The rabbi's words were countered by Rabbi Refael "Rafi" Feuerstein, the co-chairman of the rabbinical organization Tzohar, [who] criticized the chief rabbi's approach and said, "The fruits of a disconnected and anxious education are that we treat the secular public with arrogance and contempt . . . and only increases polarization and hatred in people."3
Adding to the difficulty of changing one's life to become orthodox, the Chief Rabbi now wants BTs (ba'alei teshuva) to cause more strife and anger within their families. Bad enough that BTs have already informed their families that they cannot eat on their dishes or drive to them on the holidays, that they will not see them or take their calls over Shabbat, that they've given up many activities that they previously enjoyed with extended family, that their lifestyle is hugely different from that of their parents, and that they've taken on a strict interpretation of Jewish practice, they now are expected to sever bonds with their non-orthodox family to ensure their children's spiritual safety.
In Margery I. Schwartz's book "What's Up with the Hard Core Jewish People? An Irreverent Yet Informative Approach to Judaism and Religious Devotion From A Reform Jewish Mother's Perspective" she talks about Aish HaTorah's grip on her son and how the yeshiva
encourage[s] students to reject their upbringing if it's not according to Torah. They believe that they are reprogramming our children in the proper path. Aish doesn't focus on the fact that a person from a non-Orthodox background most often cannot be integrated into the ultra-orthodox world without destroying old friendships and family connections.4While some readers might be thinking that Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef's words and even those of Margery Schwartz are inaccurate and that kiruv rabbis do not promote or justify severing ties with non-orthodox family, it only takes a Google search to find various blog posts suggesting just the opposite. Even Chabad Rabbi Tzvi Freeman's addresses a reader's question asking why a close long-term friendship suddenly collapsed as one of the friends became increasingly orthodox. Freeman states:
Many of us have been through this. You fall in love with a different way of living, rituals, study -- a whole new wave of life washes over you -- and your only way to deal with it is by blocking out the rest of the world. I've seen it happen not only to people getting into their Judaism, but with musicians, artists, career people, politicians. Although, yes, religion may be the most encompassing of all.
It's a sign of an earnest personality, someone who puts his all into anything he does. You can't achieve a total immersion into anything without first letting go of everything else. Perhaps it was that same earnestness that allowed such a strong bond between the two of you in younger years. This is a person who, wherever he is, all of him is there.5Freeman blames the BT's personality for alienating his friend and assumes it's because he is, perhaps, very earnest. He says it's the same thing that any person who is passionate about something might do. But Freeman does admit that this alienation may be more extreme when it comes from religion. The one thing that Freeman doesn't address is whether people becoming orthodox are being influenced, either subtly or overtly, to sever relationships that kiruv professionals and their organizations may feel are, in some way, not kosher.
When we look back at Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef's concern about being influenced by those who aren't orthodox, it seems like his ideas aren't so shocking. They're just the same extremist views that other kiruv organizations hold. The only difference is that he seems to have no problem saying them out loud.
1. Nachshoni, Kobi. Chief Rabbi: Keep children away from secular family. Ynetnews. March 13, 2016.
4. Schwartz, Margery I. What's Up with the Hard Core Jewish People? An Irreverent Yet Informative Approach to Judaism and Religious Devotion From A Reform Jewish Mother's Perspective. US. 2006. p. 18.
5. Freeman, Tzvi. My Orthodox Friend Cut Me Off! Chabad.org.