Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Show Me the Money

     The talk around town has been about the scandal surrounding Rabbi Barry Freundel's alleged videotaping of women at the mikvah during the process of orthodox conversion to Judaism. Forward writer Uriel Heilman covered this story from an interesting perspective--from that of those who have been waiting for conversion and how this affects them. The reason I bring this up is because of something very interesting I found within the body of Heilman's article.
     After a discussion about how long the conversion process generally takes (approximately two years, but seems to be unclear, with rabbis judging each case individually,) Heilman mentions that:

Converts are expected to pay about $400 in fees, but the beit din sometimes will waive costs based on financial need and on occasion has played a proactive role in helping converts get tuition discounts at Jewish day schools.
That can be a dangerous proposition, however, [Rabbi Zvi Romm, the administrator of the RCA’s New York beit din for conversion] says, because the beit din wants to be confident that the convert will be able to afford the higher costs associated with an Orthodox lifestyle: kosher food, Jewish education, housing in an Orthodox neighborhood.
“One of the considerations we make is, can the person hack it financially?” Romm said. “If a person says I have no money whatsoever, I can’t afford the $400 fee paid out over time, the question you have to ask is, how are you going to make it as an Orthodox Jew?”1
     I was surprised to find that a person's ability or inability to afford an orthodox lifestyle weighs heavily enough to be mentioned prominently in an article about the conversion process. This raises several questions in my mind.
Why are potential baal teshuvahs/BTs not made aware of the huge expenses of an orthodox lifestyle? Where is the concern from kiruv (outreach) rabbis that young college students being urged to take time off from university to attend yeshiva programs might not be able to "hack it financially" down the line? What is honest about the deliberate withholding of information regarding what to expect after the honeymoon phase of orthodoxy wears off? Do campus kiruv rabbis assess prospective recruits by their current and potential financial worth?
     Both kiruv rabbis and conversion rabbis are in a position of trust and power. Abusing that power by withholding information, abusing that trust, and violating what really should be a professional relationship as that of a teacher and student, is an abuse of their power. All potential recruits to orthodox Judaism--whether converts or BTs--deserve basic respect, as well as freedom from deceptive practices.

Heilman, Uriel. After Freundel Scandal, Converts in Waiting Complain of Unexpected Obstacles. The Jewish Daily Forward. October 28, 2014.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why the Shabbos Project is Dividing Us: A Guest Post by Suzanne Oshinsky and Shloimie Ehrenfeld

     On October 24-25, 2014, the creators of the brand new, worldwide “Shabbos Project” and the tens of thousands of its supporters on Facebook and other social media are encouraging all the world’s 14 million or so Jews to celebrate the Sabbath together. Those reading this for the first time are likely struck by the same question that struck us when we first learned of this project: “Hasn’t Shabbat Across America (and other countries) been around for many years already?  What’s new about this project?”  Further adding to our puzzlement was seeing that the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP), the creators of Shabbat Across America, apparently helped facilitate the creation of the Shabbos Project.  Why would anyone want to mess with the already-successful Shabbat Across America initiative, which appeals to all Jews who are interested in enjoying Shabbat in whatever way they choose?

     When we looked at the Shabbos Project’s website, however, the difference became clear: While Shabbat Across America has succeeded in encouraging Jews to celebrate Shabbat together in their synagogues or temples or in whatever environment, in whatever way suits their derech (way), the mission of the Shabbos Project is to get all Jews to celebrate in a very specific way – the Orthodox way, the way of the project’s founders.  The detailed instructions on “How to Keep It” involve heating food in crockpots and on hot plates, putting electric lights on timers, substituting tissues for toilet paper, buying liquid toothpaste and liquid lip gloss, and even picture Artscroll books in the section suggesting what to do during the 25 hour period of Shabbos.

     What we find troubling is not that Orthodox rabbis would encourage other Jews to explore what observing Shabbat according to Orthodox Jewish law is really like.  No doubt many people would find keeping a Shabbat the Orthodox way a very rewarding experience.  What is truly disturbing is that this sectarian form of Sabbath observance is being presented as if this is the way the Sabbath always has and continues to be celebrated. As the homepage declares:

     “We will keep it in its entirety, in all of its halachic detail and splendour as it has been kept throughout the ages.”

     “Its rhythm will unite us with each other, with Jews around the world and throughout the ages.”

     One can easily notice, however, that most of the examples of how to keep Shabbat that the Shabbos Project lists on its site have not been kept “throughout the ages.”  Our sages in the Talmud did not use slow cookers to make their cholent or a hot plate to keep their food warm, nor did they use timers for their electric lights.  They did not cut toilet paper or buy tissues, nor did they brush their teeth with liquid toothpaste or apply liquid lip gloss.  They did not serve tea at Shabbat lunch with their percolators, nor did they program their thermostats to maintain heat in their homes.  The “Shabbos lamp” did not even exist 15 or 20 years ago.  The site states, “It’s a nice custom to bring home flowers or chocolates,” but, while it may be nice, calling this practice a “custom,” as if there is some history behind it, seems unfounded. 

     From the food to the home environment to the prayers, examples abound of practices that did not exist in earlier times.   The site discusses the Shabbat prayers and highlights Kabbalat Shabbat; however, Kabbalat Shabbat as a separate prayer service with the Lecha Dodi poem as its centerpiece did not even exist before the 16th century.  Indeed a typical Orthodox Shabbat in 2014 is so different from a typical Shabbat in centuries past that a Talmudic sage would probably find today’s Orthodox Shabbat unrecognizable.  Ironically the Shabbos Project website cites the following Talmudic passage, which only further demonstrates how different their Shabbat experience was from ours:

Rabbi Abahu would sit on a stool of ivory and fan the fire [used to cook for the Sabbath].  Rav Anan would put on a black smock [on Fridays to demonstrate that this was not a day for keeping clean and neat but rather for cooking food for the Sabbath].  Rav Safra would singe the head [of the animal being prepared for the Sabbath meal].  Rava would salt the shibbuta [fish for the Sabbath meal].  Rav Huna would light [oil] lamps [for the Sabbath].  Rav Pappa would twine the wicks [for the lamps].  Rav Chisda would mince the beets.  Rabbah and Rav Yosef would split wood.  Rabbi Zeira would kindle [the fire] (Talmud Shabbos 119a).”
     Our sages never called the Sabbath “Shabbos,” because the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet was not originally pronounced like an “s.”  (It was most likely pronounced like the “th” in the word Sabbath.)  But since the purpose of the Shabbos Project is apparently to get people to observe Shabbat in the style the project’s creators observe it, calling it Shabbos, which is how most Orthodox Jews call it today, rather than Shabbat, as most non-Orthodox Jews call it today, as Shabbat Across America chose to do, is consistent with the project’s apparent mission.

     Unlike Shabbat Across America, this project epitomizes the mindset that there is only one derech in Judaism.  Therefore, there’s only one way to observe the Sabbath.   According to this worldview, Shabbat Across America isn’t good enough, because it gives Jews the impression that they could celebrate the Sabbath in the way that suits each person’s own derech.   Why else would there be any reason for such a “new” initiative?

     We believe that those seeking to unite Jews around the Sabbath should create Shabbat programs that really do unite Jews, rather than tell them “Do it my way, because it’s the only way.”

Suzanne Oshinsky and Shloimie Ehrenfeld are involved in a website to be launched later this fall that will provide resources and support for Jews who are exploring a lifestyle that is different from that of their upbringing.  Shloimie can be reached at freethinkingjew at gmail.

Friday, October 3, 2014

An Open Letter to Paula Abdul About The Shabbos Project

n open letter to
Paula Abdul:
      I used to listen to your music when I was a kid (my friends and I used to belt out "Straight Up" when we were in Junior High School in Brooklyn.) I never knew you were Jewish until I received an email from Aish HaTorah's Project Inspire about the importance of The Shabbos Project. With all due respect, I was quite taken aback to see you promoting this project that was introduced to you by Rabbi Warren Goldstein, the chief rabbi of South Africa. Let me explain why.
      On July 22, 2007, Failed Messiah printed this:

It should be noted that South Africa's chief rabbi ... is Warren Goldstein, a 34 year old kiruv (outreach; missionary) rabbi who formerly worked for Ohr Somayach.
Rabbi Goldstein's doctoral thesis is an apologia of Jewish law attempting to make it seem advanced and modern compared to western law. To this end Rabbi Goldstein extols Jewish law's treatment of women, apparently never mentioning the very real problems of agunot, for example.
This type of dishonesty is central to kiruv theology.1

Click image to enlarge.
     The fact that Rabbi Warren Goldstein is a kiruv (outreach) rabbi is very troubling. He contacted you, Ms. Abdul, and gave you a script to read, thus using you--a celebrity--in order to do kiruv for Project Inspire--a well-known kiruv organization. I'm sure he was very nice and persuasive, even when he had you discuss how much you enjoy keeping Shabbos. What you may not know is that The Shabbos Project is being sponsored by a Jewish missionary group.
     Project Inspire is an Aish HaTorah affiliate whose stated goal is to make people orthodox. On January 3, 2014, I wrote about this practice here, citing sources from Aish HaTorah (Project Inspire's parent organization) that clearly explain the goal of kiruv (outreach.) Now, of course, by having you advocate for the Shabbos Project, you're not actively making people orthodox, but you're misleading people. Kind of like how Rabbi Goldstein is misleading people, including you, when he uses you to represent this initiative.
     If you look at the flier I've posted, you'll see that Project Inspire wants attendees to "invite [their] less-affiliated friend, relative, neighbor [sic] or business associate for Shabbos." Ms. Abdul, unless you are ultra-orthodox, your observance and practice of Judaism has just been insulted by the very organization you are representing. This is not the first time that language insulting non-orthodox Jews has been used by Project Inspire. I've written about it here, here and here. By agreeing to give Project Inspire publicity through the use of your words and likeness, you are inadvertently supporting a group that is looking to make people orthodox, a group whose own adherents would frown on your career, your cheerleading, your dancing and singing in public, and who would never want their children to grow up to emulate you. In fact, non-orthodox Jews who get involved with Aish HaTorah and Project Inspire, are ultimately taught to reject this non-orthodox lifestyle, as well, and are re-educated to believe that these very activities are somehow wrong, if not done according to their interpretation of Jewish law. You probably didn't know this at the time, but you've unwittingly represented people who not only share this belief, but who are looking to push that belief and others on who have little or no experience with ultra-orthodox teachings.
      As a bit of background, ultra-orthodox kiruv is something that is done mostly by a few key groups who are generally Ashkenazi Jews, hailing from Ashkenazi-style yeshivas, sects, groups, and/or organizations. Aish HaTorah is an example of one of these yeshivas. Their goal is specifically to influence secular Jews to become orthodox, and to create rabbis who will help them to further that goal. These kiruv organizations often use deceptive tactics (such as love bombing, peer pressure, and bait-and-switch styled programming) in order to bring young people into the realm of orthodoxy. By using you, Ms. Abdul, it makes young people think "wow, if a celebrity is endorsing this, it must be legitimate!" But the problem is that this endorsement is deceptive.
     While it may be too late to back out of your endorsement of The Shabbos Project due to possible contractual agreements, I hope that you'll consider this information and research these organizations before agreeing to represent them in the future.

     Thank you for your time and consideration of this issue.

Respectfully Yours,

Rebecca M. Ross

1. Failed Messiah. Ohr Somayach Rabbi Banned From South Africa, Having Affairs With Many Women. July 22, 2007.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meor At U. Penn Removes Stipend After Parent Pressure

     Back in August of 2013, I put up a post about Meor's practice of offering stipends to students in order to entice them to get involved in their programming. You can find the original article, "Shedding Light On Meor," by clicking the title. That post garnered many passionate responses from both sides of the discussion. Today, an anonymous reader sent me links to The Daily Pennsylvanian, the University of Pennsylvania's independent student news organization, and to The Jewish Daily Forward, both of which covered the most recent developments regarding the University of Pennsylvania's decision to no longer allow Meor to offer a stipend to students. You should definitely read "Jewish Group Stops Student Stipends After Parent Complains" and "University of Pennsylvania Jewish Group Kills $400 Stipend."
     Hopefully,  parents of college students will continue to research religious programs and the tactics they use to lure students into their classrooms, and continue to speak out about practices that seem questionable and/or unethical. College students are often impressionable and idealistic, and the college campus is a great place to put that idealism to practice. College should not be a place where students are targeted by well-funded kiruv organizations looking to recruit new members.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Recommended Reading: Rabbis and their female followers – how close is too close?

 Sharon Shapiro posted a very interesting post on her blog Kol B'Isha Erva today, and I wanted to take a quick break from my hiatus (I'm working on several projects which have had to take the front seat these past few months) in order to mention her article. She writes about kiruv (outreach) rabbis crossing lines that are better left uncrossed, and often taking on the role of parent in the student/rabbi relationship. This isn't the first I've heard of this, but it is interesting to see it from the perspective of a woman who happens to have gone from non-orthodox Judaism to orthodox Judaism during her college days. 
     She writes in Rabbis and their Female Followers--How close is too close? that she "was shocked at how quickly this rabbi took over a parental role among [her classmates], almost acting in conspiracy against the biological parental protests. The girls were encouraged to keep certain secrets from their parents, in some cases in order not to cause hurt or machlokes (argument)."1 A close friend of mine told a similar story--her own child had begun to explore Judaism in college, causing a fast transformation to orthodoxy coupled with secrecy during the process. These scenarios do exist, no matter how much kiruv rabbis try to convince people that they don't. When people start speaking up, maybe these tactics will change, and perhaps those interested in doing Jewish outreach will begin to act more responsibly towards their students, the families of their students, and to the Jewish community as a whole. Please read Rabbis and their Female Followers. It's definitely worth the read.

1. Shapiro, Sharon. Rabbis and their Female Followers--How Close is Too Close?. Kol B'Isha Erva. 14 July 2014.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Kiruv in Israel: 10,000 Families to be Targeted by Outreach Professionals

     Haaretz reports that the Jewish Identity Administration, created by the Religious Services Ministry, will be putting together four kiruv/outreach programs aimed to attract secular Israelis to religious observance. These programs will be run by Ohr Torah Stone, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s conglomerate of educational institutions, according to Haaretz.
The four projects include appointing community-based “Judaism coordinators” to organize “activities in the field of Jewish identity”; a project to “deepen Jewish identity” among university students; one to arrange meetings between religious and secular families; and one to “increase synagogues’ influence on the community.”
The Judaism coordinators will be members of the communities they serve, so they can “foment the process from within” and not be seen as outsiders, the ministry decided.1

Laga’at Baruach, an outreach/kiruv organization in Israel meant specifically to target college students, will be "setting up study centers around [Israel.] In exchange for studying at one of these centers for 4.5 hours a week, students will get an annual stipend of 4,000 shekels. The goal is to recruit 800 students initially, all people with “proven abilities for the State of Israel and Israeli society.”"2 Like American ultra-orthodox kiruv programs, students are offered monetary compensation for the time they spend studying orthodox teachings taught by outreach professionals. This sounds remarkably similar to Meor's Maimonides Leaders Fellowship program, in which college students are enticed by the promise of being paid for their time, giving them some extra pocket money in return for allowing  professional kiruv workers the opportunity school them about their brand of ultra-orthodox Judaism.
     As with all ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach programs, they are rarely, if ever, done without a higher goal in mind. "The religious-secular meetings project is meant to reintroduce secular families to “basic characteristics of Jewish life” that they have lost touch with. The program will include reciprocal visits between religious and secular families from the same town, as well as “finding people capable of being leadership figures” who can provide “professional advice” on spousal relations, family life and rearing children."3 While this sounds innocent, the truth is that this program is subsidized the Wolfson Foundation, which "was launched by the late American ultra-Orthodox billionaire Zev Wolfson, [and] funds dozens of Haredi yeshivas – mainly in secular communities – whose students are asked to learn Torah with nonreligious residents."4 It's important to note that Zev Wolfson "supported nearly two hundred Jewish education or outreach programs in the United States, spanning thirty different states and scores of cities ... as well as Jewish education networks in Canada, France, the former Soviet Union, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Germany."5 Apparently, Wolfson had lofty goals, and pushed hard for success, collecting donations from fundraising efforts as well as government sources. With these funds, he was able to get countless outreach efforts off the ground, "typically supplying a third to half the operating budget, much of it with funds he received from government sources."6
      When Haaretz reports that "the goal [of this program] is to involve 10,000 secular families from 20 communities,"7 I can only hope that secular Israelis will be motivated to stand up to this blatant act of disrespect for their non-orthodox lifestyle. It is quite possible to live side by side without  missionizing one's neighbor. Hopefully, these kiruv professionals will see the light.

UPDATED 3/4/2014-Just to clarify, Riskin and Ohr Torah Stone are Modern Orthodox. My concern is that this programming is funded by the Wolfson Foundation, which is known to support ultra-orthodox efforts. The fact that non-orthodox Jewish organizations were left out is disconcerting.

1. Kashti, Or. "Masorti Fume as Orthodox Get Funding to Woo Secular." Haaretz. March 4, 2014.
2. ibid.
3. ibid.
4. ibid.
Thirty Days Since His Passing: Mr. Zev Wolfson Z”L, His Story, Ideals and What Made Him Great - See more at:
5 Wohlberg, Andrew. "Thirty Days Since His Passing: Mr. Zev Wolfson Z"L, His Story, Ideals and What Made Him Great." The Jewish Home, reprinted in The Yeshiva World News. September 20, 2012.
6. ibid.
7. Kashti, Or. "Masorti Fume as Orthodox Get Funding to Woo Secular." Haaretz. March 4, 2014.
upported nearly two hundred Jewish education or outreach programs in the United States, spanning thirty different states and scores of cities. He also heavily supported Jewish education networks in Canada, France, the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Germany. - See more at:
upported nearly two hundred Jewish education or outreach programs in the United States, spanning thirty different states and scores of cities. He also heavily supported Jewish education networks in Canada, France, the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Germany. - See more at:
In addition to supporting Jewish causes in Israel, Mr. Wolfson supported nearly two hundred Jewish education or outreach programs in the United States, spanning thirty different states and scores of cities. He also heavily supported Jewish education networks in Canada, France, the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Germany. - See more at:
In addition to supporting Jewish causes in Israel, Mr. Wolfson supported nearly two hundred Jewish education or outreach programs in the United States, spanning thirty different states and scores of cities. He also heavily supported Jewish education networks in Canada, France, the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Germany. - See more at:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On Crying Anti-Semitism

     This past week, I was quoted in The Photo News. Local reporter Nancy Kriz wrote this week's cover story, "It's Not About Religion," in which she interviews several Jews, myself included, in the Monroe area, on whether or not Kiryas Joel's attorney Steven Barshov's comments that Monroe residents are anti-Semitic were accurate. While local politics in my own town are probably not of great importance to readers of this blog, I'm sharing this because of the much larger issue raised.
     Does disagreeing with orthodox Jewish interests make one anti-Semitic?
     This has been discussed before on this blog, usually in the comments section when someone decides that it is anti-Semitic or anti-orthodox to criticize ultra-orthodox kiruv. We all know that I disagree. However, there seems to be an all too pervasive trend for people who disagree with orthodoxy or with opinions held by orthodoxy, to be incorrectly labeled as anti-Semitic, anti-orthodox, or if Jewish, as "self-hating Jews." Whether it happens on my blog, or in local politics, or on a global level, it is not only inaccurate to label those who disagree as anti-Semitic, it's also a bastardization of the term. It weakens the power of the word to describe actual anti-Semitism when it does occur, and it weakens the possibility of people listening and taking action in the face of legitimate anti-Semitism. The groundless rally cry of anti-Semitism turns into little more than the cry of the little boy yelling "wolf!" in the town square. After a while, people will cease to listen and heed his cry. When finally the wolf does come, those who would have protected the boy are no longer interested and ignore his pleas for help, because too often in the past, his screams were for naught.
    And so, I raise the issue here, among my readers. As people of the world, as the proverbial "light unto nations," as people with a history of discussion, debate, and study, I want to urge all of us--regardless of our stance on kiruv, regardless of our personal observance (or lack thereof)  of Judaism, to be strong in our arguments, to stick to the issues, and to not fall into the habit of claiming victim status in lieu of giving intelligent answers when hard  questions are asked of us. 

Attorney Steven Barshov

Monday, February 17, 2014

Rabbi Meir Schuster, Heritage House Founder, Dies at 71

Photo credit: Heritage House
Failed Messiah reports: "Rabbi Meir Schuster, who spent decades searching out young non-Orthodox (or, sometimes, Modern Orthodox) Jews at places like the Kotel (Western Wall) and trying to get them to sit in on classes at Ohr Somayach, Aish HaTorah, Neve Yerushalayim or other smaller ba'al teshuva (missionary outreach) yeshivas and seminaries passed away today."
I urge you to click the above link and read what I believe to be
a very fair portrayal of Rabbi Meir Schuster. He was certainly a character in the Old City. While I may not have agreed with his  methods or his life's work, I do recall him from my travels and, I have to agree wholeheartedly, the man was definitely genuine. Despite my often harsh criticism of kiruv, my heart goes out to his family and to all who loved him. May all who mourn find comfort, strength, and peace.

Rosenberg, Shmarya. Baruch Dayan HaEmet: Rabbi Meir Schuster. Failed Messiah. February 17, 2014.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

All of the Benefits, None of the Kool-Aid: A Review of D. Gutbezahl's Article on Kiruv

     I recently had the pleasure of reading David Gutbezahl's article "Eat the Food Without Drinking the Kool-Aid: How to Get the Most Out of Orthodox Outreach Programs." After telling readers about his background--David Gutbezahl fits in somewhere between Conservative and Reform and has spent time studying Judaism at Pardes in Jerusalem--he informs his readers that his desire to learn more brought him to consider, and ultimately take part in, the Lakewood Fellowship, an ultra-orthodox study program in Lakewood, New Jersey. One of Gutbezahl's concerns was that he "would have to spend a week living in the homes of extremely observant orthodox Jews, experiencing the way they lived."1 He tells his readers "I was definitely a bit nervous, I think my parents might have been more scared, but I went along with it...."2 Having heard many stories from parents of college kids who opted to study at ultra-orthodox institutions and ended up "frumming out" (becoming religious,) I can completely understand both his and his parents' concern. However, Gutbezahl appears to have clearly understood that this is the program's goal--to bring people into such a world and hopefully convince them to make the move to an ultra-orthodox lifestyle. He states:

Don’t get me wrong.  I think they all actually would like to see me start wearing a black suit and white shirt. These sort of programs don’t just exist as a way to teach a little Torah and get us to be more accepting of their lifestyle—that is a goal, but there is a further agenda too. Torah Links is a kiruv organization, meaning they are Orthodox outreach, and their goal is to “convert” people into Baalei Teshuvot, secular Jews who have “returned” and become more religious.3
     Gutbezahl advises people attending such kiruv/outreach programs to go in with a healthy level of self-confidence. He wisely tells us that "if you go in with no confidence in the way you live your life, convinced that your beliefs and your Judaism is wrong or inferior to theirs, guess what? You’ll likely suck up everything they say, leaving no room for your ability to think a bit for yourself."4 Sadly, in some programs, mentors will often stick negative quips about other forms of Judaism into their lectures, so participants who are already unsure of their Judaism may fall prey to their own lack of confidence in their own belief systems. While I completely agree with Gutbezahl's advice, I can easily see how those with minimal exposure to a Jewish life can fall victim to ultra-orthodox outreach. If kiruv professionals undermine the way prospective recruits were raised (whether they were raised as secular, cultural, Atheist, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Humanist, etc.,) and those recruits aren't too sure about their own beliefs for whatever reason, they become an easy, or easier, target than those who are already sure of their beliefs or lack thereof.
     Readers are also advised to "think with your brain, not your stomach."5 This is invaluable advice. I remember going to someone's home for a Shabbat meal when I was in college and remarking that the chicken was delicious. I was told that it was good because it was on a higher spiritual plane due to it being kosher. That's not why it's good, folks. It's good because it's been soaked and salted. Anyone can brine a chicken. It has nothing to do with elevated spirituality.
     David Gutbezahl reminds us to "remember while you’re having fun, or after really, that half the fun and half of what you’re seeing is partly just show meant to get you to want to adopt this lifestyle."6 This is the most important thing that non-orthodox participants in outreach programs need to really internalize. Families that may seem perfect while you're a guest in their homes may be wonderful people and may really love their lifestyle, but that doesn't mean their life is perfect, or that they aren't struggling in some way, or that they walk around blissed out on regular day when they have no guests. Adopting an ultra-orthodox life doesn't suddenly absolve people of their problems, just as being secular, or Christian, or Buddhist (you see where I'm going here?) doesn't suddenly absolve people of their problems.
     While Gutbezahl tells us that he can see himself being more observant (but not orthodox) after taking part in the Lakewood Fellowships, it seems that this outcome wasn't a direct result of this program. He appears to be someone who has been Jewishly inspired throughout his life, and was looking to find another learning opportunity. I believe that his advice to those interested in these programs is sound. Gutbezahl was already aware of the purpose of  outreach programs and this awareness enabled him to go in with an open mind, as well as a clear strategy for walking away with only what he wanted to gain from the Lakewood Fellowship. For people in his shoes with his wisdom, these programs can serve to enhance one's life. It's those lacking this awareness, and lacking the self-confidence that David Gutbezahl writes about, who may end up having their lives changed in ways they weren't necessarily expecting.

1. Gutbezahl, David. "Eat the Food Without Drinking the Kool-Aid: How to Get the Most Out of Orthodox Outreach Programs." New Voices. January 21, 2014.
2. ibid.
3. ibid.
4. ibid.
5. ibid.
6. ibid.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Kollel Wives and Kiruv'd College Kids

     I recently read a post on one of many forums for orthodox women that addressed a woman's concern that her post-high school stint at seminary (most likely in Israel) served to mislead her about the type of life she'd ultimately be living. She asked the group if seminary brainwashing jeopardized their marriage, and the discussion grew to about 14 pages by the time I'd finished reading. Many of the issues raised in this thread by this very insightful group of women, who range from Modern Orthodox to Hasidic with various levels of education and who live all over the world, are issues that I've often raised on this blog.
     Those who felt that they'd been "brainwashed" in seminary, talked about how they were only seventeen and eighteen years old (college-age) and just out of high school with no real world experience. They were convinced by educators whom they'd trusted that they should marry a guy in kollel (who learns Torah full-time, or for the first five years of their marriage,) and weren't taught to plan for the future. They discussed how men, upon leaving the kollel yeshiva, weren't prepared to make a living, and this burden often fell on the shoulders of the wives, who had to work to support a growing family as well as a husband who studied all day. Several mentioned that financial responsibility for the couple and their children was shared by their own parents or in-laws. The women questioned why the yeshivas were encouraging financial dependency, and criticized the fact that they were taught to look derisively upon those studying in college for a career. They pointed out that men who learned well into their thirties and beyond, were then too old to start a career at the bottom--by then they had large families to support. Some women felt that their educators had overstepped their bounds and had given advice that was detrimental to the lives of the very impressionable college-age seminary students they were encouraging.
     I know that many of the women on this particular forum do not agree with my stance on what I tend to call "deceptive kiruv," mostly because many believe that kiruv is a meritorious pursuit. But if we divorce the main issues--kiruv and kollel wives--we have several overlapping factors: young, impressionable high school graduates; young people away from home and away from daily interactions with family to whom they can relay anything they may find questionable; skilled educators pushing a certain agenda and undermining parents; lack of experience in the wider world; youthful idealism without the wisdom to be more skeptical about what it is they're learning.
     An argument that I've often heard to counter my issues with kiruv on the college level is that if kids are over 18, or old enough to fend for themselves, then they're fair game for kiruv workers, and they should be able to recognize such "brainwashing" for what it is. I don't agree with this argument at all. But now, married orthodox women are bringing up the very same issues regarding people of the same age group. Deceptive kiruv is not isolated from the rest of the orthodox world. It is an issue that must be addressed on many different levels because it affects many different people, often for life.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Auschwitz Kollel and Kiruv Center? Oh My.

    On January 28, 2014, Failed Messiah reported about the new Auschwitz Jewish Memorial's Kollel and Kiruv Center on site at Auschwitz, set to be launched in April of 2014. This is a sticky issue. Here are my questions:
  1. Why are other non-orthodox groups not stepping up to join forces here and offer either a non-denominational Jewish center or an all-encompassing Jewish center? I understand why people feel the need to have a spiritual place, after all, many Jewish (and non-Jewish) groups visit Auschwitz throughout the year. 
  2.  A kollel is a full-time yeshiva for married adult men. I can understand the desire for a community center for visitors, but why a kollel? And why at this location? Is it because the words "Auschwitz" and "Holocaust" inspire a certain emotional reaction that make it easier to raise funds to support an institution that if placed randomly in, let's say, Queens, New York, might not raise as much money? Isn't that taking advantage of the victims of the Holocaust for financial gain? 
  3.  Having visited Auschwitz while backpacking through Eastern Europe with a friend back in the 1990s, I can promise that it's a pretty sobering experience that can often leave people in an emotionally vulnerable state. My concern is that this kiruv center would serve to take advantage of people in this state, and push an ultra-orthodox agenda to those searching for meaning in the ruins of a place where their brethren were slaughtered. What gives the Auschwitz Jewish Memorial's Kollel and Kiruv Center the right to exploit people's very real emotional vulnerability in order to push their personal agenda?
     These are just a few of the thoughts that I had upon learning of this. Again, I understand why some may feel the need for a Jewish community center of some sort--it could be helpful for those who may want to regain their emotional balance upon entering or leaving the site of the camp. However, to put up a kollel and kiruv center at Auschwitz just seems like an underhanded way to push an agenda that is not representative of many of those who perished there, nor is it representative of many of those who visit.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Deceased Non-Orthodox Jews Undeserving of Honors?

Click to enlarge.
     This is not a post about Israeli politics. This is a post about decency. The picture included with this post is from a letter from Y. Friedman to the editor of Hamodia, the nearly hundred-year old "daily newspaper for Torah Jewry." This is not a paper that the ultra-orthodox don't take seriously--if you visit neighborhoods like Monsey, New York, you'll see many houses marked with the Hamodia box for home delivery.
     The "About Me" section of Hamodia's website justifies the position in this letter quite clearly. They state that the purpose of their newspaper is "to assist in the critical battle against the strong winds of assimilation that threatened the very foundations of our nation. In this struggle for survival, these Gedolim and others recognized the power of a Torah-true newspaper as the appropriate response to the lure of the spiritual war being waged against the Torah camp by popular youth movements."1 This makes perfect sense for the Haredi audience targeted with its ultra-orthodox-centric "Torah perspective."2 With that understanding in place, it's understandable that this newspaper would not want to bestow any postmortem honors on someone who did not live an orthodox life.
     Let's back up for a second.
     The Hebrew term "zichrono levracha," abbreviated "z"l," means "of blessed memory" and is often used to denote a non-rabbinical figure of good character. Hamodia's use of the term after Ariel Sharon's name prompted reader Y. Friedman to write to the newspaper stating that he/she
was astonished and astounded to see that [Hamodia] honored Sharon with a very undeserving title "z"l" (Zichrono Levracha.) Even though the writer attempts to describe him as a very proud Jew, it seems to be quite irrelevant when the proud one is actually not practicing what he's proud of. Hamodia, being an orthodox paper with Torah values should of [sic] not honored an unorthodox person with this title. 3
     Hamodia's editor agreed with the writer of the letter that it was an "oversight" that a person who was not orthodox was given this honor. I thought about the baalei teshuva (newly religious) readers of Hamodia who might have non-orthodox family and might find Hamodia's stance to be offensive. I thought about the people involved in kiruv who read and support this newspaper. I thought of the potential BT's (baalei teshuva) who might find this article while spending a Shabbos at the house of an orthodox family and be put off by such a statement. Who gave Hamodia's editorial staff the right to decide who is of blessed memory and who is not? Why not err on the side of tactfulness? Why create a further embarrassment (chilul Hashem with your coffee, anyone?) by publicly passing judgement on whether or not someone should be given honors and by retracting honors given? Instead of backing the writer of the original article, the editorial staff apologized and took the stance that non-orthodox Jews do not deserve honors after death. Hamodia could have easily taken the high road and not even printed this letter. Instead, they opted to widen the rift between orthodox and non-orthodox Jews. I am not in favor of deceptive kiruv, but I'm puzzled as to why such a widely read publication would not take the opportunity to bring people closer to Judaism or just leave them alone, but instead play the "us and them" card.  It seems like there may be a bulb out in this light unto nations.

1. Hamodia. About Us. accessed January 25, 2014.
2. ibid.

3. Y. Friedman. Letters to the Editor. Hamodia. January 23, 2014. (note: at the time of publication of this blog, this letter did not appear on the online version of Hamodia. The picture submitted is from the print version only.)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Defaming Modernity in Chaya Lester's "Urban Turban"

Guest Post by Kelly Smith Milotay
    Yesterday my Facebook feed was full of people posting about this video made by Chaya Lester, a self-described Kabbalistic Feminist.

     Ms. Lester looks like every speaker you ever want to hear. Her beautiful smile is engaging and she has the gift of making you think she's talking directly to you. Her headwrap is stylish and adds to her exoticism. You get the impression that her energy is magnetic and that you would want her as your best friend if you met her in person. I'm sure she's as charming in person as she is on video. 

     The content of her video was somewhat less charming. Clearly aimed at an audience of potential baalei teshuva (BTs) - those who become Orthodox after having been brought up secular or in a different strand of Judaism -  as she states in her intro "We host Birthright students by the dozen!,"
she seems to hope to change the minds of her viewers with her spoken word poetry about her "Urban Turban."

You can listen to her performance on the video and read more about it on The Times of Israel's site.

Here is the text of the poem:

Urban Turban

I cover my head in protest
to Miley Cyrus
and a culture that
blinds us
to the true beauty of
a woman’s sense of dignity.
Where decades of hard-won progress
is undone by a single
- a fatal twist
in what it truly means to be a feminist.
These are the many strands
of my stand against
a society possessed by a quest
for ‘sexiness’.
Where 12-year-old girls
try to fill the holes
in their souls
with high heels, halter-tops
& rhinestone-studded hose.
I throw my hat
into the ring
to state the obvious
that female empowerment
is found within.
Judge me not by the color of my skin
and how much of it
I uncover
to win
your attention.
Judge me rather by the content of my character
- not the contours
of my figure.
For on this cotton
is written
a Manifesto of a Kabbalistic-feminist.
I enfold the mystic
into this fabric’s every twist.
This covering
comes to express the sacred covenant
of marriage.
While all the while
marriage in the modern world
is but a crumbling institution
a house without beams
where our children suffer
for our indiscretions
divorces & indecencies.
Please, don’t get me wrong
I am not a prude
not a preacher
not a governess
but a mother
and a lover
who takes her sexuality seriously
- mystically -
for I have tasted ultimate Oneness
through the two-ness
known as marriage…
And like a treasured swaddled infant
this two-ness thrives best in containment
covering, commitment.
So, yes, please, let’s talk about femininity
about what it really means to be a feminist
a woman, a wife,
a mother, a builder
because when it comes to self-expression, my sister,
- I got that one covered. ~
Chaya Lester*

Sluttiness of Secular Society?
     Ms. Lester sets up Miley Cyrus as the representative of "a society possessed by a quest for 'sexiness'". Certainly she is correct that much of the Western media is focused on sexuality - sex sells, after all, to people of all races and religions. But does the media's over-emphasis on sex mean that the majority of society is on the same "quest for sexiness"? The answer is 'no'. Most of the women I see in my day-to-day life are not obsessed with sexiness. They merely want to look and feel good in what they wear. Sometimes you see more skin, sometimes you see less. I have yet to run into any of my secular friends (Jewish or not) dressed in pleather shorts, twerking their way down the street, as Ms. Lester seems to think we all do. At a relatively busy mall this evening, every single man, woman, and child I saw was dressed in a completely normal way. No one was trying to attract more attention than usual. It is simply not true that the majority of people in the world are consumed with being sexy all the time while women and men in the Orthodox world shun such displays.
Modern Marriage as Shambles?
     Next she links her "Urban Turban" to the sanctity of her marriage. She implies that her head-covering keeps her marriage sacred and that "marriage in the modern world is but a crumbling institution...where our children suffer for our indiscretions, divorces, and indecencies." Again, this does not at all speak to my experience. Some of my secular friends are married. A few are divorced. I'm fortunate to not know any suffering children. Do people within secular marriages sometimes cheat on each other? Do they sometimes divorce? Sure. Happens in the Orthodox world as well. Over all, Ms. Lester's assertion that secular marriage is a cesspool of lies when compared with her own marriage (sanctified by her head-covering) and marriages within the Orthodox world in general falls flat when we look at real people in the real world. I wonder if Ms. Lester has a subscription to People Magazine. It would help to explain her hyperbolic beliefs about the modern, secular society. 

Strawmen and Deceptive Kiruv
     In her poem, Ms. Lester created two strawmen - secular society as sex-obsessed and the dismal state of modern marriage. Secular society as compromised is a common refrain in the kiruv community. Peddling Orthodoxy is easier on these false terms, especially on university campuses where students are away from home. They do see their peers as somewhat sex-obsessed in certain environments. It's harder for them to accurately make comparisons to the real world that exists away from their campuses. I would argue that American college students aren't quite as sex-obsessed as they are portrayed both in the media and by kiruv professionals. Still, college students are susceptible to the false message that secular society is a den of iniquity. 

     There is beauty in Jewish tradition. It has evolved along diverse pathways as modern Jews have tried to understand how their spiritual ancestors reached out to God in search of meaning. Orthodoxy is not the only authentic way of being a Jew. If someone chooses to remain or become Orthodox, they should do so because it has meaning for them - not because they've been coerced using unethical tactics and outright lies.

*Lester, Chaya. Urban Turban. from "Hair -- Got It Covered." The Times of Israel. January 8, 2014.
Kelly Smith Milotay is a mother, a writer, an educator, and a free-thinker who is interested in sustainability in all facets of life. Despite having four children and several chickens, her house has reached epic proportions of unattainable spotlessness. Coffee helps.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Unconditionally Jewish, With A Few Exceptions

     I'm always willing to engage in intelligent discussion and debate regarding kiruv. However, I am not willing to tolerate intolerance. As humans, we've come a long way and still have far to go. But we will never evolve if we practice and preach intolerance of others. While all kiruv professionals don't always give voice to their prejudices, here is an exchange in which one does. Let me share an email exchange I recently had with someone who read this blog and chose to contact me via email. I have taken the liberty of removing "MC"'s full name and email, so that he can avoid further shame.

Why? Inbox
3:01 PM (16 hours ago) to me

Why would you be against furthering observance of Torah by Modern Orthodox Jews? Is that not a noble goal? I am all for furthering observance of all Jews, reform, conservative, orthodox, chassidic. We ALL need to grow and improve. Whatever it takes to get us there is fine. I would love to be deceived into higher levels of yeras Shomayim. If you know anyone who can deceive me please let me know. I need much more Yeras Shomayim and I will take from wherever I can get it!!
What are you afraid of?

-- MC

Thanks for your email. Before I can answer your questions, we need to settle something. You talk about "furthering observance of Torah." But we'd have to agree on a definition of that terminology. Do you mean that Reform and Conservative Jews should be the best Reform and Conservative Jews that they can be? Do you mean that Humanist Jews should be the best Humanist Jews that they can be? Atheist and Secular and Non-Practicing Jews should be the best Atheist, Secular, and Non-Practicing Jews that they can be? In what context do you mean this "furthering observance of Torah?" What makes you think I'm afraid?
Have a beautiful evening.


MC 10:16 PM (9 hours ago) to me

I don't really believe in labels. All Jews are responsible to serve G-d and guard the commandments of the Torah as best as they can. There is no such thing as reform, conservative, atheist secular or orthodox Jews. Everyone acts like all of the above at certain moments in their lives. Those are modern, shallow labels that mean nothing. All people have to come closer to G-d to love and fear Him as best as they can.

Anything that furthers this endeavor is positive and should be encouraged. Anything that discourages this endeavor should be avoided.
Again my question remains, what is so bad about improving levels of observance of the so called "modern" Orthodox Jews?
We can all use a boost, why not them?
Are you afraid increased levels of G-d consciousness will harm these people?



Do you not believe in labels because ultra-orthodoxy rejects all other types of Judaism as not actual Judaism? In my experience, it seems that many ultra-orthodox kiruv professionals are instructed to "reject labels" in an effort to create a sense that we're all equal as Jews, when in fact they really believe that all other factions are not legitimate Judaism. Is there a reason why you feel that Modern Orthodox Jews must be "improved?" What exactly is wrong with their observance? Does it not meet a specific criteria? Please explain.

MC 5:43 AM (1 hour ago) to me

Of course what you call modern orthodox needs to be improved. Chassidim also need improvement. Kollel men as well. Each group has its strengths and weaknesses. Thats all I am referrring to.

There is no group that has perfect shlaimus and G-d consciousness. Lets say a person keeps shabbos to the letter of the law but after shabbos watches films that cause him to transgress commandments of the Torah such as lo sasuru. Lets say a persons wife wears two head coverings and very thick stockings but if you do business with this person you notice that he is dishonest. Lets say a Jew gives thousands of dollars per year to Chai Lifeline or another fine organization but also marches in the NYC toivah marraige [gay marriage, ed.] parade wearing womens clothing.
So you can seevwe all need serious help!!
Whatever gives clarity and resolve to grow into better Jews we should grab onto and hold on tight. Its a lifeline. If someone is drowning and someone throws you a rope you dont say sorry but I dont take ropes from guys who wear black hats or guys who wearing no hats.
Thats my point. No agenda except to help Jews come closer to Hashem.
We have so much to be thankful for as Jews that to worry about labels and modern orthodox or right wings or left wings is so silly and counterproductive. Lets just love Hashem and smile.
Give someone a big hug.

You state: "Lets say a Jew gives thousands of dollars per year to Chai Lifeline or another fine organization but also marches in the NYC toivah marraige  parade wearing womens clothing." This is what you consider "having problems?"
Yes, you're right.
Anyone who would have a problem with this has problems. Let me explain. Your concern for someone's sexuality is a big problem. I support equal rights and marriage equality. As a Jew, my people have been denied equal rights, and so, I support equal rights for others. That is a Jewish value. It is a problem when people put their so-called "religious" values ahead of people. Why do you have a problem with this? Who are you to judge? Perhaps you should focus on bettering yourself before you set out to "better" others. I think you may inadvertently end up alienating a lot of people in your quest to make people "improved" Jews. I wonder if Chai Lifeline is in the habit of denying much needed donations because some donors may support Gay Marriage. Maybe you should ask them

M C 8:35 AM (1 minute ago) to me

I threw in the example of the parade just to find out where you were holding. I now know where you are holding and now that I see you aree on the side of the immoral gay rights crowd there's nothing left to talk about. You are not even at The level of moral clarity of regular decent non-Jews.
I hope that in the future you will convert back to judaism and then we could have a discussion about some of the issues you brought up. I wish you well. I wish you clarity to accept the Moral values of your grandparents great grandparents all the way back to Mount Sinai.
Let's look at this series of emails critically to see what MC is really about. Remember, MC has taken it upon himself to represent kiruv and orthodoxy. It is easy to be outraged here, but let's see where MC gets it wrong.
  1.  MC does not represent Modern Orthodoxy and makes it clear that the Modern Orthodox need to "further their observance." He covers himself by suggesting that everyone needs to further their observance. 
  2. MC seems to take offense that I "label" Jews when I asked him to clarify if he wants non-orthodox Jews to be the best non-orthodox Jews they can be. Suddenly he states "Everyone acts like all of the above [Reform, Conservative, Humanist, Atheist, Secular, etc.] at certain moments in their lives. Those are modern, shallow labels that mean nothing. All people have to come closer to G-d to love and fear Him as best as they can."
  3. Notice how warm and fuzzy MC is when he suggests that we just "love Hashem and smile" and advises me to "give someone a hug." And then notice how quickly he turns on me when I call him out on his intolerance of gay rights. I can understand people disagreeing, but the amount of disrespect and vitriol are disproportionate to the issue at hand.
  4. MC initially asks me "What are you so afraid of?" He is trying to make the argument that by opposing kiruv, I must therefore be "afraid" that people will become orthodox. Unfortunately, MC doesn't realize that I am opposed to deceptive tactics and opposed to deceptive recruitment. A person's religious observance is their personal choice.
  5. As soon as I call MC out on his intolerance for a group of people, he denounces me as "not even at The level of moral clarity of regular decent non-Jews." Well, that just shows the world that MC has a superiority complex when it comes to people who are not Jewish. I find it frustrating how MC feeds into the stereotype that Jews think they're better than others. He is not being "a light unto nations" and by coming out with a morally superior attitude, he serves to turn people off to orthodoxy (and, quite possibly, Jews in general.) Remember, in MC's previous email to me, he was all warm and fuzzy about the love we should all have for each other. He quite adequately illustrates how often within outreach, when a person who has become a "kiruv project" fails to conform to the standards of the kiruv professional, the same kiruv professional will completely turn on the person he/she was trying to reach. Perhaps they believe that by rebuking someone, they will suddenly guilt them into getting involved. Or maybe they believe that it's their God-given right to rebuke. (To get into it for a second, assuming a person believes in what the Torah says, here it is: "You shall surely rebuke your fellow man" [Kedoshim 19:17] But for the record, a rebuke coming from someone who has already demonstrated intolerance for his neighbor and fellow man really means nothing in the great scheme of things.)
  6. Because I defended equality, MC has deemed me not Jewish and states "I hope that in the future you will convert back to judaism." If MC, someone who staunchly defended kiruv in his earlier emails, believes that I am not Jewish because of my beliefs, then how does he view the very people he wants to "further their observance?" Perhaps to MC and others of his ilk, people who are not just like him and who don't espouse the same beliefs that he holds at his core, aren't Jewish. 
  7. Ironically, MC states "Its a lifeline. If someone is drowning and someone throws you a rope you dont say sorry but I dont take ropes from guys who wear black hats or guys who wearing no hats," yet has a problem with someone donating lots of money to Chai Lifeline (an organization that provides support to families with gravely ill children suffering from serious pediatric diseases) who also supports gay marriage. I thought he just made a whole analogy about drowning people not discriminating against those providing help.
  8. MC says "Lets say a persons wife wears two head coverings and very thick stockings but if you do business with this person you notice that he is dishonest." What does this man's wife's level of tznius (religiously sanctioned modesty) have to do with his own honesty in business? Why are his business partners (and MC) judging this man by how much skin his wife doesn't show? From which business model is this thought process taken?
  9. MC writes "I wish you clarity to accept the Moral values of your grandparents great grandparents all the way back to Mount Sinai." First of all, MC is assuming an awful lot here. He's assuming that 1. my grandparents were "moral" people; 2. my grandparents' code of morality is equivalent to what he considers an acceptable code of morality; 3. my grandparents would agree with him. He also makes a classic kiruv mistake. The mistake is in thinking that the current generation has/had orthodox grandparents and/or orthodox great grandparents. This type of kiruv tactic relies on being able to prove somehow that if you go back far enough, the potential recruit had orthodox family who would want the potential recruit to become orthodox. Kiruv professionals who use this tactic also employ guilt and work on people's emotions in order to bring them to orthodoxy. In fact, we don't know what our ancestors would have wanted. They may have been miserable. Another interesting point is that the ultra-orthodoxy of today is radically different from our observant ancestors in a variety of ways. For one, young people used to be skilled in a trade or in some way to be able to earn a living. (Okay, that was a low blow. But it's an issue that shouldn't be ignored.) 
  10. MC asks "Are you afraid increased levels of G-d consciousness will harm these people?" If "increased levels of God consciousness" means becoming a hate-filled, morally superior, anti-human person, then yes. I fear for all of us, especially those at the hands of kiruv professionals who are looking for new recruits. 
  11. Notice in the last email, MC brags about throwing in the example of marriage equality to trick me in order to find out my beliefs. He says "I threw in the example of the parade just to find out where you were holding." This is a blog that deals mostly with deceptive kiruv. MC admits to using deceptive tactics to get information. In what other ways does MC, or other kiruv workers, employ deceptive tactics? He's just shown us that yes, deception is definitely at work.
     History has long since proven that ignoring problems rarely makes them go away. It is only when we face the issues head-on that we can enact change. This is why I have chosen to publish this email exchange. MC's attitude, unfortunately, isn't unique. It is prevalent in the ultra-orthodox world of deceptive kiruv. Complaints that this blog focuses on negativity and not on a way to positively deal with kiruv mean little. Nothing will change until people realize that there is a problem. In the case of deceptive kiruv, the problem isn't that people aren't becoming orthodox; the problem is that kiruv professionals and others feel that they must actively deceive and manipulate people into becoming carbon copies of themselves.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Aish HaTorah Called Out on Sexist Article

     Big Kiruv organization Aish HaTorah was bashed all over the internet today after posting the extremely sexist article "Five Ways to Turn Off a Guy" by Rosie Einhorn and Sherry Zimmerman. (I have included the text at the end of this post.) By this evening, they had posted the following message:
After receiving a barrage of comments from men and women from all over the spectrum of "just Jewish," including cultural, observant, and non-observant Jews, Aish opted to remove the offending post.
     My question is, how could Aish have gotten non-orthodox dating so wrong?
     Let's start with a few things.
     First of all, Aish is out of touch with the rapidly changing culture of the non-orthodox world.
I posted the following comments on Facebook this morning:

     As I stated, Aish is about 60 years out of touch. Their article (text posted below) calls for women to basically refrain from being opinionated, debating with the men they're dating, being too forward, dressing casually, being too open, pursuing a man they're interested in, writing about their intelligence and career and intellectual pursuits on their dating profiles, and basically retain that 1950s mentality of the submissive female looking to land a man.
I summed up my initial reaction in the following comment:

     Secondly, in the department of How Could Aish Have Gotten Non-Orthodox Dating So Wrong? it seems that I am not alone in reading the original article as a piece of sexist fluff, despite it being written by women. Maybe this article was meant to be seen as "Dating Shaming," with the women authors pitting themselves against other women in order to shame them into more submissive behavior. Regardless of the writers' (and Aish's) original intent, apparently the anger in Aish's own comments section made someone in their Public Relations department realize that they'd made a grave mistake. I'd like to thank the commenters on Aish's website for being honest and telling Aish HaTorah that their article was completely off-base. Here are some of the comments that erase the need for me to include too much commentary. (Click to enlarge any of the comments.)

FYI--Most people in the non-orthodox world are not ready to get married "after a few months!"
You can read the last few comments here, on Aish's site, assuming they haven't yet been removed.
 Aish HaTorah has since engaged in damage control, removing the offending article, so I'm reposting the text here. (Thanks to Heshy Fried at Frum Satire for providing me with the text. Read his response to the Aish article.)

"Five Ways to Turn Off a Guy" by Rosie Einhorn and Sherry Zimmerman
We consulted with three men who recently got married. Here’s their list of five surefire ways to make a man quickly lose interest in a budding relationship.
1. Debate with him. Alex told us, "I dated women who, from the very start, seemed to be out to prove that they were smarter or better informed than me. I got it – they were well educated, worked hard to get where they were in their careers, and wanted me to respect their intelligence, but trying to outdo me was a big turn off. I wouldn't try to argue with my date, tell her she's wrong, or get into a debate intended to end with one of us being the winner and the other the loser. That would make her feel terrible. I don't understand why some of the women I went out with did this to me. I felt emasculated and I didn't ask them out again.
"I'd tell a woman who wants to 'make a statement' not to do it when you're just getting to know each other. Get to know a little about each other, see how comfortable you feel talking, let him see the way you smile and learn what you have in common. Don't get into a heated political discussion or hear the fine details about your 'crusade'. That's not what first dates are about...or second dates. Save those deep, impassioned discussions for after you know each other a little more and want to know more about what makes each other tick."
2. Don't bother dressing nicely for a date. "If a man doesn't feel attracted to a woman within the first few dates, he's probably going to lose interest. I don't understand why a woman wouldn't want to play up her appearance by styling her hair, using a little makeup, and wearing attractive clothes. She looks better, she looks interested in making a good impression on me, and I feel good about taking her out. If a woman didn't seem to care about herself or about looking nice for me, I had no interest in continuing with her."
3. Overload your online dating profile. What does your dating profile say about you? If it's heavy with your professional and academic accomplishments and short on personality traits, it's time to rewrite it, as well as the "script" you friend use to describe you to potential dates. "Of course I want to find someone who's intelligent and capable," Max told us. "But when a woman is suggested to me, I want to hear about her character, how she relates to people, the kind of home she wants to have. It's fine to know that she's a lawyer or a stock broker or a physical therapist, but she should save the rest for LinkedIn. I'm looking for a wife, not a business associate."
4. Open up right away – about everything. You clicked right away with the new guy you're dating. His smile was so genuine, and the conversation between you just flowed. After that first date, you felt as if you'd known him for years and could be extremely open with him. So on your second date when he asked, "Why's a beautiful woman like you still single?" you decided to tell him your whole romantic history. He heard how you didn't feel good enough about yourself to date until after you had a nose job, learned that you fell into a depression after a man you thought would marry you met someone else, and found out that you and your sister didn't speak for two years after a man you both liked chose to date her. You were thinking: He's such a good listener, I can talk to him about anything! And he was thinking: This girl has boundary issues. I don't want to hear this stuff from someone I barely know. I can't wait for this date to end.
5. Pursue him. Your first date was great. So was your second. You haven't felt so optimistic about the future in a long time. He asks you out again and you want to know, "Where do you think this is going?" Instead of hearing an enthusiastic response, you notice that the positive chemistry between you seems to dissipate. That wasn't such a good idea, you tell yourself, and next time you meet a man with potential you hold back from asking the question. After the fourth date, you ask him to be your friend on Facebook and a What'sapp contact. He's one of the many you keep entertained with the latest dramas at work and the antics of your pet cat, and you also email him a couple of times during the day. When you realize he hasn't called to ask for another date after two days, you telephone him to see what's happened. You still don't realize that the faster you try to push him into a relationship, the faster he runs in the other direction.
Some men are flattered when a woman engages in mild flirtation or smiles to show her interest. They may even accept a woman's invitation for coffee or a drink. But at that point, most men need to turn the tables and become the pursuer. They're hard-wired to want to win a woman over. When a woman can't relinquish her pursuit or appears too eager to have a relationship, a man can't see her as special enough to go after and loses interest.
Yes, we plan on writing a follow up article, “Five Ways to Turn Off a Woman” Let us know what you think of the list in the comment section below.*
     I really hope that Aish HaTorah realizes just how out of touch they are with the non-orthodox world of dating. As many stated, we're no longer in the 1950s. I hope that women in the non-orthodox world will continue to be assertive, confident, and true to themselves. I hope the women getting involved in these organizations will really look beneath the surface to see the misogyny that does exist within the world that outreach professionals are selling. And I truly hope that kiruv organizations like Aish HaTorah will begin to realize that the modern world has no place for gender bias. Keep speaking out.

Article Citation
*Einhorn, Rosie, and Zimmerman, Sherry. "Five Ways to Turn Off A Guy." January 4, 2014.