The Skeptic and the Rabbi by Judy Gruen is an honest and comprehensive look at what it means to become a ba’al (or in this case, ba’alas) teshuva in today’s cynical and judgmental society. It is a glimpse into the courage it takes to choose this lifestyle, exploring what it means to understand and keep the mitzvos, individually and as a whole, and it is also a love story—of a woman and her faith.
As a ba’alas teshuva myself, there were so many parts I could relate to in this memoir—its truths are so universal to ba’alei teshuva. And yet, since I was a young child when I discovered this lifestyle, Judy opened my eyes to the nuances in becoming Torah-observant at an age where each mitzvah is a struggle, as you are no longer accepting the mitzvos as a wide-eyed innocent. I loved how she not only told the story of her family history and of her courtship, which was the catalyst of her journey into Yiddishkeit, but she explores her thought processes as she takes on every mitzvah, one at a time, at her own pace.
In a time of strong liberalism and feminist culture, she specifically studies the mitzvos that seem to outsiders to be antiquated and sexist, and she figures out how they fit into her personal belief-system. She delves into topics many other ba’alei teshuva stories I have read gloss over. She gave me a whole new appreciation of the mitzvos I keep as a Jewish woman, like tznius and taharas hamishpacha, proving that we can all become ba’alei teshuva, constantly striving to more deeply understand and appreciate the mitzvos and grow closer to our Creator.
I highly recommend this fascinating memoir, which you can find on Amazon here.
Note: Although Rochel was given free product to review, all opinions are her own.
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Photos by Yehudis Taffel