Bringing People Closer vs Opening Kiruv Files

There is a Mitzvah to bring people closer to Hashem whether they are observant or not. Many observant Jews feel that most if not all Jews would benefit greatly in this world and the next if they were Torah observant. On the other hand it seems unhealthy to view people as a target for your Kiruv files.

So how do you strike the proper balance of trying to bring a person closer to Hashem without turning them into a Kiruv file?

24 comments on “Bringing People Closer vs Opening Kiruv Files

  1. There is also a concept of all Jews being communally responsible for the behavior of all Jews. (kol Yisroel areivim zeh la’zeh).

    This must, of course, be balanced against the prohibition of pointing out to someone who *will not heed* that he/she is doing something forbidden. In today’s world, when dealing with someone who is not currently observant, it’s a fine line to travel.

  2. According to R Simcha Wasserman Z’tl, Kiruv also fall under HaShavos Avedia (returning a lost object). R Aryeh Kaplan’s book REACHING OUT really is a must read to understand the importance of kiruv.

  3. Can you please quote the source for being required to bring people to jewish orthodox observance?

  4. I like what grose said.

    I will also point out that we don’t know what our effect on anyone is. Perhaps it takes 67 positive contacts with religious people to convince a particular person to investigate observance. In that case, there would seem to be as much worth in being the first or the 43rd, as in being the 67th. But only the 67th would have any idea that they influenced this person at all. That is another reason it’s so important to focus on humility and respect. We may well be influencing others to be observant, even when we don’t know it.

    To answer your question, Mark, about an appropriate objective: it’s great to have as a long-term goal to try to convince the other person to be observant. Why not, after all? What’s right short term will of course be different for different people. Some will find Torah study appealing. Others will find meaning in performing a Mitzvah. And in each of these categories there is such a range of possibilities for people to choose from. You can let them know about options, make personal invitations, etc., and give them the opportunity to choose something (or even nothing — maybe you’re the 43rd person).

  5. I saw a saying a long time ago that summed it up, it went something like this: “I am not a teacher, just a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way — I pointed ahead, of you, as well as of me.” I think the problem starts when we think we’ve made it and are ready to bring others closer. We should be forever striving to bring ourselves closer to Hashem, and linking arms with anyone who wants to join the journey, explaining what we are doing as we become closer to G-d. Then we avoid the trap of trying to “make” people anything. We try to make ourselves.

  6. Mark, that was my point; being a good friend means also being properly concerned with the frind’s spiritual well-being.

  7. Torah is called “Sahm HaChayim,” a drug of life. If you see a disease and know that a certain medicine can cure it, it’s wrong to hold it back. But if the “patient” is resistent, the medicine won’t work. So perhaps that’s a guideline: Be clear on the disease and the power of the medicine. At the same time be sensitive to only making it proactively accessible to those who recognize their need for it.

  8. Bob, Does that well-being include helping him become more observant? You know that closeness to Hashem is important, but he might not be holding there.

  9. If someone is your friend, you look out for his/her well-being without being overbearing or naggy. The friend may not see eye-to-eye with you on everything, but you basically like and respect each other.

  10. Mark-I view observing one mitzvah and showing a person the depth of Torah knowledge the keys to moving towards the goal of Torah observance. The Rambam in Perush HaMishnayos at the end of Makos emphasizes that every Jew can find a mitzvah that will become his or her niche mitzvah of sorts. As far as David Linn’s query re misunderstandings, I have a huge belief in the abilities of both Shabbos Kodesh and Talmud Torah to serve as the keys to eradicating misunderstandings. I sincerely believe that the “militant atheists” such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, etc collectively suffer from an extreme lack of knowledge of TSBP and how it works,

  11. Steve, Your suggestions are great, but what’s your goal: one mitzvah, some more Torah knowledge, path to observance, respect for Torah observance or no goal at all.

  12. One more point-IMO, empathy is very important, especially for those of us who live in a large Torah observant community. Empathy will help you appreciate what you sometimes take for granted as a given in terms of lots of shuls, yeshivos,readily available kosher food, eruv,newspapers that don’t view the Torah world negatively, stores , clothing, etc. It will also help you appreciate and stand in awe of someone who has started the process of becoming a BT and let tnem tell you about their process, their needs and where they are going, and realize that anyone involved in the process of teshuvah is truly a non-conformist against the prevailing secular culture.

  13. Mark-I would suggest that anyone has to begin with the premise beimg Mkadesh Shem Shamayim in one’s personal life and showing the person the beauty of a mitzvah and the depth of Torah.For some, it may be Mitzvos Bein Adam LChavero. Others may be floored by the fact that Halacha has a lot to say on almost any issue out there and that we live by TSBP, not Torah Shebicsav.I am sure that I am not the only person who has heard a BT say that many not yet observant Jews think that Shabbos observance means cold food eaten in the dark. The fact that the Torah commands men and women not to view each other as objects for their mutual temporary gratification should have some relevance to many singles.

    Seeing Shalom Bayis in action with a spouse and children and a Shabbos meal with Torah content as well as experiencing Tefilah in a shul that takes davening seriously is far more effective than all of the kiruv guides out there. As far as guidance, I would add that it is eually important to establish a kind of relationship that shows that you care about them as a person and then allow them to ask you questions re sources, learning, etc. IOW, have some empathy for their ups and downs as a person without even offering them a Maamar Chazal or a Dvar Torah as a perspective. Listening with a sincerely open ear to issues such as job ups and downs, politics, contemporary secular culture and Israel without being judgmental can go a long way in that person seeking you as a mentor.

  14. Perhaps, as a first step, it is important to dispel some myths or misunderstandings that a non-observant individual may have about Torah. (Now, HOW to do that is a whole other question!)

  15. Squarepeg, Let’s assume that you truly care about the person, are not condescending and truly respect who they are and many of their values and you act like a mentsch.

    Now what is your objective in the context of bringing the person closer to Hashem:
    1) Have them do one mitzvah
    2) Have them learn some Torah
    3) Try to guide them long term towards Torah Observance
    4) Have no goal because you don’t think it’s important that the person get closer to Hashem.
    5) Other

  16. If you look at Kiruv as an industry, as opposed to a person by person, mitzvah by mitzvah movement with different people working at different speeds and orientations, IMO, then you stand a very grave chance of treating a person as an impersonal “file”.

  17. Ok. That was exactly what I thought you were asking. I think that *what* we do in terms of Kiruv is not nearly as important as the attitude we take toward the person we are trying to influence.

    If we are respectful and humble, then we can be much more active in trying to influence someone. Because we feel and demonstrate respect, the other person is likely to be more willing to accept our ideas. You can challenge them outright or be a bit intrusive (say, by inviting them to something) and it will be easier for them not to be turned off.

    OTOH, if we are feeling sort of condescending toward them or their values, then the littlest atttempt on our part to influence them is likely to be perceived negatively.

    What are the guidelines to think about? My answer is, the main guideline is how we feel inside toward the other person. I think that focusing on the proper attitude will help the rest fall into place.

  18. Kiruv File (from the book the Kiruv Files) refers to trying to help someone become Observant (ie Shomer Shabbos). There is nothing inherently wrong with that and it is in fact a primary goal of many Kiruv Organizations.

    People take great pride in helping someone become observant (as they do in making Shidduchim) and they sometimes start to focus more on the act rather than the person. This is how it becomes a Kiruv Files type of thing. In the professional Kiruv Organizations the number of people who you’ve helped to become frum is one of the indicators of success so Kiruv File behavior is possible more evident there.

    If we believe it is good for the people themselves to become Torah Observant how do we avoid crossing the slippery line into turning them into Kiruv Files consciously or sub-consciously.

    One answer would be to just look at the short term act of teaching Torah, making a Kiddush Hashem or doing one mitzvah and forget about greater goods like the person becoming Observant. But if we don’t focus on a greater good for the person, we would also be missing the mark.

    The simple answer is to always focus on the other person’s need, but when you’re deeply involved in true chesed, you know how difficult that can be especially if a person thinks they don’t really need G-d and Torah in their life.

    So we’re trying to explore the grey area of bringing a person closer to Hashem and what are the guidelines to think about when involved in this worthwhile pursuit.

  19. Squarepeg, All your points are important and we should all strive to achieve those goals.

    However, at the end of the day a person still needs to decide whether they should consciously try to bring a given person closer to Hashem. With our children, it’s usually a no brainer that this is what we do.

    For other family, friends, acquaintances and strangers how do we draw the subtle and nuanced line between bringing them closer to Hashem and turning them into a potential Kiruv file?

    Is it a matter of degrees, where bringing them a little closer by sharing some Torah wisdom, being a Kiddush Hashem or encouraging observance of a mitzvah is always acceptable, whereas targeting to make them frum is a Kiruv file situation?

  20. Cultivate humility in yourself and respect for the other person. “Who is wise? The person who learns from everyone.” [Pirkei Avot] We can learn *something* from almost anyone — and not just what *not* to do. ;-)

    There are many benefits to adopting attitudes of humility and respect:

    1) We are a constant Kiddush Hashem, by avoiding being annoying in Kiruv efforts and by setting a pleasant example for how a religious Jew lives her life.

    2) We have the opportunity to grow and mature, to become better people.

    3) People will hopefully not feel antagonistic or condescended to, and may be more open to hearing whatever Kiruv message we want to give them.

    4) We will be more likely to see the other person as a whole person, not just a one-dimensional less-religious person. We will be able to develop a deeper and more meaningful relationship with them. It will also help us avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.

    Neat question.

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