Thursday, August 11, 2016

Children of BTs and Converts: How They're Really Treated

  I posted the link to this article on this blog's Facebook page yesterday but it was too important not to include a brief post about it here.
   I can only hope that "Children of Baalei Teshuva / Converts / Something to Think About During These 9 Days"goes viral. Parents need to read this. Potential recruits being missionized by ultra-orthodox kiruv professionals need to read this. The frum world needs to read this. People considering an orthodox conversion need to read this.
  In a nutshell, converts are supposed to welcomed into the community. They're not be reminded that they are converts. Baalei teshuvah are also supposedly on a higher level than those who are frum from birth, or FFB, since they supposedly overcame more obstacles and changed their way of life. Regardless, the frum community has always found a way to treat gerim (converts) and BTs (newly religious) with distrust and disdain, allowing and encouraging community members to treat them as if they are second class citizens.
  The children of BTs and gerim often face social and educational hurdles from a community that once pretended to accept their parents in order to convince them to become frum. Kids are often not  accepted into certain schools due to their parents' status as BTs or converts; some children are bullied in the schools that do accept them. Often these children face further social discrimination from orthodox parents who fear that their kids will somehow be negatively influenced by a family that has not always been frum.
  I have written about this before on this blog. I have sent articles and queries to other publications about this phenomenon, and about the issues within kiruv. The frum world doesn't want to hear it and the non-orthodox Jewish world doesn't believe it--not until their children are scooped up by the friendly rabbi on campus and indoctrinated into this lifestyle. Read the article. Share that article and others that shed light on what's really going on in the world of kiruv. Let's work together to educate people about the truth behind deceptive ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

How They Take Custody of Your Kids 101: Recipe for Alienation

Guest Post by Anonymous
Note from Rebecca M. Ross: Divorce is never easy. In the non-orthodox world, divorce can be traumatic for both children and adults as they experience the dissolution of the family unit. But in the frum world, if one spouse leaves orthodoxy and the couple divorces, bitter and expensive custody battles often ensue, children are alienated from the no longer religious parent, and whole communities take it upon themselves to shun the person who left. This recipe for pain and alienation is described in this piece. Those of us working on the Jewish Outreach: What Your Rabbi Isn't Telling You blog are grateful for the opportunity to reprint these words.

  Quick way and strategy they take full custody of your kids 101 and how one can easily fall for it--
1. They send very strong attorney letters to you saying you are mentally unstable and a danger to your kids. Very strong and intimidating and outlining clearly some crazy examples and such strong language that you are now very scared.
2. You attempt to get an attorney and you are told you need a massive retainer $$$$$ and the attorney tells you this won't be an easy case and may go on for years and this retainer will only last a few weeks.
3. You look for a free attorney and find out that is easier said then done and they are all lame and don't return calls and are so bad that you are guaranteed to lose.
4. During all this time you are broke. Trying to find work and realize that you will make less then enough to pay rent and actually eat too....
5. They have filed something with the court or they just simply aren't allowing you to see them and you have no recourse so while this is going on you do not see your kids or maybe you see them sporadically and you are starting to freak out.
6. You either hired regular attorney and are running out of funds and desperate and it's dragging on and retainer is almost gone you have no more funds for next payment and there is no end in sight or you hired free attorney and see they suck and kids are slipping away... time is passing....
7. Your ex (with financial help from anyone who decides to help save the kids neshamas) nasty attorneys are firing scary bomb letters to the court and you and you feel doomed.
8. IN MIDDLE OF ALL THIS... you get a call from a "kind" rabbi who wishes to HELP--
  He offers to make court go away... and will try really hard to help you and "convince" your ex to agree via Bais Din and he (this Rabbi) has a heart and wants to help from the bottom of his "heart" now he says... look you aren't as frum as you were and your house may have a TV, etc. so I propose that you see your kids not on shabbos or yom tov... you understand I will have to really work on your ex to him/her to agree to you seeing the children at all and get this concession and I will do it bec[ause] I really "care" about you and want you and the kids to be close.
Now in the process, you no longer will have to pay attorneys and we will agree to this in the beis din...he says.
You are broke--
Want to see your kids desperately
You can't continue paying attorneys that can guarantee nothing
So you agree
It is binding... in court of law.
Now since you have to work you get a few hours at night on a weekday
And Sunday... to see your kids. This is better then nothing and you aren't guaranteed this good deal with your attorneys that you can't pay for anyways... so you agree.
Soon they say your house is not suitable kosher, TV blah blah so no visitation in the house...
You can take them anywhere else
Pizza shop
Etc. Kosher places... No movies of course.
Then Sunday hours become less and less
9-5 becomes 10-4 and then 11-3 and then 12-2
After a while...
They have bombarded the kids against you.
Alienated them
Brainwashed them
The kids are sullen
The kids won't talk much
The kids don't show affection anymore
Midweek visits are gone bec[ause] they say there is too much homework and kids are tired after long day at yeshiva... so you only see them Sunday.
More time goes by... older kids act angry and nasty and start refusing to come... You may be relieved because they are acting so hurtful towards you anyways and it is so painful....
You can't force them anyway.
The nice rabbi says "oy we can't force him, what can I do?" He does nothing of course--this is all part of the plan.
The younger ones get older and do the same in short order....
Meanwhile you went through hell thinking up fun activities and cried a million tears and buying gifts they show no appreciation for.... No phone calls are returned by kids....
This is the recipe.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Aish Issues Apology for Controversial Meme, FB Users Still Angered

  On Friday, June 24, 2016, right before Shabbat in Israel, ultra-orthodox kiruv group Aish HaTorah's Facebook page posted an internet meme that quickly spread to 160 shares and a multitude of comments chastising them for their insensitivity over the 25 hours that was unable to monitor their Facebook page. The story was picked up by internet sites including Frum Watch and The Friendly Atheist during the hours that Aish's page lacked supervision. Aish has since removed the meme and issued an apology stating: apologizes for the graphic that was posted before Shabbat. The meaning of the Talmudic quote was meant to inspire people NOT to remain silent in the face of evil. Given the photo and lack of context, we regret posting something that contained an alternative offensive meaning. It was not our intention; we goofed.
  While many were quick to forgive the massive, well-funded international organization for their "goof," others were less than thrilled with their apology. Commenter Miriam Lichter wrote:  "I'm sorry but saying we goofed is not a sincere apology. This picture obviously was a trigger for many women who experienced something awful in their lives and the word 'goofed' minimizes and trivializes their experiences. Try for something a little more sincere."
  Others shared her sentiments.

  Lisa Klayman Blonder, who had commented several hours before Ms. Lichter, stated "I don't think saying you goofed on a mistake as huge as the one you posted on Friday is an apology. Goofed is for a tiny insignificant error, you error on Friday was much larger than that!" 
  It seems obvious that Aish just wants this fiasco to go away. Commenter Yardena Winegust asked Aish "Also, why don't you mention what message you accidentally conveyed?" did not post a reply.
  Controversy erupted again when Yehuda R. Rabinowitz suggested that Aish have 24/7/365 monitoring of their site, and that anything less is irresponsible. While one commenter dismissed the error because of Sabbath observance,
Facebook user Mona Boeger explained that "Arutz Sheva is also Orthodox but has people in diffrrent (sic) countries run the web site during Shabbat because of the time difference, Aish is large enough to do the same. People were triggered by this photo, some probably revictimized. Sorry, they need to be more responsible!" Sexual abuse survivor Olivia Bender responded:
I was revictimized by that photo. I saw it commented to please take it down. I went and cried in my room and remembered the gag around my mouth. Trying to scream and it coming out muffled sob.... my comment was an excuse for them yes. But i prayed about it. I know that they have the best intentions. And they didn't mean it the way it came off. They also apologized. I expect no person, no company to be perfect. But they were sweet to apologize. Because i didnt even get that much from the people that hurt me in the first place. Im sorry if this was a bit much for you. But you just don't know. Walking in forgiveness and understanding that sometimes its better to just forget. Especially when you actually got an apology.
While Ms. Bender may be quick to forgive, she cannot possibly speak for everyone.
  Aish HaTorah is an outreach group that seeks to recruit young people to ultra-orthodox observance and can be found on college campuses and in areas with young professionals. Because they deal with non-orthodox people on a regular basis, they have a certain level of responsibility to be
aware of not just the goings-on in the frum world, but the complexities of the non-orthodox world. They dropped the ball on this one, making people question just how much this organization actually cares for its followers and potential followers. Gone are the days when potential BTs (baalei teshuvah/returnees to observance) can simply be wooed with the local kiruv rabbi's knowledge of baseball players or rock music. Like the Jewish parable that discusses the results of the spread of gossip in terms of the impossible task of trying to gather the scattered feathers of a ripped feather bed, Aish will never be able to gather all of the feathers of pain that their irresponsible posting has caused.
(Click on images to enlarge.)

Updated with the following comment photos. Some of the comments defending Aish are very disturbing and seem to be from Aish supporters.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Outrage Ensues After Aish HaTorah Posts Controversial Facebook Meme

 On Friday, June 24, 2016, the ultra-orthodox Aish HaTorah kiruv group's Facebook page posted a meme stating that "Silence equals consent" along with a picture of a young woman covering her face. Facebook users immediately exercised more than silence, berating the international outreach group for lacking sensitivity and common sense in posting a picture and quote with no context that evokes thoughts of rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and unwanted sexual contact.
  Readers of the Facebook page expressed their immense displeasure with Aish's post, rebuking them for a lack of sensitivity. Those knowledgeable in Talmud tried explaining the original post. Commenter Yardena Winegust wrote "One translation says "silence is regarded as admission" and then added "Shame on you. The choice of image, and choice of quote is exceptionally triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault." Others tried to be understanding of this horrific blunder. Shana Aaronson stated "Please remove this immediately. I assume (hope) that this was not your intention but this quote translated like this, especially together with this picture, is irresponsible, insensitive, triggering, and outrageously inappropriate." Commenter Meranda Prediger wrote:
This was very poorly thought out. In fact, I dare suggest it was not thought out at all. The quote relates to moral conduct and the need to stand up for what is right as saying nothing is the same as supporting. This image, combined with the quote and no further explanation inserts the wrong context. It is a very dangerous image as is right now.
(More comments can be read in the pictures on this post. Click to enlarge each section.)
  This PR disaster is more than just a little mistake on social media. It's indicative of a clear lack of understanding of the world outside of Aish's religious bubble. In a time when images on social media spread like wildfire, Aish has shown that they are not at all in step with the world outside of their community--even though it is the people of that world who they are trying to recruit. Scarier still is that Aish HaTorah serves as an umbrella for groups like MEOR Maimonides Leaders Fellowship which exist on college campuses throughout the United States. A mistake of this magnitude doesn't just reach a couple of people on Facebook. It travels back to college students and their parents--who are possible donors to Aish's many programs. It travels to people who will now be wary of Aish's mission, and it travels to people like myself--who are critical of ultra-orthodox kiruv.
  While many users called for the outreach group to remove the picture immediately, the picture remained posted (and, at the time of this post, is still online), most likely due to the onset of Shabbat in Israel, where it assumed the post was made.
  Update: Thank you to Hemant Mehta, at the Friendly Atheist, for writing about this and quoting this blog. At the time of this update,'s post has been shared 160 times and remains posted.
  Update 2: At the time of this update,'s Facebook page had been updated with an apology reading: apologizes for the graphic that was posted before Shabbat. The meaning of the Talmudic quote was meant to inspire people NOT to remain silent in the face of evil. Given the photo and lack of context, we regret posting something that contained an alternative offensive meaning. It was not our intention; we goofed.
While I'm not a fan of Aish HaTorah, I'm relieved to see that they had the sense to issue an apology after posting something that was so hurtful to so many. A screen shot has been included at the end of this post. Click the graphic to enlarge.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Cutting Ties to Family and Friends in the Name of Kiruv

  While some rabbis claim that they would never influence ba'alei teshuva/newly religious to sever familial ties, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef believes in just the opposite approach. Earlier this week, Ynetnews reported that Yosef "has called for religious Jews to distance their children from secular or merely traditionally Jewish family members, and even to prevent their children from meeting them."1 The Chief Rabbi stated "There are ba'alei tshuva (once-secular Jews who have become observant) with non-religious families who take their small, 7-year-old, 8-year-old children to visit [non-religious family], and this influences the children."2 His concern is that secular influences such as TV and interaction with non-orthodox family will ultimately pave the way for kids to leave orthodoxy.
  The rabbi's words were countered by
Rabbi Refael "Rafi" Feuerstein, the co-chairman of the rabbinical organization Tzohar, [who] criticized the chief rabbi's approach and said, "The fruits of a disconnected and anxious education are that we treat the secular public with arrogance and contempt . . .  and only increases polarization and hatred in people."3
  Adding to the difficulty of changing one's life to become orthodox, the Chief Rabbi now wants BTs (ba'alei teshuva) to cause more strife and anger within their families. Bad enough that BTs have already informed their families that they cannot eat on their dishes or drive to them on the holidays, that they will not see them or take their calls over Shabbat, that they've given up many activities that they previously enjoyed with extended family, that their lifestyle is hugely different from that of their parents, and that they've taken on a strict interpretation of Jewish practice, they now are expected to sever bonds with their non-orthodox family to ensure their children's spiritual safety.
  In Margery I. Schwartz's book "What's Up with the Hard Core Jewish People? An Irreverent Yet Informative Approach to Judaism and Religious Devotion From A Reform Jewish Mother's Perspective" she talks about Aish HaTorah's grip on her son and how the yeshiva
encourage[s] students to reject their upbringing if it's not according to Torah. They believe that they are reprogramming our children in the proper path. Aish doesn't focus on the fact that a person from a non-Orthodox background most often cannot be integrated into the ultra-orthodox world without destroying old friendships and family connections.4
  While some readers might be thinking that Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef's words and even those of Margery Schwartz are inaccurate and that kiruv rabbis do not promote or justify severing ties with non-orthodox family, it only takes a Google search to find various blog posts suggesting just the opposite. Even Chabad Rabbi Tzvi Freeman's addresses a reader's question asking why a close long-term friendship suddenly collapsed as one of the friends became increasingly orthodox. Freeman states:
Many of us have been through this. You fall in love with a different way of living, rituals, study -- a whole new wave of life washes over you -- and your only way to deal with it is by blocking out the rest of the world. I've seen it happen not only to people getting into their Judaism, but with musicians, artists, career people, politicians. Although, yes, religion may be the most encompassing of all.
It's a sign of an earnest personality, someone who puts his all into anything he does. You can't achieve a total immersion into anything without first letting go of everything else. Perhaps it was that same earnestness that allowed such a strong bond between the two of you in younger years. This is a person who, wherever he is, all of him is there.5
  Freeman blames the BT's personality for alienating his friend and assumes it's because he is, perhaps, very earnest. He says it's the same thing that any person who is passionate about something might do. But Freeman does admit that this alienation may be more extreme when it comes from religion. The one thing that Freeman doesn't address is whether people becoming orthodox are being influenced, either subtly or overtly, to sever relationships that kiruv professionals and their organizations may feel are, in some way, not kosher.
  When we look back at Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef's concern about being influenced by those who aren't orthodox, it seems like his ideas aren't so shocking. They're just the same extremist views that other kiruv organizations hold. The only difference is that he seems to have no problem saying them out loud.
1. Nachshoni, Kobi. Chief Rabbi: Keep children away from secular family. Ynetnews. March 13, 2016.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4.  Schwartz, Margery I.
What's Up with the Hard Core Jewish People? An Irreverent Yet Informative Approach to Judaism and Religious Devotion From A Reform Jewish Mother's Perspective. US. 2006. p. 18.
5. Freeman, Tzvi. My Orthodox Friend Cut Me Off!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Mark's Story

I'd like to introduce Mark*, a long-time reader who contacted me a while back to tell me of his experiences with deceptive Jewish outreach. Mark is in his twenties and was previously targeted by kiruv professionals when his best friend began looking into options to go on a second Birthright trip. In this piece, he explains what happened to Jake* before, during, and after his encounter with the Maimonides (Meor) courses and Aish HaTorah.
*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Mark's Story
  The kiruv journey started on our Birthright trip a few years ago. I went with my best friend Jake, as well as a few other people from our school. But it's not what you think. we were there to experience Israel and have a good time. There was absolutely no proselytizing of any kind on this trip. There wasn't even the slightest hint of deceptive kiruv. Most of my fellow classmates and new friends when back home and went back to their normal lives, as did we. The day after the trip, I went out with Jake and some other friends. We all agreed that we enjoyed the trip and went back to our regular lives in the weeks after.
  I think I should introduce and explain my relationship with Jake before going any further in this post. I was born in the former Soviet Union, and came here when I was four years old. Both of my parents are Jewish and I was raised in a Russian-Jewish home. My family idn't consider themselves very religious. We attended High Holiday services at the local Chabad and I had my Bar Mitzvah, but that's about as far as my Judaism went. As with a lot of Russian Jews I know, my identity is "Jewish by association." I consider myself Jewish, most of my friends are Jewish, I only date Jewish girls, I go to High Holiday services, but that's about as far as things go. My friend Jake, on the other hand, was born in the United States. His great grandparents came to this country from Eastern Europe, so he considers himself American. His family goes to a Reform synagogue for High Holiday services, and that's about it. Aside from his family paying expensive membership fees, our families were pretty similar in terms of our commitment to Judaism. Neither of us kept kosher, observed the Sabbath, or did anything like that. Jake and I met in high school. We had been inseparable since we'd met--we did everything together. We were lucky enough to attend the same state school and our friendship continued to grow as strong as ever. We attended Hillel together where we met a bunch of Jewish people. It was a nice place to hang out and there was no pressure to become any more religious. When our Hillel director told us she would be leading a Birthright trip, we decided to all go together.
  So what happened after our Birthright trip? I know you're expecting me to say that Jake had some sort of life-changing revelation that suddenly made him become an orthodox Jew during our trip. But no, that's definitely not the case. There was only one thing that changed. Jake wanted to go on another Birthright trip. But unfortunately, once you go on Birthright, you can't go again. But that didn't stop him; he went out to search for another free trip to Israel. That set the wheels in motion. 
  A few months after our trip, Jake called to tell me some exciting news. He found out about another trip to Israel! Now, it wasn't free, but it was very cheap, about $500. The trip was supposed to be just like Birthright, with lots of activities and touring. He didn't give any more details except that he would be meeting for coffee with the rabbi he contacted regarding the trip. I didn't think anything of it. After his meeting, Jake told me that he really liked him and that he was invited to the rabbi's house for Shabbat dinner. Jake invited me to come along and I didn't think anything of that either. It sounded completely innocent.
  We went that Friday to the Rabbi's house. He and his wife were very friendly. They had multiple children, all who were very friendly as well. Numerous people our age were at their home. Most were like Jake and I, Reform or maybe Conservative Jews. I enjoyed dinner. The company was great and the food was pretty good.The rabbi told us stories about Judaism and we had discussions on different topics. We also spent time schmoozing with the other guests. The rabbi told lots of jokes and made us laugh. He was very friendly and I really enjoyed his company. After we finished bentching, (saying the grace after meals) Jake and I left and hit up some bars. It was just like any other night hanging out. Nothing changed. The following week, Jake called me again telling me that we were both invited back to the rabbi's house. We came back to a good meal with a large number of people our age, a few from the previous week, most were new. There was more conversation covering Jewish topics. We schmoozed with people our age. Then Jake and I once again set off for the bars.
   The following week, I called Jake to see if he wanted to get together with friends that Friday. He told me that he was busy because he was going to Shabbat dinner at the rabbi's house. I didn't think anything of it (yet again), and told him I would just see him Saturday instead. Jake agreed and said he was selected to go on the trip to Israel he wanted to go on. I congratulated him. He told me he would spend half the the time at a place called Aish HaTorah, and the rest of it would be spent doing a variety of activities. He asked if I would consider going on the trip, but I was busy during that period, so I declined. We both went our separate ways on Friday and met up Saturday for lunch. He told me that the following week he would stay for "the entire Shabbos." It turns out that some of the people our age we ate dinner with would spend the night with another Jewish family in the neighborhood. That sounded pretty neat. But at the time I was pretty busy with school on the weekends and wasn't able to spend the night.
  We both went to dinner the following week. Once again, we had a good dinner and schmoozed with the people our age. I noticed that there were more new faces than old. Once dinner was over, I drove home. Jake stayed behind. Later that night, we texted back and forth. He said he was bored because there were no electronics on due to the restrictions of Shabbat. I thought it was kind of funny. When it got late, we both said goodbye and went to sleep. I didn't hear from him again until Shabbat was over. We met up Saturday night to hang out.
  At this point, Jake was going to the rabbi's house for dinner and then spending the night at another family's house every week. I was still invited for the following weeks but I never stayed the night. We continued to text each other at night, but as time went on, he texted less and less until he finally stopped. He said that he was "able to keep Shabbos better" at this point. As the weeks progressed, I noticed that he stopped inviting me to visit the rabbi. If I didn't have plans on a Friday night, I would end up calling the rabbi and he would tell me to come over. Around this time, Jake signed up for the Maimonides course. It was run by the same rabbi and Jake was excited because it paid a $400 stipend. Due to my class schedule, I was unable to attend so I never took the class.
  As Jake's trip date grew closer, we began talking less and less. When I would ask if he wanted to spend a Saturday afternoon together, he'd respond "I can't, man, it's Shabbos." No problem. I respected that. Then his big two week trip to Israel came. He ended up going to Aish HaTorah. He enjoyed it so much that he decided to extend his trip another two weeks. He told me that he was spending a good portion of the day studying Torah. When we talked on Facebook, he'd talk more and more about Torah and Judaism. We no longer talked about things we used to discuss.
  I was excited for him to finally come home but something had changed. He was different. He would not see me on Friday or Saturday. In fact, at this point, he told me that I could only come to the rabbi's house if I stayed the entire time (Friday at sunset until an hour past sunset on Saturday night) because leaving early would desecrate the Sabbath. He also refused to go to any of our favorite restaurants because they weren't kosher. When we talked on the phone, he'd yell at me for the most random things. When I told him I had eaten at certain restaurants, he'd say "How could you?! That's not kosher!" Or when I tried telling him about my Friday and Saturday plans that no longer included him, he'd respond "You can't do that on Shabbos! What's wrong with you?!" I wish that I could tell you that he said these things in a joking manner, but he didn't. He was dead serious.
  At this point, I felt like things were changing but I couldn't understand why. I wanted to mend our faltering relationship, so I told him that I would stay a full Shabbat weekend. The rabbi put both of us with the same family for the night. I was bored out of my mind. We spent the next morning in shul. Jake knew what he was doing. I was just daydreaming the entire time. I couldn't wait for it to end! At the end of Saturday night, he asked how I liked Shabbat. I told him the truth. He then yelled at me and proceeded to tell me something interesting. He asked if I realized a while ago that I was inviting myself to the rabbi's house and that he wasn't inviting me. It didn't occur to me at the time, but then I realized that this was indeed the case. He told me that this was due to my unwillingness to become more religious. He said that they "gave up on me." What?! I thought that the rabbi was there to host students so they could learn about Judaism. I never once thought that there was some kind of ulterior motive.
  By then Jake was hanging out with some of the people I had met at those dinners. The men from those meals had already started to wear the typical clothes of orthodox men--the traditional black hats and suits. The women were all covered, wearing very long skirts, with arms and legs covered. What about the other people from the dinners that weren't doing this? The ones I added on Facebook no longer went to these dinners. In fact, they no longer engaged in any of these activities, period. It was only me going with Jake, and a few others who went consistently but didn't become religious (they too stopped at some point). Since Jake was too busy spending time with his religious friends, we drifted away.
  I was confused. Everything had happened so gradually. He slowly started to become more religious over time. When we started going to Shabbat dinners, he thought things like shomer negiah (refraining from all physical contact with members of the opposite sex) were a joke. Now he takes it all very seriously. I stumbled upon the term baal teshuvah (newly religious). When I read more into it, I learned that Jake wasn't alone. Countless young Jewish people encounter these kiruv organizations and get sucked in. From what I've seen, it's a very slow process. It's not overnight like some people might think. It started with something as simple as going to dinner. Since the rabbis initially didn't make any effort to have people stay after dinner, they had time to get comfortable. Gradually they get sucked in further and they start to observe more traditions. When Jake started spending nights with orthodox families, he would text me from his phone. Gradually he became shomer Shabbos (fully observant of the Sabbath laws) and then this stopped. Once things started to get bad, he began criticizing almost everything I did. He criticized nearly everything he used to do too! It got to the point where I no longer wanted to spend time with him. The funny thing about this criticism is that the FFB (frum/orthodox from birth) Jews I know have never criticized me for doing anything. As I briefly mentioned earlier, the Maimonidies program is an easy way to target students. They attend weekly classes in order to get a stipend. But there's a catch. They most spend a full Shabbat in the orthodox community in order to get the stipend. That's how they reel these unsuspecting students in. While a majority of them will take the money and move on with their lives, a few will continue to attend dinners and get sucked in just like Jake did.
  When I stumbled upon this blog, I was shocked. It was as if Rebecca Ross was pulling the words straight out of my mouth. I read about kiruv tactics and realized that they tried every move on both of us. It started with love-bombing at simple dinners, and then escalated to more serious things. Once Jake went to Aish HaTorah, that was it. Interestingly, no one from this kiruv organization ever made their intentions clear. All Jake wanted was another trip to Israel just like Birthright. He got so much more than he, his family, or I bargained for. I only joined him for the dinners. I was completely oblivious to the fact that they were proselytizing! That's how deceptive these organizations are. While I genuinely enjoyed the dinners and other events (they are good at getting people to like them with their love-bombing), and while I loved my other experiences with them, I grew to hate them once they pulled Jake out of my life. I hated the fact that they would deceptively break apart families. Here's what I don't understand: orthodox Jews usually feel that it's a travesty when another orthodox Jew goes off the derech (goes off the path of orthodoxy, usually for a non-orthodox life), but they feel that it's inspiring when non-orthodox Jews alienate their own friends and family to become religious. That doesn't make any sense to me. I read quite a few anti-kiruv blogs, and then eventually started reading things posted by baal teshuvas. I read some posts on Beyond BT, and I found them to be incredibly depressing. I'm not sure how breaking the bonds with family is supposed to be inspiring. I even saw a blog where baalteshuvas were discussing how they should cut ties with their families because they wouldn't want their children growing up seeing how bubbe and zayde (grandma and grandpa) drive on Shabbos or eat treif (non-kosher) food. Then I saw countless comments on another blog where baal teshuvahs would say that their friends and family unfortunately haven't experienced "the beauty of Torah." That sounds like nothing more than simple brainwashing.
  Recently I went to Jake's wedding. He found a shidduch (a marriage partner for an arranged marriage) and they married within a few months of meeting. A week before his wedding, I attended a Reform friend's rehearsal dinner and wedding. You could just see their faces and know that both families were incredibly happy and excited to see their children get married. The next week I went to Jake's wedding. It was odd. All of the orthodox people at the wedding were incredibly happy. They were festive. There was lots of dancing. But what about Jake's family? I talked to them because they were like a second family to me. They didn't look happy at all. In fact, his grandmother told me that she hopes his new wife will go off the derech so that he will go back to his "normal" self. This was the unhappiest wedding I have ever seen, at least from his family's side. I wasn't happy either. I never imagined my former best friend's wedding would be like this. But this is what happened. The process was so gradual that it was impossible to see this coming.
  Since losing Jake, one of my friends confided in me about her crush becoming more religious. Since I'm friends with him on Facebook, I was able to watch his gradual change. I was able to explain everything that was happening step-by-step. It was like clockwork. This time, I saw someone go from a Reform Jew to an orthodox Jew just like Jake did--but this time I knew what was happening. It was difficult seeing my friend lose someone she cared about, especially since I knew what the ultimate outcome would be. I wish I could have told his parents what was happening and make it stop. But I couldn't. At least by writing this post, I can show the world what kiruv does. I want the world to know how they stole my best friend from me. I also want them to know that I was a target. They tried to work their magic on me and they failed. I was shocked when I was told what they were trying to do--they were that deceptive!
  I'd like to leave this long post with a simple message for both parents and current baal teshuvas. For the parents of college students, please explain to them what kiruv is. Instead of having them do the Maimonides course, just offer to pay them $400 instead. It's a small price to pay for not losing your child. Also, I wouldn't worry about Birthright as long as they aren't doing Aish or any other orthodox-run trip, but be wary of any subsidized trips after Birthright like Aish or Jewel because these are created for the purpose of proselytizing your children. For the baal teshuvas who believe it's better to alienate your family and friends who care about you because they "don't see the beauty of Torah," who do you think would be at your side if you were halfway around the world and seriously injured? I'll give you a hint. It won't be the people standing next to you at shul.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Why in the World Is Chabad at Muhlenberg College?

  Muhlenberg College is a small liberal arts college in Allentown, Pennsylvania, embodying the Lutheran ideals of its namesake, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the founder of the Lutheran Church in America. The school promotes intellectual curiosity and growth, creativity, and an ethical responsibility to humankind the world over. The school boasts a small student to faculty ratio with over a hundred clubs and organizations--including a campus Hillel that addresses the needs of an array of Jewish students who make up 33% of the student body. So why is Chabad--a well-known utlra-orthodox kiruv/outreach group--attempting to establish roots on this small private college's campus? It looks like the college newspaper wants to know the same.
  According to The Muhlenberg Weekly's article Analyzing Chabad's Role on Campus: New Option Geared for Jewish Students Proves Controversial, Chabad first appeared on campus this school year  and the reaction has been mixed.
“Many students have shared with me that they feel sad that, with the arrival of Chabad, they see the shifts in what had been a unified Jewish community,” said Rabbi Simon, and added that students have also shared that Chabad’s proximity to the campus “has been really divisive.”
Aaron Brandt ‘17, the president of Muhlenberg College Hillel and a former attendee of an Orthodox day school, agrees, and offered a potential explanation for the divisiveness. “Chabad has been attempting to attract students who are already active members of the Hillel community, rather than students who have not yet found their place in Jewish life since coming to college.”1
  Chabad's modus operandi is to send shluchim, or missionaries, to set up outposts on college campuses, and in towns and cities all over the globe in order to attract Jews to greater Jewish observance. The group is decidedly not pluralistic, and teaches Judaism solely from an orthodox perspective. They do not recognize non-orthodox denominations as legitimate, and the late rebbe Menachem Schneerson--the last Lubavitcher rebbe, had stated in a letter that "My considered opinion . . . is [that] the doctrines and ideology of the Conservative and Reform movements can only be classed in the category of heretical movements which have plagued our people at one time or another, only to disappear again, having no basis in our everlasting Torah."2

Rebbe Schneerson: Other expressions of Judaism are heretical.
Click to enlarge.
  In the handbook for Chabad emissaries, Shlichus: Meeting the Outreach Challenge, Rabbi Eliyahu Cohen gives advice to campus missionaries in his article "The Campus Approach." In addition to addressing the point that existing Jewish groups such as Hillel may have issues with Chabad trying to establish themselves on campus, Cohen urges missionaries to "become a resource for questions on Jewish life"3 and provides information on how to appeal to college students for maximum impact. He stresses the importance of becoming a chartered club and states that:
Apart from providing the organization with legitimacy, [a charter] may also provide privileges such as access to campus rooms, media equipment and reduced rates in the school newspaper. In private colleges where issues of church and state do not come into play, financial aid may be offered. Ask administrators about including a flyer with the registration, housing or dining information sent to the student's home. It may be appropriate to ask parents to enroll their children as members of Chabad House for $10 or $18 a year.4
  Setting up outposts on college campuses provides Chabad missionaries with the perfect environment in which to proselytize. Not only is there a sizable and changing Jewish student population that they can groom for present or future observance and/or yeshiva study, but there are campus resources which can be harnessed to further their agenda, as well as students and parents who will serve as a source of funding--sometimes long past graduation. Chabad isn't innocently coming to Muhlenberg College to provide something that's missing from Hillel's diverse offerings--unless you consider indoctrination to be innocent.

For more about Chabad on this blog: and use the Search this Blog function for more:
Is Chabad Ultra-Orthodox?
Chabad's Double Standard: Outrage Over Being Duped
Who *are* the People in's Fundraising Letter?
What BuzzFeed Forgot to Tell You About the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Chabad
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1. Kantor, Gregory. Analyzing Chabad's Role on Campus: New Option Geared for Jewish Students Proves Controversial. The Mulhlenberg Weekly. March 3, 2016.
2. Schneerson, Menachem M. The Conservative and Reform Ideology. Correspondence by Rabbi Menachen M. Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe. July 21, 1959. qtd. on
3. Cohen, Rabbi Eliyahu. "The Campus Approach."Shlichus: Meeting the Outreach Challenge. Nshei Ubnos Chabad, 1991. p117. 

4. ibid.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Hosting The Not (Yet) Religious

  Nothing says our goal is to make you orthodox like advertising a lecture called "Hosting the Not (Yet) Religious." On Sunday morning, March 6, 2016, Far Rockaway's Congregation Kneseth Israel, a.k.a The White Shul, will be hosting this lecture for men right after morning prayers.
  Wait, what? For men?
  Why, yes. For men. Specifically.
  Why is that? Isn't it already insulting that they're defining non-orthodox Jews as "not (yet) religious," as if their only interest is to make us orthodox? Who defines someone by what they are not? Is that all we are to them--not (yet) religious?
 Just so you know--by "religious" they mean orthodox. It doesn't matter how many aliyahs you've had at your Reform synagogue, Mr. Abramowitz, or how many times you've read the Torah in your Conservative temple, Ms. Roth. By Rabbi Motti Neuburger's standards, you're still not (yet) religious. But to answer the question. Yes, it's extremely insulting to view people who, for whatever reason, are not orthodox as "not (yet) religious." The parenthesis make the phrase sound like it's being said with a wink, as if the White Shul representatives are saying "we know they're not orthodox, but we'll take care of that!" They're not hiding their intent, at least not as far as their own congregants are concerned.
  Oh. I see. Now, about this "for men" thing. Are women invited?
  Well, the advertisement states that this is a "special shiur (lecture) for men." Women usually don't attend morning prayers in orthodox synagogues, although technically they probably could--depending on the culture of the shul and if there was a mechitza present (required divider separating the men from the women.) Since this lecture takes place immediately after shacharis (morning prayers) women probably won't be there. You see, in orthodoxy, women aren't required to pray with a minyan three times a day. Women are not permitted to say kaddish (prayers for the dead) so they don't need a quorum of ten. (In orthodoxy, women are not counted in this quorum, known as a minyan.) It is not accepted within orthodoxy for women to wear tefillin, the phylacteries that men wear during morning prayers. As I write this, I'm struck by how much this seems like a cliquish men's club which purposely excludes women.
  So, are women invited to this lecture? 
 Good question. Here's their number: (718) 327-0500 It can't hurt to ask.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Find Jewish Outreach: What Your Rabbi Isn't Telling You on Facebook!

  Yes folks, it's true. After several requests from readers, I've finally put together a Facebook page for this blog. You can find it here. Feel free to visit--although keep in mind that it's barely hours old and I haven't posted anything on there yet. The goal of the Facebook page is to raise awareness about deceptive kiruv aimed at college students, young professionals, and others within the non-orthodox sphere while creating a space where we can meet, share, and find others who have had similar experiences. I look forward to expanding our discussion of Jewish outreach and to blogging more in 2016. Thanks to all of my readers. You folks are the inspiration behind this blog. -bec

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Lying and Omission: Permissible to Make Jews Religious

  Yosef Mizrachi, the ultra-orthodox kiruv rabbi known throughout the orthodox world for his use of inflammatory rhetoric in his shiurim, or lectures, states in the above video that deception is permissible in order save someone's soul for the purpose of kiruv, or Jewish outreach. While he doesn't want people to think that it's okay to lie, he does claim that if in the desire to point to truth, it causes Jews to stop observing, then maybe it's better to lie (so they'll maintain observance)--which he then says is never okay and is forbidden in the Torah. Mizrachi then mentions that when the Chazon Ish  (a famous Haredi leader who died in 1953) was asked if a person was allowed to lie in order to make a non-religious Jew religious, the Chazon Ish said that it should be done to save his soul. Mizrachi finishes by explaining that it's always better to omit information so that people won't be discouraged from becoming orthodox. (Transcript available at the end of the article.)

  Justifying the use of deception for the purpose of Jewish outreach doesn't win Mizrachi any awards in my book, but sadly, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to offensive utterances within the body of his lectures.

  Mizrachi, who also preaches that: people who don't observe Shabbat according to orthodox practice shouldn't say kaddish for dead relatives,1 that "Down Syndrome, autistic(sic), and any other problem is a punishment as a result of [gossiping during] a previous life",2 and that God specifically afflicts women with breast, brain, and uterine cancers and men with prostate cancer and brain cancer as punishment for not observing the laws of Shabbat and modesty,3 is most recently the subject of a petition requesting that his lectures be removed from the Torah Anytime website, after an irresponsible speech in which he claimed that only one million Jews were killed in the Holocaust and that "the other 5 million people included in the numbers of Jews killed by the Nazis were intermarried and not Jewish."4 While Mizrachi has since issued an apology for this particular incident, his hurtful words have already circulated around the internet, drawing even more negative attention to the incendiary speeches he is known for giving. This is also not the first time he's said disparaging things about Holocaust victims. In a video entitled Manners--The Right Way to Behave, Mizrachi rants about the immodesty of secular Jewish women during the Holocaust just moments before their deaths. He explains that minutes before the women were going to be taken to the gas chambers, the religious women huddled together for modesty, while secular women "they stand like this, completely in front of the photographer [Mizrachi pantomimes frontal view on video] crying that they're going to die. So they're thinking that I don't want to die, who cares? Put my picture all over the world."5

 Mr. Mizrachi's irresponsible speech is reminiscent of the story illustrating how spreading lashon hara, or gossip, is akin to cutting open a feather bed and scattering the feathers to the wind. This story is often taught to potential ba'al teshuvahs and newly religious Jews as an example of the far-reaching effects of gossip and how one can never take back all of his/her words. In our modern world, one can easily substitute racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism, classism--and too many others to mention--with "gossip" and realize that irresponsible speech, especially now with easy access to information, has the power to do damage not just to those who are targeted by hurtful language, but to those who spread such ugliness from the start.

Transcript of Above Video

:08 First of all: why would you say something? Let's start like this: what did we gain by this? What did we gain by this? Does your desire to, if it were, point to the truth immediately justify that you bring down tens of thousands of Jews that started to keep Shabbat and behave like those who keep mitzvot so you brought them down in the name of truth? Was that so urgent? I didn't, God forbid, say that it is allowed to lie. It's forbidden to lie, God said so explicitly.

:35 "By the way, they asked the Chazon Ish if it's allowed to lie to make a Jew newly religious. Rabbi Shwadron, one of the greatest speakers, asked this to the Chazon Ish. What's the answer?
:47 "He told him: "For sure, kal vachomer ("all the more so" argument.) If an irreligious person was about to die now, would you be allowed to desecrate Shabbat for him? To save him is allowed, this is the halacha [Jewish law]. He says: If now, to break the Shabbat, it's the sign with the creator of the world, it's the greatest mitzvah with the most extreme punishment, you may desecrate it in order to perhaps save someone's life. Perhaps he will die regardless, despite having desecrated the Shabbat--there are no guarantees. Even if there's a percentage of a percentage chance that it may save his life we desecrate the Shabbat for him. Even if you save his life for [another] ten minutes, he would perhaps die anyway because he's got, let's say twenty bullets in his stomach, and now you desecrate the Shabbat and you give him, let's say, oxygen, and now he will live another ten minutes, what did you gain by this? He will die anyway--they pumped twenty bullets in him! You are allowed to desecrate Shabbat for him even for one more minute that he may still live. That's how important a minute of life is. (1:42) So, the Chazon Ish told him: All the more so, to lie to an irreligious person in order to save his soul which is much more important than his body--if to desecrate Shabbat so that he may live--What does 'to live' mean? He will continue to sin!

1:58 "It's allowed to save his soul though a lie. Everyone knows that a lie is less [severe] than the desecration of Shabbat. There is no capital punishment of stoning or "cutting off" but on desecrating the Shabbat there is a heavy punishment and it [still] is allowed, all the more so [are you allowed to lie] he answered him simply. Nevertheless this is not our way. We don't need to lie and to distort and not even to exaggerate, we don't sit and lie, there's enough words of the truth and the Torah--we don't need to lie and to distort and not even to exaggerate--but if there is something subject to dispute . . .

2:26 "Let's say it's something subject to dispute . . . some say yes and some say no, why would you need to say anything? What did you gain by this? Tell me one thing that you gained by this. That now another 10,000 or 1,000 or 100 or 20 that already started to [strengthen their observance] and they are on fire and they're starting to listen to Torah lessons, suddenly they write that all was rubbish, all was bluff (sic), and they will leave the path--what did you gain by this?6

1. Mizrachi, Yosef. You Should Not Say Kaddish for Dead Relative if Not Shomer Shabbat. Yosef Mizrachi. Shademanvendetta. YouTube. Dec. 31, 2014.
2. Mizrachi, Yosef. Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi on Down Syndrome and Autistics. Dan Cohen. YouTube. Jan. 1, 2014.
Mizrachi, Yosef. Mizrahi explains why women and men get cancer. TubeChop.

4. Sharon, Jeremy. Orthodox rabbi: Only One Million Jews Killed in Holocaust. Jerusalem Post. Dec. 30, 2015.
5. Mizrachi, Yosef. Manners--The Right Way to Behave. YouTube. Jan. 8, 2014. Holocaust discussion begins at 1:41:26.
6. Mizrachi, Yosef. It is Permissible to Lie to Make People Religious. Undercover Kofer. YouTube. Jan. 6, 2016.