Baal teshuva

In Judaism, a ba'al teshuvah (Hebrew: בעל תשובה; for a woman, בעלת תשובה, baalat teshuva or baalas teshuva; plural, בעלי תשובה, baalei teshuva, "master of return [to God]") is a Jew from a secular background who becomes religiously observant.

Originally, the term referred to a Jew who transgressed the halakhah (Jewish law) knowingly or unknowingly and completed a process of introspection to "return" to the full observance of God's mitzvot. (Baal teshuvah literally means in Hebrew "master of return" i.e., one who has "returned" to God.[1]) According to the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Talmud says that a true ba'al teshuvah stands higher in shamayim (lit. "heaven") than a "frum from birth", even higher than a tzadik:[2]

The sages said: "The place whereon the penitent stand the wholly righteous could not stand;" as if saying: "their degree is above the degree of those who ever did not sin, because it is more difficult for them to subdue their passion than for the others.[3]

In contemporary times, the phrase is primarily used to refer to a Jew from a secular background who becomes religiously observant (normally in an Orthodox fashion) later in life. However, there is no strict definition of a ba'al teshuva and so the concept can also encompass the previously religious jews who become modern Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox or even Hasidic.[4] The alternative term, chozer b'teshuvah (חוזר בתשובה), plural chozrim b’teshuvah, is more commonly used in Israel.[5] In Hebrew, chozer b'teshuvah translates to “returning to return” or “returning to repentance.”[6]

According to the teachings of the Torah, whoever judges himself will not be judged; however, in the described history of Talmudic times and early Hasidism, many tzadikim were able to "see" the transgressions of others.

Mar b. R. Ashi said: I am disqualified to judge in a scholar’s lawsuit. What is the reason? Because I love him as much as I love myself, and a person is unable to find fault with himself.[7]

For the most part the stature and the preparation of these Tzadikim presuppose a balance that allows a peaceful coexistence even with those who have committed serious transgressions, because otherwise the intent to rage against them and, worse, to obtain advantages from them would certainly prevail.

See also


  1. "What Is A Ba'al Teshuvah?".
  2. Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin. "Tzaddik — The Baal Teshuvah".
  3. "Laws of Repentance 7:4, citing Berakot, 34b. C. G." Mishneh Torah.
  4. Levin, Sala. "Jewish Word: Baal Teshuvah". Moment Magazine.
  5. Dana Kessler (11 December 2018). "'Baal Teshuvah': The Next Generation". Tablet (magazine).
  6. Levin, Sala. "Jewish Word: Baal Teshuvah". Moment Magazine.
  7. Finkel, Avraham Yaakov. Ein Yaakov Jason Aronson, Inc (p. 116)