An Appeal To Those Leaving Kollel

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Aha! Now that I’ve got your attention, I can tell the truth: this post is about the closing of the New York Kollel, an adult education program housed in and partially supported by Reform’s Hebrew Union College branch in New York (and thus, my headline about “leaving Kollel” is further inaccurate; it’s the Kollel that’s leaving its students, not vice versa).

The Jewish Week reports on the Kollel’s closing:

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which has housed and helped support the Kollel since 1995, announced this spring that it would close the program, following a two and a half year “strategic planning process” that found the Kollel to be a financial drain.

“We seriously had to look at a number of wonderful programs that we would have been delighted to continue, but we frankly could not afford. The New York Kollel Program is one of them,” Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC president, wrote in a letter to Kollel participants who signed a petition and sent letters in recent months as part of a student-led campaign to save the Kollel.

But at least some associated with the program said shutting its doors was not only a shame, but a mistake for the Reform movement.

“Closing a Torah institution like the Kollel seems to be a misunderstanding of the priorities we should focus on,”said Rabbi Joshua Saltzman, the founding director of the Kollel. . . .

“We think that closing the program will harm not only the many students who take classes at Kollel each year, but will also impact our local synagogues and other sites of study,” Lauren Szapiro, the Kollel student who organized the petition campaign, wrote in a letter to the administration. . . .

Rabbi Aaron Panken, HUC dean and vice president for strategic initiatives, said
the Kollel, which was established with grant money from UJA-Federation’s Jewish
Continuity Commission, has cost the school millions of dollars, literally, over
the last dozen years. He declined to offer specific budget details. . . .

The Kollel, which attracted both students and teachers from all denominations of
Judaism, established a reputation for providing a high-level alternative to both the adult education courses run by various Reform congregations, and the Orthodox-sponsored programs that are unlikely to bring in students from non-Orthodox backgrounds.

This article, like many similar ones regularly sprinkled throughout the media, is just another piece of evidence that for all the broadcasted bluster of the Reform movement as “American Jewry’s largest, fastest-growing movement,” etc., etc., the reality is that beyond the membership rolls and press releases, when measured in substantive terms, it is anaemic and empty.

Here is an adult ed program in America’s premier Jewish metropolis that spent “millions of dollars, literally” over a dozen years (although it’s a bit difficult to fathom on what, precisely) for which it had to show what? 300, and later, 200 students per semester, and now, is closing entirely. The figures for other highly-touted, and highly-funded, non-Ortho Jewish adult ed programs aren’t much different; much fanfare, but numerically insignificant, both in actual and relative terms. But I digress.

My focus, instead, is on the single saddest sentence in this article, in my view — the one about the Kollel being an “alternative to . . . the Orthodox-sponsored programs that are unlikely to bring in students from non-Orthodox backgrounds.” It’s not just that it’s patently untrue, since all manner of Ortho-run outreach programming, e.g., Manhattan Jewish Experience, Jewish Enrichment Center,NJOP, Aish, Gateways, Hineni, Jewish Flame, JRC come to mind in Manhattan alone, are comprised of non-Orthodox individuals in the hundreds.

More important is the implication of that sentence, which, although here made by a reporter, is similar to statements one often sees being made by heterodox leaders. For example, in a 2006 exchange on Shmuel Rosner’s Ha’aretz blog, a reader posed the following to Reform movement head Eric Yoffie:

Reform Jews have virtually the lowest birthrate in the nation and even those few children they do have are most likely destined to marry out of the religion or otherwise leave via assimilation. It is very sad but true that within a generation the Reform Jews as a group will be a mere fraction of today’s number and within two generations will no longer exist. The claim of a current membership of a million and a half souls does not stand up when anyone visits the empty temples on any regular weekend (not including special events or holidays) or when the number of temples closing is compared with the number of new temples
inaugurated.

Yoffie acknowledges that intermarriage is a serious problem, but argues that the reader

incorrectly connects this problem with Reform Judaism. This is absurd. Intermarriage is a by-product of modern life, and no group – Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox – has found the answer. . . . And the suggestion that Reform is withering away is equally as absurd. Every study that we have indicates that Reform Judaism is a growing, thriving movement. Do we have empty synagogues? Of course. But we also have many, many dynamic, vibrant synagogues that are frequently filled with studying, praying Jews . . . .

Having thus established his credentials for credibility, he then burnishes them further, averring that

I have nothing but respect for Orthodox Judaism. If Orthodoxy had the solution, I would be the first to acknowledge it. But the reality is that in America, fewer than 15 percent of Jews identify themselves as Orthodox. For most North American Jews, Orthodoxy is simply not an approach to Jewish practice that they will accept. Most American Jews are searching for a particular blend of tradition and modernity that is to be found in the non-Orthodox streams.

So there it is again: “Orthodoxy is simply not an approach to Jewish practice that they will accept.” This from the avatar of absolute individual autonomy and an intellectually honest search for truth, wherever it may lead?

If indeed his respect for Orthodoxy is quite as boundless as he tells us, why does he support his flock in remaining ignorant of the menu of religious choices available to them — Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb and the secular writer Jeffrey Goldberg have both recalled their Reform Talmud Torahs taking them to visit the local churches but never the Orthodox, or even Conservative, synagogues. Why encourage his members’ rejection of that which they’ve never investigated — the very epitome of religious mindlessness that Reform supposedly came into being to oppose?

“Most American Jews are searching for a particular blend of tradition and modernity that is to be found in the non-Orthodox streams”?! First, “most American Jews” are not, tragically, searching for anything spiritual, and certainly not anything Jewish, at all. Millions of them either don’t identify as Jews at all anymore or identify with another religion.

Moreover, when have American Jews ever been presented with a choice of alternatives — Orthodox versus heterodox — presented by articulate and passionate advocates of those worldviews — and, according to Yoffie’s account, they opted in droves for heterodoxy? When has American Jewry had an “Eliyahu b’Har HaCarmel” moment that clarified for all to see that Orthodoxy is something “they will just not accept”? Instead, their knowledge of Orthodox Jews, let alone Orthodoxy’s beliefs and practices, is either entirely absent or so filtered through the antagonistic lens of secular Jewish media and heterodox leadership as to
render it meaningless.

Indeed, judging from the brief such moment that did occur several years ago with the Reinman/Hirsch collaboration, the Orthodox have a pretty popular product, as indicated by the many book reviews that gave Reinman high marks for persuasiveness and coherence and Ammi Hirsch’s own acknowledgment that on his book tour opposite Reinman’s empty chair, he had met “thousands of Jews . . . mostly non-Orthodox Jews eager to learn more about Torah and the Orthodox world.”

And, of course, the tens of thousands of baalei teshuva from all walks of life and Jewish backgrounds who have made their way to lives of full Jewish observance over the past decades provide no small evidence on whether ‘Orthodoxy is simply not an approach to Jewish practice that they will accept.” Is therecompeting evidence for the popularity of heterodoxy on the rare occasions when it and a forthright, unapologetic Orthodox viewpoint have been allowed to compete on a level playing field?

The fact is that Rabbi Reinman had it exactly right when, after withdrawing from his joint book tour with Ammi Hirsch, he wrote, in his powerful response in the Jewish Week to Hirsch’s lament over the former’s missed opportunity to meet those thousands of searching Jews:

So why did I withdraw? And even more important, why was this opportunity for an Orthodox rabbi to meet non-Orthodox people such a rare phenomenon? Ammi offers the answer: “The Jewish world needs you . . . . We should see ourselves as allies in our common struggle to sustain and ensure Jewish continuity.”

You see? There are strings attached to these wonderful opportunities. So Reform laypeople want to hear and learn from Orthodox rabbis? Fine, but only if those Orthodox rabbis acknowledge Reform rabbis as allies. It is like a parent using the children as pawns in a marital struggle. If the Orthodox rabbi stands on a stage side by side with a Reform rabbi, then he can speak to the people. Otherwise, no visitation.

Rabbi Reinman closes with an appeal “to all my Jewish brothers and sisters not to allow your rabbis to hold you hostage. If they do not allow you to meet Orthodox rabbis, read the books I mention in the Afterword [or] write to me at the e-mail address that appears there.”

Last year, I gave a class on the interplay between ethics and Halacha in Brooklyn’s largest Reform temple, arranged by an acquaintance who is an active member. Sure enough, there in the room with the attendees was one of the assistant rabbis. Why had he troubled himself to be there with this small group on a winter evening? The distinct feeling I had then was precisely what Rabbi Reinman describes so aptly: that of one speaking to hostages while their jailor stands by ready to jump in — as indeed he did — and ensure his charges’ intellectual purity at my mention of anything remotely “subversive.”

So, to all ex-Kollel members whose movement can’t find the money for the advancement your Jewish education, I invite you to write or call me and I’ll set you up with a knowledgable and caring Orthodox study partner with whom, I assure you, you’ll be able to raise any question and voice any opinion you’d like without having to look over your shoulder to see if the commissar is watching and listening.

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29 Responses

  1. Rabbi Ruth Gais says:

    Thank you for letting me comment. Sorry it has taken me few days to get back to this topic. I’m delighted you enjoyed the archaeology lectures, one of my favorite Kollel offerings.
    As to Eytan Kobre’s question, I can only speak for what I did during my years as director. I always tried to have a faculty that included a spectrum of scholars. I almost never recruited, people usually came to me and, if after we talked,it seemed a good fit, I’d invite that individual to teach. Since we did not have a large advertising budget, our reach could only extend so far, but despite this limitation,I have had students from Monsey as well as the metropolitan area.
    And I myself would be very happy to take you up on your offer to the Kollel and learn with anyone who would want to. I know I won’t have time for the next two months, but after that, I would be eager to do so.

  2. LAWRENCE KAPLAN says:

    Eytan Kobre: In his eulogy for his uncle R. Vevele (“Mah Dodekh mi-Dod), RYBS presented the anti-Zionist views of his uncle with great force and sensitivity. But he then immediately went on to say “To be sure, there are those who say” (“omnom ken, yesh omrim”), and he proceeded to present his own, very different view. As for Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, I published an article in Judaism 1999, “Revisionism and the Rav,” where I seek to show how Rabbi Meiselman misrepresents the clearly stated teachings of his uncle. This includes his uncle’s
    views regarding the religious significance of the State of Israel. My article can be accessed online.

  3. Dr. E says:

    Eytan-

    My comment was obviously meant tongue-in-cheek; hence the smiley. However, since it obviously struck a sensitive nerve, all one has to do is look to the olam hashidduchim today with all of the focus on image. Obviously, I can’t mention the specific names of people that I know first-hand and provide you with the substantiation you seek. But, there is certainly enough anecdotal evidence out there to know that there is a non-trivial number of yeshiva guys out there who get engaged and who have not learned seriously since maybe high school (and I am not even talking about in Eretz Yisrael where there are motivations to avoid the army). Yet, because of peer pressure within the yeshiva and within the cohort of one or both of the mechutanim, the aforementioned guys are encouraged or expected to enter Kollel, often with an open-ended ticket. Those who don’t, while maybe not seen as “Reform” are sometimes viewed as one degree of separation better than a kid at risk.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am not against Kollel in some form, for some time, for some guys. I’d just like to see some more honest cheshbonos made by Yeshivos and the community, before a decision towards Kollel is made. For many, it’s merely a knee-jerk reaction to a child’s engagement because “that is what’s done”. Consequently, an increase in quality will only serve to raise the stature of Kollel and its Torah study, rather than to cheapen it.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    Eytan Kobre-RYBS ZTL understood the position of the Brisker Rav ZTL on issues relating to secular Zionism very well, However, if one goes thru Chamesh Drashos , one can see RYBS’s very different views, even as he stated that his beliefs were not at all rooted in secular Zionism.

  5. Nachum Lamm says:

    That’s sad. I once attended a fascinating series of lectures on the archaeology of Jerusalem at the Kollel, at HUC. I’m not sure if you were in charge, then, Rabbi Gais, but if so, thanks.

  6. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Eytan Kobre: relative to your 3 points addressed to me in 23 above:

    1) You prove my point. You write: “Teaching Torah, by contrast, is about conveying what one actually believes and lives by.” That represents your point of view and one that applies in many/most contexts; but it is not that of teachers who teach Torah (perhaps not your defintion of Torah) presenting not just their view but even those they disagree with and work hard to represent it well. Even in many non-academic(, Torah learning) contexts, IMHO, that is a critical skill. The example of RYBS ztl was decidely a non-academic context.

    2) You must be kidding; you really need me to point out examples! BTW, I did not say “contributors”, I said “many…. on this blog.” Nonetheless, for two clear examples (there are numerous more nuanced ones) read R. Shafran’s pieces on conversion and shemittah with all the bloggers comments and if you still do not understand what I am refering to, then please identify the sentances where the alternative point of view is cogently expressed by those supporting the contributor. And for the record, I did not say “cannot”; i said “do not / cannot.” I have no way of knowing if someone is lacking the ability / knowledege to do so or just choose not to for other reasons. BTW the first prerequsite to understand the other, is to notice word use and of course, quote accurately

    3) Do I understand your ambiguous sentance refering to R. Meiselman to mean that you believe that RYBS agreed with his uncle’s stance on Israel??? You may again be proving my point about the inability to articulate alternative views accurately; I hope not.

  7. Eytan Kobre says:

    Dr. E.: Unless the “smiley” indicates that your comment was not meant seriously, I’d ask you to please substantiate your serious allegation (this is getting to be a regular thing, isn’t it?; I’m still waiting for the last fellow’s substantiation. . .).

    Shlomo: Two questions: 1) Is it your experience that secular folks don’t have ideological axes to grind and keep their views to themselves, even as teachers of captive audiences; and 2) since you begin with “Probably,” I assume that this comment is conjecture on your part. But I wonder: why would you speculate in a way that generalizes insultingly about fellow Jews?

    Dr. Gewirtz: 1) Bob Miller’s point, I believe, was that someone teaching others about Judaism can be assumed to wish to present a point of view in which they believe and not one she rejects, unless she explicitly states otherwise. Your analogy fails because this is decidedly not like a business context or academic context where one must understand the competitor’s/partner’s position in order to better advance one’s own or as you put it, to be “best equipped to counter” other positions. Teaching Torah, by contrast, is about conveying what one actually believes and lives by.

    2) Would you please provides examples in which, to quote your words, contributors to Cross-Currents a) engaged in “innuendo and spin” in order to “attack Modern Orthodoxy and . . . Conservative and Reform.” and b) did so because they
    cannot articulate the positions of those movements accurately?

    3) I wonder if students of the Rov like Rav Moshe Meiselman would agree with your understanding of why he was able to articulate the Brisker Rov’s approach to the State of Israel so accurately, or would have an alternative explanation. . .

    Dr. Gais: I echo the welcome Ori extended to you and look forward to your continued participation. I do have one question for you, however:
    You write that the Kollel “deliberately encouraged students and faculty across the Jewish spectrum to learn and teach with us.” Were such overtures made to fervently Orthodox and Chassidic potential faculty members, which were declined, and if not, why?

    Mr. Maryles: I think you’d profit from reading the entirety of Rabbi Reinman’s terrific article from which I quoted. In any event, he was rather close to the events at issue, and given the choice I’ll take his assessment over yours hands down.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding Comment by dr. william gewirtz — October 25, 2007 @ 3:04 pm :

    I did not deny that someone could teach in detail about a view counter to his/her own. I said someone could not teach such a view as being true.

    Thus, a person who disbelieved in Torah MiSinai would not be able to teach that Torah really is MiSinai. Whatever detail the student might pick up from that instructor, it would not include the conviction that the Torah is MiSinai.

  9. dr. william gewirtz says:

    “..but I venture to say that what I might teach and how I might teach it may have very little to do with what my denominational affiliation might be.”

    wouldn’t expect something to be taught as true from a point of view that the teacher rejects.

    Comment by Bob Miller — October 25, 2007 @ 8:22 am

    In philosophy and theology as well as business, those who can articulate the other point of view accurately, are often best equipped to counter. IMHO, some/many that attack MO and even conservative and reform on this blog often have to resort to innuendo and spin, because they do not / cannot avail themselves of that approach. A great example is RYBS ZTL articulating the position of his uncle, the Brisker Rov ZTL, on Medinat Israel. I was told that some were supposedly so impressed / confused by the presentation that they thought RYBS must agree with what he articulated. That standard would be a welcome goal for any blog.

  10. Harry Maryles says:

    For a Torah Rabbi to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a Reform leader and declare that they are allies in the fight for Jewish continuity simply makes no sense; it would very much imply an endorsement of Reform as something beneficial for the Jewish People.

    No it doesn’t. Not if the Orthodox rabbi clearly separates himself from it. They may both agree that Jews are leaving the fold. How they define ‘the fold’ may be different but they can still agree in general terms about a fact.

    I think anyone who attends a book tour like this would realize that Reform Judasim and Orthodoxy are not on the same page, especially when the Orthodox rabbi starts out every appearance by clearly stating that… and the Reform rabbi acknowledges the Orthodox position. If I remeber correctly, that is what happened ar the one appearance they had together. The book probably actually spells that out clearly too.

  11. Bob Miller says:

    “..but I venture to say that what I might teach and how I might teach it may have very little to do with what my denominational affiliation might be.”

    I wouldn’t expect something to be taught as true from a point of view that the teacher rejects.

  12. Shlomo says:

    Personally I got my first real glimpse of this shock after I finished my studies at Bar-Ilan U. in Ed. Counsleing and was immediately encouraged to interview for a position by the Misrad HaChinuch Hadatit(which oversees all the “national religious” schools. Naively, I figured everyone knew the ikkar was the professionalism and pure, simple love for helping children grow within their given Jewish context. Later I found out they were very interested in me UNTIl they heard I was planning on sending my eldest, 5 yr old, to a private Cheider (I then didn’t LOOK so chareidi). Someone high up there eventualy explained to me, off the record: “It’s known that the dati leumi prefer educators who are m’challelei Shabbos over chareidim!!”

    Probably because secular educators would not try to proselytize their beliefs in school, while charedi educators would. A school committed to the “dati leumi derech” would not want teachers who constantly tell everyone that that derech is wrong. Secular teachers, if only due to theological indifference, would probably be more inclined to keep their mouths shut.

  13. Rabbi Ruth Gais says:

    Thank you for your welcome! I certainly think that blogs et al can be very valuable for learning and dialogue and of course a way to save money. But I think panim l’panim is really the only way to learn from each other that can have long-lasting value. Besides, my smicha is from HUC but I venture to say that what I might teach and how I might teach it may have very little to do with what my denominational affiliation might be.

  14. Ori Pomerantz says:

    One of the things I love about cross-currents.com is that sometimes we’ll discuss an issue and out of the blue one of the people involved will join us. Rabbi Ruth Gais, welcome!

    May I ask an ignoramus’s question? How much of this open and pluralistic experience can you get by setting up a blog, putting up a text every week and with lessons on it (lets say three lessons, a Reform one, a Conservative one, and an Orthodox one), and having people argue about those lessons? I’m asking this because I think the future of education (Jewish and secular) is in doing more with less resources. A program that costs less than ten thousand dollars a year would obviously be more resilient and easier to maintain. Many of us can’t afford to study at fixed times and live a long distance from NYC, but have Internet access.

  15. Rabbi Ruth Gais says:

    As the last director of the New York Kollel at HUC-JIR I want to clarify that the Kollel, although housed at HUC and funded by HUC, from its very beginning to its end did not have a Reform agenda or bias.Rather we deliberately encouraged students and faculty across the Jewish spectrum to learn and teach with us. It was, in fact, this open and pluralistic experience that is one of Kollel’s accomplishments I am most proud of and one for which HUC should receive credit. I was and am very sad about Kollel’s closing but hope that its spirit of inclusion and tolerance together with its fine learning will endure.

  16. Dr. E says:

    In some yeshivas, anyone who leaves (or does not go into) Kollel is viewed not much differently than Reform :-)

  17. Calev says:

    Harry Maryles writes: When Rabbi Hirsch said that they should be allies, he meant it exactly how he said it… in the ‘common struggle to sustain and ensure Jewish continuity’. In no way can this be construed as an endorsement of Reform… even a tacit one. Nor was there any endorsement of Reform as a precondition. …Just a common goal of stopping attrition.

    The problem is that Reform is an engine of assimilation, it contains within it the seeds of its own demise – a sad, drawn out process that we are currently witnessing. For a Torah Rabbi to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a Reform leader and declare that they are allies in the fight for Jewish continuity simply makes no sense; it would very much imply an endorsement of Reform as something beneficial for the Jewish People.

  18. dr. william gewirtz says:

    “The heterodox critique in areas like science and Judaism or biblical scholarship, isn’t their own; they’ve only piggybacked on the secular assault on Judaism.” EK REPSONSE – 8

    PUTTING SCEINCE AND RELIGION AND BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP IN ONE SENTANCE IS NOT CONSTRUCTIVE. THE ISSUES ARE QUITE DIFFERENT AND THE RANGE OF OPINIONS OF GEDOLAI YISROEL ON THESE TOPICS IS NOT AT ALL COMPARABLE. THERE WERE GEDOLIM WITH LITTLE TOLERANCE FOR MANY NON-TRADITIONAL BIBLE STUDIES WHILE ALSO VIEWING SCIENCE AND RELIGION AS INTRINSICALLY COMPATIBLE.

    when u declare something non-existent (last paragraph) do you mean you do not know of one or you can prove that it cannot exist? the former is your considered opinion /belief and cannot be argued; the latter requires a formal proof.

  19. rejewvenator says:

    Eytan, ReJew is fine, if you wish to abbreviate.

    I think it’s a cop-out to blame the secular Jewish media. For one, I don’t think the publicity that the Orthodox get is so bad, for two, I don’t think the Orthodox ‘play the game’ of public relations like everyone else does, for three, I think Orthodox Jews are the most self-centered and defensive community I’ve ever seen and regularly get their panties in a bunch over the most minor of perceived slights.

    Most importantly, it’s nobody’s job but our own to represent ourselves, and we do as bitterly thorough a job of pillorying secular and heterodox Judaism and its leadership to our flocks. Even the word heterodox is a direct assault on non-Orthodox movements, just as the word Orthodox was when it was chosen. If you fight with your claws out, you’re going to get scratched.

    I think claiming that secular Jews don’t make a true or informed choice is hooey. In cities where frum organizations and media are strong enough to get the message out we don’t see Jews returning in droves. I’m sorry, but I think you’re deluding yourself if you think that we’ve got the right message, and the right content, and that the only that is holding us back is our inability to be heard above the noise and half-truths. And you don’t actually beleive that, since you acknowledge that we don’t create models of Torah living that are sufficiently attractive.

    I also would caution you on the numbers of Jews leaving orthodoxy to embrace some other ideology. I think that perhaps you, and certainly some of your peers on the right, would consider the left wing of Orthodoxy to be a heterodox ideology. Do you consider YCT orthodox? Moreover, while perhaps few go from Orthodoxy to active ideological belief in another denomination (though I have seen this phenomenon up close as well), many go from Orthodoxy to a secular rejection of religious ideology entirely. I’m not sure why that’s better. Frankly, I wish that Orthodox Jews who go OTD wound up Conservative, rather than rejectionist. Don’t you?

  20. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Eytan Kobre: In a nutshell, Eric Yoffie claims to have nothing but respect for my beliefs, so let him take his Talmud Torah kids to visit my shul. I will reciprocate regarding neither (although I might well respect him as a person, both inherently as a Jew and human being and for his qualities).

    Ori: Good point. Would you respect Reform Judaism more if they also allowed speakers from other points of view that claim to represent a continuation of Tanakhic Judaism, such as Jews for Jesus and Catholics?

    Eytan Kobre: As to your idea of embedding positive messages about Orthodoxy, I’m not really sure what you mean by that. But we already have the most powerful tools we need. A page of Gemora, a Shabbos table, etc. But we need 1) a way to get millions of Jews to find out such things exist and then experience them…

    Ori: This is the issue I was addressing. If Raffi Reform were to come into your synagogue Friday afternoon, I assume you would be happy to have him for Shabbat, and if he at all inclined towards it you’ll gladly study Gmara with him. Raffi may decide he wants to become Ba’al Teshvuah. Or he might become more observant while staying heterodox like me.

    However, those powerful tools require Raffi to come to your synagogue. He may only have vague memories of being made to learn how to lead Shabbat services so he can have a big Bar-Mitzvah party, and he might not even know what Gmara is. You can accuse Raffi’s parents and Hebrew school teachers of betraying him, but that’s not productive. Life isn’t about scoring points in a debate, but about doing actual good.

    What you need to do is to find a way around the Reform temple that Raffi may or may not attend. The only way you’ll be able be get to him is by using the same media that his good friends Carl Catholic and Peter Protestant read and watch. This means that Carl and Peter might also come to your synagogue, but is that too high a price to reach Raffi?

  21. Eytan Kobre says:

    Mr. Observer: Please substantiate your allegation (without mentioning names, of course), and I’d advise “yy” to hold off accepting the truth thereof until Mr. Observer does so.

    Ori: The curriculum of any Orthodox school worthy of the name should be and, in fact, in most cases is, replete with teaching about a variegated Klal Yisrael and the importance of loving and caring for every Jew, including in many schools, field trips that underscore that message. Does insularity nevertheless often win out over openness to other Orthodox approaches? Is the main focus in speaking about all types of Jews often on those who are religious, as opposed to the secular and heterodox? Sure, on both scores; as in many areas, we have work to do, but that doesn’t minimize the tremendous good work that is being done in our schools.

    However, visits to heterodox houses of worship would be counterproductive in that regard. Taking children to these places is, at a minimum, a tacit but clear endorsement of their propriety, no less than a visit to any other venue. But as problematic as a museum visit can sometimes be, when it contains immodest or other anti-halachic elements, a temple is entirely “treif”; it is a visit to a museum of identity theft (witting or otherwise), a shrine to the removal of the matle of “Judaism” from its true bearer and its placement on a sham that is, as Rav S.R. Hirsch observed, more distant from Torah than Catholicism is from Protestantism. Sorry if that sounds heavy, but that’s exactly the way it is.

    Such visits would thus require schools — if they are to be true to their missions — to tell their charges that these temples practice a distorted form of Judaism that leads their congregants astray from G-d and Torah. Not only is such a message of visiting but seeing them as profoundly mistaken, too subtle for young minds, but it certainly wouldn’t, as you can imagine, foster greater appreciation for this segment of Klal Yisrael — not to mention the problem of getting entree to these places under such premises!

    And no , there’s no hypocrisy, Ori and yy, in taking Reform to task for not visiting the Orthodox or hovering over their congregants when I give a talk. We believe in Torah as the singular truth; they ostensibly believe in autonomy, multiple truths and paths, etc. Thus, what makes perfect sense for me given my worldview makes no sense at all for the Reform given their worldview. My point is that the way they behave in practice belies all that high-minded pluralism talk.

    In a nutshell, Eric Yoffie claims to have nothing but respect for my beliefs, so let him take his Talmud Torah kids to visit my shul. I will reciprocate regarding neither (although I might well respect him as a person, both inherently as a Jew and human being and for his qualities).

    As to your idea of embedding positive messages about Orthodoxy, I’m not really sure what you mean by that. But we already have the most powerful tools we need. A page of Gemora, a Shabbos table, etc. But we need 1) a way to get millions of Jews to find out such things exist and then experience them and 2) to make ourselves, families and communities into living exemplars of authentic, inspired Torah living with joy, high ethical standards and eschewal of gross materialism. A tall order, but one we must strive for, for both our own spiritual sake and that of our estranged brethren. Which brings me to . . .

    Mr. Rejewvenator (can I just use Jew or ReJew for short?): Permit me to answer the questions you pose directly: “In the same breath you claim that Orthodox programs do attract many non-Orthodox Jews. So which is it? Does Orthodoxy fail to reach the heterodox and promulgate its vision for Jewish living? Or are you going to blame the media, or even heterodox leadership for failing to properly advocate for Orthodoxy?”

    Answer: Both are true. We do fail dismally to reach our non-Orthodox brethren for many reasons, including the fact that we don’t live up to own standards and don’t create models of Torah living that would be a powerful magnet drawing estranged Jews toward us. Orhtodox programs do attract many Jews, meaning thousands nationwide, but that’s a pittance in relative terms.

    But both the weekly assaults of the secular Jewish media on Orthodoxy and the concerted efforts of heterodox clergy to distort who we are and to hold their flocks hostage are also factors in this tragedy.

    And so, you and I agree to a great extent. But I don’t agree that “the numbers have spoken” at all on the issue of what Jews would choose if given a true chance to choose, as I explained in the post. A great number of ba’alei t’shuva are coming to Orthodoxy straight from, or at least following, a rejection of heterodoxy, whereas the number of those leaving Orthodoxy to ideologically embrace heterodoxy is miniscule. I’m not a sociologist or demographer, but everything I’ve read, seen and heard from numerous others confirms this for me.

    At best, what might happen is that a day school grad leaves Orthodox practice, but having married and moved to the suburbs, joins the local temple to give his kids a Jewish upbringing, not because he buys into or even knows the ideology. Sorry, but that’s not leaving Orthodoxy for heterodoxy. In sum, the Eric Yoffie statement that you endorse is, as I wrote, disingenuous in the extreme.

    By the way, Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb and others speak of the total number of American BTs over recent decades as in the 100K range; I wonder if authentic “chozrim b’sh’eila” (it’ll take too long here to explain what I mean by that; if someone asks, I’ll explain) approach anywhere near that number. Anyone with any data on either side of the equation is welcome to chime in.

    Bob Miller: Your comment is, as usual, on the mark. The heterodox critique in areas like science and Judaism or biblical scholarship, isn’t their own; they’ve only piggybacked on the secular assault on Judaism. But a coherent and intellectually honest heterodox ideology is non-existent.

  22. LOberstein says:

    “the Orthodox-sponsored programs that are unlikely to bring in students from non-Orthodox backgrounds” is nothing but wishful thinking on the Reformer part. The fact that they are trying to copy us by using the very orthodox word “kollel”, even if the content is not the same shows that the orthodox are leading and they are following. Reform Judaism has a very poor track record, hardly any of its adherants 100 years ago have descendants who are still actively Jewish. Reform may slow down leaving the Jewish People by a generation or two but has no ability to inspire long term committment. Why be Jewish when social justice is the main mitzvah? I might as well join the ACLU. I think that many Reform rabbis know this to be true in their hearts. Reform’s one saving grace is that it allows secular Jews to consider themselves part of the Jewish religion and the Jewish people and , if they have enough merit, maybe they or their children will return to orthodoxy. In and of itself, Reform bears little resemblance to Torah but it helps people who want to be Jewish and don’t know better continue to think of themselves as good Jews. This helps them come closer to Hashem than if they thought they were outside of the tent entirely.

  23. Harry Maryles says:

    The fact is that Rabbi Reinman had it exactly right when, after withdrawing from his joint book tour with Ammi Hirsch, he wrote, in his powerful response in the Jewish Week to Hirsch’s lament over the former’s missed opportunity to meet those thousands of searching Jews:

    So why did I withdraw? And even more important, why was this opportunity for an Orthodox rabbi to meet non-Orthodox people such a rare phenomenon? Ammi offers the answer: “The Jewish world needs you . . . . We should see ourselves as allies in our common struggle to sustain and ensure Jewish continuity.”

    You see? There are strings attached to these wonderful opportunities…

    I’m sorry. I have to strongly disagree. There was no string at all attached to this book and tour. It was merely the Metzius… the way things were. The book was a collaboration. Rabbi Hirsch’s appearance on the stage was not a pre-condition.. And it was that ‘Metzius’ that enabled any contact at all.

    There was no debate about religion. There was nothing from Rabbi Hirsch that countered Rabbi Reinman’s interaction with these people. There was only warm support. When Rabbi Hirsch said that they should be allies, he meant it exactly how he said it… in the ‘common struggle to sustain and ensure Jewish continuity’. In no way can this be construed as an endorsement of Reform… even a tacit one. Nor was there any endorsement of Reform as a precondition. …Just a common goal of stopping attrition.

  24. Steve Brizel says:

    FWIW, NCSY’s summer programs for girls features a tour to one of the best examples of hands on Chesed-the Satmar Bikur Cholim. That being the case, despite the closing of a misnamed institution called a “kollel”, one wonders whether at least some who attended there developed a sense of curiousity about Torah observance and pursued it in some of the venues described in the essay. One need not sound triumphalistic in saying that a movement that does not view textual study and literacy in classical Jewish texts as a priority would not extend itself in maintaining such a program.

  25. yy says:

    you’re both right! The Reformists and non-Satmars are certainly being true to their cause to not take their people into those institutions that offer the fiercest competition, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone. So too it should be fully acceptable that when a Reform Temple hosts one of the competition, they have the right to be on board offering their perspective. At the same time the implications re. who’s the REAL competition should be sobering.

    Personally I got my first real glimpse of this shock after I finished my studies at Bar-Ilan U. in Ed. Counsleing and was immediately encouraged to interview for a position by the Misrad HaChinuch Hadatit(which oversees all the “national religious” schools. Naively, I figured everyone knew the ikkar was the professionalism and pure, simple love for helping children grow within their given Jewish context. Later I found out they were very interested in me UNTIl they heard I was planning on sending my eldest, 5 yr old, to a private Cheider (I then didn’t LOOK so chareidi). Someone high up there eventualy explained to me, off the record: “It’s known that the dati leumi prefer educators who are m’challelei Shabbos over chareidim!!”

  26. Bob Miller says:

    The Reform brain trust in the last some 200 years has only been able to demolish Jewish theory and practice, not to create it. Their gimmicks have all failed and their active membership would be sinking even faster without non-Jewish recruits.

    As Eytan Kobre proposes above, this is an opportune time to attract Reform’s best and brightest to authentic Judaism. However, to be able to show the Torah way to best effect, we need to work hard to perfect our own community life.

  27. rejewvenator says:

    Eytan, are you actually suggesting that what’s holding back Orthodoxy from broader acceptance throughout the Jewish community is that “their knowledge of Orthodox Jews, let alone Orthodoxy’s beliefs and practices, is either entirely absent or so filtered through the antagonistic lens of secular Jewish media and heterodox leadership as to
    render it meaningless” ?

    If find it odd that you refer to the absence of an Eliyhau b’Har HaCarmel moment – after all, though the Jews sided with Eliyahu at that moment, they shortly returned to their idolatrous ways, and the whole point of the story is that these moments don’t have any lasting impact.

    In the same breath you claim that Orthodox programs do attract many non-Orthodox Jews. So which is it? Does Orthodoxy fail to reach the heterodox and promulgate its vision for Jewish living? Or are you going to blame the media, or even heterodox leadership for failing to properly advocate for Orthodoxy?

    I think the numbers have spoken. Yes, we’re experiencing some more chazara b’teshuva. We are also experiencing more chazara b’she’eila within our movements. I have no idea what the net result is. Either way though, it’s clear that Orthodoxy is not CONVINCING Reform or Conservative Jews to flock to it in large numbers. I think in the end Rabbi Yoffie is correct – “For most North American Jews, Orthodoxy is simply not an approach to Jewish practice that they will accept. Most American Jews are searching for a particular blend of tradition and modernity that is to be found in the non-Orthodox streams.”

  28. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Would any Orthodox schools take the kids to visit Conservative and Reform synagogues? Not as an endorsement, of course, but as part of learning about Klal Israel(1). Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t Orthodox Jews committed to Klal Israel is the same way that Heterodox Jews claim to be committed to pluralism?

    In more practical terms, you will not get to Heterodox Jews through Conservative and Reform institutes – in much the same way that you won’t be able to get the Republican message through the DNC(2) or the Democratic message through the RNC(2). There are exceptions, but they are rare and you can’t count on them.

    The way to get to Heterodox Jews is to do an end-run around our institutions. Use the secular media. Embed the message: “Orthodox Judaism is good” in the kind of books Barnes & Noble sells and the kind of movie Blockbuster stocks.

    (1) Klal Israel – the entirety of the Jewish people.

    (2) DNC – Democratic National Committee. RNC – Republican National Committee. The top bodies of the political parties in the US. I didn’t know these acronyms until I moved here.

  29. Jewish Observer says:

    “Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb and the secular writer Jeffrey Goldberg have both recalled their Reform Talmud Torahs taking them to visit the local churches but never the Orthodox”

    there are Orthodox schools that would take the kids to the philharmonic and any museum but never to Satmar