About a week and a half ago, I received my very first piece of email condemning this blog. I read it and responded, and even received a response back. I debated whether or not to write about it here, but I finally decided to address certain points in the letters, since they are typical of the pro-kiruv ultra-orthodox mindset, and I believe that they can be used as a teaching tool. Out of respect for my detractor's privacy, I am not including any (non-general) identifying information, and I am not including her emails in their entirety. I do appreciate the fact that she took the time to email me and I also appreciate her willingness to stand behind her views. I recognize that it takes a lot of courage to do so, and even though she and I disagree, opening up a healthy dialogue is a positive step in understanding each other.
Text Excerpts from First Email (Spelling and grammar have not been corrected.)
"The teachers and Rabbis and all the people doing the kiruv to help young people to come back to their roots and their heritage are not Ultra Orthodox. They are normal orthodox Jewish people who live what they teach. If you don't believe what Kiruv teaches and think that it is some marketing strategy or sales ploy, think again."
"Stop trying to take beautiful Jewish neshamos [souls, italics added] away from a priceless heritage that was given to them by Hashem."
"You are bringing darkness into the world. I don't usually take the time out of my day to speak to people like you, but maybe you need to question what you are doing and question where you come from and who you really are."
"Also remember that Hashem watches us. Everything we do and say. You are not in charge. Hashem runs the world not you. If you are born Jewish, to a Jewish mother. Wake up. Open your eyes. The Torah is instructions for how to live our lives. This is not your purpose in life to destroy lives. Hashem wants all his children to come back. Everyday a person should say to themselves what am I living for ? What can I change? Words from Rabbi Noah Weinberg. A man we hold close to our hearts. He lived his life for the sake of saving the Jewish nation. You are causing damage that is all you are doing. It is the same as murder, to take Jewish people away from Torah."
"One thing you need to understand is when you said that it should sell itself and not be used as "marketing strategy" What are you doing to change some ones life for the better? Sometimes it is necessary when it comes to young people especially, to give them glitz and glamour to help them to understand. There is nothing wrong with that. Nothing to do with marketing."
"Don't carry on with what you are doing or you might have many regrets later on."
|Text Excerpts from Second Email||(Spelling and grammar have not been corrected.)|
"I don't want to get into too much details of the Torah because it is very difficult to convince a sceptic of the Torah, about the beauty of it and the depth of it. It also will be very difficult for you to understand at this point in your life, because you are not in that space of spirituality. and Yes I do believe that the only kind of spirituality is that of the Torah. Saying that Hashem runs the world is not a claim of mine, its the Truth and hopefully one day in time, in the right time you will see it. The reason why I say you are destroying lives is because Kiruv helps to stop assimilation. Your mission is not going to help Jews to come back to their heritage, but to take them away and help them assimilate ie marry non Jews. The Torah is a blue Print of the world, is a guide to help us live our lives properly and the way Hashem intended. Good luck with your mission."
"We all come into this life to do something important. I can tell you that what you are doing by telling people that kiruv is a scam. That's not the job you came to the earth for. A person needs to delve into and learn Torah with a qualified teacher in order to understand its essence. You cannot just pull out parts of it that you see fit to criticize without seeing the overall picture and understanding the overall picture in depth. Only Hashem knows and understands all things and knows and understands why he created the Torah. Everything else is an illusion."
- The writer of this email admits to believing that there is only one kind of spirituality and it's from the Torah. So right there, whatever you believe has already been crossed out of existence. You cannot possibly claim any spirituality unless it's from an orthodox perspective of the Torah. You think you're spiritual? Nope, sorry! This way of thinking is very arrogant. A good teacher learns from his/her students, but this black and white thinking is prevalent in kiruv. Ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach assumes that whatever you're doing, if it's not orthodox, then it's wrong.
- The writer claims that kiruv/outreach is not about marketing, but later claims that "sometimes it is necessary when it comes to young people especially, to give them glitz and glamour to help them to understand." Of course, we are all aware that this is marketing, however, the "glitz and glamour" is there to attract potential recruits and keep them interested. Never mind that much of what is used to attract, such as Torah Codes and other pseudo-science, have been disproven and criticized.
- The email writer claims that God is in charge of all things, but then accuses me of trying to lead Jewish souls to assimilation, of bringing darkness to the world, and of being like a murderer. Later, she claims that "Hashem runs the world." If we go with her feeling that God runs the world, then I'm sure he's well aware of what I'm doing (assuming we are working within a belief system that allow for the existence of a higher power) so then it's really between this god and myself. Enter in the Jewish claim that people were given free will, despite God running the world, thus taking some of the onus off of God. However, God is supposedly aware of what I'm going to do, prior to me actually doing it (again, assuming that one believes in God in the first place.) Warning me of possible regret makes no sense here, because if she believes in God, then it's already written how this will pan out. (I'm noticing that this is so strange here, because of the cyclical nature of the argument itself: you have free will to do what God already knows you're going to do. I'm not saying this to offend believers, but even this argument, used in many kiruv discussions that I've attended, really seems only to confuse the focus of the new recruit, as do many of the other topics often discussed.) Back to the original point of this bulleted statement: if God is in charge of all things, then supposedly, what I am doing is part of this "all things."
- She claims that my mission won't help Jews come back to their roots, but will lead them to assimilation and/or intermarriage. All of ultra-orthodox kiruv believes that which is not orthodox outreach will cause assimilation and intermarriage. It doesn't matter if you are an active member of a liberal Jewish denomination or background (Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Humanist, etc.) whatever it is that you are doing, unless it is orthodox, is leading to the demise of the Jewish people.
- She claims that "Hashem wants his children to come back." She later claims that "only Hashem knows and understands all things and knows and understands why he created the Torah. Everything else is an illusion." If only God knows and understands, then that should tell us right there that nobody else can not possibly understand God, his reasons, nor his actions. When tragedy occurs, orthodox people often say "baruch dayan ha-emet," meaning that God is the true judge and whatever he has done, it is for the best and we, as humans, don't have to understand it, nor his reasons. (This is often comforting to people in mourning.) In that case, the writer of this letter cannot claim that God wants Jews to be orthodox or to "come back." (We can assume, based on her other statements, that she doesn't want Jews to be Reform.) If only God understands and knows all things, then orthodox kiruv, in its very essence, is presumptuous, as it works only on the presumption that only orthodox interpretation and adherence are what is expected of Jews.
- The last point that I want to address is about this line: "You are causing damage that is all you are doing." The damage I am causing--if any at all--is to those who may now think twice about Jewish outreach, its underlying messages, its goals, its supporters, and its motivation. A savvy person wouldn't take a hundred thousand dollars and invest it in the first business opportunity that presents itself, no matter how exciting the package. Instead, a smart person would research different investment opportunities, and educate him/herself before making any long term decisions that could affect his/her future and financial security. Ultra orthodox outreach often works on the premise that kiruv professionals will be able to "wow" people and turn them on to orthodoxy, maybe even send them on an outreach trip, and transform people's lives before they can arm themselves with the other side of the story. If, by providing information, I am causing damage to the kiruv industry, then I know that my efforts are not wasted.