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]"). Baal teshuvah literally means in Hebrew "master of return" i.e., one who has "returned" to God.
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. 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:
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.
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. The alternative term, chozer b'teshuvah (חוזר בתשובה), plural chozrim b’teshuvah, is more commonly used in Israel.
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