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Should Baal Teshuvas learn the art of social orthodoxy?

A friend of mine is becoming frum and he recently mentioned that his rabbi told him to start pronouncing his words with a “suf” instead of the “tuf” he has been doing his entire life. I’m not sure whether I agree with this order from the Rabbi, but I definitely understand it. So much of frumkeit is social and the Rabbi (I’m being very nice here) probably just wants this new baal teshuva to fit in and there’s no better way of doing that than fixing the social stuff like how they pronounce words and how they dress.

Pretty much everyone I know, knows someone who flipped out in Israel, they went on brithright extended their flight, wound up in Aish, Ohr Someyach or one of the other dozens of kiruv indoctrination institutions and within months was dressing like a yeshiva bocher but didn’t even know how to daven. Then they come back to America and lose it all, some of them return to frumkeit in a more sane way and some just reminisce about that 4 months period in their life when they were “actually” orthodox.

When I lived in Dallas, the kiruv folk over there had the social process down pat, this was because they had no competition and most of the people becoming frum would probably never live anywhere else and hence they didn’t have any outside influences. I remember how blown away I was at the amazing BT watching in their shul Ohr Torah, I saw older folks with black hats and peyos behind their ears standing with their feet apart during shemona esrei like folks who have no idea what they are doing. It was my first introduction to professional out of town kiruv. It’s almost reverse to the way converts do it. Converts usually start keeping mitzvos and Torah and then figure out that coming to shul in jeans or a mini skirt isn’t the way it’s done.

I’m not so sure I agree with teaching BT’s the art of social orthodoxy first, but to be honest it makes sense. First get them dressing like their counterparts, get those little kids wearing velvet yarmulkes with the little designs on them, the mother wearing expensive hair pieces and the father wearing a hat and naturally everything will fall into place, right?

I have found it interesting that although BT’s learn the art of outward social orthodoxy, they still flaunt large TV’s in their homes, have raunchy (according to yeshivish standards) magazines lying about their houses and usually still talk about their pasts in whist full ways like “oh dear it’s been a long time since we’ve had period sex, while eating bacon at a drive in on shabbos

As to my friend being taught to say a “suf” rather than a “suf” I am positive that there were more pressing things he learn before taking up the time and energy to change something that isn’t halachic. Maybe the Rabbi could have taught him how to lain a gemara or read Hebrew better so he could look up stuff in the mishna brura for himself – iot just seems like such a trivial issue when there other pressing needs in people’s lives.

{ 56 comments… add one }
  • texgator March 15, 2011, 1:11 PM

    Living in Dallas I know exactly what you mean. There is definetly a weird feel to the people that adopt the dress and customs before they truly know what they are doing. Before they understand the importance of torah study. Before they know what being a Torah Jew really is. Going to a kiruv style class once or twice a week isn’t really good enough. Yet they dress like a Rabbi. Then they are out in public and are seen as a representative of the community. Non-frum Jews see them do things that aren’t really appropriate for a Torah Jew and it just solidifies their misguided opinions about Frumkeit. Yet the Kiruv Rabbis don’t want to tell them to stop dressing that way, or talking that way for fear of driving them away. No one is telling them the hard truth…..you don’t know enough to live this way. For the individual time can usually solve this, but you can’t undo all the poor impressions they made to others while they were in frum training.

  • smb March 15, 2011, 2:33 PM

    I think a person can say it how they want whether tuf or suf. It might be helpful to say suf to fit in and they can use that when talking to people. But if they want to say tuf when praying, go ahead. A friend of mine is an ashkenaz bt and likes to say the tuf sound because he really likes the sephardic way.

  • smb March 15, 2011, 2:36 PM

    I think a person can say it how they want whether tuf or suf. It might be helpful to say suf to fit in and they can use that when talking to people. But if they want to say tuf when praying, go ahead.
    A friend of mine is an ashkenaz bt and likes to say the tuf sound because he really likes the sephardic way

  • sam March 15, 2011, 3:15 PM

    I used to learn with guys in Ohr Someach and Aish (not concurrently). Although the two are very different from one another, I felt that both did not spend enough time on the fundamentals such as the Siddur and Chumash.

    I think correct pronunciation is important both on a Halachic and practical basis. I have spent many hours helping guys improve their grammar and pronunciation, but I had to do it in my spare time. In particular one guy wanted to able to say Kaddish properly, and you’d be surprised how long it takes to get it right.

    In my experience it was the BTs themselves who wanted to rectify their pronunciation rather than the Rabbis in these places.

    P.S. Ironically, according to Ashkenazic tradition a t sound is no worse than a s, as ? is actually supposed to be as a th.

    • Mo March 15, 2011, 3:32 PM

      It’s a little more complicated. According to historical linguistics ? likely was originally always /t/, and then became pronounced [?] (as in ‘thin’) in some positions. [?] shifted back to [t] for most Sepharadim, [s] for most Ashkenazim, and remained [?] for Teimanim. Thus it’s hard to say how it “should” be pronounced; the real question is what stage of Hebrew you consider most “correct”. But this is a nebulous category and I don’t think there’s a good answer.

      • Mo March 15, 2011, 3:37 PM

        Oops, the first ‘?’ should be a tav, and the rest should be thetas.

      • sam March 15, 2011, 4:05 PM

        I don’t know where you get your information from. Teimonim (not Teimanim), some of the Eidot Hamizrach and until recently Askenazim (as you can see in cases of transliteration in various books) it is pronounced as ‘th’ or something close to such a sound. Not ‘t’ or ‘s’.

        • Mo March 15, 2011, 5:36 PM

          1) I speak Israeli Hebrew, thus I said “Teimanim”. I was not attempting to make any claims about pronunciation from that word in particular.

          2) Transliteration doesn’t reflect popular Ashkenazi usage. Scholars have long preferred more Sephardi forms, my speculation being that it is the result of the prominence of European Sephardi Jews in society, enlightenment values, and linguistic considerations (e.g. “t” and “th” are orthographically similar just as tav and sav are in Herbew). I don’t know when the shift /th/ > /s/ occurred in Ashkenazi Hebrew, but a cursory inspection reveals that it predates the 18th century:

          1737: “zizis” (http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/2010/08/making-jewish-oath-in-german-court-in.html — note the alternation between Sephardic and Ashkenazic forms)

        • batsheva March 15, 2011, 6:19 PM

          This is why you have all the “Beth” congregations. Beth Israel, Beth Abraham, Beth Jacob, ad nauseum. But I’ve never heard Ashkenazim pronounce the actual Hebrew with the “Th,” only the s. What really drives me batty is that Israelis will say, “Tallitot” while Ashkenazim will say, “Talleisim,” same with “Shabbatot” and “Shabbosim.” It can’t all be correct. Can it? I’ve always had a passion for Hebrew, but the dialects drive me absolutely insane.

          oh dear its been a long time since weve had period sex, while eating bacon at a drive in on shabbos That had me laughing out loud. I’m willing to bet that no one in the history of the world has ever done that!

          • Chris_B March 16, 2011, 4:35 AM

            You might just lose that bet. I aint sayin nothin more…

          • Synapse March 17, 2011, 2:30 AM

            Mostly because the Ashkenazim never actually did pronounce it that way, but the transliteration followed the scholarly transliteration methods as most of the american rabbinical leaders were advanced scholars on a secular level as well (even within orthodoxy). So you often got “beth” being written down instead of what they pronounced as “Beis” in daily prayer.

        • GerInTraining (Hayyim Ovadiah Pinhas) March 16, 2011, 1:06 PM
      • Synapse March 17, 2011, 2:28 AM

        It’s slightly more clear from ancient sources. Greek transliterations shed some light on the pronunciation, including in ancient Israel. The New Testament writes down certain phrases in transliterated hebrew and uses the theta for the Tav without a Dagesh. So at least 2000 years ago, it was essentially being pronounced that way in Eretz Yisrael.

        • Mo March 17, 2011, 6:30 AM

          Well, the Secunda uses theta even when it does have a dagesh.

    • ish_elokim March 15, 2011, 8:07 PM

      its true. it takes an extremely long time to learn how to read hebrew/aramaic (kadish) properly(-forget about the leining)

      most of the people that i learn bichavrusah-smart fellows (-more than me at least- going for a college education-while I’m not) don’t pronounce the words right at all-most of the understanding of a word comes from reading it properly (including in/with the context) and some of these guys are your “average”, or “better” yeshiva guys.

      1st you have to get the words right
      2nd fit them together
      3rd read them together- that they flow
      4th understand the sentence

      if you translate each word separately then it’ll take forever, better to break down a sentence of translated words and match them afterward when you go over the text for the 5th time
      all in all you need to study a gemara/pusuk/rashi…etc around 4-5 times before you continue

      truth be told it can take years of constant hard work (on behalf of the student himself-never mind the teacher) to learn how to pronounce the words right, and then make a leining

      I’m talking from experience

      it takes a lot of patience learning with these people-kol hakovod

  • Mo March 15, 2011, 3:16 PM

    One could argue that the pronunciation of sav is Ashkenazi minhag and thus binding, at least in davening. Of course there are some issues with this given that change in pronunciation has demonstrably affected all Jewish communities over the years.

    • G*3 March 15, 2011, 3:23 PM

      Is Torah pronounced Tora, Toeruh, Toireh, Towruh, or ToeRA?

      • Mo March 15, 2011, 3:35 PM

        Depends where you’re from. Unfortunately many Ashkenazim have abandoned their authentic pronunciation for one particular variety which has become more common today. For instance, /o/ was pronounced /ej/ by Litvish Jews (thus /tejro/ rather than /tojro/), but nowadays it seems that only Chabad has preserved this tradition.

      • Mo March 15, 2011, 5:40 PM

        Depends where you come from. Unfortunately many traditional systems of pronunciation have fallen into disuse, e.g. Litvish “Teyro” (preserved by Chabad).

      • Mo March 15, 2011, 6:32 PM

        Depends where you’re from. Unfortunately many regional pronunciations are losing ground, e.g. Litvish “Teyro” is mainly confined to Chabad nowadays.

  • Devora March 15, 2011, 5:10 PM

    G3 If it comes after a vowel, unless it’s the definite article, it’s pronounced Thora or Sora.

  • Talia bat Pessi March 15, 2011, 5:15 PM

    I like not fitting in so I say the tuf. 🙂 I went to an MO elementary and now I’m in a BY high school, and the whole aleph-bais thing kinda weirds me out.

  • ish_elokim March 15, 2011, 8:11 PM


    if you ever come out with a post on safrus let me know, im studying to becoming a sofer (going through the halochos in depth)

  • Michaltastik March 15, 2011, 8:51 PM

    That’s funny because the Kiruv people in Manhattan teach tuf. That’s how I learned it. I switched over because no one in Queens or Brooklyn does that and I didn’t like standing out.

  • danny b. March 15, 2011, 9:18 PM

    wow, all the thread comments became a discussion the ins & outs of pronunciation, but that’s beside the point of the blog post.

    We live in a world that emphasizes outward appearances.

    With someone who is new to a group, you COULD say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but beyond that, most people who are newly embarking on a cultural & spiritual journey are not comfortable feeling like the outsider for very long. The idea is to become a member in good standing of the newly adopted tribe, and the quickest way to communicate that desire, to signal that intention, is to embrace & mimic their outward appearance. It’s certainly easier than learning a new language or understanding a sugya in Gemara. Easy in.

    Unfortunately, adopting the outward stuff DOES NOT necessarily mean everything else will fall into place. Case in point, the revolving door that is Crown Heights. While some new Chabadniks will actually adjust & put down firm stakes, alot will put the costume on for a while & the put it away when the going gets too tough for them. Funnily enough, a Lubavitcher shaliach once told me that the person should work on changing inside first, & the garb is just the icing on the cake.
    Healthy attitude that.

    So much of Orthodoxy is focused on the chitsonios, the outward appearances, & how it helps you to fit in to where you are, while things like derech eretz, halacha , & hashkafa fall by the wayside. It’s sad.

  • Michaltastik March 15, 2011, 10:17 PM

    That is so true. This is super noticeable in the dating world. In other religions, the men are taught not to look at outward appearances but not so in the Jewish religion. Instead, women are told to cover up but men are told it’s ok for them to look for arm candy, after all, they do have to be ATTRACTED to their wife. The Hot Chanie is born.

    It’s all about appearances. There’s so much status jockeying and such. It’s actually considered a good quality. People think of BY Rav Meir as some frummy school, but I’ve recently heard about how their application for the kindergarten concerns itself with whether the family spends summers in the catskills or not. Then I discovered that the FFB classmate who tried to brag down another classmate on her family going to Florida for both Pesach AND Sukkos…. went to Rav Meir.

    The “religious” Jewish environment teaches phoniness and externals so it makes sense to mekarev by teaching externals.

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  • Yankel March 16, 2011, 12:15 AM

    I wish there would be a genuinely frum community somewhere (meaning 100% halacha adherence), in which most of “frum culture” would be non-existant. Like: no dress code (tznius women of course), no yeshivish words, no yeshivish anti-socialness, and no shidduch hang-ups, a place where BTs and converts (as well as FFBs) can feel comfortable being exactly who they are as people – just with the religious part.

    Aside from its own value, it could be the “BT land”, where people who are new to Orthodox Judaism can grow accustomed to living halacha life – without the downside of having to live within the common FFB community problems. Then, after a few years if they so desire – they can move to Brooklyn or similar, and learn to walk the walk and talk the talk.

    Now that I think of it, if there would be such a place, all the FFB’s with half a brain would rush over there, and take their problems with them, and the cycle would start all over again…

    Sheesh, there really is no solution..

    • ISR March 16, 2011, 2:43 AM

      I believe Leonardo Dicaprio found that place in “The Beach”………!

  • Mrs Belogski March 16, 2011, 1:27 AM

    People like that are known in our house as JUNKys – Just Uniform, No Knowledge!

  • soso March 16, 2011, 3:52 AM

    A couple of chozrei bitshuva once went to Yeshayahu Leibowitz for a “bracha” or a bit of advice. He told them not to change their way of dressing, since the religion has to come from the inside.

    I totally agree with that shitta.

    The hareidim laugh behind the back of people who wear peyes and do not know how to daven.
    And starting out by adapting the levush etc. means to reverse ikkar and tafel.

    I think if people stay “recognisable” there are better chances that what others think of you is more or less the same than what you think they think.

  • AztecQueen2000 March 17, 2011, 6:00 AM

    I’m lucky. Having spent five years in the Conservative movement (and taking it seriously to the point where I waas in shul EVERY DAY and yes, we do exist), I already knew something about davening, the Torah, and halacha. So, by the time I started attending shiurim, I could already handle following along in a Chumash, davening Shemoneh Esrei, and keeping something that resembled kosher. The short sleeves and blue jeans were the LAST things to go.

  • dorot March 17, 2011, 7:31 AM

    I am not an expert but I have read in several sources that the suf is Ashkenazi/Yiddish, rejected in modern Hebrew (Ben-Yehuda-era) in favor of Sephardic pronunciation (though some Ashkenazi grammar remained) because Ashkenazi was reminiscent of the shtetlekh and ghettos and the debasement of the diaspora. Even among the Ashkenazim in 19th/20th century, there was an implicit belief that Sephardim were purer, less culturally corrupted.

    I am guessing that suf remains as the normative practice in the frum community in the States because, well, it is one big shtetl. MO seems to be more Israeli-Hebrew inspired, imho, and therefore uses “tuf”

    • Yochanan March 18, 2011, 7:38 AM

      If I’m not mistaken, the name of the letter is “Tav” not “Tuf”.

  • OfftheDwannaB March 20, 2011, 12:51 AM

    Yeah. Come on, just be yourself. NObody’s going to judge you.
    Hahahaha! Oh, I crack myself up sometimes.

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