Should BTs be Doing Kiruv?

One thing I have learned from reading Beyond BT for approximately five months now is that it is impossible to box all BTs into one group or category and make generalizations about them. Some of our bloggers and readers have been frum 1 year or less, some are not yet completely Shomer Shabbos but are interested, some are past their 20-year point; some have settled into a modern-Orthodox community, some are black-hat yeshivish, some chassidish, some dati leumi, some in-between; some are rabbonim or in klei kodesh, some are struggling in the world of commerce, some are busy wives and mothers, and some are working at jobs paying a high-level parnassa.

To answer the question, therefore, should BTs be Doing Kiruv, and how much, would of course depend on which group of individuals one is addressing. However, there is one advantage to doing some amount of kiruv that everyone (BT or FFB) can benefit from, and that is that it reinforces in oneself, and teaches one’s children, the answers to the larger questions of Yiddishkeit which newcomers inevitably ask, such as “Why be Jewish (or Orthodox),” “How do I know it’s true,” and so on.

When a family and guests are sitting around a Shabbos table and children hear their parents confidently explaining the reasons why we know Torah is true during regular table conversation, they hear two things: 1) the answer, to the extent they can understand it, which will reinforce their emunah and their hashkafos ha Torah; and 2) that there is permission to ask such a question.

It is unlikely for a child exposed to such conversations on a regular basis to be frustrated intellectually and emotionally with their way of life (assuming the parents are sincere and do not act hypocritically). The child knows there are answers to his or her questions, and most importantly, knows that the home is an open place to address all kinds of questions, about G-d, Torah, Jewish practice and personal issues. This becomes invaluable in the teenage years, where the child is forming his own personality and is in the process of making the Torah his own. As a side benefit, the children learn ahavas yisroel by seeing their parents welcome Jews who look and practice differently than they do.

18 comments on “Should BTs be Doing Kiruv?

  1. Belle:

    It’s all about the money. $7-10 /hr/kid/week you do the math salary under $80,000 with monthly bills before tuition $2800 + food. after taxes. I’m lucky some one gave me an interest free loan for pesach. we don’y have a yesheva here in town. and the girls do chessed for the rabbi’s and thier wifes and family. We wont go down that road. The institutions are responsible if you want to do kiruv, then complete the job! Don’t put a stumbling block infront of people,(it’s not right,nor is it fair). I would like to know the breakdown of most city’s population. are is:

    60% rabbi’s and teachers
    10% teachers
    15% wealthy and learned
    5% wealthy and unlearned
    10 lower-middle class

    small city under 150 families.
    Who should do kiruv Bt’s Should open their own centers and recieve donations and start competing against the establishment for funds, then you will see WHO Really wants to do kiruv AND WHO WANTS A PAY CHECK?

  2. Who:

    Is there a yeshiva gedola in your town/city? Sometimes the bochurim are available to learn with younger boys for 1/2 hour on their dinner break, and it is a good chance for them to earn a little cash. Where I am we pay $7-10 for 1/2 hour. If you take your son to the yeshiva, it is a great exposure for him.

    Or, how about hiring a high school girl. They love the money and are usually lovely to have around the house.

    If you can’t afford it, ask at the local girls high school if their chessed program provides tutors for children of baalei teshuva.

    Are there community parenting shiurim?

    I would also recommend Rabbi Horowitz’s tape series on parenting – I think it is 5 or 6 tapes. He did it several years ago but they are great.

    To Ora and Ken Bloom:

    In my experience, we do engage in philosphical conversation on a regular basis with guests who are new to Judaism. I found that people coime to us davka not to make small talk only, but to learn about Shabbos, etc. Of course it isn’t a theology class, we get to know each other, etc. However, questions come up all the time about customs, laws, and beliefs.

    I’m wondering if the difference in my experience and Ora’s is that I am in America and Ora sounds like she’s in Israel, where Israelis are known to be more blunt and critical of religion; and also that her guests might be family, who are freer with the criticism than neo-strangers. Am I right, Ora?

    What I find the most difficult are two things: the tznius factor, of course, and the open talk of sexuality including homosexuality. Secular folk just don’t seem to understand how sheltered we keep our homes. Sometimes we are blunt and just say (nicely) I would prefer not to talk about this with the children at the table, and our guests are almost always respectful of that.

  3. Informal kiruv in which you act in a manner that is a Kiddush Shem Shamayim either at work or on the subway or even with not yet frum relatives are a very effective means of kiruv. I think that you have to develope yourself as someone who is not just emotionally connected to Torah, but capable of being seen as a role model by your immediate family and neighbors of the personification of a Ben or Bas Torah. The simcha that I posted on early this week was an excellent venue for our family to make such an impression.

  4. Belle

    I thank you for your understanding and interest. As for me I would like to see a kiruv institution to help families. Homework program, learning 1 on 1 older child to younger child. some kind of program for parents to learn how to teach the children the right path.

  5. In response to Ken Bloom:
    You’re right, it’s important to learn to deal with all kinds of people. What I meant by “don’t expect secular guests to contribute to your childrens’ chinuch” was “don’t expect them to contribute as described in the article.” I was questioning the idea that secular guests mean deep philosophical conversation; I certainly didn’t mean to imply that there was no value at all in their company.

    What do/did you study at UC Davis? I have an uncle who teaches there.

    On a tangent to my first sentence, while it’s important to know how to treat people, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessary or even desirable to be exposed to all kinds of behavior, especially not for children. So while I definitely agree that it’s important to treat all people with respect, regardless of their background, I would still be cautious about, for example, exposing frum teenage boys to inappropriately dressed women, or couples showing physical affection in public, that kind of thing. I don’t think that it would teach them respect for the secular world, quite possibly it would do the opposite. I see that my husband and his friends from yeshiva are among the sweetest and most respectful men I’ve ever met, despite (or more likely because of) the fact that they had seperate-sex education, little exposure to media, and no close female friends growing up. I didn’t grow up frum so I’m not sure how parents manage to balance their connection to all of klal Israel with their desire to protect kids from negative influences; I guess it depends on the family.

  6. I am intrigued by Who’s proposition, but just for the record, regarding tzedakah, the financial strain does not ease after 20 years, my friend! That is when your children are in high school (more expensive than elementary), seminary (15K this year) and in the shidduchim parsha (read: support for a few years at approx $1000-2000 per month each!

    As for programs to support new BTs, that is what this is all about, but what exactly do you propose for each community? In our community there has been recently established a Mother to Mother partnership, so that new parents can get eitzahs from experienced parents. What else of a practical nature would you like to see?

    As for the discussion of the quality of kiruv workers, I would agree that not all have a style or personality that appeals to all, but I would submit that most people in kiruv are there because they love Jews in general and are less likely to be judgmental than most other frum people. They are humans too and have their failings. Esp. when they deal with people every day, it would seem that it would be difficult to be “on” and “mellow” all the time. Since so much depends on their skill and personality, perhaps they should be held to a higher standard, but compare what they are accomplishing to if they decided to go into business, etc.
    As for BTs doing kiruv, I would agree that BTs are better suited IF they know a certain amount. I think really new BTs should concentrate on learning, and then after a year or so, can turn around and host many others. It all depends on how grounded they are in their yiddishkeit. Some go faster, some slower.

  7. Who is better than a BT. I wish more BT’s (the one’s that are now into this 20, 30 years) would be helping and leading programs for after kiruv, for familys that are 2 years or five years into the process. They would be a big help to these families. for example. Instead of giving tzedaka to a kollel, give it to a BT family for tuition, or maybe so they can finaly get pesach dishes, or for tutor’s for their kids. The institions will find other money.

    Who is rich? One Who is Happy with his lot.

  8. Re: #9

    So in the end, invite people for Shabbat, secular or religious, because it’s the right thing to do. But don’t expect polite conversations about philosophy, or think that somehow secular guests will contribute to your childrens’ chinuch.

    Secular guests will certainly contribute to your childrens’ chinuch. It’s very important for children to learn how to deal with people from all walks of life.

    I find that it’s easy to get turned off to kiruv professionals (I know at least one person who has grown quite observant, but has been scared off by some overly pushy kiruv professionals). My best experience was with the former Hillel rabbi at UC Davis, R. Yitzchak Kaufman, who invites people over, talks torah, and doesn’t try to convince them to do anything. It was by doing this that a BT community developed in Davis, and I’m a product of it.

  9. I read 2 years ago a book by Roy Neuberger “From Central Park to Sinai”, about how he became a Ba’al Teshuvah (an excellent read!), and how, after he did it, Rebbetzin Esther Jungries told him to host people in his house. He didn’t think he could, because he was just starting out. Her response was to tell him that his family & whomever he was having over would learn together!

  10. About this article; I think that everyone should be open to have anyone over for Shabbat. That doesn’t make you a “kiruv worker,” just a regular Jew doing hachnasat orchim. I do agree with Chaim’s response (#5) that brand-new BTs can have problems in this; in my experience they’re often excited to go make the whole world frum, but would be better off spending some more time focusing on themselves and learning Torah. Still, everyone should be ready to answer questions about Torah philosophy when they are asked (while making it clear that their answer is not necessarily the one authoritative answer).

    About the kids, though: the situation described in this article sounds unrealistically idealistic to me. In my experience, most of our secular friends who come for Shabbat or Chag aren’t asking deep philisophical questions. Sometimes some do; other times people are very critical of Torah/ the religious, and most people just want to talk about other things. Some people are very respectful, others just don’t know what normal behavior is in the religious world. Basically, your kids could be exposed to some deep questions and answers on Torah thought. They also could (and almost definitely will) be exposed to people who are dressed immodestly, talking on cell phones on Shabbat, lots of touching between men and women, and somewhat hostile question-statements like “why do haredim think they can just live off of welfare and not give back to the state?” and “why won’t you just admit that Judaism is racist?” from people who may be genuinely interested in debate, but aren’t really open to being persuaded into a different opinion. The resulting discussions can be great for adults, and discussions we’ve had with guests have helped me clarify and better express my own ideas on a lot of topics, but for kids I think it would be a bit much, and certainly hard to follow.

    So in the end, invite people for Shabbat, secular or religious, because it’s the right thing to do. But don’t expect polite conversations about philosophy, or think that somehow secular guests will contribute to your childrens’ chinuch.

  11. Kiruv is something that you can only do on yourself. That is, everyone makes their own decisions in life, and you can’t “do kiruv” to someone else. I think that the attitude that kiruv is something done to others is harmful. All we can do is be friendly and kind to our fellow Jews and show a good example of Torah life. That, of course, is everyone’s obligation.

    Of course there are professional kiruv organizations that do a lot of good. OTOH, all of the kiruv places I’ve seen that don’t have a healthy perspective, e.i. that focus only on “making” the secular religious and not on respect and love for the individual, and chesed for chesed’s sake, also do a fair amount of harm. For every kid who went in secular and came out with a black fuzzy kippa, there’s a kid who was turned off by the whole thing, and feels now that the religious world is only interested in him as a potential “kiruv success story,” and not as a human being.

    In practical terms, an imbalanced approach looks like this: showing an interest only in young people in secular clothing, while not caring whether or not religious (or even just religious-looking-at-the-moment) kids have a place for Shabbat/Chag. Being willing to help only in religious matters, ex. helping someone find a yeshiva, and not in ordinary chesed, ex. helping them find a job. Feeling that every kid who enters yeshiva is a “success,” every kid still secular is “not success.” Also, a lot of places ignore the older crowd completely, b/c they’re less likely to make the complete secular–>shtark transfiguration. IMO this imbalanced approach is a HUGE mistake.

    OK, that got kinda off topic, it’s just somewhat of a sensitive topic for me. I’ll try to write another post, more on topic.

  12. In some ways a BT an add alot to any kiruv organization, or a shul. I was blessed to be involved on a professional level with a major kiruv organization for over a decade. Many Baalei Teshuva have been quite successful with kiruv because they understand secular backgrounds. Belle’s point about children growing up with an understanding that there are answers to questions is a key. In any setting, the BT must know what to answer, or whom to ask for an answer. In truth, anyone involved in outreach is only a vessel for Hashem’s Torah to pass through. FFB or BT, each person is only a conduit for Hashem to reach someone else.

  13. An NCSY advisor of mine who is now a mnahel of a yeshiva in Florida advised me to work on developing as a Ben Torah as opposed to being an advisor. For me, as opposed to other NCSY alumni,it was excellent advice.

  14. I think that BTs who are still very early in their own return should be wary of trying to do much kiruv for a number of reasons:

    1.Kiruv implies reaching out and mingling with non-observant Jews. While it’s no(blanket) mitzvah to disassociate or cut ties with friends, co-workers and family the “green” BT will grow their Yiddishkeit more quickly and stably by interacting with already frum and learned mentors, Rebbeim, chavrusas and role models. We’ve got to take before we give back. While trying to influence others, green BTs may end up influenced themselves and lose their nascent shaky Yiddishkeit.

    2. A “Green” BTs zeal is usually way ahead of their knowledge. While an FFB might hamper or derail another’s growth process by answering questions without empathy, lacking a frame of reference or by being too blunt, a “green” BT might do the same by forcing uninformed, misinformed or incomplete answers. The listener will conclude “this religion is all mythology and superstition. It makes no rational sense. You must be naïve or psychologically needy to go for it.”

    3. Speaking of zeal, “green” BTs can be “flamers” who scare others with their intensity (especially if attempting kiruv on close friends and relatives rather than on strangers.) While passion persuades, and some FFBs seem to lack passion, unbridled passion can repel and put off.

  15. As long as we’re comfortable with it, we BT’s should definitely welcome non-frum people to our Shabbos table. After all, many of us have the added advantage of having “been there, done that” which enables us to see the other side of the picture. When we have non-frum relatives over for family gatherings, we just hope that our sincerity and Ahavas Yisrael comes though the general commotion.

  16. I think the better question is: Should FFBs do kiruv?

    And the answer is, of course, yes. But from my experience even many otherwise competent FFBs already in kiruv are missing something by not coming from the same place as BTs. Sometimes that “something” is insignificant and more than made up for by other positives. At other times, however, that “something” is significant.

    Also, it’s important to distinguish between professional kiruv people and informal kiruv situations. IMO, there should be more BT kiruv professionals than there are, but certainly there are many good and even outstandings professionals with FFB backgrounds.

    When it comes to informal kiruv — whether on the subway, at work, an invite to the Shabbos table, etc. — everyone can and should do kiruv. That’s what we — the Jewish People — are all about: making kiddush Hashem to bring people closer to God.

  17. No one is exempt from doing kiruv on some level. That is one way we love others as ourselves.

  18. Bette,

    Should BT’s be doing Kiruv? If they are comfortable, I see no reason why not! Everybody that can help, whether you’ve been BT since yesterday or 25 years ago, again, as long as you feel that you want to and are confident in doing it…it can only bring more Jews “home”.

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