Why American Jews Reject Torah

Having been heavily involved with Kiruv and BTs for many years, it has always bothered me why we have such a low success rate of attracting people to Torah. I’m not talking about becoming fully observant, but rather about showing interest in Torah learning and practices.

My experience interacting with BTs and non-observant chavrusas, friends and relatives drives my thinking. I have also discussed this for countless hours with others involved in kiruv. I would like to share my current thinking on the matter.

I think the main reason Torah is rejected is because most non-observant Jews come to the conclusion that increasing their Jewish knowledge or practice will not significantly increase their pleasure or happiness and is therefore not worth their effort. They come to this conclusion largely from their observation of Torah observant Jews.

Let’s dig deeper using the four human dimensions: the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

In the physical dimension, Torah requires us to limit our physical pleasures in the areas of food, sensuality and sun and fun activities. Most non observant people enjoy their restaurants and vacations, and even with the tremendous increase in kosher restaurants and resorts, it doesn’t compare. In regards to financial stability, the higher costs of Torah living, specifically tuitions, gives an advantage to the non observant.

From an emotional vantage point most non observant people seem to control their anger, envy and desire for honor on a level with the typical observant Jew. Although Torah provides the prescription for great relationships and emotional maturity, the typical secular person also has decent relations with their spouses, children, friends and relatives. Regarding happiness, the growth of the positive psychology movement with its focus on happiness has provided more paths for non observant Jews.

In the mental domain, non observant Jews find meaning in their jobs, communal activities and political discourse. Although Torah learning and mitzvah observance provides additional avenues of meaningful activities, this is not always observable.

The spiritual domain is one in which Torah provides a tremendous advantage. However, belief and connection to Hashem is difficult to measure. In addition our davening and observance of mitzvos performance often lack observable degrees of spirituality and purposeful living.

In summary, I think the secular lifestyle provides an advantage in the physical sphere and can approach the typical Torah life in the emotional well being and happiness areas. Regard meaning and the mental dimension, Torah has the potential to provide advantages. In the spiritual and purposeful living arenas, Torah is clearly superior.

So why do most observant Jews think a life of Torah is better, while most non-observant American Jews are not convinced? I think the reason is that most people are more focused on the lower realms of physical pleasure and happiness than they are on the higher ones of meaning and purpose. Torah observant people experience all the realms so they typically live a more fulfilling life, while the non observant experience more physical pleasure and decent degrees of happiness.

Perhaps if we were even more focused on living a Torah life of purpose and meaning, it would lead to more demonstrable contentment and happiness. If the non-observant could observe the clear advantage of Torah in three of the four human dimensions, they would to want to find out more.

The Grand Unification Theory of Kiruv

I’ve previously written about three models of Kiruv:

– The Chabad like Point Kiruv, where the focus is on performance of single mitzvos.
– The widely practiced Circle Kiruv, where the focus is to move people inside the Circle of Torah Observance.
– The growth oriented Line Kiruv, where the focus is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem.

What unifies all these models is the fundamental unit of the mitzvah. The Mitzvah is the focal point of the Grand Unification Theory of Kiruv. Point Kiruv says to just do them. Circle Kiruv says do them all. And Line Kiruv says to do them better.

If you look deeper, you’ll see that all three models believe that a person should aspire to continually grow in the performance of all the mitzvos. The difference is the emphasis and therefore the guidance they provide to newcomers to Torah Observant Judaism.

Regardless of the approach, bringing getting closer to Hashem is what Torah Observance is all about and the Kiruv organizations are extremely dedicated to helping other achieve this goal.

On Tuesday, February 17th there is a crowdfunding effort to raise $1 million in one day for kiruv.

Click on this link to find out how you can participate in this great project.

Four Top Misconceptions About Judaism

A number of weeks ago I attended an excellent seminar in Kew Garden Hills, NY from Project Inspire, a joint initiative of Aish HaTorah and the OU aimed at creating a grass-roots outreach movement. One of the highlights of the evening was a presentation by Rabbi Chaim Samson from Aish about the four main misconceptions about Judaism than non-frum Jews hava, and the four reassurances that can overcome them. While I can’t recreate the full glory of the presentation in a written summary, the ideas are inspiring enough in any format. For anyone involved professionally or casually in outreach, keeping these four misconceptions in mind is a good starting point. The presentation is also great for ba’alei teshuva.

When he was learning at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, Rabbi Samson and his friends would often pass backpackers hanging out in the old city. He and his friends had a running that joke that if they approached two backpackers and asked them if they’d like to spend some time in a yeshiva learning about philosophy, mysticism, ethics, how Judaism can inspire our lives, etc., they would get the same answers every time. One of the backpackers would jump at the chance, saying that he had always wanted to learn more about Judaism. The other would demur and make up a litany of excuses. Inevitably the one who is eager to learn about Judaism would be non-Jewish, and interested in comparative religions or an understanding of the development of religions, and the one who wants nothing to do with the religion would be Jewish.

Why this hesitancy? Rabbi Samson points to four misconceptions that lead to this, and four reassurances which can counter them.

1. Judging Others

First, there’s the misconception that religious Jews look down on non-religious Jews, judging them to be less holy or less of a Jew. So therefore why would a non-frum Jew ever want to walk into a room full of frum Jews, thinking that everyone in the room is judging him?

But this idea is completely contrary to Judaism! At the core of Judaism are the concepts of care, concern and love for our fellow Jews. Judaism brought the ideals of charity, kindness and respect to the world. No matter the religious beliefs of another Jew, we have a mitzvah to love and respect them.

As an illustration, Jewish law rules that if someone puts a gun to your head and tells you to kill someone else, you must refuse. This is based on the Talmudic concept that we can’t know whose blood is redder, for only G-d knows who is holier. Taking the example one step further, if you were forced to choose between killing a homeless, alcoholic bum, who never worked a day in his life, and shooting the Chofetz Chayim, one of the biggest Rabbis of all time, Judaism also would say that you cannot choose. We as humans cannot know which of the two people is holier. Each of us has a mission in this world and a potential we can reach, and we cannot know who is closer to reaching it.

Therefore this is a complete misconception, for it could be that the non-frum Jew is truly on a higher level and closer to G-d that his religious brother! The frum person can gain and learn from his less-religious coreligionist, so we can never say that one person is on a lower level than ourselves.

2. Who wants Judaism? It’s a hardship!

There’s the common misconception that Judaism is a hardship, a deprivation of all enjoyment in the world, and that a non-frum person would have to give up all that he enjoys in life. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Judaism is about sucking the marrow out of life and making the most of it. While we have to temper and focus some of our desires, one of the goals of Judaism is getting the most out of this world and achieving the greatest amount of satisfaction.

One of the most important desires that any parent has for a child is that he or she should be happy. It’s the same for G-d. We are His children, and He wants us to get pleasure in this world and the next. Therefore He shows us how real happiness comes from becoming holy. Learning Torah and keeping mitzvot brings the greatest levels of enjoyment a person can have.

Just as a person would never drive a car without reading the instruction manual, we shouldn’t go through life without first reading the instructions. The Torah is our instruction book, our guidebook for getting the most out of life. When a non-frum Jew sees a beautiful Shabbas table with singing, a closeness among family members and true happiness, he or she gets a taste of real enjoyment. The way to do this is by sincerely showing people that Judaism, the Torah and the mitzvot hold the key to happiness.

3. It’s all or nothing.

Upon seeing the multitude of laws and customs in Judaism, many people will throw up their hands and say “It’s too great for me! I’ll never achieve it all, so why should I try?” When they realize they can’t do everything, they opt for nothing.

But it’s a fallacy to assume that we can achieve everything. There is no person on earth who can honestly say that he’s learned every item of Torah, perfected every mitzvot and learned every secret. No one achieves it all.

Instead we all need to take baby steps. We need to take on new mitzvot one at a time. A person may think it’s hypocritical to only take on particular items, but it’s really being human. We’re all constantly struggling to achieve perfection, but that’s human nature. As long as we’re focused on constantly improving and adding to our observance, taking small steps is the way to go.

For example if a jeweler put 613 precious diamonds on a table and told you to grab as many as you could in a few seconds, it’s obviously impossible to grab them all. But that doesn’t mean you should walk away from the table without trying. You need to try to grab as many as you can at once.

By showing other Jews how easy it is to do single mitzvot, such as lighting candles on Friday night, wearing tzitzit, etc., you’ll inspire them to tremendous heights. One mitzvah leads to another. It’s important to get to know a person well enough to be able to recommend particular mitzvot to them, but the most important item is that slow and steady steps helps one win the race.

4. It’s not true!

Often people outside the spectrum of Torah-true Judaism will think of the religion as archaic and backwards, a belief system for people who lack something and who are less intellectual. This probably stems from a misconception based on other religions that require a leap of faith to accept their laws.

Judaism is based on the completely opposite idea. We believe that not only is there a G-d, but that it’s possible to know that He’s out there, that it’s provable. It’s unreasonable to think that G-d would want us to pray to Him without knowing for sure that He’s there. What would be the point of it? How would we ever achieve the heights of spirituality if we weren’t sure our prayers were being heard?

Judaism is one of the only religions that encourages questions and challenges. These are the central goals of Jewish learning and the cores of Judaism. If we can constantly question and challenge, it’s a tremendous testimony to the veracity of Judaism! G-d wouldn’t encourage us to question if it was impossible to find the truth. Our eagerness to question demonstrates our supreme confidence in the truth of our religion.

Based on these four misconceptions and four reassurances, we also have four key methodologies for reaching out to people:

1. Showing care for people, to show that any thoughts that they’re being judged are incorrect.

2. Demonstrating the beauty and pleasure inherent in Judaism.

3. Taking baby steps to observance.

4. Showing that Judaism is based on truth.

These four statements are fundamental to outreach, and fundamental to our performance of our religion.

To end with my own addition, these four statements are also excellent items to work on as we prepare for the divine tribunal on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These are four areas that we need to constantly work on. By strengthening our love for fellow Jews and refraining from judging them, we become more caring and compassionate people. By making sure that our actions radiate the beauty of Judaism, we remind ourselves and those around us how beautiful our religion is and we enhance our performance of the mitvot. Taking baby steps is the best way to adopt any new mitzvah or practice, and doing so is especially appropriate during this month of Elul. By spending this month taking small steps towards our commitments for next year, we demonstrate to G-d and ourselves that we are sincere and that we will really try to achieve them next year, instead of just jumping into them without preparation on Rosh Hashanah. And by demonstrating to the world that truth is at the core of Judaism, we can inspire ourselves, our families and our communities to greater love and observance of Judaism.

Originally Published in October, 2006

A Baal Teshuva’s Letter to His Parents – Part 3

By Rabbi Benzion Kokis

Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here

There are many different levels of observance. Take kashrus for example.

The lowest level would be a Jew who eats pork, shellfish, and meat and milk cooked together, in his own home. Next would be someone who buys kosher meat, but isn’‘t choosy about other foods. A higher level would be buying only types of food that are kosher, but not necessarily with rabbinic supervision. Yet a higher level would be keeping everything separate, and buying only “supervised” foods. Even among the kosher foods, some people hold by “cholov Yisroel”, dairy products that are specially supervised.

As you can see, there are many different levels of kashrus observance. People are inherently different, and so are their standards.

Our biggest area of potential conflict is going to be food. (Think for a moment about the grief that so many kids give their parents nowadays. Drugs, alcohol, AIDS, trouble with the police, running away from home, pregnancies out of marriage, etc. It’s amusing that we, the Chosen People, should argue about food.)
I am now holding on a higher level of kashrus than you provide in the house. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, because I do. I am writing this letter in the hope that you will understand that I am not rejecting you, but merely want to keep a more demanding level. I am like the problem child who decided to become vegetarian.

(The ideas that have changed his life are presented in a subjective, not doctrinal, tone. They are meaningful to him, and this is what he wants his parents to appreciate.

If, on the other hand, he would write in a doctrinaire and confrontational manner- “these ideas are the absolute truth, and that’s why I’m committed”- his parents would be cornered! They would become defensive, to justify their own level of observance both to their son and to themselves. The purpose of this communication would be lost.)

I won’t be able to eat even fish or salad in a non-kosher restaurant. I will, regrettably, not be able to eat your food. I also will not be able to eat off of your crockery, or use your cutlery, pots, pans, etc. I can therefore not eat your wondrous culinary delights. You know how much I love your cooking, so you can therefore understand that I must be sincere and committed, if I am denying myself.

You essentially have four choices.

1. You can kick me out of the house;
2. You can fight me every step of the way, yell, scream, and cry until you realize that I won’t budge;
3. You can say “good luck” and let me keep my own stuff and eat my own food. If you did this I would be very content, and would even be able to sit down for the occasional Friday night dinner;
4. As you are 60% kosher already, you could go the extra 40% and kosher up. During the interim I would be very helpful and supportive, and would keep level 3 above.

Kashering a kitchen is a lot of work, and keeping it kosher is even harder. I don’t expect you to do it just for me. I will be perfectly happy with level 3.

(He has made it clear that he’s not being manipulative, by playing on their parental instincts to get his way, i.e. get the home kashered. Whatever they are comfortable with is their decision, and he will adjust accordingly.)

To finish this letter off, I would like to give you an idea as to what my lifestyle is going to be like. This is however difficult, as I am not entirely sure. I doubt that I will ever look like one of the cast of Fiddler on the Roof.
(Much of the anxiety a family feels is that their child has become totally alien to his upbringing. They need to be reassured that despite becoming religious, he still can acknowledge the parameters of what always seemed “normal” to his family.)

At the moment I would put my money on living in England. I hope to be married within the next few years. As regards a livelihood, I probably will start up some sort of business at the end of next year. I will give large sums of money to charity, but will certainly provide for my family.

I fervently hope, and actually expect, that you will be proud of your son and, G-d willing, your grandchildren.

Your loving son,
N______

(It may interest the reader to know the impact which this letter had. When it arrived in England, his parents were so proud of their son’s open and mature approach that they showed it to the shames (sexton) of their synagogue. They then asked the shames to assist them in making their home suitable to the standards of their son. Soon the home was kashered, the dishes were toiveled (immersed in a mikve), and the homecoming, instead of beginning a pitched generational battle, initiated a process of growth for the entire family.)

Yakov’s Kiruv Dilemma

By Arieh Bauer

There is a Rashi in Vayishlach that fascinates me so much. Yakov hid his daughter Dina in a box to protect her from Eisav – and he got punished for it. Why? Because she could have approached Esav from “within”, getting married to him and to pull him over to the “good side of the force”.

As BTs we have a very similar dilemma regarding our kids. As we have a special role and the abilities to approach not frum people from within, by speaking their language, understanding their mindset and way of life, we might ask us the same question, that Yakov asked himself: Is it worth “risking” your children to bring back somebody else to Judaism?

And it is especially a question regarding our kids. We think about this question, when we have to decide in which school to send them. With which neighbors they are allowed to interfere. And what kind of guests we invite for Shabbos.

We know that the kids have a monumental power to do Kiruv, because of their untouched souls and their innocent natures. The kid’s strong believe in G-d, can touch an adult from “within”. Somehow BT-Kids are born into Kiruv and one of the toughest warriors to spread Hashems light. Still, even the BT understands that there are indeed risks that he has to avoid regarding his kids. But its not like he hides his kids in a box!

Interestingly, Yakov – the FFB – took a very “Charedi” approach: He closed his daughter off, hid her from the “not frum side”. But he ended up being punished for it! Didn’t Yakov know any better? A man, who spoke to G-d frequently and the biggest Talmid Chacham on earth in his time?

Seen from the perspective of a BT’s daily life and the small and big dilemmas he faces every day regarding this question, it is hard so understand his decision. Dina could have been a superb “Kiruv-Rebezin” and turn Eisav over into a Tora-true BT! And this would be the best thing that could happen! Because Torah is the best thing that could happen to anybody, even to Eisav. And nobody knows that better than a BT.

But from Yakovs FFB-perspective, it is highly understandable why he had to act like that. He didn’t see Eisav as a potential BT. He saw him as an enemy, as someone who goes against his core values and touches the inner nerve of his spiritual being. His daughter was his “capital”. He invested in her Chinuch, in her Yiras Shomayim and her Torah education. Why spilling out this treasure and risk her for a plain “Rasha”? Sending out a girl for “Kiruv”? Unthinkable!

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to make the point “you see, he got punished for it… the BTs are right…”. Because its not our calculation why Hashem does something to someone – even when Rashi explains it explicitly, its just not our “Cheshbon”. And if you want, you could argue, that it was a certain “Mesirus Nefesh” of Yakov to protect his daughter, even though that he knew that he will get punished for it.

But what really seems to be the case here is, that the scene with “Dina in the Box” has something to do with our times, the times of “Chevlei Mashiach”.

As the Parsha develops there are several hints in the scripture and in the commentaries, that the two brothers – Yakov and Eisav – will meet once again in the future. They will meet again, when Mashiach comes and “Yakov will conquer the mountain of Eisav”.

So maybe this whole issue with Dina is Mashiach-related as well. One could even argue that when Dina will “jump out of her box”, it will finally lead us to the Ge’ula.

For sure, one always has to weigh the risk and the profits of exposing his children to not frum people. But closing us off seems not to be the right, Torah-oriented approach, in a way. We have to get “out of the box”!

Arieh Bauer, born 1978 in Vienna, Austria (Europe), is an almuni of Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem and author of the book “Der Leiner” about the Parshas HaShavua published in February 2014 in German. It is the first book in German of its kind. Bauer also publishes a weekly Parsha-Sheet “Der Leiner” in German in its fourth year. It is availabe at the israeli portal www.ladaat.info. He also mainains a website in German (www.derleiner.com) with a Parsha-Blog and Parsha-Archives. A rabbinic endorsement of his book is available at his homepage under Endorsement Der Leiner.

Forbidden Kiruv

Why didn’t Yaakov simply pass Esav by instead of engaging him?
Why did Yaakov send Angels to his brothers rather than humans?

Yaakov sent representatives ahead of him to his brother, Esav, to Edom’s Field toward the land of Seir.

— Bereishis 32:4

The representatives returned to Yaakov and told him: “We came to your brother, Esav, and he’s also heading toward you. He has [a force of] 400 men with him.”

—Ibid:7

One who grows angry while passing by a quarrel that does not concern him is akin to one who seizes a [sleeping] dog by the ears.

Mishlei 26:17

Let sleeping dogs lie

Popular idiom version of passuk in Mishlei

Our Sages (Bereishis Rabbah 75:2) criticized Yaakov for this [sending representatives and gifts to Easv] comparing it to waking a sleeping dog by yanking its ears: The Holy Blessed One said to Yaakov “he [Esav] was going his own way [not considering any hostilities to Yaakov] and you had to send him representatives and remind him [of the old dormant enmity] ‘to my lord Esav. Your humble slave Yaakov says … ’”?

— Ramban Bereishis 32:4

Yaakov remained alone. A man wrestled with him kicking up dust until the darkness lifted

— Bereishis 32:25

… Our Rabbis explained (Bereishis Rabbah 77:3, 78:3) that the wrestling man was the prince (guardian angel) of Esav.

— Rashi Ibid

… Rivkah became pregnant. But the offspring clashed/ scurried inside of her …

— Bereishis 25:21,22

Our Rabbis (Bereishis Rabbah 63:6) interpreted it [the word וַיִתְרוֹצִצו] as an expression of running/ scurrying (רוֹצָה) . When she passed by the entrances of [the] Torah [academies] of Shem and Ever, Yaakov would scurry and struggle to come out; when she passed the entrance of [a temple of] idolatry, Esav would scurry and struggle to come out. 

— Rashi Ibid

Question: Isn’t it true that the yetzer hara-the inclination to evil; is not operative in-utero and that it is not within man until man is born … [if so why was Esav drawn to evil before he was even born]? The answer is that while it’s true that man has no yen and desire for evil, as part of his free-will equation, until after he is born; what Esav was doing here [when scurrying towards the temples of idolatry] was qualitatively different.  Esav was not yielding to the seductions of his yetzer hara, instead he was magnetically drawn towards his source, nature and species, as it were. For all things are aroused by, and inexorably drawn towards, the source of their intrinsic nature and self-definition.

— Gur Aryeh- supercommentary of the Maharal to Rashi Ibid

It is indeed odd that Yaakov would have awakened the sleeping dog/ giant. At first glance, what could possibly have motivated him to do so is incomprehensible.

According to one approach of the Midrashic sages the representatives that Yaakov dispatched to Esav were heavenly angels. Many commentaries have addressed Yaakov’s “need” for angels. Rav Shmuel Dov Asher-the Biskovitzer Rebbe, maintains that Yaakov was on what, in the contemporary parlance, might be called a mission of kiruv rechokim-bringing those distant from righteousness/ G-d closer.  Yaakov was unwilling to stand idly by as his twin brother degenerated deeper and deeper into the hellish depths of evil. He had hoped that the angels would prove equal to the task of discovering and nurturing Esav’s deeply buried goodness until it overwhelmed all his accretions of evil and washed them away in a cleansing wave of teshuvah-repentance.  After all, the passuk teaches us that angels are uniquely endowed with the capacity of advocating for deeply flawed individuals who possess as little as one tenth of one percent of decency and goodness: “If one has even a single angel out of a thousand advocating on his behalf by declaring his uprightness, then G-d will be gracious to him and say ‘redeem him from descending into destruction [i.e. the grave] for I havefound atonement/ ransom for him.’” (Iyov 33:23,24)

His interpretation is supported by a fuller, closer reading of the Midrash of “awakening the sleeping, vicious dog.” After citing the passuk in Mishlei the Midrash continues: Shmuel the son of Nachman  said “this is comparable to a traveler who awakened the leader of a gang of thieves sleeping at the crossroads and warned him of the imminent dangers [from wild animals]. Instead of thanking the traveler, the gang leader began beating his benefactor. The traveler cried foul ‘you cursed man [is this how you repay me for trying to save your life?]’ The gang leader then said ‘[you deserve it, it’s your own fault] I was slumbering comfortably and you woke me!’”

In this allegory Yaakov is represented by the traveler while Esav’s role is played by the gang leader. Nowhere in this allegory do we find a frightened Yaakov devising strategies and tactics to save himself and/or his family.  On the contrary, Yaakov is a selfless do-gooder trying to save the life and limbs of someone else, fast asleep and unaware of the looming, lurking dangers.  Yakkov’s good deed did not go unpunished and not only is he forced to struggle with the malicious ingrate Esav but, later, he was forced to contend with his evil guardian angel as well.

While it’s often said that “the path to hell is paved with good intentions” it is still hard to grasp what occurred in this case.  Why did Yaakov’s well intentioned plan to save his twin from the wild animals of spiritual ruin go so badly awry? This is especially quizzical in light of the Zohar’s observation that “praiseworthy is he who takes the guilty/sinful by hand [and leads them along the path of repentance and tikkun]”

The Biskovitzer explains that while kiruv is a most praiseworthy endeavor it is wasted upon those whose evil is intrinsic and incorrigible rather than those whose evil is acquired through the incorrect exercise of their free-will. Echoing the Maharal’s clarification for Esav’s in-utero scurrying towards temples of idolatry and, no doubt, paraphrasing earlier sources, the Biskovitzer goes so far as to identify Esav with the primordial serpent who enticed Adam and Chavah into Original Sin.  In other words; Esav is not a good kid gone bad, he is just plain bad. He is not one who falls prey to the yetzer hara he IS the yetzer hara. Such evil is incorrigible, dealing with it in any way, even for the noble goal of its rehabilitation, is doomed to failure and to vicious, attacking ingratitude.

Read more Forbidden Kiruv

Successful Kiruv Begins With Getting In Line

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Circle, Point and Line Kiruv. Here’s a summary:

In the widely practiced circle Kiruv, the focus is to move people inside the Circle of Torah Observance.
In the Chabad centered point Kiruv, the focus is performance of a single mitzvah.
In line Kiruv, the goal is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem.

Instead of looking at the ups and downs of each of these models, I’ve decided to focus on the benefits and necessity of Line Kiruv, to encourage people to start thinking about this mindset.

At its root line Kiruv is about growth, and we all need to work on growing. If we’re not constantly working on growing in our relationship to Hashem, than we’re missing the main message of Torah Observance. And if we’re missing the main message, we’re in no position to encourage or inspire others to take spiritual growth steps.

One of the main remorses BTs express is disappointment with the people in the community. When we don’t make it clear that we’re all works in progress, and we have a long road to grow, then BTs lose faith in the power of Torah when they see our glaring imperfections. If we can find the courage to admit we’re far from perfect, then the non-observant will try to accept us in the same way we should accept them, with imperfections and all.

I do believe that we all need to get involve in Kiruv, but not before we are on a growth path, which means consciously focusing on taking the next small steps in improving our Prayer, Torah Learning, Mitzvos Performance, Character Traits, and Acts of Kindness. Successful Kiruv begins with the Observant actively getting on the growth line.

Circle, Point and Line Kiruv

In September 2014, Mishpacha published an article called “Is the Door Closing on Kiruv?” which is summarized here.

In a recent response, four kiruv and Chabad professionals wrote articles stating that the reports of Kiruv’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Points made included:

-There is good growth in some measures of Kiruv.
-Measuring success just by the numbers is insufficient.
-The focus of Kiruv efforts is always changing and that’s to be expected.
-Kiruv has always been difficult.
-The success or failure of Kiruv is our collective responsibility.

For me the series of articles highlighted three models of Kiruv.

In circle Kiruv, which is widely practice, the guiding assumption is that living within the circle of Torah Observance is good. The goal of circle Kiruv is to move people from the outside, to the inside of the circle where the Mekarev is standing.

In point Kiruv, which is used by Chabad, the guiding assumption is that doing an individual mitzvah, a single point is good. The goal of point Kiruv is to get the individual to do a single mitzvah, like the Chabad Mekarev does regularly.

In line Kiruv, which is practiced by a few, the guiding assumption is that moving along the line from distant to closer to Hashem, is good. The goal of line Kiruv is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem. In the case of line Kiruv, the Mekarev should also be moving along the line taking their next steps.

In the future we’ll look at the benefits and drawbacks of each of these models of kiruv.

10 Points from “Is the Door Closing on Kiruv?” in the Latest Mishpacha

The latest issue of Mishpacha had an article titled: “Is the Door Closing on Kiruv”. Pere are some points from the article

1. A recent Klal Perspectives’ article claims that half as many young Americans became BTs as compared to ten years ago.

2. A Kiruv activist estimates that the American Kiruv budget is $30 million, eight times the amount in 2000.

3. The intermarriage rate among non-Orthodox is 71.5 percent.

4. Intermarriage makes is difficult to identify halachic Jews.

5. The ‘searcher for answers’ in no more.

6. Anti-Israel sentiment on campus makes involvement appeals based on pride in the Jewish state difficult.

7. Attachment to cell phones has made it difficult for people to become distraction-free at Shabbatons.

8. Spending time in yeshiva is rare because people are hesitant to put their career on hold.

9. The increasing attention that donors pay towards kiruv numbers has pushed some people out of kiruv.

10. Lack of post Teshuva support have hurt those who have taken steps towards observance.

Longing For His Children

By Rabbi Meir Goldberg.

More than 100 years ago in the city of Kiev, Ukraine in Czarist Russia, Mendel Beilis was accused of murdering a 13 year old gentile boy and using the blood for matzos. The viciously anti-Semitic government used the trial as a way of not only prosecuting Beilis, but the entire Jewish people as gentile hating murderers who deserved no sympathy. Not just Beilis but the Torah itself was put on trial for its attitude towards gentiles.

Jews from around the globe, religious and secular alike rallied around Beilis and pleaded with western governments to pressure the Czar’s government to stop this travesty of justice.

The chief Rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Yaakov Mazeh, a gifted orator and spokesman, was called upon to defend the Torah’s teachings vis-à-vis non-Jews.

“The Talmud views non-Jews as sub-human,” charged the prosecution. “Yevamos 61 states ‘You are called Adam but non-Jews are not called Adam’.”

“You are misunderstanding the Talmud,’ countered Rabbi Mazeh. “The Talmud means to say that the Jews are called Adam, meaning that they are all like one person and not many disparate peoples who just happen to comprise a nation. When one Jew is in pain, we all feel that pain. This trial proves it. Here we have one Jew in Kiev accused of a crime he did not commit and Jews around the world rally to his side. Would non-Jews around the globe care about a non-Jew in Kiev who was falsely accused? They are not Adam – a single entity, but rather a group of individuals.”

Rabbi Mazeh’s words have never been truer than in these past weeks as Jews from all walks of life, Sefradi and Ashkenazi, Dati Leumi, Charedi and secular all cried out in the pain of our three boys, their parents and families. Our nation, desperate for achdus, banded together as all of klal Yisroel turned as one towards our Father in Heaven, beseeching Him to return the boys home safely and after their murder, crying out in their memory. While we may fight and bicker with one another, even bitterly, we are fundamentally one people, one heart, one soul.

So what can we as a zchus for the memory the three boys?

The agony of the parents of the kidnapped boys, even prior to the discovery of their murder, was unimaginable, waiting up nights, longing to hear from them. The terror of having a child snatched from us is too much to bear. To a great extant, Hashem is missing so many of His children, ‘kidnapped’ by lives of secularism, far from living lives of purpose, meaning and closeness to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. According to one study, 71% of non-orthodox American Jews will not marry Jewish. Yet during this time of beautiful hisorerus, we witnessed ostensibly secular Jews, seemingly far from Yiddishkeit, daven and perform mitzvos in their brother’s zchus and they continue to do so in their memory.

​Rabbi Shay Schachter of the White Shul in Far Rockaway, was sent as a shliach on behalf of his shul, to be menachem avel the families of the three boys. He writes the following,

“​In the middle of our flight, the stewardess began to speak with me, and we got into a very pleasant conversation. She then inquired when I was planning to return back to the States, and I said I would only be staying until until after Shabbos, and I would then be returning home. She said “just four days? What kind of trip is that?” And I proceeded to tell her that I was sent by our shul to visit the three respective families, to deliver our beautiful letters, and to let them know that the affection of their beloved brothers and sisters in America, knows no bounds.

She immediately began to cry uncontrollably, and said, this kehillah of yours is something unique and something incredibly special. For you to get on the flight is no big deal; but this speaks volumes about your kehillah, that this is what they feel is important. This is where their hearts are, and this is what is occupying their minds – how incredible!

So the stewardess proceeds to make an announcement in tears, to a plane filled almost to capacity with Birthright groups; “Rabotai! We have on our plane, a shliach Mitzvah! Come meet a Rabbi who was sent by his Kehillah to perform the great mitzvah of nichum aveilim, for those whom they feel are their own brothers and sisters! Our plane is safe because we have a shaliach mitzvah on board with us!”

This led to a whole pandemonium, and after I finally got to sit down again, the young man next to me informs me that he is 26 years old, from Seattle Washington; he works in a national zoo, and is going to Israel for his first time. He then proceeds to tell me that he was so inspired by our kehillah, and that he would like to borrow my Tallis to do a mitzvah that he has not done since his Bar mitzvah celebration (at age 16) in memory of the three precious neshamos.

I gladly gave him my tallis and then proceeded to ask him if he knew how to recite a bracha. He said “sure I do”, and went on to take out a small piece of paper from his pocket, and recited the “Tefillas Haderech”. This was the one and only Hebrew Bracha that he was familiar with, so he decided to recite it as well on the Tallis.

He then asked to borrow my Tefillin as well, which was followed by a long conversation with the other members of the plane, who were all taking pictures of this highly unusual scene.

But that wasn’t it; after a few minutes he turns to me and says “Rabbi, I am so inspired, but in Seattle Washington we don’t have these boxes. But I want to continue to do something special for these three precious souls, even after I return home. So what would you suggest I do?”

I was in complete shock, and overwhelmed with emotion, so the Satmar Chassid in the next row turns to this tattood and pierced young man and says, “Sweet Jew, if you promise me you will try and wear these Tefillin each and every day, I promise I will have a pair sent by FedEx to your home in Seattle Washington by the time you get back from Israel!” They then exchanged phone numbers and information, and the deal was done.​”

This is an incredible time in Klal Yisroel.​

It would behoove us to seize these precious moments of national unity and reach out to our not so distant brethren with bonds of love in order to draw them nearer to their Father.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg is the director of Rutgers Jewish Xperience (www.rutgersjx.com). He resides in Lakewood with his family.
Originally published in The Lakewood Scoop

G-d’s Divine Plan and the Teshuva Movement

By Rabbi Avaraham Edelstein
Reposted from Klal Perspectives Kiruv Issue – Winter 2012

There are many pessimists who suggest that the opportunity for American kiruv is rapidly dwindling. They cite decades of American intermarriage and the decreased familiarity of Jews with Torah and Jewish values and tradition (including the decline of Conservative Judaism, discussed below). But, though perhaps it is counter-intuitive, as I evidence elsewhere in this article the numbers of those interested in Judaism have been growing not decreasing. The average community mekarev is showing around three to five baalei teshuva a year, while the average campus rabbi is achieving five to six. And there has been a much larger number coming to learn on a weekly basis and making progress in their mitzvah observance. With the total numbers of mekarvim exponentially greater than it was twenty years ago, the cumulative efforts are highly significant.

Some have observed that English-speaking baal teshuva yeshivas are struggling with enrollment. However, this does not reflect decreased kiruv success – it simply reflects a different model of achieving success. For example, data reveal that 530 previously non-observant students became frum on North American campuses in the 2010-2011 academic year alone, and that figure rose nominally to 552 in 2011-2012. These are significant increases over previous years and previous decades. Moreover, there are entire new communities of baalei teshuva that have only recently mushroomed – in places like Tucson, Arizona and for sub-groups such as Bucharim in Queens, NY. This encouraging trend requires an understanding of the true roots of the Baal Teshuva Movement.

Contrary to the simplistic view of many, the movement was not simply a function of sociological phenomena, such as the shirayim (leftovers) of the Sixties’ generation looking for meaning (America), or the miracles of the Six Day War (Israel), or the arrival of a special kollel (South Africa), etc., etc.

According to Rav Yitzchak Hutner, zatzal (as told to Rav Moshe Shirkin, shlita, who reported this to me) the kiruv movement rather began as part of G-d’s guiding hand in history as we entered a pre-Messianic age. The elaborate teshuva prophesied for the Messianic era was beginning early, the influence flowing “backwards,” as it were, from the powerful inspiration of that anticipated age.

That the baal teshuva movement must be attributed to G-d’s guiding hand alone is evidenced by the fact that it began in multiple countries more or less simultaneously, without any human coordination – with most initiatives not even knowing of the others’ existence. Just as remarkable, although there were noble efforts at kiruv prior to this time, those early initiatives bore comparatively little fruit (I expect loud protests reminding me of Young Israel, Torah U’Mesorah and maybe even Torah Vodaas). For example, the same Rav Nachman Bulman, zatzal, who had many hundreds of BTs as his students by the time of his death in 2002, hardly made a dent before the time was ripe. In fact, after the advent of the BT movement, even those with relatively mediocre tools were able to realize significant achievements[2].

There has always been a Torah requirement that we do a national teshuva,[3] which is not the same as simply each individual in the nation doing teshuva. National teshuva was destined to be the central phenomenon of the Messianic era – אין ישראל נגאלין אלא בתשובה (the People of Israel will be redeemed only through teshuva).[4] And while the Nesivos Shalom[5] suggests that the teshuva of our generation draws from the past (specifically, the holiness generated by the experience of the Holocaust), this is no contradiction to the consensus of gedolim that it is a pre-Messianic phenomenon[6]. In other words, Messianic kedusha (holiness) begins to “peep from the cracks” – מציץ מן החרכים (Song of Songs 2:9) – in the generation of עקבתא דמשיחא (pre-Messianic era), when a teshuva movement becomes one of the defining phenomena of the age.

In Messianic times, not only do all Jews do teshuva, but we will be led by a descendent of that most illustrious of baalei teshuva, Yehudah. It is so destined, for Mashiach must be a composite of every fragment of kedusha in the world.

Predicting Jewish demographic trends is a risky business at best, especially since it is totally incapable of predicting the future of a meta-historical process like the baal teshuva movement. Social scientists simply lack the tools to anticipate G-d’s Divine plan to envelope history into one grand גילוי יחודו (revelation of His Oneness). The Baal Teshuva Movement cannot be explained as merely another religious awakening, subject to the ebb and flow of trends and social influences. We will not find ourselves running dry, with the next generation of Jews simply too distanced to be brought closer, chas ve’shalom (G-d forbid). On the contrary, kiruv will gather steam right into the Messianic era, when all Jews will do teshuva. We are but seeing individual examples, in whatever numbers, of what will become an across-the-board national phenomenon at a later stage.

The Power of Great Torah Teaching in Great Neck

When my wife and were becoming observant, more that 25 years ago, we lived in Manhasset Hills on the North Shore of Long Island. However much of our initial Torah growth occurred in Great Neck under the tutelage of Rabbi Yaakov Lerner and Rebbetzin Abby Lerner of the Young Israel of Great Neck. I would drive about 10 minutes every morning to attend Rabbi Lerner’s weekday 6:00 AM Gemora shiur, followed by Shacharis. It was too far to walk, so on Shabbos I davened in a minyan in the basement of the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Searingtown.

I still remember to this day Rabbi Lerner’s amazing ability to teach a Tosfos in a way that a beginner like myself at the time, could understand. In addition to his teaching and Rabbinic responsibility at the YIGN, Rabbi Lerner has been running Project Identity since 1981, which provides beginners classes in Torah, Reading Hebrew and Prayer. Our initial connection to Rabbi Lerner was through Project Identity.

I saw Rabbi and Rebbetzin Lerner at the Chupah of a Manahasset Hills friend’s daughter this past Sunday. We do run in to each other on occasion, but we spent some extra time talking, and he updated me on the amazing growth of YIGN and some of the amazing Baalei Teshuva that have joined the Shul. Many are extremely successful professionals who have directed their talents and passions to Torah and Communal Service.

One of the most amazing thing about Rabbi Lerner and Project Identity, is there is no active Kiruv, just the teaching of Torah and the sharing of our wonderful heritage with Jews who have not had that opportunity. Of course many people, like my wife and myself, become more observant and are helped in that journey, but the connection is established through the teaching and learning of Torah.

With the “search for truth” kiruv of the 60s, 70s. 80s, and the more self-centered “happiness kiruv” of the 90s, 00s. 10s waning, perhaps it’s time to focus on the pure unadulterated teaching of Torah. The one small wrinkle is that Rabbi Lerner’s love, and passion and skill at teaching Torah, are is difficult to match. It would be useful for the community to model the teaching skills of our great communal Rabbis so we can try to teach it to others.

Shloshim for Reb Meir Schuster, Man at the Wall

Ever get the sinking feeling that your efforts don’t really matter? Like you really can’t make a difference?
When feelings of futility hit, we can now watch the Shloshim observance for Reb Meir Tzvi Schuster, of blessed memory, which was held yesterday in Yerushalayim. Then we will quickly remember what one person can do. It can be viewed at the website: www.rebmeirschuster.org.

As explained in one of the hespedim given, Reb Noach Weinberg, of blessed memory, who was the Rosh Ha Yeshiva ofAish Ha Torah said, “If one person can destroy 6 million Jewish people, one person can save 6 million Jewish people.”

Reb Meir Schuster – from an ordinary background like you or me – developed the clarity, the caring and the perseverance to help tens of thousands of Jewish people return to a Jewish way of life. And from all of these returnees are already coming hundreds of thousands of children and grandchildren who could have lost their Judiasm otherwise. This is not even counting all the schools, programs, books, articles, etc. already made by all these baalei teshuva (and their offspring) which have helped so many other Jewish people come to value their heritage. From the exponential ripple effect created, 6 million does not seem far off at all.

For decades, day and night, Reb Meir Schuster ran after each neshama he could find at the Kotel and the Central Bus Station in Yerushalayim, bringing each diamond in the rough to a Shabbos meal or a center for Jewish learning . He founded the Heritage Houses so that at last there would be Jewish hostels in the Old City of Yerushalayim and later, he started the Shorashim Outreach Centers for Israelis that are also flourishing. Without self-interest, he simply and consistently devoted himself to doing what he saw needed to be done. And then he just kept at it.

Perhaps what can inspire us most of all is remembering that Reb Meir Schuster was not charismatic and he was not a master salesman. He was a shy and sweet man of few words, but every Jewish person was extremely dear to him, and that is what came across.

Yesterday, privately, Rebbetzin Schuster shared some thoughts on what she learned in the past month about how Reb Meir succeeded with all the young people he reached. She put it this way, “Reb Meir saw into their souls…and they saw into his heart.”

In case anyone would like to contribute to the wonderful endeavors that Reb Meir Schuster began, in his memory, I am providing their links here:
Women’s Heritage House http://www.rebmeirschuster.org/DONATEhh.php
Men’s Heritage House http://www.heritagehouse.org.il/donate/
Shorashim Outreach Centers http://www.shorashimcenters.org/Donate.html

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

Norman

It was my third month at Ohr Somayach, and I had only recently come around to acknowledging the truth of the Torah and recognizing my obligation to keep the mitzvos.

Shabbos was easy; after all, eating, singing, and sleeping didn’t put too much strain on my impulse-control mechanism. Kashrus was easy; I had little money and ate exclusively in the yeshiva cafeteria and by my Shabbos hosts. Mincha and maariv weren’t too challenging, although I still davened in English.

Shacharis was a different story. After four years of college, my body clock had long been set for 9:00 wakeup, and rousing myself for 6:45 seemed downright fanatical. At that point in my Torah observance, I wasn’t even motivated to try.

My new roommate was motivated, but his body clock wasn’t any more cooperative than mine. He dealt with his problem by placing a smoke-alarm style alarm clock on the other side of the room. It took about 15 minutes of ear-splitting buzzing for him to get himself out of bed to turn it off. It took me about three weeks to move out.

I was just settling into my new room when Norman arrived. He didn’t want to be there, and he had no interest in Torah. In fact, he seemed to have little interest in anything at all … except girls. But his grandmother had offered to pay him a thousand dollars (or was it two thousand?) if he attended yeshiva for six weeks. So there he was, serving his time and sharing my room.

It was one of the most exciting periods in my life, challenging Rav Dovid Gottleib as he articulated the fundamentals of Torah philosophy, trying to pick apart his arguments and proofs, struggling to integrate my past into my present, and vexing over how much of my former life could be salvaged and how much would have to be discarded.

Norman wasn’t vexing over anything. He was just doing time.

Which is not to say that he was not engaged. He argued, he debated, he listened to our rabbeim present their ideas and their proofs and tried to rebut them. But never for an instant did he seem to seriously consider the possibility that he might some day become Torah observant himself.

I remember the day he packed up to leave. I asked him what impression six weeks in yeshiva had made on him. I don’t think I’ll ever forget his answer.

“The rabbis are right,” he said. “They’ve answered all my questions. Their proofs are all sound. I can’t refute anything they’ve said.”

“So what are you going to do?” I asked.

“Nothing. I like chasing girls.”

I still can’t understand his answer. He could have said that the concept of an infinite G-d is too grand and abstract for him to accept. He could have said that he believed that rabbinic logic was polished sophistry, and that the rabbis’ arguments were smoke and mirrors. He could have said a lot of things that I might have understood. But his essential rejection of mitzvah observance boiled down to this:

“The Torah is true. But I don’t care.”

How is it possible not to care? Perhaps this question is particularly poignant for ba’alei tshuva. Why else would we have recast our entire lives and worldviews, except because of the compelling magnetism of Torah? We can’t help but take the indifference of others personally, for it seems to negate everything we have done and everything we have come to believe.

After fifteen years in chinuch, I’ve become adept at explaining answers to the same questions I posed to my rabbeim half a lifetime ago. I can teach ideas. I can teach information. I can teach skills. Sometimes I manage to inspire my students, and occasionally I can even get them to think. But the question that still haunts me the most, the one I still haven’t begun to answer, is this:

How do you teach someone else to care?

Maybe there is no answer. Maybe the only answer is that those of us who do care have to push ourselves to care even more.

Originally Published 02/13/2008
Rabbi Goldson writes at Torah Ideals

Teshuva, Kiruv and BTs

By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky

This wonderful group is devoted to discussing issues that are important to ba’alei tshuva. And we are now in the season when everyone should be attempting, each in his or her own way, to grow to higher levels through teshuva. There are two Halachoth that the Rambam includes in the laws of teshuva that are addressed to everyone involved teshuva, and which I think should be highlighted for ba’alei tshuva who are struggling in their growth and commitment to Judaism.

The Rambam (Hilchoth Teshuva, Ch. 3, Halacha 3) writes: Anyone who reconsiders the Mitzvoth that he has done, and in place of the meritorious deeds he has done he says to himself “What have I accomplished by doing them? Better that I had not done them.” This person has lost (the merit of) all of them. No merit is remembered for these [deeds], as it is written (Yechezkel 18:24) “And the righteousness of the righteous person will not save him on the day of his evil.” This refers to none other than one who questions his original actions.

This Rambam is based on a Gemara (T. B. Kiddushin 40b) which teaches as follows: Rebbe Shimon ben Yochai said: Even a person who was fully righteous his entire life, and rebelled at the end, loses the original [righteous deeds], as it is written “And the righteousness of the righteous person will not save him on the day of his sin”(Yehezkel 33:12). And even a person who was evil his entire life, and repented at the end, we never remind him again of his evil, as it is written “And the evil of the wicked person – he will not stumble over it on the day of his repentance” (ibid). (The Gemara asks) Let this person (the righteous person who rebelled at the end) be considered as one who has part sins and part meritorious deeds (since he did both good and bad deeds during his life)? Reish Lakish answers [that we are speaking about] one who questions (regrets) his original (good) actions.

I believe the implications of this Gemara, and its incorporation in the Rambam as a Halacha, have significant lessons for individual teshuva, as well as kiruv methods and goals.
Read more Teshuva, Kiruv and BTs

The JHC After 25 Years – These are the Things Which Have no Shiur

This past Shabbos my wife and I had the pleasure of celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Jewish Heritage Center (JHC) of Queens & Long Island with 300 people at a Shabbaton in Sommerset, NJ. Many of the people there have been close friends over the years. Some have moved from the JHC’s home base of Kew Gardens Hills, to other BT centers like Passaic, the Five Towns or West Hempstead, but on Shabbos it felt that we’re still all together. Twenty five hours of Shabbos was way too short to appreciate and enjoy the bonds we’ve built over these past 25 years.

The JHC was initially the idea of Dov Wollowitz. He wasn’t hampered by resource allocation questions, to him it was clear that bringing people back to Judaism is something that must be done, and he convinced three of his friends to pony up some serious money to bring that idea to fruition. He approached two young Smicha graduates from Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Moshe Turk and Rabbi Naftoli Portnoy to co-direct the endeavor. And as they put it, the rest was just not normal, event after event, miracle after miracle, Hashem clearly shined His countenance on this holy endeavor.

When I looked around the dining room at the couples and families, who are only a fraction of the 1800 people the JHC has worked closely with over the years, it became even clearer that there is no way to measure the ROI (return of investment) that the founders, and the JHC staff, who have dedicated their lives to helping people like us, have received. When it comes to matters of the spirit, and the spiritual accomplishments of entire families, there is no measure. There is no exchange rate from the physical to the spiritual.

On the BT side, this BT crowd had no buyer’s remorse. That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Everybody has had trials and tribulation in at least one of the major areas of finance, health or raising children. And the lack of a family support network and the inevitable plateuaing has made things even harder. But as a close FFB friend said during Shabbos, it’s not really a sacrifice that we’ve made, these struggles themselves are essential to our spiritual accomplishments.

A final point that became clear is to step back when evaluating our Kiruv coaches and mentors. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to encourage more pro-active follow up, or treatment as true first-class citizens, or more resources for later stage BTs. What it does mean is that we have to look beyond the less than perfect aspects, and see the individuals who have literally invested a piece of their souls in us. They have often sacrificed their own growth to water ours. They care about us more than we will ever know and for that we owe them a spiritual debt which can’t be repaid in this world.

So on behalf on my wife, myself and the collective souls of any BTs that wish to participate, WE GIVE THANKS TO THE JHC and ALL THE KIRUV PROFESSIONALS for all you’ve done and continue to do for us!

Financial support of kiruv – a categorical imperative. Right?

For years after I first became observant it was obvious to me that I should devote more than a token amount of my tzedakah money to kiruv organizations.

Live and learn.

I have lived a lot since that proposition was obvious to me, and I’ve learned a thing or two, too.

One reason for the shortfall is the fact that, sadly, my actual ability to give tzedakah turns out to be a lot more “token” than I had once thought it would be by now. That’s not only a matter of not having become a millionaire at age 30 (never one of my goals, actually — and there you have it!) but is also a product, of course, of the charming reality of how expensive it is to support a medium-sized frum family in the New York area, a topic that has been discussed at length on this blog.

Contrary to what I might also have thought, the size of the pot available for donation, in turn, affects the percentage.

The reason percentages of tzedakah allocated to kiruv are not necessarily “scalable” implicates the second factor that has affected my thinking about this: A lot of those donations are sort of stuck at what we might call hard numbers. For example, for each educational institution educating our children that requires a journal “donation,” there is a minimum size ad required in order to attend the dinner — and we are, of course, expected to attend. Then there are the dinners for the shul or shuls where we daven [attend services], the local yeshiva, the bais medrash where we learn or perhaps our kids do, the chesed organization we’re involved with — and then all those “honors” being bestowed on family members and friends, in turn.

Yes, we have to make decisions, establish priorities, draw the line somewhere. We must and we do. But as a young newcomer to observant Judaism, I would never have understood that as you go through life in the frum world you will accrete innumerable relationships to institutions and to people — and in turn, albeit indirectly, to the relationships those people have to other institutions — and that this geometry of relationships simply implicates a certain amount of charitable giving among those who can do so at all.

Indeed, to the extent that proportion does anything here, it probably works precisely the opposite from how you would think except perhaps for the very wealthy. The percentage of tzedakah money available for supporting kiruv institutions probably shrinks as one’s income increases, because steady economic progress is usually accompanied by steady growth of one’s social and, in the case of frum Jews, religious affiliations. In turn this results in more “obligatory” dinner appearances or eat least journal ad “greetings” — such favors, after all, being expected to be returned when one is himself the honoree at some event.

Moreover, which Jewish educational institution that is educating our children is not in dire financial straits almost all the time? The very fortunate few who can — and do — pay full tuition essentially flag themselves as not-literally-destitute by doing so. That means a warm visit from the hanhola [management], which will make a compelling case for some degree of additional assistance for the institution that is educating your children. Now. Today, and probably for years to come.

We have to make decisions, establish priorities, draw the line somewhere. We must and we do. But drawing these lines concerning the people, institutions and communal needs that directly implicate you and your family, now, is not easy.

What, after all, have the kiruv institutions that got me here done for me… lately?

One obvious problem for kiruv fundraising is that alumni who have moved on, so to speak, don’t “need” them any more — all the more so kiruv organizations seeking to raise funds in the frum community from non-alumni. Seeking donations from very well-off donors is one thing; but how do Aish HaTorah and the rest make the case to me to financially support their programming over the programming of institutions and organizations I am involved with, directly or through family members or direct communal involvement, right now?

Guilt? That will only take you so far; frequently, in fact, it will push the potential donor over the edge entirely.

There are other problems. One is the programming itself. Kiruv is a funny thing; it’s changed a lot in a lot of places over the last generation. I can’t say I understand how and why the money raised by kiruv organizations is being spent. I’m not even so sure I would be so happy if I did understand it. So can I conclude that prioritizing a given program as a recipient of what I can spare is the best use of my tzedakah money?

At the end of the day I give to kiruv organizations to the extent that I can based on very similar criteria to those I employ with respect to other tzedakahs: Mainly relationships and trust. Some kiruv professionals who meant a lot to me are still in my life, and not because I’m anything like a money tree nor because they’re still “working with” (much less “working on”) me; they just are still near and dear to me. That’s a relationship, and that’s an organization I am always going to find some way to help out.

Then there are others where there is no ongoing relationship, and after all I have not necessarily sought one. So be it.

And then there are ones I hear from when they need something from me.

And new ones — how about programs that may be brilliant and effective that I have no relationship with at all?

Chances are, it will stay that way.

Thoughts From a Mekarev in the Field

By Rabbi Meir Goldberg
Reprinted with permission of Mishpacha Magazine

It was with great enthusiasm that I eagerly read the recent edition of Klal Perspectives, kiruv edition. After reading many of the articles and especially the responses by R’ Adlerstein and R’ Ilan Feldman, I was hoping to respond with the some thoughts of a typical mekarev in the field.

The older generation of mekarvim often wax poetic of the kiruv glory days which started sometime after the six day war and ended in the early 90’s. Rav Noach Weinberg’s dream of changing the world was, to a large extent, successful in that tens of thousands became frum and so many more were reconnected in some meaningful way, to their heritage. However, the dream of the first generation of mekarvim, that they would somehow make the whole world frum, was never realistic.

The simple fact is that becoming frum is an extremely hard thing for most people to do. The very same reason why Jews are a tiny minority among the nations is the very reason why the teshuva movement was never destined to become a mass movement. Changing ones habits, surroundings, dress, friends, personal image, the way one relates to ones family, culture, etc, is not for the faint of heart. To be a baal teshuva by definition, means that you are sailing into the wind and that is not something that the masses can do. As an FFB I often ask myself and others if we would realistically ever consider becoming a Satmar Chassid even if we thought that it was what Hashem wanted? To go from secular to frum is much harder.
Read more Thoughts From a Mekarev in the Field

Do We Show Enough Appreciation for Kiruv?

Yes it’s easy to find faults with any Klal institution and Kiruv is no different. But if we stop and think about how much Baalei Teshuva owe to those dedicated to helping people find a path to Hashem and Torah and mitzvos we probably would be much slower to criticize. If we truly realized how much the Klal has benefited from the enthusiasm, growth orientation and contributions of Baalei Teshuva we would probably be much more supportive of the efforts of those in the field.

Do you think people express the proper HaKoras HaTov to those working in Kiruv?

If you think people are not supportive enough, why do you think that’s true?

Is the problem the general negative perspective often held by the Klal or is it something specific for Kiruv?

We can we do as a group to be more supportive if you think that’s the correct perspective?