Saturday, August 31, 2013

Honesty: The Best Policy

     It was recently brought to my attention that this blog, Jewish Outreach: What Your Rabbi Isn't Telling You, is being discussed on Imamother,  a rather busy and diverse forum for orthodox women.  Imamother community users range from liberal Modern Orthodox to Far Right Charedi and everything in between, both Litvish and Hasidic, who come from a broad range of nationalities, and fall into a wide spectrum of ethnic identities. When I heard that my blog was reaching this group, I was both happy and concerned, unsure of how the views of this blog would be received. Given the extreme nature of the blog address ("stopkiruvnow" doesn't really make for easy alliances I've been told,) I was surprised to see that people even bothered to read any of the posts at all.
     But you know what I found?
     I found an intelligent, honest, four page discussion in response to my post "Aish HaTorah and Multilevel Marketing Scams." Many women, presumably of the orthodox world, agreed that kiruv is not always done responsibly. A few felt that it isn't right to try to make people religious, and someone stated that kiruv should not be done at all. Some felt that with so many other religions and cults existing, that Jewish outreach is doing what has to be done, e.g. using marketing tactics such as slick advertising, etc., in order to draw people in. One commenter expressed that
The reason the comparison [to multilevel marketing] is apt is because the MLM marketing hides the negative aspects of the product, and kiruv does also. You only find those out yourself after you have already paid the price. Then you resent the seller. I would have appreciated more honesty and transparency [in kiruv.]1
 She then listed some of the issues that are often withheld from those venturing into orthodoxy. What surprised me most was that there are people within the orthodox world who agree that dishonest and deceptive kiruv practices have to change.
     Blogger Shilton HaSechel posted his own rant against kiruv back in 2010 in which he stated:
Talking about manipulation, Kiruv Organizations should not be using marketing strategies. Sure if you're selling a vacuum it's bad marketing to mention that it's gonna die a day or so after the warranty - but this is something worse than a vacuum these are PEOPLE's lives. What do I mean by marketing strategy? Well, if a a non-frum girl goes and ask an Aish Hatorah guy what the status of woman is in Judaism he's not gonna whip out those delightfully backwards Gemarot which say tons of sexist things. Nope! Not even going to mention that a woman is considered in the Gemara too "crafty" to learn Torah, and too unreliable to be a witness. Kiruv Organizations sugar coat all the rough bits of Judaism and shelter their adherents from them until waaaay too late. THAT is pure manipulation - taking advantage of someone's ignorance about Judaism in order to only present the "fun" bits.

Be honest! I want every Kiruv Organization to be HONEST. If someones ask the Rabbi "Hey Rabbi what does the Gemara say about non-Jews" I want the Rabbi to say first "It thinks they're a bunch of donkeys with the emissions of horses" and only THEN make the excuses. I want the Rabbi to read all the demonology bits and read some choice Biblical passages about stoning and genocide. Go ahead! Present all the nice bits too BUT make sure to honestly present the good and the bad EQUALLY. If you lose "souls" 'cuz of you're brutal honesty then at least you know you're not lying to people. 2
Early on in his post, he feels the need to impress upon his readers that he is not against orthodoxy. I feel the same way, but unfortunately what seems to be the norm is the idea that if a person looks at aspects of Judaism or orthodoxy critically, that he/she is anti-Semitic, a self-hating Jew, or anti-Orthodox. While I cannot speak for everyone, I can speak for myself. I don't "hate" orthodoxy, nor do I hate Jews, and I actually kind of like myself. It's the deception that is used--not all of the time, and not by everyone--to pull people into a lifestyle that they otherwise might not have chosen on their own, that I find problematic. I've read forums in which comments were made that sharing the negative aspects of orthodoxy might turn people off to becoming more religious. I believe that more damage is being done in the long run by withholding information.
     Back in 2009, orthodox guest poster Chabakuk Elisha posted his perspective on kiruv from the world of Chabad, on the blog "A Simple Jew" in an article entitled "Kiruv vs. Soul Mongering." He begins with a few excellent questions.
Let me start by asking if kiruv can be considered humane, ethical, moral, healthy or good? Is it even mentchlach [humane] to try to convince people to reject their families, backgrounds, friends, perhaps wives and children, and completely change their lives to join a community that in all likelihood they will always struggle to be a part of? Is that even fair? Is that really good for the individual prospective Baal Teshuva?3
While Chabakuk Elisha ultimately believes that Chabad does better outreach (as a whole entity) than other groups, he is honest in stating that there are problems. These problems often stem from the perception of those within kiruv. He states:
I think sometimes people forget that the potential mekurav [recruit] is a real person. He/she has a life, family, background, etc. They were raised a certain way and have certain responsibilities. They love and are loved. And all those things are important and need to be considered carefully – I can’t reconcile carelessly ripping people away from all of that and turning them into virtual orphans superimposed onto a society that’s often quite foreign, and sometimes remains foreign forever. How can we do that to people?4
     This goes back to previous posts on this blog where I've pointed out that even orthodox blogs, such as Beyond BT, have discussed at length that people who became orthodox from non-orthodox backgrounds often find that the world that they joined was very different from the world that they were sold. And while some of this may have had to do with the community that BTs ended up joining, solving the problems by moving to other possibly more open or welcoming communities is not always an answer. This goes back to the idea of deception. Why not be upfront about the problems before they become problems, so that people who truly want to become orthodox can successfully preempt them, and so that people who may have second thoughts can follow a different path before they get locked into a lifestyle that may not suit them? The writer continues:
 I find it to be very troubling for some guy with nothing to lose to tell anyone to turn their life upside down, in every way, and to heck with the consequences ....  But it seems to me that some of my frum brethren find this unacceptable .... they feel that [a] family [interested in, for example, observing some aspect of Shabbat--the Sabbath,] must suddenly go all the way or none of the way .... To some, kiruv is along the lines of other missionary groups that are seeking to save your soul – they aren’t interested in any single act or progression – they are looking to only to for complete and total transformation to their lifestyle. 5
     What's important to note in all of these cases is that criticism and discussion of kiruv's problems is not relegated to a small subset of disgruntled former baalei teshuva who've since left orthodoxy. When people make that assumption, it's just another excuse to sweep real problems under the proverbial carpet instead of looking critically at issues that affect all who are in some way touched by Jewish outreach.

1. "Marina." posted at August 26, 2013, 10:13AM in "Kiruv = Multi-Level Marketing," on August  Imamother. August 25, 2013.
2.HaSechel, Shilton. My Rant Against Kiruv Organizations. Shilton HaSechel. September 7, 2010.
3. Chabakuk Elisha. Kiruv vs. Soul Mongering. A Simple Jew. March 5, 2009.
4. ibid.

5. ibid.


  1. What's more, I think Kiruv organizations need to inform you how you will be viewed/treated as a Baalei Tshuvah. More and more I don't think organizations like (and especially like) Chabad give 2 beans about you. The are pushing their agenda and having you finance it. Kiruv organizations need to tell you how you will be treated after they have sucked your bank account dry.Will you still be invited to the "rabbi's house for shabbos dinner" or kicked to the curb in favor of someone with a fatter wallet.

  2. The entire art of teaching is about simplification. We do not teach little children the details of adult life until they are ready for it. Inevitably, some children grow up too naive while others learn too soon. And the naive ones might get sucked, while suspicious ones might get hard time socializing. There is also individual's free will, so when it comes to learning the ropes of life there is delicate balance between teaching and learning.
    Moreover, it's Ok for parents to have some personal interest in raising their children, but more often than not, parents invest themselves much more than they get in return.
    And even if some parents lack the parenting skills and kids suffer, on average it is better for kids to grow in the family then as street orphans. So it’s too convenient to criticize parents until you yourself begin raising children. But, usually, after young adults become parents they stop blaming their upbringing and start taking responsibility. However, those who keep their involvement theoretical just let others raise future generations according to their views.
    Similarly, there could be some guidelines in kiruv art, but no strict rules. You just have to be lucky to grow up in right environment and be taught by right people.

  3. Excellent post. What infuriates the most is that there is no psychological evaluation, no intake process. No one ever says, "This is not for you. I think Modern Orthodoxy or [chos v'sholem!] one of the liberal denominations would be a better fit."

    When my young cousin told the local shliach he wanted to drop out of his MO day school and join the Chabad circus, the guy immediately arranged for him to go to a yeshiva halfway across the county. He didn't even meet with my cousin, the boy's mother, to discuss it (because as a woman and a frei yid, what possible value could there be to her opinion?). The whole thing was reprehensible - but this is how they operate. The boy has a first-class mind, but he didn't go to college (because they told him the Rebbe said it was assur). He's now married with a baby he can't afford, teaches in one of their mesivtas for a pittance and is already on public assistance.

    I have more respect for the other Hasidic sects than I have for Chabad. Yes, they think we're all going to hell - but at least they have the decency to leave our souls alone in the meanwhile.

    Kiruv is an abomination and should be illegal.

    1. Cipher, thanks for your comment. I think this line is perfect:

      "No one ever says, "This is not for you. I think Modern Orthodoxy or [chos v'sholem!] one of the liberal denominations would be a better fit.""

      I am in contact with a number of ex-BTs. I tend to wonder how many former baalei teshuva would have retained some level of participation in Jewish life if only they had been advised that maybe ultra-orthodoxy wasn't for them. Instead, once they get caught up in some of these organizations, they're pushed and pushed until they end up as carbon copies of each other, and when they finally decide to leave the lifestyle, they leave everything behind except for the resentment.

  4. Cipher, what you described also goes on with Aish & Meor. They just wait another year or two until they are of legal age, then ship them off to brainwashing yeshivas & seminaries in Israel.

    1. My cousin was of legal age, actually. He was just about to turn eighteen.

      I know about Aish and Ohr Someyach. They've been preying for years upon kids making the near-obligatory trip to Israel between high school and college, and I understand that in recent years, NCSY chapters have been funneling kids to the as well, reflecting the hold the Haredim have over the Modern Orthodox (as well as the fact that kiruv has become a very lucrative business).

  5. 24816, further up makes an important point. Kiruv professionals justify their half-truths and deceptions by comparing the potential BT to a child. He/she must be protected from certain facts she is not yet 'ready to deal with'. When will she be ready to deal with them? Once she is so invested in orthodoxy she no longer sees a way out and feels she needs to reconcile herself to the reprehensible facts she discovers. Once she is so far in she no longer trusts her own moral intuitions.

    Another way they justify themselves is by defining the truth as being orthodoxy. Anything that will bring the BT into orthodoxy is thus 'true' and anything that would repel them is 'false'. The potential BT doesn't realise this, she thinks lying is forbidden and that the rabbi must be telling the truth; otherwise it would be like stealing a siddur!

    On another note, Rebecca, i wonder if you could e-mail me:

    My user name on these kinds of sites is Mage, Escapee or Gollum (just to reassure you I'm neither orthodox, nor abusive!)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mage.
      "Kiruv professionals justify their half-truths and deceptions by comparing the potential BT to a child. He/she must be protected from certain facts she is not yet 'ready to deal with'."

      And strangely enough, they feel that these facts that the potential BT would not be able to handle justify protecting them by omission of such facts, YET kiruv professionals feel that high school and college kids are old enough to make their own decisions about religion. Something here seems not quite kosher.

    2. Yes, because 'ready to deal with' means only that it would move them further away from 'yiddishkeit. They are 'children' in torah knowledge. The real problem is that they are presupposing that the torah is true when that is the whole question. But for them it is not a question and so they redefine their terms which means, basically they are arguing in bad faith.

      Most of the world bring up their children as Christian or Jewish or whatever. Dawkins argues strongly against this - as even identifying a child as Hindu or methodist. In his opinion a child is not yet ready to make such decisions. Personally I don't think children should be 'warned' against missionising types, or that these 'types' should ever be banned. That attitude is too close to the way the Charedi's protect their children from anything secular! Opposing views need to be heard and children need to be brought up in a way that allows them to deal with this.

      - all said as someone who is not a parent!


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