Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Av 5766 - August 16, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








"Veyishme'u Rechokim Veyovo'u"

by B. Reem

Part I

"Let's see: What we have done in the year that has gone by to improve the plight of Jews in Israel, to make sure that heresy is not increasing, that people will be moved to make a spiritual reckoning and recognize the Divine Truth, and that everyone will believe in the Torah and follow its teachings without compromise? Have we really bolstered an awareness of Torah among the people? More particularly: have we in our own personal lives exemplified purity and truth, righteousness and lovingkindness, and pure and holy thoughts? Have we ourselves carried out the Word of the Torah, to the extent that Hashem could set us up as an example to our erring fellow-Jews: "My servant are you, Israel; in you I will be glorified." The shofar already calls for us to do teshuvoh, in the hope that our future will atone for our past, until HaKodosh Boruch Hu Himself in all His glory will announce: Solachti!" (HaRav Shlomo Raphael Hirsch in The Jewish Year)

Biseshuvoh Shleimoh Lefonecho . . .

During bein hazmanim--Av 5765 (last year), a fascinating discussion was held with the veterans of the Teshuvoh Movement in Israel: HaRav Yosef Bruck, rosh yeshiva of Nesivos Olam in Bnei Brak, HaRav Yosef Wallis, managing director of Arachim, HaRav Moshe Grylak, one of the veteran senior lecturers in the Teshuvoh Movement. The panel was chaired by Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, editor of Musaf Shabbos Kodesh of the Hebrew Yated Ne'eman. The panel discussion was held at the camp of Yeshivas Or Yisroel in Beit Alpha, after the rosh yeshiva of Or Yisroel, HaRav Yigal Rosen gave his consent for a symposium to be set up which was solely value-spiritual oriented, with no involvement in political issues.

Elul and the days of Teshuvoh approach. Here is food for thought.


The Teshuvoh Movement began to sprout in Israel following the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, which shook up Israeli society deeply. Today, after the crisis of the National Religious movement over the withdrawal from Gush Katif and its aftermath, is the Teshuvoh Movement expecting a new wave of returnees in the National Religious community?

Rabbi Bruck: It is impossible to know whether such a wave will happen, and when. There is no doubt that some people from that community will draw their own conclusions. But there are problems reaching out to them. Once it was possible, but today the gates are locked. In the past, there were teachers in the yeshiva high schools who were "black," as they defined them, and they managed, through all kinds of routes, to influence the young boys. Today, through a deliberate policy, the teachers are all serugim (knitted kippa-wearers) and immersed in their own ideology. Realistically speaking, I do not see any chance of us entering their community, except in a direct manner. The gates are blocked. They are not looking for solutions with us. They show no signs of searching for the truth.

Rabbi Wallis: Right now, it does not seem as if we are going to make any special effort to reach out to them. Obviously, if we see signs of their wanting to search and form a link with the chareidim, we might rethink the matter. We have seen no need to invest any efforts, because there was no desire to listen on their part, and we saw no results in working with them as we did among the secular community. They are locked into their own ideology, and all the entries are blocked off. However, if we would see that they were really starting to search for the truth we would certainly stretch out a hand to them.

Rabbi Grylak: This community is undergoing a major crisis, but they are very difficult because of their prejudices. I was once sitting in a hotel and there were two dati-leumi boys sitting there. I happened to overhear one bragging to the other: "There is no such thing as a chareidi guy who is honest." And they looked like decent people. That is the hatred of amei ha'aretz for talmidei chachomim. They are burning with hatred for us. Speaking with them is impossible.

There was a secular woman from a dati-leumi home who attended one of our seminars, and she talked about how her dati-leumi parents tried to prevent her from making this move. They even said, in these very words: "Stay a chilonit, don't go over to the chareidim" . . . Even today, they have not woken up from their crooked thinking.

Why was this community never worked with in the past?

Rabbi Bruck: If a person is willing to hear, then we have plenty to tell them. We do not force people to come and listen to us, and the truth is they are just not able to listen to us. Perhaps the reason is jealousy.

A few years ago I met a family who were considered one of the "noble kippot serugot" families. We arranged an evening to introduce them to the Teshuvoh Movement. Our talmidim were there, and they went at them with a fury. Finally, one of the participants got up and told them: You know, up until two years ago, these people did not even put on tefillin. Why on earth should you care if they are chareidim today? Apparently, that did shock them somewhat.

You could see the extent it had reached, because some time later, when I met one of the members of the family, he asked me: "Why do we not have any Teshuvoh Movement? Why are you in charge of the whole affair?"

I told him: "That's for you to say."

He responded: "The problem is that we do not have any Torah people!"

A year later, I asked him the same question and he replied: "We do not have people who are willing to be moseir nefesh for that." There are a lot of reasons and all of them are correct. That is exactly their problem! The secular community, in contrast, is willing to hear us out.

Rabbi Wallis: "The dati-leumis think that they are fine since, as they say, "We are religious and you are religious." So why should they go to those "galuti" Jews, as they call them? A secular Jew knows that he is bare and empty, and his sense of truth impels him to come to us. So what is the point of putting out all that energy, and then probably not achieving any results? It's a waste of time, that's all . . .

Rabbi Grylak: As my colleagues said, the dati- leumis are the hardest sector, because they simply feel that "we're all coming from the same place." That is why they argue over who is a frum Jew, because they mistakenly feel that they represent that category. After Gush Katif, there were people who felt that they were in crisis. But they are already regaining their strength, and going back to their old philosophy. They will soon put together some kind of pre-arranged sub-ideology that will help them explain what happened, providing that it does not admit the truth.

Rabbi Wallis: My three sons studied in Or Yisroel. But they started off in the State Religious school in Raanana, because at that point we did not know there was anything else available. Once, there was an evening arranged at the school for parents, for the purposes of collecting money to purchase electronic supplies for the school. The mothers prepared food, the community bought stuff, and they planned to buy the needed supplies with the money.

Well, there was a falafel stand there, and many people ate without doing nettilas yodayim. I went up to the principal and protested, because the school children were also present at the site: "This is not educational by any stretch of the imagination!" I blasted him.

And what was his answer? He said, "There is something much more sublime involved here. This is a comprehensive social function, and you are bothering me about nettilas yodayim" . . .

I left the place absolutely shaken. The next day I sat down in the principal's office and let him know in no uncertain terms that I wished to take my sons out of his school. When he heard what I had to say, he yelled at me for being an "extremist." He did not even take in what I wanted to do. That illustrates the difference between the two approaches.

Rabbi Grylak: There was one teacher who attended an Arachim seminar, and then changed her whole way of life. When she went back to the State Religious school where she worked and told them that she had become chareidi, the teachers looked at her as if she had dropped from outer space. "What was so bad for you?" they asked her. That is the way they see things. If you do teshuvoh, it's a sign that, "there was something wrong in your life."

All this comes from a perception that there is no such thing as dedicating one's life to Torah and mitzvos and that it is not an obligation, it is just a voluntary thing! A volunteer needs a reason, and when he volunteers it is on his terms! And when we see them at times demonstrating mesiras nefesh, it derives from their perception that one must act for am Yisroel, rather than for Hakodosh Boruch Hu. And though an officer in the army is given the same respect as a rav or even more than that, it is easier to be an officer, after all.

At one time, the kind of people who came back to Torah were more academic. The Teshuvoh Movement used to exhibit a whole array of artists, pilots, professors, and such like. But today we have the feeling that returning to Judaism is a legacy of the common people. Is that due to a lack of success among the academic sector, or does it show some kind of awakening among the common people?

Rabbi Wallis: Actually today, the academic sector is made up of more of a common type of people. Twenty years ago, an academic person had a wide-ranging knowledge in many areas. Today, everything has changed. It used to be that people thirsted for knowledge and had a comprehensive general knowledge.

Today, you go to university to get a profession. An academic graduate today can be an ignoramus with a diploma, a person with little knowledge who specializes in computers, electrical engineering, the legal profession or accountancy, without being an intellectual. The general public is on a much lower level than it used to be. But the main thing is, that the number of seminars has grown, and the percentage of academics attending has grown. To sit for 4-5 days listening to lectures you have to be on a certain level. The point you have noted is simply not true then!

Rabbi Bruck: In my humble opinion, we have lost the Ashkenazi-intellectual sector of the population. The reason for that is that, at that time of that mass return to teshuvoh, people rushed to the media to publicize the matter and that stirred up a hornet's nest against us. The media spoke of 50,000 returnees, and therefore the public felt very threatened and decided to put a stop to it. For quite a long period there were some very harsh articles against us in the newspapers which warned about the disconnection between parents and children and which terrified parents. There was one family in particular who stirred up a storm and told the media how terrible the situation was and how dangerous.

During those years we organized a meeting of parents in Netivot Olam. Everyone spoke with composure about the revolution that was taking place among the children. About 60 parents were present. Among those attending was a senior journalist, and even he came out of it moved. Because of the attacks that we were being subjected to, we very much wanted him to write a supportive article. The man did not refuse to do it. But he left the decision to us. "I could write a wonderful scoop," he said. "But you should know, for every article like this, there will be 51 hostile ones against it. Why stir things up?"

This offensive, which was generated by the passion the Teshuvoh Movement had, for the media, achieved its purpose. The hostile articles caused that particular sector to look away from us, so that those who were searching for meaning, mistakenly looked for it in "kabbalah" institutes and courses for self-awareness, and not in our direction. They forcibly kept us at a distance. They managed to ensure that every baal teshuvoh was labeled as a "weirdo." There was a young person who did teshuvoh and carried on working at the same job, and he told us that it was as if he had become invisible, as if he did not exist for them any more . . . The publicity has boomeranged on us . . .

Rabbi Grylak: The more public repercussions the Teshuvoh Movement had, the more dreadful the attacks became, so that anyone who became a baal teshuvoh simply became a leper. I followed up on the dynamics of the media, and I saw that there was a clear trend. I read every piece I could find to try to understand how determinedly they worked, and you just need to come and study it. We also need to learn our lesson from this!

Rabbi Wallis: My daughter was once hospitalized in the Meir Hospital in Kfar Sabba. All of a sudden, the nurse who was taking care of her came up to me and said: "I hate chareidim!" When I asked what the reason for the hatred was, she answered: "My daughter became a baalas teshuvoh and cut off all connection with us. They brainwashed her." I explained to her that she did not actually hate chareidim but that rather she was in pain over "losing" her daughter. "Give me her telephone number," I asked the mother.

I right away got on the phone to her daughter and convinced her to get in touch with her parents. After that, the daughter kept up the contact with her, and the mother phoned to say, "Thank you very much."

During that same conversation I asked her to set a meeting up for me with the league of parents that worked against the Teshuvoh Movement, in which she was active, due to her own personal situation.

The meeting was held in an apartment in North Tel Aviv. When I walked in, there were a lot of parents seated on armchairs who shot angry looks at me. I sat down and told them: "I understand that you are all sitting here because your children have become baal teshuvas, and you want to keep up contact with them. I brought this woman's daughter back to her. Take my phone number and I will bring your children back. However! If there is even one article in the media about it, forget about me. If there is even one demonstration, you can tear up my phone number."

Ever since then, the actions of this committee have stopped. Their problem was their children, not the coming back to Judaism.

But sometimes the return to Judaism causes families to break up -- a break up of the family unit due to lack of agreement between the two sides over the return to the roots.

Rabbi Bruck: On this subject, I have just one thing to say, which has stood the test of time. No family ever broke up because someone returned to the fold. If such a thing happened, it was because the foundation was faulty to begin with. If a relationship is stable, even if one spouse returns to Judaism, it is only a question of time, for in the end both will do teshuvoh.

There was one person who returned to Judaism who studied with us for about eight months after his marriage. Before that, he and his wife would come to all the home study groups with loaded questions, ready to argue and try to refute us. People quickly despaired of him, for it seemed as if there was no chance of bringing him back. Then one of the teachers decided to take him to the Steipler, thinking that he might perhaps influence him. When the Steipler read the note, he raised his voice: "Why are you bringing a mechalel Shabbos to me?"

This was said in Yiddish, but that person was very smart, and he understood that he was being spoken about and pressed to find out what was said. Evidently, the Steipler's words stung him like an arrow. He returned home, looking dejected. His wife understood that something had changed in him, and tried to find out what had happened. He told her, "I went to the greatest rov of the religious people, and he yelled that I am a Shabbos desecrater." The next morning his wife told him: "If it had such an effect on you and is so important to you, then I am also behind you" . . . .

Today he is a disseminator of Torah in Yerushalayim, and has raised a wonderful family. If the foundations are strong, the family does not break up so quickly . . .

Rabbi Wallis: By the way, the Steipler's words, which knocked down the pride of that baal teshuvoh, remind me of what was said to a pilot who went in to see HaRav Arye Leib Shteinman and introduced himself as, "I am a pilot!"

HaRav Arye Leib answered him, "Do you mean to say that you are a "wagondriver in the sky"?

The pilot later told how he had felt at that moment when the great Gaon HaRav Arye Leib shriveled his pride, and which had great significance in terms of his return to Judaism.

It is no secret that the baal teshuvoh's absorption into the community is not always easy. Not everyone is welcomed with open arms in the community and entering the chareidi community, the educational institutions, and the society, is not always a bed of roses. They see things which do not exactly fit in with what they were taught, and people's behavior is not always the way they expected it to be. Do they not have a sense of disappointment?

HaRav Bruck: You have touched on a sore point. Without going into it too much, it is a very painful subject. One of my students whose daughter was not accepted into seminary told me of how painful it was for him. He said that for him it was a harder test than becoming a baal teshuvoh! There are implications here for the families of the baal teshuvas. Many times, the family want to move forward, but when they see what their relatives are going through, and they see that the door is not completely open to receive the returnees, it makes them think twice.

Rabbi Wallis: This is a common and very painful problem and, consequently, we even have a lecture on the subject: How to become a baal teshuvoh! In seminars and during the first stages of their return we give them warmth, and they think that that is how it is going to be the whole way. Then, when they get to the chareidi community and their children are not accepted into institutions, they have a very hard time, and anyone who is not strong enough, will find it hard to grapple with that situation.

But here I want to stress a crucially important point: the most painful part for them, aside from their absorption difficulties, is the imitation of their former lifestyle! It is dreadful for them to feel that the streets from which they came have infiltrated the chareidi world! When they feel that the chareidi community is inclined to copy what they left behind, whether it be in music, clothes, culture, or slang, even if "they wear a kippa," it breaks them. They ask: "Is this what we came back for? And if we came back for this, we had it a lot better over there."

Anything less than a complete disconnection from the world from which they came, and the infiltration of secular symbols into the chareidi community plunges them into a major crisis. That is why each and every one of us has to recognize the responsibility that he bears on his shoulders: If they see us being drawn to the negative winds of the times, it prevents us from bringing back the lost children of our Father in Heaven, and it prevents them from coming back.

Rabbi Grylak: We absolutely have to feel that we are ambassadors. Our actions can cause another person to come back to teshuvoh or, choliloh, the opposite, make them leave the path to teshuvoh. They watch our every action. I do not mean to give mussar. I am just giving over what they tell us. When bochurim stand at the hitchhike stands, it does great damage. Yes, I mean that in particular! And it becomes much worse when they hear that the gedolei hador and rosh yeshivas have banned it, and then they see that people openly disregard this. It makes them furious and we know of more than a few instances where it caused people who were becoming stronger in Yiddishkeit to halt their return to Judaism! And that, choliloh, is a dreadful allegation.

Rebbe Yonoson Eibeshitz writes that when a person does teshuvoh he will be given difficult tests to see if his teshuvoh is real, and that is definitely one of the tests. This is indeed a very difficult problem. We have to try very hard to ensure that we are not the ones who trigger that test of free choice . . .

End of Part I


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