Thursday, March 14, 2013

Birthright: An Orthodox Rabbi Blogs Against Deceptive Outreach

A friend of mine directed me to the blog Emes Ve-Emunah where I found a very interesting post about Birthright's affiliation with Ohr Somayach. Rabbi Harry Maryles, the author of the blog, wrote a fine critique of the kiruv (outreach) yeshiva's use of the Birthright program to find recruits for their program which indoctrinates unsuspecting college students into ultra-orthodoxy. He mentions that Ohr Somayach set up the Jewish Enrichment Center and pushes it as a follow-up to the Birthright trip. Read his 2009 post, The Kiruv Con, here.
What I hope you'll notice, in addition to the information about dishonest Jewish outreach, is that Rabbi Harry Maryles is an orthodox (not ultra-orthodox) rabbi. While he and I would probably disagree on many fronts, I respect the fact that he has decried deceptive kiruv/outreach tactics and has used his blog to bring this issue to light. I hope you'll take a look at his article and leave a comment. And leave a comment here, as well. If more rabbis would take a stand against deceptive kiruv/outreach, it could strengthen their own movements--whether Modern Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and other denominations. Standing up against deceptive kiruv also shows that you respect the rights of your fellow Jews to choose their own path. Jews have been angered over the sometimes deceptive tactics of non-Jewish missionaries attempting to proselytize and convert Jews to their religions and way of life. This is no different.
Ultra-orthodoxy, as a lifestyle, should technically be able to stand on its own as a viable choice for the orthodox-curious. If their organizations must resort to deceit in order to pull in recruits, then maybe there are more problems with this lifestyle than they're telling you. My advice is this: research. Question. Question those on the outside. Insiders will not give you the whole story.


  1. No amount of question asking could have prevented my child from being pulled in by the deceptive practices employed by kiruv. I asked the "rabbi" who targeted my child point blank if it was his intention to make my child ultra orthodox? His answer, in writing, was an emphatic NO! By the time non affiliated secular parents figure out what is going on, that they and their children are being lied to, it's too late. The kids are already in too deep to find a way out. Kiruv does not have a moral or ethical conscience. It has a goal, bring in new recruits, and nothing, NOTHING else matters. Is it any wonder why more and more Jews leave orthodoxy and marry out of the religion? Who would want to be associated with people who do this to their brethren?

  2. Deception should never be a part of outreach,and I'm sorry to find this has been the case. However, it is not ALWAYS deceptive and in fact, our rabbi made it plain he was offering Jewish instruction and observance -- to him, we were "just Jews" (his words,not mine) seeking more information. That never changed. He never "recruited" our kids or raised objections to people being Conservadox or M.O. Too bad everyone doesn't have an outreach rabbi like our Chabad does. And Agathe, give it some time---when it's all new and cool, your kids may love being ultra-O but in time people mellow and become less stringent, in my experience, and while they'll probably always be Orthodox to some degree or other, they may lighten up a bit. How welcoming are you to their new lifestyle?--because I know secular Jews who simply rant at their kids about their "cult" and all that does is push those kids further into their community, which becomes the surrogate family. Keep an open door and an open mind and give it time. Good luck and Shabbat shalom!

  3. Aliyah06 - of course they use benign words such as "just jews." Doesn't that seem nice? What I know now that I did not know then was that I was being lied to. What kiruv means by "just Jews" is ultra orthodox Jews, not "just Jews" like our family. They don't tell you not to be Conservadox or in our case, non practicing, secular and non affiliated. They just hint & suggest with mild words like: that's a lovely skirt, I could never feel comfortable in something that short. You probably think it's comforting to tell me that my kid "might" lighten up "in time." Maybe you will not always sound like a righteous, pious prig. We can hope for that, or we can call kiruv out for what it is, a systems that uses lies, deceit, misleading statements, omits parts of the truth and anything else that serves the ultimate goal of making people ultra orthodox. What's the cash bonus these days for a kiruv rabbi who sends a kid off to a yeshiva or seminary?

  4. I completely agree that deception and outreach don't always go hand in hand. What I would like to see happen is for those who are not practicing deception to take a stand against it, but on a larger scale. It doesn't help if those of us who agree that deceptive kiruv is wrong end up fighting with each other.
    The same way a person interested in a career might do research and then look for an advisor in the field of his/her choice, is really the way people should find out about orthodoxy--or ANY religious denomination, Jewish or not.
    I think that there are many, many orthodox Jews who came to the religion on their own--mostly in the late 1960s, '70s, and '80s--because of the whole spiritual renaissance & age of aquarius thing, who got to odoxy in a very different way than did those who are showing up today. I don't think that aliyah06 was coerced in any way, and I think that's wonderful. I also think that many of the more modern or liberal orthodox Jews--as well as those not involved in kiruv--don't realize the extent of the deception that goes on.

  5. Mazel Tov Agathe! You may not appreciate it now, but in a few years when you have someone to say kaddish for you, you probably will! Stop being bitter, appreciate that your kid found something meaningful, stop making it all about you feeling rejected for not caring about Judaism and just smile more. Maybe pray to Gd that he help you cope with this situation. And last but not least, please realize that unless your kid was 10 years old at the time, he/she probably made his/her own decision about what they felt is best for them, and that's part of being a young adult.

    1. Making one's own decision seems acceptable when we're talking about becoming orthodox, but not acceptable when kiruv professionals leave out information that might turn off potential recruits. Why is that? If they're "old enough" to decide their religious practices, Anonymous, aren't they old enough to be given the real information that's withheld when they're being recruited?


Your respectful comments are welcome.