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.


  1. If people want to do mitzvahs and connect with their heritage then why don't you just let them? Is it really so bad for Jews to live an enriched life centered around family, G-d, and goodness? Maybe you are the problem, and kiruv is the anecdote. Just a thought.

    1. Nobody is stopping people from doing mitzvot and connecting with their heritage. And nobody is taking aim at the orthodox lifestyle. The issue here is kiruv organizations using deceptive tactics to recruit people.
      Also, unless you feel that kiruv is a short, amusing story, and/or hearsay, I think the word you meant to use is "antidote." In that case, how am I a problem?

    2. There are multiple personality types that enter the orthodox world via kiruv. Some are truth seekers that aren't running away from anything, rather they see truth and are running towards something. Some are people who are unhappy with their current life and are looking for acceptance and fulfillment, and therefore are running away from something. And perhaps many are on some sort of spectrum that falls in between those two poles.

      It is true that kiruv paints a rosy picture of an orthodox jewish life, and the realities of that life don't match up to the picture painted. Life is complex and hard in any regard - secular jew, orthodox jew, muslim, christian, and so forth. Kiruv is a sales pitch on a product, and the product is the Torah.

      Every other successful product in the world is allowed a sales pitch and likely will succeed or fail based on how well that pitch is crafted. In our world, sadly, Torah requires the same approach. Just because it has a sales pitch does not speak on behalf of whether it is true or untrue, good or bad. That is a separate component.

      I am sorry that you had a negative experience once the kiruv goggles were taken off and you experienced the reality of orthodox Judaism. It has lot of amazing elements to it, and a lot of problems as well. It is not perfect, however that is not the point. The Torah is perfect, hopefully orthodox Jews are striving for that ideal, and since they are human most fall below it.

      There is a term in the legal world called "caveat emptor" - buyer beware. It applies in all contracts associated with business dealings. It is not your responsibility to "stop kiruv". The onus is on the buyer to do their research, understand what the product is, weigh the products pros and cons, and make a decision. In our case, the product is beautiful.

      There are bigger, worthier battles to fight than picking a fight with Torah. You have decided to register a domain name titled "stopkiruvnow". How about "stopisisnow", or "stophamasnow", or "stopsyrianow", or "stophatenow", or "stopantisemitismnow". As I said, you are waging a war against the antidote (:)). Rather, you should wage a war against one of the problems. Thus, if you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

    3. So, from what you've said, it seems that instead of taking responsibility for allowing kiruv organizations and professionals to purposely mislead, love bomb, engage in deceptive and dishonest practice in order to convince people to become orthodox, you believe that the person who doesn't know--the tinok shenishba--the very person that kiruv claims is in need to help--should have been aware that they were being deceptively recruited? If that person is considered by kiruv professionals not to be knowledgeable (as if they were a child kidnapped from Judaism, I believe is the phrase,) then are you suggesting that they should consider the nice rabbi and his wife suspect? Should they second guess the cool campus rabbi who invites them for Shabbat meals? And if so, should signage be erected at entrances to kiruv events and events sponsored by kiruv with "caveat emptor" boldly emblazoned for all to see? What concerns me about this attitude is that you're engaging in is actually victim-blaming. If a child is molested by a trusted teacher, should we blame the parents for sending him to that school? Caveat emptor. The parents should have known this could/would happen. If a young woman is being counseled by a rabbi who then takes advantage of her vulnerability, should she be blamed? What about caveat emptor?
      I find it disturbing that you are obviously a supporter of kiruv and talk about how great Torah is, yet you believe that the person getting involved should have known better. So, why hide it from them? Why not have enough faith in your product that it can be sold without the coverups and deceit? Why engage in willful manipulation and deliberate omission? That doesn't sound like the sellers have confidence in their product. It sounds like the sellers know that it isn't as good as they say.
      Also, you make a good point about the issue that this blog focuses on. There are many great and important causes out there. Perhaps you are right--that if one "isn't part of the solution, [one must be] part of the problem." How have you helped homeless dogs in kill shelters? What role are you playing in stopping the use of GMOs? In what ways are you helping to reduce our carbon footprint and save our earth? What have you done to help the rainforests, or the many endangered species? How are you helping to stop sex trafficking of children in third world countries? Are you donating to funds to help preserve antiquities in Middle Eastern countries ravaged by war? And if you're not doing any of these things, (or a whole list of others,) should we assume that you are part of the problem? Rather than wasting your time here, maybe you should go out and make a change in kiruv so that it is more transparent and less deceptive so that you are also not part of the problem.
      Additionally, while I am obviously not a fan of deceptive kiruv, I will say that the people in kiruv I've had the privilege to know were/are very lovely people. However, I see huge problems with Jewish outreach that need to be fixed. And yes, deceptive kiruv needs to be eradicated.

  2. I just love a good ultimatum. I love how Judaism, especially Ultra Orthodox Judaism, especially the kiruv twist on Ultra Orthodox Judaism, joins Jews together, promotes clear thinking and level headed decisions. I can see how "if you aren't part of the solution you are part of the problem," encourages people to light candles with Paula Abdul. Yes, the very same Paula Abdul who had her bat mitzvah at the Kabbalah Center in 2013. Kabbalah Centers are part of the solution, right? (I don't want to root for the wrong team)!

    How is it you know about Rebecca's kiruv experience and journeys into and out of Orthodoxy? She consistently says her experience wasn't negative, but you claim to know differently.

    There is so much to take issue with about the previous comment, but for the sake of simplicity I am focusing on one point:

    It is true that kiruv paints a rosy picture of an orthodox jewish life, and
    the realities of that life don't match up to the picture painted.

    You know this and do not reveal it to the impressionable teenagers and young people that you and other kiruv professionals recruit. That is unethical, immoral, despicable, dishonest and it smears the reputations of all Jews and of all Judaism.

  3. First, I am not part of the kiruv movement, I just simply understand it. I wasn't m'kareved from it either. However, I've seen the organizations up close and know many people associated with them. I have never seen one person teach that becoming religious was going to solve a students problems. I have seen them say it will make life more enriched, more meaningful and purposeful (and that is true, if done in the right way), and so forth, but I have never seen them say it will absolve one of their issues. Any conclusion that a person makes on that basis is likely from their own determinations and it is a result of their own naivety.

    To answer your question about how I know about your experience and journeys.... It's a simple logical conclusion based on the hate campaign you have launched against kiruv. If you loved kiruv and Torah then this blog would be called "startkiruvnow". If you were indifferent then this blog would not exist. Since you obviously dislike "the system", you have created "stopkiruvnow". And your feelings and knowledge of the system stem from your own personal experience. If you're feelings weren't negative than why have this blog? Maybe you should search inside yourself how you really feel about your experience. You likely feel lied to, betrayed, tricked, upset, and angered.

    I do give advice to people growing in Judaism, but only cause they ask me. I tell them the truth on everything and I don't ever hide the ball. That is being religious, if anything, makes life harder and more complicated. The payout is bigger, but so is the price. That is the truth. If you were one of the people that thought the program was something that would solve all your problems than I feel sorry for you. I have spoken to those people as well (even while the kiruv goggles were still on) and I knew well ahead of time that their journey was going to come to a crashing hault because they were not embracing reality. The purpose of becoming religious is to not solve the issues in your life. Those issues will remain and need to be worked on an individual level. And it is not an escape from a complicated life either. The religious world is complicated too. Life is life, people are people. There are good ones and bad ones, honest and dishonest, judgmental and non-judgmental, etc whether they are wearing a black head covering or not. Rather, the purpose of becoming religious should be made on a recognition that the Torah is true and a Jew has a special duty in this world to do mitzvahs - nothing more, nothing less.

    What are you expecting from the kiruv world? A disclaimer under each event reading "Warning: Becoming religious has the possible negative side effects"? Should each organization give a class on the underbelly of the religious world? Do you hold every other non-Jewish organization accountable on this standard? Can you realize what the Torah is up against in today's world? Society is so twisted and contorted and confused and lost. Jews have no idea what they have, what their ancestors had, nor do they even care! Do the Jewish people not deserve a fighting chance to return to their heritage? If you answer yes then why are you holding kiruv organizations to a higher standard than everyone else?

    1. FYI--I don't post anonymously.

    2. (Your comment should be directed to the other anonymous poster, not to me.)

    3. > Society is so twisted and contorted and confused and lost.

      No it's not. It's the same as it's always been. Some things are good, some are bad, and on the whole we're much better, both physically and morally, than most of our ancestors.

      My favorite quote is a 6000-year-old inscription from an Egyptian tomb lamenting the decline of the youth of "today."


    4. To go back to your earlier "let the buyer beware" comments from earlier, since you seem to believe that I've had negative experiences with kiruv, then you must believe that kiruv experiences can be negative. Shouldn't you be working to make sure that kiruv isn't negative? (If I haven't already said it in my earlier comment, I will say it here: your assertion isn't true.) You continue to assert that I must have had negative experiences, and claim that I've "launched" a "hate campaign against kiruv." And yet, if you read my posts, you'll see that they are simply informative and not filled with hate, but rather filled with cited sources--many from kiruv organizations' own literature.
      I think it's unfortunate that you believe that for a person to oppose something, they must have been in some way damaged by it. Once again, that is a very dangerous point of view, one that paints all of humanity as largely apathetic, amoral, and indifferent. I feel sorry for you, to have been so damaged by something in this world, that you would think this way.

  4. That's your response? You have this whole blog up? This huge hillul hashem, and that is your response? Please take this down, you have down enough damage.

    1. Sorry, I can't stop laughing! Jump Rebecca, jump - an anonymous kiruv worker wants you to pull your blog down! Darn, shaming didn't work. You're going to have to live with the truth - deceptive kiruv created a lot of Jews who are opposed to having themselves and their family members recruited into something they did not sign up for. Get used to the idea that we aren't going to shut up or back down.

      In your reply to me, (that was me, not Rebecca you replied to), you asked: Can you realize what the Torah is up against in today's world? Golly, no. I have no idea what torahs are up against. I suppose fire and water, mildew & mites. It must be awfully hard to be a torah.

      I will sign myself: Lady Liberty

  5. Yes, kiruv experiences can be negative. Drinking water can be a negative experience as well, if you drink too much. Everything in this world can be negative if done wrong.

    My job, as stated previously, is not in kiruv. I'm just a simple jew. I focus on my dalet amos.

    The overarching goal of kiruv is to bring Jews closer to Torah. It is not to make money or achieve power. It is just simply to educate Jews on what they have and hope they become closer to their own jewishness. Is the ultimate goal for a Jew to go all the way and keep the whole Torah? Yes. But, that doesn't mean it's chalked up as a failure if it simply means that a Jew will now marry Jewish (and before they wouldn't) or now keep a mitzvah like lighting shabbos candles. Everyone at their own level.

    The overarching goal of this blog is the opposite. To stop kiruv - plain and simple. It is in the title. Your goal is to end the system we have in place that spends millions of dollars a year in hopes of educating Jews on their heritage. Kiruvs goal builds, your goal destroys.

    Is the system perfect? Nope, it is definitely not. I don't think there is anything such thing as a perfect system. But are the Jewish people better off with organizations that are educating Jews about who and what they are in the face of a generation that is engaging in inter-marriage at unprecedented rates? I know I answer yes to that question, and I hope you do too.

    1. Condescending tones annoy me, especially when they're delivered in the sweet syrupy way you just did.

      Let's start with your first assertion: The overarching goal of kiruv is to bring Jews closer to Torah. It is not to make money or achieve power. I beg to differ. A rabbi with a large following gets to tell everyone how to dress, how and where to educate their kids, where to live, when the ladies should bring their panties in for inspection, all kinds of cool stuff. He's in charge. It's a power trip. He also has all those families and all those financial resources. He may or may not get rich, but he won't lack for anything.

      Point 2: It is just simply to educate Jews on what they have and hope they become closer to their own jewishness. Baloney. There is love bombing involved, shabbatons, trips to Israel, follow up phone calls by an organized group of loyal followers, there is the step by step method of not telling a new recruit too much so they don't run off - this is anything but
      an altruistic desire to educate people with the "hope" that they'll become closer to "their" (which is not theirs, but the Ulra Orthodox rabbi's) own Jewishness.

      Point 3: Is the ultimate goal for a Jew to go all the way and keep the whole Torah? Yes. At least we agree on something. Why not say that at the beginning? Why not tell everyone that is the goal of the free trips, the Hebrew lessons, the baking classes & the shabbatons? Why not tell the friggin' truth?

      Point 4: Everyone at their own level. Please, you're embarrassing yourself. It's everyone at the rabbi's level. It's the Ultra Orthodox kiruv way, not the Reform Temple's way, even if that kid came from a Reform home.

      Point 5: Your goal is to end the system we have in place that spends millions of dollars a year in hopes of educating Jews on their heritage. That's a problem. That system spends millions of dollars a year misleading vulnerable kids. It's an organized, professional assault on very young adults. Kiruv paints a highly romanticized picture of the beauty of frumkeit. It doesn't teach actual history. Spend a week at & learn the facts about your family. Ask some of the old people in your family how they practiced the religion. I guarantee that most of the families of the recruits kiruv tells their fairy tales to never practiced as kiruv claims they did. Kiruv teaches a lie and it's an atrocity.

      Point 6: Kiruvs goal builds, your goal destroys. Except when kiruv workers convince kids to transfer to Touro, or to dumb down their majors after they convince them to live a more spiritual life, or one spent devoted to "learning" instead of earning a living. I can't imagine; what are the goals you think kiruv builds?

      Point 7: But are the Jewish people better off with organizations that are educating Jews about who and what they are in the face of a generation that is engaging in inter-marriage at unprecedented rates? Kids figure out who and what they are until charlatan rabbis mess with their heads. I am not bothered by intermarriage and I hope the rate increases. It spreads the gene pool & makes for healthier offspring. Do you think God will protect Jews from inbreeding?

      Lady Liberty

  6. "I am not bothered by intermarriage and I hope the rate increases. It spreads the gene pool and makes for healthier offspring."

    Looks like you and Hitler have something in common.

    1. What, besides our dark hair, do we have in common Blondie?

      Lady Liberty

    2. To the first Anonymous comment from 12:57 AM: Actually, Hitler wasn't about genetic diversity. He was all about creating a homogeneous Aryan society. He was very much against spreading the gene pool.

    3. The point, bec, is that "gene pool" shouldn't even be in the equation. The very fact that someone considers anything about genes to be a goal puts them in the same bed as Hitler.

    4. Why does considering anything about genes put one in the same bed as Hitler? Judaism is a religion practiced by a very small percentage of the world's population. Jews only marrying Jews leads to inbreeding & is not healthy for Jews or any other species. It is accepted scientific fact that out-crossing produces fitter, stronger and healthier offspring of all species. If you want a healthy population of Jews you should pay attention to the gene pool.

      Lady Liberty

  7. Hahaha this blog is great! A support group for off the derech ba'al teshuvas! NOW I've seen everything!!!!

  8. I'm pretty sure the purpose of this blog is to educate people about deceptive kiruv.

    For argument's sake, let's go with the idea that this is a support group for ex BT's. The very fact that this "support group" received over 90,000 views is proof of the significant population of ex-BT's who are in need of support following their involvement with kiruv professionals.

    Lady Liberty

    1. Actually "Ladt Liberty" :) ...

      read the URL
      GET IT? "stopkiruvnow"

      so stop being an apologist for this site - of course their goal is to stop ANY kiruv.

    2. Yosef, I wish their goal was to stop ANY kiruv, but I think they only have a problem with deceptive kiruv. I'd be good if they worked to stop all kiruv though.

      I have to ask, why are you apologizing FOR kiruv? There are serious problems with kiruv. It can damage lives and destroy families. Not to mention the obvious point that most kiruv is highly deceptive. Why on earth go out on a limb to defend people who do that?

      Lady Liberty

    3. Yosef, I would have happily used the description of the blog, as well as the actual name of the blog, as the URL, but that would have been just a drop too long. Perhaps you should read the description again.

    4. Also, the only "kiruv" I cover in this blog is deceptive kiruv. Not once have I covered non-deceptive kiruv or kiruv that does not use questionable tactics. So, no worries. I am only trying to educate about deceptive kiruv.

  9. Anonymous writes (earlier): “The Torah is perfect…”

    I have no problem with people connecting with their heritage. My problem is when people assert things like “the Torah is perfect.”

    It’s just an assertion. Jews, some haredi now, write on that the Torah was written over hundreds of years. Every Jew, even those with felt kippahs and white shirts, that studies the question up close in an academic setting for several years comes away saying the Torah was written over hundreds of years and shows the markings of many hands.

    My problem with kiruv is deception. It’s omission, suppression, distortion of outside voices. It’s never letting those outside voices in to make their case. It’s discouraging college or evaluating ideas or stories the religion tells you. It’s filtering and processing outside information, spinning it, and presenting it as accepted fact.

    Connecting with your heritage sounds cool. The Torah is perfect is just another assumption, assertion and warning that you entering an indoctrination zone.

    Heritage is culture. That’s not the Judaism that kiruv is selling. Let’s end kiruv right now – because it is built on a deceptive sales process.

    Connecting with your heritage is NOT what kiruv is about. And Anonymous – you KNOW this.


  10. Replies
    1. No, but it seems that she's following me on Twitter. I'm not looking for a reply or even an acknowledgement. I just hope that celebrities who make such endorsements will really research who and what they're representing first. If she genuinely believes that Aish and Project Inspire--who appear to play a large role in the Shabbos Project, are not deceptive kiruv organizations, than that's fine and I respect her decision to represent them. However, if she was just as deceived as many others have been, then my hope is that she'll do further research, at least for next time.

  11. I bet Paula read this article and was gonna reply and then thought "oh wait a second, this blog and this article is retarded." And then she went on to do one of the million other things that would be a better usage of your time.

    Bec, I guess you need to find a niche cause to fight about so that you can have some sort of platform. Too bad terrorism, women's rights, animal rights, Darfur, and so on and so on are already crowded.

    You are on the fringe of "self-hating Jew" status. Check it out, it's a real thing. Instead of creating friction in the Jewish world, why don't you put your efforts towards creating unity. Just a thought!

    -Tells it like it is

    1. You're an anonymous poster who tosses around slurs that insult developmentally challenged people, and you expect people to take your post seriously? Please don't let the mentschen at HASC hear your hate-filled speech. Next time, try commenting on the issue at hand, instead of just throwing around words that insult your own intelligence.

    2. Retard means to delay or hold back progress or accomplishment. As in, your blog is retarded because it doesn't achieve any real purpose. You are the one who associated it with developmentally challenged people. The usage of the word, when applied correctly, is not wrong.

    3. Come on Anonymous,

      You want to create unity? Invite haredi bible scholars who say the Torah was written over hundreds of years over for tea and a presentation. Invite the Jewish atheists in for a dialogue.

      You can't, right? Because they are all heretics and therefore you can't unify with those Jews.

      It's silly for a haredi guy to discuss unity. Unity is almost exactly the opposite goal of the haredi world. They want either separateness or total dominance.

      It's silly.


    4. Nice attempt at backtracking, Anonymous. We both know what you meant. Why don't you explain why you feel the way you do, instead of hurling insults? You know, give the readers a good debate. Take a stance and prove your points. I dare you.

    5. . . . your blog is retarded because it doesn't achieve any real purpose.

      I see great progress and achievement from this blog. There was once intimidation & silence from those who wished to speak negatively against kiruv. They were guilted & shamed into keeping quiet. Anonymous even called it hillul hashem above.

      The accomplishment of this blog is it reveals the other side of the kiruv story from people who actually understand what kiruv is.

      Glassy eyed non religious recruits have no idea they are being intentionally, systematically and deceptively led down paths, by multi million dollar organizations, that lead to becoming frum.

      While the kiruv world may think it's alright to mislead people if it ultimately leads to them becoming religious, most rational people strongly oppose that tactic.

      Lady Liberty

  12. This blog is so thouroughly disgusting. I'm so glad Paula Abdul and so many millions more are about keeping Shabbos, sharing the joy of Judaism with other Jews, worldwide. Thank you, Paula, and thank you Rabbi Goldstein.

    1. Thanks, Andy, for that carefully considered response and discussion of your opinion. What disgusts you about this blog? And if it disgusts you, why bother to read it?

  13. Bec,

    You are a classic example of what is wrong with America. America wants good. It really does. But it has no idea what good is but it is not actually defined. It simply changes with the tide of popular belief. Because it's undefined, sometimes America's pursuit of "good" is actually a pursuit of bad.

    You want good, but like America, don't have a clear definition of what goodness is. In your pursuit of goodness you are firing away on a group who's overall goal is to encourage Jews to do mitzvahs. You are acting very bad.

    1. Wait a second. It appears that you think that the freedom of speech is America's problem. Because that's what I'm exercising here. My freedom of speech. (It's a Constitutional right.) It is your right to disagree with me. It is also your right to not read things that offend you.
      You might not be aware of this, but the United States happens to have very clear definitions of "goodness," which can be found in the form of laws that citizens are expected to follow. If you weren't aware of this, I understand. It's relatively new, geologically speaking.

    2. Anonymous & Bec both raised an excellent point, the legal aspects of kiruv. Ignore for a moment whether kiruv is morally or ethically acceptable and focus just on the laws of the Unites States. Anonymous said earlier:

      There is a term in the legal world called "caveat emptor" - It applies in all contracts associated with business dealings. It is not your responsibility to "stop kiruv". The onus is on the buyer to do their research, understand what the product is, weigh the products pros and cons, and make a decision. In our case, the product is beautiful.

      I am no lawyer, but a few minutes on Google led me to the the realization that Caveat Emptor is not the accepted or prevailing way it works in the US. Consumer groups challenged "buyer beware" thinking and the rights of citizens who were wronged by deceptive salesmen, bankers & advertisers are given more weight than the idea of "buyer beware." In other words, in the United States it's more important to protect the consumer than the seller.

      One site explains it this way:

      Remember “caveat emptor” — let the buyer beware? That used to be the law of the marketplace. Not anymore. Today, consumers have clout.

      State consumer protection statutes are meant to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive practices and often go beyond the traditional legal remedies available for breach of warranty. Laws like these are on the books in nearly every state.

      In our case, in this discussion, sellers are professional Kiruv organizations, and buyers are recruits even though Kiruv does not involve formal contracts between rabbis and recruits.

      However, anonymous brought up the concept so it's important to point out that the idea behind Caveat Emptor has been overwhelmingly rejected by citizens of the United States. It's no longer alright to sell something with false advertising. There are laws against it.

      I think anonymous and I will have to agree to disagree about whether it is OK to deceptively sell kiruv to potential recruits. While it seems obvious to me that deceptively recruiting kids into religion, and dividing families in the process is wrong, there may be no actual laws against it in the US.

      The legality of kiruv may not have been tested in the courts yet, but thanks in part to this blog that may not be far away. Sooner or later the family of a BT, or an ex-BT, will fight kiruv, and the deceptive practices they use, in the courts.

      Lady Liberty

    3. Bill of Rights is a good start for goodness.

      The obligation not to force or tell others what to believe (the antithesis of religion) is a good obligation we have in the US too.

      Golden rule is good - the US embodies that concept.

      Anonymous, you should study Natural Rights, human rights, inalienable rights, self evident truths.

      In the US, we have open inquiry. You can read and argue about anything and learn from others and have open and frank discussions. That's pretty cool, no?

      In religion? You have heresy; forbidden knowledge; fear and spiritual fear mongering - at least the dogma part.

      Read about Enlightenment Values. How Spinoza said the most obvious thing: revelation, belief, prophecy, tradition are simply not reliable guides to what is true. Realize it is true, and that is why Spinoza was excommunicated. For telling the truth.


  14. In Toronto, I'm seeing The Shabbat Project grow into something that goes way beyond its original sponsors.

    My kids' attend community day schools, not Orthodox ones. Those schools have sent parents emails about The Shabbat Project, and have created their own programs. They are also encouraging families to participate in ways that are meaningful for them. One school acknowledged that the program of the Shabbat Project may not exactly match how members of the school community choose to celebrate Shabbat. They are NOT pushing the Project Inspire materials (which have some cringe-worthy elements) as the best way to do things.

    The local volunteer committee has representation from non-Orthodox rabbis. Here, the Shabbat Project seems to be taking on a life of its own, beyond the control of Project Inspire and Aish. It won't simply be about frum families inviting non-frum families over and following a script. Other Jewish organizations are getting on board, and it looks like there will be lots of people celebrating Shabbat this week - but doing it in ways that Aish may not have considered.

  15. I read over the post and the Shabbat Project website and information again.

    I think that accusing Paula Abdul of misleading people is harsh.

    I did a quick search. This is not the first time that she's spoken out for some sort of Shabbat observance. In 2010, she did a promo video for lighting Shabbat candles. She wasn't totally unobservant until Rabbi Goldstein called her. She also did a Bat Mitzvah ceremony in Israel in 2013, so that suggests that she was already delving more into her Judaism and perhaps becoming more observant.

    This seems to be a guilt-by-association argument, to a certain degree. The Shabbat Project was conceived by a kiruv rabbi and sponsored by Project Inspire/Aish Hatorah. Rebecca therefore views the whole thing as an insidious attempt to make unsuspecting Jews ultra-Orthodox. I believe that while Project Inspire does have a general goal of increasing observance and attracting BTs, the Shabbat Project itself has grown beyond its original sponsors, and it really is about Shabbat observance and unity in the Jewish community.

    Here's the website for the Shabbat Project in Toronto:

    I don't see anything offensive.

    Now, on the Project Inspire website, they have a guide for host families. Project Inspire is basically designed for frum families, to encourage them to get involved in outreach efforts themselves and not leave it just to "kiruv professionals". Some of the points in their guide were useful. There were a few points that I found cringe-worthy, and that could possibly be considered questionable.

    Here's their guide for hosts:

    They give advice on how to deflect controversial questions, and advise hosts to either find a woman-friendly minyan or "encourage" women to stay home. Maybe some frum families really need common-sense advice on how not to be rude to non-frum guests, but this particular advice seemed less than totally honest. They also slip in a part at the end about follow up - contact the person, suggest a trip to Israel at some point. Again - that struck me as pretty aggressive for a dinner invite.

    The good news is that my city is NOT linking to the Project Inspire host guide.

    The hype and marketing for The Shabbat Project is WAY beyond anything that I've seen for anything else connected with Project Inspire. Chabad - Aish's traditional rival - is doing Shabbat Project programming. The rabbi from one of Toronto's biggest Conservative shuls is on the committee. My feminist, JTS-educated friend is providing information on challah baking at her school. In Toronto at least, the Shabbat Project has outgrown Project Inspire. It's sort of exciting to me, because people are picking up on the claim that this is a grassroots effort across denomination lines, and ACTUALLY MAKING IT SO.

    So...if you accept an invitation from a frum family that's following the Project Inspire host guide, you may get evasive answers to questions and some sugar-coating and some some annoying follow-up. It's also possible, though, to do a challah-baking event, or adult ed through a local shul, or attend a non-Orthodox synagogue, or have Shabbat dinner with family/friends, etc. that isn't connected with Orthodox recruitment at all.


Your respectful comments are welcome.