The Future of Kiruv-Help or Hindrance?

At the outset, I would like to point out how sites such as Beyond BT and others demonstrate the Chafetz Chaim’s belief that all of technology can be used for the enhancement of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim-especially when Bnei and Bnos Torah of widely differing hashkafos can discuss the issues on this blog without rancor.

That being said, Mark and I had recently discussed different modes of kiruv and their effectiveness. I suppose that I will start with the overused and trite MO and Charedi typologies. However, I am not sure that these adjectives can be used with any degree of defining certainty in this area.

If you were to ask me for a brief and non- inclusive survey of the kiruv world, I would start with NCSY,NJOP, Aish, Discovery, Chabad and Breslav and also include many of the community kollelim organized by Torah U’Mesorah, and many yeshivos as well. However, I would add the following point-NCSY does not aim to have a NCSYer enter a particular yeshiva. Their advisors hope that a motivated NCSYer will attend a yeshiva or seminary that is right for them , regardless of hashkafa. NCSY does not present Codes or other similar “answers” to issues of hashkafa but depends on the abilities of its rabbinic staff and advisors to help an adolescent explore legitimate approaches to these issues. There is a non-judgmental attitude that is present among its rabbinic leadership and advisors that is amazing, especially since its professional staff and advisors run the full gamut of yeshivos and seminaries but work together despite their hashkafos for one cause-the NCSYer.One is not compelled to seek a particular yeshiva or seminary, but one that is right for the individual.

Every year, I receive and review a ballot of high school seniors who have been nominated for NCSY’s honor society. Nominees are voted in by prior members with an eye towards a nominee’s growth in Torah observance and potential for communal leadership. The stories of the nominees’ Mesiras Nefesh, where they have come from and where they are aiming for never cease to inspire me. NCSY deserves a major credit in helping turn many adolescents into Bnei and Bnos Torah and inspiring them to a life of Torah observance and study.

From the 1960s until the 1970s, NCSY focused on public school kids, some frum kids who did not attend yeshivos and some yeshiva educated kids who needed a spiritual shot in the arm. Many of its best success stories then attended YU’s JSS, Shar Yashuv,SCW , Touro and Neveh. NCSY was backed by the Gdolim of the prior generation and its rabbinic leaders, faculty and advisors were from across the full spectrum of the Orthodox world. As this demographic mixture dried up, NCSY then reached out to MO yeshiva high school kids and their parents-who became a potent group of members and backers. NCSY now is also working directly in public schools as a result of a Supreme Court ruling . It has Jewish students clubs in many of the finest public high schools in the US. Many of these products switch to yeshivas or go to BT yeshivos in EY. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, YU ran Torah Leadership Seminars. The finest MO rabbis and RIETS students ran these programs. In the 1970s, the TLS programs basically died and NCSY basically took over this program’s target audience as well.

One of the most interesting adult centers of kiruv in the 1970s was Lincoln Square Synagogue. LSS’s first rav was Rabbi Shlomoh Riskin, a RIETS musmach who created a MO community with shiurim and lectures that were the envy and model for any shul that thought about adult education. R Efraim Buchwald founded a beginners’ minyan and ultimately developed a beginners’ service with explanations of tefilos, etc. R Buchwald then created NJOP and its Turn Friday Night Into Shabbos and many other fantastic programs. R Buchwald’s main concern was that any Jew would walk away from his program with a positive uptake in their view towards Judaism.

Of course, Chabad had been very active in kiruv before any other group had even thought about kiruv. Chabad made many Jews very proud of their Yiddishkeit.As of this date, despite its succession crisis and a strong messianist component, Chabad is still hard at work around the world, especially in places where no other Jewish group will spend resources. I will refrain from commenting on Breslov because I don’t know anything about it.

The charedi world gradually developed an interest in kiruv . R Mendel Weinbach and R Noach Weinberg were two of the earliest pioneers along with R S Freifeld ZTL-the founder of Yeshivas Shaar Yashuv. In addition, numerous NCSY advisors and rabbincal faculty also were products of the American charedi yeshiva world. This led to the founding of Charedi kiruv programs, yeshivos and seminaries such as Aish HaTorah, Ohr Sameach, Neve and Discovery. While JSS viewed literacy in Torah texts as the key to growing in observance, the Charedi oriented yeshivos and seminaries stressed hashkafa and appearing “yeshivishe”-regardless of one’s education or lack thereof. The Charedi world sold Torah as an elixir for all of one’s problems, as opposed to an approach to them.

Another phenomenon that developed was the rise of ArtScroll. Too many BTs and FFBs were emerging without a command of basic Jewish texts. ArtScroll filled this role, despite the reservations of many as to the presentation and approach, especially in works of hashkafa. Ultimately, fissures and reactions set in response to what seemed to be simplistic answers to some of the most complex issues in Jewish practice and thought. Bans on books that were of help in this regard and their sources led many to question their role in this society, especially in weblogs that discussed these issues from many different angles. As one who surfed and participated in some of these discussions, I was struck by the lack of exposure to RYBS’s hashkafa and the view expressed that it was almost better to be non-observant than to even consider being MO in the full sense of the word.

From a personal perspective, I have always been an avid reader. I devoured a lot of RSRH’s hashkafic works in high school. When I entered YU and JSS, I discovered RYBS’s philosophical works and polished this interest even further. I also found a rebbe in RHS and chaverim who shared my questions, approach and hunger to learn as much as possible despite busy professional schedules. I also explored the worlds of Mussar,. Chasidus and Jewish history. I don’t think that I could or would have developed in this manner if I had taken the Charedi route.

As a preface, I should note that I have a great deal of respect for the 24/7 view of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim in the Charedi world which I believe that the MO world could learn from in many ways. However, I don’t see the intellectual openness and honesty in the Charedi world that I have seen in my sector of the MO world.

In the aftermath of the book bans, it is unfortunate that the Charedi world and its kiruv institutions have resorted to attacks on science, the scientific method and scientists to defend itself. The Charedi world remains unwilling to discuss in a judgment-free manner the events of the 19th and 20th Century while insisting that these events were not of its making in any way and were caused solely by outside causes. In a sad way, there is almost a denial of any responsibility accompanied by a simultaneous combination of “we told you so” and “how we won the war”-two very triumphalistic approaches that really maintain their supremacy only by invoking Daas Torah to preclude any discussion at all.

I don’t think that one can claim that either the MO or the Charedi kiruv models are inherently superior.They attract different types of individuals. OTOH, for the intellectually minded person, I believe that a non-judgmental NCSY/NJOP style may yield a BT who understands that there are issues and questions and that one can live as a Torah Jew despite the existence of questions and issues, as long one works at developing an approach to dealing with these issues. Such a person would be in danger of going through the Charedi world and developing a sense of rejection of all hashkafic inquiries , etc. One can argue that these individuals are possible candidates for becoming adults at risk.

96 comments on “The Future of Kiruv-Help or Hindrance?

  1. You could beat yourself with the nerf bat…

    …but seriously:

    Shul members are often entirely happy with their own lifestyles and thoughtstyles, but realize on some level that they need to do something to keep the shul solvent. In their ideal world, they would bring in new people who are just younger versions of themselves, but these are, unfortunately, not available.

    In view of this,

    Group 1 people are willing to bring in (even) kiruvees as long as this keeps the shul afloat. Some members may have had connections with kiruv themselves, so these view kiruv as a positive force, not just as a last-ditch measure.

    Group 2 members have a much more limited vista, wanting to keep the shul afloat absolutely as-is, for as long as they personally remain members.

    If the groups really are evenly split, you need to convince some of the more rational Group 2 members that unselfishly keeping the shul alive into the future is the responsible Jewish thing to do (add appropriate inspiration and/or guilt trip as needed). A seemingly better pitch might be to tell them that the shul has to stay around for their children and grandchildren—but they don’t necessarily expect later generations to raise their families in the same area!

  2. I recently was elected to the board of my local Young Israel.It is the only “Orthodox” synagogue in my area, so that’s why I am involved.
    The members are mostly 50+ day-school raised shomer Shabbas, not so excited about Torah Jews.

    Anyway, I was elected on the premise of doing kiruv as the shul is hurting and needs young blood.

    The rest of the board last night okayed a meeting I arranged with Aish in regards to their inspired program. However, I would say at least half of the membership doesn’t care nor wants to participate in kiruv in any way, shape or form.
    They are very comfortable in their own cliques, and don’t want “weird” non-Ortho Jews around shul.

    The other half is open to it, but they are intimidated by the more organized, financially well-off, clique crowd.

    I would love advice from people regarding how to deal with this state of mind, besides beating them in the head with a nerf baseball bat!


  3. now THAT’s a haskama :)

    ad kan rabosai – this thread has run its course – hakol modim (everyone agrees) that there are different paths to Torah – Steve took his, I took mine and B”H, BAH, poo poo poo we both have lives based around emesdike Torah, love of learning, chesed, family and friends from who we get and give chizuk, friendship, nachas and love – we are both “gebentched” (truly blessed) and invite all of you to do whatever it takes and go wherever you feel most comfortable to best start/continue your journey to the life of brachos from which we imbibe (his phrase – not mine:)

  4. R Shmuel-very cute. I think that even Gadol HaDor ( remember his famous/infamous blog?) would appreciate it.

  5. Bob – I never though they’d run it! (but try to have a sense of humor – it is fairly witty)

    charnie – you’d have to ask gershon, lenny and yossi (all good friends BTW FWIW) I assume the’d take the position their use was somehow covered by the fair use doctrine – perhaps educational? parody? satire? you must realize that parody by definition involves enough taking so that the underlying work is identifiable. the fact that they have some profit motive is not necessarily dispositive alone acc. to the supreme ct – it is a multi pronged test and the formula has not been succinctly articulated – I try to be dan l’caf z’chus
    I used to teach copyright and licensing at a music college many years ago – we took a class trip to see Weird Al Yancovic, a popular parodist who was kind enough to speak to my6 class (I Knew him) about some of the problems he had gett5ing permission to do parodies – he said george harrison and ray davoes gave him problems – ironically, years later he became HUGE and it was considered a kovod if he would cover your songs so the pendulum swung back. I’ll ask gershon how he handles it (we are still in touch)

  6. R Shmuel-How about some lyrics to this oldie-”Stairway to Heaven”? Steve Brizel

    you asked for it – you got it!

    I’m chareidi no more,
    Cuz at YU they’re sure,
    That they’ve cornered the market
    on heaven.

    So I said to my feets,
    “Let’s go right back to RIETS”
    Cuz they’ve cornered the market
    on heaven

    No more Tanya for me
    From my gartel I’m free
    Now its Artscroll and single malt whiskey

    No more mashke and booze
    One non-stop mussar shmuz
    And the Ramchal for when I get frisky

    (nice guitar interlude)

    If you are shaky on mesorah
    There’s Zoo Torah,
    Where you can learn to feed your t-rex.
    If you don’t get Rav JB fully,
    Then there’s Shmully,
    For sholom bayis and kosher sex.

    (frenzied guitar solo by Jimmy Daf)

    Cuz those Chabdniks have to go,
    Chareidi bashing – their MO
    Heaven is there for those who pray,
    So why scare fellow Jews away?

    (wistful winding down guitar solo)
    (sadly – to the tune of Eicha)
    And they’ve cornered the market on hea-even

  7. Got to admit, when I went back and refreshed the page, I thought you were coming in here to tell Bob & I how off topic we are. Thanx.

  8. If this is making your feel young David, then imagine how old you’re making me feel – I mean, I actually remember these songs! And not from CBS-FM.

  9. Yeah, the bird is the word. And I think when I answered your post, I was thinking of how do you sing “Wipeout”.

  10. Bob, would changing the sequence of stomping on the table count?

    Question to Rabbi Simenowitz, therefore, what does Gershon Veroba pay for his Variations tapes, Lenny Solomon for Shlock Rock, Yossi Piamenta for using “Down Under” in his “Asher Bora” (which, personally, I like better then the original), etc.? Is anything based on record sales, since even a huge hit Jewish CD is likely to sell less than 500,000 copies, pittance in the secular world?

  11. R’Shmuel,

    LOL! I love it! (although the prophet might be turning over in his grave right now)

    BTW, for those interested I’ve written a few parodies that I’ve used at kiruv events over the years. Maybe we should set up a forum? I can do it on my yahoogroups page, but then it can be accessed only if you have a yahoo id (it’s free, but many people don’t bother to set one up). Any other ideas?

  12. expert in what? bad song parodies? or fair use under the copyright law. FWIW IMHO AFAIK IIRC (how am I doing?) there is a difference between “covering” a tune which anyone may do under the compulory licensing provisions – IOW if I want to re-record “Yesterday”, the Beatles cannot stop me as long as I pay the compulsory license fee per phonorecord made. It’s a compromise – the artist has less control but is compensated.
    Changing the lyrics however is a different animal. This is not covered by the CL staute but may be deemed a parody allowed under the fair use doctrine. There is a multiprong test which is applied to determine whether a work is entitled to protecdtion as a parody. One of the factors (but by no means dispositive) is whether there is a commercial motive. It’s very convoluted but singing a parody at a melave malka for educational purposes would probably be OK – releasing your parody and selling millions of copies – maybe not as OK. I wrote a parody of a Beach Boys song for my farm programs. The safest way for me to proceed is to ask Brian Wilson for his permission (crazier things have happened)
    more lyrics to come B”N
    food for thought
    “I met him in a bar down in old Tarshish
    he was eating fish
    he seemed like some kind of loner
    L O N A LLLLloner
    I sat next to him and I bought him some ale
    when that prophet spun a whale of a tale
    his name was YONA

    stop me before I rhyme again!

  13. Bob,

    I believe you would only have to pay royalties if you were selling your song. But, Rabbi Simenowitz is truly the expert here so I’ll leave that to him.

  14. The higher purpose may only be to keep my sanity, but that is not a small thing.

    By the way, if anyone wants to record a favorite tune, with new, Torahdik words grafted on, remember that there are royalties to be paid to the composers’ music publishers.

  15. Bob,

    It’s probably a good thing those songs are still rattling around in your head; I’m sure they are destined for a higher purpose.

    As R’Shmuel demonstrated a few times at the melave malka last Saturday night, classic rock songs can be transformed into powerful vehicles of kiruv. I’d love to hear the rest of the words to the song about Rabeinu Tam (formerly by David Bowie)

  16. Steve said,
    “As far as contemporary pop culture is concerned, I gave away my fairly extensive record collection of late 60s and early 70s rock a long time ago when I saw that it would be incompatible with raising a Torah based family life.”

    I went through something similar, selling my rock/blues/folk collection around the late 1980’s except for a few items that went later. I didn’t ditch them with other people in mind so much; it was more to make a symbolic personal break with pop culture.

    The better songs still rattle around in my head, though, and come out at odd moments (singing in the shower, driving around…). For all I know, these may be destined to serve some Torah purpose.

  17. Dave-
    Unfortunately what I said is of an organization that in a way is an ubrella organization that involves many groups. I have friends that have worked for other groups within this umbrella that have comfirmed that they all use similar tactics to draw people in. I don’t know why you are saying I am wrong when I saw these things happen with my own eyes. Organizations such as NCSY and Chabad are not run this way. The tactic I described I only know of as being used by that group and all of its umbrella organizations. I can tell you stories about the others if you really want in shul but I don’t want to publically embarrass any of these groups. All I know is that I will never give them money or support what they do.

  18. “Mussar, Machshavah, Chasidus, TIDE, TuM. are important supplements to the basics of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim.”

    A serious study of the rise of the Chasidic movement and of Chassidus will show you that Chasidus is not a “supplement” to Torah. I recommend “On the Essence of Chassidus” (Inyana shel Toras Ha’Chasidus) for clarification of this important point.

    Here’s the link.

  19. Shmuel,

    I miss your emails. I stopped writing because you told me you were too busy. I would love to hear from you if you wish to write. Feel free to.


  20. gut voch Tevya, WADR IMHO AFAIK IIRC I’m in the same boat! send in the navy!! OTOH RYBS is Rav Soloveichik – The Rav

  21. Hi. I am reading this posts. Who is RYBS? Besides everyone is using words such as RYBS and not writing them out. and I have no idea what you people are talking about. Please clarify this for me.

  22. R Shmuel-thanks for your post. I accept your multiple clarifications. However, I think that you missed my point.Like it or not, “Im Lavan Garti” is as equally misplaced analogy as your “parah adumah” mashul.I also don’t pretend to understand your comments re RYBS. As a former YU student who had a less than positive experience, you are in good company with many others who believe that experience entitles them to express that POV to anyone , regardless of its validity.That being said., it is neither unique nor helpful in helping anyone assess the RIETS and YU of today which are a far different and better Makom Torah than it was when you were a talmid.Look at it this way-would you appreciate a negative view of Chabad-of which I am sure that more than one exists?

    As far as the Parah Adumah analogy, I stand by my assessment, which is none other than that of the Sefer HaChinuch on the Parah Adumah.I think that all of kiruv involves some exposure to the “outside world” by a Ben or Bas Torah and their ability to influence someone who is far from observance.Of course, the mkarev and mkurav should both influenced in a higher manner-but I think that one can argue that the Parah Adumah model which works on a Din Doraissa , is also a very powerful metaphor and model.

    As far as contemporary pop culture is concerned, I gave away my fairly extensive record collection of late 60s and early 70s rock a long time ago when I saw that it would be incompatible with raising a Torah based family life.

    Ora-Thanks for your insightful comment re Discovery and Aish. It was exactly the type of comment that I was looking for when I posted this entry. I realize that some may do better with philosophy and ideas but NCSY introduced me to washing, bentsching, Shabbos , putting on Tefilin and Jewish music ( “ruach”) along with hashkafa. I seriously believe that there is room for at least both methods.

    Mark-Aggadic sources that depend either on a person being either a Tzadik Gamur or a Rashah Gamur , reward and punishment and which deal with almost any topic can be found almost anywhere in Shas and Medrashim.Of course, reward and punishment is a major element of Yahadus. Yet, how reward and punishment is allocated is a major dicussion within Chazal and Rishonim.For instance, as the Ramban points out in this week’s Parsah ( Ekev), most of us fit neither of these bills and cannot really be expected to rely upon them in any realistic manner without any hishtadlus. Although we can strive to be judged as a Tzadik, that means a judgment based upon our efforts, as opposed to promises , etc that have little application to us without striving for them.

    OTOH, the Torah, Talmud and Medrashim also discuss at length the causes of many events in the world-including wealth, poverty, and catastrophic events. Once again, the application of these discussions to contemporary times requires “big shoulders.” For instance, a prominent rav in EY suggested that all of the present problems in the north of EY are some sort of working of scar vonesh for our failure to appreciate what happened last year in EY when Bnei and Bnos Torah were dispossessed in the name of peace. Can anyone truly say that such a statement is totally wrong, right or filled with some degree of truth? Perhaps, the emphasis should not be on a theodicy like looking for a cause, but instead isolating what should be our response.

  23. Steve–If Discovery seminars focused on teaching halachot, instead of delving into issues of modern life which the attendees are actually interested by, then they would no longer be a kiruv project. Any successful kiruv (which Aish/Discovery is, although I disagree with much of their approach) knows to focus on what’s right for the level of student they’re dealing with. For beginners, that usually means philosophy and overall ideas, and not necessarily the more practical halachot. A look at the higher-level Aish classes shows their overall approach, which is very strong in halacha and learning.

  24. Regarding this post and all the comments that follow, the most amazing thing I find is that last week many of us were able to get together and celebrate a beautiful Shabbos together, despite strong differences of opinion.

    For the past 15 years I’ve been involved with many of the kiruv organizations discussed, and they accomplished much good. But I also experienced a lot of bashing of other Jewish organizations, and that only served to minimize their achievements. We need to be aware that we’re all on the same team and fighting for the same goal, albeit throuhg different approaches.

    While it is important to clearly define ourselves, and that often necessitates showing how we’re different than others, we still need to maintain mutual respect and treat everyone as a tzelem Elokim.

    Good Shabbos!

  25. Steve – I have no beef whatsoever with Effie Buchwald – I said what I did how I did b/c you and I went to school with him – I have the deepest respect for him and fond memories of way back when – seriously he’s done an amazing job and he should only go michayil el chayil.

    Re-reading my post where did I take off on RYBS? the comment was directed towards your circling the wagons around him not anything he did, said or stood for. I simply felt you were being uncharacteristically proprietary and narrowly focused. No disrespect to the Rav was ever intended or as I parse it, written or inferred.

    As to YU, RIETS and MO, I must once again respectfully disagree with your assessment of my knowledge of the workings of these communities – nearly 7 years on Amsterdam Ave (my “Im Lavan garti” period) gave me some insights up close and in real time.

    If not at the SOY seforim sale, perhaps at the Greasy Spoon:) gut shabbos

    BTW (I had to use my luach roshie teivos to understand your post) I reject your characterization of kiruv as a “parah adumah” why must it be a zero sum game? why can’t the m’karev and the m’kurav both climb simultaneously towards greater spiritual heights?

    also by way of clarification what I meant by 2 chasanas was not imbibng from different hashkafic sources that’s wonderful to do – Torah is Torah wherever it comes from. The “2nd chasuna” I was referring to is contemporary pop culture which makes it difficult to straddle both that and a genuine Torah life. I’m somewhat of a hybrid – as comfortable giving a gemara shiur as learning chassidus – no question – there are shivim panim laTorah.

  26. Steve, I highly doubt that any self-respecting Kiruv person ever promised magical cures or job placement, but Torah sources do deal extensively with the challenges of both poverty and wealth and good occupation selection.

    In the words of Ben Bag Bag:

    “Turn the Torah over and over for everything is in it. Look into it, grow old and gray over it, and never move away from it, for you will find no better portion than it.”

  27. From a different angle, one could say that just as the world exists because of Hashem who is the ultimate reality, so too the Torah, which is Hashem’s thought, as it were, contains the ultimate reality in understanding the universe(see Nefesh Hachaim and Ramban in preface to Bereishis).

    Therefore, as was said, rather than the Torah being merely one of many equal approaches, instead one needs to “mine ” Torah adequately to find solutions for practical problems. This is like the story of the soap manufacturer and the children in the sandbox who didn’t use his product and were therefore dirty. Rabbi A.J. Twerski also has written similar ideas.

    Also, a psychologist can give practical advise based on psychological research, because not everyone can just read a text of Gemara, Mussar or Chassidus and then apply the words to complicated situations in their life.

    As far as the issue of hashkafic questions which was touched on, one can say that a person will progress with time. Where someone was five years ago, is not where they are today, and where they are today, is not where they will be tomorrow. This is relevant to all people.

    Two relevant Chazal’s for “moving on” after reflecting on hashkafa at a particular point in time, would be “don’t believe in yourself until the day of your death”, and “the light in Torah will bring one to good”. This is not separating ideas from actions, but simply taking a positive and hopeful approach and allowing a person to grow over time.

    That’s my intial take on the topic–maybe I’ll come up with something else over Shabbos.

  28. One more point-Aside from the study of Talmud and Halacha that I just mentioned, learning Chumash with Mfarshim provides a Jew with a strong basic knowledge in many Torah concepts-creation, HaShem’s role in history, the roles of the Avos and Imahos as our ethical fathers and mothers, the Exodus, Revelation of the Torah and Redemption , the centrality of EY and the importance of the Beis HaMikdash. All of these concepts are discussed by the Rishonim-especially by Rashi, Ramban and in the Aggadic sections of Shas, Midrashim, etc.

    As I am sure everyone is aware, the Maskilim and others attacked the Divine Unity of the Written and Oral Torah. Many Mfarshim such as RSRH, Torah Temimah, Netziv, R D T Hoffman, Malbim . Meshech Chachmah and Hakesav vHakabbalah partially or totally devoted their works to defending the Divine Unity of the Oral and Written Law and in providing additional layers of understanding,as opposed to just learning a “vort” from the verse in question.

  29. The convergence of Science & Torah has always been a sore topic for me when it comes to Kiruv. I find that they use all sorts of sciene to persuade people towards the reality of the torah. When science matches torah, they will use very permutation of it to build their case, but once science and torah diverge, off with your head (or to the garbage can).

    I personally am fans of Slifkin & Dr Gerald Schroeder (went to lecture of his in Israel last month). They are brilliant minds who are torah beleivers and scientists. Many of our greatest scholars (including rishonim) were brillaint at torah, but that doesn’t make them scientists. Much of thier science was campatible with the science of thier times. In our time, we have better tools for uncovering science, and I think it’s naive to think that thier understanding is better. Hashem created us with the power of thought, to uncover the mysteries of the universe. It needs to be embraced rather than scolded.

  30. Let me be clear-Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim was presented to me and others as the way that a Jew approaches how he or she relates to HaShem within the Mesorah.Mussar, Machshavah, Chasidus, TIDE, TuM. are important supplements to the basics of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim. Yet, the strength of all of these hashkafic options declines when the founder cannot pass on the founding ideas to a disciple or when the ideas become more important than the system of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim . I think that this is evident from a study of Jewish history.

    When I refer to Torah-I mean Torah Shebicsav and TSBP. TSBP especially tells us how to raise a family,honor parents, return lost objects, make a living , keep Shabbos , Yom Tov, treat one’s employees, treat an injured person, to act as a neighbor, and to elevate what can be the most base forms of human behavior and to make man and woman treat each other as persons and not objects.The TSBP provides one tractate on Tefillah and two Sefarim on Kodshim and Toharos.For a Jew, Torah informs a Jew on what to do and to refrain from doing.IOW, as RYBS pointed out, the Torah and Halacha present a lchatchilah way of looking at the world and how a Jew must act in it. One can argue very convincingly that while Torah addresses all of these issues, a Jew must observe despite his or her doubts, as opposed to walking away because of a doubt in a hashkafic principle. In fact, none less than R Wolbe ZTL stated that teshuvah that does not reach the 24th level of teshuvah described by R Yonah is still accepted by HaShem.

    In the Aggadic sense, the Talmud provides a basis for interpretation together with Medrashim and the views of Rishonim and Acharonim. It proscribes no magical cures for sick children, marital problems or job issues.The Rishonim state that we are forbidden to follow the medical opinions in the Talmud. Mkubalim have expertise in such issues.

  31. On the issue of RYBS, and from the position of kiruv, it has to be noted that in my own discussion with Jews whose relationship to Judaism is non-Orthodox, many are visibly blown away by quotes and concepts of RYBS, and even seem to begin to implicitly understand why a culturally secular Jew might prefer an Orthodox paradigm of Judaism.

    His ideas are sometimes that powerful, intuitive, relevant, and accessible.

    The fact that such a great resource is so frequently ignored in the charedi community is telling. That they are not out to make shomer mitzvah Jews. They are only out to make charedi Jews.

    And this is tragic, because few recent Jewish thinkers–of any denomination–are as consistently impressive to intelligent secular Jews.

    I was never told of this great scholar prior to discovering him on my own, and was encouraged by charedi rabbis to be suspicious of this great man’s legitimacy prior to entering YU.

    If you want to know who has the most to gain by the charedi kiruv world’s dismissiveness of RYBS, I would say it is the non-Orthodox movements. They have no one who can stand up to him. They should be thrilled. They should banish him from their gift shops.

  32. Steve

    I think it is clear from many statements of Chazal that the Torah is the Elixir that addresses all of life’s issues. Whether the Torah’s prescription is applied correctly by the recipient is a different question. Perhaps the kiruv people you referred to made that point and you didn’t hear it.

    Additionally, your implication that the Torah is one approach among various equal approaches troubles me.

  33. Steve Brizel said, “The question remains whether someone who is textually illiterate and can barely read the Siddur or recite an Aliyah should dress in such a manner, especially in light of the halacha that frowns upon such exaggeration.”

    A neophyte BT who lived in and wanted to grow Jewishly in a community that had its own dress code would want to dress as they did to stand out less—not more.

  34. Aaron,

    What you are describing is just plain wrong and more than a little disconcerting. However, as you pointed out, that is just one goup/organization.

    I pray that these types of tactics are not used by others.

  35. When I posted this piece as well as during the discussion that ensued, I emphasized that my point was that there are different paths for kiruv and that perhaps we need to think along those lines. I am repeating and underscoring that point once again. That point being made, I would like to respond to several issues raised since my last post on this thread:

    1)Dina-The mark of an educated Jew is being an observant Jew or Jewess based upon their knowledge as distilled by a rebbe or teacher.That is not a function of being an intellectual or a non-intellectual. It is a function of being an educated Jew. I wholeheartedly disagree that “certain hashkafic inquiry” is more rigorous than understanding Rashi or Ramban-particularly with Ramban. None less than the Chazon Ish said that one cannot talk about the beauty of Brachos, Shabbos, the Yamim Noraim. Shalosh Regalim and Kashrus without knowing the halacha.When one pretends to present the “Jewish perspective” on these issues without first mastering halacha, no less than the CI and many other Gdolim view that as placing the cart before the horse.

    You objected to the term “elixir.” When Torah is sold as a solution to one’s psychological , economic or marital problems ( which I have seen at Discovery sponsored events) as opposed to an approach to dealing with these problems, IMO, that is an elixir, as opposed to a basis that shows adults that Torah can offer meaning to their lives and give them a way to live with their doubts, in the event that hashkafic answers are unavailing. When a Pesach seminar can go by without a single textually based shiur on the Haggadah or Hilcos Pesach in favor of generalized non-text based hashkafa story telling sessions, that is elevating “about it” over “it”. That is an elixir.

    R Shmuel-My point thruout has been that there are multiple paths to teshuvah,. RYBS pointed out that is why we recite the names of all of the Neviim at the end of Slichos-each had a particular derech teshuvah. Perhaps, since you were unhappy with YU and enbraced Chabad, that is the key to understanding your comments as is the case with many who graduated YU or left YU. (FWIW, although I was introduced by Mark as a YU representative on the blog, I consider myself a proud, loyal and critical alumnus of many aspects of YU. While I am forever endebted to RIETS and YU, I also see myself as inbibing from all of the major hashkafic trends within the Mesorah as well.However, when I hear or read comments about “two chasunahs”, they deserve some special attention in their own right)

    FYI, R Buchwald has smicha from RIETS and I reject your tone re “his latest adventures”-which have the approval of Gdolim and which have been adopted in many communities. More importantly, all of kiruv is predicated on the Parah Adumah-which is symbolic of HaShem Himself redeeming, liberating, elevating and raising His People By Himself out of the most decadent atmosphere then present on the planet.

    In addition, your tone re RYBS is unfortunate-especially since RYBS was considered as a Gadol by his contemporaries including RAK, RMF, RYHutner and the LR Zicronam Livracha.IMO, your comments re YU, RIETS and MO also show a lack of knowledge of this community.

    In addition, WADR and IMO,, you mistake Kavod for Gdolim with the give and take that takes forth in any discussion of any sugya or Rishon. When the Talmud itself rejects the opinion of a Tanna or Amora, that is not a lack of Kvod HaTorah. When the SA rejects a Rishon -that is not a lack of Kvod HaTorah. That is called the Milchamtah Shel Torah. I don’t see the story about a sefer about Zevachim-The learning of Seder Kodshim, even on a Daf Yomi level, is seen as fulfilling the Bris Bein HaBesarim to Avraham Avinu. FWIW, I personally admire the best elements of both worlds-Yet-I reject wholeheartedly the unguided extremes of both worlds. However-someone who knows what the LR ZTL may have said on any subject but who may not know as much Shas and Poskim is a Chasid. That does not necessarily make that Chasid a Talmid Chacham-a different term and skill set. OTOH, while not every Talmid Chacham is a Chosid in the Chasidishe sense, Talmidei Chachamim who are Misnagdim or Baale Mussar are also Chasidim in the sense that the Talmud defines that term. Hope to see you at the next BT event or at the YU?SOY Seforim sale.

    Ron-Look at it this way. You said that most BTs view MO as a half measure. The question is -what is the basis for that assumption? As far as the dress issue, here is my take. Someone who is a religious beginnerbut who dresses as if he is a Talmid Chacham was viewed within my yeshivah as a beggar wearing a tuxedo.However, the Chinuch states that one’s thoughts are influenced by one’s actions ( e.g. dress). The question remains whether someone who is textually illiterate and can barely read the Siddur or recite an Aliyah should dress in such a manner, especially in light of the halacha that frowns upon such exaggeration.

  36. There has to be a way to consider the content aspects and process aspects of the Slifkin controversy separately.

    For example, it would not be inconsistent to believe that R’ Slifkin was wrong in some or all of his conclusions about the world but right in some or all of his objections to ways he was treated.

    If there has to be still more discussion in an appropriate forum, I’d like to see it focus on the content aspect.

  37. YH,

    I think that we are emphasizing different points, rather than totally disagreeing.

    I am not wedded to Rabbi Slifkin, and if there is something which is intellectually dishonest, or “krum” in his trying to reconcile the different issues, I have no problem saying so. I saw reviews and excerpts , but did not actually read all of “Mysterious Creatures”, so I can not comment on specifics.

    If you are referring, in general, to what’s known as the “Maimondean Controversy”, (which is not necessarily the same as the Slifkin debate), then that is something else. Quoting the Lubavitcher Rebbe Zt’l is important, and I know his writing are quoted in “Challenge” and elsewhere, but I don’t think that it will be the last word in approaching the interface between Torah and Science and/or Torah and Philosophy.

    If you are interested in the topic of Rav Hirsch Zt’l and others’ opinions on the general derech of the Moreh Nevuchim, I would recommend Feldheim’s most recent edition of “Nineteen Letters”, which has footnotes quoting from various of RSRH’s writing, and from other opinions on the Moreh from the Rambam’s times and down to our own century. Even Hirschians disagree on the nuances of interpreting RSRH, but, personally, I was okay with the Feldheim edition of the Nineteen Letters.

    People definitely need to move on from the current controversy. Nonetheless, if someone is personally, uninterested in the topic, I still feel that he or she must at least understand that someone else might be more concerned about the Slifkin issue. That is part of empathy, in my opinion, and does not contradict “moving on”.

    If you are interested in further discussing this back and forth, contact me through my Mishmar blog, or if you wish, join Avodah and Areivim. They put such topics on hiatus, for one reason, because people were getting tired of it, but I think they will continue with some aspects of “Science and Torah” discussions in another few months.

  38. Aaron, you raise a lot of issues, but I do have a couple of responses.

    1. Kiruv organizations do have to be run like businesses, to some extent. Not for the profit motive, but to make sure that money is spent wisely and that it is raised. As a former board member of a kiruv organization that struggled with this, I can tell you that “being run like a business” is not an insult. Yelling isn’t nice, either, but making sure people are working sounds like a pretty reasonable thing to do when you’re spending the money of donors.

    2. It sounds like this organization was perhaps overzealous, and perhaps dishonest, but it does not sound like the point about logging onto the resume site is in any way related to the profit motive that you’re writing about.

  39. Baruch Horowitz suggested,

    “On that note, check out my comment #26 on Rabbi Adlerstein’s thread on C-C. I(tried to) let loose my creative spirit, and I hope you enjoy the humor :)”

    Your C-C Comment #26 was awesome. Strunk and White would be impressed, or something.

  40. I agree with this article to the most part but i wanted to add a few things. After being a person who has been involved or interacted with most or all of these Kiruv groups, I have to say there are only a few who do things properly and for the right reasons. An example of the few that I believe do a good job is NCSY, Chabad, and some Carlebach/Breslov and thats about it. Without mentioning names of organizations, I will share my experiences on why I feel that the other ones are doing things for the wrong reasons.

    One group I worked with, hired me to help out in the office. The first thing that I noticed was that this “kiruv” group was run as a business. There was a manager who wasn’t very nice who would yell and make sure people were working. Now what made this worse is the work we were doing. We would sign on to a computer, sign on to Monster or another one of these job posting web pages, “LIE” by saying that we were a recruiter. We would then search resumes to see if there was anything Jewish. If there was anything Jewish then we would add that name to the Kiruv organizations database so they can start harrassing that person. Is this what you call Kiruv?? I have many more experiences which I can share by email if someone wishes. My point is that there are too many kiruv groups that are only established for personal gain, need , and money and I have seen this firsthand minus the groups I have has some positive experience from.

    A comment before mentioned , “However, this article is in essence a well articulated put- down of the Chareidi world.” I did not find that at all from reading the article and if you did find that it was a put down maybe it is true and you should face the truth about how some of these organizations are really run.

  41. “but in any case I like to have a fighting chance to be able to understand what I read.”


    On that note, check out my comment #26 on Rabbi Adlerstein’s thread on C-C. I(tried to) let loose my creative spirit, and I hope you enjoy the humor :)

  42. In other words, JT, you have interesting ideas, but please give me some help in getting to the message.

  43. JT pointed out, “Bob Miller – “understnad” not in the dictionary”

    Some days, I am typographically challenged, which I could overcome with more patience.

    Some days, I’m not only cilious, but even supercilious, but in any case I like to have a fighting chance to be able to understand what I read.

  44. I don’t agree with the statement that “[T]he Charedi oriented yeshivos and seminaries stressed hashkafa and appearing ‘yeshivishe’-regardless of one’s education or lack thereof.” It’s a fair guess that this might be true, based on observation from the outside, but it is simply false. I attended Aish and Kol Yaakov, also a charedi-orbit yeshiva. No one at any time suggested, urged or encouraged yeshivishkeit.

    In fact in Aish there is a strong cultural counterspin to be yeshivish in hashkafah but not to indulge in yeshivish “shtick.” Nonetheless people who attend, and remain in, the Charedi BT yeshivas usually do so because they are attracted to the sincerity and level of commitment they perceive in the Charedi world.

    People who make a major change in life tend to be suspicious of half measures — which, for better or worse, the MO world is perceived as representing to most BT’s.

  45. That people’s mindsets are different and that it is useful to speak to people where they’re at, is true of course.

    However, I don’t see what that has to do with intellectual dishonesty, picking and choosing Rishonim and maamaraei Chazal and “interpreting” them to fit one’s secular notions, and just plain amaratzus.

  46. Bob Miller – “understnad” not in the dictionary.did you mean understab ? Apparantly you must have purchased your elixir from your other piece of advice on “love potion #9” back on the “all you need is love but what exactly is it” post .
    Thats a whole different potion definition, but would explain the inability to “understnad” or the impressive ability to understab.I was just tryin to be plastic with the elixir definition and point out how it could be redefined in a positive light if the valid reasons for initial tagging of negative connotations are fixed which may be wishful thinking as the supercilious undertones r usually present within the literal subdivisions of schools of thought .

  47. Dina Mench – regarding your inherent discomfort with Steve Brizel’s perfectly awesome and profound ” torah/elixir” analogy , firstly just as an FYI – according to the merriam webster dictionary, actual elixir specifics are as follows
    Pronunciation: i-‘lik-s&r
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Middle English, from Medieval Latin, from Arabic al-iksIr the elixir, from al the + iksIr elixir, probably from Greek xErion desiccative powder, from xEros dry
    1 a (1) : a substance held capable of changing base metals into gold (2) : a substance held capable of prolonging life indefinitely b (1) : CURE-ALL (2) : a medicinal concoction
    2 : a sweetened liquid usually containing alcohol that is used in medication either for its medicinal ingredients or as a flavoring
    3 : the essential principle

    At the slight risk of taking elixir right out of its original linear context please note – if the group in question qualifies or when it will qualify – you can mix and match the actual definitions & have your own personal cocktail elixir mix and drink it too (way better than cake ) . & u got your options- from refining/sustenance/panacea for all ills/the essential principal etc. As in any good marketing for group campaigns “all groups make mistakes as long you dont take market the same mistake twice” . Change venues /if the” cure all “without considering outside variables and givens issue is fixed, you can switch definitions , sometimes when (certain hardcore sects of judaism ) use the torah exclusively as an actual panacea for all ills, they should subsequently come to understand that maybe they should be focusing on other definitions of elixir for optimum visuo spatial viewing and experiencing/existing. And whichever group(s) have made the mistake of using the “cure all” definition as opposed to incorporating & focusing on the substance held capable of changing base metals into gold definition with the some sweetened liquid for flavoring defintions among other definitions …… hopefully have/will perfect their individual figuretive definitions of elixir and focus on the total picture (other variables) that need to be considered .Hardcore focus doesnt always yield long term results.

    More than one group can usually be found utilizing the torah as an elixir at one definition point or another up to and include watering down/bottling/ labeling and not listening to DAW and promoting the generic or unlflavored versions among other oral and written prescription rule breakings.Its important to do tweak the dosages and pay close attention to maximum dosage per day and to choose QID TID BID and OD timeframes carefully. Its way more important though to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” whatever Elixir he/she may be defining.Lifes too short for inner city local quarreling and Elixiring.

  48. YH, you wrote,

    “The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that according to SCIENCE it is equally as valid to say the sun revolves around the earth as it is to say the earth revolves around the sun. Yet how many of our Jewish schools, including yeshivish institutions, teach the “solar system”? The Rebbe also addressed the age of the universe and showed how the billions of years theory is unscientific!”

    I have long been horrified how supposedly Orthodox Jews can entertain this narishkeit of earth revolvement. What next?

    This so called “solar system” theory was not devised by frumme yidden, but by atheists.

    How are we to expect our children to be frum when they think that the earth revolves around the sun? This sort of sun worship is exactly the sort of thing we need to get out of our community and our schools.

    It is not a “solar system.” It is an Avodah Zorah system!!!

    One need only to look at the sky to understand that the sun clearly is doing its fair share of revolving.

  49. Thanks David – similarly a young buck once went to his rav for a haskama on a sefer he had written about zevachim. Looking at the thick tome, the rav replied sadly, “B”H you were able to get this far – when I daven each morning and I get to the words “Ayzehu m’koman shel zevachin?” I start crying so hard I can’t even finish davening” O well, different strokes . . .

  50. Rabbi Simenowitz,

    Your anecdote about your shul mate and the Rambam reminded me of something I had read a few shabbosim ago.

    A gentleman had written a sefer professing to answer all of Rav Akiva Eiger’s kashas on the gemorah. He went to a certain Rav for a Haskama. The Rav asked him: You offer answers to all of R. Akiva Eiger’s except two? The man answered in the affirmative. The Rav replied: That means you only understood two of Rav Akiva Eiger’s kashas!

    Perhaps we sometimes get so focused on answering the questions that we don’t realize the magnitude of the questions themselves and the giants that came before us and grappled with the same questions.

    That shouldn’t preclude us from approaching the questions but should catalyze us to do so with reverence for those who have come before us. And maybe we need to realize that not every question has a neat, perfect answer.

  51. Steve, Steve, ya coulda been a contender. Baruch Horowitz is dead on the money – why not look at it that B”H there is a kiruv vehicle for every type – you went to YU and got turned on – I went to YU and got turned off (is that why my rebbe used to call it a “parah adumah?”)

    “Lo habayshan lomad. . . ” Chazal recognize that everyone comes with a different ilk – some are best nurtureded thru NCSY, some thru Chabad, others thru Aish or even the local synagogue pushing one of Effie Buchwald’s latest adventures.

    But I’m surprised at the monolithic tone your post took “Al tigu b’mshichai.. don’t mess with RYBS” – come on. As an attorney you must be able to visualize at least the possibility that not everyone is enthralled with an MO existence. Nietzche said “beware of the party member who thinks for he soon thinks himself right out of the party” – Can you appreciate that there are those who feel that many of the MO straddle 2 fundamentally incompatible worlds? “Ad masai atem pischim. . . how can you be at 2 chasunas each on the other side of town at the same time? You may not feel that way but at least acknowledge that there are those who question whether or not that lifestyle contains any less “cognitive dissonance” that the chareidi world.

    Moreover, a while back I read a study that found that many of the children of the 60’s love generation who grew up unfettered and who were allowed to “express the love” with their parent’s blessings, smoke pot w/ their folks and were encouraged to “explore” are now a second generation of casualties on the road home from the sexual revolution. As one member of the study so simply yet eloquently replied “If only they had said no”. Being allowed to do what you want, when you want is not freedom. So rather than have a do it yourself religion – where folks outpasken the Rambam, second guess the Tannaim, some poeple actually embrace a sense of kavod for the gedolim, and take comfort in their leadership. I do, for one. That doesn’t mean they have surrendered their intellect. Did you find me inarticulate or ill-informed for that matter? Anti-intellectual? There’s a guy who walks around in my shul “The Rambam is wrong. the Rambam is wrong” – I tend to take the position that I don’t understand the Rambam.

    Penultimately, I feel your assessment of the Slifkin deal is vastly overblown. The few handfuls of people who trickled in to NJ to hear about his escapades will go on with their lives as will the multitudes who don’t have a clue who he is. B”H he found his niche and that certain segments of the blogosphere (like those who sell his books) have been able to “lionize” him and put him on the lecture circuit as a martyr is as amusing as it is inoffensive.

    Finally, it was a pleasure having lunch with you and your delightful rebbetzin last shabbos – what a sprint down memory lane that turned out to be!

    Keep on fighting the good fight – just remember – we’re on your side!

  52. Chaim,

    You are using very strong imagery! You are not the only one who feels that the issue has been beaten to death. Avodah has a hiatus on the topic, because people grew tired of it, so I respect the wisdom of any “bal ha-blogs” who may not want to discuss it.

    However, the issue was brought up, and people were taking sides. So I felt free to state my opinion as well. Despite the fact that I can not help but have leanings in certain specific areas towards one side in the RNS affair, I did not take sides.

    There is a famous story regarding an argument in Rav Chaim Brisker’s Schul regarding saying a certain tefilah on a certain day– perhaps it was Tachanun. They asked him what the “minhag” was . He said that the minhag is to have a machalokes! :)

    I was putting a spin on the roots of the disagreement, in a way which I have not seen done often enough, rather than regurgitating the actual issue. Having said that, I do not mind dropping the discussion and continuing it via e-mail for anyone who is interested.

  53. For crying out loud. Do we have to regurgitate this whole debate? It’s been beaten to death by so many others in the blogosphere “kochena Meesham”.

    IMO we are headed towards “K’Kelev Shav ahl Kayo etc.”

  54. Steve:

    I support your right to disagree with the positions of certain charedi rabbonim vis a vis religios zionism, MO, etc. But where I get offended is that you therefore take it that the chareidim are “anti-intellectual” because they disagree with your position or do not hold by R. Soloveichik and that those for whom the chareidi kiruv approach is viable are non-intellectuals. (A common misperception is that the approach of stressing “textual learning” over hashkafa in the initial phases of kiruv is “more intellectual.” I would disagree. Certain hashkafic inquiry is more rigorous than translating and understanding a rashi or Ramban. Of course once Hebrew/Arameic is learned all newcomers should be studying the texts inside.) Please answer my statement directly.

    Besides the Slifkin affair (beg pardon because I don’t surf the blogs and do not know about any commentary) please give example of how the charedi kiruv world “peddles Torah as an elixir” since you stand by your comment. That is a pretty serious and offensive charge, since my understanding of an elixir is a medicinal solution, usually associated with fake medicine, for those who are ill or suffering. It sounds like you are saying either that the Torah from these sources is fake or watered down, or given for those who are ill (psychologically).

  55. YH,

    I agree with your son’s remarks in general. The starting point must be if something is acceptable according to Torah Hashkafa. Twisting the Torah, c’v, is unacceptable. How one defines Torah Hashkafa and/or chooses between views of Rishonim, Acharonim etc. is a different subject which is not something that I would want to take sides on.

    Lost in discussions, in my opinion, is recognizing that people’s mindsets are different. K’shem sh’ein partzufeihen shavos, kach ein deioseihem shavos!

    I am clearly not saying that we should let people’s proclivities decide upon what is acceptable or not. But I am saying that these discussions might continue endlessly, because people’s mindsets and inclinations are different.

    The fist step in any effective negotiations, argument or persuasion, is to put one’s self in the other person’s shoes and inhabit their mind as much as possible.

    As an extreme illustration of the previous paragraph , and using the “l’shitasecha” argument, would be if I had to speak to a Reconstructionist Rabbi, or a Buddhist Clergyman. This doesn’t mean I accept their view whatsoever, only that theoretically, I would display understanding of where they are coming from in order better present my own case.

    So, l’havdil elef havdolos, if “A” who has a natrual appreciation, or more of a bent, for philosophical Rishonim, and wants to have discussion with “B” whose nature is to find satisfaction in, say, more mystical writings, then the people having the discussion–wherever the proper forum is–should realize the differences in their makeup and background.

    The Netziv in the preface to Bereishis may be a source for a certain degree of appropriate tolerance of ideas and opinions, and certainly of the people holding them. I realize that the Netziv, like any source, can be subject to differences of opinion in application, and that it may be abused–we all have our biases. That is why I emphasized the importance of consulting with one’s Rav, Rosh Yeshiva or mentor to make sure that one is within an acceptable range of Torah opinion.

    What do people think about what I am saying?

  56. My 13 year old son read Slifkin’s “Mysterious Creatures” and he said, “He tries to make Torah fit science rather than have science fit Torah.

    not quite a “babe” but still, out of the mouth of babes.

    it’s called apologetics

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe was extremely well-versed in science and answered many questions about science.

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that according to SCIENCE it is equally as valid to say the sun revolves around the earth as it is to say the earth revolves around the sun. Yet how many of our Jewish schools, including yeshivish institutions, teach the “solar system”? The Rebbe also addressed the age of the universe and showed how the billions of years theory is unscientific!

    The Rebbe showed how if you REALLY understand Torah and REALLY understand science, you don’t need to twist yourself into a pretzel and pick unaccepted views in the Rishonim.

    As for intellectual honesty in the M.O. world, oh please. I have left M.O. discussions in disgust when learned M.O. posters have exhibited a disregard for Chazal and reject Torah B’Al Peh M’Sinai. What’s honest about that?

    And what’s simplistic about chareidi rabbis upholding the yesodos of our emuna?

  57. LC–I realize that, I’m just saying that there are certain tradeoffs. No group is perfect, and we shouldn’t measure all groups based only one particular aspect. In this case, for example, it’s OK to give NCSY a favorable comparison to Chabad in terms of being more openminded about hashkafa. But then it’s also important to note that in other areas–centers worldwide and in smaller/weaker communities, for example–Chabad has a lot more to offer than many other organizations, including NCSY.

    Actually, it doesn’t make much sense to me to compare NCSY to Chabad, since NCSY has such a specific target group, and Chabad is usually the opposite.

  58. Chabad and Breslov also both show amazing acceptance for all different kinds of Jews. A lot of Jews feel too old/too poor/ too ignorant/ etc in MO (or haredi BT) society, but are accepted by hassidic groups (and no, I’m not Chabad either, just a fan :) ).
    Although the instances where a Lubavitcher will tell you that other opinions exist (even where the Chabad minhag is different) are few and far between.

    Yes, they are open to accepting every Jew, but even the ones who don’t consider themselves “shluchim” (i.e., run a Chabad house, more or less) are just as guilty of pushing [their own] hashkafa as any other group.

    And just for the record, From the 1960s until the 1970s, NCSY focused on public school kids, some frum kids who did not attend yeshivos and some yeshiva educated kids who needed a spiritual shot in the arm.
    at least on Long Island, NY, make that the 1980s. It may have also been the start of the segue into MO yeshiva HS kids, but our region (mid-late ’80’s) was very much made up of public school kids, many of whom went on to YU, Touro, sem/yeshiva in E”Y.

  59. Hmm… I was going to end my last post saying that I agree with your main point–that kiruv workers/educators should allow BTs to discover their own hashkafa, and not push one on them. If a friend came to me looking for a yeshiva, I’d recommend whatever I thought was best for them, regardless of haredi/hassidic/dati leuminess. OTOH, I can’t imagine myself ever recommending a Satmar yeshiva. And if someone asked me about issues like living in Israel or serving in the army, my answers would probably sound like “pushing hashkafa” to a lot of you. For myself, I would feel that I’m just giving over the halacha, or what’s written in the Rambam, and that to do otherwise would be to ignore my responsibility to share Torah.

    So I don’t feel completely honest saying “yes I agree” to not pushing hashkafa. What one sees as hashkafa and therefore a matter of personal choice, another may think of as halacha and not given to compromise. I’m not sure exactly what issues you were referring to (haven’t heard of book bans, for example), but there are many issues, especially here in Eretz Israel, where the hashkafa/halacha line is not so clear. And it’s not reasonable to expect any Torah teacher to avoid teaching what they see as halacha, even if the subject is controversial.

  60. Steve–While I enjoyed the article, I have to agree that it sounds pretty anti-Haredi in places (and I am by no means Haredi). The lines “appearing ‘yeshivishe’-regardless of one’s education or lack thereof,” suggesting that the “intellectually minded” are best off in MO, and that Torah is “sold as an elixer” in the Haredi world were all pretty harsh, and in my experience untrue. If by “haredi” you mean Aish and Ohr Sameach, in my experience both of those yeshivot encourage students to learn and grow before taking on all of the haredi hashkafa, and before appearing “yeshivishe.” I know some guys who started in Aish and stayed in Aish, but also a lot who went on to learn in Hassidic or dati leumi yeshivot. And some of my best and most intellectually challenging teachers throughout the years have been haredi (some were also scientists). I’m sorry if your experience was different, and I have heard stories of hashkafic pressure in haredi BT yeshivot, but keep in mind that there are many people who’ve experienced the haredi world as very intellectually challenging.

    Also, keep in mind that there’s a difference in outreach based on age differences. With teenagers like in NCSY, it’s important to let them develop on their own and without any hashkafic pressure. They’re still deciding who they are and what they want in life, and it’s not fair to push them into a particular hashkafic box, especially one that may not be right for them in the long run. OTOH, schools like Aish that are working with an older population don’t need to worry about that as much. Their studends generally know who they are, and are confident enough to pick the yeshiva that’s right for them. If they don’t like Aish’s philosophy, they’ll go elsewhere. So for those who stay, it’s OK to push hashkafa a bit more–there’s less danger of infringing on someone’s decision-making process.

    For an honest comparison of kiruv organizations, it’s important to take accessibility into account. As you briefly pointed out, Chabad has been available in all kinds of communities where other organizations haven’t bothered. The MO organizations tend to be in larger cities–I don’t know anyone from my part of the states who even heard of them before becoming religious, let alone had a chance to join. Chabad and Breslov also both show amazing acceptance for all different kinds of Jews. A lot of Jews feel too old/too poor/ too ignorant/ etc in MO (or haredi BT) society, but are accepted by hassidic groups (and no, I’m not Chabad either, just a fan :) ).

    Finally, there’s sometimes a tendency to classify anyone who feels strongly about a particular issue as “close-minded,” and I don’t like that. Sure, some people aren’t open to changing their minds on evolution/ the holocaust/ Zionism/ etc. That doesn’t mean that their opinions aren’t well thought out, or that it they didn’t go through extensive internal debate before ending up at one particular viewpoint.

  61. At this point, we can all agree to disagree about R’ Slifkin’s books and ideas. The involvement of the blog world in this controversy, after the first few rounds, was probably more harmful than helpful. Few people were persuaded by the re-rehashing, but many were angered further.

  62. I don’t know all that much about the specific issue of Rabbi Slifkin’s books, but I did read that Rabbi Slifkin himself wasn’t recommending his writings for the mainstream Orthodox population. There was another instance where a Rav wrote a sefer with alot of chumros regarding znius and specifically stated that the sefer was not written for everybody in the general population but for Chareidim who were already or always frum and keeping a high standard of tznius. Those kind of clarifications from the authors themselves may quiet alot of the aftermath controversies about what has been written and reactions.

  63. Dina-I think that you also mistook my post for a critique.By no means did I say that NCSY was intellectual. I called it a non judgemental in terms of direction. I pointed out that there are and should be multiple tracks for kiruv because different strokes work for different folks. For me and many others, “answers” whether in the form of hashkafa, looking yeshivish or the long challenged viability of Codes were not a substitute for gaining literacy in basic Jewish sources such as Chumash, Siddur, Mishnah, Talmud and Halacha. As none other than the Chazon Ish pointed out in Emunah UBtachon, cannot talk about a Jewish view on Kashrus without having a knowledge of Chulin and Yoreh Deah. Like it or not, I do believe that we need multiple kiruv tracks because different people are attracted to different modes of presentation and thought and because there are drop outs from both tracks.

    As far as Torah being peddled as an elixir as opposed to an approach, I stand by my comments. Anyone who has read the aftermath of the Slifkin affair could only be stunned and shocked by so many posts and comments on many blogs by people who had expressed disillusionment and worse, not a few of whom had never read anything by RYBS on Jewish philosophy. I also stand by my well documented comments on the highly problematic treatment afforded the achievements of RZ, MO and the views of RYBS, among others, in Charedi oriented hashkafic materials.

  64. I really don’t understand how Steve claims he has no intention of bashing the Chareidi world. His whole article is permeated with put downs. After detailing how NCSY and the MO movement is filled with brilliant thinkers, is non-judgmental and allows people to think for themselves, he claims with an extermemly uneducated and broad brush that the Chareidi yeshivos “sold Torah as an elixir for all of one’s problems, as opposed to an approach to them” as if all yeshiveshe rabbeim and students were mindless problematic people who needed a crutch. Is this an honest and objective characterization of the brilliant learning found within their yeshivos? I hardly think so.

    “While JSS viewed literacy in Torah texts as the key to growing in observance, the Charedi oriented yeshivos and seminaries stressed hashkafa and appearing “yeshivishe”-regardless of one’s education or lack thereof.” Please. Do you think the astounding accomplishments of Ohr Someach, Aish, Neveh, etc are based on convincing them about dress codes? As any kiruv professional will say, many students do not have any fluency at all in Hebrew and Arameic and need to start learning from the outside. Teaching hashkafa is key to kiruv — why should a student stay and learn if he doens’t believe Torah is true or valuable? Front line kiruv always starts with hashkafa. From there they lead the students into textual learning.

    Steve’s characterization of the “codes” class in Discovery as an ““answer[]” to issues of hashkafa” reveals not only his non-experience of Discovery but his bias. As anyone who has taken Discovery can tell you, the codes class is merely one of many meant to reveal the gadlus of Torah which is constantly being seen in new ways, and is not offered as a replacement for Torah learning, certainly not for issues of hashkafa. Steve paints his put downs not only with a very broad brush but with ignorance of his subject matter.

    Further, Steve uses the example of the Slifkin ban, which was highly controversial even within the Chareidi world, and whose reasons are not widely known, to tarnish the entire Chareidi world and its kiruv institutions. These kiruv orgs have been talking about reconciling science and Torah since the beginning of their existence. Questions about evolution etc are one of the first a student will ask. They hardly run away from the topic, in fact they address it thousands of times a year and they have guidance from -gasp- gedolim in how to answer, to the satisfaction of many highly educated students.

    As a graduate of Amherst College and NYU School of Law who fell in, quite by accident, to Discovery, Neve and Eyaht, Boruch Hashem, (and whose classses far surpassed in their intellectualism any I had had in the previous 7 years at these “stellar” American institutions) I am quite offended by the characterization of Chareidi institutions as mindless or as repressive or intimidating of intellectualism. Especially offensive is Steve’s presenting of NCSY as the place for the “intellectual type” and of the Charedei institutions for others (you know, those whose brains are mushy and accept book bans) — and then he says to be ostensibly non-judgmental, that ‘different approaches work for different people.’

    (This is not to say that Chareidi institutions don’t have their own limitations or problems, but they are minor in comparison to their achievements, and a discussion of their limitations must be had in perspective.)

    I am not the only product of top American colleges to attend Chareidi institutions (in fact the numbers are astounding) and who have integrated quite happily to the “Chareidi” world. I do not know what ax Steve has to grind, but I would suspect someone who truly had pride in his institutions would not need to bash others by making unflattering comparisons. The big lie out there is that it is the MO who are tolerant. Like liberals, they seem to be tolerant of everyone except those to the right of themselves. And, I will add, I am also a fan of NCSY and appreciate the great work they do. Believing that does not necessitate putting down of other institutions and movements.

  65. I will say one more point on the topic.

    There is a story in Artscroll’s biography of Rabbi Mendel Kaplan Zt’l of how he made a seder to learn Mussar with a boy whose job it was to wake up the other students in the dormitory(“vecker”). He said something like, awakening someone from sleep, even for a good cause, can have an element of cruelty in it if done many times, so one needs to inoculate one’s self be learning mussar.

    I say that the same is for anyone who is involved or has a stake in these types of issues. If people feel deeply about a specific point, it is very easy to loose one’s self when discussing it online or in real life. I think it is like taking higher dosages of vitamins in times of stress. If focusing on things like Ahavas Yisrael and Kavod Hatorah is important in normal times, it becomes doubly important in times when one is dealing with sensitive issues that one feels strongly about.

  66. Steve,

    Nice to see another post from you. How about starting a blog, or doing a guest post on the Mishmar blog–I have some pull there :)

    BTW, was anyone in Flatbush on Tisha B’aav? I heard for the first time Rabbi Welcher. I don’t have notes, but I remember that he brought out the point of unity among Klal Yisrael very nicely.

    I attending RNS’s book launch in YI of KGH, met some fellow bloggers there, and I greeted all three of the speakers. I primarily went to hear Rabbi Weinreb.

    Whether Rabbi Weinreb is correct in assessing the effect of the Ban on the three segments which he mentioned– I don’t know, but I agree with his point that people are different, and need different approaches. People should consult there own Rav on these issues.

    I mentioned on Hirhurim that I was impressed at the positive manner in which the book launching was done–there was no denigrating of anyone.

    I don’t know about the BT world, but I think that there are definitely people in the other two categories who were and are unhappy about the issue. I know how I felt about it, and I do not minimize or belittle anyone else’s feeling on the topic.

    But I also try to be positive about the issue, and put it in perspective. When I have the opportunity, I try to make contact with people in the Torah World who have nuanced views on the topic. I find that the issue waxes and wanes in importance based on other issues which are going on in my life, such as the situation in Eretz Yisrael.

    No matter where anyone is on the Hashkafa spectrum, I think that Klal Yisrael has survived tough challenges in the past, so we will survive the Slifkin Controversy as well!

  67. One amendment-Despite my letting my subscription to the JO, expire, I will buy it at a store if the subject matter is of particular interest. The issues on kids at risk, shidduchim, etc are good cases in point.

  68. Mark-There are certain unofficial hashkafic boundaries that are apparent in the JO and Jewish Action.AFAIK, the Moetzes has a great deal to do with the editorial and feature contents of the JO.JA has also a rabbinic advisory board that looks at articles and letters to the editor.

    OTOH, one could argue that Yated appeals to the Litvishe Yeshivishe world while Hamodia appeals to the non Satmar Chasidishe velt and the JO attempts to cover all branches of its constituencies. Mishpacha appears to be making a run at all of the above and other chevros.

    Once upon a time, I subscribed to the JO. That changed after a now infamous obit about RYBS.
    One can also find too many instances of anti MO attacks within the JO as opposed to attacks on heterodox forms of Judaism and a distinct lack of respect for RYBS which definitely can be found elsewhere in the yeshivishe world as well. As a Mishpacha subscriber and former JO subscriber, I agree with you that Mishpacha is giving the JO a run for its money. JA has always been open to MO and Charedi thinkers and symposia on a wide range of issues.

  69. DK,

    The Charedi Rebbeim that isued the ban did not bash the MO. That is not to say that others within the masses didn’t and that some within the MO didn’t bash back.

    I also don’t think that people who “join the charedim” misconceive the approaches to science found within Charedi society. That type of stuff is pretty much upfront.

    I should have mentioned earlier that I think more people have a problem with the idea of a ban than have a problem with an approach to science and torah issues that differs from their own approach.

  70. Steve,

    I don’t view the Yesivishe world, the MO world or the Chassidish world as monolithic and I certainly wouldn’t look to any publication as indicative of the hashkafic boundaries of any of the above groups. (As an aside, the more open Mishpacha is giving the JO a run for it’s money in the Yeshivish world.)

    There is also a big difference between trying to reconcile discrepancies between Torah and science and leaning towards a science over Torah hashkafa. I think those issues sometimes get confused.

  71. “The average American Baal Teshuvah had either never heard of Slifkin or doesn’t feel bound by the ban.”

    They will over time. More and more American Jews will understand the mainstream charedi position on evolution over time, just as most secular and liberal American Christians understand the Christian-Right’s position on such issues. American Jews should know exactly what sort of intellectual absurdities and gymanstics they will be expected to perform if they join the charedim.

    “I think the ban hurt more in terms of a perception that the charedi are bashing the modern orthodox.”

    The “perception?” Please. It was bashing the MO. And for once, they responded properly. They should do so more frequently.

    This was probably the best PR the MO received in a long time.

  72. Mark-IIRC, in the most recent JO, R Keller all but viewed R A Kaplan as unacceptable. R Jonathan Rosenblum, who is a wonderful writer with a first class intellect, resorted to anti science bashing.OTOH, R Shafran all but presented a very good case for a Slifkin like theory in a previous issue of the JO.I would not underestimate the JO’s weight in setting hashkafic boundaries within the American yeshivishe velt. Let’s see what happens.I don’t think that the number of people who discarded R A Kaplan’s works is dispositive simply because the web-based discussions are indicative and demonstrative of many people who were surprised and shocked that the books that dealt with these issues were now viewed as treif-passul.

  73. I agree with Mark on the effects of the Slifkin ban on Baalei Teshuvah. At least as far as American Baalei Teshuvah are concerned, the ban has not been that consequential.

    The average American Baal Teshuvah had either never heard of Slifkin or doesn’t feel bound by the ban.

    I think the ban hurt more in terms of a perception that the charedi are bashing the modern orthodox.

  74. I think Rabbi Weinreb overstated his case, especially regarding the effects of the ban on Baalei Teshuva at the KGH launch.

    No BT that I know has thrown out his Aryeh Kaplan material and according to Rabbi Welcher, if your Rav did not ban it, you are allowed to read Slifkin also.

  75. Jacob-When I used the term “my sector of the MO world”, it was both in terms of the route that I took as well as a subsection of the Torah world that I can compare with others solely based upon the oral addresses and written product which I have read in great quantities over the years.It was by no means a put down-as I stated,regardless of what worked for me and others,different approaches work for different people. That’s why we need a variety of approaches-not just MO or Charedi approaches.

    As far as the Slifkin Affair is concerned, time will only tell if the incident caused barely a ripple. R T H Weinreb of the OU certainly opined that the bans caused more than a ripple when he spoke at a recent book launch in KGH.

  76. Jeff Neckonoff wrote

    “Regarding some of the Chareidi world rejecting the teachings of Rabbi Slifkin (aka as the Zoo Rabbi)& books by Dr Gerald Schroeder such as “The Science of G-d”, I truly feel their decision will hinder their kiruv.”

    Remains to be seen. You’re assuming there’s a connection between “Charedi World” rabbeim involved in the Slifkin Affair and kiruv professionals who are Charedim. That association may be somewhat sketchy.

    Without entering into a discourse of the elements and viewpoints surrounding the Slifkin Affair just wanted to mention that a friend of mine who is a director at AJOP (Association Jewish Outreach Professionals) said that this incident has barely caused a ripple in kiruv work.

  77. “I don’t think that one can claim that either the MO or the Charedi kiruv models are inherently superior”

    Steve, WADR considering the tenor and tone of your article suggesting that MO is hands-down superior this statement comes across like a contrived disclaimer.

    “However, I don’t see the intellectual openness and honesty in the Charedi world that I have seen in my sector of the MO world.”

    Uh…is this over analytical but did you just lump the entire “Charedi” world into a monolith while taking pains to insert nuance for your hashkafa group by including “MY sector of the MO world” ?

    Also, that comment seems pretty heavy-handed Steve. Maybe I’m oversensitive but it appears odd and difficult to just casually file that one under “just an objective observation and hypothesis that forms an opinion”

    That element aside I’m sure you’re experienced and open enough to understand that personal experience with certain kehilas includes elements and nuance that sociological/labratory analysis fails to capture and that decision making about which derech can be the result of a lot of time and experimentation before ultimately a decision has to be made.

    I personally schep nachas from anyone who develops through any current of Torah Judaism.

  78. M-No put down of the Charedi world was intended in any way, shape or form-just my observations as to how the Kiruv movement has developed, its present and future course and that a variegated “different strokes for different folks” approach may in the long run offer more chances for more BTs than either approach exclusively.

    WADR, one cannot read much of the reaction that was posted in reaction to the book bans without recognizing that many people who had either used the books in question as kiruv professionals or BTs/FFBs who found the books as dealing with their inquiries now found their Chezkas Kashrus as Shomrei Torah UMitzvos under siege in a manner that one could only compare with prior incidents in Jewish history. As someone with a Mesorah who saw nothing problematic with these books, I could only be pained when I read the posts of so many frum Jews who felt as if their spiritual serenity had been torn asunder after years of trying to establish the same.

    I also was not trying to put down the Charedi historiographical/biographical school.I was presenting my own perspective which I don’t think is unique, isolated or Charedi bashing. However, these lines of demarcation are present especially on many issues such as Daas Torah, Zionism, the Holocaust, etc. FWIW, I have both some “Gadolograpies” which are excellent in their own right in displaying the pre war Litvishe Yeshiva world ( especially the works on the Brisker Rav ZTL and R Baruch Ber ZTL) and Making Of A Gadol-which is also indispensable in showing how a generation of yeshiva bachurim survived internal and external stresses ( i.e. haskalah and worse within their families;secular Zionism, the rise of Communism and the impending collapse of Eastern European Jewry) to become Gdolim. Despite the fact that it was not written in a conventional literay format, I found it to be a mesmerizing and fascinating work.

  79. People engaged in kiruv on any level have to communicate the views they actually hold. These may or may not persuade a given person. Nobody should create a smoke screen strategy to boost recruitment.

    “Talk like me or suffer the consequences” advice to people in kiruv is a non-starter.

  80. Very well-written and extremely interesting post.

    Regarding some of the Chareidi world rejecting the teachings of Rabbi Slifkin (aka as the Zoo Rabbi)& books by Dr Gerald Schroeder such as “The Science of G-d”, I truly feel their decision will hinder their kiruv.

    Every one of us raised in the Public School system were taught to question everything.This is very positive in that once we were introduced to Torah through one of the many above mentioned groups, it was proven to us without a shadow of a doubt that Torah is true. We all then underwent some cognitive dissonance and emerged like a beautiful butterfly as a “frum” Jew, which for argument sake consists of being Shomer Shabbos & glatt kosher.
    What we wear, how we speak and whom we daven with are of no consequence to this subject.

    Rejecting common sense & science will hurt their kiruv tremendously.
    Jews love to question & to be challenged.
    The answer “because we say so” isn’t going to cut it with any non-frum Jew.
    To see how Torah & science dovetail is eye-opening.

    Those groups that realize this will succeed at bringing yidden back home. Thise who don’t will sadly fail.

  81. It’s good that there are many methods and methodologies of kiruv out there, inside and outside the two broad categories Steve mentioned, because each person who might be brought closer is a unique individual.

    We are not automatons who will respond just so, if the right buttons are pushed. Thinking people will see through not only their own past illusions, but also through any illusions innocently held by kiruv people trying to reach them. Thinking people will know that kiruv professionals are there to be our facilitators or resource people, not our Svengalis.

    As for the sharp MO-Charedi distinctions, which pop up like weeds wherever there is blog space, there is a broad range of approaches and opinions within each group, no matter what the “other side” says.

  82. Well written, but unfortunately, from a very narrow viewpoint. NCSY is a wonderful organization- I have seen them in action. However, this article is in essence a well articulated put- down of the Chareidi world. It’s OK for an individual to has his feelings and viewpoints, but I’m sorry it has to be in such official format.

    For those who will responsd with startled denials, I won’t continue to assert my opinion. I am too upset about what I read in the lines and between the lines.

    Steve, kol hakovod to your accomplishments- my opinion on this post does not detract from my respect for you as a fellow Jew and a thinking Ben Torah.

  83. I completely agree with you. America is fortunate to have the NSCY and the other groups to which you refer. I was raised and became frum in Australia, and now live in England. We have no comparable organizations. The only kiruv activists in this England that I have encountered are charedi. I have suffered the disillusionment you describe and only survive, hashkafically, through the resources available over the internet. You are very blessed in America.

  84. Steve,
    Well written history of the BT movement. As a product of NCSY/JSS I completely agree (I also read RSRH during HS).
    IMHO, Rabbi Mayer Schiller would have a few things to say about a person being “in danger of going through the Charedi world and developing a sense of rejection of all hashkafic inquiries” (see THE ROAD BACK). There might be room for agreeing to disagree.

  85. Steve, you make such an important point here. Although we obviously all follow one Torah, not every size of shoe fits all. It doesn’t matter if someone returns to Torah via Chabad, MO, the Yeshivish or whatever – the bottom line is the same. Also, MO means very different things in different communities, but in my own, I’ll go out on the limb by saying that it means adherence to the highest standards of halacha, but an acknowledgement that most of us make our living in the secular world.

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