Baal teshuva

From Academic Kids

Baal teshuva or chozer bi-teshuva refers to a return (teshuva) of a Jew to a Jewishly observant lifestyle. It is sometimes colloquially referred to as "Born-Again Judaism", because of its revivalistic aspects.

Within Orthodox Judaism the term baal teshuva refers to: (1) those Jews who were previously not Orthodox and then choose to affiliate with Orthodox Judaism or (2) to an Orthodox Jew who has transgressed the laws of Judaism and has "returned" to the observances of Orthodoxy; Orthodoxy generally does not recognize the validity of any denomination of Judaism other than itself. Outside of Orthodoxy this term has a wider use, and can refer to any formerly non-observant Jew who returns to traditional and observant Judaism.



Appearing in the 1960s, a growing number of young Jews who had previously been raised in non-religious homes in the U.S.A. started to develop a strong interest in becoming a part of observant Judaism; many of these people, in contrast to sociological expectations, became attracted to observant Judaism within Orthodoxy or Conservative Judaism.

This trend was partly related to the prevailing counter-culture, anti-establishment atmosphere of the 1960s. Among those seekers who were willing to experiment with alternate 'liberated' life-styles were hip young men and women who thought it was 'cool' to experiment with Sabbath observance, intensive prayer, and deeper Torah and Talmud study. A great many of these people temporarily adopted a fully Orthodox Jewish way of life, and although many eventually "dropped out" of Orthodox Judaism per se, many of these people did stay within Orthodox Judaism. Many others found their path within Conservative Judaism. Conversely, the after-effects of the Holocaust and the sway of the counter-cultures of the 1960s led to many to abandon their religious upbringing. Many of the children of these newly secular Jewish people, along with descendants of those who by immigration to Western Europe and America escaped the pogroms of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, can been seen to take an interest in their cultural heritage, and the religion of their forebears.

In the former Soviet Union

This baal teshuva movement also appeared in the former Soviet Union, which at that time had almost completely secularized its Jewish population. The rise of Jewish pride came in response to the growth of the State of Israel, in reaction to the USSR's pro-Arab and anti-Zionist policies, and in reaction to the USSR's anti-Semitism. The return to Judaism movement was a spontaneous movement from the ground up; it came as a great surprise to the Soviet authorities, and even to the Jewish community outside of the USSR. Two of the young leaders were Yosef Mendelevich and Eliyahu Essas, now both prominent rabbis actively teaching other Russian emigres in Israel.

The Israeli victory of the Six Day War in 1967 ignited the pride of Jews in the Soviet Union, particularly in Russia. Suddenly there were hundreds of thousands of Jews that wanted to go to Israel, although they dared not express their desire too openly. Several thousand applied for exit visas to Israel and were instantly ostracised by government organs including the KGB. Many hundreds became refuseniks (known as otkazniks in Russian), willing to suffer jail time to demonstrate their new-found longing for Zion. In the middle of this there arose a new interest and longing for a learning about and practicing Judaism, an urge that the Communist government had long attempted to stamp out.

Many Russian Jews began to study any Jewish texts they could lay their hands on. Foreign rabbis came on visits in order to teach how to learn Torah and how to observe Jewish law. Now there is a rich resource of Russian religious texts that flourishes, and caters to Russian Jews living in Russia, America, and Israel. In Israel, the euphoria of the 1967 Six Day War victory was interpreted even by some secular Jewish Israelis as a miracle.

In Israel

During this time there was a movement among secular Jewish Israelis that essentially was a search for spirituality. At the time, most Israeli parents were secular Zionists. While some Jews were hostile to traditional Judaism, a spiritual quest in the 1960s and 1970s caused some Israelis to seek answers in Jewish tradition.

In Israel, schools for the intensive study of Torah have been flourishing especially designed for the newly religious students who want to devote quality time to intensive study of classical texts with the ancient rabbinic commentaries. These schools opened in the early 1970s, mainly based in Jerusalem. Two significant institutions have been the Aish HaTorah Yeshiva headed by Rabbi Noach Weinberg, and the Ohr Somayach Yeshiva headed by Rabbi Nota Schiller. Both of these rabbis have degrees from American universities and are well able to speak to the modern mind-set.

Orthodox outreach organizations

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, leader of the Chabad Lubavitch branch of Hasidic Judaism was responsible for turning Chabad's strength and activities towards outreach. He trained a large number of rabbinic emissaries who carried Chabad's understanding of Judaism across the world. Rabbis and their families were sent to teach college students, to build day schools, and to create youth camps. Most of these were geared towards their secular or less religious brethren.

Within Modern Orthodox Judaism, the Union of Orthodox Congregations created the National Conference of Synagogue Youth NCSY to reach Jewish teenagers in public schools. Headed by Rabbi Pinchas Stolper,himself a noted charismatic speaker and writer, the movement also developed its in-house literature geared to the newly observant mainly written by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.

In 1987 an organization called National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) was founded. Headed by a leading dynamic Outreach rabbi, Ephraim Buchwald in the first 15 years of its existenace it had managed to create, co-ordinate and guide thousands of volunteer teachers and tens of thousands of Jewish adults. They participated in programs advertised via the mass media and taught at Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues, as well as Jewish non-religious organizations, such as Jewish Community Centers.

Using mass marketing techniques, NJOP advertise via the media for the Crash Course in Hebrew Reading, Crash Course in Judaism and other programs. Headed by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald they have won the support of major Jewish philanthropists, and an ever widening audience.

Kiruv Professionals, also called Outreach Workers, have been convening national conventions to bring together the professional outreach workers with leading Orthodox rabbis. The Association for Jewish Outreach Professionals & Programs (AJOP) was founded in 1988 and is based in Baltimore, Maryland.

Orthodox outreach to Jewish women

One of the earliest pioneers of outreach to men and woman is Esther Jungreis, the founder of the International HINENI movement in America. A Holocaust survivor she has made it her life's mission to bring back Jews to Orthodox Judaism. She has written popular books and made tapes. Another notable pioneer of women's Orthodox outreach education is Rebbetzin Leah Kohn founder of the Jewish Renaissance Center (JRC) in New York.

Neve Yerushalayim, founded in 1970, is an Orthodox school for secular Jewish women seeking a college level introductory program Neve Yerushalayim College has a campus in Jerusalem. Its founder and guiding Dean is Rabbi Dr. Dovid Refson.

Orthodox day schools

Torah Umesorah: The National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, is an American Orthodox organization; it provides resources to many different Orthodox Jewish day schools. It has as outreach effort called Partners in Torah. The method is to learn on the phone for an hour where it is not possible to do so in person. Torah Umesorah also sponsors the SEED Program whereby young religious from birth Yeshiva students spend a few weeks during their summers learning with people in communities with those who are less educated.

Publishers of English outreach literature

English and Russian translations of classical rabbinic literature and modern Jewish works are crucial to the grwoth and popularity of the Ba'al teshuva Movement. Some of the most important publishers include:

Orthodox rabbis in outreach

First generation

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. Former Rosh Yeshiva, (akin to Dean), of RIETS, the Rabbi Isaac Elchonan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University. De facto leader of Modern Orthodoxy in America, a leader in Mizrachi (the Religious Zionists of America) and the RCA, Rabbinical Council of America.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Last Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch hasidim. He oversaw a vast international educational, outreach, community-building movement. In over 40 years, he trained several thousand, about 5,000 young men and women to become rabbis and rebbetzins (rabbi's wife) as his personal emissaries all over the world, with the goal of attracting non-religious Jews towards a more intense religious life.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. The first modern Chief Rabbi of pre-State Israel in Palestine. Mystic, Talmudist, Philosopher, and adroit politician. Guide to the Mizrachi Religious Zionist movement. Advocate of urgent Jewish emigration, Aliyah, to then Palestine before the Holocaust. Perfected the art of winning the trust of the secular Jewish leadership in London, Europe, and Palestine. His warm and positive outlook to the secular pioneers, halutzim, won their loyalty to him, and to greater respect for Orthodox Judaism.

Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner. The late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. Moulder of many Orthodox rabbis in America. Author of Pachad Yitzchok, "Fear Of Isaac". Arriving in New York in the 1930s, he attracted many young man and influenced them to study Talmud in his yeshiva. Many of them eventually became scholars and leaders of Orthodoxy active in education, chinuch and outreach,kiruv. He developed a unique Jewish philosophy combining mysticism, ethics, Talmud, hasidic thought, and law. His daughter, Bruria Hutner David, obtained a Ph.D. from Columbia University and became the dean of Bais Yakov of Jerusalem, "B.Y.Y" reaching many young women. In the 1970s he moved to Jerusalem and built a new yeshiva called Pachad Yitzchok.

Rabbi Yakov Yitzchok Ruderman. Founder and Rosh Yeshiva of NIRC Yeshiva Ner Yisrael: Ner Israel Rabbinical College, Baltimore, Maryland.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller. Writer and spokesman for Ultra-Orthodox Judaism in America.

Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz. Founder of Torah Umesorah National Society for Hebrew Day Schools,leader of the flagship Yeshiva Torah Vodaath.

Rabbi Henoch Lebowitz. Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbinical Seminary of America : Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim: Rabbinical Seminary of America and graduates.

Second generation

Rabbi Noah Weinberg. Head of AISH Aish HaTorah International and Jerusalem Fellowships.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. Founder of the outreach Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, Chief Rabbi of Efrat,Israel, and Dean of Ohr Torah Stone Institutions, Israel.

Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald. Founder of NJOP, National Jewish Outreach Program.

Rabbi Pinchas Stolper. Founder and builder of the Orthodox Union's NCSY youth outreach division.

Rabbi Berel Wein. Author of Orthodox Jewish history books, and an unofficial spokesman for the Orthodox viewpoint in the Jewish media.

Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld. Founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Sh'or Yoshuv the first serious full-time American yeshiva geared to newly observant Jewish young men.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The "Singing Rabbi", composer and performer of many now-popular Jewish religious songs.

Rabbi Nachman Bulman. Pioneer educator, orator, author, translator, and builder of Jewish communities in America and Israel

Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Involved in the revitalization of the Pacific Jewish Center in Venice Beach, California. Founder of Toward Tradition, a group promoting greater ties between conservative and observant Christian and Jewish communities.

External links

Full-time baal teshuva yeshivas

Part time yeshivas


Online resources


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