Friday, January 3, 2014

Kiruv's Goal: To Make You Orthodox (Aish's Project Inspire Says So)

     Whenever I've stated that the goal of Jewish outreach/kiruv is to make people orthodox, I'm met with opposition claiming that this isn't true, and that outreach workers just want to teach non-orthodox Jews about their Jewish history, heritage, culture, etc. So imagine my surprise when I happened upon an article on Project Inspire's website written by Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon, contradicting the claims of many of those in kiruv! Salomon's article, "Broadening the World of Torah,"completely debunks the myth that kiruv professionals have no ulterior motives. In fact, Salomon is quite clear in telling readers that his goal is to make people orthodox. Here is an excerpt from his article from the Project Inspire website. (Project Inspire is a program from Aish HaTorah and Aish International, one of the biggest Jewish outreach organizations in existence.)
From "Broadening the World of Torah."* Click to enlarge.


This particular excerpt makes the point that "there can be no compromise" in observance and in the Torah. Salomon goes on to say that:
At the same time, becoming observant requires drastic changes in a person’s life, and in many if not most cases, it must be accomplished gradually, step by step.*
That sounds reasonable. The fact that Salomon recognizes that becoming orthodox is a drastic change is good. However, he continues on to say the following:
But you must make it clear to the people that halfway measures are not acceptable as a permanent state. They are no more than intermediate stages on the way to full observance. There is no rush, no pressure. They can take their time and progress at their own comfortable pace. But they must recognize that the goal is full and complete observance of the entire Torah.*
Did you find yourself reading that twice? Rabbi Salomon recognizes that becoming orthodox is drastic and "there is no rush, no pressure." Well, that's good. Except that he is also telling readers that while "they can take their time and progress at their own comfortable pace," "they must recognize that the goal is full and complete observance of the entire Torah."*
     Back up a second.
     It sounds like Salomon is saying becoming observant is drastic but do it at your own pace, and oh, we expect you to become orthodox.
     Project Inspire is proudly run by Aish HaTorah, a major outreach/kiruv organization. Their goal is to make you orthodox. When Aish and Project Inspire-affiliated rabbis and rebbetzins are running programs on your college campus or in your neighborhood, and taking you on highly-subsidized trips to Israel and other venues, keep in mind that this is their goal. And supposedly, they should be letting you know this as well. Whether or not they actually tell this to their students is another story.
The question is, do their non-orthodox supporters know that they are supporting Jewish missionary work that is out there specifically to make non-orthodox Jews orthodox? Here is what Steven Spielberg, Shimon Peres, and Benjamin Netanyahu said about Aish HaTorah programs. Based on their statements, it sounds as if they were given a greatly watered-down version of what Aish is about.

Steven Spielberg - "Thank you Aish HaTorah for the good work you do, and the message you put out. I could have used you in my life about 25 years ago."
Shimon Peres, President of Israel - "I want to acknowledge the Jerusalem Fellowships of Aish HaTorah for the outstanding job it does in bringing Jewish youth to Israel to learn about their history and heritage."
Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel - "Aish HaTorah enables young Jews to visit their heritage, to become immersed in it, to understand the inspiration that drives Jewish History, to become better Jews, prouder Jews and more secure Jews. I congratulate Aish HaTorah for what they're doing where they're doing it and for whom they're doing it."**
If Spielberg, Peres, and Netanyahu read Aish's history on their website, it's understandable how they wouldn't realize the organization's true goals. Aish states that:
Aish is famous for reaching unaffiliated young Jews and awakening them to a profound pride in their heritage.... With most Jewish communities facing dwindling affiliation, Aish's efforts bring thousands of committed Jews back into the communal sphere. By increasing people's affiliation with the Jewish community, and by teaching the importance of tzedakah, Aish is creating a stronger support base for every Jewish cause.**
While Project Inspire is mentioned, Aish HaTorah's history page makes it sound very innocent:
Aish founded Project Inspire, a grassroots movement whose goal is to empower and encourage all Jews to share the beauty and wisdom of Judaism with their fellow Jews. Project inspire provides easy and inspiring ways to reach out as well as the tools and understanding on how to reach out. This branch of Aish has made already made a big impact on mobilizing the frum world.**
But they've left out a very important piece of information. They neglected to tell people that:
[Kiruv professionals] must make it clear to the people that halfway measures are not acceptable as a permanent state....  They must recognize that the goal is full and complete observance of the entire Torah.*
 I agree. People need to recognize that the goal of Project Inspire and Aish HaTorah is to make people orthodox--before they get involved.

Works Cited:
*Salomon, Rabbi Mattisyahu. Broadening The World of Torah. Project Inspire. December 19, 2013.

**History of Aish HaTorah. Aish Gesher. 2013. accessed January 2, 2013.

13 comments:

  1. Project Inspire is run by Baruch Lanner's "hatched man," Matt / Mordechai Tropp. http://www.thejewishweek.com/features/lanner_protege_under_scrutiny

    One of the ways young boys were inspired by Lanner to wear tzitzis at their own pace and without pressure was to receive blows to the testicles if they weren't wearing them.

    Yochana Lavie describes it first-hand here: http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2008/01/guest-post-rabb.html

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    1. Thanks for the links and info, DK.

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  2. Your blog post and the statement from Project Inspire should be affixed to the exit door of every campus Hillel, right next to the sheet about what to do in a fire emergency.

    The way these groups go on and on about "your heritage," and "your history," to lure kids into their brainwashing trap is more than dishonest; it should be illegal. Their GOAL - their entire mission in life - is to destroy secular families in order to create new ones in their image. Oh, you can avoid having your secular family destroyed - just go along with the ultra orthodox kiruv game plan and they will spare you. Kiruv is so wrong - it is beyond deceptive and immoral - it should be illegal.

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    1. Illegal??

      I assume that you are venting out of deep pain from a broken parent/child relationship, and not making a serious suggestion since it would violate the First Amendment.

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  3. I am very curious to hear AM's comment about this. I believe he claims to just be a resource for interested students to learn about Judaism. Nothing more. No secret agenda about making kids frum.

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  4. Ugh.

    I get the one step at a time idea, but there are ways to do it while being honest.

    You can let someone know that each mitzvah has value.

    You can change your vocabulary and thinking so that you no longer classify people as frum or non-observant based on only certain visible ritual laws. Instead, recognize that there is virtually no one who does NOTHING - most people will at least have a moment in their lives where they honored a parent or did something good for someone else - and virtually no one who does not struggle with something (including gossip, anger, etc.).

    You can acknowledge that the question of whether someone is on a certain level is different from the question of whether someone is on the right path. Realizing this distinction was a big deal for me. On some issues, it wasn't a question of whether or not I was ready YET or whether I "was on that level". It was a question of whether I would ever make certain choices, because doing so would involve placing some values above others. For me, things like keeping kosher and keeping Shabbat were "yet" questions - I needed to do it slowly, but had no problem agreeing that these were our eventual goals. Questions about schooling, though, were about "different paths". I didn't intend to switch schools as my family grew more observant, but I actually considered the fact that the community day school would accept any Jewish child to be a feature, not a defect. My kids may not have friends who were all observant, but they would learn something about accepting and valuing all members of the community.

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    1. cnsrvtv / rfrm jewJanuary 8, 2014 at 11:59 AM

      "keeping kosher and keeping Shabbat "

      you mean keeping those things like ultra orthodox jews do, right?

      otherwise you imply that other people, not of orthodox persuasion do not "keep" these things, but i think many of them would disagree with you classification. maybe they dont keep those things the same way the extremists do....

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    2. (Change my profile name, but I'm still JRKmommy) No, that's not exactly what I meant. Quite the opposite.

      I was raised in a traditional Conservative synagogue. The concepts of keeping kosher and keeping Shabbat were not new to me (and I was referring to MY personal experience here). They were presented as the ideal at synagogue, Hebrew school and camp, and I knew observant families in our congregation who kept kosher and were shomer Shabbat.

      My own family, however, was semi-observant. Sometimes I'd go to synagogue, and sometimes I'd stay home watching cartoons on Saturday. Sometimes pork was a no-no, but not if it came in the form of pepperoni or Chinese food. My husband's background was similar - the rules were taught at his community Jewish day school, but not strictly followed in his family. There was Friday night kiddush before going out.

      So, for US, keeping kosher and keeping Shabbat did not conflict with the values that we had been taught growing up. It meant extra effort and rearranging parts of our lives, which is why we did it slowly, but that's it. Our friends and families were all familiar with the ideas of Shabbat and keeping kosher. We needed to work out technical issues, like finding times to get together or ways that we could eat together, but nobody was offended by the idea that we were observing these things.

      On the other hand, if I hear a rabbi preaching against same-sex marriage, that's something that goes directly against the values which which I was raised. At that point, it's not a question of convenience, and it's not a question of whether I'm prepared to support legal discrimination "yet". See the difference?

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  5. I don't think it should be prohibited, but I do think it's deceitful and dishonest.

    It's like when you go with a good friend to the house of a friend of him/her that you both don't know very well, expecting a fun evening, getting to know people, having a drink and a good time, and once you are there you realize it is merely a MLM/pyramid sales and recruitment party (think: Amway, Herbalife etc)... You feel cheated on, since you were coming to socialize not to become an "independepent business owner" or a direct sales person..... You were even persuaded to buy some miracle cure all vitamins that, months and a lot of $$$ later, did not end up what you wanted and needed but you were tricked into it through feel-good pitches.

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  6. only 20% of Isreal will make it to the final end and will be allowed to sing ......just as there were only 20% that made it out of Egypt long ago!
    my advice......don't walk ; but RUN FAST to your nearest Kiruv Rabbi and his family.
    Look and see what is promised to those who influence Yidden to turn away from Torah.

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  7. As a former Conservtive Jew , now Orthdox .I completely agree that Aish is totally committed to spreading and encouraging the Orthodox view of Torah and Mitzvot with the belief that it is good for the Jewish people as a whole.No one is " forced" to take on anything . They believe , as do I coming from that direction, that of you show someone the truth the rest follows. If they choose not to accept it as the truth, or not the only way of looking at things that's also okay . The participants are given information about Orthdox belief most of which they have never heard before, and to dispell common misconceptions about Orthodox Judaism.They are ENCORAGED to ask questions, as that is the best way to learn. Doesn't sound like brainwashing to me.
    Anyone who doesn't know that Aish is an organization that promotes Orthdox Jewish belief, and believes that is the best set of values for the Jewish people is either very naive ,or hasn't looked at their website. They hide NOTHING. They also believe that any Jew who knows more about his heritage in Torah , and hopefully keeps or at least understands one more mitzvah is a better Jew and a better person whether they take on the whole package or not.

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  8. The statement about tzitzit and child molestation sounds like anything but a respectful comment and should be removed from an otherwise good discussion

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  9. I was out the moment a Chabad relative (BT) told me that her BT brother, a Cohen, was having trouble finding a shidduch. I asked why, and she replied that many of the unmarried women in his community are BTs, and "their purity is therefore questionable". Why not instead give the benefit of the doubt? Ditto for asking witnesses who're signing a ketuba if they're observant: Why not just assume the positive?

    Has anyone warned these BT women that it all sounds lovely, except they're considered second-rate marriage prospects? Of course not. By then they're sucked in, and accepting all the (horrific) rationalizations. Nope. Count me out.

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Your respectful comments are welcome.