Saturday, August 3, 2013

Welcome to Kiruv City. Speed Limit: Faster! Faster!

In Defense of the Bitter Ex-BT Blogs
A Guest Post by DK

This essay was originally posted on The Kvetcher blog in January 2007. At the time, the new power and challenge of the Internet generally and blogs specifically were being reckoned with by the haredi world in an intense way.  This article was posted in response to "The Dilemma of the Talented ex-BTs,” by Ron Coleman on the baal teshuvah [newly ultra-Orthodox] support site, Beyond BT. His piece dealt with the problems of ex-baal teshuvah bloggers specifically to the kiruv [“outreach”] movement and beyond.  “In Defense of the Bitter Ex-BT Blogs “ was my defense of this specific subset of ex-baal teshuvah writers. The Kvetcher blog is currently locked.
The focus of this essay was restricted to defending the newly ultra-Orthodox bloggers who took it upon themselves to warn others about what they witnessed,  and critique the institutions and attitudes they experienced. This repost was inspired by Brielle Levy and others who seem unwilling to recognize entry problems cause by Big Kiruv.  But it is dedicated to all who have spoken out despite their shame and fear, willing to suffer ridicule and condemnation in order to warn others of the cost and realities of joining an ultra-Orthodox enclave.

Ron Coleman is a black hat fellow, as he has revealed in comments on this blog as well as elsewhere.  Naturally, he is not very happy with what the "bitter ex-BT bloggers" are writing about the haredi BT world.
Because ultimately my rather mundane point, of course, is that it is a special bitterness -- I cannot say wickedness; we all are tinokos shenishbu (compared to "captured children") -- that makes a talented former BT, man or woman, do this. They do not just walk away from what they think is a car wreck of a spiritual journey but flag everyone else tooling happily along the road and swear that the bridge is out, there are monsters waiting on the next exit and that it was actually much better where they were coming from and you can't U-turn fast enough to get back there.
 And he asks, "What motivates them?"

Coleman offers that, "My armchair psychology tells me that they would rather believe the journey is an eight-lane disaster than consider whether they themselves forgot to check the oil under their own hoods before setting out."

Well, Ron is assuming that none of us take any ownership for our actions. In fact, many of us do, and frequently do not forgive ourselves for doing so.

The newly religious are "encouraged to
drive quite fast and reckless."
In the haredi BT world, you are frequently discouraged from checking under the hood. All too often, you are sent to the races, and encouraged to drive quite fast and reckless. And sometimes--go figure--you end up in a few fender benders, and get dizzy, and feel like you are going nowhere except in circles. Then when you announce you don't like this race anymore, people start changing. No one in the racetrack wants to help you, especially the referees on the side wearing the black and white outfits of authority. Instead they yell at you you for riding off the racetrack. If you're lucky,--very lucky--someone might secretly whisper in your ear that it's okay if you stop racing like you have been. But almost everyone at the racetrack just tries to get you to race some more. And then things get ugly. Because you want to reclaim your car, and some people don't approve of changing tires, new brakes, or adding gas. Definitely not adding gas.
So you go outside, and you stay kinda quiet. And you don't tell people about your racing days. Only a couple of people know. But then you see that they are opening more racetracks, and adding bleachers to the old ones, always recruiting new racers. And you see that the referees were the same ones who were there when you used to race, and are making the tracks even more dangerous in accordance with management's new rules for still better racing.
And you feel a sense of solidarity for the new racers, especially the young ones.  You want to tell them what you know about racing. And make sure they do check the oil, and make sure they don't drive too fast, that they get enough gas, and quite frankly, not to trust that the referees are on their side. Because they are not. They are simply there first and foremost to make people race as fast as they can make them, in accordance with management's wishes.

So you announce you have some questions; you have some concerns. But you are told that you have to go to customer service if you have a complaint. But they don't want to listen; they just want you to shut up. They even tell you that they will only listen to your complaint if you ask very, very nicely and politely, and don't say anything bad about the racetrack. And you see the customer service manager through the window, and it turns out, the manager is the same referee you have a problem with, or at least, is related to him.

But one day, outside the racetrack, they invent a bullhorn. And you pick it up, and stand outside the racetrack. And you start protesting the treatment of the racers, and the insanity of the racetrack.  And some people hear you, and they start listening. And you find other protesters of the racetrack, other former racetrack racers. Sometimes you stand together, sometimes you stand alone. But because you are saying bad things about the referees and even criticizing the racetrack itself, you are all declared haters of racing.  Even though some of you privately still race on your own terms, though not at a racetrack, and yeah, some of you indeed don't race all that much anymore.
But it isn't racing itself you are really against. It's the referees and the specific demands they make, as well as concern of what is expected and demanded of the racers, who seem less of a priority than the race itself, and whose individual needs and limits are casually and assiduously brushed aside, even delegitimized.

But my goal--and I believe frequently the goal of other former racers like me--is not really to stop the racers from racing, though admittedly, that isn't my concern. My concern is the racer. Because the owner of the racetrack does not speak directly, and I don't believe that the managers report to him as directly as they claim. For if they did, the racers would be surely be treated differently, and the race a different experience altogether.

If the referees and managers cannot dispute our charges but neither can they change the house rules of the race, but can only call the protesters "racer haters," then their racetracks are simply not to be considered appropriate for most new racers, particularly the youngest racers.
There are other racetracks, slower ones with wider lanes and service roads.  These must be utilized instead, or built from scratch. I don't claim to have the perfect balance. I don't claim to have all the answers. But I do have the questions.
And if the recruits don't know how to ask them, and their parents don't understand the real questions either, and the FFBs certainly have no interest in raising them on their behalf, and even the best and seasoned BTs are only willing to hint at the crucial questions lest they draw a yellow flag (it isn't hard to do), then who will ask them if we don't? Who, Ron?

DK is a blogger at

Ed. Note: This post was reposted with all of the original links intact.


  1. As true now as it was when you wrote it six years ago - perhaps even more so, as scandals are uncovered and their world continues to collapse.

  2. I just want to thank DK for allowing me to repost this on Jewish Outreach: What Your Rabbi Isn't Telling You. His analogy of the kiruv process is excellent. What rings true throughout my experiences has been the idea of the "racer haters." Criticism of kiruv, or even of other orthodox practice, is often met with the theory that those who criticize hate orthodoxy, or Jews, or Judaism. I recently spoke publicly about this. Criticism of Jews by Jews is not about antisemitism or anti-orthodoxy. It's about looking at something through a different lens and employing an analytical way of thinking. Too often, those who see a problem and speak out are brushed under the carpet, or forced to keep quiet. Those outside the community are labeled "self-hating Jews" or "antiSemites." Those within the community who publicly disagree or question authority often face the threat of being ostracized from the community, having their children kicked out of schools or denied entry to schools, losing valuable business, and/or destroying future shidduch (matchmaking for marriage) prospects.

  3. Yes, 'Speed limit: Faster! Faster!' Having gone through it, and come out the other side, I can only laugh. The Faster! Faster! could refer to several things. In a BT seminary the students become observant rather rapidly. This is not entirely the fault of the Referee-Rabbis; I think it also has to do with just being entirely emerged in the culture and a natural desire to emulate those you admire. Indeed, there is some criticism of those who are 'going too fast', in this regard. What is, however, certainly rushed is the shift in ideology. A day seminar, like Discovery, is for the newbie quite a shock to the system. Suddenly his/her whole paradigm of existence is supposedly 'proved' to be faulty. The idea that the Haredi world-view is correct seems to go from absurd to utterly certain in a matter of hours. I was actively discouraged from dwelling too long on the various arguments, and though, in retrospect, they are rather weak, the anxiety generated by the various shiurim, together with the conviction of the Rabbis and the agreement of ones peers is all enough to rush one on into a new, supposedly more meaningful life. Looking back, the reason for the Faster! Faster! is obvious: the various codes/arguments etc cannot stand up to the slightest scrutiny. And by the time many realise the complexities of it all, well they are too far down the track to be able to turn round.

    1. So true, Escapee.
      If you've ever read the Aish book "Eye of the Needle: A Kiruv Primer," you'll see some very familiar essays. Many seem to be Discovery Seminar "lessons" transcribed. These lessons are fast-paced, and often seem to leave your head spinning, not just when given at Discovery, but even when read in the book. I hadn't thought of DK's article in terms of Discovery, nor had I considered that the fast pace is because the arguments can't hold up, but now that you mention it, I have to agree with you. It makes sense to rush through something before someone can disprove it. The more information you hit people over the head with at once, the harder it is to dispute all of the fallacies that may exist, especially if thrown at people quickly. By the time they've thought about the first point, the speaker is already on to something else. If you think too much, you fall behind.


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