July 15, 2019

‘Baal Teshuvah’: The Next Generation

“When the hippie culture of the late 1960s prompted a handful of young Israelis to search for meaning beyond a bourgeois 9-to-5 existence, many found the answer in Judaism. Thus began the chazara b’teshuvah movement; the term refers to secular Jews who have “returned” to their faith with a newly observant dedication to strict Orthodoxy, and is interchangeable with the term baal teshuvah, used more widely in the United States.

In the ’70s, after the Yom Kippur War, the trend in Israel grew. After a few celebrities, like filmmaker Uri Zohar, and a few prominent scientists, such as chemistry professor Doron Aurbach and mathematician Eliyahu Rips, turned ultra-Orthodox, it became a flood. Thousands more Israelis became chozrim b’teshuvah in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Most in this first wave joined closed-off Haredi communities, believing that the light shines brightest in the world of the ultra-Orthodox.

Now, their oldest children are grown-up and have children of their own, and can testify to the fact that for many, their cultural, financial, and social assimilation into the Haredi world can be deemed a failure. Many of the children of the original chozrim b’teshuvah have since left the Haredi communities where they were raised. And while their parents have, by and large, not returned to the secular world, many have changed their relationship to the Haredi world.”

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