Keep the Enthusiasm, Beware the Naiveté’

by Akiva of Mystical Paths

As people become religious, or rather as they encounter Torah and a religious lifestyle, and people with a connection with Hashem, the soul awakens, it bursts into flame through the grunge and piles of dirt of life. An enthusiasm, a thirst is born. And it’s a joy to have, and a joy to see. Even to the point, for some who have grown up within the religious world, it’s almost scary. Such a yearning and thirst for Hashem and Torah, it’s weird, seems unbalanced. It’s not, it’s just a soul coming alive.

And, thank G-d, the Torah world has many people who devote themselves to helping make this happen, and helping people take their first steps towards a Torah life. And as those people arrive with their enthusiasm, they flock to these wonderful ‘outreach’ people as a source of the light, emissaries for Hashem. Doesn’t matter whether the outreach people are from Chabad, or Aish, or Lakewood, or any of the many wonderful organizations. With their beard and hat, their kind words and teaching, their warm wishes to help and thoughts of Torah, relationships are developed and people are guided.

Yet, sometimes these people stumble. They are faced with many challenges, pressures of money, competing people in need, organizational expectations, etc.

My dear brothers and sisters, BT’s and BT’s to be, a tremendous amount of the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, and the Talmud, are devoted to the laws of relations, and money. Every .. single .. person .. has a yetzer hara, an evil inclination. The yetzer hara doesn’t come to the rabbi (or rebbetzin) and say, each treif (non-kosher). He says, “it’s just a moment, it’s ok to be alone with the person, what you are doing is important.” It’s not ok, it’s never ok, it leads to problems. He says, “just borrow the money, it’s for the community, it’s ok if you really don’t know if you will be able to pay it back, Hashem will help”. It’s not ok, it’s never ok, someone is going to get hurt and burned.

Please my friends, these wonderful people are, B”H, wonderful people. They have indeed devoted their life to helping people, to helping you. But they are also human, just like everyone else. This wonderful and incredibly challenging mix of a spark of G-dliness in a mundane physical body, an animal that has desires and wants to be fed. Because they give so much, it’s common to put them on a pedestal. Yet the Shulchan Aruch doesn’t say, don’t be alone with the opposite gender except if its the rabbi or rebetzen. It doesn’t say, give them a loan with no contract or signed and cosigned and agreed repayment schedule up front.

Help them stay on the pedestal. If he/she wants to do something that doesn’t seem quite right, don’t help them do the wrong thing for the right reason. Keep in mind, everyone, everyone gets challenged, and it’s often tricky and it’s often in the weak spot. The beard and yalmulkah, or shaitel and long skirt, doesn’t make one exempt.

May Hashem help us all to overcome our yetzer hara, and may we all help each other!

23 comments on “Keep the Enthusiasm, Beware the Naiveté’

  1. Ora,
    I came to the conclusion this morning, that returnees to teshuva that originate from opposite ends of the judaism o meter are generally adjusting and or dealing with a different set of religious concerns/irritable issues and totally different levels of “oh my gd this is sooooo inspirational” potential.

    As such, my arguments/perspectives/opining without pins and whinings are not really relevant to the intial topic / the modesty must do’s and pious outfit promoting points.
    And since i’m definitely not naive I dont even qualify to weigh in on the matter mostly….
    And if I continue reiterating and or expounding on my points, I will just make this thread more tired than it already is and Bob Miller might yawn or opine with pins.

  2. Jaded, you said: “…..maybe that kind of character refinement energy should be redirected towards ummmm mastering the art of sexual discipline way before perfecting the purely pious outfits wearing.”

    My response was, I don’t think sexual discipline can be mastered without adding purely pious outfits somewhere along the way. How did I misunderstand what you wrote?

    As for piously-dressed people who show a clear lack of discipline, I don’t think their lack of discipline means they should dress less modestly. Less modest dress will probably only make the situation worse. However, I agree that they should avoid clothing that clearly identifies them as part of a religious group (eg, a guy shouldn’t walk around topless just because he has a problem with self control, but he shouldn’t wear a shtreimel either).

    I think when you meet a religiously-dressed person engaged in clearly non-religious behavior, it’s important to remember that you don’t know their whole story. They could be on their way to becoming more religious and just not there yet. In other words, they might not be a supposedly religious person acting badly, but rather a non-religious person dressing well.

    Also, keep in mind that a guy dressed in hareidi (or other religious) clothes might have nothing to do with the hareidi community whatsoever. There are guys dressed like that around here (Jerusalem) who are completely not religious (and never were) or not even Jewish. Why they do it, I don’t know, maybe they’re taking advantage of the trust that real hareidim have created in the general public. (Those who really are from hareidi families usually either disappear from the party/propositioning scene after a couple of months or stick around but without the stylin black and white outfits).

  3. Elliot,

    Being an attorney myself (and representing a large e&o carrier) I’m aware of the legal definition of “professional” as well as the legal consequences and responsibilities that come with the word vis a vis levels of care, statutes of limitations, etc. I personally don’t think that the average layman has this in mind, however, when they call someone a “kiruv professional”. More likely they are alluding to the fact that this is someone’s profession. A professional baseball player is not licensed by any State. Yet, we still refer to him as a professional (or pro) baseball player. Beyond the parochial definition found in common law, statute and regulation, the term “professional” usually identifies an individual by their profession or as having a certain level of proficiency or expertise and distinguishes that person from others who conduct the same activities as a hobby or with a lesser degree of proficiency. (Professional golfer vs Anateur golfer,professional photographer vs amateur photographer, etc. )

    I was just trying to point out that your comment, in my mind, sounded as if you were painting all of the people in kiruv as amateurish. Your subsequent comment clarifies that this is not what you were saying at all. In fact, I would agree with you that there are those in kiruv without the “professional” skills and experience necessary for engaging others in discussions concerning critical life decisions.

  4. David –

    I would suggest that the word “professional” needs to be used cautiously, because it suggests professional licensing, and there is no such thing for “kiruv professionals”. Under the NYS Education Law, for example, the categories and qualifications of enumerated “professionals” are listed, e.g., acupuncturists, barbers, dental hygienists, funeral directors, massage therpapists, nurses, etc. If they make a make a mistake, a consumer can complain, and a hearing gets held. Doctors and lawyers are regulated by the State Health Department and the courts, respectively. In other words, all of these licensed professionals, including me as a lawyer, have “mashgichim”, and we try to behave ourselves.

    None of this is true for religious leaders, except to the extent they self-govern. The First Amendment does not allow the government to regulate the internal affairs of religious organizations.

    The Rabbinical Council of America, to its credit, mostly modern and central orthodox rabbis, has been tightening up its standards. In recent years, at least two rabbis that I know of have either been forced to resign, or ousted from their membership. The RCA has also been tightening up its standards for what constitutes a sufficient smicha to qualify one for membership. I think this is a good thing, for maintaining the integrity of the rabbinate.

    On the other hand, anyone can call himself a kiruv professional, including the Chabadnik who once stopped me on East 42nd Street outside Grand Central Station. I tried to dodge him, but he nabbed me. We need to make a mincha minyan, and he pointed me towards the open door of the “Mitzvah Tank”. I hesitated, but walked in. In a few minutes, mincha began with, Ashrei, followed by Shmone Esrai, then Alenu, and then Kaddish, and then, the Chabad Kiruv Professional g’shreid, “YECHI ADONEINU….! He said this with a terrific Yiddish accent, even though a few minutes ago he seemed like he grew up in Great Neck. I gave him the most hostile glare I could muster, learned after years of toiling in the New York courts. He responded with a silly smile.

    So we need to be picky about who is a kiruv professional. The rabbis who run this blog, and my rebbeim from Ohr Somayach: kiruv professionals. Some others: maybe we should give some thought to passing some new laws :-)

  5. As opposed to the BT who was “tapped on the shoulder” when he wasn’t even thinking about religion, the seeker is (IMHO) more vulnerable to being in the grip of the Rabbi. We never had a kiruv outreach worker that followed us around, but we were self-propelled, and extremely naive.

    The danger of this was the following: we were middle aged with one son almost bar mitzva at the time, and very vulnerable to any orthodox Rabbi giving us direction. We made a lot of mistakes and our kids suffered, when we trusted and defended Rabbinic advice/behavior which we should have been more cautious about. Taking the common sense approach went out the window, as we told ourselves that we no longer knew what was best for our children; or perhaps we were being tested for bitachon. It took a long time and a lot of heartache before we began to trust our own instincts toward our kids again.
    I guess if I have any regrets about my BT process, it’s that I went in so blindly trustful.

  6. Ora, I think you misunderstood my runaway point.
    Personally, as a mussar loving female, preferably Mark Frankels 3mmm kind of mussar see his post on “getting mussar giving mussar and learnin mussar, (Bob Miller – see I dont think all of frum is a sham, please update your records accordingly) it never ceases to astonish my somewhat weak sense of spirituality when males dressed in purely pious outfits flirt openly /suggest stuff with females and or defy the laws of moral discipline.
    Whatever their religious lineage/religious status at birth and or current “frum” status.
    Sexual discipline is a difficult directive to incorporate, but do you really think that any male regardless of lineage , dressing in pious outfits, is becoming more disciplined in that way ?
    I think its just messing with the “orthodox” connotations everyone wants orthodox to be associated with.
    I guess knocking different groups way of dealing with stuff particularly with pious outfits, is definitely not the answer.
    But neither is pretending that the answer to “pious pretenders” is to be more aware.

    Yes, there are rotten cores in all orchards.
    And ,there are also so many purely pious fruits to learn from.
    And sometimes we have to just get over being bitten.
    And we have to judge everyone favorably.
    Even when the same kind of fruits( in different peel outfits)are repeat biters,& bite again and again when you least expect it.
    Which makes it harder not to bite right back.
    Its also a bit of a problem when those rotten cores become mentors, orchard leaders /preachers in perfectly polished pious peels.
    So I guess we have to,
    Never judge anyone.
    Respect everyone.
    Drink responsibly (not all bartenders torah true)
    Trust responsibly.
    Frequent amusement parks.
    Learn alei shure.
    Love everyone.

    Interested parties, can come to Alei Shure & Absolut lunch readings in midtown (NYC).

  7. Jaded, in my experience (w/o getting explicit or anything) it’s almost impossible to master sexual discipline without getting into pious outfits at some stage of the journey (before the discipline is fully mastered, that is). For two main reasons:

    1) Temptation. A girl wearing a tank top and short skirt is going to get a lot more attention from physical-relationship-seeking guys than a girl in the more religiously appropriate long skirt elbow-length sleeves ensemble. Even in jeans and a T-shirt, guys will generally perceive her as not very religious and therefore more likely to be available, which will make her more likely to be hit on. More guys hitting on said girl == more temptation to resist == more difficulty on the long road to discipline.

    2) Self-perception. On some point during the journey, the girl in question decides that she wants to practice sexual discipline. At that point, whether or not she’s actually disciplined yet, she won’t be comfortable with outfits that show her body anymore. IMO this stage will inevitably come before full discipline–someone who truly wants discipline will want to dress modestly (ie, will want to dress modestly even if they realize they haven’t reached the end of their discipline-seeking journey). It’s a sign that they take the goal of sexual discipline seriously.

    In other words, I think modest clothing is emphasized because it reduces the amount of sexual temptation facing the wearer, and because it allows them to demonstrate their commitment to discipline and their desire not to flaunt the physical. All very important things that tend to make the discipline itself much easier.

  8. Elliot, your last comment appears to be saying that no “kiruv professionals” are professional? Is that what you meant to say?


    An important post, yasher koach.

  9. I’m sorry, I’m still not sure the point of the post, especially now that you have tried to clarify. It almost sounds like Kiruv is being compared to some sort of cult where the Kiruv professional has some sort of Svengali-like hold on his students. I’m sure there are unscrupulous people in every walk of life but you seem to be saying “look out, even when you have found a good one” OTOH, this might be some sort of Loshon Hara-free complaint about someone, which I guess is positive in a way? I just don’t know.

  10. I agree, Akiva. So-called kiruv professionals are not professionals at all, especially when they’re young. Many haven’t been trained in fundamental psychology. They don’t know the strong psychological hold, even grip, they have on the potential BTs.

    This is true in every religion. There are charismatic leaders who sometimes take advantage of their followers.

    The need for moral vigilance is clear.

  11. Sorry if the point wasn’t clear enough. Many BT’s, certainly in their early years, idolize their spiritual leaders, who are generally the outreach people who brought them along.

    Those outreach people are often young, lightly or not supervised in their “remote” locations (outside of the frum community, the location may be remote only spiritually, not in physical distance), and in their drive for their holy cause may fall to their yetzer hara.

    In normal situations, those slips wouldn’t necessarily injure others. But because of the type of relationship, they often have a power to take advantage that’s way out of proportion versus a normal situation.

    Example: If a friend came and asked to borrow $25,000, would you immediately do it? Maybe, maybe not, but you’d be cautious, possibly put some protections in place, some paperwork, maybe collateral. Or, you’d do it understanding the risk of not getting paid back.

    If the Rav comes along and asks to borrow $25,000 to keep the holy program running, and don’t worry he’ll pay you back next month, many BT’s, especially early ones (first 5 years), would trust him implicitly. No paperwork, no witnesses, no protection, and possibly mortgaging themselves to help the holy cause.

    I’ve personally seen a variety of these scenerio’s occur. The end usually results in a destroyed, or at least mighty cynical afterwards, soul in this world. The “rav” is rarely affected, at least in this world.

    People wouldn’t allow this kind of thing normally, but because of the relationship, they lower their guard. People just need to keep their normal common sense in place when relating to their outreach people.

  12. I’m viewing JT’s comment in the context of many previous comments, not as a stand-alone.

  13. “The wrong way is to repeatedly attack a way of life broadside based on the poor performance of individuals.”

    I don’t have this take on Jaded’s original post.

    The Torah has a mitzvah of tochacha, reproof. Even a child can say tochacha to an adult. Nobody is exempt. In fact, if you don’t saty tochacha, the other person’s averiah becomes yours.

    When tochacha comes, from whoever the source, my own attitude is to take it seriously, and avoid criticizing the critic. I assume good faith. How could it be otherwise? The tochacha giver is doing a mitzvah.

    I also give credit to Akiva for this article. He acknowledges the problem.

  14. I’ve been disillusioned from time to time, but that’s life. You deal with issues as they come up and make decisions. The wrong way is to repeatedly attack a way of life broadside based on the poor performance of individuals.

  15. Jaded makes no implication of “all frumkeit” being a “sham”. Facts are facts. He has a sense of moral proportion, as I and many others do. We don’t buy into the excuse factory. We have no patience for moral waffling and rationalizations. We’re astonished by what we’re seeing, and we’re saying so. This is what we’re supposed to be doing. BTs in particular should be sensitive to these issues. Some tend to be vulnerable, sensitive, and naive, and can easily fall prey to a rogue “leader”. Most BTs tend to the idealistic, and can become dissillusioned by scandal. We need to do a better job at identifying authentic religious leaders.

  16. Bob Miller , Instead of focusing on my personal religious preferences and what I consider a sham or why I love shamrocks more than other expensive “segulahs” related to sham…….. Why don’t you wonder why there are so many pious outfit wearing undisciplined individuals “implying” one thing and practicing other things with the wrong people. In the spirit of guarding my tongue from evil slander Fridays, ill refrain from too much information sharing , and the detailed random happenstancings I’d love to share with you.
    Sometimes I think its the pious outfits that are part of the problem and or a pretend fixer.

  17. “Keep in mind, everyone, everyone gets challenged, it’s often tricky, and it’s often in the weak spot.”

    In the areas of life you’re talking about, the choices are not “tricky”. The mitzvos involving gilui arayos are clear, blunt, and very serious. Don’t do it.

  18. JT,

    Do you believe that all frumkeit is a sham? If not why do you keep implying that?

  19. Akiva,
    What exactly is your point ?
    That everyone has a sex drive, even those with long beards and skirts and longer payos and wigs, preaching in pious english ?
    What a concept.

    Maybe on mussar musing mondays instead of the usual focusing on how to embrace stringent living in pious material and matching hats and wigs…..maybe that kind of character refinement energy should be redirected towards ummmm mastering the art of sexual discipline way before perfecting the purely pious outfits wearing.

    Sometimes, when the emphasis is placed on the wrong letter of the law you’ve got scores of individuals scoring the wrong kind of points all dressed up in pious outfits.
    Rabbis and religious ragamuffins alike.
    And that in turn confuses scores and scores of other people.
    Material modesty other than a distraction, is not all its cracked up to be.
    And it definitely doesnt fix overactive sex drives.
    Even though many love pretending it does.

  20. If you sense that your spiritual mentor is not as advertised, find a new one. The real article is out there, but you may not find him/her without a lot of effort and false starts.

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