How Would You Make Good Kiruv Even Better?

We (David & Mark) will be speaking at this year’s AJOP Conference sharing what we’ve learned from and through the Beyond BT community over the past six years.

Our sense is that most BTs are very thankful to the people who have taught them and helped in their Teshuva process, but there’s always room for improvement.

If you could offer one or two pieces of good advice to outreach professionals, what would it be?

24 comments on “How Would You Make Good Kiruv Even Better?

  1. Keeping in touch, and remembering that Teshuvah and Kiruv are step by step, mitzvah by mitzvah changes, which require empathy and enabling a BT to grow on his and her own as a full fledged member of the community are IMO critically important considerations that need to be underscored.

  2. I would also stress that we should be givers, not takers.

    For many non-religious Jews, their only contact with religious Jews is the charity collector who comes around with his hand out, or the Orthodox Jewish organization that sends letters requesting money every Hanukkah. If in their eyes all we want to do is to take, take, take, then our messages will have zero credibility (i.e., we are just out to get their bucks).

    However, if we give something, especially when people need it, such as comfort when a close relative dies, or a Seder plate before Passover, or a large-type prayer book before Rosh Hashanah, then we can make a genuine connection that can lead to real dialogue. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it has to be without strings attached. Just enough to make it clear our intentions are to give and not to take.

  3. I would also advise Kiruv professionals to stay far away from the whole Religion versus Science debate (and from its cousin, the Evolution versus Intelligent Design versus Book of Genesis debate). Not to avoid it or duck the issue, but to simply mention that (a) there are respected scientists who also happen to be Orthodox Jews, for example Herman Branover (who was mentioned as a possible nominee for the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in magnetohydrodynamics); (b) Orthodox Jewish scientists feel a sense of wonder about the workings of the universe, which only increases, not lessens, as their knowledge increases; (c) it would be best to discuss concerns about Judaism and Science with an Orthodox Jewish scientist (get the name of a local frum Ph.D. from the AOJS, Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists).

  4. Kiruv should stop trying to prove either the existence of G-d or the divine nature of Torah.

    There are good ideas on either side regarding whether G-d (as we understand the term) exists.

    Regarding Torah, there are lots of ideas in academia that would severely undermine the idea of Torah from G-d.

    Any halfway curious Jew – while investigating Judaism – is bound to run across some of this academic perspective on Torah, Jewish history, and the concept of religion in general.

    Judaism has to attack the apathy on another level entirely. I personally believe there is real wisdom in attaching oneself to normative religious behaviors and rituals.

    But I would never press the idea that proofs exist for G-d or Torah from G-d.

    It is the weakest sort of kiruv in the end.

    One other note is that the Lubavitcher Rebbe dismissed Torah Codes completely and out of hand.

    This is not to say that Chabad objectively has the best kiruv though – just to say that Chabad does not present proofs to interested Jews. Its form of kiruv has had success nonetheless.


  5. Re: # 18
    I will also echo Mordechai’s comment. The number one thing to remember (and I was one of those “kiruv professionals”) is who is NUMBER ONE. Those who are ultimately successful in kiruv are those who know they are a klei (vessel) of Hashem. There are many who will say things like, “I made so-and-so frum” and a statement like that not only detracts from kavod ha’brios but also is very egocentric.

    In the past mp3 of the presentations have been available for purchase at the AJOP website.

  6. Be a role model. Watch what you do and say. Be a sincere, ehrlich person. No shtick. Be real. And have genuine simchas hachaim.

    You know, I’m trying to think how many people I’ve met who really fit all of these. Maybe a handful. Because they stand out and make an impression.

  7. Micha’s comment, #2, is right on target. You guys might even want to distribute these aggregate responses as a handout.

    You’re right in my case: I am forever grateful to those who taught me and encouraged me. But none of them were ‘kiruv professionals’. Not all were rabbanim. They were all sincere Jews who had something to offer, and did so.

    I’ll add: don’t see your job as kiruv. See it as teaching Torah and sharing Hashem’s love.

    Always make your students aware that there is a very broad world of ‘Orthodox Judaism’. Know for yourself that they don’t have to choose a path identical to yours in order to be on a good path of Torah. Your job is to help the student find his/her path; not yours. Make sure you both know that.

    Never be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’. Practice it in the mirror. It is often the truth, and should be stated up-front.

    Kiruv should not be a profession. It gives the practioner delusions, and reduces the recipients to being targets. Approach another Jew and offer to share Torah with them simply because that is a good thing to do. Because both of you have no idea how and how much you will grow from that shared endeavor.

    Sorry I won’t be able to see and hear you guys! The convention is in my home town, but my visit to my mother is scheduled to be later in the month (and closer to my father’s yahrzeit). Hashem should bless your contribution to the convention, and I hope you have a good time while you’re at it!

  8. It is also important not to make a pronouncement and then tell the BT in effect, “It’s your problem now.” Yes, of course, the halacha is the halacha, but sometimes a bewildered BT genuinely needs help in figuring out how to do what s/he was told.

  9. Make kiruv better by providing baalei teshuvah with:
    invitations for Shabbat meals, dating help, employment help, Torah study partners, bikur cholim and anything else they need to be successful and happy.

  10. I think doing Kiruv is a lot tougher now than it was back in the hippie-dippie 60s and 70s. Back then, people were striving to find spirituality, whether it was joining an ashram run by some guru, or whether it was through mind-altering substances. Forty years ago was a lot closer to the Holocaust. Young people who were first generation children of survivors were grappling with questions like,”Where was G-d?” The Six-Day War, the massacre at the Munich Olympics, the Yom Kippur War and the struggle for Soviet Jewry also helped to shape Jewish consciousness between 1967 and 1977. Nowadays it’s far more difficult to get irreligious Jews to feel anything about Judaism.

    If you can get past that very big first step – overcoming apathy – maybe there is a chance that the message can get through. But most of the time that wall of solid disinterest looks as enormous as Everest.

  11. When people decide to do kiruv as a profession, they already have set themsevles up for failure. Kiruv is not a career. It is a life long obligation for all Jews, whether by opening up their homes to Jews of all stripes or just smiling and being kind to Jews who are not yet observant.

    So, I feel the most important advice for people who are into doing kiruv, is to have an open heart and to never see Jews who are not yet observant with the attitude of “Oy, nebach, he is so far from Yiddishkeit”. Because they are not.

    Rather, the focus should not be on making them frum but exposing them to the beauty of yiddishkeit by encouraing them (in a non-judgemental way) to do mitzvos.

  12. Likewise, I’d say there are some elements in Meah Shearim that would logically fall outside a typical kiruv person’s Orthodox spectrum.

  13. My “Ploni Almoni” constantly reminded me for years after how he made me frum. I threatened to eat a cheeseberger if he didn’t stop.

  14. @Bob Miller
    “Anonymous, why do you include YCT in the spectrum?”

    The question of whom to include as being “in the [Orthodox] spectrum” does not have a single agreed-upon answer. As far as I know, there is considerable disagreement about YCT in that regard within the Orthodox world. There are people to the right of YCT, who disagree with YCT on many issues, and yet who still consider it to be in the spectrum of Orthodoxy.

    I understand that some people,including those in kiruv will differ on who is in the spectrum. They should treat the issue as yet another question that Orthodox people disagree upon, and acknowledge the existence of disagreements where they exist.

    I think it would be OK for a kiruv person to set their own spectrum limits more narrowly as long as they disclose what they’re doing by saying something like “There are some other rabbis and institutions that identify as Orthodox, and the Orthodox community does not agree on whether they really are or not. When I explain to you the range of ‘Orthodox’ halachic opinions, I will completely exclude the opinions of self-described Orthodox rabbis/institutions who I believe are not truly Orthodox.” I also think it’s fine to categorize extreme outlier opinions as such.

    My underlying point is to avoid BT’s feeling deceived and manipulated after being taught, without any reservation or qualification, that something was definitely required or forbidden and then discovering that a contrary arguably-Orthodox perspective exists.

  15. I will always be grateful to “Ploni Almoni” who “showed me the light” and put me on the path toward frumkeit. I sincerely hope that in the Divine Accounting “Mr. Almoni” gets eternal credit for all of the mitzvos which my children and grandchildren perform “ad olam,” none of which would have happened without his hishtadlus.

    However, please do not think me ungrateful in voicing that “Ploni Almoni” caused me many tears long ago, in his inability to comprehend why I couldn’t or wouldn’t make Aliyah. The letters I wrote to him, trying to make him understand….”Mr. Almoni” who due to his much sought-after expertise was the recipient of free pilot trips to Israel from potential employers, just couldn’t fathom that maybe I wasn’t going to get any free trips, much less any job offers, in Eretz HaKodesh.

    The biggest irony is that “Ploni Almoni” who simply could not understand why I would not or could not make Aliyah, ended up (for very personal reasons that I will not discuss here) staying in America.

    Of course, the painful hurt could be expressed as follows: “Why is it that your reason for not making Aliyah is valid, whereas mine is not?”

    Once again, please do not think I am ungrateful to my first and most important mentor on the road of returning to authentic Judaism. I just wish that he had been a little bit less harsh and a lot more understanding on this one issue.

  16. Don’t go into Kiruv unless you have a solid commitment, backed up by a 19/6/302 telephone number, from a caring, sensible Orthodox Rav to be the “halachic authority” for anyone you mekarev. Make sure in advance that this Rav shares your hashkafic outlook, to avoid possible future conflicts that will only confuse a BT (especially on common questions that regularly pop up).

    Don’t go into Kiruv for women unless you can answer some very tough questions about the roles of women in Judaism, tznius, mechitza, contraception, mikveh and agunos. Modern women tend to equate sheitels with burqas and it is vitally important to show them how Orthodox Judaism respects and dignifies women.

  17. 1. do not go into kiruv unless you truly love other yidden because you can cause a lot of damage and make a chillul Hashem

    2. be utterly and completely honest

  18. When talking to someone, put away your blackberries and iphones and any other gadgets that might make a noise. You are NOT on call when speaking to someone. Give that person your exclusive, absolutely UNDIVIDED attention, and always make eye contact.

    And when leaving that person, tell him that you are happy to have met him and that you would talk again. Leave with a smile.

    If you can’t do any of these things, then kiruv is NOT for you. And don’t nod your heads and say, yeah, this is all obvious. Do it!

  19. Be honest with the BT about the range of Orthodox halachic opinions on a given issue and do not present one way of doing things as “the way” unless it is something that is truly accepted as straight halacha across the board, from YCT to Meah Shearim.

    Be honest about distinguishing between chumra, minhag and halacha.

    If the BT is a woman, and you decide to set her up with another woman to study, make sure the latter actually has some idea of the above distinctions and is not going to be presenting her own family’s combination of psakim+minhagim+chumrot as “the” halacha. Such conflation seems to be more of a problem among frum women.

    Don’t be snarky about other streams of Judaism, including non-Orthodox ones. You can and should explain why certain positions and/or people are wrong, but do so in a respectful tone and manner. Flippant remarks, smirking, and sarcasm can be big turnoffs to an idealistic BT who is looking to you as the prime example of a “religious” person. And even if the BT isn’t turned off, he may pick up the same tendency, making him likely to unnecessarily alienate non-BT friends and family from both himself and Orthodoxy.

  20. Get to know the people you counsel.

    If you find you can’t relate well to an individual, try to interest a potentially more compatible colleague in that person.

    Don’t engage in petty turf wars with other people and groups in kiruv.

  21. 1- Chanokh lenaar al pi darko (educate the youth according to his own way -Mishlei) doesn’t only apply to literal ne’arim.

    Just because a certain approach to a topic works for and enthuses you, doesn’t mean the same is true for your students. Your mission is to bring him close to Torah, not necessarily your approach to Torah.

    2- Your job is to teach, not to market.

    BH many kiruv workers already do both.

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