Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Elul 5759 - September 8, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Sponsored by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Produced and housed by











A Symposium on Teshuvah
by Yated Ne'eman -- Shabbos Kodesh Supplement Staff

The camp of the Bnei Torah movement, founded by HaRav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, the rosh yeshiva of Ateres Yisroel, has a record of thirty years of success in drawing high school students closer to the world of Torah, and influencing them to enroll in the yeshivos kedoshos. The heat of the kiln was turned on at maximal spiritual temperature. After only a few days in camp, the faces of the tichonists [high school and yeshiva high school students] appeared very different. They no longer asked "why," but "how." During the remaining days in the camp, which took place on the beautiful Givat Washington campus, the staff continued to mold their spirits.

One night, underneath a huge, air-conditioned white tent which was flooded with light and which otherwise served as a temporary beis medrash, hundreds of bnei yeshiva exchanged views on burning issues with some of the leaders of the teshuvah movement, as well as with the UTJ Knesset members.

The tent was itself was temporary, rented only for the duration of the camp. But those who went in and out of it were dwellers of the tent. Underneath the huge tent cloth, the finest bnei Torah renewed their strength and refreshed themselves. Together with high school students, they strode toward the tent -- toward eternity and permanence, toward the path which leads to the tent of Torah.

The tent was full of life. The yeshiva students displayed an active interest in all of the topics, and their astuteness and knowledge was evident. Not every reply received applause, and not every word had an effect. The speakers responded in a respectable, serious, convincing and fascinating manner, and the audience reacted similarly. Not everything can be expressed in this brief framework. But within this tent of vacationers, the identities of those who perish in the tent the entire year were obvious.

The symposium, summarized here, was only one of the outstanding activities of the Bnei Torah Camp, which every year draws high school students closer to the Torah world and the yeshivos hakedoshos.

Let's go straight to the symposium. In this framework, we will not discuss in great detail the first part, which dealt mainly with the political issues which currently top the agenda of chareidi Jewry and which have been well-presented by UTJ's Knesset members, Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz, Rabbi Moshe Gafni and Rabbi Meir Porush. They were asked incisive, difficult questions about their activities in this hectic period in which there is a lack of clarity regarding the coalition and political future of UTJ. This was a public, scathing interrogation, in which shluchei derabonon clarified their philosophy of life to the public at large. The UTJ spokesman explained that maranan verabonon's sole reason for instructing UTJ to join the coalition was that of "give me Yavneh and its sages."

The questions were posed by the symposium moderators. The rabbis held their own for a number of hours as they answered a barrage of sharp, pointed questions. They spoke about the known as well as the unknown. However, the main old-new message they conveyed focused on the farsightedness and wisdom of our generation's Torah leaders which never fails to astound the UTJ representatives. They merit to see it firsthand in daily encounters with our generation's helmsmen. They particularly stressed their awe over the constant materialization of Chazal's words that, "Whoever follows the counsel of the elders will not fail." This message has always been their guide and was the message they sought to impart.

In the second part of the symposium, the same team interviewed a number of famous figures from the teshuvah movement who have been involved in kiruv work for many years. Among those who appeared before the Bnei Torah camp were Rabbi Mordechai Neugroshal, Rabbi Moshe Frank, Rabbi Shimon Grilius, Rabbi Boaz Naki and Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin.

The first question which the interviewers asked the rabbis was: "Are people in the secular world interested in listening to you? Aren't all of the secular alienated from everything related to Yiddishkeit?"

Each of the rabbi responded to these questions in his own way:

Rabbi Grilius, one of the most important Russian kiruv workers, presented his viewpoint: "Russian Jewry has begun to wake up and recall the glorious Jewish life it knew for so many years. Renewed feelings toward Judaism began to surface when people displayed an interest in renovating the Jewish cemeteries in the large cites -- huge cemeteries where generations upon generations of saintly Jews lie in repose. They had been totally neglected until Jews were aroused to begin to correct the situation. Soon the very same Jews who displayed concern for the cemeteries began to apprise the public of the plight of the dwindling Jewish communities in these cities.

"Thirty years ago, Rabbi Miller sparked the teshuvah movement in Moscow. At that time, I stepped out of Soviet prison straight into a new world in which Jews were not afraid to appear in public as bnei das Moshe and to declare their faith. Shevut Ami worked with Russian Jews, and the Bnei Torah Camp itself contributed its share by drawing Russian youth closer to Torah and mitzvos through setting up summer camps in the heart of Russia. Many alumni of those camps enrolled in yeshivas and have established Torah homes.

"Russian Jewry has produced many bnei Torah. At first, the Russians are `hard nuts' to crack. But the fruits which are produced eventually are of the very best kind. Scores and perhaps hundreds of products of the Russian teshuvah movement are currently studying in yeshivos.

And what about nash control [Editor's Note: This was the slogan of the Russian politicians in the last election indicating that they do not want the rabbis in control of the Minister of the Interior.]? Doesn't that point to the level of the current aliya?

Rabbi Grilius: "One shouldn't be influenced by stigmas. Sadly, the attitude toward first stage Russian ba'alei teshuvah varies from incredulity to estrangement. Some people who see an immigrant from the CIS with a gemora in his hands think that he is merely acting, and attribute all sorts of false, hidden motives to his behavior. Many of them have gone a long, nearly impossible way, in both depth and scope. The leap towards teshuvah is hard enough for everyone, and surely even more so for someone who comes from a different culture. We should make greater efforts to draw them closer. I know more than one person who underwent a crisis and eventually left the Torah world, due to the way people related to him. There is much to be done. Many are returning to their roots. We must draw them closer, paying special attention to those who have already done teshuvah.

Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, Director of Lev L'Achim: "The public is unaware of the tremendous amount of activity done by the teshuvah movement. Much is being done. True, even that isn't enough, but during recent years we have held 34 kiruv seminars. The numbers speak for themselves. They attest to the vastness of the thirst for dvar Hashem.

"In the majority of Israeli families, the teshuvah process takes place very quickly. After a series of talks in a week-long seminar delivered by the finest lecturers, many families can be ushered into the world of teshuvah. The results are clear and immediately discernible.

"The situation with the majority of the immigrants from the CIS is different. We are active among them, although not active enough. The teshuvah process among Russians is slow and painstaking. Only those who have been strongly convinced of the truth of Torah Misinai do teshuvah. But Russians who eventually do teshuvah do not generally revert to their former states. These chozrim beteshuvah are characterized by their firm resolve and application. The messages penetrate slowly. One must have a great amount of patience until successful results emerge.

The impression is that kiruv work currently focuses on a popular level, unlike in the past, when its direction was more intellectual.

Rabbi Boaz Naki: "A prominent kiruv worker was asked why he prefers to work with middle-class youth rather then with intellectuals. He answered,`With intellectuals, the process is a long one. In the time it takes to break the ice with them, I can influence scores from Oriental backgrounds who are more amenable to such efforts. Many from such backgrounds approach me. There the thirst for Torah and appreciation of tradition is relatively high. People from that strata of society do teshuvah easily."

Rabbi Mordechai Neugroshal, one of the senior lecturers of the teshuvah movement: "I want to set things right: It is HaKadosh Boruch Hu Himself Who is machzir beteshuvah, as it is written: `Hachzireinu beteshuvah sheleimo lefonecho.' People don't cause others to repent. That's a distorted conception.

"How can one boast about the arutzei kodesh [religious- oriented radio stations] when the gedolei haTorah have forbidden listening to the radio! Radio programs aren't like newspapers from which we may delete items before they are printed. Someone can ask an atheistic question whose damage far outweighs the benefit of a thousand good answers.

"There is no such thing as arutzei kodesh. There is no kedusha on the radio stations. I would not be mistaken if I say that so many speakers have never said so many foolish things to so many people. It's always best to speak less. No one loses from that. An expert in a particular field can speak about his particular area. But not everyone can speak about everything. Music without words is the best filler for gaps between the programs. Bnei Torah shouldn't listen to the radio at all. Radio is not kosher: it is posul, all of these channels included. The channels can serve as alternatives only for those who would otherwise listen to the treif radio. All radio is forbidden. It serves only as an instrument for those for whom it is intended, and under no circumstances for us.

Rabbi Frank, one of the heads of Or Someach: "It's good that the level is low, because that way, only those for whom the radio is intended listen to it. It is forbidden to raise the level. It is not for us under any circumstances."

Do all of the kiruv efforts create instant ba'alei teshuvah who do not truly integrate into the Torah world, and remain identifiable in their appearance and lifestyle as ba'alei teshuvah, with all the ramifications of that term?

"There are broad circles in the chareidi and religious world. There are ba'alei batim of whom it is said: `Venikrav ba'al habayis el hoElokim.' These are people who relegate their work to secondary importance and regard Torah as their primary pursuit. There is another category: the good, kosher Jew, the baal teshuvah. And there is a blend of both the baal habayis and the baal teshuvah, to whom we refer as the baal Torah. One thousand must enter so that one should emerge. They, too, are needed, and one should be happy with every Jew who has begun to observe more mitzvos and do less aveiros.

"In Or Someach we have a special department for Russian immigrants. This department includes many highly talented, brilliant people. Many of the other ba'alei teshuvah have also integrated into chareidi society as prominent talmidei chachomim in the Torah and yeshiva worlds. One must draw them closer and encourage them, because many of them are definitely a great asset to the Torah world.

"However, there are many ba'alei teshuvah who close themselves into their own world. They manifest their own style in every aspect of life and require a complete system with educational frameworks made up of families of the same background. They need that framework, and such frameworks are important for us too, because it is impossible to absorb people who haven't totally acclimated to our way of life. Attempting to do so can be harmful. Thousands have acclimated to well-known yeshivos and established genuine Torah homes, while there are thousands who belong to separate educational frameworks. They constitute a large group. But surely one who does not blend with bnei Torah and has nonetheless integrated among them must not set the tone in the Torah world. It is surely commendable that they have begun to observe Torah and mitzvos and have left their former ways, but they should not express opinions on issues with which they are not familiar.

Rabbi Sorotzkin: "There is no doubt that follow-up work is necessary, because otherwise people will remain at the beginning stages of teshuvah and will stay frozen in permanent patterns. We have a special framework dealing with this issue. But there is a tremendous amount of work to do.

"It was once presumed that kiruv workers had to be on a very high level and have considerable expertise. Today, gedolei Yisroel have recommended a new approach. Thousands of avreichim knock on doors and schedule weekly chavrusas with people with whom they study mishnayos or gemora or any other sefer, forming warm, personal relationships. It is written that `the light in the Torah brings them back,' and many have returned as a result of these outreach activities.

"The gedolei haTorah have given us clear guidelines for choosing the volunteers. Not everyone is suitable -- only avreichim who have been selected and trained can go out to such places. Each avreich, of course, should personally ask his mentors if he is suitable for such work. In addition, such avreichim generally study only with the people with whom they come in contact, and not in overall kiruv work.

Rabbi Frank: "A smile, a knock on the door and a warm approach are what draw people closer. For many, this is their first encounter with a chareidi Jew. As a result of these encounters, they discover that a chareidi Jew doesn't have fangs or terrifying horns nor does he pounce on people.

"Ironically, as a result of the intensive instigation against the chareidi community, the very appearance of a ben Torah at one's door has the capacity to arouse people to do teshuvah. One Shabbos as I was returning from shul wearing my tallis, a car pulled up in front of me. The driver asked me how to reach a certain place. At first I thought that he was very rude. He saw that I was returning from shul. How could he ask me such a question? But then I understood that he simply was not aware of what he had done, and was a tinok shenishbo. I thought for a moment, and then, pointing to a street which was closed to traffic, said, `By foot, make a left and then a right turn,' and continued on my way. The man was stunned. Needless to say, he didn't continue driving.

The symposium lasted for a long time, and touched on many deep topics, upon which we cannot elaborate in this article. At the end of the evening, the audience refused to leave the auditorium. A mussar shmuess of HaRav Chaim Walkin, the mashgiach of Ateres Yisroel, cut the lengthy deliberations short. During the discussion, bnei Torah could be seen alongside the high school students. All were raptly listening to the words of the mashgiach as if it were the middle of the zman. It was an atmosphere which the high school students, who have been through the kilns of the Bnei Torah camp, will hopefully imbibe firsthand when they reach yeshivos kedoshos.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.