Thursday, June 27, 2013

Emergency Soul Saving in Progress

      I recently viewed this video entitled "Rescue Mission--The Time is Now" put out by Project Inspire (a project of Aish HaTorah.) The video begins with a recap of the May 1994 search and rescue of Suri Feldman, the 14 year-old Hasidic girl who got lost in the woods up by the Connecticut-Massachussetts border. The introduction leads to a description of how much effort the whole community put into the rescue of this youngster, with people boarding buses from Brooklyn to aid in the search and rescue mission and bringing "provisions, lanterns, and flashlights--anything possible to save this one little girl." A few seconds later this story is tied into how this one girl is important, how "every nefesh [soul] is important, how everyone we can save is important." The rabbi takes this further:

 ...and now we're here today and we look at what's happening with the Jewish people. And we know that it's not just one Suri Feldman but it's millions, literally millions of nefeshes [souls] that are lost in the woods, not only in Connecticut, not only in Massachusetts, but everywhere. Where are the lanterns? Where are the buses? Where's the outcry of "help! We need to stop the assimilation, we need to stop what's happening to the devastation of the spirit of the Jewish people!' Of course that's what we have to do whenever we find someone in danger. But when klal yisroel [the Jewish people] is in danger in a big way, when HaKodesh Baruch-hu's (God) children are in danger with millions of nefeshes getting lost, we need to have that same kind of outcry.... We need to help save the Jewish people.1
When I was teaching high school English, I used to do a lesson with my classes when we read non-Western literature in which we discussed whether or not  it was fair of us to apply our Western values to the literature of other cultures. Were we, as culturally American, (regardless of our individual backgrounds) justified in interpreting the literature of other cultures using our own Western biases? Was that even fair of us? Would we ever truly understand the literature of another culture if we believed that certain things were always wrong or always right? Of course, the responses were always mixed, but the general understanding was that maybe it really wasn't fair. We didn't understand many complexities of all of the cultures we studied. Our information, no matter how vast, was always somewhat limited by our own lack of firsthand experience. I mention this because here we have a kiruv [outreach] group doing the exact thing that my classes and I strove to avoid. Project Inspire judges all Jews by the values and belief systems of their brand of orthodox Judaism. They say "hey, look at those Jews who aren't orthodox like us. They must be lost. We have a job. We have to save them." I wish that was an oversimplification of reality, but the reality is that to them, all Jews who are not orthodox are in danger of assimilation and can only be saved through orthodoxy--the orthodoxy provided by Aish HaTorah and its affiliates.
    A few hours ago, a good friend pointed me to Machon Cardozo's site where I found this quote:

See footnote 2.

This is definitely a legitimate criticism of ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach. While the article itself may be only calling for a change in kiruv [outreach] techniques and practices, I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with this paragraph, especially given that so many promising young people get swept off their feet by the glitz, glamour, and false promises that kiruv professionals sell. Instead of allowing people to find Judaism on their own, ultra-orthodox outreach seeks them out, investing time and money in order to mass produce more orthodox Jews. Having just watched the Project Inspire video about the urgent need to save the millions of lost Jewish souls, it hit me. There is this fabricated need to save all of these non-orthodox Jews and turn them into what Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo claims is "a religious Jewish community of artificial conformism in which independent thought and difference of opinion is not only condemned, but its absence is considered the ultimate ideal." Is this what orthodox Judaism is about? Turning young, thinking, questioning, professional-minded people into automatons? Surely, those most visible in these communities will disagree. But of course they'll disagree because they are the people who are visible to new recruits, to their parents, to their friends. And of course, those ba'alei teshuvah [newly religious, or people who weren't raised orthodox] who were able to maintain their ties with the modern world will disagree. But delve deeper, I dare you. Look beyond the outreach professionals who will promise you the world if you just take one more class, or keep one more Shabbos, or go on one more highly subsidized outreach retreat.  Look into the yeshiva classes and see what they're really teaching. Is it tolerance and equality for all Jews? Or are they mocking and belittling Jews who aren't orthodox?  Look at the parts of the community that shun the modern world, women's rights, and individuality. Look at the woman who told me, when I was orthodox, that now that I was religious, I couldn't attend Phish shows because they were no place for a bas yisroel [Jewish daughter.] Or the family who felt that it was wrong that my family attend my best friend's son's baptism. I wonder if this huge push to make people orthodox is really just masking the greater problems that exist within the orthodox communities and the real or imagined fear of the outside world at large, and then I wonder, who is it who needs to be saved?

1. qtd. from Project Inspire. "Rescue Mission--The Time is Now.
2. Cardozo, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes. "Judaism: Thinking Big (1)." Current Thought to Ponder. Machon Cardozo. posted June 27,  2013.

Judaism: Thinking Big (1) – (TTP-350)

- See more at:
Outreach programs, although well intended, have become institutions that, like factories, focus on mass production and believe that the more people they can draw into Jewish observance, the more successful they are. That their methods crush the minds of many newcomers who might have made a major contribution to a new and vigorous Judaism is of no importance to them. The goal is to fit them into the existing system. That their outdated theories make other independent minds abhor Judaism is a thought they do not seem to even entertain. To them, only numbers count. How many people did we make observant? Millions of dollars are spent to create more and more of the same type of religious Jew. Like the generation of the Tower of Babel, in which the whole world was “of one language and of one speech,” we are producing a religious Jewish community of artificial conformism in which independent thought and difference of opinion is not only condemned, but its absence is considered to be the ultimate ideal. We have created a generation of yes men. - See more at:


  1. Kiruv is Judaism? I don't think so. Kiruv is plain evil. They think nothing of sending lives off track or destroying families, it's 100% about what they want.

    How dare kiruv complain about Jews for Jesus when they're engaged in what they do? I've got news for kiruv - whisking a kid out of a family to turn them into a BT is every single bit as wrong as J4J or any other cult.

    1. I've said more or less the same thing to people, and the response is that it's different because the Christianity is wrong and Judaism is right.

  2. I love Rabbi Cardozo - such a great article. I'm slowly developing a list of amazing Orthodox rabonim who are interested in bringing Judaism forward instead of preserving it in concrete.


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