Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Individual Truths Revealed Through Satire

     Back in 2010, orthodox blogger Heshy Fried wrote a post entitled "The Top 10 Kiruv Indoctrination Practices" on his blog, "Frum Satire." (For those unfamiliar, Frum Satire is a blog in which Heshy writes about orthodoxy and issues important to orthodox Jews using satire.) This is what Merriam-Webster has to say about satire:


noun \ˈsa-ˌtī(-ə)r\ : a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc. : humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc.

     In my opinion, it's very telling when someone within the orthodox world comes forward and calls  acts of kiruv "indoctrination practices" and refers to those who've become orthodox as having "drank the Kool-Aid." According to Heshy, the top ten kiruv indoctrination practices are as follows: Shabbos Meals, Gematria (which A. Nuran explains in the comments section as "superstitious numerological nonsense which allows you to “prove” any damned thing you want by assigning values to letters and letting the Law of Large Numbers lead you astray. Search through a big enough text with it and you can find any message you want including “No matter how you slice it it’s still baloney,”) Motivational Speakers, Frum Theologians or Scientists, Former Ministers, Beginner's Minyanim, Pay You, Free Trips, Books Written by Famous People Who Became Frum, and The Internet. Under each heading, Heshy gives about a paragraph of explanation. For example:
Pay you: I never thought the day would come when I could get paid to attend services or come to a class, but on college campuses this is starting to become the norm for non-Chabad Rabbis to do. They tell you that if you come to class every week they will give you $500 or a “free” scuba diving trip (another chance for kiruv indoctrination.) I have also heard of rabbis paying people to attend services, or put on tefillin every day.
While I agree with all of those he's listed (and several that didn't make the cut,) the best part of his article was--you guessed it--the comments. But before I go there, I want to mention again that Heshy Fried is an orthodox blogger pointing out some of the issues in orthodox society. I've been reading his blog for years, I've had the pleasure of sharing in several email exchanges with him, and I find him to be refreshingly down to earth. When Heshy puts up a post, we accept that he's showing us the world through his eyes. The comments that come up usually run the gamut from pure hatred of his blog posts to agreement with his sentiment, to further explanation by those who have had direct experiences with the subject of the specific post. About two weeks ago, I received an email from someone who accused me, based on reading my blog,  of hating religious people and harboring great hatred towards the religious community. Unfortunately, as I've stated in other posts, it's been my experience that many in the orthodox world, both publicly and privately, label people who disagree with them or find fault within the orthodox world as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews. My response to the email was simple:
I believe you're mistaken. Critical analysis of the practices of certain factions of a larger group does not translate to "anger" or "hatred."
What needs to exist is a safe space to offer criticism of groups that we either are, or were, a part of, in order to offer our knowledge and opinions of these subjects--in this case--Jewish outreach--so that they can be found by others who are searching for other perspectives. Heshy's post on kiruv practices gave way to a safe space for open debate and shared conversation. I'm posting some of the comments here for further discussion. I also want to point out that only in the interest of clarity have I corrected some of the spelling and grammar, but otherwise, the comments are as they exist on the original post.

Gevaldigger June 28, 2010, 6:51 PM Kiruv in the college scene has turned into a real business (non-profit of course). You must see these Yentes shout out on the campuses, wow; “Are you Jewish?” “Oh, you look Jewish, come to my house for shabbos”"Come on, I know you’re Jewish!”
It’s a real bizayon to find out they keep elaborate databases of all the students they’re involved with. There’s a whole group of students that are fighting the college campus kiruv movements; especially frum students, since they make it a point to shoo the frummies away since they aren’t cool enough apparently.
I laughed when I saw my friend’s picture on the pamphlet for one of the trips. She’s not frum at all, she just loves to party and gets paid to promote the program....
 I’m really glad you’re exposing this in a positive light, since as much fun as being frum is (ok, just a teensy bit of sarcasm there), we really don’t need members of our community going out selling orthodox judaism as as a bunch of cheap thrills and free trips.
Something I give credit to Rabbi Rabbs (ok buddy, don’t get ahead of yourself, I didn’t say I agree with everything you say) [ha'omer bshem omro meyveee.......]:
If you’re worried that the Jewish nation will disappear, you lack emunas hashem. Clear and Simple, God made a promise. Our nation will not disappear.
So it’s really time for these college campus movements to stop selling OUR Judaism short. No more motorcycle riders, no more ex-priests. How about for once they bring in a few greasy shucklers from Philly or Mir and let ‘em all know about the Gishmake Thurs night cholent instead of the Kegs sponsored by unknowing donors. 
Devorah June 29, 2010, 11:20 AM What a great post! Soo true. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments section also.… I’m glad to see that others feel the same way about the tactics of some of these organizations as I do…it really is an obscene amount of marketing, with slick, well-spoken rabbi’s (in both Aish and Chabad), glossy websites, and giving away freebies like they’re going out of style (why don’t they divert all these funds to improve their own schools, and get genuine, truly learned, nurturing teachers, who actually know what they’re doing, and smaller class sizes? Then maybe so many kids wouldn’t go OTD).
What pisses me off is the way these movements target people in vulnerable situations, such as college students who are on their own for the first time in the big, wide world, away from their families, prisoners, sick people, new immigrants (including olim).
I also think it sucks when kiruv organizations shoo frum people away from their cool programs, (despite the fact that they advertise them publicly), as if it can destroy their marketing ploy. In Jerusalem, I needed a Shabbat meal, and I heard that a Chabad Rabbi in the old city had big ones going. I got told that no, i couldn’t come, I was too religious, and I’d be taking up a potential spot of a non religious person who could show up at the last minute. This sort of attitude definitely goes against what Chabad kids are taught from the cradle: “God may have put you on earth for 70 or 80 years just so you can do a favor for someone else.”
The best way to attract people to Torah and Mitzvot, is to just be kind to people. That’s it .... You are doing a Jew a favor because he needs it, not because you hope to make him frum.  
effetexas June 28, 2010, 8:01 PM I have to admit I was drawn to Yiddishkeit through Shabbos meals and beginners' minyans. My frustration was after they pull you in they expect you to : 1 put on a black hat (I like my medium sized knitted kippah, thanks.) (2) move to NY , Baltimore, or Chicago.... (3) this is Chabad-centric but, wear a gartel when davening and hang on every “Rebbe released from jail ” story like it's gospel. If you don't do these things you're a lost cause apikorus or worse—Modern Orthodox!! gevalt……shanda….. gevalt!'
Drew Mazanec June 28, 2010, 8:09 PM What got me was the Shabbos meal and the local Jewish Learning Center, where Haredi kiruvites give free classes, where you get invited for Shabbos meals, until you realize you’re spending every Saturday with the frum community because you are getting more meal invites than you can take, from people who seem so nice! After a few months, I moved into the community (cuz where else do you know absolutely everybody who lives within a half mile radius?) and a few months later it dawned on me.
It dawned on me like it dawned on Nebuchadnezzar. Remember him from Daniel? He went mad for a while, eating wild grass, being driven from men, until his hair grew wild like eagles’ feathers and his fingernails like talons? Imagine how he must have felt when his mind returned to him, looking at his ragged condition asking “What the hell just happened?”
Yeah, that’s how I felt. “Holy crap. I’m frum.” Yet I did not go off the derech at that point. I was too connected to the community. It took a move to a different city to successfully break off from frumkeit. Escaped by the skin of my teeth. If I had been successfully shidduch’d, I’d have been sealed inside.
Anonymous June 28, 2010, 9:25 PM I’ve seen all of these, except the former ministers; none of them really got me hooked. But when the Chabad rabbi on my college campus showed up at the AEPi house (where I was living) to help the brothers build a sukkah, I could have guzzled a gallon of koolaide. Sure, it took some false starts before I became fully shomer mitzvos, but you shouldnt think kiruv is a small-minded effort, with standard tactics and no creativity.

Guest June 29, 2010, 2:23 PM Those that were healthy and balanced going in, can easily maintain/reacquire their sense of normalcy, after the fact, as long as they don’t buy into this notion that now they are frum, they have to forget about all that introductory fluff, and realize that Judaism is about conformity, restricting freedoms, and maximizing self-denial. That approach may have worked for people in the 16th century, but is not sustainable for many of us now. Or desirable.

Esther July 1, 2010, 3:48 PM As a new immigrant at the age of 14, I ended up in an Orthodox yeshiva designed to turn ignorant Russian Jews like myself into good Orthodox ones… I recall shabbos meals, staying over at religious people’s homes so they can school us, sitting through a never ending Pesach seder with nobody explaining anything and our English being severely inadequate at the time… I don’t recall anyone offering to pay though. That could have sealed the deal. As it was, my mom pulled, nay, yanked me out of there and placed me in a public school as soon as she noticed that I had been in an all female setting so long and I had no idea what to do around boys. Thankfully, all that’s changed now. At this point, I wouldn’t know what do without them.
     There are many opinions about orthodox kiruv practices. And many of these opinions may be viewed as negative. However, when you have people within the orthodox community who find that these practices are problematic, I have to wonder why Big (and little) Kiruv isn't taking a closer look in the mirror. Where is their faith? Commenter Gevaldigger makes a great point and maybe those involved in deceptive kiruv need to listen harder: "If you’re worried that the Jewish nation will disappear, you lack emunas Hashem [faith in God.] Clear and Simple, God made a promise. Our nation will not disappear."

All quotes, including comments are from:
Fried, Heshy. "Top 10 Kiruv Indoctrination Practices." Frum Satire. 6/28/2010.


  1. The majority of frum people don't have a problem with kiruv's aims. Sure, there are a few exceptions, and apparently a few FFBs resent that kiruv is taking resources from the community (without realizing that BTs are pumping a lot more money in). Naturally, there will be one or two dissenters. But frum people by and large believe all Jews should be frum, so most don't have a problem with kiruv. I don't think the purpose is to stop the Jewish people from disappearing; most frum Jews take it for granted that God wouldn't let that happen. If anything, any objections to kiruv from within the frum world is that the exclusive club is getting watered down.

    1. While I would agree that the majority of frum people probably don't have a problem with the aims of kiruv, I find it fascinating to find on blogs (not just Frum Satire, but on Beyond BT, and others,) that more and more people who are currently frum are willing to speak up about practices that they find to be less than kosher, even if they're still happily orthodox today.

    2. Yes, that is the beauty of the internet.

  2. I like this part of Gevaldigger's comment even more because it points out the deception inherent in kiruv:
    "So it’s really time for these college campus movements to stop selling OUR Judaism short. No more motorcycle riders, no more ex-priests. How about for once they bring in a few greasy shucklers from Philly or Mir"


Your respectful comments are welcome.