54 comments on “Should We Market Torah?

  1. To MC #39: Your thoughts almost exactly echo mine.

    The person who was my Zero Point or introduction to frumkeit will always have my gratitude for his effort and time spent in bringing me back. However, due to many factors, we no longer keep in touch. His path in Orthodox Judaism is actually very different from mine. While I sincerely regret growing apart from my first mentor, I think it was inevitable, due to Sholom Bayis (my husband’s views are completely divergent from his). I am grateful to MC for saying something similar, that he grew away and in a different path from some of his earlier mentors, and that it’s OK and part of what life is, changing over time.

    There is a story about someone who left a small bag of barley by one of the rabbonim. The rabbi of the story planted and harvested that barley every year, each year getting a larger and larger crop. When the person reappeared after several years, the rabbi told him: “Come and take your granary.” The peirush on this story goes on to explain that HKBH takes our small good deeds and sows them, so to speak, raising great crops of good deeds over and over again.

    I think of my Zero Point or first mentor in connection with that story. I would like to give him a small bag of barley and say, “Come and take your granary.” Come and see how your initial efforts and time to do Kiruv with an unlikely subject (me) blossomed into a lifetime of mitzvos, plus also bonim uvnai bonim oiskim bTorah ubmitzvos.

    I have the hope that after 120 years, my mentor’s neshamah will ascend to Gan Eden and be shown thousands of mitzvos credited to his account. “What,” he’ll exclaim, “but this is the Olam ha-Emes, I didn’t do all these mitzvos.” He will then be told, “This is from the person you brought back, and from her children, grandchildren, and further generations that she brought into the world. All of this is credited to your eternal account in the World of Truth.”

  2. thanks for the challenge, Jeff. First, I didn’t suggest his perspective has no place in kiruv! That was very harsh language of his and, in light of his earlier outburst of anger, simply came accross as way over the top.

    Secondly, now that he’s revealing the hashkafa that’s driving him I’m pointing out a possible connection to why he fixates on a kiruv that jumps to the highest rungs and denigrates the lowest(he’s into INDIVIDUAL Geula, which I appreciate… within reason).

    Certainly he’s within “good company”. No question. Besides, I know him well. He’s a T. Khakham. A good partner for whittling your sword towards the Emes. Just need to know how to take his leitzonus and prepare for when he’ll say “now you’ve done it” ; )


  3. yy, you cite 12 paths through the yam, and then you go in the next post and pasul Abe’s hashkafa? Abe can have a rationalist world view if he wants, well within the bounds of Judaism and he will be in good company with the Rambam, Gra, and others.

  4. As for Abes’ “alternative hashkafa where the world is real, and true spirituality isn’t found within the physical world, but in actually transcending” — well, it just may be wrong!

    Ein ode Milvado.

    Chochmas Ha’Misken b’ZU-Ya!

    He’s right here and now, in the real. Don’t run away. We need to work together to reveal it.

    It certainly makes a better case, in the long run, for achdus. For the goal is not YOUR transcendence, but His reality, amongst us all.

  5. >”Is that ideal too far out of reach? Then don’t do kiruv.”

    Either/or, huh, Abe. I can understand where the anger comes from…

    >”BEFORE matan torah, the Jewish people were k’ish echad b’lev echad. That type of closeness is the REAL kiruv and must be the prerequisite to a personal kaballos haTorah”

    Your absolutisms are certainly consistent. Problem is that Torah seems to go a little further. Yetzias Mitzrayim was a PROCESS that was cultivated with many ebbs and flows, including a split sea with 12 different paths and much give and take amongst the people and their teachers.

    The V’Yechan achdus you so desperately want is the culmination of a lot of hard work. If it would have been attempted exactly like that back at the sea it would have been disasterous.

    Lighten up, bro. It’s great to keep that ideal in focus, but “REAL Kiruv” needs alot of processing towards that end.

  6. Breslov did outreach from the start, as one example. There is ample documentary evidence.

  7. The leading Chassidic Rebbeim of the 1700’s were anti-rationalist, and their hashkafa was based on a very liberal understanding of the Arizal as denying the existence of physical reality. It certainly takes an accomplished Torah scholar to textually justify such a position, so don’t set up this straw man implying that I said the Chassidim were not accomplished Torah scholars; nobody argues that they were.

    Did the Chassidim actually do kiruv? Perhaps they had some talent for developing catchy niggunim that helped them be m’chazek each other, but as for outreach, no, I don’t think they were involved. We are in uncharted waters, per Jeff’s earlier comment.

    As for whether or not the opposition’s response was blown out of proportion — I guess it depends which side you’re on. Most of kiruv is based on spreading the Chassidic ideas about spirituality permeating the physical world, so it doesn’t surprise me that you think the response to that was overblown. On the other hand, perhaps kiruv artists have a moral responsibility to present both sides of the coin, and explain that there is an alternative hashkafa where the world is real, and true spirituality isn’t found within the physical world, but in actually transcending the physical world, reaching for a Torah, a God, and a spirituality that exists outside of oneself.

  8. Contrary to popular mythology, the leading Chassidic Rebbeim of the 1700’s were very accomplished Torah scholars. They, nevertheless, saw the real need to revive the spirits and spiritual connections of the average Eastern European Jew. No one disputes that there was some over-exuberance or anti-scholarship among some followers, but this was blown way out of proportion by the opposition.

  9. Um, Bob, what the Chassidim were doing in the 1700’s doesn’t exactly strengthen your position. Had it not been for the Gra’s re-infusion of rationalism into the religion, we might not be around today to discuss the merits of various kiruv methods.

    But my main issue is with statements like Steve’s numerous approaches in kiruv that work and resonate with different people which doesn’t take it far enough. The only approach to kiruv that works is the personal one, tailored to the individual, and based on a long-term relationship with that person. Is that ideal too far out of reach? Then don’t do kiruv.

    I would like to remind everyone that BEFORE matan torah, the Jewish people were k’ish echad b’lev echad. That type of closeness is the REAL kiruv and must be the prerequisite to a personal kaballos haTorah just as it was to the national kaballos haTorah.

  10. Jeff, are you denying that several kiruv methods, at least, have achieved worthwhile results somewhere?

    I have seen instances where one group considers that it has the patent on kiruv and tries to undermine other groups. This is not the way.

    As for “pretty new”, what does that mean? Chassidim were doing this in the 1700’s, for example.

  11. Steve, “manifestly obvious?” Maybe in one or two communities, but I wouldn’t necessarily trust the statistics put out there by the major institutions which likely have a heter to inflate their numbers (for the sake of kiruv.) Kiruv is a pretty new world experiment, I’d give it a few generations to see what ultimately happens.

  12. It strikes me as utopian at the best and authoritarian and totalitarian at the worst for Torah and Kiruv to be marketed in one way when it is manifestly obvious, aside from being intellectually honest to admit, that there are numerous approaches in kiruv that work and resonate with different people.

  13. “I don’t really see why different groups should give up on their approaches in the hope of formulating a more monolithic approach.”

    Well said.

  14. I recently read Dr Lisa Aiken’s “The BT Survival Guide” . It is an excellent guide for anyone interested in Kiruv, BTs and many of the issues that we discuss here. I will note that one of the keys to this book is that there are many hashkafic ports of entry and/or routes for BTs. IMO, marketing implies selling a particular product. I think that all of the kiruv groups work from different premises which are part of their modus viviendi in ways that we have discussed previously and that each kiruv group has an approach that it utilizes because it is a method that inspires and causes changes in people’s lives. I am not sure that one approach will ever change everybody’s life simply because of an old adage-“different strokes for different folks”. I don’t really see why different groups should give up on their approaches in the hope of formulating a more monolithic approach.

  15. If I introduce someone to a certain aspect of Torah, but I don’t become their lifelong mentor and/or friend, is that bad? Is it my fault?

    There were a number of people who helped me earlier on my path to Torah Judaism. A number of them I don’t keep in touch with any more. A number of them I no longer respect as authorities in appropriate paths to Torah Judaism. I do not think that this is the result of these individuals employing faulty approaches to me. Rather, as an individual, I’ve found needs for other approaches, rabbeim, friends, mentors, sources of inspiration and information, etc. And I have sought those out. As a BT my questions changed over time, I changed over time, and my relationships changed over time. I’m still grateful for those few brief but critical encounters that set me on the path.

    I, as an observant Jew, can know someone and bring them towards Torah, but perhaps the fulfillment of my tachlis (purpose) in that relationship is to introduce that person to someone else with whom they will eventually develop a more meaningful and lasting relationship. Someone who is a better shidduch (match) for them.

    It seems to me that if in a particular interaction with someone I am acting for the sake of HaShem and his Torah, it can be positive kiruv-wise, even if it is short or not repeated.

  16. gentlemen — I hear a basic contradiction.

    On one hand the post asks IF we should market Torah, followed by asking what we think and SHOULD we. But then I hear uh-uh, don’t you dare suggest that some kiruv is not the real stuff; that it might be against the authentic spirit of Torah and or the purpose of it all. No-no-no, don’t dare take away everyone’s right and even duty to jump on this bandwagon. Everyone’s got a democratic right to do THEIR kiruv. Genuine; healthy; pure … these are unacceptable concepts, since after all we are NOT reeeeeally asking if Torah should be marketted but how.

    Bob, I’d love to really clarify with you and others. Let’s look at some sources; quote Gdolim; discuss testimonials. And make EMES our barometer.

    No I don’t expect we’d all come to the exact same conclusions. But the cheap crusading element might dissipate. And a little more kedusha might enter.

  17. What we are trying to do here is to increase awareness of the fact that the vast majority of the Jews in the world reject their Torah heritage.

    And possibly think of new ways to interest them and share our Torah knowledge with them.

    If you are interested in the Mitzvah of Kiruv, there is some good material here:

  18. Who’s right?

    Well me, of course.


    Or you

    or Bob

    Or the J for J down the road (chv”sh).

    Really now, if we’re not seeking here to clarify a little of the genuine or Emes or non-shtick behind the MITZVAH of Kiruv, then what ARE we doing?

  19. Mark said,
    “I’m also unsure of who, how and why we stamp the term “genuine” on Kiruv efforts.”

    Do these groups need multiple hechsherim (such as YY and Abe) ?

  20. I don’t think that’s moral relativism.

    I think that the fact that millions of Jews have not been exposed to Torah is a call to action, while others might label that statement hysteria. Who’s right?

    Many feel that the Discovery Seminar is an extremely valuable exposure to the evidence of the validity of Torah, while some call it shtick. Who’s right?

    I’m also unsure of who, how and why we stamp the term “genuine” on Kiruv efforts.

  21. P.S. Let’s not forget to add the “One man’s hysteria is another’s call to action;One man’s shtick is another’s Discovery Seminar” to the religio-secular list.

    Moral relativism has no place in genuine Kiruv.

  22. “There is nothing more secular than religious crusade”

    I’ll support you on that one, Abe. But man — if you want to speak emes, you got to include a few more religio-secularisms in that list. Like “now you’ve done it” bouts of anger; like YOU-ing the other into the dust!

    Your shoulders may be big, but the chips on them appear gargantuous.

    At the same time, Mark, please try to hear yourself: “thank G-d hundreds of Kiruv professionals around the world are not taking your advice”.

    Why can’t we hear the Sitra Achra in all this?? This is brother against brother poison. Aharon HaKohen, who started Kiruv, said: Ohev es HaBrios u’mkarvam l’Torah.

    The Ahava, for EVERONE, at the least fellow shomrei Torah, must be there first before any kiruv can truly begin.

  23. Yes, we should market Torah. And we should start within our own communities. Unfortunately many of today’s children feel that Torah is a restriction and look upon their teachers & parents as policemen who are enforcing rules. We need to learn how to be salesmen instead, afterall we have the most beautiful product of all. All we need is good marketing skills in order to impart upon our children the beauty of the Torah so that they should embrace religion willingly, with love.

  24. Abe,

    By what information are you assuming that Marc does not spend the time/energy to form long term relationships? How is anger and personal attacks helpful to bring more Jews to Torah? Is this one of the “examples by living” that you think are helpful?

    How is it that you care, and Marc only “claims” to care? How does that bring more Jews to Judaism?

    “Why is it vain and passive to assume that one person saying a beracha properly or doing chesed properly, or learning Torah properly is any less inspirational than the massive kiruv machine you envision?”

    I don’t think anyone would denigrate the power of one properly executed Bracha/Chessed/learning Seder; how is that mutually exclusive from purposeful and large-scale Kiruv efforts?

    “Kiruv is not going to make the world less secular; ACTING less secular will make the world less secular.”

    The goal is to share our knowledge of Judaism and Torah with others, not to make the world “less secular”. ACTING with kindness and respect is certainly one way to exemplify the Torah’s pleasant ways: I suggest beginning right here on the blog.

  25. I think that marketing Torah observance smacks of dumbing Torah dowm in a potentially oversimplistic manner. FWIW, I recommend R E Feldman’s “On Judaism” for an excellent question and answer guide ala RSRH The Nineteem Letters as an excellent primer on how to explain Judaism.

  26. The idea that one approach to this matter (e.g., Abe’s) can or should be our only choice is offensive to me.

  27. Abe, If you’re attacking my personal efforts, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I spend a lot of time building relationships including a Partners in Torah’s chavrusa for over 3 years as well as other chavrusa programs, reaching out to old friends and online efforts. I also put much effort into building relations and bringing more Torah education to observant people in my community.

    But I think, we as a people need more efforts in more areas beyond the building of long term relationships, which by definition take a long amount of time and much effort.

    In terms of getting the Torah message out to the many, thank G-d hundreds of Kiruv professionals around the world are not taking your advice and are working hard at getting the message out.

    I think we should join them however and whenever possible.

  28. Mark, it takes a lot to make me angry, but now you’ve done it. The reason why “opportunities for long-term relationships are very limited” is because you personally can’t or won’t spend the time and energy it takes to form these relationships, to involve yourself in the life of even one of the “millions” of people you claim to care about. (And I am tired of these exaggerations about “million” of Jews being “bombarded.”)

    Why is it vain and passive to assume that one person saying a beracha properly or doing chesed properly, or learning Torah properly is any less inspirational than the massive kiruv machine you envision? Kiruv is not going to make the world less secular; ACTING less secular will make the world less secular.

    You want to reach out to “millions” of poor, tired, hungry Jewish souls? YOU are the one acting in a secular fashion. Charity begins at home. You, who won’t or can’t try to form one healthy relationship with even one of the disconnected souls you purport to care for, would lead the Kiruv Party to crusade on behalf of God Himself? There is nothing more secular than religious crusade; YOU are the one “bombarding” the world with secular values; you are turning people AWAY from Torah with your kiruv machines, your celebrity endorsements of Torah, your campus-lecture series on what Torah says about sex, your distortion of Torah as relevant to a secular life, and your distortion of Halacha as compliant with your egotistical dreams of saving the drowning masses.

  29. One man’s hysteria is another’s call to action.

    One man’s shtick is another’s Discovery Seminar.

  30. “millions of non-observant Jews are bombarded with messages that Judaism is irrelevant or worse”

    No degree of hysteria is going to make the job get done better. Ezzie’s truth remains: “Shtick leads to more shtick.” There’s no justification for kiruv shtick. While Torah will survive our lack of marketting prowess, the sam HaMaves of shtick-Torah can do much damage.

    The big question is how to do quality kiruv. How to be extensions of Torah that seek kavod shomaym in making it more accessible to anshei kodesh.

    Life-long relationships is all our dream. But they can’t be forced. We must LEARN them. Sometimes that starts in a Discovery Seminar; sometimes a door-to-door info campaign about Shavuous… and sometimes it’s right here, in blog land as we strip away the leitzonus and power plays and strive to hear one another and grow in tandem.

  31. Abe,

    I totally hear you, and your clarion call for “let’s aim for the best” is very thought provoking.

    On the other hand, despite there being unfortunate situations of those entering and then leaving Torah observance due to lack of long term mentorship and other challenges, there are countless others who have been introduced to Judaism and Torah via “marketing” efforts of people who care about others, and these, who have remained true to Torah, have built beautiful families and communities that will affect generations to come.

    Can Kiruv in less than ideal situations be called “ra?” I don’t think so at all. Are you a BT? Has your intitial “Torah contacts” remained with you throughout life; has your freindship remained just as strong through the test of time? If not, aren’t you still a strong link in Judaism? Did not Judaism become meaningful and compelling to you on its own merits, without being dependent on that one initial relationship, and did you not seek and develop new friendships as you traveled through life? If you are one of the most fortunate who has become and remained observant through a life-long relationship, that is beautiful. But to say that is the only way, and all else is “ra”? I’d have to disagree.

  32. I agree with Bob that the opportunities for long-term relationships are very limited.

    In the meantime millions of non-observant Jews are bombarded with messages that Judaism is irrelevant or worse. Are we to sit here passively, vainly hoping that our holy actions will inspire others to investigate Torah?

  33. Bob admits that long-term relationships are the ideal

    So then let’s figure out how to have healthy relationships; otherwise it’s not only the “merits” that will become known. A “cone of silence” is at least sur me ra. Hypocrisy in our actions — and our own failure to even try to live up to our ideals — will undo all the marketing k’heref ayin. There is no “need to get the right message out” without first making sure we fulfill the “need to avoid sending the wrong message.”

  34. This visceral reaction to the word “marketing” has more to do with the rampant abuse of marketing out there than it does with our need to get the right message out. While long-term relationships are the ideal, the opportunities for these are very limited. In the meantime, do we want a cone of silence over our activities or do we want the merits of Yiddishkeit to become known to all Jews?

  35. The leitzonus is in the suggestion that the Torah can or should be “marketed” in the sense of the word that most of us use “marketing” to mean. That’s all we need, a bunch of door-to-door salesmen and street preachers trying to sell Torah to the masses. Or suits sitting around a conference table, or at a Discovery seminar, essentially doing the same thing.

    What we need is what Mark started to say, that we need a deeper understanding of what marketing is. I was educated to understand that marketing is about relationships. Why doesn’t the kiruv world do that — form life-long relationships with all types of Jews instead of selling a product and moving on?

  36. “Shtick leads to more shtick.”

    Couldn’t think of a pithier answer.

    N.T. & Reform ARE comparable. It’s stepping out onto the same slippery slope. You might be higher up on the slope, but the slip factor is the same and in some cases, maybe even worse. Once Torah is percieived as needing to accomodate our “consumer rights”, and davka has a hechsher, the momentum of yerida can turn into an avalanche.

    How did Rav Y. salanter put it: When the horse and buggy are on their way down the mountain, it’s much more dangerous then after it hits bottom!

    “Ana Nafshi Kasiva Yahavis”, the Gemora comments on the the first word at Sinai: A.No.Kh.Y. (Anochee). It means that the very Nefesh of H’ is in there, kivyochal. It’s truly Divine. It mustn’t be compromised.

    Our job is to come UP to it. Towards that end, the Torah (and those loyal to it) comes towards us.

    Communicating values — to help us grow into Torah, yes. Marketting — to make Torah more acceptable to us, no.

  37. The question the non-observant are asking is “Why should I care about Torah or Judaism, it’s not really relevant to me?”

    We need to provide these people some good answers to that question.

    The New Testament or Reform is in no way comparable! We’re not talking about changing Torah, just communicating the value of Torah to people who don’t understand it.

  38. What Steve agreed with.

    Again, how did most of the people here become frum? My parents’ generation (including my mother) and even some in my own (my brother-in-law, from Atlanta actually) became frum by seeing others live a good, frum lifestyle, and they pass that on.

    Shtick leads to more shtick.

  39. I tend to agree with Pesach’s and Tzirelchana’s comments. OTOH, see R Ilan Feldman’s comments on Cross Currents re how Torah was marketed in Atlanta recently.

  40. To echo tzirelchana, if it doesn’t sell itself then it’s not the real thing. Those helige movements were “highlighting”, you say, Mark? Well, that’s a far cry from marketting. No matter how deep you think you understand the term, marketting is an ephemeral game. It necessarily cheapens the spiritual.

    Comeon now. FFB is right in showing how close this comes to New Test. thinking. Leave it for the Reform, Mark.Torah doesn’t need you or anyone to make it’s case. But it needs all of us to find better ways to come UP to it.

  41. Pesach’s point is apt. Any claim (explicit or not) that is exaggerated or untrue is both wrong and self-defeating.

  42. If it is to be done, it must be done with yashrus and emes. Some of the ads I have seen seem to play up the idea that becoming frum will lead to having a beautiful family and perfect life.

  43. In previous generations Chassidism, Mussar and even the learning style of Havanah (deep understanding) were in some measure fueled by the need to highlight certain aspects of Torah to certain segments of the Jewish population.

    Many non observant people today unfortunately find Torah irrelevant to their lives. Perhaps we need to highlight certain aspects of Torah to help people find the relevance of it to their lives.

    For some with a deeper understanding of the term, marketing describes this process, for others who are less involved, perhaps marketing is a dirty word.

    Whatever term is used, highlighting and explaining the truth, utility and relevance of Torah to those who don’t appreciate it, is an important task.

  44. I say yes to marketing. How about a new name for starters, something fresh and exciting … maybe the “New Torah”? And let’s do away with all these depressing punishments and restrictive obligations. Psst, hey buddy, heard about the New Torah? Spread the Word, brother.

  45. Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, one of kiruv’s founding fathers always said that the Torah is so good that it sells itself.

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