on a garbage heap is not only wrong, but inimical to their development. The bitul from which it stems is corrosive to the development of good midos, and too often leads to anti-social behavior towards all people – Jew and non-Jew alike – who do not look, speak, and act like them. It is also dangerous to their long-term affiliation with Yiddishkeit. Too many have felt betrayed when they have ventured out into that world, and found much that is praiseworthy.

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31 Responses

  1. Yair Spolter says:

    This is such a critical point, Rabbi Adlerstein, and thank you for articulating it so well. It is heart-breaking to see when a BT rejects who they “are” as part of their journey towards a frum life. Almost inevitably there are drastic repercussions to this innocent and well-meaning mistake later on in life, that can manifest itself in many ways – including severe miscalculations in the chinuch of their children, who in turn reject much of what their parents sacrificed so much for. I once suggested that this is why Hashem says to Avraham Avinu “lech lecha“. Yes, leave your ancestral land, your birthplace, and your father’s home (pop culture and a faulty value system). But realize that this is a journey towards your true self: “lecha“. Don’t reject your personality, your needs as a human being, your innate sense of right and wrong and your appreciation for the good that exists in the world.
    Like most critical issues in life, it is a question of balance. I don’t know how a BT can get this one right without a close relationship with a Rav or friend who understands this balance and knows how to give guidance and act as a role model, at every stage of life. Someone like… Rabbi Adlerstein.

    • One of the meforshim of the Hagadah comments on מתחילה עובדי ע”ז היו אבותינו, תרח Was Terach one of the avos? Well, yes! From Terach, Avraham learned that there was a higher power, even if Terach got it completely wrong.

  2. Joe Hill says:

    R. Adlerstein, I find the quoted comment of your reader more compelling than your rejoinder of it.

  3. Chava Rubin says:

    I think that perhaps the 2 viewpoints mentioned here are reflections of which era and in which environment one grew up in. I am in my mid 40s and therefore I grew up before internet and in a world that was pretty pure, even though I am a baalas tshuva. In addition my parents and siblings became frum when I was a young girl .
    However, people who became frum in more recent years most probably were exposed to much more indecency , ultra liberal values and mishegas that those of us who became frum in the 1980s .

    • Also in my mid-40s, and I totally disagree. There was plenty of materialism and shtuss and negative bits of pop culture when we were kids and even earlier. Sure, we had less bad language in public spaces and less public endorsement of alternative lifestyles, but there were references to drugs in music, to heterosexual but far from kosher sexuality on TV (often very coarsely or even coercive), to racism in casual speech. Materialism in the 1980s was rampant. Permissive sexuality was rampant in the 1970s and 1960s. In the 1950s and before, people would just assume Jews should conform to a Christian viewpoint and way of life all over the U.S., and Jews were often taunted for varying from it, and worse–job losses, barred from certain neighborhoods.

      The non-Jewish world always will present challenges–it’s just that the nature of those challenges will change over time.

      Rabbi Alderstein’s point very much resonates with me.

    • DF says:

      Ms. Rubin had the same thought as me, and I wonder if RYA’s (admirable) friendship with the Christian community may be subtly affecting his judgment of our own secular Jewish brethren. The former indeed , in my experience, meet the happy description he writes of, people largely upright and decent and loyal, etc. With our secular Jewish brothers and sisters, unfortunately, the case is very different. With no God or religion in their lives, whatsoever, the “ultra liberal craziness” Ms. Rubin speaks about has indeed affected them greatly. Have you been to a secular bar mitzvah lately? It’s no longer fountain pen/Israeli bond jokes. at an ADL dinner I attended recently the dinner honoree spoke proudly of his two daughters, one a lesbian and the other a transsexual. (For clarity – the honoree is someone meant to be exemplary.)

      Obviously we are generalizing for populations numbering in the millions, but that is what we must do, and enough personal and anecdotal evidence tells me that what I say is accurate. Consequently, your correspondent is right: the modest refurbishment metaphor for the modern BT experience is outdated. It’s more akin to total demolition followed by greenfield reconstruction.

  4. joel rich says:

    perhaps a reference to Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 231:1 would help- my free translation of the key point:

    The general rule is that one must mentally weigh all his actions m when he sees something that brings him to service of HKB”H he should do it, if not, not; and one who does so is continually serving his master.


  5. Bob Miller says:

    The new BT will also be interacting with non-Jews and nonobservant Jews in everyday life. A total rejection of one’s former world will also spill over into these interactions and could ruin them. If we’re so smart, we should be able to make valid distinctions, large and small. Any false generality sold to or thought up by BTs, for whatever reason, will cause trouble down the road. Kiruv professionals and irregulars eager to close the deal should offer no generalities that life experience will expose as false.

    That said, outside culture has largely hit the skids, so the old MO dreams of cozy cultural synergies rarely apply now.

  6. Ruchama K says:

    Why dance around the point here? Lots of BTs and FFB s and modern orthodox Jews who frummed out reject everything except their narrow black hat interests…so all movies are bad, all novels are bad, all nonjewish music is bad, all non frum people are to be avoided, stay away from pets, gardens, poetry etc..and hey, sometimes that works for them. If that’s a bad view, why pick on BTs, is it ok that chassidim in Williamsberg think that way?

  7. Reb Yid says:

    There are multiple ways of becoming BT, including one’s stances towards the world. For some BTs, the world is indeed big and bad and a severe rupture from it is needed while for others a selective synthesis is the preferred path. The classic work here is Lynn Davidman’s TRADITION IN A ROOTLESS WORLD: WOMEN TURN TO ORTHODOX JUDAISM which follows two different groups of female BTs–one in a Hasidic community in Minnesota and another at Lincoln Square Synagogue on the UWS.

    Apparently, RA seems to be opting for an approach more aligned with progressive elements within Orthodoxy. Glad you saw the light!!! 🙂

  8. TJ says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, I think you underestimate the turmoil of becoming frum. It is not, and cannot be, a ‘modest refurb’. I realise you’ve had close dealing with many BTs, but nonetheless I think you’re mistaken here. The mental and emotional changes in going from a standard Western perspective, value system and lifestyle to Torah orientated ones are dramatic. If they’re not, you’re not doing it properly. I think this is difficult to get unless you’ve gone through it. My own story is that I came from a nominally Orthodox background typical of many English Jews. So Friday night meant Shabbos meal, hamotzi. Shabbos morning meant going to shul. Shabbos afternoon meant TV or shopping. Kashrus was present but not fully kept. There was no concept of halacha , keeping mitzvos. Just traditions as traditions. So I wasn’t a million miles away but the change I felt on discovering Torah perspectives on life, mitzvos, G-d and so on was dramatic. I felt my life had entirely changed, and it had. But I had a good, normal healthy family. I wasn’t about to distance myself from that. I didn’t fully enter what a friend called the ‘Shi’ite stage’ ( at a time when Islamic fundamentalism was mostly Iranian). I changed gradually and, I still think, sensibly. I didn’t throw out the good stuff.
    But there’s no question about it, it reached a lot deeper than any kind of modest re-refurb both in practical halacha and mindset.
    Equally though, I think you’re correct in the danger of the commenter’s approach. Turning your back on everything from your ‘previous life’ is dangerous, unbalancing, and will likely come back to bite you, possibly 15-20 twenty years down the line.
    I think the difficulty in becoming a genuinely Torah foucussed Jew is managing the existential change and rejecting what must be rejected while maintaining what is good and right in your upbringing. That change and that difficulty should not be underrated. A modest refurb it is not.

  9. D K says:

    May i perhaps point out something i observed in this article?
    While the comment quoted made was focused on the way the secular spend their leisure time (“… think of what most people in the secular world are immersed in – movies, pro sports, rock music, video games, etc. (much much worse in the “etc.”))”, Rabbi Adlerstein was focused more of the middos of secular world (“generosity, happiness, loyalty, self-sacrifice, striving, achieving, common decency and much more”).
    These 2 different qualities of the secular are not necessarily exclusive of one another. While a secular person may be caring, this may lead him to help the wrong people or groups, help in a way that hurts even more than it aids the person, or invest so much in helping that he ignores causes or people who should be his first priority. All these actions are wrong from a Torah perspective but still do not retract from the good Middos which this secular fellow displays.
    I believe that the one who one who commented would agree to Rabbi Adlerstein’s rejoiner that there is what to be learned from the Middos of the secular individual but not from secular culture, while Rabbi Adlerstein would agree that their decadent culture does not have much to offer a Torah Jew…

  10. Shades of Gray says:

    I have given a good deal of thought to what I think of the “Goyim issue” or “bittul issue”. Especially when I encountered kind non-Jews at work or in classes I took, I was forced to have a sophisticated view of non-Jews and the non-Jewish world, such as that emphasized by R. Samson Raphael Hirsch.

    I was less concerned that I had previously ecountered isolated examples of blatant negativity, but rather that I could have used a proactive “hand on my shoulder” and have heard more positive and explicit messages of guidance that there is good in the non-Jewish world. At the same time, one should treat all Jewish people as individuals as well, and I disagree with some critics who wrongly lump all chareidim together without meeting the actual people they are criticizing to see their humanity.

    I came across two recent positive examples of guidance on this topic. At the recent Agudah convention, there was a session titled “Kiddush Hashem in the Workplace, the Marketplace, and Beyond”(available online). Rabbi Moshe Bamberger, Mashgiach Ruchani at Lander College, was one of the speakers. He told a beautiful story of how the boys in his yeshivah, on their own initiative this year, made a gala breakfast of appreciation and gratitude for the janitorial staff, with speeches thanking the janitors who were seated on the dais, and with gifts for them. R. Bamberger described how the faces of the custodial staff were shining after this breakfast.

    In this year’s “Chanukah to Go”(available on YU Torah), there was an article titled “The Role Of Pop Culture In Torah Growth And Education: A Conversation”. Rabbi Daniel Feldman wrote there , “…That being said, I do think it is important to be aware of the risks that are attached to sports fandom. The admiration of professional athletes generally focuses on skills and abilities that do not have inherent moral or spiritual value, and then draws us into idolizing of individuals who may not have any other traits worthy of emulation by bnei Torah (of course they may indeed be upstanding and admirable people, but that is not a necessary prerequisite for athletic skill).”

    This last parenthetical phrase about athletes having the possibility of being “upstanding and admirable people” avoids “bitul” of all atheletes or all non-Jews.

  11. Lacosta says:

    Would seem that part of the argument is defining what makes one a frum Jew. Since a lot of what being described is not in shulchan Aruch and includes cultural and community norms, there can’t be one answer. A satmar frum Jew is different than a YU one. What is assur bedieved to one may be a mitzva lechatchila to the other….

  12. David Ohsie says:

    I’ll add that if pro sports is inimical to the Judaism, then large swaths of the American orthodoxy, including the right wing, have long been off the derech.

  13. Raymond says:

    There seems to be two somewhat related questions being raised here, that of our proper relationship to the outside world, and the speed at which we should undergo spiritual growth. I will try to address each of those subjects in the order I just presented them.

    Is the Jewish ideal to separate ourselves from the world outside of Judaism as much as possible? Perhaps an argument can be made that one should first solidify their Jewish identity before venturing outward. However, as much as that seems to make some sense, the Torah itself does not follow that pattern. In fact, in its first several chapters, there are no Jews on Earth at all, and yet from the beginning, we are intrigued by what we find there. We read about Adam and Eve in Paradise, and long to bring such a perfect state of existence back to our world, even though they were not even Jewish. We sympathize with the non-Jewish Noah, especially after the great Flood, when he experiences first-hand the almost complete obliteration of all life on Earth. We understand how he can react to such a world by getting drunk, and are horrified by what his son Kham does to him. and even when Abraham, the first Jew, appears, we see him not closing himself off from the world, but on the contrary, opening his tent on all four sides, welcoming guests from all four corners of the Earth. And while part of us can understand why it was necessary for Abraham to throw Hagar and Ishmael out of his home, especially when we are armed with the gift of hindsight over how the descendants of Ishmael have treated our people, nevertheless, we find ourselves feeling sympathy for poor Hagar as she cries out to G-d in the hot Mideastern sun to please save herself and her son. Later on, when Jacob takes the blessing of his father away from Eisav, who among us do not feel some measure of empathy for Eisav, when he realizes what has happened and pleads with his father to find some way of blessing him, too? And even when the Pharoah enslaves our people for 400 years, we are commanded to not hate them or refuse potential converts from the Egyptians, as we are to have some measure of understanding for how our increasing numbers in their society made them feel threatened. Think of how Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi used to talk fairly frequently with the Romans, and think of our Holy Temple in Jerusalem, how its design was inspired by classical ancient Greece. and music? Nobody whom I am aware of seems to have noticed this, but either the third of fourth paragraph of the benching after meals, when sung in its most popular tune, is an obvious copy from parts of 18th century German composer George Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. And while HaTikvah is not a strictly religious song, it is nevertheless Israel’s National Anthem. I recently heard that its tune comes from some non-Jewish, secular source. In fact, I recall reading a claim made by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, that really the only thing that all of the many diverse groups of Jews share in common, is our Code of Jewish Law. In other words, just about everything that one associates with Jewishness, such as felafel and chicken soup and song and dance and even many of our identifiably Jewish names such as Schwartz and Stein, may have their origins in non-Jewish sources, and yet we Jews have somehow found a way to incorporate it all, to somehow make it all so very Jewish. Besides, we are supposed to be a spiritual Light unto the Nations, which means not only being good role models by how we live our lives, but also to teach the world about the ethical implications of there being One and only One, Indivisible G-d in our universe. We cannot teach anything to the world if we turn our backs on them.

    Now as for the rate of personal spiritual growth, I think it is quite clear that the Torah prefers that we do it at the slow and steady pace of the turtle, rather than at the rapid-fire pace of the rabbit. When G-d tells Abraham to go to another land to be later specified, G-d does so using gradual terms. G-d does not ask Abraham to immediately go from his idolatrous home in Haran, right away to the promised, G-dly land of Israel. Rather, Abraham is to first work on overcoming his attachment to his country, then his city, and only then his birth family…step-by-step, from the least to the most personal. And among the forefathers, it is actually Jacob who is considered to be the greatest of the three. Abraham is famous for his abundant love and compassion, but carried to too much of an excess, it can lead to him having a son like Ishmael, who was known to have uncontrolled lust. Isaac is famous for his abundant inner strength, but carried to too much of an extreme, it can result in anger, in having a son like Eisav, who regularly engaged in crimes such as murder. Jacob, in contrast, took a middle path, taking the best qualities and in the right measure, from his two predecessors. Of Jacob’s twelve sons, it is Joseph who is described by the Torah as being a righteous man, something the Torah doesn’t attribute even to our three greatest forefathers. And yet the son that eventually emerges as the most important, from whom most of us come and from whom will come the Messiah, is actually Yehudah. He sure did not start off impressively, being the ringleader who got his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery, and who had illicit relations with Tamar, whom he had mistook for a prostitute. And yet because he worked on himself, step-by-step, repenting for his past ways, he was eventually determined really to have the most formidable moral character of all of the twelve brothers. Later on in the Torah, it talks about a soldier taking captive of, and having sexual relations with a non-Jewish woman. Rather than deny male nature by outright forbidding such a practice, the Torah allows it, only under prescribed circumstances. Same with offering up sacrifices. It was the way of the world to offer up one’s children as sacrifices to their imaginary G-ds, but rather than taking the drastic measure of simply outlawing such a barbaric practice, G-d allows for sacrifices, but also only under tightly prescribed conditions, foremost of which, of course, that we sacrifice animals instead of our children (tell that to today’s pro-abortionists). If somebody wishes to radically give themselves a super-boost of spirituality, Torah law permits one to become a nazir, and yet the qualifications to become one are really rather mild, nothing extreme like some ascetic from India, and even then, one is allowed to be a nazir for only one month, and afterward, must repent for undertaking such an extreme measure in the first place. Even when we are asked to fast, it is never more than for one day at a time, and recall how the Rambam never experienced any of his patients getting sick from letting one’s stomach rest for 24 hours. Really the whole purpose of Judaism is quite a moderate one, asking us not to become pure spirits, ascending prematurely to Heaven, but rather the very opposite of that, to bring Heaven down to our Earth, to spiritualize the physical as much as we can, but to do so, we are by definition fully engaged in our physical world, and not meditating in solitude on some Himalayan mountaintop. And so, no, to negate one’s entire life before one decided to become religious, is simply not the Jewish way. We are what we are because of our experiences and our reactions to them, and if that has led us to want to live a religious life, then it cannot be all bad. The trick to life is not to deny any part of who we are or may have once been, but rather to find a way to incorporate it all into what we hope to become in our future.

  14. Jane says:

    I am a bt of over 30 years, living in a haredi enclave with haredi children and grandchildren, and spent my most formative teenage years in the 1960’s, in a completely irreligious environment, whether home, school, society, or media exposure.
    From all my experience with many bt’s of all stripes, they cannot be lumped together as a homogeneous group and labelled with all sorts of generalities. The reasons, motives, or triggers that brought about their becoming frum are as varied as their backgrounds.
    Just as an example, in my own case, despite my complete immersion in secular culture, I rejected it long before I was introduced to Torah Judaism, and my discovery of Judaism was a “Eureka” moment – I finally discovered an outlook on, and way of life, that was what I had been subconsciously searching for since I was about ten years old.
    Therefore, I have had little trouble in adapting myself, have few conflicts, and have been able to sift out the good and/or the harmless from the secular culture I grew up in, and integrate it in my – very frum – outlook on life. And judging by their successful integration into Haredi society, my children – and their BT spouses – have managed very well also.
    From my experience, I believe there are many more BT’s – perhaps the “silent majority” – with similar experience, who would endorse what I say.
    While, naturally I have met people, both FFBs and BTs who experience the problems written about here, but I strongly believe that as long as becoming frum is not perceived as “trying to get entry into Haredi society” which either regards itself, or is regarded from the outside, as some sort of exclusive club, but rather, that a Jew has two choices in life – either of non-belief, or of belief, and that by becoming frum he is simply doing what he is obliged and expected to do by Hashem – however difficult it may be. After all, everyone has their nisayonot – if an FFB does not have to contend with the typical problems faced by a BT, he certainly has other ones!!
    In short, people should just think what Hashem expects from them, and realise that if Hashem put him in a situation of having to adapt himself to a Torah life without the privilege of being brought up to it and being supported by frum family, then that is his sphere of avodas Hashem.

  15. Steve Brizel says:

    It is tragic that some BTs think or have been taught that only a complete erasure of everything and everything associated with their past lives really matters as opposed to elevating and incorporating the best elements such as maintaining family ties are important as well

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    We could all learn a lesson in Achdus from the best teams in any team sport that are continually playoff caliber team or always near the top by observing how their players are focused on and committed to the common goal of winning a championship but who don’t always do so well when they move on to another team

  17. Yonah says:

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for this important balancing message in a time of instinctual tribalism. Religious cultures the world around have been battered by “modern” popular culture, technology, and media/marketing economy. And it is only natural that many within them should decide to “push back twice as hard” and “build a big wall”. Indeed we can charitably regard this as akin to an immune response of the Jewish people, necessary and protective of a certain part of the people. Rabbi Natan Slifkin often takes pains to say that his rationalist scientific perspectives are not to be imposed on the entirety of frumskeit, and I think this is true of many BT’s as well with regard to their “extracurricular interests”. Yiddishkeit has always been diverse, since long before it fractured into maskilim and chasidim.

    People are enriched and educated and even transformed for the better by many things from athletics to botany, music and art and literature and philosophy and history, and like Yitro even from foreign religious traditions (for instance Anglican Anthems, or Sufi poetry, or Buddhist meditation).

    These items from a person’s past enter into a dialogue with a person’s present when they are becoming more religious. They form the substance of conversations with rabbis and elders, with friends. They are valued and re-valued organically as Torah values are instilled, and also beyond. Judaism has always been a religion of law but never of world-renunciation (like many others we know). B’nai Torah and Rabbinical authorities and Torah teachers have a higher responsibility to focus their learning and burn away all excess culture. But a normal Yid living life, coming to love Torah, coming to start a Jewish family, not interested in writing seforim, not interested in waging wars about evolution, unwilling to abide by a Catholic-style Index of Banned Books or Music but uninterested in fighting it either…. A lover of Beethoven, or Bob Marley, or Claude Monet, or Hegel, or Plato, or Cervantes, or Phish…. should have no trouble fitting these random sources of meaning into the parts of their day and month not devoted to davening or professional work. Not by wearing a disguise but by bringing themselves and their yiddishe neshamas to these sources of enrichment (that anyway a ton of secular Jews know and admire). Jews can be part of a culture of general elevation and refinement, rather than a culture of repressive renunciation, self-binarization, and unsubtle cognition–which in truth is far closer in kin to pop culture and pathological habits than many would like to admit.

  18. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, The details matter. In the immediate negative reaction to the introduction of so-called foreign knowledge into the study of Torah, we often forget that as Prof. Elman ztl showed most amoraim were what we call MO. And it is not just Kiddush HaHodesh where Rambam, the greatest astronomer of his time, used his immense knowledge of astronomy to express halakha precisely in ways that today ARE NOT UNDERSTOOD, outside the academy. Tell me any fact about music that a Jew today finds impactful on how we observe mitzvot. The attack that is heaped on historians of halakha whose contributions allow us to understand the context for important pesakim is disturbing. I am not naive enough to believe that such knowledge is prerequisite to achieve greatness in torah. however, being degraded as is commonly done in many circles today, is a whole other matter.

    i probably watch less TV than most chareidim and am generally unaware of elements of secular culture. truth be told, twenty years ago, i was jokingly introduced at an event with hundreds of major CTO’s present as a version of the Seinfeld charachter Kramer, for whatever reason. my response – that i never watched even a single episode of Seinfeld and do not know whether to be happy or upset about the ntroduction, was truthful and generally believed by those who knew me.

  19. nt says:

    I think a lot of FFB’s, especially more insulated ones, don’t appreciate how much of secular culture is shaped by Christianity, and therefore is a pale reflection of Jewish values. Most non-Jews in Western countries define a good person as honest, kind, charitable, etc. This is a result of Jews since Avraham Avinu being an Or l’Amim, to the point that even atheists feel compelled to live by these values.
    The entertainment that shows violence and depravity is regarded by the vast majority of them as escapism. That does not mean it becomes appropriate, just that is not who they really are.

  20. ben dov says:

    The Sridei Aish made a comment that fits with R. Adlerstein’s analysis. He said that a certain Reform rabbi was a “chillul Hashem” because he was such a mentch that he made it seem like you don’t need Torah u’mitzvos to have good midos. I too have been humbled by people outside my machaneh who do some things better than I do.

    We have serious fixing to do. Why do too many of us over-celebrate Rubashkin and, lehavdil, over-enthuse for Donald Trump (and we can think of many other examples)? Moral indifference has set in.

  21. MK says:

    The rejection of virtually anything of non Jewish origin is not part of the Lithuanian tradition.
    A concerned parent once complained to Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky ZTL that his child’s kindergarten class was singing “goyish nursery rimes”. Rav Yaakov’s response?
    “What should they sing…
    Kol Nidrei?”

  22. Weaver says:

    “We must caution, however, that there are plenty in our community that make the mistake of applying his words to literally “99% of what a BT… gains from or observes in the secular world.” That is a horrible, horrible error. Regrettably, it is an occupational hazard of hanging out in parts of the charedi world that harbor an excess of bitul – of the need to tear down, undervalue, mock, and disparage everything outside their precincts.”
    Not to mention the phenomenon that anything of value from the “secular” world is then incorporated into the Jewish world and magically turned into a “Jewish” value.

  23. Yisroel says:

    Chazal make a distinction that i think we should put front and center of this discussion.

    Chochma bagoyim taamin. And chesed leumim chatas.

    You want to become a doctor, or mathematician, go to university.

    You want to aquire Middos, chesed, the goy is the wrong address in spite of the appearance of loving kindness.

    I didn’t read all of the previous comments. My main point is that balance is correct but we must use the scale of Chazal to get it right.

  24. Michoel Halberstam says:

    Thank you for a very interesting perspective, which clearly needed to be said. It will take a long tome before almost all of us realize that HKBH is not ready to adopt our opinions about other people as his own. We can fool ourselves alot easier than we can fool him.

  25. Shades of Gray says:

    “I’ll add that if pro sports is inimical to the Judaism, then large swaths of the American orthodoxy, including the right wing, have long been off the derech.”

    I hope you are right, as I have attended my share of baseball games, and not with a Talmud Yerushalmi. As for R. Zev Leff who famously did so at a soccer game, he discussed sports on Yeshiva World(“In His Own Words: Rav Zev Leff Responds to Viral Video Showing Him Learning at Soccer Game”).

    “Davenin’ Dov” Kramer”, producer at WFAN/Mets Radio, gave his perspective in a Mishpacha article(available online on Matzav) based on a Netziv regarding Kayin and Hevel:

    “The upshot is that for people who would otherwise focus on more detrimental things, it’s better for them to follow sports. But if you can use your time more productively, then follow that route. It all depends on who you are.”

  26. Shades of Gray says:

    Similar to R. Adlerstein’s analogies of “modest refurb” and “curing a headache”, a Mishpacha article about baalei teshuvah by Alexandra Fleksher(“ Are We There Yet?”, 11/08, available online) uses the analogies of a “puzzle piece” and “building a library” to discuss integration:

    “Integration means using all of one’s being, past experiences and all, to become a member of the Orthodox community. It is precisely a baal teshuvah’s background, his or her genes and life experiences, that enables him or her to change course and live a G-d centered life. Integration means fitting in like a puzzle piece, not dissolving away in a melting pot. It is recognizing that up until this point, a person was building a gymnasium, but with that foundation now intact, he has decided to build a library.”

  27. Yisroel says:

    Rabbi, this new release called “Balanced Teshuvah” may be just what you are looking for.

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