Posted on | August 9, 2006 | By Steve Brizel | 96 Comments
At the outset, I would like to point out how sites such as Beyond BT and others demonstrate the Chafetz Chaim’s belief that all of technology can be used for the enhancement of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim-especially when Bnei and Bnos Torah of widely differing hashkafos can discuss the issues on this blog without rancor.
That being said, Mark and I had recently discussed different modes of kiruv and their effectiveness. I suppose that I will start with the overused and trite MO and Charedi typologies. However, I am not sure that these adjectives can be used with any degree of defining certainty in this area.
If you were to ask me for a brief and non- inclusive survey of the kiruv world, I would start with NCSY,NJOP, Aish, Discovery, Chabad and Breslav and also include many of the community kollelim organized by Torah U’Mesorah, and many yeshivos as well. However, I would add the following point-NCSY does not aim to have a NCSYer enter a particular yeshiva. Their advisors hope that a motivated NCSYer will attend a yeshiva or seminary that is right for them , regardless of hashkafa. NCSY does not present Codes or other similar “answers” to issues of hashkafa but depends on the abilities of its rabbinic staff and advisors to help an adolescent explore legitimate approaches to these issues. There is a non-judgmental attitude that is present among its rabbinic leadership and advisors that is amazing, especially since its professional staff and advisors run the full gamut of yeshivos and seminaries but work together despite their hashkafos for one cause-the NCSYer.One is not compelled to seek a particular yeshiva or seminary, but one that is right for the individual.
Every year, I receive and review a ballot of high school seniors who have been nominated for NCSY’s honor society. Nominees are voted in by prior members with an eye towards a nominee’s growth in Torah observance and potential for communal leadership. The stories of the nominees’ Mesiras Nefesh, where they have come from and where they are aiming for never cease to inspire me. NCSY deserves a major credit in helping turn many adolescents into Bnei and Bnos Torah and inspiring them to a life of Torah observance and study.
From the 1960s until the 1970s, NCSY focused on public school kids, some frum kids who did not attend yeshivos and some yeshiva educated kids who needed a spiritual shot in the arm. Many of its best success stories then attended YU’s JSS, Shar Yashuv,SCW , Touro and Neveh. NCSY was backed by the Gdolim of the prior generation and its rabbinic leaders, faculty and advisors were from across the full spectrum of the Orthodox world. As this demographic mixture dried up, NCSY then reached out to MO yeshiva high school kids and their parents-who became a potent group of members and backers. NCSY now is also working directly in public schools as a result of a Supreme Court ruling . It has Jewish students clubs in many of the finest public high schools in the US. Many of these products switch to yeshivas or go to BT yeshivos in EY. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, YU ran Torah Leadership Seminars. The finest MO rabbis and RIETS students ran these programs. In the 1970s, the TLS programs basically died and NCSY basically took over this program’s target audience as well.
One of the most interesting adult centers of kiruv in the 1970s was Lincoln Square Synagogue. LSS’s first rav was Rabbi Shlomoh Riskin, a RIETS musmach who created a MO community with shiurim and lectures that were the envy and model for any shul that thought about adult education. R Efraim Buchwald founded a beginners’ minyan and ultimately developed a beginners’ service with explanations of tefilos, etc. R Buchwald then created NJOP and its Turn Friday Night Into Shabbos and many other fantastic programs. R Buchwald’s main concern was that any Jew would walk away from his program with a positive uptake in their view towards Judaism.
Of course, Chabad had been very active in kiruv before any other group had even thought about kiruv. Chabad made many Jews very proud of their Yiddishkeit.As of this date, despite its succession crisis and a strong messianist component, Chabad is still hard at work around the world, especially in places where no other Jewish group will spend resources. I will refrain from commenting on Breslov because I don’t know anything about it.
The charedi world gradually developed an interest in kiruv . R Mendel Weinbach and R Noach Weinberg were two of the earliest pioneers along with R S Freifeld ZTL-the founder of Yeshivas Shaar Yashuv. In addition, numerous NCSY advisors and rabbincal faculty also were products of the American charedi yeshiva world. This led to the founding of Charedi kiruv programs, yeshivos and seminaries such as Aish HaTorah, Ohr Sameach, Neve and Discovery. While JSS viewed literacy in Torah texts as the key to growing in observance, the Charedi oriented yeshivos and seminaries stressed hashkafa and appearing “yeshivishe”-regardless of one’s education or lack thereof. The Charedi world sold Torah as an elixir for all of one’s problems, as opposed to an approach to them.
Another phenomenon that developed was the rise of ArtScroll. Too many BTs and FFBs were emerging without a command of basic Jewish texts. ArtScroll filled this role, despite the reservations of many as to the presentation and approach, especially in works of hashkafa. Ultimately, fissures and reactions set in response to what seemed to be simplistic answers to some of the most complex issues in Jewish practice and thought. Bans on books that were of help in this regard and their sources led many to question their role in this society, especially in weblogs that discussed these issues from many different angles. As one who surfed and participated in some of these discussions, I was struck by the lack of exposure to RYBS’s hashkafa and the view expressed that it was almost better to be non-observant than to even consider being MO in the full sense of the word.
From a personal perspective, I have always been an avid reader. I devoured a lot of RSRH’s hashkafic works in high school. When I entered YU and JSS, I discovered RYBS’s philosophical works and polished this interest even further. I also found a rebbe in RHS and chaverim who shared my questions, approach and hunger to learn as much as possible despite busy professional schedules. I also explored the worlds of Mussar,. Chasidus and Jewish history. I don’t think that I could or would have developed in this manner if I had taken the Charedi route.
As a preface, I should note that I have a great deal of respect for the 24/7 view of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim in the Charedi world which I believe that the MO world could learn from in many ways. However, I don’t see the intellectual openness and honesty in the Charedi world that I have seen in my sector of the MO world.
In the aftermath of the book bans, it is unfortunate that the Charedi world and its kiruv institutions have resorted to attacks on science, the scientific method and scientists to defend itself. The Charedi world remains unwilling to discuss in a judgment-free manner the events of the 19th and 20th Century while insisting that these events were not of its making in any way and were caused solely by outside causes. In a sad way, there is almost a denial of any responsibility accompanied by a simultaneous combination of “we told you so” and “how we won the war”-two very triumphalistic approaches that really maintain their supremacy only by invoking Daas Torah to preclude any discussion at all.
I don’t think that one can claim that either the MO or the Charedi kiruv models are inherently superior.They attract different types of individuals. OTOH, for the intellectually minded person, I believe that a non-judgmental NCSY/NJOP style may yield a BT who understands that there are issues and questions and that one can live as a Torah Jew despite the existence of questions and issues, as long one works at developing an approach to dealing with these issues. Such a person would be in danger of going through the Charedi world and developing a sense of rejection of all hashkafic inquiries , etc. One can argue that these individuals are possible candidates for becoming adults at risk.