Monday, June 06, 2005

Today was Yom Yerushalayim, the ups and downs of which merit a separate post. In the meantime, check out the unbelievable recording of Motta Gur and co. as they captured Har Habayis in 1967. (Hit LISTEN in the upper left corner.) (Hat Tip: Treppenwitz)

I want to talk about something else today: kiruv. I have mixed feelings on the subject. On the one hand, what could be more natural than wanting to explain one's most deeply-held beliefs to someone who doesn't share them? All the more so if one can help another person find a connection to their own people's traditions and a life filled with meaning and goodness. On the other hand, well, it's a long story...

The gist of it is that when kiruv becomes a habit or a vocation, it can quickly slide into a variety of flavors of inauthenticity.

First, there is the inauthenticity of the relationship with the "victim". It is easy to be tempted to create the impression of great empathy or bonding in order to heighten one's influence on the other fellow, when in fact the relationship is entirely instrumental. This usually comes off as patronizing.

Second, there is the inauthenticity of the Yiddishkeit that is transmitted. Yiddishkeit is tailored to meet the expectations of the eager student. To those deeply enmeshed in the modern liberal American mindset, we present Yiddishkeit as the very source of democratic thought, a model of pluralism and progressive thinking, yada yada yada. To the airheads in search of the Meaning Of It All, we sell Yiddishkeit as the original Magical Mystery Tour itself, roit bendelech and all. For compulsives, we offer enough itty bitty rules to keep the anxious mind permanently off anything substantive enough to be worrisome. Who wants to disappoint?

Finally, there is the inauthenticity of how one's own relationship with Yiddishkeit is presented. Supposing some happy bopper foolishly came seeking my guidance in life and I said something like, "Yeah, Yiddishkeit is often profound and meaningful, but mainly it's what our ancestors lived and died for for generations and that's good enough for me. It's historical narrative is probably largely based in fact, but not entirely, and I don't really care because in any case I prefer my own people's myths to anybody else's. And officially we believe all kinds of theological stuff, some of which I deeply believe to be true, some of which is vague enough that it might tolerate some true interpretation and some of which is complete narishkeit. Just learn Torah and don't worry about that stuff." How well do you think that would go over? So instead we pretend to have convictions we don't really have. We project moral certainty, we manufacture bogus "proofs" of I'm-not-sure-what, we present our community as a tallis shekulo techeiles and altogether leave our cynicism back in the Beis Midrash.

All of which is why the best kiruv is done by people who aren't consciously trying to do it. They bond through genuine empathy, they present Torah precisely as they understand it, they teach by example, and they don't say more than ought to be said.


Anonymous daat y said...

I agree wholeheartedly.
Ohev et habriot,(without ulterior motive)And only afterwards by sincere dialogue and by setting as an example
mekorvon latorah.

2:52 AM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I can agree with much of what you have said. Too often kiruv is used to sell a panacea to the hole in someone's heart.

Call me a cynic, but that is how it often comes across to me.

I often have wondered about the people who try and convince me to go BT. You'd almost think that the BTs would be more aggressive in trying to make me see things their way, but it has all too often been the FFBs that have turned me of the most.

Not always but.........

9:12 AM  
Blogger Oysvurf said...

In pirkei avot, we are taught that one should not make Torah a "spade with which to dig". I.e. not to turn it into a business. Well one of the most important inauthenticities of kiruv "work" is kiruv as "big business". Big funds roll in to places like Chabad, Aish and Ohr Sameach and all the offshoots. The bigger the movie star they line up at the LA branch, the bigger the building they get in Jerusalem.

There is also the element of justifying much of what you probably refer to when you say is "narishkeit". You see, it's simple - what can be wrong with Charedi Judaism if Malka X (Formerly Jackie X) a Harvard grad on the MBA fast track, chucked it all back in the states for a life in a 3 room Maalot Dafna apartment with a kollel husband and 7 children in 8 years? How bad can it be not giving your chidlren a secular education if Yoynasan Z (formerly John Z) gave up the law partnership that came with an Ivy League degree, to learn in kollel for a few years, when he send his kids to a yeshiva k'tana with no secular studies and no draft into the army? (of course he has the funds to keep a few children in kollel b/c he jumped on this bandwagon at age 40 - it wasn't forced down his throat at age 18.)

Most students after 6 months at Ohr Sameach know more about what every rosh yeshiva from 60-100 years ago wrote about Zionism, Mizrachi Jews, University studies and every other "theological" nonsense spouted there, than they do about anything having to do with serious learning or authentic yiddishkeit. I can't even begin to count the number of times a fresh off the mint kiruv "victim" has told me that what I do or eat or say is "wrong" or what I tell my child to do in shul is "wrong", etc. etc. In the kiruv world There's a lack of healthy respect for the authentic transmission of the mesorah or of "yiddishkeit" (which while albeit having been fragmented in the last few generations, is still in existence). Right now BT's are producing more BT's and the mesorah itself has become disdained as there is an undercurrent of belief in not needing it anymore, as a belief that previous generations were religiously "weaker" has taken hold

4:59 PM  
Anonymous azriel said...


My rebbe always says that authentic kiruv begins with a piece of kugel and a hot chulent.

6:26 PM  
Anonymous zahava said...

As a madricha at a kiruv-oriented event many years ago, I had the privilege of hearing a shiur aimed at public high school kids regarding personal responsibility and communal responsibility. During the course of the shiur one of the kids made a comment about the BTs vs the FFBs -- the Rav giving the shiur sagely responded that when it comes to modern-day observance and the lack of a current Bet HaMikdash, we are ALL essentially BTs -- even he, who had grown up in a frum home which and whose ancestors maintained a close connection with Mesorah throughout the generations.

I found that experience humbling -- and there have been many occassions when I wished that that shiur had been heard by more than the kids and madrichim who were there!

7:14 PM  
Blogger Russell said...

It is disheartening to hear the knocks on the major kiruv organizations. I believe very strongly in kiruv - not just as a natural desire to share one's beliefs, but out of a necessity for the Jewish people. It seems troubling to me that when confronted with precisely the situation described in the first Rashi in the chumash, the Israeli government does not have either the Jewish knowledge or commitment to act as HKB"H provided in the very structure of the text.

Clearly kiruv has to be improved, if so many people are being turned off.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

daat y,
Nice drush.

Repent at once.

You exaggerate but yeah.

Yes, but it must be potato kugel not yerushalmi. And vegetarian chulent, definitely not. Seriously, your rebbe is a wise man. Send him a grease.

I agree.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous azriel said...


Of coourse potato kugel and of course fleishig. That goes without saying.

4:28 AM  
Blogger Oysvurf said...

Yes, but it's an illustrative exaggeration. To bring out the point. I'm not saying it's ALL like that - just that a lot of it is.

Zehava's anecdote just proves what I suggested. A disdain for the authentic mesorah in order to placate the feelings of a potential returnee. With all due respect to that Rav - my parents and grandparents may not have been perfect Jews (who is/was) but they gave us a seder every year, got a lulav and etrog every year, we lit chanukah candles together and fasted on Yom Kippur, and went to shul every shabbat. Basically we did all the things Jews did for thousands of years and they passed this on to me and I'm passing it on to my chidren. I can decide where they were "wrong" and what's "flavor of the month" chumra. But what I do is based on a deep seated soul feeling that has been transmitted over generations. It's not coming from an "emptiness" filled by a preacher/guru/miracle worker. If I don't do what that Rabbi in the public school thinks is the correct thing to do or if I do do something he tells those public school kids is wrong - it's not b/c I'm a BT in potentia - it's b/c I have a tradition that has value and yes, it differs with what he thinks is the "correct" version of Judaism. But, ultimately my mesorah has infinitely more value than some wax on the fingers and the latest chumra book has.

The BT's I have come to respect the most are the ones who have taken what they learnt, moved on independently in thought, and applied their knowledge to a method of trasnmitting a mesorah to their own chidren. Essentially they became FFB.

1:57 PM  
Blogger The Hedyot said...

Putting aside the kiruv issue, I think your statement of what and why you believe is absolutely spot-on! It may not be as impressive as saying "I believe it all with 100% absolute conviction", but it's probably a better way of describing most Jews true feelings about their own beliefs than they are even aware of.

8:19 PM  
Anonymous zahava said...


My comment absolutely DOES NOT prove what you have suggested, and does not show disdain for authentic mesorah! Further more, the Rav's comment was not meant to placate the returnee, but rather to remind those FFBs who were present that that simply being born into an observant family didn't automatically elevate your status -- just the odds that you would have greater access to learning and strong role models.

As for the BTs who you respect the most -- because they've essentially become FFB -- don't you think that kiruv may have had a role in helping them attain that level?

It seems to me that Ben was urging us all to examine the authenticity of the desires involved in kiruv -- on both sides of the fence. How and why to reach out to someone? Why accept the invitation? There are a multitude of reasons -- some genuine, some exploitative.

10:49 PM  
Blogger mnuez said...

My better judgment just came back from vacation and advised me not to involve myself in this convo. I can hear him in the other room though talking on his cell, seems he's going to be heading out again soon. I guess I'll just wait.

12:14 PM  
Anonymous hmmm said...

For starters, check Michael Crichton's manifesto on environmentalism. Specifically, the last few pages of State of Fear, and his personal view afterwards. Essentialy, an organization is started with lofty ideals, but 20 years later needs to justify its existence.

Here's a Chabad take on this: This is why we hate being identified with kiruv. We don't do kiruv. We move to a community, and try to supply those services that have not been provided. (This is the ideal, I'm not debating the human frailty involved.)

Any Shliach would laugh at the funds rolling in statement. Shliach after Shliach moves to a new city with out a stitch of organizational or outside support, and has to build a grassroots effort from scratch. Maybe after a decade or two can you say the cash rolls in for some, but even then the majority struggle.

Shluchim have become Rabbis of local dying Orthodox synagogues if necessary. Shluchim have sent their students to Aish or Ohr Sameach if necessary. Shluchim have taken over running the local dying school if necessary. Shluchim have even agreed to not be able to refer to themselves as Chabad publicly, if it furthered the cause of Judaism.

Now, on the post: Correct that kiruv cannot be done for kiruv sake. You have to go to a community to service the needs of the community as Torah demands. Not for your own organizations needs.

On Yiddishkeit having something of everything in it: it does. Sometimes very little. Very very little. But if the person can identify with that little, their connection can grow, to the extent that 5 years later they may turn around and say "I believed that?!"

As to being deceitful, you're assuming the person doing this kiruv doesn't believe what they're saying. Sorry, they have a right to believe that every iota in Talmud etc. is true, and you have a right to disagree. If you;re saying that you, Ben Chorin, should not do kiruv, you're probably right :-). Besides, Israel needs a Constitution.

Manufacturing proofs: I can't believe an idiot that won't show a nuanced picture of Judaism should be allowed out of a cage. You can say, this is a beginners version of this topic. There is more nuance. Here is one example. We can get to that in a different course. That way, you a) avoid the confusion nuances cause to a beginner (Does a kid need to know that there are forms of geometry in which there are no straight lines?), and b) let them know that there is more to this issue, and they are only beginning.

So up with well-meaning and good-hearted and humble kiruv workers (the non-Chabad kinds too), and down with the holy preachers!

(Anyone want to start the Discovery program boycott?)

7:24 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I didn't realize you were even acquainted with your better judgment. Banish it.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You'll be amused to hear that no sooner had this post left my fingers than someone called me for an emergency emunah rescue mission. Never happened to me before. I'm preparing a long list of bogus proofs and outright lies even as I type.


5:40 PM  
Anonymous hmmm said...

Now THAT I want to see...

just curious: Rescue FROM emunah, or rescue OF emunah?

4:48 AM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

Who said that sincerity is everything, and if you fake that you have it made?

8:16 PM  

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