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.



19 comments:

  1. > Where is the concern from kiruv (outreach) rabbis that young college students being urged to take time off from university to attend yeshiva PROGRAMSmight not be able to "hack it financially" down the line?

    It's not the same. A non-Jew who can't afford the OJ lifestyle can remain a non-Jew is good standing, halachically speaking, and not incur the extra costs of Orthodoxy. A possible baal teshuva, who is already Jewish, MUST live an OJ life (from the kiruv worker's point of view), so the question of whether he can afford it is irrelevant.

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  2. The conversion for my adopted kids cost in the ten's of thousands of dollars. We were required to move to a specific community, Our kids had to got to a specific torah school, and since our eldest had an IEP at the time, wasn't admitted into our Torah day school. They waited until the youngest became of age. At the end of the day I wouldn't say these Rabbi's were looking to see if we could afford an OJ lifestyle. They were looking to line their own pockets. I never forget the words of wisdom our rav gave us the day before the mikvah...... "Don't forget to bring the checks"

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  3. besides blogs, how can we counter the kiruv world? do we write more articles? get more quotes? start a think tank? billboards? shaming campaigns on campus? honest, open, real, frank debate is the goal.

    if kiruv wants to tell students that archaeology supports the bible - they can. but we have to get people in the room who will show them the many, many ways it disproves the bible. let the student get all opinions. all the evidence.

    I don't think kiruv can handle intellectual challenges. that's my thesis. they have all the swagger until their views are (gasp) challenged by other views and facts. Then they freak out.

    Tuvia

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    1. Yes, yes, and more yes! I try to never miss an opportunity to challenge or dispute the lies, omissions and dismissals I hear from those selling kiruv. You can speak up in a one on one conversation, in a blog reply, a newspaper comment, at the grocery store - anywhere, anytime, Just Speak Up! It's a habit you can get into. Where ever you can, when ever you can, Speak Up!!

      Eloise

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    2. i agree.

      Tuvia

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    3. I've always wanted to start an organization that would bring those brain-washed BTs back to their families. The parents don't realize that they are losing their kids when Kiruv organizations grab a hold of them. I'm sure they would be so grateful to get them back.

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    4. Alex, I know that I would be grateful to get my child back.

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    5. Imagine if college campuses gave out information about cults and deceptive practices used by cults and organizations during their yearly club open house? Also, wouldn't it be great if colleges gave out background information about ALL of the organizations they allow on campus--including both the positive and negative aspects as well as links to relevant information? I'd love to see this happen, but alas, that kind of work takes both time and money to make happen. As one person, it's not something that I can do alone. We'd have to organize. That's really the key.

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    6. I find this attitude so sad. These Kiruv Rabbis are trying to share something they love, something that these Jewish kids' relatives took for granted a few short generations ago. Yes, they are showing one side, because that's their worldview, and every kid is entitled to seek out as much knowledge as they want on other perspectives and other religions before choosing how to live their lives. It's so sad that you see these kids as "lost" from their families, when they're living exactly the way their families lived for most of history!

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    7. Thank you for your condescending tone, Anonymous. It probably works to shame a lot of people into silence, but not me.

      Where to begin . . . well, let's start with "I find this attitude so sad." Really? You live such a sheltered life that it makes you sad that people are opposed to deceptive kiruv? Or was that just a well rehearsed knee jerk reply that you use to make people back off? I'll tell you what makes me sad - it's watching close loving families fall apart at the hands of kiruv workers.

      Then you said, "These Kiruv Rabbis are trying to share something they love, something that these Jewish kids' relatives took for granted a few short generations ago." I don't suppose you ever read history, did you? Real history, not the kiruv version of history. Someone probably told you that Jews schlepped around shtetls in heavenly bliss as one big happy Jew family, and that everybody practiced religion the same way. The truth is Jews were impoverished, illiterate, and burdened by inscriptions & heavy Jew taxes. They did not practice ultra Orthodox kiruv style religion. Jews were forced to live in certain areas, like shtetls & ghettos where information was limited to what their rabbis told them. There was no escape. There was no where to go. Do you actually consider this the good life? With the growth of trains & steam ships & the ability to leave Europe Jews escaped shtetls & ghettos & enjoyed freedom OF and freedom FROM religion. Jews finally had the choice to practice any kind of religion they chose including Reform & Conservative Judaism, and no religion at all. You see the opportunities Jews took advantage of as tragic. I see them as freedom of choice.

      Then you went on to say, "Yes, they are showing one side, because that's their worldview, and every kid is entitled to seek out as much knowledge as they want on other perspectives and other religions before choosing how to live their lives." Why don't kiruv rabbis tell the kids they are grooming that they are only describing one side, one worldview of Judaism instead of presenting that version as Ultra Orthodox or True Torah Judaism or just Judaism like what your grandparents practiced? Is the truth that incriminating? The lies certainly are, and I make it a point to call kiruv fanatics on their many, many lies. The real problem though is that kiruv rabbis bait, lure, buy, flirt, love bomb & do whatever it takes to get kids into their programs & keep them there. That isn't ethical or honest & it's a big problem.

      Your final statement is patronizing and just plain wrong, "It's so sad that you see these kids as "lost" from their families, when they're living exactly the way their families lived for most of history!" First, I don't know what planet you're on, but when flipped out children alienate themselves from their families to follow a kiruv rabbi, yes, I'd say they're lost from their families. Secondly, they are not living exactly the way their families lived for most of history. Read a history book. Judaism always had many streams & Jews kept up with the times whenever possible. Only now in 2014 are certain Jews pretending it's 1850.

      Eloise

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  4. That's awful and very revealing. See? Even big Rabbis can't survive without the money...

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  5. Graven Ruven: the above comment was meant as a comment on your comment. ;)

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  6. I'm groaning at the conversion demands. By those standards, Ruth herself would have been turned down.

    As for BTs - the thinking in the kiruv world is that a Jew is already obligated to do certain things, as opposed to a convert who would be subjecting themselves to new obligations.

    Within the frum world, there is also a certain pay-what-you-can mindset. Yes, we are currently paying an insane amount of tuition, but we are fortunately in a position where we don't require a subsidy. We have friends earning far less who do get subsidies, and a few years ago when a serious medical issue came up, the school agreed to suspend tuition payments until things were resolved. As starving students, we were able to get subsidized trips to Israel and we found a shul with very low dues and pay-what-you-can Shabbat meals (our only meat of the week).

    What does worry me more is the magical thinking used, particularly in the frum-from-birth crowd, when advocating large families AND no college AND living in expensive Jewish areas AND paying for schools and camps AND discouraging husbands from working instead of doing kollel.

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  7. I think for me the problem with kiruv is they hold themselves out to be authorities on the subject of Judaism – even as there are other Jews, both in academia and the religious end, who would challenge much of what they say.

    But they look the part and wear a beard and tell you this is how your great grandparents lived. The Torah is obviously from G-d, etc.

    People are out there, some even haredi in lifestyle, who will contest almost everything you hear in kiruv. Only these objectors are not present. They are never present. They are not permitted to challenge what they guy in the black suit with the big beard is saying at the podium.

    People don’t know better – and the kiruv rabbi relies on using all of his props to lure people into doing and believing, and not thinking or evaluating. This includes fake proofs, debatable history, shaky archaeology, bible codes, a very incomplete take on prophecy, and a dismissal of biblical criticism way before you get a chance to even grapple with its findings.

    Thinking is the enemy of this kind of Judaism. And they know this. So the plan of attack is to get you to think you are thinking, when you are really being indoctrinated.

    Then, for people who are away from home, there is the children and the traditional wife doing her role in the kitchen.

    Nothing wrong with any of this as a lifestyle – but they way it is presented to young people – it’s working on their minds in a way that is both seductive and manipulative.

    That’s what I really object to: manipulating people and calling it victory.

    I find traditional living and community very interesting.

    I think the intellectual life of the frum community is very problematic; walls to keep out learning is a sign of trouble and the community’s lack of confidence; kids not being able to go to college lest they immediately stop valuing Torah – suspicious and another flag.

    Tuvia

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    1. Tuvia, I think you deserve today's genius award for stating so simply what many of us struggle to find words for.

      Eloise

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  8. Thanks. It's been a lot of thinking about it for me too....

    Tuvia

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  9. Based on the comments here, one could falsely assume that there are no educated people within the Orthodox world and that is far from the truth.

    Orthodox graduate from Ivy League schools for both undergrad and graduate degrees. There are those who keep shabbat and observe Torah who are 'gasp' physicists, geneticists, biologists and doctors! Somehow, there are rabbis who have tier one educations and reconcile the Torah as from HaShem (impossible...no way!).

    Perhaps, they have not closed their eyes and covered their ears when they studied natural sciences and the geological record; but, rather they understand that for a reason we do not understand, we are told that HaShem created the earth in his timeframe and explained it to us as outlined in the Torah and from Adam to today is 5775 years.

    One should never assume that adhering to Torah is the result of naivete or an insular community - not in this day and age. Nearly the whole of Israel is secular and has had a secular education and atheist indoctrination. An American Jew who has returned to Torah has no one stopping him or her from reading every atheist book out there from Dawkins to Hitchenson and Sam Harris.

    You can hate on kiruv rabbis, but, what is it that you truly railing against, HaShem? Your problem is with him not the rabbi; you can follow Richard Dawkins or Torah.

    Your choice and YMMV.

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    1. But are they educated in matters that are crucial to a modern understanding of the origins of the Torah and it's laws, rituals, myths ? Biblical Academic scholarship, ancient near east comparative studies... Do they really believe or just put on a facade ? What do they believe ? Science and Torah are not compatible except with plenty of ignorance, kvetching, hand waving and a good dose of intellectual dishonesty. My blog is debunking apologetics. Altercockerjewishatheist.

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    2. This a big topic. Again, living a traditional frum life is not something I have any argument with.

      But you should read Eric Hoffer, The True Believer. It is a good treatment of how mass movements work. The psychological considerations.

      Also, regarding what kind of folks join even extreme movements - this from a survivor of the Jim Jones cult -- the ones who committed mass suicide in Guyana:

      "What was good about Jonestown was not Jim Jones. It was the people he attracted. They came from every walk of life, from the very well educated to the totally uneducated. Some had lots of money. Some were living off of Social Security, and some didn't even have that. It could have been you. It was me."

      How did Jones manage to lure all these people in, to the point where they would follow him anywhere?

      "He was very charismatic and attracted people who were feeling vulnerable or disenfranchised for whatever reason. Most of them were African-American, but there were also white people, Jewish people, people of Mexican descent. There were religious Christians and communists. If you wanted religion, Jim Jones could give it to you. If you wanted socialism, he could give it to you. If you were looking for a father figure, he'd be your father. He always homed in on what you needed and managed to bring you in emotionally."

      "I always looked at the Temple as a utopian community that used religion to get where we were wanting to go. Other people took it as Christ's way. There's a passage in the Bible where Jesus tells people to leave their families and follow him. Jim quoted that quite a lot. He said he was Gandhi, Buddha, Lenin -- he said he was the coming back of anybody you'd ever want to come back. And we believed him. "

      Tuvia

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