Monday, April 22, 2013

Discount Sale on Orthodox Judaism!!!

     It may seem like a vague generalization when I refer to "highly subsidized programs" meant to entice non-orthodox Jews to take a closer look at orthodoxy. After all, in these tough financial times, who can resist a good bargain? I usually discuss programs that are offered to college students, but in this case, I had a few interesting emails grace my inbox over the past week or so. These emails, from Project Inspire (a program offered by Aish International, part of Aish HaTorah's outreach program,) are meant for kiruv [outreach] professionals to share with the non-orthodox folks they're attempting to recruit to orthodoxy. Just in case you were wondering, yes, it is billed as a "kiruv retreat" only to those in outreach. The colorful printed brochure meant to be given to the non-orthodox does not mention "kiruv" or "outreach" and targets adult professionals who may or may not be married.
The first of a series of emails I received, promoting a Kiruv Shabbos Retreat.
(click to enlarge)

     The initial email makes reference to bringing "less affiliated friends, acquaintances, and relatives." Notice in the text portion of the picture above that this weekend will be "discounted." Well, that was easy. What outreach professional couldn't use a weekend away? And at a discount? And while doing Hashem's [God's] work, recruiting non-orthodox Jews to the fold? But of course, that discount to get kiruv workers to bring their "less affiliated" folks in doesn't help to convince those non-orthodox Jews to show up. After all, these are hard times and at $499 per couple, before figuring in the cost of children,  a weekend retreat can be a bit of a strain. Maybe a financial incentive would be in order?
Orthodox Judaism is on sale with a subsidized weekend away!
(click to enlarge)

Project Inspire decided that a subsidy for the "less affiliated" was a good idea, and via email to kiruv professionals on April 15, 2013, offered to "further subsidize the cost for $50 per person or $100 per couple."

Orthodox Judaism is *still* on sale! But only if you're not yet orthodox!
(click to enlarge)
     I checked my email a few hours ago, not expecting another email from Project Inspire's Jinspire program, but lo and behold, there was another email. This email offered, in bold print, "sponsorships that allow [them] to further subsidize the cost by up to $100 per couple." This led me to believe that there was now a $200 discount available. So I got on the phone and called them about this. The first thing that I was told, upon calling was that the subsidy was "not for people already frum [religious.]" I explained that I understood this, but was this an additional hundred dollar subsidy per non-frum couple? The receptionist gave me a very curt "no" and said nothing more. I thanked her, said goodbye, and hung up. I suspect she figured I was going to try to finagle a further discount, but I was just curious.
You can get all this and more with your subsidized weekend of
     As for the actual weekend's lineup of events, I've included a picture of part of the brochure for your viewing pleasure. It seems pretty innocuous until you realize that the "World Famous Discovery Seminar" will be offered. World famous? Yes. This seminar is offered to educated professionals and college students all over the world, and attempts to prove the Torah and orthodoxy true through science and proofs. It's several hours long, gives a lot of information, and has drawn a lot of criticism. I will discuss this at length in a future post, however, you should be aware that Discovery is meant to "shock and awe" people towards orthodoxy.
     People attending functions such as this should be aware that several recruiting tactics are used in order to draw people in. Removing people from their usual environments and putting them into an environment dominated by the organizers of the weekend, managing guests' time with packed schedules,  and bringing in charismatic speakers are all part of the recruitment process. The initial deception that this is simply a "Shabbos retreat" as opposed to a "kiruv Shabbos retreat," as well as offering financial subsidies in order to get people through the door are other major tactics used by many kiruv/outreach organizations.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is Chabad Ultra-Orthodox?

photo credit:
     I spend a lot of time on this blog referring to "ultra-orthodox" outreach. Usually, unless otherwise noted, I am referring to outreach groups including Chabad. I bring this up because while perusing, the colorful, article-laden, information-rich website put out for those curious about all things Chabad and Jewish related, I happened upon an article in which that same question was asked. Here is's answer:

Is Chabad "Ultra-Orthodox?"

Chabad is referred to as an "Orthodox" Jewish movement because it adheres to Jewish practice and observance within the guidelines of Talmudic law and its codifiers. The prefix “ultra” is commonly used by media broadcasters, but it has no practical meaning. It is used to marginalize a group or to portray them as extremists battling with extremists of other religions.
Mother Theresa was never called “ultra-Catholic.” Albert Schweitzer was never “ultra-Calvinist.” Doctors Without Borders are not ultra-militant New-Agers. When a Chabad couple travel to a community, they are not interested in converts, in battles, or in brainwashing youth. They are only interested in sharing their Shabbat tables and the heritage that belongs to every Jew. A Chabad House is a “Jewish Center” and a Chabad rabbi is a rabbi, period.
If you hear Chabad described in the media as “ultra-Orthodox,” pick up the phone or fire off an email and complain. Tell them Chabad is a Jewish movement, without any labels, and they should describe it as such.1
     As that is a statement put out by Chabad, I'm hesitant to argue, after all, they probably know better than anyone else how to define themselves. However, I really think that their statement is simply one of semantics. According to the website, "the word "haredi" is a catchall term, either an adjective or a noun, which covers a broad array of theologically, politically, and socially conservative Orthodox Jews, sometimes referred to as "ultra-Orthodox." What unites haredim is their absolute reverence for Torah, including both the Written and Oral Law, as the central and determining factor in all aspects of life.... Certain groups of haredim, notably, but not exclusively, members of Chabad Lubavitch, do make contact with non-haredi Jews for the purpose of kiruv--encouraging others to adopt more stringent religious observance."2
     Ami Steinberger, a Jewish Press blogger, explains that "“Ultra-Orthodox” is the English term that describes a large group of Jews, whose religious practice tends to be very strict and whose dress remains very conservative, reminiscent of Eastern Europe before modernity. Many English speakers are familiar with another term that describes this group – Haredim..... [The term Haredi is further explained as meaning] "those who tremble before the word of God."3
     I completely understand why Chabad, who tends to define themselves as a movement and a philosophy, eschews the use of the term "ultra-orthodox." They don't want to appear threatening. Under the heading "Questions People Ask" in the handbook for outreach workers,  it's written that they find labels to be problematic because they divide people. To Chabadniks, one is simply a Jew. However welcoming and pluralistic this sounds, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, is cited as having stated 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."4 
     Rather than divide people by labels, it is better to get rid of the labels that the Chabad movement finds problematic. To them, all non-orthodox Jews appear to be equal as (non-orthodox) Jews. However, to Lubavitchers, Chabad is Chabad, and even though they may fall under the Hebrew term haredi, they never want to be called by the English translation "ultra-orthodox."

1. What is Chabad? Frequently Asked Questions.
2. Weiss, Raysh. Haredim (Charedim.)
3. Steinberger, Ami. Ktzat Ivrit. The Jewish Press. com Blogs. January 30, 2013.
4. On Reform and Conservative Judaism.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Derogatory Speech from NCSY Outreach Head

poster by Alison Rowan of
     On April 10, 2013, Failed Messiah reported that public high school kiruv/outreach head Rabbi Avrohom Walkin of NCSY (The National Council of Synagogue Youth) referred to the Harlem Shake as "retarded."
     Perhaps Rabbi Walkin, an educator and kiruv [outreach] professional, doesn't realize that whole campaigns have been waged against the use of the word "retarded." Perhaps he doesn't realize that it is an offensive and derogatory term. Perhaps someone should send him a copy of Alison Rowan's poster and maybe a dictionary for other words that he might accidentally use without thinking of how they'll be received.
     Now, to be fair, people slip up now and then. People may, at times, forget to think before speaking. NCSY's website even makes provisions for such lapses in judgement: 
While it is reasonable to accept that minor incidents will occur from time to time when well-intentioned NCSY professionals, volunteers, or NCSYers, do or say the wrong thing, a prompt apology followed by a promise to be more careful in the future is usually sufficient to satisfy all involved. In general, the corrections needed to rectify such mistakes are of the scale equivalent to those of other normal and healthy relationships. When simple apologies are insufficient, other forms of recourse are available. These include contacting the Regional Director in whose Region the particular situation occurred, contacting a member of the NCSY International Office, and/or reporting a concern to the NCSY Ombudsman Telephone Hotline at 212-613-8361. In these instances, none of the above-mentioned reporting normally constitutes impermissible lashon hara [derogatory speech about another person] or any violation of any other Jewish laws pertaining to proper speech.1
     As a public figure looking to reach young non-orthodox Jews who are often pretty liberal and idealistic (and aware of how offensive a term the word "retarded" can be,) Walkin needs to be hyper aware of the language he is using. His own organization, the OU (Orthodox Union,) is affiliated with Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities. I can only imagine how many people, just within his own organization, may have been offended by this gross lack of judgement.  Of course, that doesn't take into account how the very people who he's trying to reach might feel or react to this.
     Deceptive outreach practices aside, I really do hope that Rabbi Avrohom Walkin will follow his own organization's set standards on how to handle those making derogatory comments. I am sure he has heard the story of how difficult it is to pick up the wind-scattered feathers from a feather bed, and I'm sure he understands how one's words can cause harm when just tossed about without thinking. This would be a good time for him to try to gather those feathers for the longer they are in the wind, the more harm they'll do.

1. NCSY Conduct, Policy, and Behavioral Standards Manual. NCSY.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Outreach Yeshivas: Insulting Paying Parents?

photo credit:
  An issue that continues to stay close to my heart is that of the lack of religious tolerance shown towards women: both those of the orthodox world and those who are part of the Conservative, Reform, or other liberal branches of Judaism. Every time I hear about another incident in which Haredi men throw chairs at the Women of the Wall, or that women are arrested for praying at the Kotel [the Western Wall] in a way that is not in alignment with orthodox Judaism, I burn with anger not only for those of my gender who just want to have religious freedom, but for those women who are being taught in outreach programs that women have the right to pray at the Kotel, but only as dictated by the ultra-orthodox institutions in which they're learning. This week, Debra Nussbaum Cohen wrote in the Forward that:
In a March 14 letter to Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, Yossi Pariente wrote that he met with a deputy attorney general for the government of Israel to go over the rules pertaining to Women of the Wall, which include prohibitions on:
…Wrapping yourselves in tallitot [prayer shawls], holding a minyan [prayer quorum] of women including the Kaddish or Kedusha prayers, and reading from the Torah.
Pariente warns that, starting on the next Rosh Chodesh, which falls on April 11, Women of the Wall will be arrested and charged with breaking the law for doing any of these things.1
The most recent arrests were on February 11, when ten women were arrested for wearing tallitot [prayer shawls] at the Wall. Yes. They were arrested for wearing fabric to which people ascribe spiritual importance. Because Haredi men find this offensive, Israeli police were used as tools of the ultra-orthodox to arrest non-orthodox, yet obviously religious, women who chose to pray in a non-orthodox manner.
     Not only is it reprehensible that women are being arrested for spiritual practices that don't hurt anyone, it is appalling that not one kiruv/outreach group (to my knowledge at the time of this post) has stood against these arrests. By not standing up to the maltreatment of Jewish women (who want to pray!) by a Haredi-controlled Israeli police force, these groups are complicit in these acts.  To add insult to injury, the Women of the Wall practice liberal and tolerant Judaism--the same type of Judaism practiced by the Conservative and Reform parents of the students attending Israel's outreach yeshivas. These parents are often the ones who foot whatever remains of the sometimes-subsidized bills for their sons and daughters to remain in these ultra-orthodox programs, and are often hit up with requests for donations to these institutions. These are the very same institutions that consistently condemn and disrespect the parents of prospective baalei teshuvah (newly religious Jews) by insulting the way they raised their children, by making nasty comments about their denominations, and by attempting to make young adults ultra-orthodox.

1. Cohen, Debra Nussbaum.  Crackdown Continues for Women at Western Wall. 4/3/2013. Forward Mobile. accessed 4/5/2013.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Obscuring Women in Ultra-Orthodox Judaism

(Photos reproduced from 1)
     Making its way around the internet is the censored version of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising picture that the Bakehila newspaper recently published. In many ultra-orthodox communities, the blurring or covering the faces of women in pictures is common practice, and may be done in text books, on cereal boxes, in newspapers, and in any place that a female's face is found. Female cartoon faces are also censored. 
     One of the more widely-known occurrences of this type of censorship was in the May 6, 2011 issue of Der Zeitung, a Brooklyn-based Hasidic paper, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason, the director for counter terrorism, were erased from the picture, in conjunction with the newspaper's adherence to their modesty policy.  Apparently, Bakehila employs a similar policy. But these aren't the only newspapers to adhere to such strictures. The widely read Hebrew and English newspaper, Hamodia, billed as "the daily newspaper for Torah Jewry," also refuses to print pictures of women, due to their strict interpretation of the laws of tznius/modesty.
     Most troubling is that the readership of these newspapers are often the very same people who are looking to increase the numbers of ultra-orthodox Jews by supporting and/or engaging in kiruv efforts. Even more troubling is that those who are targeted by kiruv/outreach workers, have little or no knowledge of the actual goings-on  in the ultra-orthodox communities. Instead, the women and girls targeted by outreach workers are told that women are considered to be "on a higher spiritual plane than men," and that "women are closer to God." Sure, a compelling modern narrative has been created in which men and women are equal but have different roles to fulfill in their lives. Men must keep the laws of the Torah, many of which have specific time constraints. Women are not bound by those particular (time-bound) laws, since it is expected that they are also dealing with such things as child birth, child rearing, etc. New recruits to orthodoxy usually understand this. However, there are many laws that women recruits are not aware of until they are already committed to orthodoxy. While women learn fairly soon of the orthodox dress code, it is not advertised that the rules of modesty are so strict that they are often used, along with guilt, in order to control the women of ultra-orthodox communities. The photograph below is of a sign that was posted after the gruesome murder of eight year old Leiby Kletsky. It urges orthodox Jewish women to dress more modestly in order to be protected by God. Appealing to the women's fear that the little boy's fate may have been due to their collective immodesty, community pressure is exerted on them through the use of guilt, fear of God, and fear of losing God's protection. This notice indirectly blames the women for this little boy's murder. It could have been prevented if only the women were more tznius (modestly attired.)
Sign found in Boro Park, Brooklyn. Photo credit: G.G.

     While it is true that more liberal and more modern orthodox communities do treat women well, don't obscure their faces from their publications, and don't blame unfortunate events on a bare collar bone, these are not the communities that are targeting young people with outreach efforts. Most kiruv organizations are Hareidi/ultra-orthodox institutions that regularly adhere to, and teach these rules to their followers. It is ultra-orthodox kiruv organizations and ultra-orthodox rabbis who push these extremes on their new students, and turn out thinkers who regularly diminish women's presence in society.

1. Photo credit: Ynet News:,7340,L-4361353,00.html