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.]1She 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.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.
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
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?3While 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?4This 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. 5What'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.