Baal Teshuvah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

A baal teshuvah is someone who has chosen to live a morereligiousJewish life. BTs for short, they are often contrasted with FFBs (frum from birth), people who were brought up religious. Though existing in traditional Jewish literature for centuries, the word has become widespread over the past 40 years with the striking return to religious observance that has taken place over that time. It can be used as an adjective, baal teshuvah-ish, meaning behaviour characteristic of baalei teshuvah, eg great zeal for religious observance combined with a certain lack of the knowledge that underpins it. The phrase may seem to be a misnomer. Baal means owner or master, and teshuvah, which is often translated as repentance, really means return from the verb lashuv. This sounds as if the baal teshuvah is going back to somewhere he was before, whereas most were never previously observant. Mystics such as Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook explain that thepath of teshuvah is a journey towards the Divine Source of all existence from which which everything emanates. In this sense, it is a return. In some parts of the observant world, baalei teshuvah are of somewhat lower standing than those fortunate enough to grow up religious. This distinction is not supported by the majority of traditional sources that Im aware of. The Talmud(Berachot 34b) writes that even the completely righteous cannot stand in the place of baalei teshuvah. Commentators explain that one who was made the immense spiritual effort required to change his or her life has, bythe powerof that choice, achieved more than one who was religious all along.

Last updated: 12:32pm, March 6 2009