Which Path – Teach, Experience, Convince?

There seems to be three major paths of reaching out to our non-Observant co-religionists

a) Teach Torah
b) Give inspiring and fun Jewish experiences
c) Convince about the beauty, truth and utility of observance

Which was path(s) that brought you closer?

Which paths are effective for what types of people?

13 comments on “Which Path – Teach, Experience, Convince?

  1. I think it depends on the age a person is when they are exposed to frumkeit. I became at BT in college (late teens). For me & others like me, the path that drew me (us) closer was definitely B, C then A. Inspire (B), get them interested (C), then go deeper (A).

  2. One key moment for me was at Young Israel of North Bellmore (LI). To check them out, I walked there 1.8 miles one cold Shabbos morning in 1978 and was greeted warmly by the “strangers” there as if I was an old friend. They were real, with no suburban pretense or shtick whatsoever, so my wife and I joined.

  3. Depends entirely on the person. I would never have been reached by “the beauty of Shabbos” alone. Even when I went on what I now understood was my “kiruv trip” (the 1985 Jerusalem Fellowships) I remember — this is the first time I have ever really thought about this — what while I was certainly “impressed” with Shabbos at the homes of the various people who hosted us, I am quite sure the experiences themselves did not move me.

    I guess I really am a kalteh litvak [a “cold Lithuanian”] because I not only failed to be moved by these experiences but can’t stop thinking that it is manipulative to use emotional “tools” to “get” someone in this way.

    But while there certainly is a source for being suspicious of putting emotions in the driver’s seat, I realize my reaction here is extreme (and probably a more personal reaction to my own mooshy-gooshy insides). Emotions are present everywhere and in everything we do and experience and in many of the choices we make, and to the extent that so many people are indeed resistant to Yiddishkeit for reasons that have significant emotional components… we should let the kugel have its say!

  4. A netilat yadayim (hand washing) cup, as mentioned by Mr. Cohen in # 8 is a great gift idea. Very often, it will not be found even in more “traditional” homes. After the lesson, the people may very well keep using it, and it will be something that you can join them in using on your next visit!

    It doesn’t get consumed like food or wine, nor will there be a question of kashrut on your return visit, as in the case of a dish or utensil.

  5. I am pleased that Mr. Cohen #8 was able to corroborate my argument that gifts of tashmishei kedushah (even inexpensive items), if given with thought and caring, can assist in opening up a fellow Jew to discussions about Jewish observance.

  6. I once gave a Jewish woman in her 20s a free netilat yadayim lesson. At the end of the lesson, I gave her a plastic netilat yadayim cup that cost me $2 or less. Weeks later, I received a letter from her saying that she is using the cup every day.

  7. Invite people for Shabbos. And if they can’t return home motzei Shabbos because of, let’s say, a storm, then have a kumzits with (at least) dim lights, and if they can’t leave Sunday, let’s say because it’s a big storm, then learn something with them. But this is rare…it doesn’t always work out this way, does it?

  8. How about d) reaching out on a personal level, with gifts of books and tashmishei kedushah.

    I once gave a nonreligious co-worker a Seder plate (I admit it was only a cheap one) and she was thrilled.

    In today’s selfish society, nobody gives anybody anything for free, so the gift of a book or a Seder plate or a pound of shemurah matzos or a tin menorah with a box of candles for Chanukah, with no strings attached, can sometimes be helpful in getting nonreligious Jewish acquaintances to open up and talk about Judaism.

    Of course, you cannot give away a valuable pair of tefillin for free; one Kiruv worker tried to do that and was horrified to see the tefillin tossed into the garbage when the individual grew tired of his new “toy.”

    It is interesting that there are very few of the oldtime haters of frumkeit around, the ones who used to deliberately eat pork on Yom Kippur. Most nonreligious Jews, when they start talking about Judaism, do so almost with a twinge of regret: “I never went to Hebrew School because my family couldn’t afford it” or “My grandmother changed dishes for Passover but my mother found it too difficult,” etc.

    It is just like the posuk in Tehillim: there is a hunger and a thirst in the land, not for bread and water, but for the Word of G-d.

  9. There is another way to help our fellow Jews return to the path of Torah: prayer.

    If you doubt that this is true, then consider that we recite hashiveinu with every weekday Shemoneh Esrei.

  10. Path “A”/”B” worked for me, since I am very much both a product of the mid 1980’s NCSY movement, coupled with my on exploration and learning.

    I think there are multiple paths (see this old post of mine: https://beyondbt.com/2007/04/30/kiruv-models/ )

    Rabbi Efraim Buchwald (founder of the National Jewish Outreach Program) is often quoted say, “For the price of an Empire chicken you can make someone frum.”
    This refers to opening your home and inviting someone of a Shabbos meal.

    On the other hand, both Rav Simcha Wasserman and Rav Joseph B Soloveitch (the Rav) have been quoted saying that it’s vital to teach and tell over the stories in Genesis that describe the actions and ethics of the Avos and Imos, since many lessons can be learned from them.

    Most would agree that “Discovery” and “Gateways” type programs work only for some, while others are “plugged in” by a good “Carlebach story”.

    There is not full-proof path. If one become observant it is through the yad of Hashem. I know this sounds sort of “hippy-trippy”, but it’s true. Those who are zoche to bring others closer are simply kei’lim (vessels) that Hashem is using, and that’s ok.

  11. Mark-I would suggest that the Torah itself prescribes inspiring experiences followed up by concretizing the same via education. That is one of the reasons that all of the miraculous events of Yetzias Mitzrayim required the institution of some form of Talmud Torah, and then Kabalas HaTorah. It should be noted that the Torah itself includes many Mitzvos of a positive time bound and negative nature that are designed to concretize the experiential elements of Yetzias Mitzrayim, and reminding ourselves of the purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim on a daily basis. I would maintain that once a person has a positive reaction to the experiential and learning aspects of Torah, the need for convincing that person falls off considerably.

  12. I’m a proponent of the learning/teaching Torah approach, however I recognize that learning with someone is not in the mindset of most non-observant Jews. This is probably why the fun Jewish experience approach is by far the most prevalent.

    I think convincing often comes into play when a non-observant Jew makes Orthodoxy equivalent to Conservative or Reform. It’s hard for us to accept that equation so we go into “convince” mode.

  13. WADR, I would suggest that successful kiruv begins with inspiring Jewish experiences such as a Shabbos or YT meal,proceeds to teaching and learning Torah and that arguments about the “beauty, truth and utility of observance” will be realized by a BT without the need for selling the same in the same fashion as one influences a person to buy clothes, a car or a any other consumer oriented item. Such arguments IMO water down the self evident nature of the beauty, truth and utility of observance.

Comments are closed.