The Goals of Kiruv – a View From the Past

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What are the goals of kiruv? What kind of change should offer the mekarev some sense of accomplishment? I remember debates about this years ago at AJOP conventions, where kiruv professionals gathered for chizuk and to trade ideas.

Some argued that anything less than full Shabbos observance was a hollow change. Kiruv workers should not waste their time with people who were out of range for such change, when there were more promising candidates to be reached. (One kiruv worker insisted that a very important person in Bnei Brak – if I am not mistaken, it was R Chaim Graineman – had told him so.) Others insisted that any slight change in behavior or even attitude was a legitimate goal of kiruv. Our job was to make Jews more at home with Torah, in whole or in very small part. My own leanings, my training in yeshiva, and all my subsequent activity to this day were very much in line with this latter view

I chanced on a few lines in a teshuva by R. Eliyahu Mizrachi (the Re’em) of the 15th century, the author of the famous volume that explicates Rashi on Chumash. In responsum 57, he addresses the propriety of a communal ban in Constantinople against any and all teaching of Karaites – no Tanach, no Gemara, no Alef-Bais. Even teaching secular subjects was interdicted. The last item raised the hackles of many people who supported themselves as tutors. Perhaps it was appropriate not to teach these undeserving heretics Torah. But what objection could there be to teaching them neutral subjects from secular wisdom? The words of the Re’em are enlightening and instructive:

Even if you were to say that there [ordinarily is Divine] reward for the study of secular wisdom, as is the opinion of some of our Torah sages, it should be permissible to teach it to the Karaites…Any way you look at it, it should be permissible. If there is no reward to these people owing to their rejection of Torah She-b’al- peh (which means that they are among those who have no portion in the World to Come), then they [the Karaites] have no real spiritual gain in this study [and we do nothing inappropriate by teaching them]. If they are rewarded for this secular study [despite their heresy], and it saves them from the Judgment of Gehinom, then those who teach them toil to be mekarev them to the protection of the Shechinah, since they find Hashem agreeable to them, and He is favorable to them! There is no greater mitzvah! It is only forbidden to offer them our own assistance, such as healing them, etc., where we sustain them through our actions…Where, however, the benefit that comes to them comes from Hashem Himself, to the contrary – whoever attempts to bring this about truly works in kiruv rechokim.

It is safe to presume that the Karaites did not become shomrei Shabbos by studying Aristotle. Yet, at least in the opinion of the Re’em, providing them with any meaningful spiritual boost was a great mitzvah.

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25 Responses

  1. tzippi says:

    I’m inclined to say that the early day school movement was certainly engaged in kiruv. Check out Holy Warrior, a biography of R’ Avraham Abba Freedman, a student of R’ Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz. If there were rigorous general studies program it was to make the schools appealing to parents who would otherwise not have considered the schools an option.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Steve,

    As I perceived it at the time and in retrospect, the day school movement was indeed engaged in kiruv. You have unduly narrowed the definition. I understand your point and also dispute it.

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    Bob Miller-You missed my point-I don’t think that Kiruv or Chizuk were an early goal for the day school movement. In the early decades of the movement, most schools, outside of Charedi neighborhoods, were offering Judaic studies and competing academically with the public schools. That message remains the case in MO schools, where chizuk and kiruv are delegated and relegated to extra curricular activities and NCSY like groups.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    For anyone interested in Kiruv both in the US and Israel, take a look at R Jonathan Rosenblum’s most recent columns in Mishpacha and Yated. There is no question that the Charedi world, is engaged in serious kiruv well beyond the walls of the yeshiva. Then take a look at the most recent issue of Jewiwsh Action for reports from the kiruv front in the US via young rabbonim and NCSY. As we approach Zman Matan Toraseinu, it is important to keep our collective heads and hearts on the goal, even when the goals of Achdus and reducing Hashkafic oriented and based Machlokes, some of which is legitimate, and more of which reflects a supplanting , as opposed to a supplementation of one’s committment to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim, seem as illusive as ever.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Steve Brizel,

    Many of the nominally Orthodox recruited by the day school movement in its early days were “not yet Orthodox” by any of today’s definitions.

    Also, in my class at the Jewish Foundation School of Staten Island way back when, only a minority of students even came from families who belonged to the Orthodox shul.

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    Bob Miller-Your point is well taken with the American Orthodox community that was the first generation of recruitment for the day school movement. However, that is a completely distinct point from kiruv among the “not yet Orthodox”, which cannot be traced necessarily and definitively to the day school movement.

  7. Raymond says:

    This reminds me of something the Chovetz Chaim said. Unfortunately I am no Torah scholar, so I do not remember his words exactly on this, but basically what he said was that one of the best, if not THE best, things about a person attending a Torah lecture, is that during that hour of time, the person is not speaking lashon hara.

    This is the thought I had when reading Rabbi Adlerstein’s article above, because, frankly, that is how it applies to me. I have said many times on this forum how I am not religious, yet when I am invited to people’s homes for holiday meals, the fact is that during those two hours or so, I am behaving as religiously as anybody at the table. And you know what? It feels fantastic. I am in the midst of the best company one can ask for; no matter what is talked about, it is always somehow couched within the framework of the Torah outlook on the world, which for me is pure joy. It also feels wonderful to be treated as if I am an important person who matters. That is something the secular world does not give to me in any amount whatsoever. So is that a waste of time for whichever hospitable religious Jew to welcome me into their home? I hope not.

    Also, please consider this. There is a whole world out there, a world that, either deliberately or unconsciously, tries every trick in the book to remove Jews from their Jewish heritage. I am frankly amazed that in a free and open society such as ours, where the secular world is so tempting and so filled with pleasures at all levels, that any Jew has any kind of strong connection with his or her Judaism. But if this seemingly losing battle is not even fought, it guarantees defeat. Better to instill some Judaism in one’s fellow Jews, than to have an unrealistic, all-or-nothing policy.

  8. cvmay says:

    Tzippi, the beauty of the difference of opinion between Rabbi Scherer (who was geared to the individual and his self growth) and Dr. Joe (he was a global visionary), was that differences in strategies were expressed, debated and respected.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Steve Brizel alleged above that “…the Charedi world became involved in Kiruv only when they realized that Chabad and MO via NCSY and YU Seminar were heavily involved in kiruv.”

    The Jewish Day School movement, backed by leaders of great American Yeshivot and organized via Torah Umesorah, began in the 1940’s before NCSY (1954). Many Agudah leaders and rank-and-file were involved in the Day School movement at a very early stage.

    See the Wikipedia entry on Torah Umesorah.

    Some excerpts from this article:

    “The organization was established in New York City in 1944 at a time when the United States was at war with the Axis Powers and Europe’s Jews were facing the genocide of the Holocaust by the Nazis. Yet it was precisely at that time that the call went out, challenging the prevailing mood of the times, to establish a totally new network of Jewish day schools across North America. Torah Umesorah was founded by Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz and Rabbi Aaron Kotler.

    The originator and leading personality of this new idea was the Hungarian-born Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz (who insisted in being addressed as “Mr. Mendlowitz”) who was then serving as the head of the Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn. He was supported, encouraged and guided by a group of colleagues (mostly leading Eastern European-born and educated rosh yeshivas [“deans”]), and aided greatly by Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1890-1962) the rosh yeshiva of the Lakewood yeshiva in New Jersey.”

    “After its founding, Torah Mesorah appointed a full time Director in 1946, someone with an academic degree, Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky who was given the mandate to fulfill the vision of the founding rabbis.”

    As an example, the Jewish Foundation School of Staten Island, began in 1954, the year I entered first grade. This Torah Umesorah-supported day school had been operating for about 8 years before the first attempt (unsuccessful—this was before the Verrazano Bridge brought in many more Jews) to start an NCSY chapter on SI. In the 1950’s, I detected no Chabad presence on SI whatsoever.

  10. dg says:

    I would point out that kiruv works differently in the context of community. A small effect on one person can make a big difference in another person. For example, if Art softens up a bit to frumkeit, it can make it much easier for his friend Bill to get involved more seriously.
    More broadly, every little affect on someone improves frumkeit’s reputation. This is usually essential in getting kiruv off the ground in a new community. Stage one is to create a positive, friendly atmosphere, especially among those people who will not likely grow very much but who are looked to by others. Once they warm up a little to authentic frumkeit, it becomes a more valid choice for those others to take it seriously. From experience, this makes all the difference in the world. And I would add that I personally believe those who “just warm up” but can be positive towards their friends becoming frum have a chelek in the schar.

  11. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that R L Oberstein’s comment is on the mark. I think that if the various kiruv movements focused on one person and one mitzva at a time, as opposed to seeking radical change, we would see far more success. Why is it that a BT who seemingly is not a 100% card carrying Charedi is viewed as less than a success story? I think that the dispute between R J Kaminetsky and R Sherer, Zicronam Livracha is reflective of the fact that the Charedi world became involved in Kiruv only when they realized that Chabad and MO via NCSY and YU Seminar were heavily involved in kiruv.

  12. tzippi says:

    This is a tangent but that quote about Rabbi Sherer is breathtaking. Maybe it’s my bad for not reading the book and the whole kerfuffle might be there, but isn’t it amazing that he could have had such an important dissenting view and yet we the people never heard of it, or any resulting ugly machlokes? This points to the dignity with which true leaders comport themselves and afford others, and their subservience to daas Torah even if it’s not what they might have thought, had they been the policy makers (i.e. had R. Sherer been heading Torah Umesorah he would have tried to lead it in a different direction, but that was irrelevant as their rabbinic advisors and those in the trenches determined otherwise).

    I guess that what brings this back on topic is that we readers may not be the policy makers. Our insights and input are not insignificant but should be tempered with humility.

  13. michoel halberstam says:

    One needs to separate the notion of individuals involving themselves with other jews to bring them a little closer to their roots, from the notion of a profession we call kiruv. I do not by any means intend to disparage the latter. I only wish to underscore how important it is to understand the distinction. Every single jew is obligated all pi din torah to behave in such a way as to increase the love of Hashem amongst people, especially other jews. In this respect we are all kiruv workers, and that requirement is fulfilled by whatever works. As far as the kiruv movement ( or in some cases, industry, is concerned) there are obviously different considerations. Moreover, wherever there is competition involving religious issues, it is always in the interest of certain people or groups to characterize themselves as more authentic than others. This explains why there may be problems with fund raising, as suggested by E. Fink

  14. L. Oberstein says:

    50 years ago, Jewish Day Schools were the main form of kiruv. Many, if not most, of the kids who left after 6th grade didn’t become frum. However, a lot of them married Jews and are affiliated because they have basic synagogue skills and are not intimidated from entering a shul. Rabbi Moshe Sherer told me personally that Torah Umesorah was wasting resources opening these community days schools, he said that it was important to use our resources to strengthen the core, those who are really going to be frum. Dr.Joseph Kamenetzky disagreed. I learned from both of these truly great people and think “eilu ve eilu divrei Elokim Chaiyim”, both are right. You have to do whatever you can to light the spark of the pintele yid and you also need the environment that enables frum society to function.

  15. Ori says:

    Bob Miller and Tzippi raise an important point. The kiruv the Re’em discussed was not professional. It did not take resources that would have otherwise gone to other projects. If anything, it increased the resources of the Jewish community, by letting professional tutors make more money.

    A professional system is very different from one where people might achieve kiruv while doing something completely different.

  16. tzippi says:

    My gut, which is clearly not the ultimate arbiter, tells me that any authentic inspiration that results has value, as it says in Pirkei Avos, there are those who acquire the world to come in one moment. But for those who have to crunch the numbers to design programs, a story like Bruce’s raises some interesting questions, such as what can we learn from the direction of the children of those who pass through the programs, if young and unattached at the time….

  17. j ruben says:

    I’ve heard from a friend who’s a AJOP Kiruv worker that the Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Somayach, Rav Nota Schiller, said the goal of Kiruv is to prevent intermarriage. If the yid marries another yid then they can try to mekarev their kids. However if he intermarries, experience and statistics show it’s infinitely more difficult.

  18. Bob Miller says:

    One question is how to optimize the allocation of available resources for kiruv. Do “maximalists” hold that there are barely enough resources to do “maximal” kiruv, so that the “lesser” type can’t be funded without harming the overall effort? Or is it more a matter of personal or institutional preference? If the latter, are these preferences being reviewed with rabbinic leaders who see the big picture?

  19. Yaakov Menken says:

    Additionally, the question was whether starting with a person already at 1 made a significant difference as far as getting to 2000.

    He was looking at a linear scale of 2000 points, so starting from 1 is barely different than 0. That, however, is not the correct mathematical model. It is a logarithmic scale of declining difficulty, expressed as 2000/x. Starting from 0 can be infinitely more difficult!

  20. lacosta says:

    torah.org besides its role for kiruv , is valuable for people on every level…even if it’s just looking for a dvar tora source…

    it’s interesting that chabad seems to have a slightly different perspective, in that the emphasis is on doing a mitzva for its own sake [or to hasten the geula] , without expecting neccesarily a rise from 0 to 1 on 2000 point scale…

  21. aj says:

    our experience in the US with rising intermarriage rates, over 50 percent of those who show up in Reform synagogues being non-jewish, etc etc etc ought to drive home that anything that increases jewish identity, connection to judaism, jewish learning, etc is very valuable, no matter if it is short of full observance. We can’t tell ourselves that it’s all or nothing when we see that weakening jewish identity leads to full assimilation and the loss of future generations entirely!

  22. Bruce says:

    Am I a kiruv success story or a kiruv failure?

    I grew up attending Reform synagogues, thought Judaism was vapid, and by age 10 wanted nothing to do with it. If I continued on the same trajectory, I would now be either completely secular or at most have weak “cultural” Jewish ties.

    In my 20s, I took lots of classes at Aish and with R. Adlerstein. A close friend became a BT, and I became very close with an Orthodox rabbi and his family. Simplifying tremendously, I learned that (1) traditional Judaism had a lot of important things to say about important things, and (2) traditional Jews seemed to lead good lives. There was much to admire and emulate. At the same time, I concluded that the documentary hypothesis was most likely correct, at least in its broader claims (the Torah was written well after Moses and by multiple authors), that some traditional Jewish beliefs were (to me) outmoded, inconsistent with some modern values that are good, and inconsistent with scientific truths. Without debating the merits of any of these things, my beliefs placed me solidly within Conservative Judaism, and I belong to a CJ synagogue.

    I am now in my mid 40s. By Orthodox standards, I am observant regarding some things and not observant regarding others. The details don’t matter here, but if the “scale” is 0 to 2000 (and more or less linear), my observance is well above 1 and well below 2000. I am more traditionally observant than most of my non-Orthodox friends.

  23. another Nathan says:

    How can you get from 0 to 2000 without going through 1?

    [YA – You usually don’t. People with experience can, however, size up people and determine with some accuracy who is positioned to make major changes in observance and who is not. Advocates of the maximalist school of thought will only spend their time and energy on those who are candidates for the Xtreme Makeover.]

  24. Yaakov Menken says:

    I remember that when we launched Torah.org, one of Rabbi Adlerstein’s colleagues on the AJOP Board said to me that Kiruv is about getting a person from 0 to 2000, and we at Project Genesis are only getting them from 0 to 1. Several years later, presumably after several who had read Torah.org showed up for classes, he admitted to a change of heart: even if our entire mission is getting a person from 0 to 1, that, too, is a crucial step forward.

    Speaking from experience, E. Fink’s assessment of getting funding is entirely too accurate.

  25. E. Fink says:

    If he were trying to do kiruv today, the Re’em would have an awfully hard time finding funding for his “kiruv” projects with such low standards…