Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Who is Really Affiliated? Hanukah and the Ad that Makes You Wonder.

         Although Hanukah has since passed, I wanted to share an ad that I find troubling. It’s on the Project Inspire website, geared specifically to those involved in doing outreach to non-orthodox Jews. The ad targets orthodox Jews involved in kiruv on some level, suggesting they give a small Hanukah gift to someone who isn’t orthodox in an effort to inspire them religiously. This is part of the Chanukah Easy Outreach Campaign  created to “bring the light of Chanukah into the lives of [one’s] less-affiliated acquaintances” during the holiday season. The gift is lovely. Who wouldn’t want to be the recipient of a box of holiday-themed cookies, chocolate, and a pretty dreidel? It really is a nice gesture, provided the giver doesn’t have any ulterior motives. If that gift came with an invitation to his/her home, your host may have sent the story of your visit during the holiday back to Project Inspire to be entered into a raffle for two free tickets to anywhere in the USA. What a great incentive to do some light outreach work. But even that doesn’t bother me that much. 

However, what I find troubling about this ad, is the language used.

First of all, the term “less-affiliated,” is deeply disturbing. The word “less” implies a quantity of something that is fewer than something else. Having grown up a Conservative Jew in a non-observant household, I was never taught that any one form of Judaism is any more or less affiliated than any other. The denominations may be different, but no one Jewish person is any more Jewish than any other Jewish person. The problem here is that I’m speaking from a very liberal perspective, one with which those who practice kiruv disagree. Kiruv professionals and outreach organizations do not view a person’s affiliation with a denomination other than existing forms of orthodoxy as valid forms of Judaism. Therefore, one’s affiliation with, for example, the Reform movement--even if that person keeps a kosher household, attends temple on a regular basis, is an active member of the temple’s Sisterhood, celebrates the holidays, sends her children to Hebrew school--will cause her to be considered a “less-affiliated” Jew. In this case, affiliation has little to do with how active one is in his/her Judaism but is judged as part of a hierarchy, with Orthodoxy at the top and considered to be more, or most, affiliated. 

Or rather, just “affiliated.”

If orthodoxy is “affiliated,” and at the top of the hierarchy, it is safe to assume that all others must be “not” affiliated. Or “un-affiliated.” Or “less-affiliated.” Except that it’s not just my assumption. 

Here. Let me share some background with you.

In 1997, Agudath HaRabonim (the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the US and Canada) issued a declaration stating that “Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all.  Their adherents are Jews, according to the Jewish Law, but their religion is not Judaism.” Due to the Union of Orthodox Rabbis’ belief that Conservative and Reform Judaism is a clear distortion of Jewish law, they further stated that “there is only one Judaism:  Torah Judaism.  The Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all, but another religion. …Despite their brazen usurpation of the titles “Judaism,” “Jewish Heritage,” “Jewish Tradition,” “Jewish Continuity,” Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all.  They are outside of Torah and Outside of Judaism.” (qtd. from the document on http://truejews.org/Igud_Historic_Declaration.htm, accessed 1/22/2013, 2:47pm.) According to this document, there is no question that the practitioners are Jewish, (provided they are born of a Jewish mother, in the tradition of matrilineal descent, or have been converted by an orthodox rabbi,) yet they are still urged to immediately sever their ties with these non-orthodox denominations and begin attending orthodox synagogues.

          Included in this document is a statement by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, stating that “the doctrines and ideologies of the Reform and Conservative movements, can only be classed in the category of heretical movements which have plagued our people at one time or another, only to disappear eventually, having no basis in our everlasting Torah, the Torah of truth, the living Torah, Toras Emes, Toras Chaim.” It makes sense that they would quote the Lubavitcher Rebbe in this document, especially when the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, best known for their massive world-wide outreach efforts to non-orthodox Jews, is one of the largest outreach organizations in the world.

                Clicking on the text to submit your kiruv story will find you on a page giving you the opportunity to download what Project Inspire calls their “Chanukah kit,” a booklet filled with “tips and explanations to make your invitation a success” (http://www.kiruv.com/holidaygifts/share.php.) The fact that this organization feels the need to guide and support potential hosts in having non-observant guests in the first place, would make me suspicious if I didn’t already know the true nature of the organization. However, most non-orthodox Jews are not aware of the true nature of organizations such as this, and even though it’s always wonderful to receive a Hanukah gift and invitation, it’s even better to receive one with no ulterior motives.

1 comment:

  1. Much of the language of Jewish "outreach" is bothersome, beginning with the word "outreach." The word conjures up images of altruistic good; free health clinics, volunteers teaching ESL at public libraries, food banks, a clergy person at a dying man's bedside, eradicating smallpox.

    Webster's defines outreach as: an organized effort to extend services beyond usual limits.

    The stated goal of "bring[ing] the light of Chanukah into the lives of [one’s] less-affiliated acquaintances" sounds good, but as you pointed out it's a ruse. The real goal is to develop a list of possible new ultra orthodox recruits.

    In that sense the definition of outreach may apply; the free box of cookies is an organized effort to extend services beyond usual (and expected), limits.


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