Strengthening the Spiritual Side – A Place Between Latitudinarianism and Orthodox or Bust

Professor Jack Wertheimer recently penned a good article in Commentary Magazine called The Outreach Revolution. Although he clearly read the Klal Perspective’s issue on the subject, he adds much worthy information to the discussion and his extremely positive assessment of the Kiruv enterprise was a refreshing change from KPs gloomier editorial assessment.

By fully including Chabad in the Outreach Revolution, Wertheimer states that 5,000-7,000 Kiruv workers in the US, lead an estimated 2,000 Jews to Orthodoxy each year, which comes to about 1 Orthodox person for every 3 kiruv workers. He also makes the point that Chabad and many other Kiruv professionals don’t consider Orthodoxy the goal of Kiruv, and by assuming that each Kiruv worker reaches about 100 people a year, outreach touches 500,000-700,000 Jews a year, an impressive figure.

The article ably documents the strengths and weaknesses of different outreach efforts and its effects on Conservative and Reform Jews. What stood out to me were the two types of outreach that he outlined: the over ambitious leading people to Orthodoxy, and what he termed latitudinarianism, reaching out regardless of outcomes.

Perhaps there’s a middle path to be defined here, helping Jews strengthen their spiritual sides, a step at a time. Taking small steps away from the materialism that is the default in the US, towards a G-d centered spirituality through the learning of Torah and performance of mitzvah. The focus is on the here and now and the appropriate steps for each individual with no “becoming Orthodox” agenda looming large.

The main problem is exciting donors with these modest goals. However, I think that with healthier goals, we might get many more people involved, because we overcome the “fear of becoming frum” deterrent that keeps people away.

4 comments on “Strengthening the Spiritual Side – A Place Between Latitudinarianism and Orthodox or Bust

  1. Mark, I agree and sign me up! Rav Yisrael Salanter (in his collected letters OHR YISRAEL) suggested that all growth should be done in small steps, because when we take upon too much too quickly it become overwhelming.

    I think what you are proposing has been the mantra for the of the previous generation of Kiruv Gedolim. This generation of Kiruv pros are, like the majority of those in other fields, result focused. They are looking at that end result of the one m’kareved becoming a member of shul and a tuition paying parent.

    Since the next AJOP conference is in 2014, we are left approaching this with a DIY attitude to address this.

  2. I think that the Wertheimer article was excellent and crystallized what was in the Klal Perspectives-like it or not, we make a huge mistake in viewing kiruv as some sort of magic bullet driven by the corporate goals of donors as opposed to realizing that different people are attracted to different aspects of Torah observance and that the entire process is a step by step process rather than jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool without knowing how to swim or a life preserver.

  3. Thanks Neil. The revamp was long overdue.

    >> Most donors are more interested in numbers of program participants that commit to formalized learning or Orthodox shul/institution affiliation.

    But even committing to formalized learn or Orthodox shuls/institutions is too much for many people. The model that I’m proposing won’t even set that as a goal.

    The outcome I’m proposing is that the person wants to take small spiritual growth steps that are appropriate and achievable for them.

    It’s interesting because small spiritual grown steps have always been the prescription for spiritual growth for BTs and FFBs alike.

  4. Firstly, I love the revamped layout of the website. Even on my phone it looks great.

    I think the key issue, as posted, is an adgenda of not “becoming Orthodox.” This is a major attraction for anyone who isn’t within the “Orthodox” camp, because you can still feel that you are growing without your lifestyle be cramped. As Prof. Wertheimer writes, this is a major reason that Chabad is successful. It is also why organizations like THE MUSSAR INSTITUTE and programs like DISCOVERY attract people. The lifestyle restrictions are minimal (at the onset).

    Most donors are more interested in numbers of program participants that commit to formalized learning or Orthodox shul/institution affiliation. Especially with the success of Birthright and campus kiruv programs, concerns about inter-marriage.

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