Kiruv for the Already Frum

Too often, after a BT has joined the ranks of the observant, he/she is left to work out major life challenges without an adequate support system. FFBs forget that a BT doesn’t come from a family background with frum values, and may need a surrogate family (maybe just one family, but more often in the form of a supportive community structure) for guidance and Chizuk.

Particular attention should be paid to those BTs who are, or may feel, marginalized: singles (especially older singles, and especially those with children); those who become BTs in mid-life or beyond; those who are married but whose spouses aren’t making the Teshuva journey with them. Older singles are particularly at risk for not finding the support they need and, as a result, giving up observance. That happened to me, and I still remember the pain. Thank G-d that after I remarried outside the frum community, we ended up in the orbit of the wonderful community where we are today, but not everyone is so fortunate.

Answering Questions

By Elyah Leboff

As a religious Jew, it is almost inevitable that you will be asked questions about Judaism. There is a tendency to overreact to such encounters, viewing them either as a great outreach opportunity, or as a holy war. Due to this, questions are either completely misinterpreted, or fired at with a machine gun when a water pistol would suffice. What could have been a pleasant encounter often turns into an ugly debate. In this post, I hope to point out some of the most serious errors to watch out for when answering questions

1. It’s okay if people disagree with you. It is a sign of maturity and self-confidence to accept this. Furthermore, it is unrealistic to expect that you can force other people to think exactly the way you do.

2. Distinguish between a question and a statement. Recognize that you are not always being invited to share your opinion. For example, if someone says, “I think Judaism is out-dated,” the most appropriate response would be, “Oh.” Starting to debate would only make you appear hostile and intolerant.

3. Short and sweet. Even when someone asks a question, keep in mind that they might not necessarily have the patience for the most elaborate answer that you are able to present. Start with a simple “yes,” or “no,” you’ll be surprised how often you won’t need more than this!

4. Clarify the question. Asking, “What do you mean?” or, “What do you think?” can be very helpful for doing this. Until you understand the question in very specific and concrete terms, it is practically impossible to give a satisfactory answer.

5. Make sure your answer is appropriate for the questioner. Sometimes a person may be sincere about his question, yet his dedication to Judaism may not be strong enough yet to handle certain information. For example, someone who is not yet capable of being Shabbos observant, yet is asking to learn the laws of Shabbos. Under such circumstances it may be best to politely delay giving a response. The answers, otherwise, are likely to do more harm than good.

6. “I don’t know.” Is okay to admit. The humility to admit your limitations, expressing confidence that an answer does exist, and perhaps an invitation to read something or meet someone who does know, will probably make a favorable impression. On the other hand, fumbling your way though a half-baked answer is not very likely to impress anyone.

7. Dealing with family requires a serious examination of your relationship. If communication has generally been difficult, and support has generally been lacking, wielding the “absolute truth,” is not going to suddenly be a magic spell to win anyone over to your point of view.

8. Answer a person’s other needs. When you take the initiative to provide a person with food, honor, respect, sympathy, and empathy, this is likely to have a much greater impact than answering their occasional philosophical doubts.

Live at the Aish Conference

I’m here at the Aish Conference in Stamford. It’s a tremendous inspiration to be with hundreds of inspired Baalei Teshuva. The conference theme is “YOU CAN make a difference”.

We got here late last night, so we missed the opening session. Rabbi Yitz Greenman lead a discussion on The Greatest Problems Facing the Jewish People. At the end of the session, Rabbi Greenman reduced the 20 problems raised by the participants to primarily 2 – lack of proper Jewish Education and lack of enough leaders. Steve Mantz was at the talk and he gave a nice plug for Beyond BT and the discussion we had on the subject.

Lori Palatnik gave an amazing talk on “Why I Donated a Kidney to Someone I Didn’t Know”. She is an amazing speaker and she showed the tremendous power of giving, on others and ourselves.

Rabbi Eric Coopersmith is talking about steps of learning, listen carefully (plowing), understand the support of what is being said (seeding), make a judgment whether the teaching is true (harvest) and understanding the implication of what was learned (eating).

Some Thoughts On Kiruv By Non-Kiruv Professionals

I was recently asked how likely it is that a non-Kiruv professional will help a non-observant person become observant?. Well, after a Shabbos afternoon (3 hours) of watching my 6 yr old daughter and her friend at the park, I have a few thoughts.

My view is that helping a ‘person become more observant’ doesn’t always mean that the person will become frum. I know that this is a very unpopular view, but with intermarriage out of control, and plenty of bad press in the news about Torah observant Jews, any positive connection or view of our Torah lifestyle is a major ‘win’. I know that the pressure of being able to help someone shomer Torah u’Mitzvos, is in fact, the major reason that most non-kiruv ‘professionals’ don’t think that they can ‘do kiruv’. Perhaps that’s one of the goals of the current kiruv seminars (from Project Inspire) that were scheduled in the NYC area.

When I worked for 7 yrs for NCSY, there was always this inner-debate about quality vs quantity of NCSY advisors. One opinion was that only certain people had the ‘skills’ and ‘sechel’ to really be ‘good advisors’. The other view was that because different NCSYers had different types of personalities, we need a larger staff so that each NCSY had an opportunity to connect with someone they might make a kesher with.

As I look back today the advisors who were viewed as having kiruv ‘skills/sechel’ were sort of the ‘kiruv professionals’ and everyone else were the ‘non kiruv pros’. I think that each has their place.

Whenever I read or end up taking about kiruv I always think of a great story about the Chofetz Chaim and one of the early Aguath Israel meetings. It’s online here:

Many years ago I was privileged to hear the ‘Magid of Yerushalayim,’ Rav Shalom Shwadron Shlit’a. When he began to speak, he said over a Moshol of the Chofetz Chaim, which he had heard from Rav Teitelbaum zt’l, who heard it from the Chofetz Chaim.

The Chofetz Chaim was speaking at the K’naisia Gedolah – The Great Assembly (of Agudas Yisroel, where the Torah leaders of the generation gathered together to discuss the spiritual status of Klal Yisroel). The Chofetz Chaim spoke once in the morning, and then strangely enough, he requested to speak again later. Naturally, they let him speak. He pointed out that he spoke in the morning requiring everyone to spread Torah in different places, but that he was not happy with the reaction. The people were saying that of course the Chofetz Chaim is right, but who am I to go and spread Torah among others? I’m far from perfect; The Chofetz Chayim’s address was referring to those who have already have perfected themselves; they have a right and obligation to work on others. As chazal say (Baba Basra 60b) ‘First adorn (work on) yourself, then adorn others.’

The Chofetz Chaim continued, ‘I want to tell you a moshol – a parable about the feudal system. During that period the lords of the manor had the power of life and death in their hands. One of these lords came for a visit, and naturally they made a big reception for him. At the end they gave him a glass of tea, but since the water system wasn’t so clean, the tea was very muddy. When the lord tasted it he spat it out. They explained to him the problem of the water system, so he made a new law. From now on no water may be used unless it was sterilized and cooked first. Some time later the lord heard that this town burned down. When he came to see why they couldn’t put out the fire, they told him that they tried, but as the new law required, they had to cook the water first, and by that time the fire had burned down the town. The lord was furious, and he told them, ‘You fools, when you want to serve tea then you need to sterilize the water first, but when there is a fire burning, you are not choosy as to what kind of water to use; you use any kind of water.’

‘So too, when are you choosy about who should spread Torah? When there is no fire of ignorance burning, but currently there is a fire raging out there, this is not a time to be picky. Anybody who knows something, even if he is not perfect, should try to give it over to others.’
Rav Shalom said that even though he is not worthy to speak, he uses this moshol of the Chofetz Chaim as a license to speak. I too certainly have to rely on it to be able to speak.

This is the situation today (I should really post that story online). We are losing Jews left and right everything from inter-marriage to, sadly, very effective marketing by both the reform and conservative ‘movements’.

To return to the question, I think anytime a Torah observant person makes a Kiddush Hashem we are, at least, planting a seed in the mind and eyes of a non-observant person that our lifestyle isn’t so bad. Being honest in the workplace, a mensch on the subway or LIRR, sending Rosh HaShannah cards or calling your non-frum relatives (something that I really don’t do as much as I should), or being the token ‘Frum Jew’ in the office that people ask questions to brings others closer to the Emes of Torah. A network and community, like that described on the website, has that potential. As you know, there are many things that can light a spark (as Rabbi Shafran wrote) within another Jew. If a kiruv minded person (professional or non-pro) keeps their eyes open, opportunities do come up.

It would only make sense in an age where you don’t need a recording contract to put out a CD, a contract with a national newspaper or publishing house to get people to read what you write (I’m still floored that anyone even ends up reading anything I write), a degree in film making to get people to watch a short video you make, that a ‘grass-roots’ counter kiruv “professional” movement would, and should start up. Aish HaTorah and Chabad have always been at the forefront of outreach, especially as the world has gone digital. Aish seems willing to accept the power of the lay person, and rightfully so.

As most people write, being sincere and non-threatening (yet religiously anchored), is key. Knowing that we don’t have all the answers and being able to consult those more experienced in Kiruv than us is also key. Ultimately we have to realize that we are merely a k’lei, vessel, that Hashem is using to bring another Jew back and, as R Simcha Wasserman z’tl said (and I actually asked R Akiva Tatz about this a few months ago in Chicago), fullfill the mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah, returning a lost object to its’ owner. In the case of Kiruv, the lost object is a neshama that yearns to be reunited with its creator.

Essential Kiruv Ingredients – Learning from Those You Teach

By Dan Illouz

Once, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook sent two of his students to a kibbutz. The Kibbutz was having educational problems and wanted to bring people from all different parts of the Israeli Society in order to discover how to fix the problem, so they brought two religious people. As the night went on, the religious students started describing how they learn in yeshiva all day, go to sleep, then learn more. The people from the kibbutz became very interested. The yeshiva bachurim became the center of attention of the night.

Then, a young child raised her hand and asked a question to the Bachurim. She asked: “We have learned a lot from you. However, tell us, what did you learn from us?”

The Bachurim answered: “Well, why don’t you tell us what we should learn from you?” The whole kibbutz didn’t know what to answer and the bachurim went back to yeshiva happy with they night.

The next day, Rav Tzvi Yehudah asked how the night went. They answer: “Very well, everyone asked questions. We even showed them how valueless their lifestyle is since they didn’t know what to say when we asked what we can learn from them”.

Rav Tzvi Yehudah asked: “What? You didn’t have anything to learn from them? You couldn’t learn anything from their self-sacrifice in the army? From their love of nature? From their yearning for social justice? From their intellectual curiosity? You did not have anything to learn from them? So, how can you even start teaching them?”

If you want to teach to someone, you have to be able to learn from them. If not, what you will do is try to give him your whole personality – both your strengths and weaknesses- and through this, you will erase his strengths. By opening yourself to learning from his strengths, he can then also learn from your strengths, and both of you can make each other stronger.

Originally published here at

Authentic Kiruv – Part 1

By Dan Illouz
This article first appeared on

Thank God, in the last few decades, the Jewish World has experienced a movement of return (Teshuva) to it’s tradition. This movement has been lead by “Kiruv” movements. I want to explore, through very short thoughtful posts, what authentic Kiruv should be like according to Torah.

There are two types of Kiruv usually mentioned. The most common practiced today is known as “Kiruv Rehokim” – To bring those which are far way closer. However, there is a fundamental problem with such a practice. In order to practice “Kiruv Rehokim”, I need to believe that I hold the truth and the other is very far away, and I am bringing him closer to my truth. The belief that you hold the ultimate truth to which people must be returned is a clear sign of Gaavah (haughtiness).

From the Lubavitcher Rebbe:
“You say you are ‘bringing close those who are distant.’ What gives you the right to call them distant and pretend you are close?”

On top of that, secular Jews which are exposed to such kiruv movements refuse to be connected to them because they believe they are right in their ways of lives. This position often, unfortunately, translates into some people loving their fellow jews only to turn them religious – inviting them over for a shabbat meal only if they believe it will help connect them to Judaism. If at the end he didn’t become connected, inviting him was a bit of a waste of time. Unfortunately, some people, through this position, give no intrinsic value to loving their secular brothers in the way they are, without the need to change them.

On the other hand, there is a concept called “Kiruv Levavot” – Bringing the hearts closer together. Kiruv Levavot comes from an understanding that everyone holds a part of the truth. Yes, even secular Jews hold some part of the truth from which we can learn. Sometimes, this reality is easier to understand retroactively – 100 years ago, the secular world started speaking of communities, nations, universal love. Zionism, the movement which brought Jews back to their land after 2000 years of exile, stemmed from this perspective. At first, religious people thought that everything presented by the secular world had to be rejected. This can explain the initial violent rejection of Zionism by most of the religious world. However, Rav Kook explained that Zionism stemmed from deep and holy ideals which permeated Judaism. Zionism was the holy call of the Jewish nation to become a nation once again, to serve God on it’s land. Rav Kook explained that just as the secular had a lot to learn from the religous, so too, the religious had a lot to learn from the secular – a lot to learn about nation building, sacrificing their lives for klal israel, etc…

Through this perspective, each side realizes that we each hold a part of the truth, and by working together, mixing our perspectives, we will be able to get to the ultimate truth.

—— reflects the constant yearning of the Jewish People for the past 2000 years for the national renewal of the Jewish People, on their land, with the building of the temple in Jerusalem as a house of prayer for all nations.

Check out’s, “Question of the Week” – a question which will ask readers to answer through the commenting system on the blog. Every week, all of the answers found in the comments in a raffle from which will be drawn one name which will get a special, real prize!

Introducing People to the Blueprint

As Baalei Teshuva, we know the difference Torah has made in our lives. Torah has taught us that our outlook must include concern for our fellow Jews. What better way to help our fellow Jews than to bring them a little closer to Hashem and His Torah.


On Tuesday 5/27 at 8:00 pm, Rabbi Dovid Orlovsky will be speaking at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills on the topic – How to Answer Difficult Questions — for Kiruv AND Chizuk. Rabbi Orlovsky, a BT himself, is an extremely inspiring and entertaining speaker, so please come.


The Kiruv.Com site has another creative way to introduce your friends, neighbors and relatives to Torah. It revolves around the fantastic film, Blueprint which was released this year.

Go to the site and you’ll see the following instructions:

1. Using the link above, email “Blueprint” to as many unaffiliated people you know.
You can write: I saw this great short video and thought you’d enjoy it. Let me know what you think.

2. A couple of days later ask them if they saw it and if they liked it.

3. When they respond, ask them if they would like to learn something with you for just 10 minutes a week. It could be on any topic they would like or you could suggest a topic.

You can also explain that there is a custom for people to learn Torah together on Shavuos, any topic they want.


Let us know in the comments whether you intend on reaching out this Shavuos to introduce more people to the beauty of Torah.

Doing Kiruv on Campus

By Yaakov Weinstein

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a college student. This student had just enjoyed an inspiring summer of learning and was going back to college with a new vision for religious activities and events to facilitate his continuing growth in learning. To insure the soundness of his plans, he spoke to a number of Jewish, Orthodox, people supposedly knowledgeable about halachic Judaism on campus. He related to me that one rabbi told him: be sure to serve alcohol that’s the way to attract the non-religious kids.

Disregarding the major issue that serving alcohol to minors is illegal (and the disdainful tone that of course non-religious students would be attracted by alcohol), this led us to a discussion of kiruv on campus. Specifically, should religious kids be doing kiruv while at college? In the following paragraphs I will try to relate my opinion on this thorny (and ill-defined) subject. However, before relating my opinion I would like to note that every student is different. I believe that what I write below is appropriate for the typical student but that there may be students who could and should deviate from my prescription. Also, I ask everyone to read the entire post before commenting.

So, should college students be doing kiruv on campus? In short, my answer is NO! A students’ primary (spiritual) focus while at college should be his or her own religious well being. This is especially true in light of what we have discussed previously concerning the challenges facing students on campus (link). Thus, I would strongly discourage students from running activities geared solely to attract the non-religious student to halachic Judaism or Hillel, and I strongly disagree that ‘doing kiruv’ is a proper justification for attending a college not run under religious Jewish auspices (there are other justifications as we have discussed) It should go without saying that I despise the suggestion of illegal activity in the name of kiruv.

Why not do kiruv?

No doubt many people reading this post know (or are) people who became frum while at college (I know many such people too). If so why not encourage students who are already religious to actively encourage this phenomenon? The reasons not to encourage such activities are on many levels:

1) chayecha kodem – ones own spiritual growth takes precedence over that of others. I do not mean to get into a halachic discussion of this concept but merely to point out that most students at college are not yet very strong in many Jewish subjects. These years are an especially important time for religious growth (as by this points students are hopefully mature enough to realize the importance of religion, generally do not have to worry about making a living and lack the resposibility of a spouse and kids) thus ones time should be spent on their own learning.

2) The opposite of the above is that when ‘doing kiruv’ one may come across questions they cannot answer. This can lead to doubts about religious Judaism and an eventual exit from the community. I feel this is especially important for those who have come recently to a halacha-based life and may have a ‘proselyizing spirit.’ Those who know the least should not be the ones teaching others.

3) Sometimes suggested kiruv activities may violate halacha. Joining three mechitza dancing on Simchas Torah (one section for mixed dancing) or joining any other halachiaclly questionable activity to show that frum students are cool too is just not a good idea.

What can students do?

The above applies to what I’ll call ‘active’ kiruv or attempting to bring export religious Judaism to others. However, there are many time when kiruv opportunities can come to a student. For example, a non-religious Jew may decide to check out the Orthodox minyan. In such a case kinship to a fellow Jew (not to mention simple rules of kindness) demand that more knowledgable students take the time to ‘show him/her the ropes,’ answer any questions the student may have and just be friendly. Another such opportunity is the ‘study-with-a-buddy’ programs. In such programs students learn Jewish texts together. Those with a stronger background (who tend to be Orthodox) are paired with students whose backgrounds are not as strong. Again in this situation I think it appropriate that a religious student utililze this opportunity to show a students of a weaker background the beauty of their shared religion (note that even this type of program can lead to uncomfortable religious situations, as discussed in my last post, and students should be aware of this beforehand). Notice that in the two cases cited those who are not religious have approached those who are. To make a sports analogy, the situation is on religious turf. The activities I would discourage (though they may take on the guise of a religious ritual) are those where the religious students disrupt their basic routine in order to seek non-religious kids to influence.

Finally, I would like to encourage all students to view their fellow Jews not as kiruv material but in the spirit of kinship. Judging the success of interaction with our non-religious brethren based on their eventual level of halachic fidelity is 1) demeaning, and 2) bound to be disappointing. Most non-religious students will not become religious because of you. Rather, the goals of a religious student should center on perfecting his or her own knowledge of Judaism and character traits. If religious students on campus were to establish a community that was passionate in their beliefs while being honest, friendly, understanding and respectful, there is little question in mind that others would strive to join this community.

If I Were Addressing the AJOP Convention

The 20th Annual AJOP Convention is scheduled to take place January 18-22, 2008. The Convention 2008 Theme is: “The Future of Judaism: Setting the Course – A Conference Examining the Relationship of Jews to Judaism”. We asked our regular contributors what they would say if they could address the convention. Here is Neil Harris’ response. You can add your thoughts in the comments.

The key issues I would bring up would be:

Social mentoring with residents in a community

This is very different than being invited to the same home week after week, which is an excellent way to m’karev someone. I think that individuals or families reach a point when they need to see less of a “local view” and more of the “global view” of Torah Judaism. In addition, a loosely structured network of Baalei Teshuva across the country needs to be formed, so that someone moving into a new community with many choices of schools and shuls can start of with a contact who know where they are coming from.

Developing an understanding of achdus and respect of other’s hashkafos

Often we, as Baalei Teshuva, become part of a shul, yeshiva, or segment of a frum sub-culture and for some reason, end up looking down on others. This is totally counter productive to promoting the achdus that we, as Baalei Teshuva would like to see.

Chizuk in times of ‘burn out’ or frustration

Advising the ‘kiruv professional’ how to help build self-esteem and persistence in learning and integration in the observant community is key. Too often, the Baal Teshuva gets to a point where they feel frustrated and people need to know that they are not in it alone.

Teaching not just the “how to” but the “this is why we do it”

Making the slow, gradual jump in a Torah observant lifestyle means learning a barrage of new things like: Kashrus, mechanics of davening, Hilchos Shabbos, laws of family purity, struggling with children’s homework, etc. It’s easy to get caught up in ‘catching up’ with our lack of background and the reasons we do things like keep Shabbos might get washed away by questions like, “Can I heat up a chicken w/ sauce on Shabbos?”

These are just a few thoughts.

The Success of the Teshuva Movement

On the National Jewish Population Survey (2000-2001) presentation regarding Orthodox Jews, slide 9 presents the following statistics:

Of the 587,000 Jews who were raised Orthodox and currently consider themselves Jewish
– 240,000 are currently Orthodox
– 347,000 are currently non-Orthodox

Of the 297,000 Jews who were raised Jewish and currently consider themselves Orthodox
– 240,000 were raised Orthodox
– 57,000 were raised Non-Orthodox

There are some issues with the numbers in that 10% of American Jews in the study consider themselves Orthodox, and it looks like they are using a number of over 5,000,000 total Jews which would mean that there are over 500,000 Orthodox Jews, not 297,000.

But is seems that there are about 57,000 Baalei Teshuva in America.

In an article by Marvin Schick from 2005 he quotes Effie Buchwald, former head of AJOP as saying that the number of Baalei Teshuva has doubled since 1990 and that the average Kiruv professional mekarevs 1 2/3 Baalei Teshuva per year.

Update: Here is a study from Brandeis which questions the NJPS numbers and says that there are over 6,000,000 Jews in American with no more than 10% Orthodox. It also cites the Avi Chai 2004 day school census which says that there are 132,000 Orthodox Day School students between the grades of 1 and 12.

What do you make of this?
Does the 57,000 figure sound right?
Is becoming Orthodox a good measure of successful outreach?
What should we do differently?

Rabbi Harvey Belovski on Kiruv

Rabbi Harvey Belovski recently posted some Hard Questions About Kiruv on Cross Currents. After a number of paragraphs focused on the small percentage of Baalei Teshuva who fall out of Yiddishkeit, he concludes:

I hope that it’s not too controversial to suggest that the objectives of outreach are to help each Jew reach his or her full potential as a human being, ultimately through Mitzvah observance and Torah study. Presumably we should get to know those who seek our guidance: learn to love them as individuals; discover their interests, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs. Developing a sense that the religious needs of each person we meet differ considerably from those of every other can be difficult, but might we be doing those with whom we work a disservice by adopting any other approach? The Sages teach:

When a man mints many coins with one stamp, they all look the same, but while the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed is He, minted each person with the ‘stamp’ of Adam the First, no one looks like any other. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

If God created us as individuals, it should be the role of those privileged to help His children along their journey towards Him to foster that individuality. Shouldn’t we try to craft a tailor-made religious path for each of our students? Despite the complexities of doing this, it might just enable them to benefit from the wonders of Torah life without stifling their personality or crushing their need for self-expression.

Is it just possible that the multi-chromatic vision of the Jewish world isn’t the common one in the kiruv scene because some of those in charge don’t subscribe to it? Some of us may have come to believe that there is a single optimum way to be a Torah Jew: one ‘correct’ approach to all Jewish issues, one best way of observing halakhah (Jewish law), one ideal mode of living and one supreme authority for Jewish life. May I suggest, perhaps contrary to prevailing norms, that a kiruv operative would see it as a sacred duty to learn about (and hence validate) the range of Jewish possibilities and to incorporate that into his or her kiruv practice. After all, the magnificent system of thought and practice called Judaism really does have a multiplicity of expressions. Finally, might an outreach professional who thinks that it is his or her mission to turn an eclectic group of non-observant Jews into a bunch of religious clones be in the wrong job?

The Effect You Can Have Just Being You

Some short stories that illustrate the point. When my dear wife was a pathology resident at UMass Medical Center, she kept a siddur on her desk. It was there for birkat hamazon, and just as a personal item the same way one puts a picture or other item on their desk to personalize it. Her hair was covered. Every Friday afternoon she rushed to get home for Shabbat. One of the senior attending physicians had an involvement with medicine in Israel, and sometimes they would talk about that. This was her routine, and otherwise she ‘minded her own business’.

One Friday, as she is moving to get home, a colleague says “Shabbat Shalom”. Turns out this person is Jewish. No one knew. They had forgotten all about such things until Dr. Scher showed up. No speeches or demonstrative acts; just doing her thing as a Jewish woman in the workplace. That, however, was enough to get this person thinking and reaching out for Jewish contact.

Similarly, when my wife did Family Practice residency (yes, we went through insanity more than once!) she sometimes had to be at her rural clinic over the weekend. For the sake of shalom bayit, I avoided telling her how to handle this and left it between her and her rav. I did, however, spend Shabbat at the clinic when she was stuck out there. There were other Jewish residents, not so ‘secretive’ as the one mentioned above; but none were overtly very observant. All worked the clinic on Shabbat without a fuss. After a few times, however, we had one fellow join us for Kiddush and a quick bite. Another resident invited herself to our Sukkah. A med student visiting from Israel even made Sukkah decorations for us! All this came about just because my wife didn’t change who she is when she was at work. Jews came up and introduced themselves, invited themselves over, looked for a chance to connect. This can be far more powerful than we suspect. As Shlomo Carlebach would say, “you never know”.

Why did I think of this? The other day I was at a local motorcycle dealer to see about some parts for my bike. I was out in the parking lot by my bike, when a fellow comes striding up, sticks his hand out and says “I’m Ploni, and I can’t believe I’m seeing a Jew with a kippah and tzitzit!” It turns out he had strayed away a bit from the more traditional education that he had (including one year at YU), but seeing an obvious, unabashed Jew at the motorcycle shop struck him. Not many traditional Jews out here in New Mexico, and even fewer with their tzitzit flying in the breeze as they commute on a motorbike.

We spent about a half hour standing there talking Jewish communities, and motorcycles, and finally got around to inviting him for Shabbat. He declined this time, but we traded numbers and there’s a good chance we’ll have him and his wife as our guests some other time.

Years ago a student of mine, Miriam Rosenblatt, complained when I had my tzitzit tucked in for some reason. She said they were there for others to see, too. You never know… J.

Mordechai Y. Scher

galut Santa Fe, for now\

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky on Showing People a Proper Path

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean of Darche Noam was kind enough to share these words of wisdom with us in the comment section of this post on Kiruv.

Menachem Lipkin referred me to this wonderful blog. And with over thirty years of experience in teaching Torah to ba’alei tshuvah, I would like to make some comments on this most important thread.

The Rambam teaches (Hilchot Talmud Torah, Ch. 5, Halacha 4): And any student who has not reached the level to instruct, and instructs, is an evildoer, a fool and an arrogant person. About him it is written “She has felled many victims” (Mishlei 7:26). Similarly, a scholar who has reached the level to instruct and does not instruct, is withholding Torah, placing stumbling blocks before the blind, and about him it is written (ibid) “Those killed are numerous.” Those small (unqualified) students who have not increased their Torah knowledge appropriately, and who seek to elevate themselves in front of those who are ignorant and their neighbors, and they jump to sit at the head to judge and to instruct among Jews – they are those who increase conflict and disputes, they destroy the world, they extinguish the light of Torah, and the terrorize damage the vineyard of the Hashem, Lord of Legions. About them King Solomon, in his wisdom, wrote: “The foxes have seized us, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards” (Shir Hashirim 2:15).

It is not coincidental in the Rambam that those who are not qualified choose to teach those who themselves are ignorant – knowledgeable Jews would never accept them as teachers of Torah. From this Rambam it is clear that there IS a downside to sending out unqualified people to spread Torah to other Jews.

While Outreach organizations are justifiably proud of their statistics on how many people that have become obersvant because of their efforts, what doesn’t show up are all the Jews that are “turned off” by what they hear, sensing it is not authentic, it doesn’t make sense, or the person presenting it isn’t interested in the individual as a person, but rather as another “notch in the kiruv belt.” These people don’t show up in the statistics because they usually don’t fill out the feedback forms at the end of a seminar or program — they just walk out, frequently muttering that they don’t want to have anything to do with this. The other statistic that doesn’t show up is the number of people who are “success stories” for a while, then a couple/few years in, drop it (hopefully before they are married with children).

There is a very important comment of the Vilna Gaon on the following verses in Mishlei (Ch. 19, V. 2-3). “Also, without knowledge, it is not good for the soul; and one who rushes his legs is a sinner. The foolishness of a man perverts his path, and his heart angers against G-d.”

The Vilna Gaon comments on the first part of verse 2 that just as a person who eats large quantities of enjoyable delicacies will still be undernourished and feel hungry if he doesn’t eat the staples, a person who does Mitzvoth but doesn’t study Torah finds that his soul will not be “good”, nourished. On the second half of the verse, the Gaon teaches that “legs” refer to a person’s character traits, his habits (from the word “hergel” which has the root “regel”). But these traits must be improved step-by-step, through steady, slow progress, the way one climbs a ladder. “Rushing the legs” refers to a person who jumps to a level that is not really appropriate for him, which causes him to miss the mark (“choteh”) and he will surely fall.

On the second verse, the Gaon explains: We are taught that a person who comes to be purified merits Divine assistance (TB Shabbat 104a). Sometimes a person begins to study Torah and perform Mitzvoth, and then abandons it because it is too difficult from him. He didn’t get the desired assistance from Above, and he is angry at G-d for not providing it. But the truth is that this was the result of his own foolishness. Every person is required to go in a way which is aligned with his own level, and not jump. This will enable the person to move in a stable way, and assistance from Above will facilitate that movement. But the described person didn’t begin down his OWN path, therefore he didn’t receive assistance. Because the path he pursued was chosen foolishly, without proper thought and contemplation, his path was distorted, he failed and he then gets angry at G-d.

I think the Vilna Gaon’s commentary serve as a powerful lesson for all Jews, but for Ba’alei Tshuvah in particular. It is almost as if he was directing his comments to Ba’alei Tshuvah, when he describes the person who “begins to study Torah and perform Mitzvoth.” Mitzvah observance that isn’t accompanied with Torah study as a foundation will lead to a sense of “hunger.” And one’s path must be appropriate for him or her, chosen with careful thought, then pursued slowly and steadily.

My experience is that when these principles are followed, a stable and healthy tshuva process is the result. When they are violated…

It’s Mashgiach, Not Moshiach

Among my regular Jewish activities, I work as a mashgiach. I thank Hashem for the opportunity to work within the needs of the Jewish community, and I involve myself with a considerable amount of kiruv. I’ll give you some examples.

This Shabbos I oversaw a luncheon in a non-observant (conservative in this case) temple. Here I want the people to notice that I will attend to the kashrus of their center, but they will never see me in their sanctuary during a service (that’s also kiruv). When I’m asked by the curious, “How do they conduct a bar (or bas) mitzvah at this conservative temple,” I reply that since I won’t enter their sanctuary during a service, I don’t know the answer to their question.”

While working such an event, I consider it one of my personal missions in life to help the Jewish attendees realize that Jews are to wash “al netilas yadayim” before eating bread. In this vein I make sure the caterer always prepares a complete and noticable washing station. I also place an easy-to-read sign that I made on my computer that contains the rules and brachos (in Hebrew, English, and transliteration) for washing.

At most conservative events, usually very people wash, and sometimes nobody washes at all, but at least people see the washing station, can read the informative sign, and can wonder about it all (that’s kiruv too).

At this particular Shabbos event no one at all was washing. I was disappointed. I actually get a thrill when I see a non-observant Jew wash before bread. That may not be YOUR definition of excitement, but for me it’s as good as a Disneyland adventure.

So no one is washing on this day, when suddenly a young girl, 12 or 13, began walking in a beeline toward the washing station. I was impressed with this young lady, as she was even carrying HER OWN empty cup. I observed from across the room as she stopped at the washing station, peered at the sign, took the water pitcher, and filled the cup she was carrying. Then she lifted the cup to her mouth, took a drink, and walked away. I was devastated.

Another of my favorite mashgiach activity, when in conservative temples, takes place with most Saturday lunches. The host or hostess of an event will usually ask the caterer to pack up any unused food for them to take home. They expect that they will put the food into their cars as soon as the event is over and drive it home.

NOT on my watch however. They are welcome to whatever food the caterer wants to give to them, but that food is not leaving the building until SHABBOS (not the event) is over. If the people want that food, they’ll have to come back for it.

Sometimes they become somewhat angry. That’s okay. To me, it’s a Kiddush Hashem, as well as an important teaching opportunity. The hosts might say, “Why are you letting us take the flowers home if you won’t let us take the food?” I answer, “I don’t have any control over the flowers, I only have control over the food. If I could stop you from taking the flowers, I’d do that also.” Or I might have occasion to say it somewhat akin to: “If you wish to violate Jewish law, that’s your personal choice, but I’m not going to participate in that choice by allowing you to take that food before Shabbos is over.”

I remember once someone called the headquarters of the kashrus agency where I work to complain about me. When informed of the complaint I asked, “So what did I do this time?”

“They said you helped their grandfather make the bracha over washing and motzi and he was greatly embarrassed that he needed the help.”

Well, I realize that it is a big aveira to embarrass a Jew, and I do attempt to be low key and tactful when I try to assist, but somehow I just don’t think this is the kind of embarrassment Hashem had in mind by this prohibition. (See Vayikra 19:17)

I also practice kiruv to the orthodox. It is my own opinion, perhaps the only such opinion in the world, that orthodox Jews need kiruv as much or more than non-observant Jews, and that includes the so-called FFBs.

I remember requiring at an orthodox event that a group of orthodox men desist from opening or using Canadian Club Premium scotch whisky. Oh they were MAD at me, but I stood my ground and they yielded…begrudgingly.

“All scotch is kosher,” they would say.

“Canadian Club Premium is a blend. Single malt is just scotch, but a blend has addititives, and in this case part of the additives include non-kosher wine,” I would respond.

“But Rabbi Moshe Feinstein allows up to 20% of non-kosher wine in a mix,” one man retorted (these are orthodox Jews remember, and much better equipped to look for argumentative ways to try and defeat me).

“Rabbi Moshe Feinstein made that teshuva about a mix of water containing up to 20% non-kosher wine. If you want to substitute scotch for water, then you had better ask Rabbi Feinstein, because I think it’s a stretch…unless there is more to the teshuva I am not aware of. Water damages the taste of wine which I believe is the basis for its Rabbi Feinstein’s bedieved acceptance. Do you really think that the scotch also damages the taste of the wine, or might the scotch even improve the taste?”

Do not now go out trying to figure ways to drink non-kosher wine. Halacha is a very technical field only to be decided by the experts. Consult your rabbi first and I hope he chews you out.

These guys weren’t finished with me yet. After all, Jews are a stiff-necked people. They named another kosher certifying agency that they said ALLOWS ALL SCOTCH, even when blended with non-kosher wine.

Here’s what I answered: “Gentlemen, whether that is true or not, this synagogue is not under the hashgacha of the certifying agency you are mentioning. This synagogue is under a different hashgasha that DOES NOT
permit such a blend.”

One of the main areas (not the only area) where kiruv is desperately needed amongst even orthodox Jews is that of accepting authority. Often we are too zealous to challenge rulings we don’t like. Rulings can be investigated and studied, but there is a process, and Jews need to be patient and pursue their ideas in a correct fashion, and swallow their pride if they don’t get their way.

All of this brings me to the one person who needs kiruv the most, in my humble opinion. It isn’t the non-observant, and it isn’t the observant, it’s ME, just ME. I’m always feeling inadequate in my Judaism and I know I need to search for ways to improve. My wife, Leah Hudis Esther, is tactful, but not shy in letting me know if she thinks I could or should be improving in one way or another. That is my definition of looking out for me, and I like her for that. I’d like to think that others are looking out for me in that way as well. That’s kiruv.

Let me make myself the subject of scrutiny for the sake of understanding. I think I am sometimes in danger of getting a swelled head (what, ME?). I think it’s fair to say that I usually (not always) have the upper hand when debating and discussing much due to the knowledge and experiences I have gained over the years. Although fair to say, it also places me at risk of being arrogant, condescending, and lacking in proper humility.

Hashem also does kiruv. It is no accident that I am a mashgiach. I am fully aware of Hashem’s guiding hand hidden in the background. Occasionally, I find myself washing and checking lettuce for bugs. For a mashgiach, it goes with the territory. Deep inside me however, I have an awareness that I consider this kind of work to be beneath me. It isn’t beneath me, and that’s the point. I feel it is, but I know it’s not, and this part of the job is a great help in reminding me that I am nothing more than a humble servant before Hashem. I cannot stress how important it is for us to understand this.

When I realize how valuable this activity is for my personal development I smile and thank Hashem for HIS kiruv.


Let’s switch gears for a minute, because I think this is a topic you would like to hear about. Checking lettuce has had other effects on me as well. When my wife, and/or myself, prepare a head of romain lettuce, we wash and agitate the lettuce in water with soap. We then rinse each individual leaf thoroughly, both front and back. Finally we check each leaf, againfront and back, very carefully, over a Logan Futura light box that we keep in our kitchen. You see, I have learned first hand that there are bugs in lettuce…often lots of them. You wouldn’t even know many of them were there if you didn’t know what you were looking for.

Knowing about the bugs in lettuce and what it takes to get rid of them has changed our lives in other ways as well. When friends invite us over for a meal, where kashrus is not in question, we will go to the meal. We will eat their main courses and their desserts. My wife and I however will not eat their salad, unless, we know that they know how to properly eliminate the bugs. (Note: Straight iceberg lettuce in bags that have a reliable hechsure would not be a problem.)

End of tangent.

Finally, whilst still on the subject of kiruv, I don’t want to leave out the non-Jewish world. Non-Jews need kiruv too. Call it Noachide kiruv, but it is kiruv nonetheless. Everybody needs kiruv.

BTW, to all those non-Jewish chefs and non-Jewish catering and service people, please be apprised when you are speaking to me that the word is MASHGIACH, not MOSHIACH!

Ripples on a Pond

I was so excited to see the topics for this week’s Beyond BT, because I am just bursting with pride to share something on point.

When I started making little changes to live a Torah life, my then 16-year old brother noticed and asked me about what I was up to. He attends a Jewish day school so he has a decent basis in Jewish learning. We had some good conversations. When I wanted to look for a shul that fit me, he agreed to go to a different Shabbat service with me each week until I found the “right” shul. I never told him that he should change anything about what he was doing, but I was upfront about where I was with my own spirituality and answered his questions or helped him find the answer when I didn’t know the answer.

Slowly I started noticing him making his own changes. First he gave up bacon cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza, which I know was difficult for him, because they were things he really loved eating. He also started wearing his kippa all the time. After a bunch of smaller changes (by smaller I don’t mean less important, but just ones that were easier for my brother to make) things started picking up and he asked a local Orthodox rabbi about getting his own pair of teffilin.

Tomorrow my brother leaves for a school trip to Poland and Israel. Last week I took him to get a coffee so that I could spend a little bit of time with him before he left. While we were drinking our coffees, he remarked that next time we should go to a different chain of coffee houses because they have kosher certified cakes and cookies. Then, he told me that he wanted to get a tallit katan while he was in Israel. I was so proud that he wanted to take on this mitzvah and so honored to have played my small part in his taking on these mitzvot.

It’s amazing how much differently things go when you aren’t pushy. I think the best thing we can do to help bring our friends and family members closer to Hashem is to be a good role model and to have honest, non-judgmental conversations about Judaism.

Shavuot Shiur in KGH Area: Bringing Moshiach Through Kiruv

My shul features all-night learning on Shavuot and offers people in the community the chance to speak. I will be speaking on a topic relevant to all of us so I would like to invite anyone in the area to stop on by.

I’m speaking at 3:10 a.m. at Ohr Moshe in Hillcrest, 170-16 73rd Avenue, (corner of 171st and 73rd). It’s a 15 minute walk from Main Street.

There are several incredible sources in the Torah and Chazal that hint at the Kiruv Revolution we’re now in and say that it will immediately precede the coming of the Moshiach. I will go through some of the sources, talk about ways for non-Kiruv professionals to get involved in Kiruv, and will give over some great baalei teshuvah stories.

Of course, there will be plenty of (chalav yisrael) cheesecake, other desserts and coffee to go around.

If you’re interested in the topic but can’t make the shiur, you should get a copy of Rabbi Tauber’s Days are Coming. Rabbi Tauber goes through many of the sources. (The book is out of print but you can find it on-line)

Kiruv Models

I look at the different kiruv (bringing one close to Torah Judaism) groups and organizations around I often find that while each has their own derech of outreach methods and techniques there are some striking similarities between different organizations and several successful businesses.

Each kiruv group is a kli (vessel) for Hashem to bring others closer to Torah Judaism. Just as no two people are the same, not every kiruv group, shul outreach program, or community kollel are the same. What works for teens doesn’t necessarily work for college students or for adults with children. The most successful outreach programs, IMHO, combine the best of the models listed below.

The Barnes & Noble model:
Create a warm friendly environment where you can browse, drink some coffee, and sit in a cozy chair and use their products. B & N offers a no pressure attitude towards making a purchase. You can come and go as you please.

This creates a friendly consumer culture that leaves a longing for more. It’s a no pressure environment that is part escape and part food for the mind.

While most people do not purchase something every time they go into a Barnes and Noble, when it does come time to buy a book, the odds are that they make their purchase in a Barnes and Noble and not think twice about the competition.
Possible examples: Youth groups, college campus organizations and outreach programs, Chassidic branches, adult Jewish learning programs or centers, shul outreach programs, various organization or yeshiva websites.

The Starbucks Coffee model:
While Starbucks is similar to Barnes & Noble (this explains why Starbucks has a contractual agreement with B & N) in the aspect of creating an escape from everyday life, yet there are differences.

Starbucks not only sells their own brand, but they sell a lifestyle that goes along with it. It’s the romance of Italy and the ‘everyday luxury’ of coffee house culture.

It even goes beyond this. Starbucks hopes that their stores become a ‘Third Place’. A place to spend your time when you are not at work or at home. They have, in fact, made their ‘Third Place’ almost everywhere you go like in grocery stores, libraries, banks, museums, and hotels. Now you don’t need an actual Starbucks Coffee shop to have your escape, you can, as they market it, “bring Starbucks to your home”, by brewing their coffee or even owning one of their self branded coffee makers.

Those who walk into a Starbucks are one of two types: those who know exactly want they want and those who don’t. When you walk in the door there is no one greeting you or directing you. If you want their product then you make the first move and order it.

Possible examples: Chassidic branches, youth groups, community kollel (as branches of yeshivos or independent institutions), branches of yeshivos.

The Gap or Apple Store model:
This model is very similar to the Starbucks model in that what is being sold is solely the company’s own product. Again, there are really two types of customers: those who know exactly want they want and those who don’t. Here is where things get interesting.

As you enter the store (either Gap or an Apple Store) you are greeted by a helpful person. If you know what you are looking for, then you are directed towards the specific product.

In case you don’t really know what you want, but know what type of item you are looking for (iPod or khaki pants for example) you are briefly educated and then give several options of what to buy.

Possible examples: Same as listed above, plus organization that specifically create programs to be run in shuls, kollels, and outreach centers.

The Lighthouse model:
While not a corporate business model, a lighthouse represents a subtle, yet at times, powerful approach to kiruv by the individual Jew.

The lighthouse stands and directs those who see it. It warns those of the dangers around, and gives direction to those who seek.

This is the example that each Torah observant Jew should live by, not just those involved in kiruv.

As we go though our day at the office, driving, learning in the beis midrash, and home with our families, we need to be a lighthouse. Our job is to be a shining example of the greatness of Torah Judaism, a walking Kiddush Hashem.

What Material Would be Helpful in a Kiruv Training Seminar?

As the film Inspired Too highlights, there are many situations where Kiruv is possible and practical. If a person is friendly and approachable, co-workers, friends, relatives and even strangers might ask a variety of questions. Many of these are easy to answer and others can be researched. In some cases a book or website recommendation would be appropriate.

There are situations where a little training would be helpful. Here is a question for the Beyond BT readers, “What material would be helpful in a Kiruv Training Seminar?”

Here are some thoughts from frequent Beyond BT commentor Bob Miller (in no particular order):

1. Compare and contrast the western civilization outlook with the Jewish outlook.

2. What is the unique mission of the Jewish people? How have we accomplished that in practice? Where have we fallen short and why?

3. Compare and contrast the ways we learn about HaShem’s management of the world, such as observation and revelation, and detail the value of each.

4. Explain Judaism as a total life package.

5. Explain what tefilla is for and the modes of tefilla. What brings us to love HaShem and how do we express that? Explain and demonstrate the nuts and bolts of tefilla and negina. Explain how to get over mental obstacles to tefilla. Musical accompaniment is very good for this segment.

6. Tell true instructive stories of Tzaddikim and by Tzaddikim.

7. Use only instructors who know the material, but will not respond hastily to questions that need research, and who are exemplars of the virtues taught. This means that a crash course will not equip someone to instruct. Better to use someone with accomplishments.

8. Tell us how to view Jews who might need our help in a way that makes us respect them and not use them as objects or means to our ends.

Inspired Too

I just came back from Inspired Too and I highly recommend it. This film is focused more on those doing Kiruv, with helpful ideas on doing Kiruv. It is also filled with a number of great and inspiring stories from the Baalei Teshuva themselves.

There are 5 million non- observant Jews in America. The bottom line message is that we can and should be involved in bringing them closer to Hashem at some level. One of the speakers made the point that the focus should just be to help each person take the next step on their personal ladder, for their bechira point (see Strive for Truth – Vol 1).

One of the speakers, Eliyahu Bernstein told a moshel that you’re obviously frum and on a plane looking all over the peanut bag for the kashrus symbol. The person next to you says there’s an OU over there. What the person is really saying is that I’m a Jew also, I’m in the same ballpark as you, although I probably don’t look for the kosher symbol as often as you do. You have a choice to say, thank you, eat the peanuts and go back to sleep or start a conversation with the person. Where are you from? How do you know about kashrus? Did you go to Hebrew School? And you can make mention of some classes or some Rabbi in the person’s hometown if you know about it. Rav Bernstein says that this encounter will result in the person taking the next step, one out of six times, so why not take the first step.

Aish uses the neumonic INSPIRE to suggest 7 avenues of Outreach.
Internet – Give them one great Jewish Website.
Nurture a friendship. Ask about their lives. Care.
Shabbos – Invite them to a Shabbos Dinner.
Publication – Give them an Inspring Book
Israel – Encourage them to go learn or tour.
Relationships. Share one Torah tip about love.
Excite Them. Explain why you love being observant.

Please go to Project Inspire to learn more and to participate in the current Purim project of sending a card or a Shaloch Manos to somebody you know.

And visit to find out when Inspired Too is playing at a location near you.

Helping People Develop G-d Awareness

If we believe in Hashem, Torah from Sinai and the eternity of the soul in the afterlife shouldn’t it pain us that the majority of Jews are not developing a relationship with Hashem? Some have opined that they can’t see their Aunt Rose ever becoming frum. Let me suggest that instead of targetting becoming frum as the goal, we just try to stir up a little more G-d awareness in our friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Inspired Too, Kiruv Across America premiered last week and we will be showing it at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel in Kew Gardens Hills at 7:45 and 9:45 on February 10th and 17th. In addition, we’ll be holding a Kiruv Training Seminar on February 24th at 8:30. For other showtimes and locations, please visit

There is a lot of great Kiruv material on the site including The Dead End of Jewish Culture by Sara Yoheved Rigler. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

According to the American Jewish Identity Survey 2001, out of approximately 5.5 million American adults who are either Jewish by religion or of Jewish parentage and/or upbringing, nearly 1.4 million say they are members of a non-Jewish religion.

We are not talking here about secularism, not about Jews who opt out of going to synagogue in favor of a baseball game or the movies, but rather in favor of church. Since the vast majority of American Jews are of Ashkenazic descent, this means that 25% of the descendants of European Jews who resisted the blandishments and threats of Christianity for some sixty generations, often at the cost of their lives, are now voluntary apostates.