Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Messiah Complex

     The first time I read "The Catcher in the Rye," I was probably about 16, and taking a high school literature class called "Psych. Lit." Several years later I had the opportunity to teach it as part of the curriculum at the high school where I was teaching. If there was one major point that never failed to make me think, it was that of Holden's Messiah complex--the inherent need to save and protect others (sometimes at the risk of one's own livelihood, happiness, success, etc.)--which comes out many times during the course of the novel. defines the Messiah complex as "a complex in which sufferers have a desire to redeem and save others, some sufferers have harboured[sic] the delusion of being a saviour[sic] of people."1

     One of the many problems with ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach is the existence of this savior complex. Among individuals it may seem mild and innocuous, but on a grand scale it does exist, and I believe that it forms the basis for kiruv in the first place. A few posts ago, I wrote about the Emergency Soul Saving In Progress, in which I quoted from Project Inspire's video, "Rescue Mission, The Time Is Now." In the video, a huge point is made about how it's time to save the non-orthodox Jews from secularism. He stated that "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."2 In this case, each person is important to bring Jews back to the fold, to save them.
     I recently read another piece written by Aliza Bulow, a convert to Judaism who has been doing kiruv for decades. In her article, she reflects on her very first time as a "Partner in Torah," in which she helped another woman learn about Judaism. When Bulow's young children asked her about her volunteer work she tried to explain that the woman she was working with wasn't "lucky" enough to grow up in an orthodox household and never learned about this type of Judaism. Bulow's children, not understanding how this was possible, responded by asking if the woman had been kidnapped when she was little. Aliza Bulow explains in her article that "she was kidnapped by pogroms that sent her family to America, by a harsh reality on these shores that was not conducive to mitzvah [commandment] observance, by public schools whose goal was to assimilated [sic] all within it’s[sic] walls, by uneducated grandparents and disconnected parents. Her neshama, [soul] and the neshamas of thousands like her, was kidnapped and held hostage, for generations, with the only ransom being Torah knowledge and the only one who can pay it being a Jew who cares enough to take the time."3 To make the connection that not being raised orthodox is like being kidnapped from Judaism upbringing is a pretty big stretch. We, the readers, should walk away with the understanding that thanks to Bulow's efforts as a rescuer of kidnapped souls, another Jewish victim of assimilation is being saved. The woman she's teaching is now regarded as having victim status. But if Bulow is the savior, and her Partner in Torah is the rescued victim, then who are the culprits? In Bulow's narrative, the parents and the grandparents are to blame, as is the public school, whose role, she believes, is to assimilate everyone. (Rather, it's to give kids a balanced education, something too often lacking in the ultra-orthodox world.)  Mrs. Bulow, a career kiruv worker who loves her job states that:

Not only do I get to do kiruv, but I get to help others do kiruv as well. Sometimes I feel like a honey bee, flying right into the heart of a city’s kiruv flower, gathering the nectar of good ideas and getting covered by the pollen of excitement and dedication so prevalent among those devoted to Klal Yisroel, then I fly to another city and pollinate: spreading enthusiasm, sharing inspiration and strengthening spirits. 
I work for Ner LeElef, a Jewish leadership training organization based in Israel, with branches throughout the world.
It’s[sic] goal is to generate growth and vibrancy in the Jewish people by cultivating strong leaders who can effectively develop and guide Jewish communities. In addition to training rabbis and their wives, and sending them out “into the field”, Ner LeElef seeks to ensure success by offering follow up care to it’s[sic] graduates as well as to other kiruv professionals.4
Aliza Bulow is sort of like a superhero-fairy, spreading good kiruv vibes to other kiruv workers, saving kidnapped souls, and attempting to influence non-orthodox Jews to take on an orthodox lifestyle. (Notice that her organization's goal is to "generate growth and vibrancy in the Jewish people by cultivating strong leaders who can effectively develop and guide Jewish communities." This is a diplomatic way of saying that they're training kiruv workers to come into your community in an effort to transform the community from secular to orthodox.) Is this outreach work even necessary? It really depends on your perspective.
  Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, a man with a very interesting history, wrote that doing kiruv is important because it will bring Moshiach [the Jewish messiah] and because it will get you a place in "the world to come." He explains that:
Even if he is ready, the Moshiach [Messiah] cannot come unless we repent. The Gemara (Sanhedrin, 67) discusses this in detail, and the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva, 7:5) records it as follows: “Every single one of the prophets commanded repentance. Israel will never be redeemed without repentance. The Torah promises that ultimately Israel will repent at the end of their exile, and immediately they will be redeemed…
This means that the only requirement for the coming of the Moshiach and the redemption is repentance. We have to repent. And what about our brothers…B’nai Yisroel [the children of Israel/the Jews] who are far away from fulfilling the commandments? They have to repent, too! And we have to help them come close to repentance.

There is something wonderful in the book Chovos HaLevavos (Shaar HaBitachon, Chapter 4): “A person’s good deeds alone do not make him suitable for the reward of the World to Come. G-d considers him suitable only because of two other things that he must also do: one, that he should teach others about the service of G-d and guide them in doing good…
This concept is awe-inspiring. If a person does not “teach others about the service of G-d and guide them in doing good,” then he will not be worthy of the World to Come… Everybody who is involved in Torah needs to know this…especially today, when we are in such a dreadful situation. The only solution is for Moshiach to come, and Moshiach will only come if Am Yisroel [all of Israel] repent. That means everybody! Every member of Yisroel must come back in repentance.
We repent as individuals, but it does not seem to bother us that there are thousands of Jews who are far from Torah and the commandments. We do not even think about them. May the Heavens have mercy, we are not worthy of redemption. Every avreich [newly married and/or yeshiva student] who is occupied with Torah must help bring the unobservant back to G-d.
A leading Rav has determined that everyone is required to give a tithe of their time to helping others, which would amount to approximately one evening a week. Just once a week! Go to some place where non-observant Jews live and help them come close to Torah and the commandments.5
Rabbi Wolbe stresses that one's final redemption in the "World to Come" rests on one's responsibility to bring other Jews back to Judaism so that all of the Jews can repent and the messiah can come. His approach is to instill fear into his followers. If they want to ultimately get into heaven, they must fulfill this mission of bringing the non-orthodox to orthodoxy. Whether or not Wolbe wants to be the big savior isn't even an issue. His concern is all about getting the messiah to show up and, dammit, if that requires the saving of some souls, that's what needs to be done.
     The underlying problem with Project Inspire's video, Aliza Bulow's articles, and Rabbi Wolbe's writing is that they are all being incredibly self-righteous and selfish. They are pushing their personal agenda without regard (and in many cases, without respect,) for those who will be personally affected. Their work is for their benefit and what they think will benefit all Jews. But not all Jews are alike or support their efforts, or even want to be orthodox. Rabbi Wolbe wants to save all of the Jews by making them orthodox and bringing Moshiach. Project Inspire wants to save all of the lost souls. Aliza Bulow wants to rescue those who were "kidnapped." Holden Caulfield in "The Catcher in the Rye" also wants to save people--children, to be exact. But he's a kid, and can barely keep his own head above water. The difference is that Holden, despite being a fictional character, is sitting on a couch in a therapist's office. He'll probably be able to work through this Messiah complex. The others? I'm not so sure.

1. "What is Messiah Complex?" Psychology Dictionary. accessed 7/18/2013.
2.  qtd. from Project Inspire. "Rescue Mission--The Time is Now."
3. Bulow, Aliza. "My First Partner in Torah." A Bite of February 15, 2008.
4. Bulow, Aliza. "Honey Bee Kiruv." Horizon Magazine. A Bite of 2007.
5. Wolbe, Rav Shlomo. "Rav Wolbe Zt”l’s Vision." July 23, 2012.


  1. > I recently read another piece written by Aliza Bulow,…

    The arrogance is astounding. The assumption is that everyone should be Orthodox, and that everyone would be Orthodox, if not for some outside influence dragging them away. Has she never heard of the Haskala? Does she not understand that it’s possible that her “partner’s” grandparents left traditional Judaism because they wanted to, and not because pogroms beat it out of them?

    > This concept is awe-inspiring. If a person does not “teach others about the service of G-d and guide them in doing good,” then he will not be worthy of the World to Come…

    He’s cherry picking. This is not a mainstream concept. Why not quote the Rambam, who believed in a philosopher’s heaven? I know, because that wouldn’t let him make his point, but it’s just as unusual a conception of the afterlife.

    > The underlying problem with Project Inspire's video, Aliza Bulow's articles, and Rabbi Wolbe's writing is that they are all being incredibly self-righteous and selfish. They are pushing their personal agenda without regard (and in many cases, without respect,) for those who will be personally affected.

    I don’t know. They almost certainly believe that it is in all Jews’ best interest to be Orthodox. Yes, they are self-righteous, and they may be doing what they do for selfish reasons, but they believe that what they are doing is the best thing in the world for their protégés, even if those people can’t see that right now. Which is patronizing, but isn’t pushing an agenda without regard for those it affects.

  2. I consider myself unfortunate to have not grown up in an orthodox home. I am still learning about Judaism but I made the giant step of aliya and Baruch HaSh-m am now married to a religious Jewish man. my grandparents left Uman in 1926, "between" pogroms. They landed in the big apple and soon fell away from keeping Shabbat and kashrut. Thankfully, I have had the merit to rekindle that which was lost.

    Yes, you are an educator, but in the wrong direction. And it is "educators", such as yourself, who destroy people's desire to learn more. The "haskala" was one of the most destructive things to have ever happened to the Jewish people. How sad that non-observant Jews are so discouraged to become Torah Jews. One can only pray that one day you will see what true Judaism is and stop being a stumbling block to those who are truly seeking to be good, Torah-observant Jews.

    1. Zahava, it's wonderful that you found a path in life that gives you meaning and it's wonderful that you want others to have the wonderful that you have, but the issue most often raised on this blog is the issue of underhanded tactics used by the kiruv professional in their kiruv work.
      The issue that this post raises is the fact that because kiruv "professionals" have the Messiah Complex they feel justified in using such tactics.
      How have you addressed bec's points?

    2. Zahava - you say "The "haskala" was one of the most destructive things to have ever happened to the Jewish people."

      Really? It is because of the haskala that you have an education. It is because of the haskala that you as a female, see yourself as having a RIGHT to a Jewish education. It is because of the Enlightenment that you were born in democratic country and you now live in another.

      The Haskala opened new paths for people to find knowledge. Knowledge is almost never a bad thing unless you are bent on ghettoizing and refusing to look at all the other options God gave to men and women.

    3. I discovered the North American Man Boy Love Association. I feel so badly that I did not grow up in a NAMBLA home. It is so beautiful to discuss legalizing my love and admiration for ten year old boys.

      I hope you agree with me :) Man boy love is just so beautiful. So deep. So right.


  3. Zahava, if you were to purchase a car, would you go into the dealership knowing nothing about cars? Or would you possibly do some research beforehand so that you could walk in knowing what to expect, what questions to ask, and what to look for? You might even consider bringing someone with you (or asking someone with experience) in order to feel more confident and prepared. It's the same thing when you purchase a home. When we deal with large sums of money, we often research our options so that we don't walk into something blindly. Unfortunately, there are many kiruv workers out there who expect to "wow" non-orthodox Jews into dramatically changing their lives, just like that car salesperson wants to "wow" you into dropping your hard earned cash into one of the cars in the showroom. If we can agree that we'd want to learn the pros and cons of the cars that we're about to invest a lot of money in, and we'd like to learn as much as we can before investing in real estate, wouldn't we want a person to do the same research--learning the pros and cons of the organizations, the lifestyle, etc. before investing and changing his/her whole life?
    Zahava, you claim that I am "an educator, but in the wrong direction." Why is providing additional information considered "the wrong direction?" A good car salesperson should be confident in his/her product's ability to sell itself, even with any negatives pointed out. The information I provide is just information (with sources that often go to primary documents from these organizations and their rabbis and followers) that shouldn't change a person's perspective if the product is good enough to sell itself. Have more confidence.
    And mazal tov on your aliya and choice to become observant. I'm very pro-choice, and I believe strongly in making informed choices and providing information so that others can do the same.

  4. Just so you know, the reason why Wolbe wants the Messiah "at all costs" is because according to judaism the Messiah is a spiritual/socio-political leader who will have the charisma and talent to help usher in a period of peace and tranquility when "knowledge of Gd will will cover the earth like water covers the seas". Its not for 70 virgins in heaven or fame, its because Jews have always believed and dreamed of a world that would reach its pinnacle socially and spiritually.


Your respectful comments are welcome.