Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

What the Ba’alei Teshuva Do for Us

Posted on | November 23, 2007 | By Guest Contributor | 117 Comments

By Jonathan Rosenblum
Jewish Media Resources

The theme of this year’s annual convention of Agudath Israel of America is the necessity to “Wake the Sleeping Giant” by involving all members of the Torah community in efforts to reach out to non-Orthodox and unaffiliated Jews. We are fast approaching the point where intermarriage and assimilation will have so reduced the general American Jewish population that there will be little left to rescue.

The relatively short window of opportunity remaining and the untapped potential of all Torah Jews – and not just kiruv professionals – will be the focus of most of the speakers. But I would like to address another aspect of the ba’al teshuva phenomenon that is too frequently overlooked: the positive impact that ba’alei teshuva have had on American Orthodoxy over the past 25 years.

As one who travels frequently to communities on the other side of the Hudson River, I am frequently struck by the extent to which many out-of-town communities are primarily made up of ba’alei teshuva and geirei tzedek. Nor is this phenomenon limited to out-of-town communities.

At a recent Shabbos meal, we entertained four or five English-speaking bochurim currently learning in Eretz Yisrael. True, they were not learning at Brisk (or one of its satellites). But their yeshiva is for boys who come to Eretz Yisrael already serious about their Torah learning. Each of these bochurim came from a family where one or both of the parents are ba’alei teshuva, and they told me that the same is true for well over half the boys in the yeshiva. In sum, the American Orthodox world is experiencing something of a population transfer.

But numbers is only one contribution that the ba’alei teshuva have made to the American Torah world – and likely not the most important. For one thing, they have deepened the level of Torah being taught publicly to the benefit of the entire Torah world. Most ba’alei teshuva enter the Torah world after having obtained a sophisticated secular education. Their questions are different than those who enter the Torah educational system at age six, and the level of the answers given them must be correspondingly higher as well.

Ba’alei teshuva by definition must make a positive choice to become mitzvah observant. Something must attract them and convince them to dramatically change their lives and all their expectations for the future. Most often that attraction involves both intellectual and emotional elements. And among those intellectual elements, the exposure to the depth of Torah thought is crucial. (Some of that depth can be tasted even before the ba’al teshuva develops the technical skills to fully experience the excitement of Gemara learning.)

It is no accident, I believe, that the Thursday night shiur of HaRav HaGaon Rav Moshe Shapiro, which attracts several hundred listeners every week and is disseminated around the world, was for many years given in the beis medrash of Ohr Somayach, one of the flagship institutions of the ba’al teshuva movement, or that many of those in attendance are ba’alei teshuva. In short, ba’alei teshuva helped to create the audience for some of the most penetrating Torah thinkers of our time.

Again, because the decision of ba’alei teshuva must be a positive one, they were in many cases attracted by some of the finest individuals the Torah world has to offer – some well-known and some not. They did not grow up in the Torah community, and were attracted to the community – in some cases perhaps a bit naively – by its highest ideals and their exemplars. Part of their acculturation process requires learning to live with the fact that neither all Torah Jews nor the community are perfect in every respect.

Nevertheless, there will always be some tension for the ba’al teshuva between the ideals that attracted him or her in the first place and the reality that they discover over a period of years. And because of that tension ba’alei teshuva are perhaps more inclined to demand that the Torah world live up to its own highest ideals and not just accept things as “the way it is.”

Ba’alei teshuva are acutely sensitive to issues of Kiddush Hashem and Chilul Hashem. In part that is a function of the fact that they continue to live in two worlds. Even after they have entered the Torah world, most of their family and lifelong friends are not religiously observant. There remains a part of them that continues to view the Torah world through the eyes of those family members and friends. Because they constantly find themselves having to justify their decision to leave their former lives they are perpetually alert to whatever places frum Jews or the frum community in a bad light.

There is a positive side to this tendency to view the Torah world through one eye that retains the perspective of the outside world. And that is a heightened concern to avoid any trace of Chilul Hashem and the constant search for opportunities for Kiddush Hashem. Those traits link the ba’alei teshuva, incidentally, to all the gedolei Yisrael about whom I have written, and who, without exception, made Kiddush Hashem one of the centerpieces of their avodas Hashem.

Finally, ba’alei teshuva have played a disproportionate role in kiruv work. That is not to say that only ba’alei teshuva can be effective working with non-frum Jews – something which is demonstrably not the case. Effective kiruv professionals come from the ranks of both the frum from birth and the ba’alei teshuva. The key is caring about one’s fellow Jews and possessing the Torah knowledge necessary to show non-religious Jews an entirely new world (which is not to deny an important role in kiruv for all committed frum Jews, whether they are very learned or not).

It is only natural, however, that the passion for drawing other Jews close to Torah is most frequently found among ba’alei teshuva, who have experienced both life without the guidance of the Torah and a life with Torah and know the chasm between the two.

Much of the discussion of ba’alei teshuva has typically centered on our religious duty to draw our fellow Jews close or how we should be nice to them because they are nebechim, cut off from their families and lacking ready role models to emulate as parents. But it is also good to keep in mind how much the ba’alei teshuva have brought to our community.

This article appeared in the Yated Ne’eman on November 22 2007.

Comments

117 Responses to “What the Ba’alei Teshuva Do for Us”

  1. Harvey Belovski
    November 25th, 2007 @ 8:37 am

    I read Rabbi Rosenblum’s article with consternation. I fear that the picture he paints of the world of outreach is out of touch with current reality.

    Having worked in outreach and especially with the students of Oxford University for many years, I detect a rather different picture.

    Campus outreach is commonly practiced with little attention to the needs of the individual, instead attempting to transform as many people as possible in the shortest time. It offers a simplistic and often misleading image of Jewish thought and the options for belief and practice within it, and pays scant attention to the very people whose lives it seeks to alter. This is fuelled by funding targets that demand numbers, not quality; filling plane-seats to Israel, rather than gently and stably transforming lives.

    ‘Kiruv’ of this sort is perforce crude and thus unattractive to the most intelligent and thoughtful students. My experience is that it often succeeds in attracting new recruits, but at the price of repelling some of the highest achievers. Their engagement with the type of outreach on offer at their campuses may lead them to conclude that Judaism is not just unsuitable for them, but shallow and even moronic. As these people will likely become the most influential members of society – captains of industry, top academics and the most accomplished professionals – this is nothing short of a disaster.

    Of course, some outreach is sensitive, appropriate and individualised. Yet the one-superficial-size-fits-all style of ‘kiruv’ is growing in popularity. The long-term results of this are awaited with trepidation.

  2. ffb/bt
    November 25th, 2007 @ 1:40 pm

    Let us also not forget that the seminrs & classes for B.T.’s are tremendously helpful for burnt out ffb’s or those practicing by rote.

  3. Jaded Topaz
    November 25th, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

    Jonathan Rosenblum, you forgot one segment of society that benefits greatly from the unique, hard core intellectual strengths / innate wisdom and unadulterated truth promoting of the brilliant BT, the ex religious FFB.

    Harvey Belovski,
    What is the exact connection between trite points on crooked surface kiruv techniques for the masses and Jonathan Rosenblums points on the importance of balei teshuvah in general and their unique hard core intellectual strengths that can be utilized to enlighten other hard core intellectuals about judaism ?

    What part of the picture painted above is out of touch with reality ? Is there a specific color your having a hard time liking ? Why are you editing the picture and relocating the sum of a few points to your specific favorite reality location at Oxford . Spiritual neuroplasticity, or just a general re-wiring of the points to suit your particular stance or location ?

    Also you dont need to wait with “trepidation” for the results actually on smooth jazz kiruv for the masses.
    In case you missed the intra blog memo the results are in and everyone and their unborn babies, can recite the problems/flaws and proposed solutions / must bans/do not attend at all costs/ wrong associations, in their sleep / on football game or desperate housewives commercial breaks or just spacing out in the womb until the due date.

    I know many FFB kiruv nudnik wannabees that are as simple/crooked and rotten to the core as their misshapen black hats.
    I also know BT kiruv people that are deeper and more intellectual/influential /truthful/honest with no alterior motives and or honor seeking agendas than any of my FFB teachers teaching with a clear agenda in all my 12 years of jewish. schooling.

    So how do any of your points connect to the above post in any constructive way ? Just curious.

  4. Bob Miller
    November 25th, 2007 @ 5:17 pm

    JT, what are your points? Just curious.

  5. Jaded Topaz
    November 25th, 2007 @ 5:32 pm

    Bob, my points are as follows :
    Typing up everyones concerns in a concerned fashion without a solution is hardly a solution for the re typed concerns.
    And using them to classify the above painted picture as out of touch with reality is questionable at best.

    I wasn’t sure what the connection was between the flaws in different flawed kiruv systems and the picture painted in the post about the unique intellectual qualities of the bt.

    Why do you ask , did you have any answers you were looking to share.

  6. Ron Coleman
    November 25th, 2007 @ 6:49 pm

    Yeah, notwithstanding her usual psychedelic presentation, I had no problem finding JT’s thesis: What does Harvey’s criticism have to do with this post, which is not about methods of kiruv? Harvey’s comment could have been (and, I am finding increasingly, is) inserted into any post on this blog. It’s the generic “big kiruv is bad” rant that is always very general, very negative, and in this case, very irrelevant to the discussion.

  7. Bob Miller
    November 25th, 2007 @ 10:31 pm

    I agree with JT (yes!!) that Rabbi Rosenblum’s article and Rabbi Belovski’s comment addressed two really separate, although somewhat thematically related, topics. This may be because they have had different sets of personal experiences, and different personalities, too.

    I would not toss aside Rabbi Belovski’s comments altogether as being generic. The problem is, he doesn’t give us any specifics from his experience to back them up. OK, we might say, as the moderators here have said in the past, that we don’t want to bring in lashon hara. However you slice it, his generalities as presented are useless to us, besides being out of place.

    As for Rabbi Rosenblum’s message, it can seem commonplace to people who have been reading or posting articles and comments in this vein on Beyond BT. However, his audience at Yated Ne’eman (Monsey) includes many FFB’s whose positive view of BT’s needs reinforcement.

    By the way, Rabbi Rosenblum was once a scholar in residence at our shul in Indy—arriving right after a major termite infestation had driven our services out of the sanctuary and into the social hall (the engineers thought it was a “miracle” that the big roof hadn’t collapsed). Despite the chaos, he made the weekend really rewarding for us all. This article has a section about his Indy visit:
    http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/article/841/

  8. Ron Coleman
    November 25th, 2007 @ 11:33 pm

    Bob, you’re the voice of moderation and reason, as usual.

    Having given you your “props,” however, I must dissent. You are right that the comments I criticized are not quite generic — and this is what makes them, in fact, damnable. We all know who the major players in kiruv are. So far from being a generic criticism of a phenomenon one might find taking place in any number of places, the subtext is that one of these two or three major players is guilty of the “crime” in question.

    Not only this: The abuses mentioned may, indeed, be real. I can hardly doubt there is truth to them — too many people are running in too many directions in the kiruv field for it to be otherwise. But given the lack of specifics, we have no way of knowing what the full set of facts were, what extenuating circumstances may exist, what changes may have taken place, what realistic alternatives there may have been given a given programs goals, what rabbinical guidance was and was not sought, and what percentage of people involved in a given program had the unpleasant experience. It would also be useful to know whether the critic in question was ever affiliated with the program being criticized, and if so under what circumstances the two separated.

    I’ve said it before: Broad-brush critics of kiruv workers (I am not one, though I am an alumnus of more than one major institution and I represent one major one professionally) should put up or shut up! And if putting up is halachically forbidden, I have a serious question whether declining to shut up is permitted.

    Nothing personal, of course.

    Another discussion thread hijacked…

  9. Bob Miller
    November 26th, 2007 @ 9:37 am

    Ron, somehow your dissent seems to agree with what I said.

  10. Michael
    November 26th, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

    This article is very interesting for me and hit some interesting things that I have been struggling wtih.

    For a few months now I been having doubts, and I dont know why, I think one of the main things that has really been bothering me is seeing so many orthodox sects, not get along with eachother, like satmar, chabad, non-chassidus. And so on.

    I always thought we were one family, but when i see so much negativity from one group to another, it really bothers me and makes me upset that sometimes I doubt am I really doing the right thing?

    So what do you do as a bael teshuva when for 2 years were going in right direction and then things happene that creep up and you srot of start to go backwards not intentionally?

    Thanks

  11. belle
    November 27th, 2007 @ 11:29 pm

    If anyone was at the Agudah convention for the whole time, I would appreciate some enlightenment here: despite was Rabbi Rosenblum wrote, the theme of the convention was not “awaken the sleeping giant.” That is the slogan for Aish Hatorah’s campaign to get thousands of frum baalebatim to do kiruv because there just aren’t (and can’t be) enough professional kiruv workers possible to reach the millions of assimilating American Jews (the “sleeping giant’ being the frum community itself). The theme for the Agudah was “Falling off the cliff” (referring to the secular Jewish public) and what we could do about it. (In fact, a more correct postulation, given the intermarriage statistics cited at the convention, would have been “we have fallen off the cliff already”). Intrigued, my husband went to the Thursday night presentation in which several gedolim spoke.

    He came away from the convention that night a little disappointed, because far from being a call to awaken the sleeping giant, to implore those sitting there to engage secular Jews themselves, they proposed the solution of expanding the community kollel movement. This is a positive step for what it is, but it is in effect just expanding the pool of professional kiruv workers by a couple of hundred people. It is not engaging the entire frum world in the endeavor, and some believe it falls far short of what is necessary given the actual numbers.

    Was anyone at a later presentation wherein there was a call for all frum yidden to take a part in some kiruv effort or another? Does Rabbi Rosenblum have any understanding of why this was not an option the gedolim wanted to take, especially given R Rosenblum’s cogent and moving essay about the positive effects on the frum world from doing kiruv and welcoming BTs into its world?

  12. Baruch Horowitz
    November 28th, 2007 @ 12:43 am

    “Was anyone at a later presentation wherein there was a call for all frum yidden to take a part in some kiruv effort or another?”

    I was at the Motzoie Shabbos session, where the speakers stressed the role that individuals could play in kiruv(the main theme was Yerushalayim, but other subjects were mentioned as well), and how ordinary people have already made a difference. There was also mention of meetings for follow up to the convention’s discussion.

    Also, Targum Press published a book called “Putting Out the Fire”, which was published in a short time span to be distributed at the convention, and which focuses completely on individuals and kiruv, from my perusal of it. I wasn’t there Thursday night, but I suspect that community kollelim was only one aspect, and perhaps others can give a complete picture of the other sessions for those interested.

  13. yy
    November 28th, 2007 @ 7:30 am

    Harvey — I fully understand you. Though it’s true that you didn’t make much effort to connect your gripe with the general movement of this article, the overall issue is clearly relevant. I.e. why heap so much praise on the B.T. scene and basically try to paint it in colors of a blossoming Redemption that competes with the good ole religious zionists, when the REALITY is that most of this movement is characterized by a tragic superficiality?

    How’s that for a summation.

  14. Ron Coleman
    November 28th, 2007 @ 11:52 am

    Gosh, is that what Harvey meant? I’d hate to think it.

  15. yy
    November 28th, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

    didn’t quite hit the spot, eh? Oh that’s right – you were the one who said put up or else. so let me try a little revision by omittin the MOST in “most of the movement” and the “tragic” before the superficiality.

    Bottom line is that I’m here to vote that much of the B.T. hype is overblown and self-serving, though this does not mean to undermine the importance of Tshuva! Rather, we should think very carefully about his claims regarding the crucial aspect of helping “outsiders” do Tshuva is to help them in their individual, INNER lives, davka the MORE they begin to settle.

    For that’s what this long galus has been about: teaching us to revamp our INNER realtionship with H’

  16. Ron Coleman
    November 28th, 2007 @ 4:56 pm

    OK, so rather than talking about what Harvey may or may not have meant — he doesn’t seem to inclined to stick around and either defend or clarify his comment either — let’s at least be honest, “yy” — we’re talking now about what you think.

    It’s good that you want to work on your inner life. The rest of what you say seems to be an impressionistic and subjective opinion, no better or worse than anyone else’s. I don’t call that “putting up,” but what do I know? My inner life could use some straightening out too!

  17. Steve Brizel
    November 28th, 2007 @ 7:32 pm

    From what I have read here and heard and seen elswhere, it is all too clear that an expansion of the community kollel concept or stationing young post kollel couples on college campuses is being viewed as the exclusive means of kiruv on the college campus by the Agudah. I would second R Beloski and add that there are multiple paths to teshuvah and that reliance upon expanding the community kollel to college campusses, statitioning post kollel couples adjacent to a campus and proceeding to sell Judiasm like advertising executives hawk toothpaste to the future professional, business and academic leaders is IMO a recipe for disaster.

  18. Fern
    November 28th, 2007 @ 8:18 pm

    I agree with Steve and Rabbi Belovski. I currently work for a Jewish organization that, among other strategies, posts “young post kollel couples on college campuses.” I have to say that what I have seen “behind the scenes” has made me very disillusioned.

    Case in point: my boss recently went to a conference for kiruv professionals that featured a well-known business consultant and author as the keynote speaker. What my boss learned from this speaker is that everyone should mimic McDonald’s. Apparently McDonald’s has broken down every task into easy-to-follow instructions to “idiot proof” all aspects of making hamburgers, french fries, etc. Needless to say, my boss was stunned that I thought business strategies meant for fast food restaurants weren’t well suited to not for profit religious organizations. He still thinks it is a fantastic idea and is pressing me to make a manual that covers every aspect of my job so that “any idiot off the street” (his exact words) could do my job.

  19. Ron Coleman
    November 28th, 2007 @ 11:11 pm

    Fern, besides from the fact that you find the comparison between selling ideas and selling goods offensive, is it also an inapt comparison — in other words, do you understand this better than your boss? Tell us what you told your boss about why it was wrong.

  20. Fern R
    November 29th, 2007 @ 2:21 am

    Ron–Well, my main objection is that no matter how well I describe my job functions, “any idiot off the street” can’t do my job. I’d like to think that I use a fair amount of critical thinking and make snap judgments based on past experience. How do you “idiot proof” a job that requires experience and critical thinking skills?

    It seems to me that a conference such as the one my boss went to suggests that the kiruv higher-ups think that outreach can be mass produced. As if there is some set of instructions–akin to those to make a hamburger–on how to take an ubobservant Jew, put him in the oven, and magically bring out a guy with a beard and tzitzit.

  21. Ron Coleman
    November 29th, 2007 @ 7:58 am

    OK, so let’s put the issues about your job aside — I am sure your boss would agree if we put him to it.

    Then you say you believe people are mistaken in believing that “kiruv can be mass produced,” and then you give a silly example of making a recipe. But of course that is a parody of what was really said at that convention, I’m sure.

    Do you agree with the proposition that there is no place for large kiruv organizations or large kiruv programs to expose the large number of assimilating Jews to the Ferns of the world and get that individual attention we all agree is what really matters? Why do you agree with Steve, which you seem to say you do, that attempting to “market” Judaism to utterly unaffiliated Jews who are in fact being “marketed” every other sort of philosophy of life? He says “marketing” in kiruv is a “recipe for disaster.” Do you think the programs of Aish HaTorah, Ohr Someach and Chabad, which undoubtedly rely on marketing to “get people in the door” (and which are a far cry from typical community kollel fare, by the way) have, ultimately, been a “disaster”?

    And would you be surprised if people like me and my family are offended at being considered “disasters”?

  22. Bob Miller
    November 29th, 2007 @ 9:02 am

    Since we’re talking about marketing, let’s also talk about the marketplace of practical ideas. Some ideas work out in practice and become accepted and others don’t. If a particular kiruv strategy or tactic isn’t getting the job done or is getting the wrong job done, it will be replaced in time. Howver, time is not so plentiful in view of mass defections from Judaism. It’s therefore prudent for every sincere person and group in the kiruv effort to try out their ideas and not wait for a consensus. If enough things are tried by enough people, enough, with HaShem’s help, will bear fruit.

  23. David Linn
    November 29th, 2007 @ 10:20 am

    Ron,

    Let’s be fair. Neither Fern nor Steve said that the sincere individuals or families that are mekareved through “big kiruv” are disasters (your sartorial disasters, again, notwithstanding). Fern’s concern, it seems, is that larger scale “cookie cutter” techniques overlook the very individual personal choices involved in such tremendous life decisions. While I might not wholely agree with that, I don’t think it is an unfounded concern.

    It appears that both you and Fern have a bias here. Fern is (rightfully) offended that her boss seems to be overlooking the critical thinking and decision making prowess she brings to the table and has tacitly said that any idiot can do her job. You have a rightful debt of gratitude to the Yeshiva(s) that were instrumental in your own discovery of Torah. IMHO, neither of you are wrong. However, if we can put that aside for a moment, maybe we can realize the amazing things that “Big Kiruv” does and apply some constructive criticism so that they can do them even better.

  24. Ron Coleman
    November 29th, 2007 @ 11:15 am

    You’re 100% right, David. I am really trying to tease out of Fern an acknowledgment that she does not agree with Steve Brizel’s strident comments. As to Harvey, I have no idea what he means and I hardly can imagine that anyone else does, including, with all due respect, Fern. He drops his bomb and does not stick around to either clarify his ideas or defend them — hardly constructive.

  25. David Linn
    November 29th, 2007 @ 12:06 pm

    Ron,

    I’m sorry, did you say something after “David, you are 100% right”? ;)

  26. yy
    November 29th, 2007 @ 12:12 pm

    Rabbosia – ever read Hanoch Teller’s “Mini Midrash & a Maaseh”? It has a few pearls to share with the kids around the Sh. table and your last posts remind me of the following:

    In Par. Yisro, in the spirit of Yisro’s exotic background, the story is told of a very rich girl from Chicago named Mellisa who refuses her high falootin father’s expectation that she be “Bat-Mitzvahed.” She ends up in Samoan islands, marrying the idolatrous Chiefs’s eldest son… and with the help of a comical Chabad Rebbetzin, her husband begins showing great interest in Yiddishkeit… and brings both of them back home.

    The best part of the story is that it becomes increasingly clear how absurd it is to ever try to mechanize a religious experience. To Bat-Mitzvah someone is to un-Judaize them!

    We all know it, certainly in theory, but sometimes it takes awhile before it slaps us (the nation?) in the face.

    There’s no such thing, in essence, to “mkarev” anyone. We’re talking about *G-D* here, people!! Our eternal souls. The entire fabric of our lives. This can only happen when someone has come to an extremely personal realization.

    As Kelemen put it so well, we can at best be given “Permission to Believe.”

    SO this is what I believe is driving so many of us crazy when we hear about the increasing slickness of the kiruv campaigns. The internal contradiction is just too much. if we keep at it, counting beards and tsitsit and dress lengths and Israel-bound airplane seats… something is bound to blow (chv”sh).

    Yes, Ron, I think this is an objective assessment, tho admittedly I am very deeply impressed by it.

  27. Bob Miller
    November 29th, 2007 @ 12:33 pm

    YY, can you accept that some things that don’t work for you do work for others?

  28. yy
    November 29th, 2007 @ 12:56 pm

    good question.

    Of course I do on the prosaic level. On the functional level. What “works” depends on who’s doing the working.

    But youre touching here on matters of spirit; of truth, big T; of a belief system I and many others I know have radically reversed my life over. And, and, and.

    I do appreciate the question. It certainly must be remembered in such exchanges. At the same time the other extreme of assuming that finding one’s entrance into the world of serving ratzon H’ is something that can be marketed is simply a vulgarization of the reality.

    Your approach to a genuine loving marriage can and should most likely be very different from mine, but there must be certain givens that define all good marriages.

    Choosing your mate from a stream of models on a stage would, for example, not be one of them.

    Seriously now, Bob. Think carefully before tarring these claims as a personal idosyncricy

  29. David Schallheim
    November 29th, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

    The dichotomy expressed in this thread between the mass produced chain store type kiruv and the individualized personal touch is old and deep. In essence, you’ve got to try to put out the fire as far and as fast as possible and at the same time educate the committed Jews deeply to prevent further conflagrations. Very few can do both.

    I think the primary focus has to be as R. Yonoson writes: Focus on the Kiddush Hashem in every endeavor. Whatever you’re doing, both on the micro and macro level, try to focus a moment and ask yourself: Is there a Kiddush Hashem in this or not?

  30. Ron Coleman
    November 29th, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

    Very nice, but no one who is involved with “big kiruv” comes on the comment threads here, drops vaguely worded and non-specific accusations about “personal kiruv” “nightmares,” then refuses to back them up or even participate in the discussion.

    What, you don’t think there are “horror stories” of botched up “amateur kiruv”?

    As to the concept that there is no such thing as kiruv at all … I think that is a rhetorical statement. It’s real, it’s here, it’s changed and created thousands of lives, and its purpose is to give individuals the context, opportunity and tools to, yes, change their own lives.

  31. yy
    November 29th, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

    Yes Ron, it’s here and real. But is it good and enduring? Is it bring the Creator Nachas?Moshe got the Jews out of Egypt… and it almost blew up in his face!

    Of COURSE there’s kiruv, as a generic concept of making concerted efforts to expose distant brothers to the “context, opportunity and tools” of lving the holy Torah. But is that the same as being “mkarev” someone? as “MAKING Baalei Tshuva”; as composing “professional” charts about beards and tsitsit; as dictating “idiot friendly” step-by-steps for kiruv secretaries; as making, in Rosenbloom’s words, “population transfers”???

  32. yy
    November 29th, 2007 @ 2:01 pm

    (did my last post get in? didn’t show up on the screen at all! In the meantime, don’t know if I’ll have a chance to come back here til after Shabbos, so pls don’t think it’s out of any bad will…)

  33. Bob Miller
    November 29th, 2007 @ 2:52 pm

    YY, my point was not that only you have a distinct personal outlook and set of needs, but that everyone does.

    So I’m not out to “tar” your claims, although I don’t necessarily accept them either.

  34. Fern
    November 29th, 2007 @ 6:24 pm

    Ron–

    To be honest, I’m a little confused about where your seemingly hostile attitude towards me and my experience as an employee of a Jewish org. I never called you, your family, or anyone who is like you a disaster. I never implied as much either. I don’t think that and would never say that anyone is a “disaster.”

    I have become more observant through the organization for which I now work, so I certainly am not against large kiruv organizations. I wouldn’t work here if I didn’t believe in a lot of what my employer does.

    That being said, I see problems with this org now that I have had the opportunity to look at it from the inside. Instead of holding tight to its haimish identity, the new generation of kiruv pros are coming in and want to implement shallow, slick, mass-appeal approaches. While I appreciate that you didn’t like my “silly example of making a recipe,” since I am somewhat of an insider, I feel that my “silly example of making a recipe” was quite apt. My boss thinks that every Jew can be made Orthodox by following a recipe. I don’t know what else to tell you.

  35. Mordechai Y. Scher
    November 29th, 2007 @ 8:11 pm

    “That is the slogan for Aish Hatorah’s campaign to get thousands of frum baalebatim to do kiruv because there just aren’t (and can’t be) enough professional kiruv workers possible to reach the millions of assimilating American Jews (the “sleeping giant’ being the frum community itself).”

    Okay, I’m coming late into the ‘fray’ [that’s fray, not frei ;-)], but this excerpt from Belle caught my attention.

    Here’s a radical suggestion (that will resonate well, I think, with Rabbi Belovsky and some others): ‘kiruv’ doesn’t belong to professionals. Am Yisrael is too varied, and the Torah and Am Yisrael always have been, for a professional to do the job. There isn’t one mold to fit to be a good Jew, and each Jew looking for the way in to Torah and Judaism will have to find it with a person who they can approach and want to somehow emulate. It seems to me that the ‘professional’ approach has come to simply send everyone off to yeshivah or seminary or at least some ‘program’, regardless of what really suits them *as Jewish individuals*. Suppose someone would do well just being a good baal bayit? A good college student, or laborer? Suppose prolonged learning just isn’t someone’s thing? Ask people like Rav Emmanual Feldman how many families became observant, committed to Torah through the influence of the local rav, observant families, and had good Jewish lives as a result. Back then, in Atlanta, there was no such thing as ‘kiruv’. That doesn’t make ‘kiruv’ bad; but it is just one more possibility.

    To my mind, the most ‘professional’ approach is to offer the broad range of Jewish life, never knowing which particular aspect will be the doorway in for each Jew.

    Regular, ordinary observant Jews should be doing the ‘kiruv’ not because it is ‘kiruv’, but because that is normal Jewish life! Hachnasat orhim, hesed, limud Torah; those are the real ‘kiruv’ tools and they have little to do with kiruv. Engaging another Jew in meaningful conversation not because I need only to convince them (though that can certainly be *part* of what goes on), but because I am interested in *them* as precious neshamot – that’s more of what we need to see.

    I was talking with a local Habadnik, trying desperately to explain that we invited people home (instead of staying through kiddush) because it is simply a normal Jewish thing to want to have a Shabbat meal at home with other Jews from the community. I mentioned a particular individual by example, and he says to me “you’re not inviting him to be your friend; you’re just trying to be m’kareiv him!”. He couldn’t understand that in fact, we really did just want these nice Jews at our table. That in fact, we really did want to know them. Sure, they would experience Shabbat in a Jewish home, but that wasn’t an exercise in ‘kiruv’. It was just normal celebration of Shabbat with other Jews. If it had a ‘kiruv’ effect, great!; but that wasn’t a motivating or limiting factor. I fear that this fellow really only spends time with non-observant Jews because he wants to change them, and not because he values them in their own right.

    It seems to be to subtle a notion for some people…

  36. Ron Coleman
    November 30th, 2007 @ 1:00 am

    Fern, I’m asking you only to be more careful with your words. You said, “I agree with Steve,” and Steve said, proceeding to sell Judiasm like advertising executives hawk toothpaste to the future professional, business and academic leaders is IMO a recipe for disaster.”

    He was being colorful and passionate. You were agreeing with the gist of his remarks and reacting to a trend you don’t like. Neither of you believes “big kiruv” is really a “disaster” — you just would like to see care, perspective and scale playing their appropriate roles.

    I’m crazy about both of you and most of the other chevra around here (some quite a bit more than others, ok!) and I’m glad we’re all on the same side!

  37. Fern
    November 30th, 2007 @ 1:34 am

    Ron–I guess we interpreted Steve’s words differently. I didn’t interpret what he said to mean that people who became observant through “big kiruv” are disasters. I am pretty sure that no BT considers any other happy/healthy BT a disaster.

    What I agreed with was the sentiment that impersonal, shallow, corporate-style kiruv could lead to an increase in unhappy, poorly adjusted BTs, and angry, jaded secular Jews. That situation would be a disaster for any kiruv organization.

  38. yy
    November 30th, 2007 @ 2:14 am

    “impersonal, shallow, corporate-style kiruv could lead to an increase in unhappy, poorly adjusted BTs, and angry, jaded secular Jews.”

    Precisely!

    at the same time Ron had correctly pointed out, back at #30: “you don’t think there are “horror stories” of botched up “amateur kiruv”?”

    So is it just a question of all of us being concerned about ANY method of kiruv becoming too thoughtless or entrenched? Or is there more of an inherent contradiction in the term “PROFESSIONAL kiruv”, certainly when they begin to openly speak of and pressurize towards mass production?

    I believe the latter and while I accept the challenge that this might be due to a personal style, the fact that some substantial personalities in the field have been giving increasing expression to this angst should give us all good reason for pause.

    In the end, however, we all have to turn to H’ for guidance re. the GIANT implications of this question for the overall truth of the Jewish mission. Just look to the parsha:

    Wasn’t Yosef attempting to be the first mkarev??

  39. yy
    November 30th, 2007 @ 2:30 am

    I really have no more time to spend here before Shabbos, but I want to thank everyone for this particularly enriching thread. Perhaps Mordechai summed up the essence of this limud for me best:

    “we really did just want these nice Jews at our table (…) we really did want to know them (…it) wasn’t an exercise in ‘kiruv’(…)If it had a ‘kiruv’ effect, great”

    This appears to me the great, I’d even say cosmic dillemma, underlying this entire thread.

    In our zeal for kiruv, are we sacrificing the pure, unadulterated interest in simply seeking to share Shabbos with other nice Jews? And how about the not-so-nice ones?

    Just think what might have been if Yosef, instead of trying to “shepherd his brothers,” simply focused on creating a Shabbos table that would be inviting for them….

    Shaaabos

  40. David Schallheim
    November 30th, 2007 @ 5:07 am

    >>impersonal, shallow, corporate-style kiruv

    Fern, in my experience (twelve years) you’ll only find that kind of thing on the executive director side of things: fund-raising, marketing, and the like.

    However, in the actual seminar, class-room, or Shabbaton setting — where the kiruv organization contacts people face to face — you will never find this kind of thing!

    Think about it. Who teaches? Who are the madrichim and madrichot? Are they shallow, impersonal?

    On the other hand, those people who excel on the level of presentation, impact, and inspiration, and are almost always sensitive human beings who would never imply (tacitly or otherwise) that any idiot could do your job — those very people are generally not gong to run offices and fundraise, which tends to require a very thick skinned type of personality.

    Granted that mass producing material for kiruv and disseminating on the widest scale possible is going to decrease the subtlety and the nuance, but we’re talking about getting people connected on the most basic level, hopefully to continue and grow. How are you going to reach out to millions of Jews who are rapidly being lost without this kind of effort? Should we just forget about them?

    Good Shabbos to everybody!

  41. Ron Coleman
    November 30th, 2007 @ 11:18 am

    YY, thanks for the expression of good will. I can tell you, however, that there were Shabbos tables all around me for 22 years, and until Aish HaTorah took me by the hand — utilizing what was for the mid 1980’s very slick marketing techniques — and brought me to one, I had no idea.

  42. Mark Frankel
    November 30th, 2007 @ 11:23 am

    >> Is there going to be “Kumbaya”? Because if there is I want fair warning. (Ron Coleman from The Books in the Dumpster thread)

    >> I’m crazy about both of you and most of the other chevra around here (some quite a bit more than others, ok!) and I’m glad we’re all on the same side!

    Ron, where’s the Kumbaya warning?!

    I do agree strongly with the same side sentiments. In fact that really is our goal – to get all Jews on the same side (G-d and Torah focused perspective) and then the whole world on that perspective.

  43. Bob Miller
    November 30th, 2007 @ 11:57 am

    Everything is beautiful…
    It’s a neighborly day in the neighborhood…

  44. Ron Coleman
    November 30th, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

    I am trying to be nice.

    On the Internet, no one can see the throbbing vein in your forehead. ;-)

  45. belle
    November 30th, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

    I think Mordechai Scher is right on. The whole point is that it is very bidieved to have professional kiruv orgs at all, the frum world as a whole should be doing its job of chessed and chinuch. Some visionary individuals saw this was not happening and tried to change it one Jew at a time, decided that an organized approach worked better bec. so many Jews were so ignorant, and voila, Ohr Someyach, Aish Hatorah, Neve, etc were born. Over the past 20 years or so they have blossomed into “big kiruv” for two reasons: success brings growth, and VERY FEW OTHERS STEPPED UP TO THE PLATE. I mean there are other kiruv orgs and seminaries (B”H) but they are relatively small in number compared to the need. The org’s existence created a kind of complacency in the frum world of “now I don’t have to deal with those weird-looking secular kids, I’ll just call up Aish…” It was left to the big kiruv pros of the frum world.

    I am sure that any kiruv professional would be very happy to be out of a job because he wasn’t needed anymore. But to all those complaining about the impersonality of big kiruv, what is the alternative?

    Now, Fern’s comments were more subtle. She was complaining about a recent attitude in one of the orgs that she thinks will be destructive of those efforts. I think she makes a lot of sense. It is a question whether she is correct, but I see where she is recognizing that an approach is unlikely to succeed, and there is nothing wrong with debating approaches. I didn’t get the sense she was knocking big kiruv per se, but the approach of slick campaigns. Who knows if she is right? Maybe this generation only appreciates slickness. But I think her opinion is a valid one and not out of place.

    IMHO.

  46. Fern
    November 30th, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

    Well, considering that Kumbaya is a Christian song, I don’t think that’s the route we should go…but I’m all for singing the Jewish equivalent. Singing in conjunction, but in places where men can’t hear women is okay, right? ;-)

  47. Jaded Topaz
    December 1st, 2007 @ 11:58 pm

    Fern,
    I have no connection or specific interest in any kiruv at this time but ,
    I’m having a little difficulty understanding the gripes you have against your boss and the way he runs his organization.
    Firstly,a word on Mcdonalds, their slogan “I’m lovin it” fits in nicely with judaism lovers.
    And “Ronald Mcdonald charity house” i’m likin that too.
    Why would you be so offended if your boss asks you to write up a policy and procedure piece on your specific position.
    What do you have against the persons off the street that want to work for your organization.
    What makes anyone off the street lacking by default, the set of skills needed for your position.
    It seems that your boss is classifying your suggestions to him with the same attitude your classifying the concept of the supposed persons off the street who would be applying to work under you.
    Also, every objective needs a general set of rules which obviously can be tweaked and refined to suit the stance or situation in question.

    If ure hungry and looking for candlelight/ambience/soulful music and romantic decor you probally wont be booking seats at the local Mcdonalds.
    Everyone is free to dine at any food establishment they deem perfect for their hungry self. Whether it be Barbara G’s bar n Grill n Gemara /Mendy’s deli /Lorreta’s oh sooo likeable liquoring and learning/ or TGI Fridays.
    In fact if your so inclined you can open ure own dining situation or write eloquently about what you find appalling about other establishments.You can even hire bloggers to binge n blog, on the house.
    But dont count on your dining guide for the dutiful /diligent and doubtful to hit the bestellers ranks or even be taken into consideration by the competition.
    Mcdonalds is the largest fast food chain for a reason.
    What are those reasons ?
    It seems like they’ve also been listening to their loyal customers and not so loyal lawsuits recently.
    Is anyone forcing hungry people to dine exclusively at Mcdonalds ?
    Are there lots of people that would go hungry if not for a Mcdonalds happy meal whether it be cuz of money/location and or timing.
    Are there happy well fed people and repeat customers loving Mcondalds?
    Mcskillet Burritos anyone ?

    As for the current kiruv rechokim chaos,
    Is Kiruv listening. Why dont they have frequent, bedgraggled, haggled, disgruntled ,nagged and snagged hook, line and sinker by religion retreats, in the tis the season for teshuva month.

    Specifically for those that have tossed teshuvah right off their to do list.
    Why isnt there a surge in nuanced unconventional conventions for creative intellectuals and other hardcore intellectuals that are more resilient to the whole getting licked by the slick kinds of lickable liquor and learning campaigns.

    If you want other kinds of spiritual nourishment, writing about establishments that, clearly, are not offering your kind of nourishment is not the answer, and in fact probally a pure waste of emotional and intellectual energy.
    The correct answer is focusing your energy on starting new and improved spiritual establishments that do meet your intellectual and emotional standards.

    Loretta n Luke’s Likeable n Non-Slick Liquoring N Learning just might see the limelight of night one day…….

    Gemara arguing anyone ?

  48. Steve Brizel
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 12:41 am

    Of course, there are fund-raising and marketing concerns in any not for profit organization. There is no doubt that what we call the kiruv industry developed because the overwhelming majority of all sectors of the Torah world did not know how (and in many ways still has problems understanding) how relatively simple and vastly important kiruv is in all sectors from teens to senior citizens. However, that does not mean one sells Torah to the secular and college educated sectors as some sort of elixir or toothpaste without showing that sector the profundity of Shabbos, Limud HaTorah and Chesed.IMO, no Torah observant Jew, whether part of the Kiruv industry or not, should forget that although he or she is involved in a mitzvah that aims at transforming American Jews, kiruv is a one person-one mitzvah at a time approach where some may change overnight and others will require much longer in their evolution. I consider the use of a McDonald’s type formula, etc to be a particularly simplistic and abhorrently paternalistic way of showing a secular individual why our way of life has depth, profundity and relevance in our age.

  49. Steve Brizel
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 12:46 am

    WADR to the Agudah, if you read the headlines about the themes of this convention, you just might have thought that the Agudah “discovered” the importance of kiruv in 2007 ala Columbus discovering North America when in fact kiruv efforts have been ongoing in the US at least since the 1940s and 1950s.

  50. Jaded Topaz
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 2:24 am

    Steve, LOL on the Columbus discovering America analogy…..

    Also,I’m not advocating any slick marketing or simplistic simpleton oriented shabbatons in any way.I abhore and loathe anything simplistic/ /sneaky /screwy or cotton candy fluffy.

    So you think that “limud hatorah” and “shabbas” are not “paternalistic” in nature and theory?
    I think they are way more “paternalistic” than any Mcdonald theories.
    And its harder to attain the “i’m lovin it”, slogan ,so much harder.
    I also dont think hardcore religion allows for very much individuality if you think about it hard enough.
    I can feel as special as I want about myself, but its still up to me to make the right choice in terms of choosing the right inspiration for my individual style.
    And that boss in the sky is the guy I have to answer to eventually whether i make the right or wrong choices.
    And if i want to be religious there is goin to be lots of “paternalistic” ideologies to follow.
    Any way you promote religion, its bound to be the wrong way for lots of individuals.
    There are lots of ways to utilize inspiration.
    I think the trick is not to take inspiration so literally?
    Lighthouses are used in different ways……
    Some use the generic lighthouses conveniently found everywhere, but create a specific individual path with the lighthouse as the backdrop lighting, and dont take the lighthouse light so literally.
    Some ignore the generic lighthouses and create their own lighthouse situation.
    Some move into a convenient lighthouse on the way for whatever reason, depend on them for everything and then create havoc if the lighthouse is just glaring back at them from all the wrong directions, asking for more money and ruining their social and academic life in the process.These lighthouses need special attention and fixing by professional electricians so they can understand why the light they are providing is just too harsh.

    Different lighthouses have different uses in different locations for different audiences.
    The trick is to find the right one, and or to place the right ones in the right locations.

    I’m not so sure that some of the lighthouses are fixable though which means new ones need to be built from scratch with hardcore good non-slick ideologies.
    That was my main point, sort of.

  51. yy
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 8:50 am

    WADR?

    Could someone once and for all make a list of the codes used in these parts of space!

  52. David Linn
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 9:13 am

    WADR – With All Due Respect. Steve, could you link to that long list of blog abbreviations?

  53. yy
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 9:29 am

    Shavua tov, everyone.

    I appreciate Ron’s making it clear that he personally benefitted from kiruv slickness. I’d like to reciprocate with by revealing a little secret of my own:

    I have been peripherally involved with “professional kiruv” for decades (hosting Shabbos guests sent from programs, offering occassional shiurim for them, counseling for those who fall out, etc). So I can testify that MANY have been brought in thru those campaigns, baruch H’. The question I’m left with is how much was due to the particualr professionalism of their program and how much has been damaged by it?

    Undoubtedly the turf today is extremely ripe for whoEVER wants to put their two cents worth in. The reason for the extraordinary success of most attempts, however,is FAR beyond the wisdom of this method or another. It’s simply because H’ is Willing it – in a big way.

    This is NOT to take away from the zchuyos (merits) of those who labor in this field. But we have to keep proportions. How much of what we’re doing is simply facilitating H’s Will and how much is twisting it and claiming credit?

    Not only may some of those twists really be working against the essential spirit, but even for those who are really pumping pure emmuna into our brothers, the inherent gayva (arrogance) and bilbul (confusion) involved in associating these campaigns with major icons of tuma (impurity), like McDonalds for instance, is bound in the long run to work against us, (r”l)

    As I tried to share last week, in total seriousness, this is the underlying theme in these parshas. Yosef was right and slick. The brothers DID need kiruv. But the way Y initially went about things caused LOTS of problems.

    Only later, after providence made it clear that they all had to start over again, was Yosef able to resume his role as head-mkarev. “HaOde Avinu Chai!,” he declared at the launching of his new campaign. Many sfarim kdoishim make it clear that this was indeed not a question but a declaration.

    My Father (Above) is *ALIVE*!!!

    That’s it.

    Only via exposing a Jew to vicariously experience another’s LIVING realtionship with H’ can we ever hope to ignite the true pintele Yid.

  54. yy
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 10:10 am

    I say the above, of course, WADR to differing opinions! ; }

  55. yy
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 10:11 am

    (yy sometimes forgets his y’s!!!)

  56. Ron Coleman
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 12:18 pm

    Also a Jaded Topaz concordance?

  57. Mark
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 2:56 pm
  58. Ron Coleman
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 2:57 pm

    Hm. Thanks, Admin. You can literally say that “clears” everything up.

  59. Jaded Topaz
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 4:03 pm

    Ron Coleman, a statement addressing the likelihood of confusion concerns on kumbayaing, its relative relevance and significant importance as an integral part of spiritual hysteria support groups and 12 step book in the dumpster dumpings would be especially enlightening this holiday season.

  60. Steve Brizel
    December 2nd, 2007 @ 9:37 pm

    YY-Take a look at the Beis Halevi on the verse that you cited.

  61. yy
    December 3rd, 2007 @ 3:47 am

    Don’t have it handy. Enlighten us, pls, Steve.

    Ron – don’t get your “clears” joke. Have you, btw, come to appreciate any more abt this pt of the inherent contradiction between slickness and kiruv?

    thanx, Mark, for the lists. The aishdas was a new one for me. But may I ask why you took off my post with the typo – my following remark now makes NO sense! ; }

  62. Mark
    December 3rd, 2007 @ 9:41 am

    It looked like a mistaken double post.

  63. Ron Coleman
    December 3rd, 2007 @ 10:43 am

    Urk. YY, when Admin’s post went up there was no list or link (it was “clear”). You had to be there.

  64. Mark
    December 3rd, 2007 @ 11:25 am

    Ok, we’re changing our Terms and Usage agreement to exclude all comment timing and intentional misspelling jokes. Ron, can you write that up for us.

  65. Bob Miller
    December 3rd, 2007 @ 11:33 am

    Mistakes in posting (mine included) require proper teshuva—which is what?

  66. Mark
    December 3rd, 2007 @ 1:05 pm

    The proper teshuva is sending in a 500-800 word post on a BT related topic.

  67. Steve Brizel
    December 3rd, 2007 @ 9:49 pm

    YY-The Beis HaLevi on that verse cites that verse as a rebuke from Yosef to his brothers and builds on that as a means of asking all of us to look in our own mirrors and ask ourselves whether we learned enough, performed the mitvoz in as optimal a fashion, etc. The obvious question that one can ask is whether the Torah community really supports kiruv 100% or merely pays lip service, applauds the results and is uncomfortable with the issues raised by BTs about the FFB world.

  68. yy
    December 4th, 2007 @ 4:10 am

    It’s a rhetorical question, right? My big hope is to see if we can get the community to support it even above the 50% line! I.e. over the point where it’s percieved as merely a “get your act together” and “shape up or ship out” kind of excercise. Granted the tide has shifted recently towards investing very heavily into improving the shape-up aspects, but as you imply, very few ffb’s)or veteren bt’s!)want to here anything about their own ships.

  69. Steve Brizel
    December 24th, 2007 @ 11:02 pm

    I don’t think that it is any secret to most of the posters here that a relatively new entry to the “kiruv industry” basically has a view of kiruv that is akin to a sales pitch, as opposed to a step by step, person by person, mitzvah by mitzvah process in growth that occures on an individual level that ultimately has its effect on the FFB world. I can’t think of any more approach to kiruv that is replete with more dangerous and ill advised assumptions , especially an approach that views a fellow Jew as nothing more than a target for a sales pitch.

  70. Ron Coleman
    December 24th, 2007 @ 11:20 pm

    Hey, Steve! Slow night there too, huh.

    Step by step, person by person processes are great when you have enough people to teach individuals and you have individuals who want to be taught. I’m all in favor of orthodox-to-non-orthodox ratios of one-to-one and I am sure Aish HaTorah and Ohr Someach are, too.

    The ideal would seem to be Partners in Torah.

    Um, should I tell you who gets a lot of people to Partners in Torah, and how?

  71. Steve Brizel
    December 24th, 2007 @ 11:36 pm

    Ron-perhaps, the problem is two fold-not enough qualified teachers and methods and approaches that may not interest or satisfy anyone.

  72. Steve Brizel
    December 24th, 2007 @ 11:37 pm

    I think that our esteemed moderators can elaborate on the differences in approach between OS and Aish.

  73. Bob Miller
    December 24th, 2007 @ 11:46 pm

    Slowly I turn, step by step, inch by inch…

    Is it time yet for a color war between the two named organizations? Which side would you bet on?

  74. Ron Coleman
    December 25th, 2007 @ 12:06 am

    Well, hurry up with that color war, then, because Ohr Someach is so rapidly following Aish HaTorah’s techniques in programming and marketing that the distance between them would have closed a long time ago — if Aish didn’t keep finding nuttier and nuttier things to do!

  75. DK
    December 25th, 2007 @ 3:55 am

    Neither will gain any significant traction in the American community. The rabbi should have been here building the U.S. Orthodox community the minute the Jews started coming en masse. And it isn’t just the haredi thing. Not just that. Those of us who are pre-War just don’t feel what the post-war feel as intrinsically. It isn’t just the divide between haredi and Modern Orthodox. The Modern Orthodox don’t understand either. They aren’t as integrated into Western culture. They are also now mostly a post-war community. This difference manifests itself in many subtle ways, but the most overt is Zionism. Their connection to Israel is different than pre-War liberal and secular Jews who care about Israel. The MO feel much more intense, because they feel more other. They are also usually the descendants of survivors. They don’t show anger, but they are guarded and insular.

    The only reason I listened to the pre-War community was I knew an amazing rabbi from a pre-war community, and suffered anti-Semitism as one of very, very few Jews. Without this combo, I would never have listened at all.

    The only Jews who can be brought in are those traditional Judaisms and those kiruv leaders who are pre-war, and espouse a pre-war traditional Judaism. The divide is too great. Most pre-war Jews will never reject western culture like the haredim demand, and most pre-war Jews will never look towards Israel with the same level of identification, or shun the deeper cultural western norms which the MO avoid assiduously.

    Go to an Israel Day party. Where the people are 20 and 30-something. Few of their ancestors were post-war Americans. If they aren’t religious, many of them have yordim parents.

    Judaism will only resonate with most American Jews if it isn’t angry or scornful of others or the West. If must not be hostile to the Occidental. This would have been possible. Look at Shearith Israel. Do they look angry to you? Do they look contemptous of American life and culture? Have they rejected the West? Look at Eldridge Street — look how mirthful and soft the place is, even as it is grand. This is America’s first Orthodox Jewish cathedral. Does it look mournful to you? Look how proud it is to be here…

    How are you going to reach them? How are you going to convince them that Judaism is relevant to their lives? Through anger? Through bitterness? Through rejection of the West?

    The post-war won’t be able to reach them. They don’t have a compatible paradigm. There is no way back to the ghetto for most pre-war Jews. Not to Monsey, and not to Teaneck.

    The mistake was the mistake of the rabbis in Europe who wrote off the American Jewish community as lost. The cost of that mistake even now continues to escalate. It was the most devastating mistake made by Eastern European rabbinical leaders of the 19th and early 20th century.

    The post-war community will never be able to bring them back.

  76. Dovid
    December 25th, 2007 @ 8:11 am

    Perhaps true, Ron. However, OS is such a very different experience than Aish. I tried doing the Aish thing years ago and found it to be ankle deep in content and depth. Perhaps this was because the Rabbi assumed his audience to be complete newcomers. I do enjoy the Rosh Yeshiva’s tapes, and have them around here somewhere. The learning / shiurim I have experienced at Ohr Someach over the years (Monsey) cannot be compared to what I was presented by Aish. Still, I wish them both hoztlochah in their g’valdik efforts to bring Yidden home. If innovative marketing techniques are required to attract new generations of lost neshoma’s…then let’s hope they work.

  77. Bob Miller
    December 25th, 2007 @ 9:11 am

    There is ultimately no Jewish culture whatsoever divorced from a serious adherence to Torah and Mitzvos. That is where American pre-WW2 Jewry largely fell short and why so much effort is needed to get their grandchildren on track now. Yes, there are countless reasons why, but that does not wipe out the reality.

  78. Steve Brizel
    December 25th, 2007 @ 10:39 am

    Now-can someone delineate where OS and Aish differed and how OS is following Aish? That would clear the air significantly,

  79. Ron Coleman
    December 25th, 2007 @ 10:43 am

    Dovid, in all seriousness, I agree — Aish and Ohr Someach have different cultures, though within the bais medrash programs of each there are more similarities than differences.

    DK, as Bob says, you seem to be completely willing to ignore the really incontestable historical fact that the prewar traditional Judaism you speak of utterly failed. I don’t mean it failed to keep cholov yisroel or to have enough brochos bees or to produce koller yungerleit. I mean that not only did the adults leading these communities not, by and large, keep fundamental mitzvos such as Shabbos, kashrus and taharas hamishpocha to any degree recognizable by halacha (I don’t mean “haredi halacha,” I mean halacha). I mean their kids kept nothing and their grandchildren intermarried and their great grandchildren are gentiles.

    Here in Passaic I walk the streets and brush past the ghosts of just such a traditional postwar community, DK. Their names are on the memorial and dedication plaques of shuls their children abandoned in the 60’s and ’70’s and in which our families now daven. I meet members of the Passaic diaspora — older Jews who graduated from Passaic High in the ’50’s, much like the ones who graduated from Midwood High in Brooklyn — all over America. They grew up keeping some semblance of kosher, they walked to shul on Shabbos, they maybe even learned through 8th grade in Torah Vodaath, and their grandchildren are named Christopher, Colleen and Bai-Ling.

    You want to bring a proof from an Israel Day party?! Come on!

    DK, you make, as usual, important points about the more or less prevalent right-wing contempt for western values, and the large amount of hypocrisy on which that is built. The hypocrisy I have in mind is the conspicuous consumption — the ultimate Americakeit — which in the heimishe velt is nauseating, and in its way compares with anything produced by ultra-assimilated of Hollywood.

    I’ll say this much. Rav Schwab zt”l insisted, demanded, pounded the table and reminded us until he had no strength left that with glatt kasher must come glatt yasher. Unfortunately the German Jews failed to transplant, in a manner that it could flourish, their Hirschian hashkofa — not modern orthodoxy, but a strict insistence on halachic compliance and limud hatorah, along with affirmative engagement in Western civilization and a work ethic — because of a blind insistence on clinging also to the fairly obscure and unappealing rituals of Frankfurt-am-Main, and perhaps the pull of nominal absolutism from hasidism and Briskerism. Fair enough. But this, I believe, is or was the model that could have and perhaps still could work for American Jews. We were certainly exposed to it at Kol Yaakov, but in the mainstream yeshivos there is no grappling with these issues — how does a Jew live? — and in Israel, well, I have had my say on that topic. Admittedly the “yekkes” are not giving us roshei yeshiva except by way of Lakewood and the other Lithuanian yeshivos. But I do know that the now monthly occasion of the public and notorious arrest of some strictly orthodox Jew for a heinous felony does not seem to ever include anyone from Breuer’s.

    Yes, I’d like to live in a world in which I could blow off your arguments, DK, by pointing out that your personal lifestyle aside, you advocate for a most unhalachic and un-Jewish Judaism. But the issues you raise are simply too important, and despite yourself you find a way to articulate legitimate challenges to what’s going on in the frum world — issues everyone who reads this blog has to wrestle with. I know I’m losing sleep over them, and I go to bed a lot earlier than you do.

  80. DK
    December 25th, 2007 @ 12:46 pm

    Bob Miller, not their grandchildren– because they came pre-1925. It is their great-granchildren, and even their great-great-grandchildren. And clearly, a lot happened to separate the experience between the communities during those short and horrific twenty years when Jews were locked in Europe.

    Steve Brizel, the studying at Ohr Somayach is deeper in many ways than Aish, which resorts to games and fluffy ideas some call “spirituality.” Unfortunately, OS is also more demanding in its rejection of western civilization in its entirety. Also, in defense of Aish on the ground (from me of all people), I have found many of Aish’s employees are quite kind, people who really are happy to teach, encourage, and comfort, even if not everyone becomes frum, and certainly if they don’t become frum exactly like them. Especially outside of Israel, they aren’t so radical in their demands. They definitely have an ahavas yisroel that extends to secular and liberal Jewry. This is the real secret of their continued expansion over OS. All who come from a place of contempt should and will find expansion to be an uphill struggle, no matter how many wealthy donors they sweet talk.

    I would note, the largest indigenous Orthodox organization in the U.S. is the Orthodox Union. In many ways, it is really up to them to pitch traditional Judaism to the masses. Only they have a paradigm not tainted with a treifa medinah legacy. If they can look more to engagement with the American Jewish pre-war masses, and spend less time defending their position against the haredi critics, their success would be the greatest.

    The Eastern European masses of pre-war Jewry were to a large extent caught between the the Reform and the Orthodox Union. The continued fall of the Conservative Movement, which was never a real center, and the reality that so many BTs arrived at Modern Orthodoxy despite getting their via haredi institutions, among many other indicators, is proof that these two visions remain the two powerful forces for so much of American Jewry.

    The haredi institutions are outside the paradigm. The OU is not. It should be the OU who is leading the way, though I wouldn’t necessarily call it kiruv exactly. I have heard Rabbi Weinreb speak. He is quite amazing. When his contract was in doubt, even the Maskilim at the Forward started flipping out. They reference the OU in their stories more than any other non-Orthodox newspaper or periodical. The others all too often turn to Rabbi Shafran. But he isn’t the voice of an Orthodoxy that whispers in their ear. I think it is a waste Rabbi Weinreb isn’t heard from more by secular and liberal Jewry. I bet they would find his paradigm and understandings quite interesting and compelling.

    This is their traditional Jewish heritage. Not Aish or OS. Because when something doesn’t fit right because it isn’t their size, most will take it off sooner or later. No matter how many times people claim, “On you, it looks good.”

  81. Ron Coleman
    December 25th, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

    Has anyone in this conversation besides me actually learned in the bais medrash at Aish HaTorah? I’m guessing not. Because no one here is describing the actual learning that takes place once people get past the “intake” side which does, indeed, have many aspects of great goofiness and sometimes worse to it.

    DK, the problem with MO kiruv, that old constant topic here, is that MO shmeks of prima facie halachic compromise. It might be that this an unfair characterization, but there’s your shmek, nonetheless. So you have to make an argument, which I believe you do, that there really shouldn’t be BT’s as we understand them here — people who are willing to transform their lives and seek ways to get closer to Hashem, regardless of the inducements of the surrounding society to enjoy the here, the now, the physically pleasurable. Rather, you are suggested a return to what we might call orthodox Judaism as a “religion.” A Jew in the synagogue and a man in the street.

    It isn’t the awfullest idea in the world, compared to complete non-identification, but history shows it does not take.

  82. Bob Miller
    December 25th, 2007 @ 1:16 pm

    DK, you owe it to yourself, in view of what you said, to become a follower of Rabbi Weinreb. He’s not that hard to reach. He could identify any other rabbis who are following his path.

    I meant “grandchildren” to include today’s American Jewish descendants of pre-WW2 Jewish immigrants to America, including those who came as early as the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

    Ron, I think the “glatt yoshor” phrase was attributed to Rav Joseph Breuer ZT”L, founder of the Washington Heights “Breuer’s” kehilla.

    Rav SR Hirsch, ZT”L adopted certain forms that represented the application of the Torah Im Derech Eretz concept to his milieu. The logic of his published philosophy would be to similarly “Torahize” (that is, establish the rule of Torah over) the Derech Eretz in America, not to attempt to reapply the Central European model of his time. I take this to be Ron’s point above, but there was no need to deride the minhagim brought over from Europe.

  83. Ron Coleman
    December 25th, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

    Bob, you’re right; Rav Schwab always quotes Rav Breuer.

    I’m not deriding the minhagim. I know that they are considered beautiful by many, and they are entitled in fact to great honor. They were however unappealing to those who did not grow up with them. One of the most respectable and respected shul rabbonim in America told me he was offered the shteller for a certain Breur’s branch shul. He said, are we building a Hirschian kehilla inspires by the minhagim of Frankfurt? If so I am very interested. On the other hand, are you trying to create a wax museum of the Alter Heim? If so, I am not.

    He did not take it.

    And ironically this is point of DK’s that does bear more discussion and consideration. Our frum culture romanticizes and idealizes the Eastern European alteh haym way out of proportion to its merit. A good friend of mine, a true high Lithuanian who is an encyclopedia of the litvishe lore whom DK would appreciate and a talmid chochom and tzadik to boot, always says of his late Litvak father, “He spoke of the old world and the Torah of these great people constantly. But one thing I never heard him say was that he wished he could go back.”

    We do need, sooner or later, to develop a Torah-true, confident, American halachic orthodox culture that apologizes neither to the ghosts of the shtetl nor to Bnei Brak. I’m not holding my breath — but the creation, at least, of this possibility is, indeed, one of the things the baalei teshuva do for us.

  84. DK
    December 25th, 2007 @ 1:33 pm

    Ron you wrote,

    “MO shmeks of prima facie halachic compromise.”

    Some branches of MO may allow for halachic compromise from its members, but so does the traditional Judaism of pre-war Jewry. They just weren’t as halachic. This was part of the confusion during that period which enabled the Conservative movement to be founded and exploded.

    And you can’t transplant a haredi Judaism unto those who don’t come from that and call it their heritage. Forget the dishonesty of doing that, we see that just doesn’t work in a massive way. Ron, it is what it is, or rather, it was what it was. If that is truly unacceptable to you, then accept that pre-war Jewry will continue to cease being Jewish, since their paradigm isn’t viable, and isn’t being promoted. But they will never become haredim en masse. If that is the only acceptable option (and it is the dominant, though not only, public position of kiruv) you will lose the bulk of them over time. It will be your way or the highway, and most pre-war Jews are indeed choosing the highway, because the haredi paradigm does not speak to most of them in the least, and they don’t even get to hear Rabbi Weinreb, never mind those to the Orthodox left.

  85. M
    December 25th, 2007 @ 1:43 pm

    DK,

    Can you define what you term as Haredi?

    I think this is important, because the word is really a more recent importation from Israel, and was not used in pre-war Europe at all, as far as I understand. So it’s usage today must have a connotation, and in order to understand where you are coming from, I think it’s important to understand what you mean by “Haredi”.

  86. Bob Miller
    December 25th, 2007 @ 1:53 pm

    Minor point:

    The word “Stelle” (s pronounced as sh) in both German and Yiddish actually has no final r or resh. The final e is not silent, which may have led to the confusion when writing the word in English transliteration.

  87. DK
    December 25th, 2007 @ 1:54 pm

    Ron, I was speaking in terms of paradigm, not romaticizing life in eastern Europe.

    As for not “seeking ways to get closer to Hashem,” well, I think that is most uncharitable. If someone believes, or even hopes, in a active G-d interested in our behavior, and did not do so before, he will begin to act differently, even if outside of halacha in some ways. This perspective changes everything, and is the cornerstone of Judaism. This is what should be emphasized. This is the most important question of all. Not how to dress for davening, not how long a skirt should be, not how a person must cover his/her hair. Not why ultra-Orthodoxy norms are right and western culture is depraved and stupid (not that you say that, Ron, but such a false dichotomy is out there in a big way, and could even be characterized as a chillul Hashem at times). Think broadly and deeply. If a person is wrestling with these questions, and with this assumption of an active caring G-d whom expects progress and good deeds from us, even if the core issue is not submitting 100% to halacha, this is huge. Going to an Orthodox shul, attending a class or two a week, and operating according to a Jewish/Monotheistic quiescent vision that we should constantly strive to improve our behavior is no small thing, no small matter.

    M,

    I would define haredi as those Jews who advocate separation from western culture and society even when not in direct conflict with halacha, or advocate doing things not mandated and cumbersome. The most overt example would be any not practicing rabbi who wears a black hat to work in July, or any rabbi who advocates others doing so. Such people will never speak to the masses of pre-war American Jewry.

  88. Ron Coleman
    December 25th, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

    Now I can call that stellar feller, “rebbi”! I speak, of course, of my friend Bob Milleh.

    DK, your comments are thoughtful and it is hard to argue too much with that you have said. As you know I have written on some of the topics you allude to, such as how one dresses. I do believe that these things are tools that help us achieve what we both agree are the fundamental achievements, i.e., the interior ones. Some of the most humble exterior presentations, undoubtedly, hide some of the most estimable souls.

    On the other hand, some of these are matters of halacha. If a person is growing and not “ready” to embrace full halachic observance, that is one thing. A shita of non-halachic behavior, however, is not Judaism, though what it means to God in what situations I simply do not know. But in this world we must all come to terms with this: The Torah is our first resource for understanding how we take the tools of this world, whether physical objects, culture, or our own bodies, to develop the appropriate relationship with our Creator.

  89. M
    December 25th, 2007 @ 2:18 pm

    DK,

    Thank you for your explanation. I think it would be more helpful if you use a term or phrase that is more easily understandable when referring to those who advocate a greater separation from current Western society.

    When you use the term ‘Haredi’, it can be confusing. There were no “haredim’ in pre-war Europe, and in the conversation of the “common folk” of Yeshivish, Chassidish, “very Frum”, ultra-Orthodox, or any other similar “group”, the term “haredi” is not in use as a term for American Jews. I see it on BeyondBT (usually on your posts) and on some other venues, but it is not in common usage here and meaningless to the average Orthodox Jew in America, other than in reference to communities in Israel.

    It’s possible that your knowledge of frum Jewish society originated in Israel, and thus your familiarity with the term and usage of “haredi”. Nevertheless, I think the term should have some common usage here to be used in this type of interesting dialogue.

    Just my $0.2, and thanks again for the explanation.

  90. Mark Frankel
    December 25th, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

    I concur with M’s understanding of the word Haredi as applying to communities in Israel and not in America.

  91. DK
    December 25th, 2007 @ 2:31 pm

    Ron, we are taught that the first of the ten commandments was “I am your G-d.” The second thing they heard was “There are no other gods besides me.”

    This is clearly the cornerstone of Judaism. Monotheism. This is what must be emphasized. This is the core of Judaism. To diminish the importance of these broad statements is to diminish the role of Monotheism as the essence of Judaism.

    I guess either you see great value in Monotheism, or you prefer to emphasize the externalities and details added much later, and often without universal acceptance, and even over dissent.

    But a storm has started, and the enemy is often–in recent times–a grotesque and exponentially exaggerated reflection of the false gods of Israel. False gods which take Klal Yisroel off course.

    Let’s look at it from the haredi perspective, and see what we can deduce. Please keep in mind, this is all theoretical, and I don’t claim to understand the severity even in theory, only taking the haredi paradigm of understanding to the next step:

    When the false gods were socialism, we got to witness the glory of such a false god with the Soviet Union.

    When the false god was nationalism, both foreign and domestic, we witnessed the repercussions of nationalist false gods.

    When the false god was liberalism, we got the insanity of Lindsay in NYC. that false god was smashed the same way as the others — but perhaps it was less of a false god than socialism or nationalism, and easier to correct and put in perspective?

    Not of these false gods were necessarily a problem inherently, provided they were a means to an ends, and not a false god or utopia.

    Today, we face a rising storm from the East. From a group that submits, and does not wrestle. From a group that does not question, but only has answers. And who, inverted, relegates one gender to wear all black.

    I wonder who this rebuke is for. I just wonder. Does that look like a rebuke for the liberals? For the socialists? For the artists?

    I wonder whom this rebuke could possibly be for…I can’t help but wonder.

  92. Steve Brizel
    December 25th, 2007 @ 2:32 pm

    Ron-WADR, you are once again engaging in urban myths and sterotypes. Once again, IMO, we need mutual appreciation as opposed to either mutual approval or exercising in urban mythology . Given the fact that your comments seem to be written in a stream of consciousness , I think that it is important to stress that they ignore the fact that Passaic, in particular, had Orthodox shuls and a day school long and an active NCSY chapter before its recent renassiance as a new Torah community that is known for its acceptance of Torah observant Jews-regardless of their background.

  93. Bob Miller
    December 25th, 2007 @ 2:40 pm

    Being from Staten Island, I tend to drop the final r’s in speaking anyway. While we’re on the subject…

    This book discusses aspects of Jewish community history on SI:
    http://www.amazon.com/Jewish-Community-Staten-Island-America/dp/0738513148

    Excerpts are found on Google:
    http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&id=nr7eNm3RXfMC&dq=jewish+community+of+staten+island&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=HjPgX01qQy&sig=5P5rgsSwXkp1g8Es48JFEmADuik#PPA11,M1

    In the context of the discussion above, note that there was no Jewish education on SI at even the day school level, as opposed to a congregational after-hours Talmud Torah, until 1954. To say that this delay held back Torah consciousness is an gross understatement. This symbolizes the prewar problem that led to the postwar problem.

    Incidentally, the tavern owner on the book cover was a relative of ours, and the shul marked on the North Shore map (Page 8) as “Jersey Street Shul” was the one our family joined before World War 1.

  94. Ron Coleman
    December 25th, 2007 @ 2:48 pm

    Steve, I assume you’re talking about my remarks about Passaic, where I’ve lived for 16 years. I assure you, I know whereof I speak. These are not myths; they are my actual observations of factual circumstances. Do you know there was no mikvah in Passaic, once called the Lithuania of America, until it was built by the “new Aliyah” less than 20 years ago? There was a yeshiva — the Hillel Academy, as it was called when we moved in, and which remains in business educating overhwhelmingly the children of newcomers. You can count on one hand the number of second-generation Passaic families; and there were a number of shuls. Let’s consider the latter.

    There were three active old-line orthodox shuls when we moved here. They are still in business, one arguably much more robustly than the other two; one of the weakers one has mostly been abandoned as its non-shomer-Shabbos board members died and its more modern frum elements moved to other, less “right wing” neighborhoods after the “new Aliyah. Each of these shuls in turn contains the yartzeit plaques of estimated at three to five successor shuls as well. As I said, I know two families my age, out of the 1200 or so who live here now, whose parents attended shuls in Passaic 50 years ago.

    The shul we had the Beyond BT shabbaton in was built as an orthodox shul — before the war. It was Conservative when we moved here and was used twice a year. Now it is Passaic’s “minyan factory” and has almost ’round-the-clock davening, almost entirely by people who have lived here for 20 years or less.

    There are also of course about a dozen shuls that have started up here in the last 20 years. But if you go into the buildings of those old shuls (and don’t even count the two Reform synagogues that have become catering halls for the orthodox community) you can count up hundreds and hundreds of names on plaques of Jews who built much of the infrastructure of Passaic — not batei medrash but, yes, the Hillel, and the old shuls, including the innumerable ones serving as churches in downtown Passaic; and the hospitals, the parks and all the other good civic works. Take all those names, Steve, and find me the name of an orthodox Jewish family.

    I’ve been staring that these names for almost two decades and I haven’t hooked a single one up with a family I know from anywhere — certainly not Passaic.

    Tell me about myths, Steve. I’m living with these ghosts.

  95. M
    December 25th, 2007 @ 2:57 pm

    “… the first of the ten commandments was “I am your G-d.” The second thing they heard was “There are no other gods besides me…This is clearly the cornerstone of Judaism. Monotheism. This is what must be emphasized. This is the core of Judaism. To diminish the importance of these broad statements is to diminish the role of Monotheism as the essence of Judaism…I guess either you see great value in Monotheism, or you prefer to emphasize the externalities and details added much later, and often without universal acceptance, and even over dissent.”

    Could it be, perhaps, that the cornerstone of Judaism, the One G-d, has told us what we are to do? Is monotheism a nice (or frightening)story that has us looking over our shoulder to try to accommodate what we think or guess He wants from us, or has this One G-d given us any instructions for how to live our lives? Do you really see a One G-d in contradiction to possible “details” He might obligate us to- such that you use the words “either or”? It is possible I am not understanding your intent well.

    It would be helpful if you can better clarify your position toward a possible mandate from G-d. It’s possible that you don’t believe the Torah was given to the Jewish nation at Mt. Sinai, or that Torah law needs to be interpreted by Jewish sages for practical application. If so, that is not so much related to MO versus other groups, but more of a fundamental related to what you see as the mission of a Jew. If that is limited to recognition of monotheism in a vague, detached sort of way, then we might be speaking two very different languages.

    If you can provide clarification, I would appreciate it.

  96. Bob Miller
    December 25th, 2007 @ 3:13 pm

    M, you hit it on the head.

  97. DK
    December 25th, 2007 @ 3:22 pm

    M,

    Things always become more difficult and complicated when a Jew moves away from a literal understanding of the Torah. And there have always been Jews who have moved away from a literal understanding of the Torah, albeit restricted to a frum understanding of this non-literal understanding. Please see R. Slifkin’s “Challenge of Creation” for more on that.

    What I would say is that revelation can be understood in different ways. One could say that the revelation of Sinai is ongoing, as much as we are willing to see it. And that the Monotheism revealed most explicitly and directly to Am Yisroel is the core of that revelation, and what we can understand that now as well.

    If everything else were on equal footing, there would never have been a need for a 10 Commandments, nor an explicit revelation of the first two — of Monotheism.

    For those of us outside a literal understanding of the Torah, there remains — or should -remain — the question of a non-literal understanding of the Torah. This is what was unique about Judaism, a quiescent mandate to constantly improve, and remember we were created by G-d to serve him and to help others do so as well.

    If this is not kept in mind, things go badly. For us, and for the world. We go in weird paths, and the learning and the growing is discarded.

    It seems that today, Frumkeit is sometimes exaggerated, and has become a false god.

    If that is the case, then those who carry the mantle of Monotheism have themselves gone off the derech.

    If that is the case, then they will probably be the most stubborn of all the Jews to change their ways.

    If that is the case, then we might face an enemy whose own zealous religiousity is a grotesque caricature of our own, and face a frumkeit and a demand for adherance to their own halacha, (shariah), as a rebuke for putting the later additions and interpretations over the most important aspect of Judaism. All our sometimes dishonest contempt for others would be exaggerated exponentially as well.

  98. M
    December 25th, 2007 @ 4:14 pm

    “This is what was unique about Judaism, a quiescent mandate to constantly improve, and remember we were created by G-d to serve him and to help others do so as well.”

    Can you explain what you mean by improvement? In which areas? How do you determine the definition and application of “improving” in life? Is there an objective standard that you are using for your concept of “improvement”?

    Also, can you explain further what you mean by “serving Him and helping others to do so”? How do you determine how to serve Him? In what ways would you help others serve Him, and how have you concluded that your understanding and practical application of “serve” is actually that, a service of G-d, something that He desires of you?

    Thank you for your patience in answering.

  99. DK
    December 25th, 2007 @ 4:30 pm

    M,

    There are at least two expressions and outlines in the Torah of how to serve G-d, and how to help others. One is the 613 mitzvot. The other is the Ten Commandments. These are obviously not meant to be exclusive but they can be seen as different approaches.

    Improvement as being gentle and kind, and trying to keep in mind and believe that we aren’t just here for the heck of it. That we were created to work on ourselves in being gentle, kind, and grateful.

    If Jews are brought back to Monotheism as a living reality and question, other more specific aspects of Judaism will follow. If attempts are only made to bring them back to a literal understanding of the Torah and halacha, it will fail on a massive level.

    The universal concept of Monotheism and the particularist vision of Jews as the critical bearers of this faith is the most important idea. All else is missing the crucial point. There is no going around this crucial point. Not if there is to be success.

  100. Bob Miller
    December 25th, 2007 @ 4:44 pm

    At what point does a non-literal understanding become a non-understanding?

    Naming Rabbi Slifkin, who is at least committed to Torah and mitzvos, whether or not we agree with his slant on Bereishis, sheds no light here.

  101. Bob Miller
    December 25th, 2007 @ 4:49 pm

    Because here we are discussing nothing less than the proposed abrogation of halacha as a concept in favor of soothing banalities.

  102. DK
    December 25th, 2007 @ 4:51 pm

    Bob Miller,

    There are different ways to understand a non-literal understanding of the Torah. I did not mean to compare my own non-literal understanding of the Torah to believers such as Rabbi Sliflin’s, Rabbi Student’s, nor Rabbi Weinberg’s. My point was that a literal understanding will not resonate for most American Jews, period. And it is a literal understanding that is the most common public kiruv platform.

  103. DK
    December 25th, 2007 @ 4:59 pm

    “Because here we are discussing nothing less than the proposed abrogation of halacha as a concept in favor of soothing banalities.”

    No. We are talking about mission versus no mission. Purpose versus no purpose. A reason for life versus no reason for life.

    We are talking about literalism being a separate issue from Monotheism, or dangerously resting Monotheism on an axiom that will not make any sense to most American Jews.

  104. Ron Coleman
    December 25th, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

    DK, whether it or not it “makes sense” to what can fairly be considered a warped sensibility cannot be the criterion of what is truth. Let’s not get into ethical issues or controversial or morally challenging areas of halacha: Over ninety percent of American Jews would consider, if exposed to them, the most benign but clear-cut areas of halacha — the prohibition against eating pork, or wearing shatnez, or lighting a match on Shabbos — utterly senseless.

    Not only prohibitions. Tefillin don’t “make sense.” I could go on. Yet these are mitzvos that are fundamental to Jewish life. They are not, as you might have it, secondary to “ethical” concerns.

    Don’t talk to me about Hillel and the ger for three reasons: (1) Hillel told him, after stating the Golden Rule, “now, go and learn,” not “Got that? Great! You’re in”; (2) every American Jew already believes he already follows the Golden Rule, and perhaps he does, and that it is every bit as accessible to him through Buddhism and libertarianism and liberalism as it is through the dark mists of that embarrassing, fishy, pushy Judaism the culture reminds him to feel shame about; (3) there is nothing inherently monotheistic, to the common mind, about the Golden Rule.

    We can’t cut the sefer Torah to fit the mantel of estranged American Jewish sensibililty. It’s preposterous to even try.

  105. DK
    December 25th, 2007 @ 6:06 pm

    Ron, you said

    “whether it or not it “makes sense” to what can fairly be considered a warped sensibility cannot be the criterion of what is truth.”

    You cannot conflate truth with faith. You are doing that. That Judaism in its entirety is truth is a leap of faith.

    I realize that I am advocating something unsettling. But in both the story of Abraham and matan Torah, the beginning is recognition of one G-d.

    Can we at least agree that insistence on literalism of the Torah, never mind daas Torah, is a bad place to start?

  106. M
    December 25th, 2007 @ 6:17 pm

    DK,

    Having returned to my computer, I note that Ron has already articulated my thoughts somewhat, and I’ll wait to read your reply rather than echo his words in my own version.

    In short, though, my emphasis would be on how being “kind and gentle” specifically relates to Monotheism, or the Jewish understanding of Monotheism. Sounds good all around, from an atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Christian, Baha’i, Hindu, or Native American tribal viewpoint.

    Can I trouble you to go back to my previous question, and try to answer the parts about objective standard, determination of how you know what “serving Him” means and is applied, etc? Your response was well written, but did not address my questions. Thanks.

  107. Ron Coleman
    December 25th, 2007 @ 6:33 pm

    Belief in Hashem’s Torah is not a leap of faith DK, but I will grant that it requires a foundation of faith; yes, that it does. Offering some kind of Judaism not based on that faith is not only contrary to the faith we do have, but it has been demonstrated time and time again to be a complete and often costly waste of time.

  108. Bob Miller
    December 25th, 2007 @ 8:30 pm

    “Judaism” must have a very nice sound, despite our small numbers and the enmity we experience in many parts of the world. Why else would someone who hacked out its inner content bother to call the empty shell Judaism? This shell game goes back many years.

    We don’t need to speculate on or even read about what the falsification of Judaism can cause; the wreckage is all around us today. To be a BT, one must carve out a personal zone where lies, even the most beguiling, even the most PC, are no longer welcome.

  109. Steve Brizel
    December 25th, 2007 @ 9:22 pm

    Ron-R Leon Katz ZL was a rav of a huge MO shul and R Chaim Wasserman was the rav of the YI of Passaic for many years before he went on aliyah.The Hillel school has also been around for decades.

    Although as you point out, other shuls went thru their ups and downs, Passaic started rebuilding when the Yeshiva moved in and other couples of your age decided to take what was then a chance at being a pioneer and bought homes for a relatively cheap price in a community that had been a victim of urban flight until then and which was esthetically unpleasing ( unless one bought in Clifton, as opposed to Passaic Park) because they thought that it had the potential of being a community that combined a Lakewood/Monsey ambiance without the commute of either community, as opposed to the more MO communities in Bergen County. The fact is that all of the rabbonim and shuls work together in Passaic is a musar hashkel for many other similar communities.

  110. Steve Brizel
    December 25th, 2007 @ 9:25 pm

    DK-Thanks for your recent fascinating posts. One simple question-what role, if any, does TSBP play in your vision?

    As far as what you call MO, who do you think founded, funded and supported NCSY-none less than the OU as well as such Gdolim as RYBS, R Hutner and R Ruderman, Zecer Tzadikim Livracha?

  111. Ron Coleman
    December 25th, 2007 @ 9:29 pm

    Steve, for sure there is an important root in Passaic based on the Adas, the Tifereth and the Young Israel. Not my point. They are in fact merely a small surviving branch of a once massive orthodox Jewish community.

  112. Steve Brizel
    December 25th, 2007 @ 10:11 pm

    Ron Coleman-We have very grood friends who live in Passaic and who daven sometimes at the YI. AFAIK, it has a fine young RIETS musmach and many active members and young to middle aged families. It is hardly the “Sheeeis HaPletach” that you portray it.

  113. Ron Coleman
    December 25th, 2007 @ 11:17 pm

    Steve, you are really missing my point. The three old-time modern orthodox shuls here are indeed in business, some stronger than others. Fine. That has nothing to do with the fact that thousands and thousands of traditional Jews lived here from 100 to 50 years ago, mostly attending orthodox shuls and public schools, and are gone, and are never coming back.

  114. belle
    December 27th, 2007 @ 7:57 pm

    Re: what Ron wrote in comment #111 and Steve B in comment #112, please see this essay posted on the ou website:

    http://www.ou.org/shabbat_shalom/article/34406

  115. Ron Coleman
    December 27th, 2007 @ 9:05 pm

    Well, WOW! Great catch, Belle!

  116. Ron Coleman
    January 1st, 2008 @ 11:59 pm

    And now — via the “PassaicJews” Yahoo! Group — the other side of the story!:

    Subject: article I read in PassaicJews
    Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2007 11:22:43 -0500

    I just read your nice article that was reprinted in PassaicJews. I made aliya from Passaic last year and I thought I would point out a few things to you that you may not be aware of. Passaic did not get their first frum Jews in the 1970’s. My father and his chassidic parents and 4 older siblings moved to Passaic in 1929, where the renowned Rabbi Rosen shlita was the Rebbe. My Zaidy was a shoichet on Monroe St. My father was bar mitzvahed in the Tifereth Israel on Madison St.– also called in those days the Galizieaner Shul — in 1931.

    My parents lived in Passaic after their marriage in 1946 on Hope Ave. where there was a mikveh on the block and besides the Tifereth, there was also in downtown Passaic a total of 7 Orthodox shuls inc. the Adas, Lubavitcher shul, Bnei Jacob, Chevra Tillim and I’m not sure of others. My father was a kosher butcher for 25 yrs. in Passaic on 186 Main Ave. in Passaic Park until he retired to Fla. There were till then always at least 2 other kosher butchers in Passaic.

    I only attended Yeshivas from kindergarten till I graduated high school. From k-8, 1953-1962, I attended Hillel Academy, now called YBH, which started on Columbia Ave. and then moved to Broadway. My family were members of the Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton starting in 1969 till the present. So, since the early 20th century {when my grandparents moved here in 1929, they had relatives here for years previous to that} there have been frum Jews. My husband & I lived here from 1970 when we got married till we made aliya last year and our 3 children grew up in the YI and attended and graduated from Hillel Academy and went on to the Yeshiva H.S. of their choice.

    Some of my friends and former Hillel students still live in Passaic & are community leaders and have b’H raised frum families. So, I just thought I would mention some of these facts and if you ever have any questions about Passaic in the “good old days”, feel free to ask.

    Kol tuv,
    Lily Warshaviak Kligman

  117. Steve Brizel
    May 18th, 2010 @ 5:33 pm

    I think that we have discussed the issue elsewhere, but I think that it does not require a sociological study to prove that becoming a BT as an adult, as opposed to either an adolsescent or a college student, is a far more radical switch. Look at this way-the adolescence and college years are viewed as years when one explores the meaning of life. Becoming a BT is far more easier in those years. OTOH, an adult, either with or without a spouse or family, who has become a BT has taken a far greater risk with respect to a career, job and spouse, if applicable, and often wonders when he or she will ever be fully integrated into the Torah observant world.

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