Ba’al Teshuva, or: “Mental Health Issues”


I have alluded to this before in other scathing posts, but it’s becoming more and more clear to me, to the point that I almost see it as synonymous. People generally become religious because they have a fucked up past, and the more religious they become, the more their past was fucked.

Here’s my definition of a Ba’al Teshuva: (noun) someone who tries to escape their emotional problems by subscribing to a completely different, dogmatic world view, with little success.

They attempt to find peace by confining themselves to a smaller slice of life. One that is supposed to be safe and provide meaning and purpose. In reality though, all they are doing is bringing their unresolved baggage with them, into a reality that often makes it worse, with inflexible thinking and hardline stances.

In turn, like a heirloom watch, they often pass their shit on to the next generation.

When I hear Ba’al Teshuva these days, I instantly make many assumptions.

I assume inflexible, dogmatic thinking.

I assume a lack of emotional intelligence.

I assume physical or emotional violence.

I assume changing opinions over the years, having subjected their children to childhoods that they never had themselves, in environments they now “no longer agree with”.

I assume too many children who weren’t parented well and had a shit time at school.

I assume unstable marriages that ended in divorce, or should have (after years of pretending to have a great relationship and dispensing relationship advice freely so that others become religious).

Show me a Ba’al Teshuva and I will show you a troubled soul sailing a troubled ocean, with misery in its bowls and misery in its wake.

To be clear, I’m not talking about soccer moms who grew up reform or conservative, went on a JWRP trip and came back all inspired so they now light shabbat candles. That’s not a ba’al teshuva (yes, you can add gatekeeping to my many sins).

A ba’al teshuva is someone who radically adopts an entire new way of living, stringently follows Jewish law, and makes life choices they would never have made in their previous life.

Choices like moving to a shitty part of the country to live in a shitty neighborhood, having more children than would be prudent, having less money, trying hard (and often failing) to fit in to the people around him, and listening to Jewish laws and Rabbis instead of their own values and intuitions.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. And I’m sure you will point to them when trying to dispute my claim. But I’ll stick to my guns and say, they are the exception, not the rule, and in fact, the reason that we need to cherry pick examples should be proof enough.

I’m sure, too, that critics will respond in reverse: with tales of shitty experiences from the non-religious world. To which I’ll concur. The world is full of shit and I, for one, am not a fan. But show me another demographic where these issues are this pervasive. Show me a society that tries as hard to pretend to be normal, well-adjusted, and enlightened while actually sweeping this much shit under the rug.

If you are a ba’al teshuva who is emotionally stable, you aren’t. Just kidding, maybe you are. Good for you. If you know a ba’al teshuva who is emotionally stable, awesome, let’s nominate them to the Healthy Ba’al Teshuva of the Year Award.

Maybe my assumptions are all wrong. Maybe it was only I who got shafted by God’s legendary dildo.

But a look at the many smoking craters that are former Aish families, the amount of divorces and misery that lie right beneath the surface, indicates that we might just have a pattern on our hands.

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