Originally Posted on Orthonomics.
My husband brought home some reading material for me on Shavout. One of the pamphlets available at our shul was from a well known Kiruv group. The first column was regarding setting priorities. The scenario set up is as follows: A man’s tefillin are stolen and he decides to replace his tefillin with a $900 pair. Later that week he receives a call from an outreach yeshiva asking him to sponsor a pair of tefillin for a newly observant Jew through a subsidized program at the cost of $250. The man asked to sponsor the tefillin does not have extra ma’asser funds and if he were to sponsor the tefillin at $250 it would come at the expense of his own purchase.
I’m not interested in reprinting the methodology used to reach the conclusion that perhaps the man would indeed have a responsibility, or privilege, to underwrite his fellow’s first pair of tefillin even at the expense of his own higher level of performance.
The choice that was not given or discussed, is the choice that I think would be the best choice: enabling a newly observant man of limited means to purchase his own (discounted) tefillin.
I don’t believe I’ve ever dedicated a post to kiruv, but I do know that there is both kiruv and a kiruv industry. I’m not sure if it is a recent trend in kiruv to offer so much up “free of charge” or if it is a more recent development (when I was in college, the community kollel charged a small price for the lunch part of the lunch ‘n’ learns, today I am aware that there are incentives offered to students who attend courses), but I’m not sure that it is a particularly productive trend.
Now certainly I would expect a strapped student or even a strapped young professional who is just starting out to have the funds available for a pair of tefillin, especially where becoming more observant comes with some other costs. As such, it is obviously necessary that he have tefillin to don in the meantime. However, from a psychological standpoint, there is something extremely healthy about “buying in”. Chazal recognized this discussing na’am dekisufa [bread of shame] in which it is assumed that a free handout is enjoyed less than what is earned by one’s own labors. I’ve read more than one biography/autobiography of a competitive athlete who believes that taking ownership of his/her career (i.e. footing the bill) has been a great motivation and very transformative. In other words, there is a psychological difference between how something “tastes” when it was handed to you, gifted to you, or purchased by you through the “sweat of your brow.”
While I do believe that the reason a wedding band needs to be owned by the chatan is a legal issue, as opposed to a psychological issue, I think there is great value in a man giving something of value that he worked for and saved up for to his bride. Tefillin is symbolic of a marriage and I think there would be great value to the wearer of the tefillin to pay for his tefillin, perhaps through some sort of work-study or even a loan (yes, I did use the word loan although that wouldn’t be my personal preference).
To sum up this post, I do believe that all things worth striving for, religion especially, requires “buy in”. I have heard it argued that one cannot ask [American students] targeted for kiruv (for lack of a better term) to help share in the any of the costs of dinners or events, and that sometimes you have to attract them with other incentives. And perhaps that is true if you are looking to attract large quantities of students. But, I think that when the line has been crossed from experimentation to growing commitment, helping to facilitate “buy in” would be the best choice of all.
When given two options, I’ve been known to choose the 3rd option.