Hard Questions About Kiruv

letter-447577_1280

I have been involved with formal and informal outreach for more than 15 years but have only recently started to ask myself a few pointed questions, which I share, anticipating that they will be of value to others.

How do we ensure that those we help to become involved in Jewish observance stay tolerant of others who have not taken the same bold steps as they? Surely we don’t want Ba’aley Teshuvah (the newly observant) to regard their family members as sinful failures. It is likely that their childhood homes were the incubators within which they learned a sense of social justice, the pursuit of truth and the dedication to family values and were therefore indispensable to their ultimate discovery of a Torah lifestyle. Do we, as the facilitators of religious seekers’ spiritual growth constantly emphasise this, or do we see their families as opponents to be defeated?

Perhaps worse, it seems that the newly-religious sometimes maintain their relationships with non-observant friends simply to try to make them religious. It seems improbable, but is it just possible that we encourage it? Picture, if you will, Bob and Jenny, old friends of John (now Yochanan) and Sheila (now Sheindy). Bob and Jenny are unlikely to feel kindly disposed to their newly-religious friends (or indeed Judaism at all) if they discover that Yochanan and Sheindy have only remained in contact with them in the hope of making them frum.

While it is beneficial to develop a confident and firm attitude to one’s own Jewish life, will the products of outreach also remain open-minded towards those who have adopted a different style of Orthodoxy from their own? This can be very painful: I recently heard of a case where two scarcely-observant friends from a traditional community became religious and went off to Yeshivos in Israel: one to a modern-style establishment, the other to a Charedi institution. The acrimony between them over religious issues is now so ingrained that when they come home for vacation, the local rabbi struggles to contain their feuding.

To what extent do we encourage our charges to recognise that integrating key aspects of their previous existence into a newly-observant life is indispensable to mature religious development and a healthy emotional future? People who come late to Judaism are often strongly attached to certain expressions of culture such as art, music and literature, and also to sport. Might it be a little off-beam (and not such great psychology) to encourage them to relinquish these when they become observant? For a time, the excitement of their newly-found Torah life will carry them through, but afterwards, sometimes years on, an inexplicable sense of emptiness may develop. If not addressed, many of us have seen this develop into unhappiness and even doubt about the fulfilment offered by a religious life-style; in extreme (but not uncommon) cases it may lead people to re-evaluate their original decision to become observant. And, crazy at it might seem, addressing this pain may well involve advising people not to adopt new religious stringencies or say more Tehillim (psalms). It could even mean helping them to reintroduce long-abandoned cultural experiences into their lives, albeit with careful guidance. Could The Beatles, Monet or the Boston Red Sox be part of the solution, rather than the problem? Despite conventional wisdom, might it be better to help the newly-observant recognise that they can be fully-fledged members of the religious world without discarding major aspects of their previous lives.

But most importantly, do we constantly re-examine our motivations in helping others to become more observant? Do we focus on them as individuals or see each of them as an opportunity to make another ‘notch in the shtender’? Is it faintly possible that some outreach is conducted with the objective of turning people into a pre-determined product which merely mirrors the kiruv-professional’s own life-style and affiliation? Many people are critical of a certain Chassidic group, whose objective appears to produce new members of the sect, but might some parts of the kiruv world be doing the same thing? Are religious neophytes just potential new members of our group, to be steered into a particular life-style and social-setting? Might, we perhaps without even realising it, envisage the newly-interested couple a few years into their religious journey living in a certain neighbourhood in a certain type of home, their children attending a certain type of school, with certain rabbis advising them, with certain aspirations: he learning in a certain type of institution, wearing a certain type of hat, she pushing a certain type of baby-stroller while wearing a certain type of hair-covering?

To be fair to the incredible outreach professionals who dedicate their lives to sharing the beauty of Judaism with others, many potential Ba’aley Teshuvah are drawn to monolithic parts of the religious world without much encouragement. They may consider what is on offer there ‘more authentic’ with the perceived benefits including rigidity of lifestyle and the comfort of not having to make one’s own decisions. Yet, if we actually encourage that outlook by role-modelling the religious world in that way, we may risk a potential tidal-wave of disaffection and disillusionment ahead of us.

There are, of course, many possible causes of religious disenchantment, including those completely beyond the control of the outreach professionals who engaged the Ba’aley Teshuvah in the first place. These may include pre-existing emotional instability, the unexpected pressures of living in religious society, the disappointing discovery that the Orthodox world isn’t actually perfect, and even a sense of personal failure in comparison with one’s perceived religious responsibilities. Each of these deserves a separate treatment, but we will focus here on religious disillusionment stemming from the outreach process itself.

I hope that it’s not too controversial to suggest that the objectives of outreach are to help each Jew reach his or her full potential as a human being, ultimately through Mitzvah observance and Torah study. Presumably we should get to know those who seek our guidance: learn to love them as individuals; discover their interests, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs. Developing a sense that the religious needs of each person we meet differ considerably from those of every other can be difficult, but might we be doing those with whom we work a disservice by adopting any other approach? The Sages teach:

When a man mints many coins with one stamp, they all look the same, but while the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed is He, minted each person with the ‘stamp’ of Adam the First, no one looks like any other. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

If God created us as individuals, it should be the role of those privileged to help His children along their journey towards Him to foster that individuality. Shouldn’t we try to craft a tailor-made religious path for each of our students? Despite the complexities of doing this, it might just enable them to benefit from the wonders of Torah life without stifling their personality or crushing their need for self-expression.

Is it just possible that the multi-chromatic vision of the Jewish world isn’t the common one in the kiruv scene because some of those in charge don’t subscribe to it? Some of us may have come to believe that there is a single optimum way to be a Torah Jew: one ‘correct’ approach to all Jewish issues, one best way of observing halakhah (Jewish law), one ideal mode of living and one supreme authority for Jewish life. May I suggest, perhaps contrary to prevailing norms, that a kiruv operative would see it as a sacred duty to learn about (and hence validate) the range of Jewish possibilities and to incorporate that into his or her kiruv practice. After all, the magnificent system of thought and practice called Judaism really does have a multiplicity of expressions. Finally, might an outreach professional who thinks that it is his or her mission to turn an eclectic group of non-observant Jews into a bunch of religious clones be in the wrong job?

You may also like...

28 Responses

  1. Loberstein says:

    Intolerance may be a sign of fear of being influenced, a sense of insecurity that one’s belief cannot withstand scrutiny or simply a feeling of cliqueishness that excludes anyone not in our group. I am sure it goes on in many places.
    A girl from a non frum home entered Bais Yaakov in 10th grade (long story known to Rabbi Menken) and she was warmly embraced by her classmates and teachers. No one excluded her, au contrair, she was welcomed.
    However, to this day I remember my now 33 year old son coming home at qge 6 or 7 after being told by a playmate in his right wing cheder-day school”I can’t play with you any more because my parents say your parents are too modern”. The father, I believe is a former conservative rabbi turned ultra orthodox. My wife’s frum credentials are second to none and my son was hurt, so it does happen. He claims he has lonmg gotten over it, but I have trouble with it.

  2. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “But like Rav Dessler, the sources of his ideology were all “black” (and that includes the ideas of R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch, which greatly influenced R’ Shraga Feivel).”

    It’s becoming harder and harder to consider Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch as “black”(I assume that means what we would call today the ideological Right of the Charedi world). If ideas of Rav Hirsch, for example, can be rejected by some, today, using very strong and fundamental terms(“kefirah”), I don’t know how Rav Hirsch as a whole, can be honestly claimed as “black” any more than say, RYBS or Rav Kook would be considered so. There are other ways as well in which Rav Hirsch would not fit neatly into the Right of the Charedi world(I think he would disagree with the TIDE-Torah Only balance, as well as with the emphasis some give to segulos/mysticism).

    Rav Hirsch was who he was, just as the Rambam was who he was, and neither would be able to be categorized anachronistically using today’s terms such as “charedi” or “non-charedi”. As an analogy from the case of Choni Hamageil, great figures from previous eras would not be easily classified using terminology which are only meaningful in today’s milieu. Instead, I would call such gedolim “gray”.

  3. Baruch Horowitz says:

    The vexing question regarding “dercahim” is where to draw the line of “elu v’elu”, of mutual tolerance of ideas and behavior. A “derech” is only a “derech” if it falls within an acceptable purview from a Torah/philosophical perspective. Everyone agrees that at some point there is “elu v’elu” and that not everyone can be an exact clone of the other; even say, within one Chasidic group, there can be, and often are different ways of thinking. The difference is that some have a broader concept of elu v’elu, and some have a narrower one(the usual attempt to solve this dilemma, is done by stating that the “consensus of Gedolim determines elu v’elu”, but that statement can create further disagreement as far the terms of “consensus” or “Gedolim”).

    Practically, I don’t think that one can ask those with a narrower “elu v’elu” to recognize, or legitimize, particular aspects of another “derech” which they object do. But one can hope that such groups and individuals recognize and emphasize the points and attributes of the other derechim(and their leaders and followers) which they indeed agree with, the strengths that the other derechim and their adherents may have over theirs(unfortunately, not done enough, or at all), as well to “put themselves in the shoes” of people in the other group, which can be helpful in solving some(but not all of) conflicts that arise. All of the above can apply to the predicament of at least three or four groups within Orthodoxy today.

  4. Ron Coleman says:

    Actually, according to his biography Rabbi Dessler was quite involved with a number of baalei teshuvah, although this was on a one-to-one level; there was no “BT movement” at the time. I agree with your sources, Chaim — Michtav MeEliyahu, and its more accessible form, Strive for Truth, is fantastic stuff and does seem to speak to BT’s with particular power.

    I would amplify your point about him and about R’ Shraga Feivel: Not only were the sources of their ideology “right wing,” but their expectations of their talmidim, from what I read, were demanding as well.

    It is also worth noting that a number of postwar U.S. gedolim whom we think of as right-wing icons, such as the Satmar Rav, R’ Aharon Kotler and R’ Yitzchak Hutner, were highly influential in “making” baalei teshuva either through personal relationships or by building institutions or movements that appealed to a broken generation, in many cases people who had abandoned Yiddishkeit, after the Holocaust — incidentally, doing so in ways that the “centrist” world expressed very clearly could not work. (I could have named the Lubavitcher rebbe as well but his kiruv work is really deserving of its own category for many reasons.)

    I noted elsewhere, by the way, and want to amplify here that I did not intend by my previous comment to disparage either Rabbi Belovski or Rabbi Adler who are, obviously, very much on our side.

  5. sima ir kodesh says:

    Can anyone define to me, what are “white” streams of hashkafa? Would RYBS, Rav Kook, Tzitz Eliezer be considered in the white realm? I am waiting for clarification. Thanxs,

  6. Mark Frankel says:

    R’ Chaim Wolfson and Rabbi Adlerstein

    Which definition would best fit your view of multi-chromatic
    1) Seeing all derachim as equal
    2) Seeing all derachim as valid
    3) Seeing most derachim as equal
    4) Seeing most derachim as valid
    5) Seeing more than one derach as equal
    6) Seeing more than one derach as valid
    7) Something else

    I’m definitely missing something here and a crisper definition of multi-chromatic would be very helpful for me. Thanks.

  7. Chaim Wolfson says:

    I find it ironic — given Rabbi Belovski’s Gateshead background — that absent from this discussion of multi-chromatic personalities is any mention of perhaps the most multi-chromatic personality of them all — Rav Dessler. He certainly did not have a mono-chromatic view of Yiddishkeit. Although raised in a home steeped in the tradition of Kelm, Rav Dessler’s “machshavah” was based on many different streams of thought, including Chassidus, Mussar, and the Lithuanian stress on Torah study. His multi-faceted philosophy allowed students from widely varying backgrounds to relate to him. While Rav Dessler may not have personally dealt with baalei teshuvah, he definitely has had a profound influence on non-FFBs through his written works. I have been told by a number of baalei teshuvah and geirim of my acquaintance that the study of his “Michtav MeEliyahu” is “de rigueur” for those in their circumstances. And his work in London during the 1920’s and 30’s definitely qualifies as “kiruv”, even if his students did come from frum homes. Then again, perhaps some here would not define Rav Dessler as “multi-chromatic”, since the various schools of thought on which he drew for his philosophy were all clearly and unmistakenly “black”.

    Aryeh did describe R’ Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz as multi-chromatic, and I wholeheartedly agree. [In the interests of full disclosure, I admit that I am a Torah Vodaas alum, and although I came to TV over thirty years after his passing, R’ Shraga Feivel is a particular hero of mine.] He was multi-chromatic not only in the sense that his own philosophy was a unique blend of many different philosophies, but also in that, as a pedagogue par excellance, he was able to evaluate his students’ personalities and direct each to the specific expression of Yiddishkeit that best suited that student’s needs. He was the Alter of Slabodka of America. But like Rav Dessler, the sources of his ideology were all “black” (and that includes the ideas of R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch, which greatly influenced R’ Shraga Feivel).

  8. Ron Coleman says:

    Arguably, talmidim of Ner Israel and YU are, on the whole, more open and understanding of differences between people and groups.

    Arguably, talmidim of Ner Israel and YU, on the whole, consider themselves more open and understanding of differences between people and groups, and demonstrate this by distinguishing themselves from those who are not. (“Those who are not” do not require understanding, nor should is there any reason to be “open” to their approach.)

    This article struck me as just more “big Kiruv” bashing. The people I am close to (including myself) are alumni of Aish, Ohr Someach, Kol Yaakov and Machon Shlomo, and they fall out fairly widely across the spectrum.

    What I have urged, in writing about this topic for years, is that the criticism from the self-appointed “center” against BT’s for moving “too far” to the right is frequently either:

    (a) a fairly obvious cry from the heart that one is himself uncomfortable being “passed” by BT’s on their move toward a firmer commitment to halacha and more demanding hashkofos, or (as is the case here, I am sure),

    (b) a lack of understanding that by and large BT’s are by virtue of their experiences suspicious of compromise, eager to distance themselves from cultural artifacts that beckon them to their previous lives and which, by experience, they regard more suspiciously than “just music” (or whatever the case may be), and who have been taught that the Rambam — and common sense — counsel one to achieve “the golden mean” by compensating, even arguably over-compensating, to break oneself of old habits, old addictions, old associations and even old pleasures which could, in and of themselves, be permissible.

    These comments also make a straw man of BT yeshivas, which do not have a programmatic goal of denuding people of their personalities, nor do they have the ability to do so. Individuals, not “kiruv,” make their own choices, often for some of the reasons I have alluded to above. Many grow into their new lives and find a way to ease formerly stricken relationships or experiences back in, having built themselves up appropriately. Some never look back, and among those there are those who become highly accomplished and respected Jews in their new sphere, and others who are complete jerks about the whole thing. But none of them — none of us — checks their brains or their free will at the door.

  9. Ben Zoma's Apprentice says:

    This is a huge challenge, and not just for Baalei Teshuvah.

    I my teens and early twenties, I attended yeshivas that are very big on a particular Derech, which I am not particularly talented at. Not knowing of any other options, and under the impression that this was “it”, I figured there must be some problem with my intelligence or motivation. But I knew something was missing.

    When I discovered, almost by accident, R’ Hirsch’s 19 Letters, and then his other writings, it was an utter revelation for me–Judaism finally became 3-dimensional for me, and not just “learn in this style and do this-and-this and you’ll get Olam HaBa, don’t do that-and-that or you’ll get Gehinom.” Later discoveries included Pachad Yitzchak, R’ Tzadok, Likutei Moharan, Tanya, Aish Kodesh, Nesivos Sholom, Alei Shur, and many others; in short, there were WORLDS out there of perfectly legitimate Torah thought, that I hadn’t known existed, that actually spoke to me, (great as the derech of my first yeshivos is for those who are inclined toward it.)

    I don’t blame yeshivos for focusing on only one derech; trying to be all things to all people leads to chaos and failure. But at the same time, I believe it is the obligation of all of us who have some awareness of these many worlds to get the word out, especially to the young, and to Baalei Teshuvah, that if you’ve legitimately tried one derech, and it is not speaking to you, there are other fascinating derochim that await your discovery.

  10. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    I must take strong exception to Aryeh’s comment.

    Multi-chromaticism and openness can be and are taught.

    Mono-chromaticism and closedness can be and are taught.

    The talmidim of Rabbi Bulman zt”l – every one I know from the chevra – would fall on the multi-chromatic side of the divide. He taught us how; many of us have been following his lead and teaching our talmidim the same way.

    Arguably, talmidim of Ner Israel and YU are, on the whole, more open and understanding of differences between people and groups.

    People don’t become open and tolerant because they have mastered “TIDE, Chassidus, Mussar ” – they first learn from their rabbaim, and from life experience, the essential existence of multiple perspectives on difficult issues in general, and shivim panim regarding Torah specifically. Once they have learned that, they are drawn to a wider group of sources, and incorporate them more readily into their hashkafas hachaim.

    No doubt we would be doing much better if we had more people around like Rabbi Bulman. But we have, B”H, enough instructive voices and examples to go around – it they would not be drowned out so oftened by counterexamples, or bullied into silence.

  11. Michoel says:

    While agreeing with all the supportive comments on this post, perhaps a note of caution is also in place. It is important that baalei t’shuvah find a place and a way of conducting themselves. Correct, it doesn’t have to be MY way, but they do need A way. Sometimes we see baalei t’shuvah that seem to wander for years, between different shuls, growing beards, shaving them, with black hats, without them etc etc. That is also not healthy, not for them and less so for their children. Sometimes it is appropriate for a mentor to give a gentle nudge and say “I think this way is appropriate for you at this point in your development.” Of course that eitzah has to be l’shem shamayim, to whatever degree a basar v’dam is capable of removing his own biases.

  12. Ori Pomerantz says:

    yy, you’re right that Ahavat Israel doesn’t apply to everybody the same way. Offering the other cheek is a good way to get slapped again, and frankly I don’t see many Christians doing it either. But the problem Rabbi Harvey Belovski discussed seems to be a lack of Ahavat Israel, or at least the ability to transmit Ahavat Israel to one’s kiruv students.

    First, there’s Ahavat Israel within Orthodoxy. Rabbi Harvey Belovski discussed a case of two former friends who both became Ba’aley Teshuva and now can’t be in each other’s company because of ideological differences. Charedim can claim that MO aren’t following the Torah correctly and vice versa. But neither side should see the other as anything over than “achim b’Mitzvot”. It is quite clear that both Charedim and MO attempt to follow the Torah as they understand it. Being wrong is not the same thing as ignoring the Torah.

    Second, there is the love to those family members and friends who aren’t interested in becoming Ba’aley Teshuva. Obviously a Ba’al Teshuva will need to set some limits. “Thank you grandma for making me roast beef, my favorite dish – but I can’t eat it. Next time, why don’t you let me bring Kosher meat we can all enjoy together?” But those limits should be reasonable and based on love and understanding, not a belief that the non religious members of the family are sinful failures. IIRC, one of the authors on this blog had a good piece on that a while back that I can’t find right now.

  13. yy says:

    to # 4 — Chalilla v’Chas!! ALL such “music” breeds downright Apikorsus! Well, except perhaps Jethro Tull…

    ahem. (anyone hear, btw, how his concert in the holy Land went over??)

    Mark: I fully concur that “we often benefit when we step back and see the problem as not just belonging to Baalei Teshuva.” No doubt, the shoresch of all this goes way back, probably even to Yosef and his brothers, but certainly to Akiva’s talmidim. Aye, I believe this was one of the phenomenal, too often underestimated achievements of Rebbe Shimon: the powerful cohesiveness of his chevraya. But then again, they all shared one Rebbe…

    ORI: Ahavas Yisroel does NOT apply to EVERY Jew the same way! I’m sorry if this may conflict with a Chabad line some may have imbibed, but it’s simply not true. First of all, it’s a giant question of how to apply it to kofrim. Seriously. The basic qualification is to be “achim b’Mitzvos.” If someone has proven himself to have really rejected the Mitzvah system, they are no longer to be considered our “ach” in that sense. Now of course, today we have so many tinokim sh’nishbaoo, etc. But the pt is that this is not some Xn carte blanche to love every cheek, no matter how much they slap yours! It’s an ethic about sharing the wealth and encouraging the downtrodden; about making it easier for H’s children to love Him. But often when a kid is having a tantrum, he must be left alone for awhile…

    Btw, there’s a fascinating Neisvos Sholom on this topic in a few places within those sfarim which explains the PSHAT of Akiva’s claim on “Klal Gadol” to be a “shaar l’Pnimius HaTorah.” Not the most important Mitzvah, but a crucial one for crossing over from Chetzonius l’pnimius.

    cvmay (#11): Yes,there has been no replacement for that Tsaddik and we continue to lament it. He once told me that “the secret to kiruv is in the passuk ‘kosie reviya.’ Too many people tru to teach ABOUT Judaism and end up discouraging others, despite their good intentions, because they feel that this ‘information’ just doesn’t help their Neshama get closer to H’. However, when we SHARE the Torah that is overflowing (reviya)in our own Neshama, then they may experience the connection WE feel with H’ and that can spark their Neshama to seek to do that in their OWN way.” Wouldn’t that be a great name for a kiruv Yeshiva??

  14. Aryeh says:

    “Is it just possible that the multi-chromatic vision of the Jewish world isn’t the common one in the kiruv scene because some of those in charge don’t subscribe to it?”
    I think it’s not common because multi-chromatic people aren’t common. There are individual exceptions such as R’ Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz and R’ Nachman Bulman and maybe others, but to ask an average kiruv professional to be able to teach TIDE, Chassidus, Mussar etc. all in the same time is asking too much. Halvai that whoever’s in kiruv can master all the nuances of being and teaching one derech, maybe even two.
    Using people like R’ Nachman Bulman as a counterproof is akin to saying that everyone who went through 4 years of beis medrash can succeed in learning in Kollel 12 hours a day and become a Rosh Yeshiva because R’ Aharon Kotler did it.
    On another note, I once heard from a kiruv professional (this was more then 10 years ago, so I’m not sure if that’s changed) that (as a general rule) Aish haTorah takes the secular Jew and builds a Torah Jew around him while Ohr Sameach destroys the secular Jew and on his ruins a Torah Jew arises like a phoenix (the poetry is mine :) ).
    I happen to know people who went through the Aish haTorah way (as an approach not through Aish haTorah itself) and people who went through the Ohr Sameach way.

  15. Mark says:

    Bob,
    “Wasn’t the point that too many in kiruv have skipped over this “pre-Aleph Beis” and, in fact, lack this reasonable balance? Do you dispute that?”

    Yes – very much so. The vast majority of mekarvim do their very best to help a person who is interested in becoming frum maintain good relations with their families and friends, and not merely for the sake of being mekarev them. In fact, it is quite the opposite – the worst people to do kiruv on is ones own family and friends.

    For Rabbi Belovski to critique the “motives” of the mekarvim is downright puzzling. By and large, these are people who work harder than most and earn meager recompense. They’re not doing this for honor or wealth. Insofar as that they must focus on numbers that’s almost always a product of their having to please the funders who need to see “real” achievement.

    Asking the Mekarvim to teach and transmit a philosophy different than their own is naive. Of course, every mekarev is thrilled when a person grows into basic observance and considers that his primary objective but to insist that we refrain from exposing them primarily to our individual derech is unreasonable.

    I am also baffled slightly by his publishing this piece here instead of on a forum where mekarvim are found. To the best of my knowledge, this isn’t that place.

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    This is a very important column. Perhaps, one lesson that all of us can learn is that true pluralism means be willing to cite the Torah of Gdolim who are not part of one’s Mesorah.

  17. janey, uk says:

    Dear Rabbi Belovski

    As always, your piece is pertinent, sensitive and beautifully written.

    I’d like to develop the point you make about getting “to know those who seek our guidance: learn to love them as individuals; discover their interests, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs.” Isn’t that the essential basis of kiruv? How can you really draw an individual close “with bonds of love” unless you do as you suggest in the quote above?
    I’d like to challenge everyone in kiruv, formal or informal, professed or otherwise, to think about whether they make the most of every opportunity they are given. And I would suggest that every meeting or encounter with a Jew is an opportunity to be mekarev to that person.

    Think of it this way; every person who turns up to an educator’s shiur provides that educator with the challenge of discovering why that person is really there. Maybe it’s someone looking for a shidduch within the class, or a lonely widow needing the company and structure that the shiur gives to her week, or even someone thirsty for Torah! Whatever it may be, if you don’t talk to them afterwards and extend the basic teacher/student relationship then you’ve lost the opportunity to be mekarev.

    Similarly, every person in a community rabbi’s congregation presents a challenge. You haven’t seen them for a while? Then phone them; ask them how they are! You’ve never even met them? Phone them – introduce yourself! Ask them if there is anything you can do for them. If they are not keen, ask if they would like you to ring them another time – in a week or a month. If you get your head bitten off – so what? You’ve tried! Maybe ask your Rebbitzen to share the work load. Everyone has needs. Some of the elderly will be lonely and disconnected from their family (everyone’s got a broigus or 3), some of the working parents will hate their jobs and may welcome a sympathetic ear, maybe someone just needs a concerned voice to urge them to see their doctor. And once you have made a connection, keep it up and continue to show an interest and offer help.

    Kiruv shouldn’t only be directed towards the obvious targets such as the youth, or parents sending their kids to secular schools. If you truly believe that every Yiddishe neshama is precious then you will regard every person, of any age, important and you will want to share their concerns whether those concerns fit into a ‘religious’ category or not.

    I also suggest that you cannot be successful in kiruv unless you are interested in other people. And I think that a willingness to learn from others, or a desire to find something to admire in them, precedes that interest. If you have the attitude that the learning process is one-way only, then your fellow Yid will not need much sophistication or intelligence to spot it and become disenchanted.

    If you hesitate to take these extra steps, then, as with the example you give at the end of your piece i.e. the “outreach professional who thinks that it is his or her mission to turn an eclectic group of non-observant Jews into a bunch of religious clones be in the wrong job?”, you really have to question whether you are interested enough in the people who are walking into your life to learn to love them enough to be in the job.

  18. cvmay says:

    Mark
    I do not believe that these points are “pre Aleph Beis” to ALL reasonable balanced mekarev, rather it is gathered from years of field-experience garnished with maturity.
    yy A replacement for Rav Nachman Bulman zt”l wisdom and insightful binah has never been found, and this void particularly in Eretz Yisroel is immense.
    Years ago, upon attempting to register my son in a prestigious yeshivah ketana in Brooklyn, the roshyeshiva/menahel stated, “Since your husband is a musmach of Yeshiva ***, it is evident that your son will not adopt our derech and hashgafah, therefore it is a waste of time and $$$ to educate him”. At that time I thought this was a dass yachid, now I know it is halachah lemeisa.. Most mosdos, shuls, & parents have a spiritual legacy that they want (& are determined) to duplicate in their talmidim and children. Parenting for individuality is a challenge that is difficult to meet…some temperments & personalities clash on a mundane basis, it is hundredfold in the realm of spirituality. The Jewish world would benefit from a system of Torah education geared to individuality, but it doesn’t seem to be heading in that direction.

  19. Michoel says:

    I feel big urge to say over the Kotzer…
    K’shem sh’partzufeihaim ainan domos, v’aino taaneh, kach, deioseihem ainan domos v’aino taaneh

  20. Bob Miller says:

    Mark said,
    “most of these points you’re making are pre-Aleph Beis to any reasonably balanced mekarev.”

    Wasn’t the point that too many in kiruv have skipped over this “pre-Aleph Beis” and, in fact, lack this reasonable balance? Do you dispute that?

  21. Bob Miller says:

    Ori said,
    “Everybody here is perfectly civil with me when I write my kfira (= heresy) opinions.”

    Ori may be accurate about this. I wonder if we’re being a tad too civil.

  22. Mark says:

    Harvey,

    Forgive me if I sound somewhat cynical but most of these points you’re making are pre-Aleph Beis to any reasonably balanced mekarev. No doubt, you’ll receive many kudos here [mycroft thought this was terrific] because kiruv is an easy target, but don’t mistake that for honest analysis. Perhaps try offering this “analysis” at the next AJOP conference and see how well its received.

  23. Ori Pomerantz says:

    May I make an observation as a fairly ignorant outsider? It’ll have to meander a bit, but trust me – there is a point about kiruv there somewhere towards the end.

    It seems there is a lot of enmity between the Charedi and MO camps. Everybody here is perfectly civil with me when I write my kfira (= heresy) opinions. Sadly, this civility is sometimes lacking when debating the finer points of a Torah observant lifestyle between people who fully accept the Torah and merely differ in their interpretations.

    Kiruv requires a lot of respect for diversity, both of the people becoming ba’aley tshuva from different backgrounds and at different speeds, and their friends and loved ones who aren’t. If you don’t have this respect, you’d have a hard time teaching your ba’aley tshuva that Ahavat Israel applies to every Jew – including those that don’t understand the Torah correctly and those that ignore it. You might have this concept intuitively, but it needs to be more explicit and visible to transmit it to adult students.

    May I suggest an exercise to those who have problems with this? Try to spend some time thinking what the other camp does well. Surely you can come up with some things.

  24. Mark Frankel says:

    Most people seem to feel that their derech is correct for them (or else they would/should choose another) and perhaps for others also – so they teach what they know with good conscience.

    To expect a Yeshiva or Modern oriented person to enthusiastically teach Breslov or Chabad chasidism as an equal path does not seem realistic or correct, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what your suggesting.

    Your post highlights the problem of understanding and appreciating derachim in general and it’s very appropriate for this forum considering the major recurring battle in the observant blogging world is that between Modern and Yeshivish/Charedi Orthodoxy.

    Once those of us already frum develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the *strengths* and weaknesses of the various approaches we will be able to better communicate them to our children, students and friends, who sometimes include Baalei Teshuva. But at the end of the day, we will not see them all as equal and I’m not sure that we should.

    I think that we often benefit when we step back and see the problem as not just belonging to Baalei Teshuva, but to all of us – at some level.

  25. Michoel says:

    “Could The Beatles, Monet or the Boston Red Sox be part of the solution, rather than the problem?”

    Chas v’shalom!

    (Of course, The Who, Renoir, and the Yanks would be an entirely different story.)

  26. yy says:

    wow. Do I pick up a powerful development within this blog over the last weeks towards openning our minds to the Ein Sof, b”H; seeking not to idolize the superiority of having “made it” within any particular path of Divine Service, but to use it as a springboard for learning to spread a little something of his infinite glory?

    I can tell you that I was profoundly aware of this tension over 20 years ago when I entered the B.T. quicksand and determined to find a real Eitz Chayim to keep me above it. B”H my wife and I found one just after we engaged. His name was Harav Nachman Bulman, zts”l. And slowly but surely, with his tremendous guidance (which we sorely miss), we found our way to our Shoresh neshama — a connection with a certain chassidic path that is sees itself as far from being a derech for the average Yid. Just one very precious face among 70.

    And yet, I too have tried my hand at formal kiruv and have constantly come up frustrated. You put it well, Harvey:

    “If God created us as individuals, it should be the role of those privileged to help His children along their journey towards Him to foster that individuality. Shouldn’t we try to craft a tailor-made religious path for each of our students? Despite the complexities of doing this, it might just enable them to benefit from the wonders of Torah life without stifling their personality or crushing their need for self-expression.”

    If you know of anyone opening up such an institution, please sign me up!

  27. shaulking says:

    Quite insightful!
    Teaching tolerance, respect for diversity, & honor to others is a difficult challenge. This is not only a problem encountered by Baalei Tshuvahs, rather it is an ongoing crisis felt in many close relationships. For instance; Between children who embark on a Charedei observance & their homegrown FFB parents and grandparents. Also in yeshiva high schools, there are instances of strong friction between rebbeim and the parents of talmidim, when the spiritual growth & goals are not identically shared. Individuality is not an easy pill to swallow, and encouraging it is stymied in our Torah society.

  28. mycroft says:

    An important piece.