Monday, February 11, 2013

Edible Outreach: Kiruv Mishloach Manos

Project Inspire's Kiruv Mishloach Manos ad.
Just in case you thought that college students were the only people being wooed with free food and goodies, you should be aware that "less-affiliated" people of all ages and careers are treated equally when it comes to food-centric outreach efforts. (For those unfamiliar with the Hebrew terminology, mishloach manos are gifts of food given on the holiday of Purim.) As with most of these holiday kiruv (outreach) campaigns, the wording in this ad (meant for kiruv agents, not people being missionized) is disturbing and completely undermines the intended recipient(s). In fact, this gift of food isn't just a typical basket of goodies, it's specifically called "kiruv mishloach manos." So, what makes this gift different from all other gifts that a kiruv professional might give during Purim? Let's explore this ad and find out.
     The most noticeable part of the box given to the outreach professional's "less-affiliated co-worker, friend, neighbor, doctor, or lawyer" is the four paragraph explanation of Purim and its customs on the front. In typical outreach fashion, the explanation is simplified. I find the paragraph entitled "Food, Glorious Food" to be most troubling. It states the following:
We give treats of food to one another on Purim. This expresses our respect and love for those around us--that every person is unique and special and that by giving and caring for one another we express ourselves most fully. Only when we are united with our brothers and sisters can true joy be achieved.1
The front of Project Inspire's Kiruv Mishloach Manos package.
While it is true that gifts of food are given to strengthen friendships with one another (according to Jewish belief,) I have trouble believing that this is the reason for this "kiruv" gift. The paragraph also mentions that "every person is unique and special." If this is so, then why the great need to send outreach gifts--gifts that are meant to draw them in, to teach them orthodox observance with the hope of changing their "less-affiliated" lifestyle choice to that of orthodox-style observance? A gift with an ulterior motive is not a gift that shows respect for the recipient.
     As an aside, I'm sure that there will be readers who will find this post problematic. "So, what's wrong with showing another Jew a Jewish custom?" some will ask. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with sharing holidays or traditions. But, as I've said before, people involved in kiruv/outreach work have an ulterior motive: to get you to change your belief system and practice as they practice. Project Inspire is a program run by Aish HaTorah. Aish is known for their yeshiva programs and their outreach programs to non-orthodox Jews. A book that they put out, "The Eye of the Needle: Aish HaTorah's Kiruv Primer"explains issues related to doing Jewish outreach and gives advice to kiruv professionals.

1. Kiruv Mishloach Manos. Project Inspire. Aish HaTorah. accessed 2/11/2013.

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