Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In Honor of Faigy Mayer

     In the wee hours of the morning, the Off the Derech Facebook community learned of the tragic suicide of Faigy Mayer, a bright young woman who, with extraordinary courage, had left the ultra-orthodox community to pursue her dreams. She was kind and caring, and understanding the difficulties in leaving the ultra-orthodox world, was working on technology to better the experiences of those going off the derech (path) of orthodox Judaism. She had many friends. I consider myself fortunate to have made her acquaintance in online forums. I know many others who knew her personally. We are all feeling the pain that this loss brings.

     In the wake of such an awful event, it is easy to lay blame. Rather than hurl accusations, it is important to remember several things.

  • Remember that family and friends should never ostracize someone for choosing a different path in life than the one in which she/he was raised. It is fine to disagree, but religion should never be more important than people. 
  • Remember that depression is an illness that can be treated, but not everyone who needs help gets it in time or, sadly, at all. Read NIMH's website for more information on depression
  • Remember that people who leave orthodox communities do not "have something wrong with them." This is a popular refrain often repeated within certain groups, in order to maintain the illusion that all is perfect within their communities. People leave orthodoxy for a variety of reasons, both emotional and intellectual.
  • Remember the importance of reaching out to people. If you are depressed or having a tough time, or if you know someone who may be going through a rough patch, offer support. A phone call, a cup of coffee, a few moments of your day may make all the difference in the world.
  • Remember, if you need help or know someone who does, reach out.
     May all who mourn be consoled. May you find inner peace and strength to get through the hard days ahead, and may you ultimately take comfort in your positive memories.

     If you feel you are in a crisis please call
1-800-273-TALK (8255) where you will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7. You can also call the hope line for similar services: 1-800-442-HOPE. For people outside of the USA, please refer to http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html.

Read more.
Ex-Hasid Dies in Fall from Rooftop -Failed Messiah
We Don't Get It -Kol B'Isha Erva
Four Hours -My Derech, On and Off

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Kiruv Organization Tells All: Recruiting Women, College Students

     I recently found Rabbi Yitschak Rudomim's website for the Jewish Professionals Institute: Adult Education and Outreach organization. At first I assumed, incorrectly, that I'd have to spend a lot of time trying to prove that they were using certain tactics to appeal to non-orthodox Jews in order to draw them in. Well, I was wrong. JPI's statement of purpose specifically mentions that Rabbi Yitschak Rudomim and his organization are fighting an "unconventional war on Jewish ignorance" and that they are "called upon to adopt the methods of marketing, salesmanship, and advertising in order to "sell" Judaism to Jews, because of my love for my fellow Jews."1 Whether this is an effort to be transparent to all who are interested in his work, or simply a way to gain additional financial support, or perhaps an oversight (maybe he doesn't expect that people will be criticizing his tactics) on his part, Rudomim is telling you exactly what he and all kiruv organizations do.
     Rudomim clearly states that there is no place that is off-limits to outreach rabbis, including (but not limited to) "the home, work, college, or any informal domain,"2 and that it is his goal "to penetrate these other areas."3 Rudomim's end goal is "to touch the lives of so many of our ignorant (Jewishly) brethren and inspire them through deed and thought to undertake the quest for self-betterment through increased commitment to study and observance of Judaism."4
Jewish Professionals Institute: Statement of Purpose
click to enlarge

         I've included a letter of recommendation for Rabbi Rudomim and JPI written by Rabbi Yehudah Fine, director of The Jewish Family Institute which, according to Seattle, Washington's Jewish Transcript, is both an orthodox rabbi and a family therapist whose "Jewish Family Institute provides outreach to families in crisis, including individual and family counseling, crisis intervention, outreach for individuals and families in need, lectures and seminars for Jewish communities and youth groups."5 Back when the article was written "Fine said that he was probably best known for his work in counseling Jewish families dealing with a family member who has joined a cult."6 Yes, you read that correctly.
     Within Fine's letter of recommendation he uses emotional manipulation as part of his request for financial support. He refers to the "silent Holocaust of American Jewry," using the Holocaust as a marketing tool in order to gain monetary contributions and appeal to people's emotions. He then lists several statistics without citing his sources, which makes me wonder if these statistics are even legitimate.
Letter of Recommendation for JPI by Rabbi Yehudah Fine
click to enlarge

Recruiting Women
     Director of JPI, Rabbi Rudomim, includes a piece on his site entitled "Women of Valor" in which he details kiruv's expectations of the women who are recruited to an ultra-orthodox lifestyle. He appears to understand that "it is not a simple matter for today's liberated Jewish woman to accept separation of the sexes, the laws of Family Purity, bearing many children, covering her hair and many of the other observances by women leading Torah lifestyles."7 and then he states that due to kiruv efforts, these women now "run to accept more, not less, of what Yiddishkeit proclaims to be the role of the true woman of valor: A devoted and loyal mother and wife."8 Through outreach, these formerly non-orthodox women "then go on to marry and establish Torah homes."9 Rudomim briefly mentions a few seminaries, including the well-known Neve Yerushalayim women's seminary, that were created in order to deal with the "special needs" in terms of recruiting young, non-orthodox women. He mentions Rabbi Manis Friedman of Chabad, "one of the most charismatic teachers of previously secular Jewish women in America." Rudomim appears to celebrate such charismatic leaders. In this case, they are expected to convince people to change their perspective, their views, and even their lives.
     Rudomim mentions The Jewish Women's Journal, put out by the Jewish Renaissance Center in Manhattan and clearly states "this special newspaper . . . whose motive is outreach" uses a "sophisticated style and accessibility [to] appeal to even estranged Jews. It provides a non-threatening glimpse into Jewish life."10
     What Rudomim fails to mention is what these women are giving up in order to embrace an ultra-orthodox lifestyle. He doesn't mention the careers that may be put on hold, the family discord that is often caused but less-often talked about, and the relationships that suffer as a result. But he is honest, at least, about what he believes to be the role of the Jewish woman--that of wife and mother of many.
"Women of Valor" Rabbi Yitschak Rudomim
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Women of Valor, Part One
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Women of Valor, Part Two
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Recruiting College Students
     Rabbi Rudomim's article about college students traveling in Israel describes in alarming accuracy the tactics employed by kiruv professionals in Israel to recruit impressionable college students to an ultra-orthodox lifestyle. He mentions that the phenomenon of traveling college students has been a boon to kiruv because "many young assimilated college students go off to explore Europe and Israel . . . [and so] and entire outreach apparatus has evolved to provide yet another option for these wandering happy-go-lucky young people."11 Rudomim brazenly states that "Indeed, at the Kotel, (Western Wall), there is a polished network of outreach professionals who specialize in offering hospitality, and an opportunity to learn Torah, to the previously disinterested Jewish traveler."12 It's true--I was once one of those "previously disinterested Jewish travelers," Rudomim's words, not mine. What I failed to understand at the time was that I was falling for pickup lines, marketing strategies, and salesmanship that were, and still are, used on "on [the] thousands, yes thousands, of young Jews [who] have been enrolled in famous Baal Teshuvah Yeshivot in this fashion."13
     Rudomim admits that Aish HaTorah's famous Discovery Seminar is meant to sweep people off their feet. He writes:
Fascinating lectures proving the validity of the Torah, existence of G-d, and the relevance of Judaism to modern life are presented, and more importantly, accepted by many listeners. Enough to convince them to stay on for a few weeks, or months, or years, and even make Aliyah.14
Rudomim is not hiding the fact that Aish is offering a program meant to convince unsuspecting young tourists that they ought to stay in Israel--attending kiruv programs meant to push them into ultra-orthodoxy--for lengthy amounts of time that weren't originally in their plans. Again, I recall sitting in the office of a prominent Jerusalem rabbi as he tried to convince my husband and I (we were newlyweds in our early twenties) that we should stay in Israel and attend yeshiva and seminary programs. Our response was that it was irresponsible, since we both had jobs and school, but this didn't deter him from his hard-sell tactics. Instead, we agreed to allow a prominent New York kiruv rabbi to contact us upon our arrival home. While our curiosity was piqued, we were definitely turned off by the exorbitant amount of pressure put on us to stay and change our plans. To be honest, I remember feeling intimidated by this rabbi,  but strengthened by the fact that my husabnd (and best friend) and I were in this together. Had I been alone, I might have been afraid to say no to someone I perceived to be a spiritual leader. But I digress.
     Rudomim also mentions that Aish's Jerusalem Fellowships are supported by the Israeli government because they see this as an opportunity that could lead to more people making aliyah, a permanent move to Israel. Politically, this is good for Israel, as it keeps the population growing.
Traveling in Israel, Part One
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Traveling in Israel, Part Two
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Traveling in Israel, Part Three
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      To be completely honest, I was completely thrown off by Rudomim's Jewish Professionals Institute's site. Rudomim's blatant explanation of what kiruv organizations do and how they do it was shocking and unexpected. I'm sure that my readers who are pro-kiruv are smiling and saying "happy now?" because one of my criticisms of ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach is that there is a lack of this type of information. (In truth, this information is lacking and still inaccessible to people unfamiliar with the lingo needed to plug in appropriate search terms, but that should be understandable.) Let me take a second and address the question as to whether or not I'm happy to have found this information.
     On a personal level, I realized that my experiences in Israel were contrived and that the warmth and hospitality I experienced as a student, and then as part of a newly married couple, were contrived. In many ways, this makes me second-guess the integrity of those I encountered who tried to sell me experiences that were not real or unique--I was just another warm Jewish body.
     Speaking on a professional level as a critic of kiruv, I'm curious as to why Rudomim gives all of this information away so easily. Who is the expected audience of his website? Surely, it isn't me or those who kiruv professionals are recruiting. If so, why tell people that they're simply clients being manipulated by deft salespeople with polished techniques? Will this help to bring us in?
     As a final thought, the articles on JPI's website reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe's stories, in which the guilty party cannot keep the secrets and details of his crime to himself. Through a series of events--both psychological and physical--Poe's protagonists often lead the police, the other characters, and the reader right to the scene of crime, exposing the gory details because the guilty party can no longer bear his secret.
     As always, I welcome reader comments.


Works Cited
1. Jewish Professionals Institute. www.jpi.org. website.
2. ibid.
3. ibid.
4. ibid.
5. Gordon, Richard. Former Bellevue Resident Heads Jewish Family Institute. The Jewish Transcript. September 11, 1986. p.11.
6. ibid.
7. Rudomim, Yitschak. Women of Valor. Jewish Professionals Institute. www.jpi.org. website.
8. ibid.
9. ibid.
10. ibid.
11. Rudomim, Yitschak. Traveling in Israel. Jewish Professionals Institute. www.jpi.org. website.
12. ibid.
13. ibid.
14. ibid.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Chabad's Kiruv Double Standard: Outrage Over Being "Duped"

     By now you've probably heard about Baci Weiler, the University of Chicago student who was mistaken for a male by a Chabad kiruv worker who then went on to help her don tefillin. If you haven't, feel free to read the story here. Orthodox Jews consider the wearing of tefillin to be a male-only mitzvah, (commandment) despite stories that the daughters of Rashi, a well-known biblical commentator from the Middle ages, wore the little black boxes.
     As expected, much of the orthodox community--especially the Chabad community--is outraged  that an unsuspecting yeshiva bocher (student) was "duped" into believing that Ms. Weiler was a guy based on her haircut and clothing. It is the responsibility of the Chabad missionary to make sure he's practicing what he believes in the correct manner. It isn't the responsibility of the person he approaches to rebuke him, because many times, that random person on the street might not know the minutiae of Jewish law--or that there even is a law.
     As it turns out, Baci Weiler does wear tefillin on a regular basis, and obviously has no issue with egalitarian Judaism. And yet, many Chabadniks--the very people who publicly preach about loving all Jews, who often refer to the Lubavitcher Rebbe's belief that all Jews are like one body and each Jew is important, had no problem blaming Baci Weiler for "taking advantage" of this kiruv worker.
     Now, to be clear, I don't blame anyone. I don't believe that there was any wrongdoing in this situation. If anything, there was a misunderstanding. He offered, she accepted, she wore it, it was good. She posted a picture on social media, it got around. Now, many in the Chabad community are showing their true colors and rather than seeing the good (nothing bad happened, this woman's Judaism was inspired, maybe others might be inspired,) many are choosing to denigrate Baci Weiler. You know, blame the woman, the evil temptress who led the man astray--you know, the typical witch hunt accusations that have been tossed around throughout human history. But this isn't about feminism, right?
     I've provided a few screen shots of some of the comments from Collive.com, a Chabad community news site. There are some comments that genuinely reflect modern, progressive, and mainstream views. There are more that represent a community mired in both fear and ignorance of gender equality, feminist issues, and progressive thought. There are some people who feel bad for the yeshiva student. (Click pictures to enlarge.)
Click individual frames to enlarge.
From Collive.com.1
Click to enlarge photo.2
     The above are some examples of what people in Chabad are saying online. Baci Weiler did write an explanation on her public Facebook page, and I'm including that as well. Towards the end, she states:

On another level, and more importantly, the photo is powerful because it depicts an instance of accidental pluralism and of shared joy in the mitzvah of hanachat tefillin. It is a serendipitous glimpse of the world I wish I lived in: a world where both he, a bearded chabadnik guy, and I, a buzz-cut egalitarian girl, could be “frum”, regardless of gender or labels, equally bound by mitzvot.2

Baci's response sums up so many issues inherent in ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach.
     Within kiruv, there is a constant and deliberate white-washing of women's roles within the ultra-orthodox community. During the kiruv process, women are pushed into the community's rigid gender roles while receiving nice, stock answers about why women do certain things and not others, all while pushing them away from egalitarian thought and practice.
     Within kiruv, all are accepted as Jews, but Chabad (and other ultra-orthodox groups) do not recognize Reform, Conservative, and other liberal forms of Judaism as legitimate expressions of Judaism. The only pluralism that exists is the "accidental pluralism" that Baci Weiler experienced. Chabad writer Shalom Paltiel claims that "the problem is the labels" and asks:
Why can't we all just be "Jewish"? Why the need to label ourselves based on our level of observance?
It's true some of us are more religiously observant than others. Is that reason to categorically divide us into splintering groups? Let us each observe Judaism and its precepts to the best of our knowledge and ability, without the need of a name tag proclaiming ourselves a particular brand.
In addition to dividing us, the labels also limit our growth as Jews. Once we've been labeled, we no longer feel the need to learn more about our heritage than is typical for members of our particular group. Remove the label, and Judaism is yours to explore, completely and freely, without fear you might cross the line and observe some tradition that's not for your type.3
Click to enlarge.4

Sounds great in theory, and yet, there is no true freedom in a Judaism (or any religion, culture, community, etc.) divided by prescribed community gender norms and expectations.
In a letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, dated July 21, 1959, it's quite clear that Chabad's official stance is that anything other than orthodox Judaism is heretical. To explain Paltiel's question regarding why we all can't "just be Jewish," it needs to be understood that according to Chabad doctrine, if you are born of a Jewish mother, you are Jewish, but your liberal denomination is not Judaism. Paltiel, Schneerson, the Chabad commenters, and many ultra-orthodox Jews do not recognize other forms of Jewish expression as Judaism, but rather, as heresy. Sure, they'll reach out to you and tell you that "we're all Jews" without a second thought as to the duplicitous nature of their own actions when they want a donation, or when they want to nudge you towards greater observance. What is being left out of all kiruv, is that these outreach organizations--including Chabad--don't, and won't, consider non-orthodox Judaism as legitimate.
     There exists a double standard within the Chabad community. Chabad missionaries deceive by intentionally withholding information in order to do kiruv, yet many in Chabad (and other orthodox communities) feel that Baci Weiler's choice to not reveal her gender was what was truly deceitful. Knowing what the Lubavitcher Rebbe preached, and knowing what his followers believe, I can only hope that those who are so outraged by Baci Weiler allowing this Chabad bochur to put tefillin on her, will take a good look in the mirror and realize that this is minor compared to the deception that they are perpetrating daily through the willful suppression of information that might change the minds and actions of the non-orthodox Jews that Chabad approaches.


Works Cited
1. Rabbi Calls Out Liberal Hypocrite. Collive. June 23, 2015

2. Weiler, Baci. Facebook post. June 23, 2015.
3. Paltiel, Shalom. Labels are for Suits. Chabad.org.
4. Schneerson, Menachem M. The Conservative and Reform Ideology. Correspondence by Rabbi Menachen M. Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe. July 21, 1959. qtd. on Chabad.org.
.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

What BuzzFeed Forgot to Tell You About The Lubavitcher Rebbe and Chabad

     On June 19, 2015, BuzzFeed posted an article entitled "11 Ways the Lubavitcher Rebbe Forever Changed the World" in honor of the twenty-first anniversary of the death of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. It was a very lovely tribute to the man who headed Chabad and still inspires people all over the world to explore orthodox Judaism. I figured I'd quickly add a bit of information that's missing.

     What BuzzFeed lists: "Judaism in the public thoroughfare." They cite the ubiquitous Chabad menorahs as further proof that Judaism is now very public. 
     What BuzzFeed leaves out: The truth is, Chabad is everywhere, and the same way people don't necessarily want missionaries approaching them, is the same way they may not want Chabad shluchim (emissaries) approaching them. Add a dose of Jewish guilt to the mix and the next thing you know, you're eating cholent and singing Shabbos zmiros. (That's a joke, I think.) A New York Times article about the Rebbe states:
[The Rebbe] tried to reach [non-orthodox Jews] through broad public campaigns that included, in addition to the mitzvah tanks, full-page newspaper advertisements announcing the time that candles should be kindled to welcome the Sabbath.
While some passers-by accepted the invitation to put on tefillin -- black leather straps and boxes containing verses from the Scripture and worn by the faithful during prayer -- the "Are you Jewish" question rubbed others the wrong way; many thought religion too private to discuss with strangers on street corners.1 

     What BuzzFeed lists: "Speak to the youth." The article goes on to say "instead of viewing children as merely unfinished adults, the Rebbe viewed the vigor, openness, and pursuit of truth among youth as a unique advantage they could teach and inspire world-weary adults. In the same vein, the Rebbe would dedicate special talks to children, engaging with their minds and hearts with the deepest secrets of the Torah."2
     What BuzzFeed leaves out: The Rebbe was a firm believer in "reaching the parent through the child, beginning Torah education early."3 Chabad's handbook for shluchim discusses education for children and the importance of beginning early. It states:
Chabad's Mommy and Me programs are places where mothers and children are invited to meetings where innocuous topics as childcare and health are discussed. The children are busy with arts and crafts. Mitzvos and Judaism are introduced after a few sessions. . . . Mommy and Me . . . serves as an exceptional tool to . . . involve them with other Chabad activities.4
Chabad tells people working with non-orthodox parents who were convinced to put their children in a Chabad-directed school:
     In order to be successful in involving and bringing families closer to Yiddishkeit, we, the administrators and teachers, need to establish warm and positive personal relationships with individual families. They then feel comfortable with us, trust us and want to work with us.
     Once parents feel that we do, indeed, care about them on a personal level, they will then be more inclined to become involved with the school's programs. With friendly encouragement they will begin to make personal commitments to mitzvos as well. The more exposure and contact we have with the families the closer they will become. 5


     Without going into a tirade about campus kiruv, a New York Times article about the Rebbe mentions that "one Reform group attacked him for luring non-Orthodox children to Hasidic lives in which they rejected the values of their parents."6

     What BuzzFeed lists: "Rebellion is Revelation" and states:
The Rebbe’s approach declared, “Finally the iceberg of America is beginning to melt! Finally, its young people are demonstrating that conformity is not the sum of life’s goals! They have smashed the idols of false progress — they need now only be led back to the living waters of their heritage.7
     What BuzzFeed leaves out: While refusing to conform to the norms of the secular world may be seen and celebrated in a positive light, try telling a person living in the Chabad world that they don't need to conform to the standards of their ultra-orthodox community and see what they say. Both women and men who wish to leave Chabad and orthodoxy struggle to retain custody of their children. Women often struggle to obtain a proper get (Jewish divorce) from their husbands. Families often completely shun their grown children who refuse to conform and opt out of orthodoxy. A double standard exists in this world: if you refuse to conform to the secular and/or non-orthodox worlds, you are celebrated. If you refuse to conform to Chabad's strict orthodoxy--which is not the same happy-go-lucky orthodoxy sold to you at the Shabbos table--you are rejected.

      What BuzzFeed lists: "The Power of the Feminine Soul" stating that:
When the world struggled with including women within the rubric of Jewish tradition, the Rebbe had already long empowered women to be leaders and thinkers, masters of Jewish future and bringers of light in the world.8
     What BuzzFeed leaves out: While this sounds nice on paper, this is specifically about Judaism, and not the world at large. This also neglects to mention that women must follow certain gender-based laws within Judaism, as interpreted by the Lubavitch movement. Women are still bound by the same laws of orthodoxy as all orthodox women. For example, women must follow the Rebbe's orders that they cover their hair specifically (and are often chastised by other women if they don't,) women are told how to dress, and young girls are groomed from the time they are in school on how to be a proper daughter of Israel--according to Chabad's teachings. Women's issues are sugar-coated by apologists who still bow to the religious patriarchy which still enforces many antiquated beliefs.

     What BuzzFeed lists: "No person is far gone." Chabad is famous for the outreach work they do to Jews in prison. The article states "even someone imprisoned for crimes committed, could not be overlooked or ignored and can and should be rehabilitated and activated for good."9
     What BuzzFeed leaves out: While the Rebbe may have been a great guy for bringing Judaism to the tinok shenishba (Jews who aren't religious due to ignorance) in prison, believing that he/she can be spiritually reformed, the same belief isn't always held for those believed to be heretics and apostates. Heretics and apostates are often excommunicated, cast out from both family and community, sometimes out of fear that they will have a negative influence on others in the community. In a nutshell: criminals--not far gone, people leaving Chabad and orthodoxy--far gone.

     What BuzzFeed lists: "Joy." The article states "Judaism deserved not to be mourned and eulogized, but to be celebrated."10
     What BuzzFeed leaves out: Even in living Judaism with joy, it is still orthodox-centric. Mixed dancing is prohibited, men are not allowed to listen to women sing, and all joyous activities must still follow orthodox guidelines. As for Judaism being celebrated, I do wonder about the balance of joy. While there are some families where fathers are taking a more active role in childcare and home-related chores, I know that there are many that aren't, or that traditionally haven't, and while men are out farbrenging (a farbrengen is a joyous Chasidic celebration,) the women are often at home, caring for children.

     What BuzzFeed lists: "Always Practical." The Rebbe wanted people to do mitzvot (commandments,) often translated as "good deeds." He felt that it was more important to do something--no matter how simple, rather than nothing.
     What BuzzFeed leaves out: The motivation is that every mitzvah/deed that a person does brings Moshiach (the messiah) and redemption closer. Getting non-orthodox Jews to help Chabadniks score points by agreeing to put on tefillin (phylacteries) or make a blessing on an apple and honey for Rosh Hashanah may seem innocuous, but understand why these things are being pushed.

     What BuzzFeed lists: "We are All One Community." The article states "as the Rebbe told then New York Mayor David Dinkins, “We are one side. We are one people, living in one city, under one administration and under one G-d.”11
     What BuzzFeed leaves out: The Rebbe may have felt that "we are one people" but I have to wonder when there is infighting between sects, the infighting within sects, hateful and condescending comments often made about the Conservative, Reform, and other liberal denominations, racism, and the shameful elitism often found in online Chabad forums.



     What BuzzFeed lists: "Harness Technology."
The Rebbe . . . considered [technology] a valuable component to achieving greater good.
Using the latest means of communication, the Rebbe encouraged that radio in the 1950s, satellite in the 1980s and Internet in the early 1990s all be used to promulgate knowledge and education. When technology was harnessed properly, he taught, it not only was not a negative, but itself a portent G-dliness[sic] and goodness in the world.12
     What BuzzFeed leaves out: Technology is a very important tool in Chabad's method of kiruv. They have a huge, active website, and each Chabad House around the world appears to have a website that is linked to the main site. Their program calendars are listed, as are the services that they offer. Chabad also uses technology to keep in touch with their shluchim (emissaries) who often live far from their families, friends, and communities. Children of shluchim often use the internet as an educational tool. It's not that the Rebbe is telling you to spend your days and nights on Facebook, but rather that technology can be used to their benefit in furthering their own outreach goals.

     What BuzzFeed lists: "Think Global." This brief section is simply about the thousands of kiruv workers sent to live and work all over the world, in order to missionize non-orthodox Jews.
     What BuzzFeed leaves out: This isn't quite the same global thinking that environmentalists have in mind.

     What BuzzFeed lists: "Act local." The article mentions that "emissaries are largely funded locally, forming a holistic part of the local community."13
     What BuzzFeed leaves out: Actions cannot take place without funding. While Chabad programs are often highly subsidized with a suggested donation and a pay what you can/we won't turn you away attitude, the truth is, shluchim often live on community donations and receive very little funding from the main Chabad offices, and usually only during the first year. This is one of the reasons why Chabad trains future kiruv workers in the fine art of fundraising. And yes, they're pretty good at it.

Works Cited
1. Goldman, Ari L. Rabbi Schneerson Led A Small Hasidic Sect To World Prominence. The New York Times. June 13, 1994.
2. BuzzFeed Community Member "Mordechail." 11 Ways the Lubavitcher Rebbe Forever Changed the World. BuzzFeed.com. June, 19, 2015.
3. Plotkin, Goldie, qtd. in Shlichus: Meeting the Outreach Challenge. Nshei Ubnos Chabad, 1991. p76.
4. Lerner, Nettie, qtd. in Shlichus: Meeting the Outreach Challenge. Nshei Ubnos Chabad, 1991. pp. 75-6.
5. Fajnland, Ronya, qtd. in Shlichus Outreach Insights. Nshei Chabad Publications. 1996. p.69.
6. Goldman, Ari L. Rabbi Schneerson Led A Small Hasidic Sect To World Prominence. The New York Times. June 13, 1994.
7. BuzzFeed Community Member "Mordechail." 11 Ways the Lubavitcher Rebbe Forever Changed the World. BuzzFeed.com. June, 19, 2015.
8. ibid.
9. ibid.
10. ibid.
11. ibid.

12. ibid.
13. ibid.



Monday, June 15, 2015

Shabbat.Kiruv and New Update

     Recently, a good friend reminded me about this internal email sent around a while back to Shabbat/Shabbos hosts, allegedly from Rabbi Klatzko, the head of Shabbat.com--a kiruv organization that sets up hosts and guest for Shabbos meals and observance. What follows is a set of guidelines for hosts to follow in order to promote orthodoxy. My comments follow after each suggestion. The suggestions from the email are indented but I added everything within the [brackets.] Additionally, in my commentary, I use the word "allegedly" since I was given the text of this email and not actual screen shots.
From Rabbi Klatzko - Suggestions for Hosting guests at your Shabbos Table

1- NEVER speak about these four things:
1- Women's issues- eg. agunah, [married woman whose husband refuses to grant a religious divorce, despite her request for a divorce,] mechitza, [separation of men and women at synagogue]
2- avoid speaking about denominations (reform, conservative, etc.)
3- don't speak about homosexuality
4- don't speak about Chareidim [ultra-orthodox Jews] and the army
     When someone suggests that you never speak of something, the first thing you should ask is "why are these topics forbidden?" Let's take a brief minute to go through each forbidden topic.
      Why shouldn't ultra-orthodox hosts discuss women's issues? This leads to dangerous territory for kiruv professionals. Modern educated women and men are not going to be happy when they learn that women's separation is about women being a distraction, about women being possibly considered impure if they are menstruating, and about women being held captive by husbands who refuse them a get (a Jewish divorce) that will permit them to remarry within observant Judaism.
     Why shouldn't Shabbos hosts discuss non-orthodox denominations of Judaism? Ultra-orthodox Judaism does not accept non-orthodox denominations of Judaism as legitimate Jewish practice. Notice how the text says "about denominations" and not "about denominations of Judaism." Why not speak about these denominations of Judaism? Perhaps because they want to avoid having to denounce them, and thus turn off non-orthodox Jews. Let them find out later how you really feel, after you've hooked them.
     Why shouldn't Shabbos hosts discuss homosexuality? Ultra-orthodox Jews believe that homosexuality is wrong (the term "abomination" is often tossed around casually,) and some have pushed gay people into programs such as JONAH, which attempt to make gay people straight. Obviously, a discussion of how the Torah claims that homosexuals should be stoned to death is not something they want to discuss at the Shabbos table with people of various backgrounds.
     Why not discuss Chareidim and the army? Non-orthodox Jews who may or may not be Zionists might find it a bit odd that ultra-orthodox Jews get a free pass from the Israeli army, while non-(ultra) orthodox Jews are risking their own lives for the safety of ALL who live in Israel. Regardless of one's position on Israel, most people would probably find this to be extremely unbalanced.

2- General Rule- NEVER GO NEGATIVE
people don't remember arguments- they remember IMPRESSIONS
were you disparaging, bullying.
BE POSITIVE!
- don't assume people have preconceived notions about being frum
- Stay in your element- don't try too hard, be yourself- don't put on a show
- Stay away from stories that are difficult to believe! They can't relate to them.
Speak about moral ideas- how to have compassion, how to treat others, etc
Suggested reading: Zelig Pliskin- "Love Your Neighbor" - moral in each parsha
     Number two starts off fair. No matter who you are, it's a bad idea to bully and belittle your guests. I hope this is common knowledge everywhere. The fact that he has to remind people of this makes me wary of how well the hosts on this site are screened before people are sent off to their homes. My only real issue with this section is this line: "Stay away from stories that are difficult to believe! They can't relate to them." In the secular world, many stories that are difficult to believe require the suspension of disbelief. We usually refer to those as fiction.

 3- Things that make big impressions:
- seeing the husband helping out- eg setting or clearing the table
- wife should thank husband for buying flowers OUT LOUD
- Thanks to guests for coming AND thanks to your wife for making the shabbos
      This section leads me to believe that it's assumed that men are not helping their wives out on Shabbos. Otherwise, why the need to suggest that they do? Is it because in many modern households there's a pretty even division of labor that may not necessarily exist in ultra-orthodox homes?
     In suggestion 2, Klatzko allegedly states "Stay in your element- don't try too hard, be yourself- don't put on a show," so then why the need to stress that the "wife should thank husband for buying flowers OUT LOUD" and that the husband should thank his wife for making Shabbos? Are these simple expressions of gratitude a foreign concept in these homes when impressionable kiruv projects guests aren't present?

4- Everything you do on shabbos should be done with PURPOSE and JOY
sing with feeling, say kiddush with feeling; make them feel comfortable.
      Again, let me mention the point about not putting on a show. This sounds very much like a scripted production.

5- Don't flinch if they do something against halacha. They are not chayav for aveiros- [guilty of transgressing/breaking Jewish law] should they turn on a light, use cell phone, let it go
     I appreciate number five. However, I believe it should always be like this. Accept people for who they are without the need to deceive them (by avoiding topics that may be uncomfortable or emotional.)
6- Don't sing your usual zemiros [Shabbos songs]- they will tune out. Choose a popular Hebrew song,
eg. Oseh Shalom, Haveinu Shalom Aleichem, David Melech Yisroel,
Ushavtem Mayim Bsason, Moshiah Molshiah aya ya ya ya yae,
Lo yisah goi el goi cherev, Adon Olam, Hava Nageela, Hine ma Tov,
Siman tov umazel tov, Am yisrael Chai, Etz Chaim Hi....
OR: Teach them a new song without words, hum along.
     Are the real zmiros really that bad? In all seriousness, this makes sense. Without accepting non-orthodox Jewish denominations, Klatzko allegedly accepts that guests may have familiarity with some of the songs and prayers. I wonder if women are allowed to sing or if women aren't informed until much later that their voices shouldn't be heard.

7- Goal is that they should want to incorporate this experience - yahadus-into their lives:
People choose religion because of:
1- who our heroes are (Rev Moshe Feinstein, gedolim in Eretz Yisrael)
2- what is the ultimate vision of our religion for the world. Judaism- vision of peace
3- they look at the user experience- are people enjoying practicing their religion
4- do ideas translate into action- the proof is in the pudding- does it work?
5- people are looking for truth- Judiasm is emes [truth.] If you don't know an answer to their question, be honest- say you will find out. But only give honest answers.
 Last but not least, number seven. The second point tries to sell Judaism as a "vision of peace." I keep thinking of the Amalek--the group that Jews are commanded by the Torah to smite in every generation--and how anti-Zionists have made claims that Zionists are also the Amalek. I am also reminded of the infighting within orthodoxy and I really have to wonder.
     The list of suggestions mentions "user experience--are people enjoying practicing their religion?" The fact that just a few sentences ago, people were instructed that "everything you do on shabbos should be done with PURPOSE and JOY, sing with feeling, say kiddush with feeling" makes me think that perhaps people are not enjoying the practice, otherwise, why the need to remind them to be joyful? Usually, when people enjoy something, they don't need to be reminded to exhibit the joy. It comes naturally.
     The question is raised that "ideas translate into actions--the proof is in the pudding--does it work?" Does what work? What does this refer to?
    Finally, number five. Judaism is only truth to those who believe it is truth. I like the idea that honest answers should be given, however, that's after manipulating the conversation to avoid certain topics that Klatzko allegedly doesn't want you to talk about.
     Here's my question to kiruv professionals and ultra-orthodox hosts. Why not be honest in the beginning? Why not discuss the difficult topics? Is it that you're afraid of turning people off to Judaism? Or is it that you fear that you may discover certain truths that might taint your personal vision of ultra-orthodox Judaism?


UPDATE
     I was recently contacted twice by Rabbi Benzion Klatzko, once via Facebook and once as a comment on this blog. Since the comment thread is very long, I've chosen to
Comment from Rabbi Benzion Klatzko.
Click to enlarge.
post the comment and my response within the body of this post.
     As those of you who have been reading this blog from its inception are aware, I believe very strongly in integrity. I stand behind my words and I won't write anything that I wouldn't say in person. Additionally, I cite my sources and post screen shots when available.
     In his response, Rabbi Klatzko states that "This was NOT an email sent to "kiruv people" [sic] This was a phone conference that someone eves [sic] dropped [sic] on and then "summarized" for the OTD [off the derech--people who've left orthodoxy] crowd on a different website." 

     I admit to being curious as to why he might blame someone for disseminating this information to the OTD crowd, why he'd assume said person "eavesdropped," and what would motivate him to lay blame so casually. But then I moved on to the body of the comment. I want to express my gratitude to Rabbi Klatzko for taking some of his valuable time to write up a response to this post addressing words that he claims were written by an eavesdropper for the OTD community. Except that there's a problem here and it's not with Klatzko's explanation of his host suggestions. The problem is that I was recently sent the exact same "summary" in an email that came from the Far Rockaway, New York synagogue Agudah of Bayswater on October 23, 2014 at 9:40:18 AM EDT.
     Someone should inform Agudah of Bayswater that the information that was sent out by them was actually taken verbatim from an eavesdropper for the OTD community, based on Klatzko's comment. I don't know Rabbi Benzion Klatzko from a hole in the wall (although I'm guessing he's the one with legs) and so I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt here. I can't imagine that Rabbi Klatzko, a rabbi and head of a huge kiruv organization, would lie in a comment on a public blog (in which he references a message he sent previously in his name) about this information. And yet, here are screen shots of emails received.
Click to enlarge.


Click to enlarge.