There’s No Such Thing as Kiruv

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the whole idea of Kiruv lately, due to various circumstances in my life right now. I’ve come to the conclusion that there simply is no such thing as Kiruv, at least not in the sense that most people use the word, where “kiruv” is an action that a “kiruv worker” does to any secular 20-something who wanders their way.

If you think about the Hebrew word, “l’karev,” the whole idea that Kiruv is something you can do to another person just sounds absurd. The word means “to come closer.” You yourself can approach a certain destination, but you can’t “come” someone else to something. You could maybe push them, but that’s not very effective in the long run. You can bring someone somewhere, but only if they want to go. If they don’t, it’s called kidnapping, and it’s totally uncool.

So if there is no such thing as kiruv, what do kiruv professionals do? And how can we work towards a stronger observance of Torah in modern Jewish society, which we can probably agree is necessary? I believe that what is commonly referred to as ‘kiruv’ is actually a mix of hesed (kindness) and chinuch (education). We need to forget kiruv and focus on our obligation to be kind and to teach Torah.

While this might sound like quibbling over terminology, I believe that it’s important to define these terms carefully. Use of the word ‘kiruv’ leads to a perception that there’s a mitzvah to make, as in entice/guilt/force/convince by any means, people to be religious that stands apart from education and kindness. This leads to kiruv gimmicks, and leaves a bad taste in many mouths.

The mixed-up terminology also leads to two misguided perceptions: that average people need training to do kiruv, and that relatively minimal training is necessary to do kiruv. In reality, anyone can and should do kindness, and only those who have a very solid base in Torah study should work as educators.

As a side note, one of the more annoying experiences I’ve had with kiruv workers, who have had just enough Torah training to go out and spread the word, is that several have given me overly basic, not entirely correct answers to complex questions. There’s been a definite tendency to say “When you keep mitzva X, a benefit is Y,” when Y is often tangentially related at best. As an example of an incorrect answer, I was told repeatedly that all decisions of Chazal get their authority from the verse “Lo tasur m’divrehem.” When I was in seminary, we learned that that verse is about something different, and Chazal’s ability to make laws is actually a much more complex matter, that major rabbis disagree on even today. I was very unimpressed by the kiruv workers who were either ignorant of the truth or chose to simplify it (i.e., lie) in order to make it easier for the not-so-religious to accept.

Another problem with the word ‘kiruv’ is that it turns the act of bringing Torah to our fellow Jews into a verb, when it should actually be a state of being. My non-religious friends are unlikely to start keeping mitzvot just because I told them it’s a good idea. (And even the most fancy kiruv tricks like using Bible codes and historical proof are basically a fancy way of saying “because I said so.”) However, if my whole way of being—my behavior, my family life, my mood—is better because of Torah, then they just might decide to take something on. In my opinion, this is what the phrase “ohev et ha’briot u’m’karvan l’Torah” means. Love people (important note: Loving the people came first, not teaching them Torah—another thing that Kiruv pros would do well to remember), and through your genuine love and your personal example, bring them closer to Torah. As support for this, a famous example of Kiruv in Chazal is the case of Aharon HaKohen, who brought people back to observance through friendship and personal greatness (as opposed to, say, gematria and misleading lectures about observance).

I also blame the whole Kiruv industry, as it’s come to be known, for adding to this disconnect. By having ‘kiruv professionals,’ we start to feel that it’s someone else’s job to worry about spreading Torah. Every Jew should be spreading Torah by living it. If my behavior and my very presence don’t make people who meet me gain new appreciation for Torah (which, at this point, I sincerely doubt they do), then I have a lot to work on. Also, there may be someone out there who only I can successfully encourage. If I leave it to the pros, it might never get done.

Finally, the idea of kiruv leads to the unfortunate phenomena of a lack of hesed. I’ve met more than a few religious folk who are in need of something, say a nice Shabbat meal or a place to pray on the holidays, and feel that their needs are being ignored because they’re already frum. As if helping them won’t add the imaginary “notch to the belt” that some on BeyondBT have mentioned, so why bother?

I’ve also met not-so-religious folk who are ignored because they are “too old” or too set in their ways, and are basically considered lost causes. In my opinion, this is the worst downfall of modern kiruv. When we realize that ‘kiruv’ is actually hesed, it becomes ridiculous to avoid doing hesed with those who want it because we prefer to do it with others. Or to choose our hesed project based on what we’ll get in return.

I also believe that kiruv workers who take the tack of only dealing with, say, college or post-college 20-somethings from non-religious but usually affluent backgrounds are shooting themselves in the foot. Showing the 20-somethings that Torah is fun and cool and cute young people do it might make for a good show, but quietly demonstrating acceptance of all fellow Jews, no matter what their situation regarding (for example) willingness to change or drug abuse, will show them real Torah. If we believe that real Torah must be replaced with nice shiny Kiruv Torah in order to work, then we lack faith. And in that case, we should not be teaching Torah at all, but rather hurrying ourselves to the beit midrash, or to a nice open field for a serious talk with Hashem.

To sum up, using the word (and associated mental concept) “kiruv” can lead to:

1. “Notch in the belt” thinking.
2. The idea that misleading people about mitzvot and about what they’re getting into in general is a valid and effective way to increase observance, which leads to
3. Insufficient/inaccurate explanations about important topics and
4. Shiny Kiruv Torah (SKT for those of you who like abbreviations) instead of RT—Real Torah.
5. A lack of willingness to help those who don’t make good kiruvees (kiruv targets?)—very much related to #1.
6. The idea that Kiruv is something we do, regardless of who we are, and not something we are, no matter what we’re doing.
7. Non-Kiruv workers (NKWs) being somewhat lax in their own responsibility, because they feel that the professionals are taking care of things.

OK, I think that covers it for now :). Any thoughts?

Originally Posted June 05, 2007

113 comments on “There’s No Such Thing as Kiruv

  1. I was “brought back” by someone who was not a Kiruv professional, so I am personally biased in favor of that school of thought which holds that Kiruv can be everyone’s job. That said, I agree that the most serious and difficult questions should be answered by people with the proper Kiruv training, otherwise we risk losing some sincere seekers.

    I don’t think there’s a contradiction. To go back to the medical analogy that was used before, in an emergency anyone can administer CPR; however, heart surgery requires a highly trained professional.

    Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zatzal, who was quoted by another commenter, once said: “Three men attend a Shalosh Seudos. One praises the speeches; the second praises the singing; the third praises the herring.” There’s a different way to reach each human being. Some need the emotional approach of dining with a frum family and experiencing a Shabbos with loud zemiros and tasty cholent. Others want empirical proofs of G-d’s existence. One of the biggest ways to reach most people is to give them time, caring and a truly listening ear (which nobody seems to want to do anymore).

  2. I feel that the best appproach to kiruv was one taken by the Hebrew School teacher I had when I was in 6th grade. He was warm and accepting. He didn’t judge any of his students,no matter where they came from or where they were holding, and his derech was rational. He was a direct descendent of Maimonides, and he believed in his ancestor’s moderate approach. He convinced me to be frum.

    I did a brief stint at a Baal Teshuvah institution. I got kicked out when I decided that I’d defy orders from one of the head rabbis and celebrate Yom Haatzmaut. If it weren’t for my Sephardic Hebrew School teacher, I would have rejected “Frumkeit” altogether. For me, “Spare the rod and spoil the child is an inappropriate approach.” To this day, I cringe when someone gives me too much “G-d talk” and tries to spin my head around. Show me perek and posuk, and let me figure things out.

  3. I happen to be a baal tshuvah, and I’m also perplexed by the blanket dismissal of “kiruv tactics” that occurs often on this site. If it wasn’t for kiruv efforts and the opportunities the “kiruv people” created for me, I wouldn’t be keeping commandments right now or looking forward to raising a Torah-focused family and the joy that will bring.

    I just want to give a big thank you to anyone reading this that is involved in Kiruv. Keep up the good work.

  4. R Karlinsky’s comments IMO should be must reading for anyone interested in kiruv who is in the least interested as to why there are not more BTs or why some BTs walk away from observance.

  5. Rabbi Karlinsky,

    Thanks for your reply, which addressed my concerns. My question was prompted by the thought that an underprepared instructor could naively believe himself to be qualified, and not really be much at fault for his kiruv failures. Do you find this situation to be common?

  6. I don’t think that Bob Miller is really asking a “question” — since it is obvious that ensuring a person is qualified for a task he/she is being assigned is a joint responsibility. A hospital that employs a surgeon, a nurse or even a custodian who is not qualified for the job is responsible (morally, if not Halachically) for the damage that person does. And people who accept jobs for which they are not qualified also are accountable for the consequences of their actions.

    A Halachic construct that may be useable in this context is one relating to commerce. The Halacha requires an owner of an object up for sale to disclose all hidden defects to any potential purchaser. This does not obviate a purchaser from doing “due dilligence” but the Halacah recognizes that there is certain relevant information available to an owner, by virtue of his position, that is not available to the purchaser, information that confers upon the owner an unfair advantage in the transaction. (This is in contrast to information the purchaser COULD acquire if he did responsible due dilligence.) An organization (whether a kiruv one, an educational one, or a commercial one) is responsible to ensure that people they employ are qualified to perform tasks that impact on other people, since the nature of their position (employer, doing the hiring, providing the service) puts them in the natural position to have this relevant information, where the consumer does not. Obviously, hidden defects, which in the natural course of hiring for the position would not be easily discovered, are not the responsibility of the organization (until they become known, at which point intervention may be required), but the nature of this thread leads me to believe that the qualifications Bob Miller is speaking about are — or should be — known to those hiring for the position.

  7. Rabbi Karlinsky,

    If an instructor is directly employed by a kiruv organization, whose responsibility is it to make sure he/she is fully trained and qualified to handle the work assignments before he/she tries to do them?

  8. Menachem Lipkin referred me to this wonderful blog. And with over thirty years of experience in teaching Torah to ba’alei tshuvah, I would like to make some comments on this most important thread.

    The Rambam teaches (Hilchot Talmud Torah, Ch. 5, Halacha 4): And any student who has not reached the level to instruct, and instructs, is an evildoer, a fool and an arrogant person. About him it is written “She has felled many victims” (Mishlei 7:26). Similarly, a scholar who has reached the level to instruct and does not instruct, is withholding Torah, placing stumbling blocks before the blind, and about him it is written (ibid) “Those killed are numerous.” Those small (unqualified) students who have not increased their Torah knowledge appropriately, and who seek to elevate themselves in front of those who are ignorant and their neighbors, and they jump to sit at the head to judge and to instruct among Jews – they are those who increase conflict and disputes, they destroy the world, they extinguish the light of Torah, and the terrorize damage the vineyard of the Hashem, Lord of Legions. About them King Solomon, in his wisdom, wrote: “The foxes have seized us, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards” (Shir Hashirim 2:15).

    It is not coincidental in the Rambam that those who are not qualified choose to teach those who themselves are ignorant – knowledgeable Jews would never accept them as teachers of Torah. From this Rambam it is clear that there IS a downside to sending out unqualified people to spread Torah to other Jews.

    While Outreach organizations are justifiably proud of their statistics on how many people that have become obersvant because of their efforts, what doesn’t show up are all the Jews that are “turned off” by what they hear, sensing it is not authentic, it doesn’t make sense, or the person presenting it isn’t interested in the individual as a person, but rather as another “notch in the kiruv belt.” These people don’t show up in the statistics because they usually don’t fill out the feedback forms at the end of a seminar or program — they just walk out, frequently muttering that they don’t want to have anything to do with this. The other statistic that doesn’t show up is the number of people who are “success stories” for a while, then a couple/few years in, drop it (hopefully before they are married with children).

    There is a very important comment of the Vilna Gaon on the following verses in Mishlei (Ch. 19, V. 2-3). “Also, without knowledge, it is not good for the soul; and one who rushes his legs is a sinner. The foolishness of a man perverts his path, and his heart angers against G-d.”

    The Vilna Gaon comments on the first part of verse 2 that just as a person who eats large quantities of enjoyable delicacies will still be undernourished and feel hungry if he doesn’t eat the staples, a person who does Mitzvoth but doesn’t study Torah finds that his soul will not be “good”, nourished. On the second half of the verse, the Gaon teaches that “legs” refer to a person’s character traits, his habits (from the word “hergel” which has the root “regel”). But these traits must be improved step-by-step, through steady, slow progress, the way one climbs a ladder. “Rushing the legs” refers to a person who jumps to a level that is not really appropriate for him, which causes him to miss the mark (“choteh”) and he will surely fall.

    On the second verse, the Gaon explains: We are taught that a person who comes to be purified merits Divine assistance (TB Shabbat 104a). Sometimes a person begins to study Torah and perform Mitzvoth, and then abandons it because it is too difficult from him. He didn’t get the desired assistance from Above, and he is angry at G-d for not providing it. But the truth is that this was the result of his own foolishness. Every person is required to go in a way which is aligned with his own level, and not jump. This will enable the person to move in a stable way, and assistance from Above will facilitate that movement. But the described person didn’t begin down his OWN path, therefore he didn’t receive assistance. Because the path he pursued was chosen foolishly, without proper thought and contemplation, his path was distorted, he failed and he then gets angry at G-d.

    I think the Vilna Gaon’s commentary serve as a powerful lesson for all Jews, but for Ba’alei Tshuvah in particular. It is almost as if he was directing his comments to Ba’alei Tshuvah, when he describes the person who “begins to study Torah and perform Mitzvoth.” Mitzvah observance that isn’t accompanied with Torah study as a foundation will lead to a sense of “hunger.” And one’s path must be appropriate for him or her, chosen with careful thought, then pursued slowly and steadily.

    My experience is that when these principles are followed, a stable and healthy tshuva process is the result. When they are violated…

  9. I’ve met many kiruv Rabbis and others involved with kiruv during my journey, and I just cannot relate to what Sarah is talking about. Sure, some are friendlier than others but I can’t imagine anyone of them calling someone a “Bad Jew” Maybe I’ve just been lucky. Even at Shabbatons and at Rabbi’s tables where there has been an outrageous opinion brought forward that was clearly contrary to Torah, the Rabbis always treated the individual with respect.

  10. Sarah M,

    We can’t tell from your narrative exactly what beliefs of yours offended these kiruv people you met. Which exact religious beliefs? Which exact political beliefs?

    Who began your contact with these people in the first place, you or them? If it was you, what did you expect that did not actually happen?

  11. I have personally been told by a well-known kiruv rabbi that I am a bad Jew (because my beliefs disagree with with him, not because of a lack of observance). I have watched the same rabbi as well as others insult members of an audience and provoke the audience to laugh at people who ask challenging questions. I have been at a shabbos table at the home of kiruv workers where I was insulted and my personal integrity and commitment to Judaism challenged for having more liberal political views than my hosts. I have seen seriously dishonest business dealings come from a kiruv rabbi.

    I’m sure many people here have had different experiences with kiruv, but it still stands that my experiences with kiruv have been mostly negative. I strongly agree with those like Ora who are recommending that “kiruv workers” try to practice a little chesed and ahavat yisrael.

    Since these lovely encounters with kiruv professionals I have stopped being orthodox. It had little to do with these rabbis, they neither aided it nor could have prevented my decision to associate with more liberal Jewish communities. But sometimes people catch me speaking bitterly about the orthodox and specifically the charderi world, thanks to the rather nasty and shallow kiruv workers I had the misfortune of encountering.

  12. Why should “kiruv” be any less suitable a word than “outreach” or another such word? Because some efforts labeled as “kiruv” have been misguided in some measure? Not all “outreach” work or whatever has been 100% kosher either!

    It’s strange to see people misusing synonyms in ways that attach all bad to one of the words and all good to another.

  13. Hi, Ora

    “reaching out, educating, showing people the beauty of Torah”

    This IS Kiruv. A great description, in fact!

    Re your friend who identifies himself at this time as atheist: I agree, Torah is not an academic field, and knowledge does not necessarily translate to personal change. Perhaps being the respectful, helpful person you are is the best Kiruv here.

    “In which case, kiruv is something that can go back and forth between anyone.”

    Yes! So true, and such an important concept! The roles can be fluid, and reciprocal.

  14. M (#75), a few things:
    1) I’m glad your Kiruv experiences have been so positive.

    2) Most kiruv positions I hear about are unpaid, or barely paid. I am certainly not accusing kiruv workers of being materialistic.

    3) I did not choose the title in an attempt to be provocative. I just don’t believe in kiruv. I don’t think that’s necessarily provocative at all. Take Chabad for example, they do tons of what most people here would call kiruv, but they don’t call it kiruv, because they don’t agree with the term. Terms I’ve heard used by Chabad include reaching out, educating, showing people the beauty of Torah, etc.

    In an earlier post you said that when you teach someone prayers brings them closer to Hashem. An example of why I’m not sure this is true: I have this aquiantance who is a really generous and absolutely brilliant guy. He knows a lot of Torah, seriously a lot, speaks fluent Hebrew, etc. He also considers himself an atheist. If I teach him a midrash he hadn’t heard of, did I just bring him closer to Hashem, whether or not he changes his personal beliefs? If so, it would seem that simply knowing things about Torah/judaism is enough to be closer, which seems unfair to the ignorant but passionately devote.

    On a similar note, while he says he doesn’t believe in Hashem, he does a lot of chessed work and even helps to run a local minyan (not exactly a kosher minyan, but still). So who knows if I’m actually in a position to be m’karev him? Maybe he’s closer to Hashem than I am. If that’s true, maybe I can m’karev him anyway despite being further from Hashem. In which case, kiruv is something that can go back and forth between anyone. Which sounds about right to me, which is why I don’t like the standard terms, because if I’m often the kiruvee, why would I be constantly referred to as the “m’karev” or whatever just because i work with Kiruv Org B?

  15. Àm I the only one thinkin that the logical conclusions that come to mind after reading the threading ànd watching it go weavin in ànd out with plenty of clout coated techniques for the kiruv resistent ànd rust resilient are as follows. A new ànd improved born again outreach org without the breach parts of any spiritual , trust related ór even sneakily connotative subtexts albeit with the purest of intentions.

    Ànd the perfect persons to boss this org àround ànd fine tune to perfection , I’m thinkin DK, RDG, Ora, Bob Miller ànd of course The Ron Coleman. See there’s even some hope for some good slogan potential with all those repeat letters. I’m sure they can come up with something quaintly quintessential, catchy, innately intellectual with no signs of bible coding ór any coding for that matter. I think you folks would make a fine distinctly diverse team sparkling with an iridescent halo of ünadulterated èrudition. Änd if you need any alcohol ór floral related assistance for those Judaism is so for real all halacha included parties you know which instantly inspired into jadedism comment gemstone girl you can count on.
    Maybe we could even get down to the nitty gritty ànd redefine chumrah versus halacha ànd other fun sketchy religion related fixing.
    I think we should start with muktzah versus melacha ànd how they interact on levels other than both starting with the letter m as in mystically mundane.

  16. “There’s no magical “silver bullet” that’s going to vanquish the werewolf of assimilation and intermarriage, only hard “roll up your sleeves” involvement with people and their problems and concerns.”

    Yes! How true!

  17. Ora,

    Unfortunately the only thing your “clarifications” have accomplished is to convince me that while some of your ideas may have merit you do a less than satisfactory job of expressing them fairly. I assume that the site admin does not employ editors. It is up to each contributor to ensure that his/her words are thoughtful, balanced, and accurate. This may not be an official “news” site but it’s read by thousands of people and helps them form their opinion and therefore requires a certain degree of caution. I’m sorry you’re unwilling to recognize that therein lies the problem with your post. I wish you Hatzlachah in the future and in all your endeavors.

    RDG

  18. uncontradictable language of being like Avrohom Avinu.

    Actually, I wrote “in the style of Avraham Avinu.” Nothing can replace the hot meal and a genuine concern for your fellow Jew. You don’t need to be the tzaddik hador for that.

    As Rav Avigdor Miller would say, “There’s more kiruv with a bowl of peanuts and a hearty sing-along than all the lectures in the world.”

    I think I can safely assume that the swipe at hi-tech kiruv (that I heard from Rabbi Chait) was intended for organizations that support seminars featuring the Codes and the like, which, despite the millions of dollars they are investing, have a record of being notoriously poor on follow-up and extending help further on down the line.

    There’s no magical “silver bullet” that’s going to vanquish the werewolf of assimilation and intermarriage, only hard “roll up your sleeves” involvement with people and their problems and concerns.

    Rav Noach Weinberg once related a story describing the effectiveness of planting seeds, what he called a “time-bomb.” Rabbi Schuster brought a young man to his home at 11:00 pm, and he sat with him until 3:00 in the morning, whereupon he left Israel.

    Twenty five years later he walked into Rav Noach’s office to tell him he’s started on the path to becoming a baal teshuvah.

    Please note: the effectiveness of this “time-bomb” was the mesirus nefesh to stay up until 3:00 in the morning to spend fours hours with the young man. Time-bomb means spending the time!

  19. Gosh, David, just when I thought you were going to thank everyone for coming and urging them to drive home safely, you drop a little bomb — a well-sourced swipe at unspecified “high tech kiruv” couched in the uncontradictable language of being like Avrohom Avinu.

    It’s a beautiful thing to be a tzaddik. But we had tzaddikim for the last two centuries, quite a few actually, and look where we are today. People have to make kiruv — whether “high tech” (like this blog) or flesh-to-flesh (like Partners in Torah) — a meaningful part of their lives in a way that makes sense for our time, place and challenges.

    Drive home safely!

  20. This thread has been a very interesting and revealing exchange of ideas.

    I’m reminded of an eloquent and passionate speech made by Rabbi Moshe Chait (who founded NCSY with others) at my son’s bris seventeen years ago. He decried the current turn towards hi tech kiruv and called for the principles of chesed and mesirus nefesh (giving of one’s self) in the style of Avraham Avinu.

    Very apropos for today as well.

  21. Ora referred to “the policy of sending out kiruv workers who have limited knowledge themselves”.

    This can be compared to the situation of an executive who urgently needs to make an decision. He knows he doesn’t have the time to gather and review all pertinent information, so, at some critical point, he does the best he can with what he has. Gathering too little info may make his decision wrong. Gathering too much may make his decision too late to achieve its goal.

    The kiruv organizations are also fighting a battle against time, as so many Jews slip away to assimilation, cults, other religions, apathy, etc. The organizations’ leaders know that there is only a finite number of potential kiruv field workers who are 100% ready, willing, and available. So how much and what type of training will supply the extra workers needed to make a dent in the problem? There are major judgment calls here, and not all judgments have worked out for the best. That is, some, but not all, recruitment and training shortcuts have done more harm than good.

    Nobody has enough of the big picture to know what percent of kiruv workers are undertrained or wrongly trained for their specific tasks. Some organizations may have more of a problem with this than others.

  22. “I heard they’re using the codes in NCSY to convince people not to go to First Tier colleges, actually.”

    I think you’re onto something…

    Take the full name of the organization:
    nationalconferenceofsynagogueyouth

    Start with the second letter and skip every other letter:

    ainlofrnefyaOUYUh

    The result:
    The only post high school (that’s why we start with the second letter) institution that makes any sense and is Kosher is YU.

    :)

  23. DK said, sarcastically, ” Clearly the Haredi kiruvniks who use the codes do so out of their own independent assessment of scientific method, which just happens to be out of sync with the majority of scientists, but not out of any theologically motivated bias”

    DK has now made some progress, from claiming they’re lying to claiming they have bias. Far be it from me to suggest that DK himself is not objective. But I do find it odd that he is against specifically chareidi kiruv (whatever that is) in this forum and against religion itself elsewhere.

  24. RDG (#71)–
    I don’t think my experiences are “a fair description of the work done by many hardworking mekarvim” either. I think they show a problem that certain mekarvim have, a problem that continues largely due to the policies of certain kiruv orgs. It’s like the difference between “we should work to change the culture of drinking on college campuses” and “all college students are drunken idiots.”
    My “there’s a problem with some of what happens in kiruv orgs, and that problem can be traced to basic concepts about kiruv” is different than “kiruv workers are unqualified and rude.”

    I don’t believe that formal training will automatically produce only highly qualified people. But we expect it of our children’s teachers, no? So why not of kiruv teachers? Again, I am not saying “all kiruv workers need a ‘kiruv degree'”. But there are orgs that allow people to teach with relatively little time in yeshiva. If an FFB who spent their entire life in religious schools goes out to do kiruv after 3/4 years of yeshiva, that’s one thing. When a BT who 3/4 years ago wasn’t shomer shabbat goes to do the same thing, it’s another. I know, I know “if you know alef and beit, teach alef.” But this is a case where they’ll be asked about the entire alphabet. And yes, there are kiruv orgs here in Jerusalem who have a policy of taking in secular college students and sending them back out as kiruv workers less than five years later.

    Is 3/4 years too early to invite non-observant guests for shabbat? Of course not. To talk to them about Torah and share what you know? Of course not. To take a position where you are essentially the only representative of the Torah world to hundreds of people? Yes.

    Why should I create a training course? There are plenty in existence, and we expect all other teachers to pass them.

    About lying–there is a difference between SOME kiruv workers lying and ALL or even MOST kiruv workers lying. I said SOME, you seem to be reading it differently. I don’t assume that kiruv workers who get things wrong are lying, but that doesn’t mean that none of them lie. DK explained it well, it’s not that they say something that blatantly contradicts Torah, they say things that they know aren’t widely accepted in the Torah world and that they themselves don’t accept, because they know it will be easier to hear. For example, telling women who have trouble with non-egalitarian shuls that they can always take part in women’s prayer groups when they know full well that there are no such groups in their own community and precious few women who would even consider joining one. Or for another example, women coming out of Kiruv Sem A with NO IDEA that many poskim hold that a married woman doesn’t need to cover all of her hair.

    I’m not only against the kiruv workers who shouldn’t be in the industry. I’m against the fact that they’re sent out under the official banner of certain kiruv orgs. I’m against them being put in a position where they basically represent Torah to an entire community.

    I didn’t give the examples I gave as the only things I’ve ever seen done wrong, or my only problem with the term “kiruv.” I gave them as examples of how the OFFICIAL POLICY in both A and B of rejecting the outwardly religious can go very wrong. Ditto for the POLICY of sending out kiruv workers who have limited knowledge themselves.

    BTW, I think it’s very different for men and women. Male kiruv workers tend to have spend a longer time in yeshiva than their usually-also-BT wives did in sem. But the wives are still expected to teach the women.

    Finally, if you want “sufficient editing,” talk to the site admin, not to me. This isn’t exactly meant to be a professional publication, or at least that was my impression. I thought it was a place to share honest thoughts/ideas about the BT world.

  25. People rely on the expertise of others in almost every facet of life, that’s obvious. The people who teach the codes are relying on those experts who believe the codes are still valid.

    When the codes first came out the original researchers were mathematicians who felt their findings were correct. As time went by others did experiments which seemed to disprove the original researchers. In some of the subsequent experiments there where errors and operational biases which may or may not invalidate the results.

    It is not clear that the original researchers have retracted their conclusions, in fact I don’t see conclusive evidence that they have. Although there seems to be less emphasis on the codes these days.

    Since the total amount of research done on this issue is so small I’m not sure it’s accurate to pick up the “scientific consensus hammer” and bash those who still hold by the codes. At some time research may overwhemingly prove them to be false, but we’re not there yet.

    Many believe that at this point the codes are probably an iffy kiruv tool, but to call those who use it dishonest without *really* knowing the facts is a worse crime.

    When we delegitimize others we need to do a self-check and see if we are as honest and informed as we think.

  26. You’re so right, Bob Miller. Clearly the Haredi kiruvniks who use the codes do so out of their own independent assessment of scientific method, which just happens to be out of sync with the majority of scientists, but not out of any theologically motivated bias. It’s all cold science for the Code users.

    The use of the Codes is one of the best things the haredi kiruvniks could give us. I don’t want them to stop. By all means — I hope they keep using them. I hope they keep insisting they may be real. I’m not really complaining. I mean, not to you. ;)

  27. When DK said “How could they possible believe that when it is counter to the vast majority of the scientific community which has examined it?” he meant to imply that no one in his right mind could truly believe a scientific theory at odds with the current scientific consensus.

    This idea is breathtakingly obtuse.

  28. RDG

    To better understand DK check out his blog. He is a Jihadist against “fundamentalist” Kiruv

  29. DK,

    I’m not sure I understand your questions. I believe I made it quite clear that I do not use the Bible Codes so I certainly can’t speak for those who do. I also made it clear that I don’t believe in deceiving people in the name of Kiruv. It appears you have serious issues with Kiruv in general and I have no intention of serving as a billboard for your rhetoric.

  30. You underestimate the human capacity for self-delusion, of not allowing facts to becloud the isues. Then again …perhaps you don’t.

  31. Bob Miller,

    You said, “Those who actually do use the codes as part of kiruv work believe the codes to be supported by statistical analysis. ”

    How could they possible believe that when it is counter to the vast majority of the scientific community which has examined it? They know the consensus — they choose to use them anyway.

    No, Bob. When people act counter to scientific assessment and do so in its name, this is called things like “lying” and “fraud” in the secular world.

  32. Your current “inquiry” (the Spanish inquisition does come to mind) has manifested as an attack on MO based on the behavior of some of those who attend MO shuls.

    An inquiry becomes an attack, becomes no less than the Spanish Inquisition itself! And they said Godwin’s Law” didn’t apply to Beyond BT!

    Well, look, I am “attacking” this: People who act brazenly outside the bounds of halacha and claim authority from Modern Orthodoxy to do so. I see here that nothing in the philosophy of that movement, however, justified such a claim. So I am satisfied about the results of my little inquisition. The false parallel to halachic malfeasance within the RW world should be apparent from this formulation — or are you, Menachem, aware of people saying, “I don’t keep ___ because we don’t do that in the yeshiva world?” Points taken off for modern-day “takanot” of Religious Zionism. But if they did, they’d be every bit as off base as, I have now learned, are those who believe any particular mitzvah or minhag is optional based on the material out of which your yarmulke is made. Good!

    And that’s my point, Rachel — indeed, labels are not helpful, either as a way of generalizing about a person’s own personal relationship with Hashem, nor as a rationale for avoiding confronting that relationship in all its aspects, as determined by the Torah.

  33. Ora, the points in your last comment (#67) are important and might urgently require rectification. I use ‘might’, because I have only heard your viewpoint, and there may be practical and well thought out reasons for the decisions of these orgs. The rudeness, if in fact true, should be addressed regardless of “reason”.

    Comment 67 is a defense to a strong reaction to your post. But comment 67 is only marginally related to your original post.

    It doesn’t address the misunderstanding of the words Mekarev (not L’karev) and RDG’s explanation of the term. It doesn’t explain or give evidence of lying (your use of the word lying indicates ‘intention’) or that Kiruv workers have an attitude of “because I told you so”. It doesn’t give evidence that Kiruv workers don’t have tremendous love for those they befriend and educate. It doesn’t give evidence that “old people are being ignored” by frum world.

    And that is because none of this is true. People involved in Kiruv are not lying connivers. People involved in Kiruv do not have a superior attitude of “because I said so”. People involved in Kiruv have tremendous love for their fellow Jew- any type of fellow Jew. Which is why they invest so much of themselves in this effort. And “old people” are not ignored. In my town alone, we have meals brought over, a support group for aging issues, and special Shiurim given for those who are looking to grow in their Judaism. Meals, visits, help in many areas, are given to Jews of all types and stripes.

    Ora, I have come to respect you from the many comments you submitted over time. Your post, although deeply troubling to me, does not detract from the respect I have for you.

    I “work” in Kiruv for a wonderful organization. Except it’s not work in the conventional sense, as I do not get paid. I invest hours upon hours of time out of a deep love for my fellow Jew. The points in your posts were startling, and are a stunningly false portrayal of the Kiruv people that I interface with.

    The title of the post is unnecessarily provocative, and disrespectful of hundreds of Jews who invest everything they have out of love for their fellow Jew.

    Criticism, and critical analysis, is important. This post perpetrated canards and highly inaccurate portrayals.

    May all of our dedicated, giving, sincere, and truly loving fellow Jews involved in Kiruv continue to do so, continue to listen to fair and level-headed criticism, and remember that when seeing a title of “there’s no such a thing as Kiruv”, the writers may be really nice people who might not have fully developed or properly articulated a well intentioned call to raise the bar.

  34. DK’s question and allegation:
    “Do the teachers and organizational promoters of Bible Codes believe these are scientifically valid or not? It’s a yes or no question. If no (and the answer is no)…”

    Above RDG said outright that “I don’t advocate Bible Codes and have never used them.”
    Those who actually do use the codes as part of kiruv work believe the codes to be supported by statistical analysis. They are wrong but honestly wrong. If you know otherwise, DK, where’s your proof?

  35. RDG, you wrote,

    “My point was that use of the Bible Codes is not intended to make someone do Mitzvos because the lecturer thinks its a good idea, but rather to stimulate someone to relate to the Torah in a different manner and realize that Hashem thinks its a good idea.”

    Do the teachers and organizational promoters of Bible Codes believe these are scientifically valid or not? It’s a yes or no question. If no (and the answer is no) then why are they using them and why are others like yourself allowing the use of them? Because they are deemed to be effective, and the ends justifies the means. They help make people frum, even if it isn’t honest.

    And do those kiruvniks who don’t believe them to be true say so publicly, or do they remain silent, since it’s all for the sake of kiruv?

    Additionally, do haredi kiruvniks sometimes stress that scientific method and evolution is not a contradiction to haredism, even if they believe that eventually, it will need to be discarded when the person is *strong* enough?

    Also, isn’t information subverted (and downplayed if asked directly about it) that might be considered unhelpful to the kiruv process?

  36. Ora,
    You write:
    “First of all, you seem to have missed my responses to others in this thread,where I said that I am not in any way against kiruv workers, but against the entire concept of kiruv as it is currently used.”

    No. I read them and that’s precisely my point. You’re taking your limited experiences and pinning them “on the entire concept of kiruv” as a whole. That’s what’s bothering me most. I am aware that many things need to be improved [in my organization as well as others] although I generally am not big on clarion calls. I prefer action instead. However, I don’t think that your experiences with the examples you gave are a fair description of the work done by many hardworking mekarvim.

    Regarding training you write:
    “Not everyone picks it up on the job. And I’ve met several very enthusiastic kiruv workers with major organizations who I find myself hoping my friends don’t meet.”

    Guess what? There are many doctors and lawyers I hope my friends will never use as well and they’ve got plenty of training. Formal training is not the be all end all you might believe. Most mekarvim spent many years in Yeshivah developing a firm foundation of Hashkafah, Halachah, Yediyos etc. Most interned by a seasoned mekarev as well before going out on their own. That’s plenty of training but it’s not as formal and doesn’t have a degree attached to it. If you think more is necessary, by all means, start a real training course. You’ll soon discover why it’s not as easy as you think.

    You write:
    “(btw, I don’t assume kiruv workers are lying when they say wrong things, but I do assume they need a bit more knowledge themselves).”

    In that case, may I suggest that next time you refrain from suggesting that they’re liars when you write a post. Your words were “I was very unimpressed by the kiruv workers who were either ignorant of the truth or chose to simplify it (i.e., lie) in order to make it easier for the not-so-religious to accept.”

    You write:
    “Some of them have personalities incompatible with kiruv. In the end, those who are good at kiruv stay with it, and the well-known A workers who deal with most of the teaching are really, really good at what they do. That doesn’t mean there’s no damage done by the others.”

    Correct. Not all are cut out for it and the good ones usually stick with it while others leave. Why then, would you paint a picture with such a broad brush of “but against the entire concept of kiruv as it is currently used?” You’re only against the ones who shouldn’t be in the industry, right? Stick to discussing those if you need to.

    You write:
    “Finally, when I write a post, I don’t mean it as ‘These are my views, they are correct.’ I write here because I want feedback, and I always change/refine my opinions based on what I read. So please take this post as what it is, and don’t feel the need to get indignant over what is only my personal reaction to things that really disturb me”

    Could it be that you meant to say one thing and another thing came out? I can accept that and perhaps I should have read into your words your true intentions. However, may I suggest you do the same for the people you’re criticizing? Maybe they said things that didn’t come out the way they were meant to. Maybe they acted under pressure and after thinking it over realized that a mistake had been made. Not all get it right the first time, and most of us don’t have subsequent opportunities to clarify our intentions the way you did with your subsequent comments.

    In hearing your responses, I realize that no harm was intended and I can accept that but harm is done nonetheless when things are written without sufficient editing.

    Bob:
    I don’t advocate Bible Codes and have never used them. I personally think they create more problems than they solve but I recognize that others think differently. My point was that use of the Bible Codes is not intended to make someone do Mitzvos because the lecturer thinks its a good idea, but rather to stimulate someone to relate to the Torah in a different manner and realize that Hashem thinks its a good idea.

  37. Ora said,
    “A has a policy of rejecting already-religious people from its classes and hostel, because they are here to cater to the non-religious.”

    A BT friend of mine in New England, who was working out of his home because of a disability, lived far away from Orthodox communities and was unable to move.

    He tried in vain to hook up with well-known kiruv organizations to arrange Gemara study with a chavrusa by telephone. As he described it, these groups rejected him because he was already a BT.

    His real goal was to find his way into a yeshiva. In the meantime, we two started studying gemara together by phone twice a week.
    The happy ending was that he got some financial aid and went to go study full-time in a yeshiva.

  38. RDG speaks from experience and Ora does, too. We each see only pieces of the puzzle. This forum was designed to share our own impressions and experiences, and, understandably, these can differ radically from person to person. While people know when an article or comment does not “ring true” in relation to their own experiences, they need to allow that others have had other experiences. Where Ora and RDG may both have erred is in over-generalization.

    RDG said, “Bible codes are not a means of saying, “because I said so” either. They’re a means of showing that Hashem said so.”

    The claim by those who publicize them that they have been proven statistically is false. That does not negate their potential value for homiletical purposes.

    Here is my earlier comment in another discussion thread of this forum:

    Bob Miller
    May 21st, 2007 08:27 (Responding to Eliahu Levenson)

    There are strong objections (including those of Orthodox mathematicians) to the latest, most elaborate theory/method about these codes:

    Examples:
    http://math.caltech.edu/code/petition.html
    http://wopr.com/biblecodes/
    http://www.wopr.com/biblecodes/TheCase.htm
    http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/gans_exp.html
    http://www.math.utoronto.ca/~drorbn/Codes/Gans/index.html

    Professor Aumann in Israel, who earlier supported the publication of a paper on the codes, is now skeptical of their validity. This report contains (among other things) his latest opinion of the codes:
    http://ratio.huji.ac.il/dp/dp_365.pdf
    Professor Aumann’s personal conclusions are on Pages 3 and 4 of this pdf file. He confirmed his conclusion about this in a recent email to me. In particular, note his items 10 and 11. Wikipedia’s extract from item 11 is as follows:

    “Aumann concluded:

    ‘A priori, the thesis of the Codes research seems wildly improbable… Research conducted under my own supervision failed to confirm the existence of the codes – though it also did not establish their non-existence. So I must return to my a priori estimate, that the Codes phenomenon is improbable.’

    The above does not directly touch on observations made by Gedolim of the past who found words hidden in the text but did not attempt to create this full-blown theory. Even so, using codes as a kiruv tool is an example of misplaced priorities and can backfire altogether when specific new code theories are found to be insupportable.

  39. RDG–
    Also, I don’t think writing a post about kiruv for a site that focuses on BT issues is “arbitrary” at all.

  40. RDG–

    First of all, you seem to have missed my responses to others in this thread, where I said that I am not in any way against kiruv workers, but against the entire concept of kiruv as it is currently used.

    I have no idea why you are making so many assumptions. Why don’t I ask the kiruv worker who acted in a way I though inappropriate what really happened? I did, and I don’t agree with their answers. Why do I think older people are being turned away? Because I’ve seen it happen. Why do you assume that I’m not involved in what I called the “kiruv industry”? Actually, one of my jobs involves helping a rabbi in his work at one of the biggest kiruv organizations out there. I have between 10 and 20 people over for Shabbat meals on a fairly regular basis and do other things as well (for those of you who know me in real life, please keep this info confidential. I can explain why via email if you want). The rabbi does not expect me to lead people into frumness, as I myself have been frum for only 4.5 years and don’t have a high enough level of Torah learning. I’m just a generally meant to do chessed with his guidance.

    I think you’re taking the one sentence that seems to really annoy you in the worst possible way. I don’t think kiruv workers should change their jobs, but I think that job descriptions/labels should change somewhat.

    The essence of my problem with kiruv is clear also in what you’re saying. You say kiruv workers often have no formal training, and then go on to compare them to lawyers, doctors, and mechanics, all of whom most definitely receive formal training. Just as I want my kids’ teachers to have formal training in teaching and a certain level of Torah knowledge, if my own non-observant friends go to a kiruv org in the states, I hope the people they hook up with there have training as well. Not everyone picks it up on the job. And I’ve met several very enthusiastic kiruv workers with major organizations who I find myself hoping my friends don’t meet.

    Let me give some concrete examples of things I’ve seen go wrong in kiruv orgs A and B. A and B are both international and well-known, and do lots of good. B is the one I work for. So I am not sharing these stories out of some kind of bitter hatred for kiruv, but as an example of the kind of thing that led to my post.

    A has a policy of rejecting already-religious people from its classes and hostel, because they are here to cater to the non-religious. Which in theory is absolutely fine, but in practice, means that girls with skirts get no help no matter what their other observance, and girls in pants get help even if they are otherwise frum. As one example, I had a friend who stayed in an A-run hostel for free, got almost-free tuition at an A school, and was warmly welcomed for A events. She was an MO girl from an MO family who was actually from Israel and knew many people in the country. She also wore jeans. I have another friend who was told she could stay in the hostel and then kicked out by a different worker at 11:50 pm in a very mean way (I was there, I saw it, this is not just her version). She was never invited to the A school and was told that A events were not for her. This girl was extremely troubled and actually involved with non-Jewish and even anti-Semitic guys at the time. She just happened to wear a skirt, because she liked the idea of tzniut. I don’t expect A workers to know exactly what’s what with each person, but I do think they should at least ask, and certainly treat people more respectfully. Again, these cases are examples of a much more widespread kind of behavior I’ve seen.

    A also has a policy of convincing its students to go do kiruv even when that’s sometimes not the most appropriate profession. I’ve met some very gung-ho young A kiruvers who are not yet ready to discuss certain Torah issues in the necessary depth to give correct answers to the kinds of questions they get (btw, I don’t assume kiruv workers are lying when they say wrong things, but I do assume they need a bit more knowledge themselves). Some of them have personalities incompatible with kiruv. In the end, those who are good at kiruv stay with it, and the well-known A workers who deal with most of the teaching are really, really good at what they do. That doesn’t mean there’s no damage done by the others.

    The one incident that did the most to turn me off of A happened when I was a young newly-frum spending a week in the A hostel. A middle-aged woman who seemed to have issues (not dangerously mentally ill, but with issues) was turned away from the hostel late at night, and the worker did nothing to help her, and in fact was downright rude. Now I don’t necessarily think she should have stayed at the hostel, and I realize that helping her wasn’t part of the worker’s job description, but when you are the only example of frum behavior for hundreds of girls, it helps to show a bit of compassion. It wouldn’t have taken very long to at least direct her to an appropriate place, there were several nearby.

    B has similar issues, and I’ve seen B workers turn away the seemingly-religious without looking into the situation. I talked to people who had been rejected later, and their feelings were most definitely hurt. They probably won’t try to go to future B events, and chaval. One B worker expressed frustration at families who wanted to come to events, when they preferred students. I was surprised, because I talked to the kids in some of these families, and their time at B events was definitely having a positive impact. Again, this is not “oh that mean B worker!” just a call for a bit more openness to different kinds of people (in this case, there were no other kiruv orgs in the area for non-students to get involved with). When I lived downtown there were a couple of B-educated young men next door. They had open shabbats every week and really accepted every person. That meant they ended up with a lot of very strange people, including the barely-sober and probably insane. I don’t think that’s for everyone, but for sure I gained a TON of respect for B from seeing what those two young men did.

    Most B workers, by the way, are categorically opposed to the word “kiruv”. Those who oppose the term kiruv tend to see themselves as educators, and their helpers if they have any as simply people involved in doing mitzvot. For a long time I really didn’t understand why they didn’t just say “kiruv,” but now as you see I very much agree with them (not that my reasons are their reasons).

    Finally, when I write a post, I don’t mean it as ‘These are my views, they are correct.’ I write here because I want feedback, and I always change/refine my opinions based on what I read. So please take this post as what it is, and don’t feel the need to get indignant over what is only my personal reaction to things that really disturb me. I agree at this point that some of what I said was poorly worded, and some of my suggestions were wrong. I still think there are many things in kiruv that could be “fine-tuned”, and it can only help to do so.

  41. Ora,
    I was forwarded your post and since I work as a mekarev, I found it somewhat interesting, while highly troublesome. Although I have a general rule that I do not post on message boards, I was so bothered by it that I decided to make an exception and share my thoughts with you. I waited a few days to allow my personal feelings to simmer down so I could focus solely on the issues. Whatever I wrote here is only a small part of what I have to respond, but in the interests of keeping this response as short as possible, I left out much of what I would share with you in person. I hope you’ll appreciate my anonymity and if you have anything to share with me please feel free to do so through the administrator who has my email. I’ll respond in italics to your words. Please forgive me in advance if I come across overly harsh. I have tried very hard to keep my feelings in check.
    You write:
    “If you think about the Hebrew word, “l’karev,” the whole idea that Kiruv is something you can do to another person just sounds absurd. The word means “to come closer.” You yourself can approach a certain destination, but you can’t “come” someone else to something. You could maybe push them, but that’s not very effective in the long run. You can bring someone somewhere, but only if they want to go. If they don’t, it’s called kidnapping, and it’s totally uncool.”

    You began with a false premise. Kiruv means not only “to come closer” but also, “to draw near” This is seen in the Mishnah Avos 1:12 “Hillel said, ‘Be like students of Aharon [Hakohen] who loved and pursued peace. Love people, and was Mekarvon L’Torah” which means he drew them to Torah. As far as I know that is what is meant by Kiruv, people who are distant from Torah are gently drawn closer to it. A Mekarev serves as the bridge between a Jew who knows little about, or is suspicious of Torah, and needs to be convinced that it’s a worthwhile study.
    The Gra in Mishlei Perek 10:8 explains that this occurs through teaching Torah in a gentle and loving manner
    Meiri explains that by befriending the person, the person would be ashamed to engage in unseemly behavior because they knew that Aharon wouldn’t approve of it.

    You write:
    “Use of the word ‘kiruv’ leads to a perception that there’s a mitzvah to make, as in entice/guilt/force/convince by any means, people to be religious that stands part from education and kindness. This leads to kiruv gimmicks, and leaves a bad taste in many mouths.”

    This is pure speculation on your part and not grounded in fact. There most certainly is a Mitzvah to be mekarev a person. According to the Rambam it is included in the Mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem. Some opinions maintain that it is a dimension of the mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah. There are additional sources for it as well.
    I don’t know if you are familiar with Kiruv, but it’s far from what you’re portraying as in, “as in entice/guilt/force/convince by any means.” That may be your perception of what’s going on, but it’s hardly a reflection of the fact. The basis of almost any Kiruv is education and chessed. I challenge you to show me examples of mainstream kiruv organization operating in the manner in which you described. I’ll be more than happy to provide you examples of Kiruv organizations that provide exceptional educational opportunities to their students.

    You write:
    “As a side note, one of the more annoying experiences I’ve had with kiruv workers, who have had just enough Torah training to go out and spread the word, is that several have given me overly basic, not entirely correct answers to complex questions. There’s been a definite tendency to say “When you keep mitzva X, a benefit is Y,” when Y is often tangentially related at best. As an example of an incorrect answer, I was told repeatedly that all decisions of Chazal get their authority from the verse “Lo tasur m’divrehem.”
    was very unimpressed by the kiruv workers who were either ignorant of the truth or chose to simplify it (i.e., lie) in order to make it easier for the not-so-religious to accept.”

    I have not yet met a Kiruv worker whom I could discern was deliberately “lying” about anything and I think that you might want to reconsider that statement. If you’re bothered by inadequate training, allow me to share with you a little secret. There is no formal training for mekarvim! Sure, there are two organizations that I know of that offer some sort of training, but most mekarvim never received a day of training in their lives. They, like myself, went through many years of yeshivah and developed a passion for teaching Torah. They also found that they had an ability to relate to Jews who are not religious and decided to devote their lives to teaching them Torah. Very few of them are knowledgeable in every single area that will arise right out of the gate. Most learn as they go and do a very good job.
    The problem is that the range of subjects that a mekarev must address is far beyond what any yeshivah or training program can offer. There are cultural differences as well to overcome. They do their best but are not always perfect. Nor is a doctor, lawyer, mechanic, or any other professional. They’re doing their best and they’re not lying.

    You write:
    “Another problem with the word ‘kiruv’ is that it turns the act of bringing Torah to our fellow Jews into a verb, when it should actually be a state of being. My non-religious friends are unlikely to start keeping mitzvot just because I told them it’s a good idea. (And even the most fancy kiruv tricks like using Bible codes and historical proof are basically a fancy way of saying “because I said so.”)”

    I’m stunned by these words. Do you think any mekarev tells a person to observe Mitzvos because “he thinks it’s a good idea?” Bible codes are not a means of saying, “because I said so” either. They’re a means of showing that Hashem said so. Every mekarev I know, makes a point of highlighting the Ribono Shel Olam’s role in all of this, or he’d be starting a new religion.

    You write:
    “However, if my whole way of being—my behavior, my family life, my mood—is better because of
    Torah, then they just might decide to take something on. In my opinion, this is what the phrase “ohev et ha’briot u’m’karvan l’Torah” means. Love people (important note: Loving the people came first, not teaching them Torah—another thing that Kiruv pros would do well to remember), and through your genuine love and your personal example, bring them closer to Torah.

    Please see the Gr”a I referenced above about teaching Torah and it’s role in Kiruv.

    You write: “Loving the people came first, not teaching them Torah—another thing that Kiruv pros would do well to remember)”

    Are you insinuating that Mekarvim are deficient in the area of Ahavas Yisroel? Can you back that up? This may be the most bothersome statement of all. I’m surprised that none of the other commenters thought it inappropriate.

    You write:
    “I also blame the whole Kiruv industry, as it’s come to be known, for adding to this disconnect. By having ‘kiruv professionals,’ we start to feel that it’s someone else’s job to worry about spreading Torah.”

    I guess I’ll just quit Kiruv and go to law school. I never realized how I was getting in your way. Please accept my apologies.
    Did you at some point in your rant stop to read what you wrote and ask yourself if it all needed to be written? This sentence tells me that you need to edit your work before you submit it.

    You write:
    “Finally, the idea of kiruv leads to the unfortunate phenomena of a lack of hesed. I’ve met more than a few religious folk who are in need of something, say a nice Shabbat meal or a place to pray on the holidays, and feel that their needs are being ignored because they’re already frum. As if helping them won’t add the imaginary “notch to the belt” that some on BeyondBT have mentioned, so why bother?”

    I can understand if you wanted to write a post on how we must be on the lookout for people who need invitations for Shabbos meals even if they’re frum. How you manage to pin the blame on Kiruv for that is simple beyond me.

    You write:
    “I’ve also met not-so-religious folk who are ignored because they are “too old” or too set in their ways, and are basically considered lost causes. In my opinion, this is the worst downfall of modern kiruv. When we realize that ‘kiruv’ is actually hesed, it becomes ridiculous to avoid doing hesed with those who want it because we prefer to do it with others. Or to choose our hesed project based on what we’ll get in return.”

    Ora, how in the world do you know why “old people” are being ignored? For that matter, how do you know that they are being ignored? There are literally HUNDREDS of organizations that serve the older population everywhere. Not every mekarev or organization can serve everyone however. It’s not different than medicine in which each doctor has a specialty. Your pediatrician takes care of your children but doesn’t treat your aching back. Why is it wrong when a person who makes a personal decision to do Kiruv chooses to deal with a population that he can be most successful based on his personality, talents, and interests? You’ve managed to imagine the worst so far in everyone. You can certainly do much better than that.

    What troubled me most about your post is that you took liberal swipes at thousands of well-meaning people, whom you admittedly [in your later comments] know little about and simply decided that we would all love to hear your criticism. I invite you to get to know some of these people who have devoted their lives to sharing Torah with Jews in exchange for meager pay that they must raise on their own, opening their homes and hearts to hundreds, devotion that is rarely seen in other fields, and so much more. You write [in a later comment] that many of these feelings are based on things you’ve heard from friends. I invite you to do the Halachically correct thing and speak to the mekarvim involved with your friends and ask them whether they understood the events that transpired in the same manner as your friends? I’m willing to venture that their version will look significantly different that the one that motivated you to write this post. You began this post with an indication that things in your life pushed you to write it.
    Whatever those things are, I sincerely hope they end well for you and I hope that you choose a healthier means of dealing with them than by arbitrarily writing an unfair criticism of the kiruv “industry” next time you’re frustrated.

  42. Ron,

    “The fact that many haredim or yeshivish orthodox violate halacha on a regular basis is not actually relevant to my inquiry, which is about the concept of espousing non-compliance with halacha as a desideratum or an acceptable so-called “shita.” ”

    Actually I think it is. Your current “inquiry” (the Spanish inquisition does come to mind) has manifested as an attack on MO based on the behavior of some of those who attend MO shuls. While the “issues” in the chareidi/yeshivish worlds don’t manifest in the same way, there is enough of a parallel for me to make the point, without being quite as down and dirty, that this is not unique to MO.

  43. I agree with JT—about zinnias!

    My father used to grow many varieties of zinnias (also marigolds, etc.) in the back yard when I was a kid. They really brightened the place up.

    The zinnias always conformed 100% to HaShem’s laws, and I hope we can aim for that too, instead of intentionally or unintentionally aiming lower.

  44. Ron-

    My Orthodox Community had shatnez checking (not within the community itself, but they would make announcements for people to send out all their clothes for checking)

    As for the labels- I’m not talking about people claiming to be MO. I’m most certainly not MO, or any type of O, or C or R for that matter. I’m simply a post-denominational, egalitarian, shomeret shabbat, shomeret kashrut Jew. And I do consider myself to be observant. But then again, I probably define observant differently than you do. For me, observant does not necessarily mean Orthodox.

    Maybe we’re all getting caught up on labels, though…

    Ora- I completely agree with you. We’re all not doing enough…we should all be offline, since the internet is at best batel torah and at worst, assur. After all, Avraham Avinu was able to do kiruv without using the internet. We should all follow his example. :)

    And you’re already in the most commented category. Yasher Koach!

  45. Menachem, I don’t want to name towns, but I can think of some very large ones that don’t have anyone testing for shatnez. I think this point is a dead end though so I concede it.

    Halachically the threshold for being considered orthodox is actually low — I guess you mean not being m’chalel shabbos b’farhesia. But that is a pretty low common denominator, and not exactly a basis for a society nor one that I can imagine Rav Shachter or any of his colleagues considers a particularly impressive standard for MO or otherwise.

    The fact that many haredim or yeshivish orthodox violate halacha on a regular basis is not actually relevant to my inquiry, which is about the concept of espousing non-compliance with halacha as a desideratum or an acceptable so-called “shita.”

  46. Ron,

    “Why, for example, do only “haredi” towns, as far as I know, have shatnez-checking?”

    I guess you don’t know very far. I’ve lived in “MO” towns that have Shatnez testing. You’re probably not taking into account the factor than many “chereidi” towns have larger numbers of frum Jews in general which have the resources and demand to provide more “frum” services.

    “But does that mean that those who do deviate may by virtue of this tolerance by leadership that is itself rigorously orthodox, get to wear the MO “crown” itself?”

    Probably don’t get to wear the crown, but probably do counted in the MO numbers. Just as there are numerous members of Agudahs who deviate, in different yet significant ways, from halacha that get swept up in the Chareidi numbers.

    “Or are they, according to the formulation suggested above, little better than gerei toshav of a sort — allowed to participate in communal life but really not worthy of the title “orthodox,” meaning halachically observant Jew?”

    The threshold for being considered orthodox is fairly low. I would say most of the people you describe in meet that threshold.

    There was a time when this wasn’t so. In the orhodox shul I went to as a kid, and in many others in the NY metro ares, most of the members were not Shomer Shabbos. The majority of people who came to shul on Shabbos drove. Thanks to the success of kiruv from within these communities, mainly NCSY, you find many fewer orthodox shuls with this phenominom. Today, if you look at the kids of the pants-wearing, bare-headed women in MO shuls, you’ll see large numbers of them becoming more observant in these areas than their parents.

  47. Ron Coleman, firstly as a brilliant lawyer with a constant aura or halo of iridescent erudition, i’m sure you’re familiar with the “equal opportunity basher” concept.
    If you’re goin to start scrutinizing the nitty gritty details and actions of those who claim they are MO, you might want to apply this sincerely scrupulous scrutinizing philosophy to those that consider themselves just orthodox or even ultra orthodox.I have this “spiritual feeling” that few will qualify as orthodox and even less as ultra orthodox.
    Why arent you worried about those that are tarnishing orthodox and ultra orthodox’s oh so platinum reputation ? Maybe we should all go back to just being jewish.

    Also, when pasting my original comment neatly back into context, you may realize that I had picked pants and personal minyan preferences cuz thats what the “controversial” comment # 50 was focusing on. Thats where my “soul” and “prayer” points came from. My lost in translation point was that instead of focusing on superficial issues like pants and colorful minyans the focus should be on the soul thats dressing up for life and on the prayers being said in whichever kind of minyan you plan on picking.

    I’m just as much a Partners In Torah lover as you are so thats one piece of judaism that we seem to be liking the same page of just for the record………

    So in terms of zinnia planting what would you consider your comment comebacks in general ?
    Slugs,snails/aphids/beatles or Miracle Gro. I would go with the Miracle Gro but then again I’m not always right with the spiritual growth stuff and I would never want to create straw slugs or scarecrows ;-) I might scare away the colorful butterflies i’m tryin to attract.

  48. Ora, LOL interesting summations and directives.So is it ok to have a sparkly glittered shtreimal and a bling bling studded bekeshah? Now that would be fun, sparkly, glitter like religious attire ,who said dressing religious had to be drabbier than drab?
    What if the 18 kids are lawyer/rabbis instead of doctors, would the “a child every nine months” fact override the change of preferable profession factor ? If I have a third and fourth sink and garbage can for pareve and cholov yisroel, am I way better than everyone else that already thinks they are better than me and my friends ?

    Could we do spiritual contests? There is nothing like competition to get the creative religious juices flowing.

    What if I bleach all my berries before eating, as opposed to just soap and strawberries, would that facilitate with the pre-school admission and the subsequent arduous shidduch process for the 18 kids ?
    It might be a good idea to start the shidduch process in pre-school, this way the timeline through high school and college is just so much more accurate and easily accessible.

    Anyway,so I came across the perfect metaphor this afternoon sunning and reading about the many different versions of my favorite zinnia plant (the diversity keeps growing each year!)…… I came to the florally inclined realization that spiritual growth can best be compared to cultivating the perfect zinnia garden patch. At the end of the day some of us just want to make life as meaningful and colorful as florally possible. And If we are just emotionally aware of the fact that our leaves will get bitten hard and often, if we dont learn to keep the slugs/ snails/ beatles and aphids from biting, we can take an active role in pest control.
    Kegs of beer for the slugs and soapy pesticide or rose spray for the beatles and aphids.
    And then hopefully cultivate the merriest patch of myopic free, hyperactive everwhere kind of colorful zinnias.
    The answer is not well insulated green houses except when the weather is just way too cold for anything else.Nor is it planting feverishly in frigid ice and snowstorms.
    And it definitely is not letting the slugs bite and snippety snip away cuz they are hungry for leafy nourishment and or cuz they dont like quick /brightly colored in your face kind of blooms.
    Zinnias are trustworthy /reliable/ durable/ weatherproof/soooo colorful/resilient and bloom till the frost and then some.
    They come in so many different colorful personalities from the elegans Oklahoma series ( my favorite) to the elegans Whirligig and Candy Cane………
    I guess the trick is to always have that “for the sake of Gd” slogan threading through your favorite pastimes.
    It always helps put stuff in their proper and respective perspectives and then some.
    Happy zinnia planting.

  49. Rachel, I am talking about the problem where people claim to be “Modern Orthodox” when they’re really selectively observant Jews who find MO a convenient and probably palliative catchall that they think permits deviations X, Y and Z from normative halacha. I am saying they are not more MO than my family was “Conservative,” notwithstanding where we paid dues: We were simply non-observant Jews who did do some mitzvos, but not all — but that should not be pinned on the Conservative Movement (whose rules actually required far more of us), just as MO should not be tarred with the brush — if the representations of it here are to be accepted — of “casual orthodoxy.”

    The question however is are these statements of MO theory the same thing as the normative MO practice across self-identified MO Jews? Yes, I recognize that there is a wide spectrum of practice. But I am still stumped. Why, for example, do only “haredi” towns, as far as I know, have shatnez-checking? Shouldn’t MO be every single bit as interested in shatnez as haredim? Also, why is there a _prevalence_ or very significant majority of uncovered married-female heads in MO communities? This seems to have nothing to do with the sophisticated philosophical definitions I have heard.

    I suppose the answer is that the MO leadership cited here preaches a greater degree of toleration from deviation away from halacha so that people are not turned off. But does that mean that those who do deviate may by virtue of this tolerance by leadership that is itself rigorously orthodox, get to wear the MO “crown” itself? Or are they, according to the formulation suggested above, little better than gerei toshav of a sort — allowed to participate in communal life but really not worthy of the title “orthodox,” meaning halachically observant Jew?

    JT, it’s very convenient to build straw men such as “crooked kiruv” and accuse them of “hyperfocusing on … pants or personal minyan preference.” I have never met anyone in kiruv who even focuses, much less “hyperfocuses,” on the halachic prohibition of women wearing pants, and certainly not which halachically- compliant minyan a person davens in. This false accusation against non-existent fire-breathing kiruv Nazis makes you feel better about your own level of observance, I am sure, but it doesn’t in the least advance the discussion either of kiruv or teshuva or self-growth or halachic observance, does it?

    You say, “I think it might make more sense to focus on the prayers and soul involved. Instead of worrying about what everyone considers ‘off the derech’. Why would you care ?” JT, the participants here have all come to the realization, I think, that fuzzy concepts such as “soul” — I will leave prayers aside, I simply don’t know what your point is there — as a replacement for religious observance doesn’t cut it in terms of building Jewish communities, Jewish continuity, Torah learning, kedushah as defined by the Torah, and fulfilling the Jewish People’s destiny in this world. And that is precisely why we care, and why we’re here having this discussion. Including you!

  50. Rachel–

    Jaded is absolutely right. If you want real controversy, you don’t suggest that there are more lenient interpretations than are normally accepted (egal minyanim, pants on women, etc). You tell everyone that they aren’t doing enough.

    For example, I think everyone on this board (yes, you) needs to: learn in kollel, work in kiruv, have ten kids (who must all be doctor-rabbis, and who you must marry off at age 18), wear a black shtreimel (and I don’t want any excuses, like “but Ora I’m a woman” or “I’m not even Jewish, this site just popped up when I googled “sparkly pink diamond soulmate”), have seperate milk and meat ovens, sinks, and garbage cans, join your local JDL, davven at least seven times a day, and of course, make aliya.

    Then you sit back and wait for the responses to pour in.

    ….i want a most commented post too….

  51. M-

    The people I’ve been involved with haven’t urged me to do anything. They accept that I am where I am, and they’re happy that I’m happy, even if I’m not Orthodox. And it’s not like I’m trying to convince them that what I’m doing is right and what they’re doing is wrong. But as I said before, I haven’t been involved with kiruv organizations. I just have Orthodox friends and became a part of the Orthodox Community at Penn while I was at school there.

    Ron- I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at. Can you explain a bit more?

  52. JT said “Instead of hyperfocusing on crooked kiruv’s reaction to pants or personal minyan preferences…”

    Possibly, any kiruv worthy of the name would object in exactly the same way.

  53. This is the point, as M says: My experience in the MO world — and I was there, after all; I didn’t just stay at Aish HaTorah, I came back home and lived an MO lifestyle for years — was “this is our level, and we’re not looking for more.” People told me this explicitly. Some were BT’s, some were not.

    I suppose what we’re agreeing is we have to call a spade a spade, and admit that non-observance is non-observance regardless of the label. My family belonged to a Conservative synagogue, but we weren’t remotely up to snuff as to what a Conservative Jew is, by the lights of that movement, supposed to do. We weren’t “Conservative Jews”; we were non-observant members of a Conservative synagogue.

  54. Rachel Adler,
    Sorry, you’re still not controversial enough , you sooo need to try harder. Have you never studied the fundamental building blocks needed to create controversial moments.
    At the end of the day, its really not all about the color and style of the minyan or the clothes or lack thereof.
    Instead of hyperfocusing on crooked kiruv’s reaction to pants or personal minyan preferences, I think it might make more sense to focus on the prayers and soul involved .Instead of worrying about what everyone considers “off the derech”. Why would you care ?

  55. “Would it be okay for the community to accept the individual as is and not push her to become more Orthodox, and be happy that she’s shomeret kashrut, tzniut, and shabbat? My guess is that you, and most kiruv workers, would probably say no; she’s off the derech, and if we can help her, we must. Whereas I say that you’re better off not pushing her, because she’s still becoming cloer to Hashem, maybe just not in the way that you would think is the correct one.”

    I think in this case, your guess is wrong.

    As Bob notes, I wouldn’t be dishonest is asked point blank about the permissibility of something forbidden (even in this hypothetical situation of “being asked”, there are ways of speaking that are not hurtful). I would express delight that the person is keeping Shabbat etc, and say that what they are doing is wonderful and admirable. And it is.

    I have some really close friends that are Conservative. They know that I don’t care much about labels. They are fully aware that I view life’s journey as a ladder- one is either going up, or going down. No option for getting off that ladder.

    Have the people you’ve been involved with urged you to reach a certain “destination”, with less regard for your Mitzvah observance in the present?

    I’m curious if this has been your personal experience, or just a fear of what people ‘might’ be thinking.

  56. Tactically, it may make sense in some situations not to pressure someone to go very far beyond his comfort zone.

    However, to acknowledge in any way that his comfort zone is within the bounds of Torah law —when it’s not—is not emes.

    The goal is steady, incremental progress and not stagnation. That applies to all of us.

  57. Bob, Ron, and M-

    Maybe nothing in my comment was controversial because I wasn’t entirely clear. The examples I used were extremes, and maybe I should have chosen less extreme ones to make my point, because the nafka mina might be different…

    Let’s say I give the examples of wearing pants, davening in a place where women can lead kabbalat shabbat and psukei d’zimrah and read Torah, actually doing those things, (or if we’re really pushing it, something that mamash isn’t allowed in Orthodoxy such as davening at an egalitarian minyan and making sure not to sit next to guys, but leading services that technically, according to even the most lenient Orthodox opinion, only men should lead, and counting oneself in the minyan) and not considering oneself to be Orthodox, and not having any intention on being Orthodox [again]. But still keeping tzniut, kashrut, shabbat, etc., when before, the person in question [who we obviously all know the identity of] was not keeping those mitzvot. And she could be working towards learning more, davening more, etc., for argument’s sake. Would you still say the same thing? Would it be okay for the community to accept the individual as is and not push her to become more Orthodox, and be happy that she’s shomeret kashrut, tzniut, and shabbat? My guess is that you, and most kiruv workers, would probably say no; she’s off the derech, and if we can help her, we must. Whereas I say that you’re better off not pushing her, because she’s still becoming cloer to Hashem, maybe just not in the way that you would think is the correct one.

    And Shabbat Shalom everyone!

  58. Great post, Ora.

    When it comes to ‘kiruv pros’ the real professional is the one who realizes that it’s not “me” that make the person frum, but Hashem using “me” as a sheliach (messenger) or a klei (vessel). Notches on the belt only signify an inflated ego (or stomach).

  59. “I assume I’m going to get many comments attacking me for saying this”

    Rachel, there’s not a sentence in your comment that is controversial.

  60. Avoiding eating gebrochts during the first 7 days of Pesach is a matter of community minhag and not of one’s level of frumkeit.

    It’s generally Chassidim who don’t eat gebrochts then.

  61. Yes, I wish I could be halachically “glatt” in my behavior, and I’m not, black hat notwithstanding. I don’t think it’s the “kiruv movement” that wags its fingers at us for falling short, though. Once you get to the point of asking whether you should be listening to secular music or eating gebrokhts, I can hardly imagine it is a “Big Kiruv” scenario any more. Now it is making decisions as a Jew who is on the observant side of the line — regardless of label.

  62. Rachel, hope you do write the post – you’ve got my interest!

    Let’s view kiruv the way we do approaching the Yomim Nayorim. We couldn’t possibley, humanly, hope to accomplish everything in teshuva all at once, so we break things down to manageable portions, such as “I’ll work on davening….”, well, you get the gist. By the same token, if someone in kiruv throws the book at their prospective, Shabbos, kashrut, tznius, etc hoping for an overnight turn around, it may not stick over the long term.

    Baby steps may not seem to take you as far as big strides will, but baby steps do develop eventually into those of an adult, while continually doing broad strides will just get you out of breath.

  63. Ora-

    Great post. I can relate, since I never had any involvement with the big Kiruv organizations, and the teshuva that I did came from my friendships with frum Jews at Penn (and elsewhere. But mostly Penn.)

    I think one of the main problems with kiruv as such is that usually there’s an end goal in mind, of making someone be completely observant (whatever that means) and if the person does not achieve that level of frumness, then they aren’t frum enough.

    If our goal is really to bring people closer to Hashem, I think it requires meeting people where they’re at, and bringing them where they’re meant to be. I firmly believe that not everyone is meant to wear a black hat, or not et gebrukhts on passover, or give up listening to secular music, and that that’s ok. If you push someone too far, you risk turning them off altogether, and making another bitter ex-BT.

    It’s that part of kiruv that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Luckily for me, the people who I’ve met along my journey have all respected me as a person, and while they might not agree with all of my choices, they still have remained just as much my friends as they were when I was a gung-ho super-shtark BT. After all, I still keep kashrut, tzniut, and shabbat (among most other things) and that’s still a lot more than I was keeping before I became religious.

    I’m not going to get into details, since I’ve already said a lot. Suffice it to say I’m on a different path than I was 2 years ago.

    Maybe a more open approach to Judaism would risk people thinking that things you think are not-so-halachic are perfectly okay, and result in people pursuing different paths. But if someone is performing more mitzvot than they were before and are improving their relationship with Hashem, isn’t that better than turning people off altogether?

    I assume I’m going to get many comments attacking me for saying this, and I’ve been considering writing a full post, believe it or not, even if I am in the list of past contributors. We’ll see what happens.

    (Sorry if I got way off topic in terms of the original post.)

  64. M (without a period). I agree that a person can help to bring someone closer to Hashem. I also agree that many of the fine individuals in kiruv get lumped in with the few who view kiruv as a means to “score points”.

  65. David,

    I agree that Kiruv is “not something you can ‘do’ to another person”.

    I’m just unsure why “bringing someone closer to Hashem” is viewed the same. I think it’s a confusion.

    Did your professors in college “bring you closer to being a ________”? I hope would hope so. They couldn’t “make you a ______”- that you need to do yourself, by hard work, drive, focus and perseverance. But your professors didn’t just offer you a smorgesboard of interesting knowledge in the hope that you will develop and interest- that’s not what grad school is all about. You sat in class for a focused purpose, and your professor was there to help you get there.

    If someone is in a Partners in Torah relationship, or a formal study program, or a less formal relationship, they have an interest in what they are doing. Those who educate are helping them get there. Except in Judaism, one doesn’t “get there” so simplistically- most of us spend our lifetime on this journey.

    I think some are over generalizing and overextending the concept of “not doing something to someone” and not doing justice to the incredible mission of dedicated and extremely caring Kiruv workers.

  66. I fondly recall having the privilege of visiting HaRav Henoch Leibowitz, Rosh HaYeshiva of the Rabbinical Seminary of America – Chofetz Chaim in his home several yrs ago.

    We were a handful of Baalei Teshuva and the Rosh HaYeshiva was kind enough to take time from his busy schedule to sit with us.(Actually, his Rebbetzin who was so protective of the Rosh HaYeshiva’s time and health was kind enough to accede to our visit)

    One of the things the Rosh HaYeshiva told us was that we each have a great zechus and that no one can “make” someone religious. The Rosh HaYeshiva said that you can sit a non-religious individual down with the GRA and the GRA could show him a whole world but that doesn’t mean that the person will do tesuvah. A person has to take that step himself. The Rosh HaYeshiva finsished by saying that this is another interpretation of “im ein ani li, mi li?”)

    This seems to jive with the idea that “kiruv is not something you can do to another person”.

  67. “Teaching someone the meaning of the prayers is making it easier for them to get closer to Hashem if they choose to do so.”

    Yes. And yes, terminology IS important. We are bringing them closer to Hashem; we cannot ESTABLISH that relationship- like some heavenly mediator with special privileges! If only we could do the same for ourselves! But BRINGING them closer to Hashem (hear the word closer, not close?) is what we do when we teach someone the meaning of prayers, etc. I am assuming, and I hope you are too, that anyone teaching someone prayers has already established that this person is interested in coming closer to Hashem and Judaism, and not ramming it down their throat for the nebulous goal of them “someday being interested in coming closer to Hashem”. They are interested now, and the Kiruv worker helps to facilitate this process, bringing them closER to Hashem.

    Coming closer to Hashem is not an all-or-nothing proposition, some backroom deal clincher allowing an overnight stay in the White House. It’s a process; a life-long journey. We can ALL help each other come closer to Hashem…

  68. When I worked in TX, the company’s quality assurance(QA) manager, my everyday supervisor, was a Marine. He pointed out that it’s good for a QA guy to start working in a company full of quality problems, since such a “target-rich environment” creates many opportunities to fix problems and get noticed.

  69. JugglingFrogs–Sorry, I think I’m getting defensive. I completely agree that the kiruv community can’t do it all.

    M–I don’t think I made myself clear. When I say I can’t make anyone be frum, I’m not trying to advocate a “live and let live” policy. What I mean is, I can’t force anyone to keep Torah. I can invite them over, teach them, help them, give advice, etc, but ultimately any step they take is made of their own free will. Even if I were to physically force someone to do something, say keep Shabbat, that wouldn’t necessarily improve their personal relationship with Hashem.

    Teaching someone the meaning of the prayers is making it easier for them to get closer to Hashem if they choose to do so.

    I apologize for some of that wording. “Targets,” etc, are not words I should have used. Still, I think it’s entirely possible to respect someone for their idealism and hard work while disagreeing with certain parts of their attitude/mentality/whatever. I don’t think “I respect most kiruv workers” and “I disagree with standard kiruv hashkafa” have to be contradictory statements.

    As for the “blogosphere,” I don’t hang out on blogs much. This is one of the few that I read, and all are far from bitter. Any bitterness is from personal experience (mostly seeing what friends have gone through). Still, I don’t think I’m truly bitter so much as genuinely wanting to make a change. I know that changing terminology is a relatively small first step, but I think it’s important.

  70. Ron said, “I’m shocked to hear someone was advertised as a rabbi and wasn’t.”

    Remember, I said above that he conceivably could have been a rabbi.

    By “advertised as”, I meant named as a rabbi in our shul announcements and introduced as such before speaking.

    If this really was an error on our shul’s part or someone else’s, the speaker could have corrected the person who introduced him.

  71. And there are plenty of people who are rabbis but also a part of the workforce, which could explain your online results.

  72. Bob, I can only guess at the organization you’re referring to, but I’m shocked to hear someone was advertised as a rabbi and wasn’t. On the other hand, there are plenty of orthodox rabbis who are not at all trained for kiruv — even softball questions.

  73. Ora, great post (again). As the unusual BT here who isn’t the “product” of any organized kiruv org, I can empathize with a lot of the points.

    Perhaps the issue is when does a kiruv professional become a professional. IE, is their desire to introduce Torah to others their profession/job, or is it really Ahavas Yisrael that motivates them?

    Insofar as the age issue, it would appear that people in their teens or 20’s are more likely to be searching for who they are, and therefore, open to new ideas. Older people are very much more set in their ways.

  74. Ora,

    I didn’t think you were ‘blaming the front door’ or kiruv workers at all. I’m sorry that it came out that way. I was agreeing that with your post: the responsibility of “doing kiruv” would be better served, if thought of as whole community doing “regular” chessed and hachnassat orachim, rather than resting solely on the shoulders of the kiruv professionals.

    The kiruv people can’t be a whole community to everyone, even if they had infinite resources.

    That security guard isn’t turning people away; he’s overwhelmed. If the rest of us did more, he’d be able to do his job better.

    I apologize that I didn’t make it more clear that I was nodding in agreement with you as I posted here, not arguing.

    All the best,
    CLKL

  75. “I don’t think it would be bad to bring others closer to Hashem, if such a thing were possible. I believe that we can only bring ourselves closer to Hashem, and all we can do for others is make recommendations.”

    And therein lays our disagreement, Ora.

    I certainly do think it’s possible to bring others closer to Hashem. Western society’s live and let live mantra, with perhaps a kindly offering of “recommendations” is not what precipitated the Torah journey of hundreds of Jews.

    Teaching others about Shabbat by example and by friendship, inspiration, and guidance in accordance with the level of interest is bringing others closer to Hashem. Teaching someone the meaning of the prayers is bringing someone closer to Hashem.

    Ora, you assert that your own journey was paved with wonderful, gentle people. Your experience is not in the minority. To “respect Kiruv workers” but abhor their “mentality” using such connotation as “big juicy target”, “gets in its own way”, “ignoring the rest of Am Yisrael” is wholly negative, and not softened by the “respect you have for them as individuals”, apparently not as Kiruv workers. I suspect it reflects something other than a flood of your personal friends and acquaintances confiding their unfortunate Kiruv experiences. This is an attitude that is picked up in the blogosphere, and ranted about by those who harbor virulent animosity to the concept of organized Kiruv. It doesn’t befit someone of your caliber, and of your experiences.

    I am sure hard working Kiruv workers are interested in constructive analysis. But once you’ve discarded the whole concept of Kiruv, the analysis is not constructive.

  76. Someone came to our shul to do a kiruv seminar. He was advertised as a rabbi, but everything about him on the web showed that he was a banker (conceivably he was both, but the online info did not mention rabbi). He challenged our group to ask any question, but he was too unprepared to answer some (un-tricky) questions properly and to the point. His presentation overall seemed to have been pre-packaged for him and included at least one of his organization’s signature gimmicks. I don’t blame him whatsoever and am sure he had the purest of intentions. The organization that sent him had clearly skimped on his training before sending him into the field.

  77. Ron (#4)–You said that you find many kiruv routines “simplistic, hokey, and insulting to my intelligence.” Well, in my experience, a lot of secular 20-somethings feel the same way. And as I told Dina, I do respect most kiruv workers, and I think they would want to know the kind of negative effect such shtick can have.

    M (#17)–I don’t think it would be bad to bring others closer to Hashem, if such a thing were possible. I believe that we can only bring ourselves closer to Hashem, and all we can do for others is make recommendations. I know this comes close to pointless quibbling over terminology, but I think that in this case using different words really could bring a welcome change in certain areas.

    Juggling Frogs (#27)–I’m not blaming the front door, as it were. I’m trying to tell the security guard at the front door that not everyone who’s turned away at the entrance should be, that some who need to get into the building are rejected while others choose to walk away after seeing their friends rejected. And that many find the building’s outer front somewhat tacky in places, while a more subtle design could attract more occupants.

  78. Ron–who said I’m trying to be controversial?

    Dina–First of all, I see no reason for you to accuse me of lacking hakarat hatov when you have absolutety no idea when or how I become frum.

    Secondly, I don’t understand why this post is being taken as a criticism of kiruv workers. I certainly didn’t mean it that way. I meant it as a criticism of a certain mentality, a mentality that sees cute young secular Jews as big, juicy kiruv targets and sometimes gets in its own way by ignoring the rest of Am Israel (and sometimes turns off the cute young secular Jews, who know they are seen as targets). I have plenty of respect for the workers themselves, I just disagree with certain attitudes and tactics.

    I am not blaming the kiruv workers for the layperson’s lack of involvement with the not-so-observant. I am blaming the IDEA of “kiruv” “kiruv workers” “kiruv professionals,” etc, that often turn off laypeople who think “who am I to invite Hebrew U/wherever students over for Shabbat, I’m not a kiruv worker.” Fortunately I see that attitude a lot less in certain circles.

    As for your reponse to points #2 and 3, I do believe that it’s a matter of policy in many organizations to give relatively quick instruction to potential kiruv workers. I also think (based on what I’ve observed, I assume you’ve seen something different) that a high percentage of workers for these organizations seem to have the same answers to certain fairly complex questions. These answers satisfy some, but not all. Again, I’m not trying to criticize the workers themselves, and it’s usually better to do something than nothing (NOT better when you turn people off to observance, of course).

    Two more things:
    As someone who respects kiruv workers, I think they can handle constructive criticism. Many would even appreciate it. I don’t think it should be taboo to criticize any problems in kiruv, and I think that doing so could even be helpful. I also think that if I could find individual kiruv workers I’m thinking of and gently tell them about the damage they’ve inadvertantly caused at certain times, they would not take the attitude I see here of “how dare you criticize me, I’m on the front lines fighting assimilation!” In fact, I have raised these concerns with one kiruv worker I know, and while he didn’t 100% agree, he understands and respects my opinions, and is a bit more careful now when not allowing the seemingly religious to his events.

    And just to give a little personal background, the people who helped me along my path to observance were constantly emphasizing the importance of every mitzva and were completely accepting of all Jews, and all people. They had middle-aged Jews with mental issues over often, along with a nice group made up mostly of university students. They were even polite to the random drunken non-jews who wandered around the area. Unlike in other places, I never once felt like a target with them. I would love to see their attitude a lot more often.

  79. Partners in Torah is wonderful. Part of the reason it’s a successful program, is that it uses people from the whole community. Partners in Torah does not rely exclusively on kiruv professionals.

    ‘Enabling others’ can often be accomplished by inviting others for lunch and offering genuine friendship, rather than ‘bringing them’ anywhere.

    It’s important that people outside the group of professional kiruv workers are involved. This lets the prospective BT relate to the community as a peer, a role that is difficult to achieve with a teacher or mentor. This helps establish a status of ‘membership’ in the community, rather than ‘provisional membership’, ‘apprentice’, or ‘frummie-in-training’.

    Maybe this is the part that is missing. Maybe this is why some people feel that they’re not supported by the kiruv system. The kiruv professionals act as a welcome mat and front entrance, but then some people get stuck in the lobby. It’s up to the rest of the community to help the BT explore and find a place in the rest of the building. It’s up to the BT, too, to move out of the front lobby.

    The kiruv professionals need that lobby space clear to hold the next group of newcomers.

    If the lobby is too crowded, we don’t say that the front door isn’t doing its job. The front door can only do so much.

    All the best,
    CLKL

  80. Since we’re doing endorsements, if you like a “limud and hashpoh only” approach with a bare minimum of “kiruv tricks,” but a little more user-friendly even than community kollels (which are great), let’s not forget Partners in Torah!

  81. One feature I’ve noticed about “outreach” or “community teaching” type kollels is that they do the basic, necessary work of teaching Torah without gimmicks. The kollel rabbis they bring in have years of real Torah study under their belt.

  82. Correction-The above cited letter was written in the late 1980s at the earliest because it refers to RMF ZTL as well as the well documented efforts of Kolleleit to create a community in Dallas, Texas. In any event, it is powerful, inspiring and insightful. The essay closes with a reminder that HaShem has built into the creation a guaranteee of sorts that Klal Yisrael will engage in teshuvah. Even when we are feeling burnt out or cynical, IMO, we should always return to these basic facts and always remember this fundamental fact.

  83. For those interested, R Wolbe ZTL wrote an essay entitled “The Obligation to Draw Jews Closer to Torah” in the aftermath of the YK War. The essay is published in Ymei Ratzon, a sefer of Sichos for Chodesh Elul and the Yamim Noraim. R Wolbe ZTL viewed the obligation as emanating from the basic obligations of Kiddush HaShem and that a Jew must not only follow the path of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim but also enable others as well. It is important to note that R Wolbe ZTL mentions that this is an obligation on all Shomrei Torah Umitzos living in both EY and the ChuL, as opposed to just the elite of the Torah world. I would estimate that this essay was written in the aftermath of the YK War of 1973. As of that time, what we call the teshuvah movement in the US had been underway but really developed in full force in EY in the late 1970s.

  84. Sorry, Ora. I didn’t think it was controversial to be in favor of chesed and chinuch, or particularly novel, but I applaud you for emphasizing them, by all means.

  85. Ora, in general I also felt that although you did talk about chesed and chinuch, which of course are the basic and necessary components for all Jews, the expressed and implied message of your post was to find fault with the kiruv movement. I think this is very ironic, and even hints to a lack of hakoras hatov, since I am assuming you are a BT. Many many of us, if not you personally, were exposed to Torah by a program, class, radio show, or Shabbos meal, deliberately created (or invited to) (like Rabbi Schuster) by those who “did” kiruv, with the expressed intention of reaching out to the secular Jewish public. In my case, frankly, whether or not these kiruv professionals take pride and credit for my being frum today(“notch in the belt”) is meaningless compared to my infinite gratitude that they put themselves out to reach me. They are perfectly welcome to feel success for my teshuva. Whatever I have is theirs — despite the fact that the bechirah to change was ultimately mine.

    But, I’ll address the points you listed at the end of your post.

    Last point first: it’s interesting that you blame the kiruv workers, who decided to dedicate their lives to reaching out to less educated members of klal yisroel, for laypeople’s lack of this dedication. It’s circular reasoning (I think): they decide to do something about a serious problem, so they are to blame because others now look to them to solve the problem. No! The blame is on everyone else! They at least are trying. The “movement” we take for granted was just started by individuals who decided to do something.

    POints two and three: I do not believe are endemic to the kiruv movement, but mistakes are indeed made. I do not think any of the organizations have a policy of simplifying or misleading students about complex or difficult matters. Which is not to say that some individuals have not done that. I guess what I am saying is to please bring evidence that your problem lies with an overt policy as opposed to human failings of individuals. If what you are objecting to is that many of those doing kiruv are not educated enough, I would agree. But I think the real problem is that the FFB, educated population is not so interested in teaching secular Jews, so those who know less (like BTs themselves, who relate much more easily to this population) are those who are the ones actually out there. Again, like your last point, you are trying to blame the Kiruv worker for trying, while the real fault lies with the Torah observant population for not doing more.

    As for SKT and the issue of “ignoring” those who are not good “targets,” again I agree with you and disagree at the same time. It’s true that it rankles when programs are aimed at the beautiful, young, Jews, while the older folks don’t get as much attention. Most secular people are attracted to a Torah program for a variety of reasons, probably the most major of which is social. Twenty something guys/girls are just not going to show up if the others are in their 30s and 40s. That’s reality. SO it makes sense to segregate programs according to age. I do know of programs aimed at the over-40s set. (You should know it is very hard to get folks over age 30 to come-I have tried with my own learning program) Also, funding realities being what they are, one is forced to evaluate what one’s goals are and who is the cohort most likely to reach those goals. Whether the goals are preventing an intermarriage or encouraging them to be shomer shabbos, there has to be some accountability for the money poured into salaries. And for now, until the grassroots starts moving en mass to reach out to the non-frum, the only ones left are those who need a salary and therefore need to be accountable.

    Do I make sense?

  86. Ron and Leah–you seem to have completely ignored my post beyond that one paragraph. I didn’t say “look at my glowing example of joy and become frum.” I said that we need CHESED and CHINUCH. I certainly don’t expect people to miraculously become frum on their own. And I don’t expect anyone to keep Hashem’s laws because they are logical.

    What I’m talking about is what JugglingFrogs said, and what Bob Miller said about genuine professionals. THAT is what I think would be best for Am Israel. Teachers should teach Torah, and everyone should do chesed.

    I don’t think I’m insulting those “on the front lines.” But there are problems that come from Kiruv mentality. I summarized these problems at the end, but neither of you addressed them so far.

  87. With respect to getting closer to HaShem, it’s not something a person can do on someone else’s back. With that in mind, the way to help someone to become closer is to show them a road in the right direction. That person cannot be dragged along, and that person cannot be carried along. And in that respect, a good way to bring people closer to HaShem is to show them a good example or a path in the right direction.

  88. I think that we should go to the basics and think about the goals of kiruv rchokim as expressed in the parsha of teshuvah that we read every year. Namely, teshuvah is a process of enabling someone to draw close to HaShem, as opposed to any of the improper IMO objectives stated by Ora at the close of her post.

    While we live in an age where there are different orientations within what is known as “the teshuvah movement”, I attribute this to the nothing more than the adage of “different strokes for different folks” which I used last summer and fall as a basis for discussing the different formats of kiruv that are extant today. FWIW, I also share an abhorrence for the problems enumerated by Ora and consider them a classical example of how an important mitzvah can segue in the worst possible way from an important supplement of one’s committment to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim to an improper supplanting of that committment by incorporating perspectives that may very well be completely foreign to that very important goal.

  89. “we don’t try to bring other people anywhere”

    I feel sad, that trying to bring people closer to Hashem has become a bad word, and not PC.

    I guess if this new PC thinking continues, we can build an outreach museum.

  90. Dear Juggling Frogs (Love that name!),

    I appreciate the “we don’t do kiruv, we just do our thing and maybe it will rub off” approach. If you recapture one Jewish neshama, you have saved the world!

    You can see from my husband Eliahu’s posts that we are an active kiruv family. Kiruv happens in different ways. Eliahu has posted and spoken millions of words, and have sparked people’s returns. He has been an active “agent” as the only frum Jew for miles where he used to live, providing hospitality in his outpost home. He has brought many people back to Judaism.

    So what sparked his return? My husband happened to tune into a radio program of a frum Rabbi and it caught his interest.

    Wanna hear something very weird? The same thing happened to his sister four years earlier. Same Rabbi, heard him speak, eventually became frum.

    Eliahu didn’t even know this when he stumbled on the radio show and heard the Rabbi speak, kicking off the events that led to his return.

    I became frum by clicking on a key on my computer and finding myself in a forum just like this, reading posters just like us.

    Kiruv comes in all different ways. It’s all Hashem pulling the strings though.

    LeahL

  91. We don’t “do” kiruv, but reportedly there are people who have become observant through contact with our family.

    I’m not sure why this has happened, but perhaps it is due to the (accurate) feeling that we’re not ‘selling’ anything; we don’t have a vested interest in anyone else’s choices.

    We try to have an open house, and offer friendship and our company. We do our best to bring ourselves closer to HaShem, but that is a private endeavor. We try to bring ourselves closer to other people; we don’t try to bring other people anywhere.

    If asked, we’ll discuss openly how we’ve come to make our own choices, the benefits we’ve experienced, without hiding our frustrations and flaws in order ‘close the sale.’

    A greet product doen’t need false advertising.

    Our family isn’t a model of anything. We’re doing what we do, as best we can. If people see us as an example, it’s akin to “a randomly chosen sample” from all the frum families in the community, and how we make things work for us.

    There have been times when people have tried to put us on a pedestal, but I’m quick and careful to knock it down immediately, with urgency. We’re trying too hard to keep our balance while standing on solid ground, to risk breaking all we hold with a fall.

    All the best,
    CLKL

  92. The biggest kiruv incentive is seeing an Orthodox community function well as a learning-intensive, chessed-intensive, spiritually engaged powerhouse open to all seeking Jews. Not every community member would have the chance to shine his/her brilliant light on outsiders, but the larger entity surely would.

  93. I like Ora’s message that a great way to help people come close to Hashem is to continually deepen our love for them and to set a shining example of what it means to be a servant of Hashem. This is good advice for parenting also.

    Unfortunately we will fall short, so perhaps other tools and techinques are necessary. This is where different approaches such as Big Kiruv, Small Town Kiruv, NCSY, Chabad and others comes in to play.

    Regarding lay people being involved, it should be noted that Aish’s Project Inspired efforts is a recognition of this. I give a lot of credit to Aish in their recognition that this is a developing project and their openess to new ideas.

    Regarding the “notch on the belt” mentality, perhaps much of this is due to funding realities. Donors want to see tangible results, which is not an unreasonable request.

    The Mesillas Yesharim tells us we need different tools and techniques in our quest to get closer to Hashem. Ahavas Hashem which includes helping others get closer to Hashem also needs a set of tools and techniques.

  94. Shalom Eliahu,

    Beautiful succinct post on what kiruv is all about. Not a very complicated concept is it?

    Why would any group working to bring Jews back be slammed? Even if they have a less than pure agenda, what could possibly be wrong with exposing Jews to Torah — many for the first time in their lives.

    LeahL

  95. GREAT post Ron!

    Without these organizations, and individuals reaching out in their own informal way, it’s likely NONE of us would be here posting at this forum. Why are we slamming any and all efforts to bring Jews back to Judaism?

    Take a look out there. We’re going on a third generation of Jews since WWII who have NO CLUE THEY ARE JEWISH! *That* is the holocaust!

    LeahL

  96. My non-religious friends are unlikely to start keeping mitzvot just because I told them it’s a good idea. (And even the most fancy kiruv tricks like using Bible codes and historical proof are basically a fancy way of saying “because I said so.”) However, if my whole way of being—my behavior, my family life, my mood—is better because of Torah, then they just might decide to take something on.

    Wow. Ironically, the ipse dixit I see here is the dismissal of “fancy kiruv tricks” and the broad assertion that any movement to counter the flood of Jews toward assimilation is likely to occur by virtue of non-frum Jews’ observation of our elevated “way of being.” I think the latter is wishful thinking on a level that makes “the Codes” look rock solid.

    I don’t love fancy kiruv tricks, but I can tell you that they engaged me 22 years ago and even though I knew I could not make a religious and way of life commitment merely because of them, they got me to think about the Torah in a way I previously had not and unhinged me from utterly unproved “secular” assumptions.

    But I just can’t get past the intellectual dishonesty of saying, “even the most fancy kiruv tricks like using Bible codes and historical proof are basically a fancy way of saying ‘because I said so.'” I am dumbstruck by this statement. It turns meaning on its head and is so drenched in irony I need to refresh my browser periodically. People making reasoned arguments — which are not in any way, in this post, disputed on their merits — are “because I said so,” but the observation of what we are supposed to believe is some readily-observed state of Zen perfection is to be taken by all as a direct result of not mixing wool and linen, observing the fine points of the respective categories of muktza and thoroughly washing your strawberries?

    It has become so fashionable on the Internet, and on this board, to criticize the orthodox and kiruv establishments with broad brushes and little reasoning nor facts (okay, some of us are obsessed with one particular part of that establishment, but please don’t raise NCSY here). For all the self-righteousness we generate here it is considered an acceptable assumption that people who work for Aish HaTorah and Ohr Someach — “Big Kiruv” — are motivated by something other than a very high level of idealism. In fact that’s what they are — idealistic. That doesn’t mean that, like almost everyone else on earth, they don’t want to “succeed” at what they do and show “results.” Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote that we should be careful of “cheerleaders” who merely seek to promote their own team, regardless of what team that is. But the cynicism of I read in some posts on this topic is offensive to me, at least.

    Believe me, I am far and away not a kiruv professional, and can really hardly stand listening for too long to many “kiruv people” and their routines, which I find simplistic, hokey and insulting to my intelligence. Yes. But does that mean it is okay to flip one’s vaunted intellectual integrity on its head and dismiss “fancy kiruv tricks” in favor of concepts such as “look at my glow — come, be like me”?

    Some of the most admirable frum people I know are too busy struggling with life and, yes, avodas Hashem to attract imitators with their peaceful, content magnetism. We kick tin cans, fight with tuition committees, look terrible some mornings, drink too much coffee, argue with our spouses, have bad hair days. And some of the most relaxed, happy, radiant Jews I know drive to the beach on Saturday and eat pork fajitas on Friday night. I don’t buy this at all. Talk about your false dichotomies and kiruv myths!

    Yes, let’s lead and “be mashpia” (influence, flow into) by example. Yes, let’s not get caught up in the cute kiruv shtiklech. Yes, honesty above all, and easy on the over-simplification. No promises. But this need not come at the expense of demeaning the people on the front lines, utilizing the tools they have at hand — sometimes imperfectly — to at least get some water on a building that’s not only mostly burned by now, but has little left but the bottom story.

  97. To mikarev a person is to bring that person closer to Hashem, be he BT, FFB, Noachide, or no where to hide. It is a Godly term for a Godly concept. Whether we understand or practice kiruv correctly is another subject.

    Bereishis 45:10 – “You shall ‘karov’ (be close to) ME.”

    Devarim 30:2 – “That ‘karov’ is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it.”

  98. Ora, this is an excellent summary.

    The Jew in history, starting with Avraham Avinu, has tried to spread HaShem’s word by positive example. Our individual and collective actions—our whole way of life— can rise to the level that attracts sincere outsiders, including Jews who have had a shaky connection to Judaism. Our example is the most potent tool for convincing others.

    There is a sense today of near-desperation, driven by the rapid defection of many Jews from their people. This has prompted organized efforts to turn the tide, that have sometimes included a resort to questionable, shortcut tactics.

    Nevertheless, there are also genuine efforts going on to reconnect Jews with authentic Judaism, and there are also some genuine professionals involved. These genuine professionals are master teachers who respect all Jews as thinking people with great potential, not as caricatures.

  99. “My non-religious friends are unlikely to start keeping mitzvot just because I told them it’s a good idea. (And even the most fancy kiruv tricks like using Bible codes and historical proof are basically a fancy way of saying “because I said so.”) However, if my whole way of being—my behavior, my family life, my mood—is better because of Torah, then they just might decide to take something on. ”

    You have hit the nail on the head. Great post.

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