Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Kiruv - Useless Scholasticism to ask for Torah sources?! I

The following comment by RaP is interesting in two aspects 1) He is correct that the kiruv or Teshuva movement did not start from an explicit derivation from Torah sources 2) He is decidedly wrong in asserting that it is a meaningless exercise in scholasticism to clarify the nature of the halachic obligation.

RaP seems to have had no experience in yeshiva education - either chareidi or M/O. - or simply has no interest in the standard Orthodox approach that everything is at least hinted in the Torah. I can not conceive of Rav Soloveitchik dismissing the question as merely of scholastic interest nor would Rav Moshe Feinstein take such an approach. The standard approach to understand one's obligations as a Jew is to work up from the Torah through the gemora through rishonim and achronim. It is irrelevant how something got started - it is still governed by ascertainable halachic considerations. RaP has repeatedly objected to my request for sources for his many pronouncements - and he typically retorts that there is no need for explicit sources or that it is obvious or that his view is inherent in a Torah verse.

Thus we all know that one must honor parents or not speak lashon harah - but that doesn't obviate the need for investigating the full range of halachic obligation. Would you dimiss the Beis Yosef or the Chofetz Chaim as mere exercises in scholasticism? Have you ever learned gemora?

In regard to the current issue of kiruv, it is necessary to clarify the halachic obligation to know which actions need to be done and the hierarchy of values. For example if the basis of kiruv is that it brings about love of G-d, any program which got a person to be observant by threats or deception would not be acceptable because it doesn't produced love of G-d. Similarly if presenting darker aspects of Orthodox society would interefere with love of G-d than they should not be presented. If the prime basis is the chesed of keeping a Jew from sinning - it is relatively unimportant how this comes about.

Even the article he cites later on regarding Rav Hutner quotes Rav Hutner as saying
"Our new understanding of the essence of our era allows us some comprehension of the phenomenon of our 'age of baalei-teshuva' "
In other words analysis of a phenomenon - whether in historical or halachic terms - provides us with a deeper understanding which enables us to help it develop it properly.

In sum, RaP's assertion that these matters are so obvious that it is unhealthy (or meaningless) scholasticism to be concerned with them shows that he has no concern or understanding for Torah scholarship as has always been understood and practiced in the Orthodox world.
משה לרמן made a similar criticism - though in far less words
"I agree that a request for sources for Kiruv is a thoroughly misplaced demand. You seem to think that all of life is embeddable in legalism."
Guilty as charged - I do believe that Torah and halacha is the basis of life. I am not aware of anybody who views himself as Orthodox who believes otherwise.
Recipients and Publicity said...


Dear Dr. Eidensohn: By asking for "sources" to do kiruv you are slipping into your old mindset that shows that you don't get it, that kiruv does not require "sources" as such since it's as basic as 1-2-3 that just as all Jews must show and practice Ahavas Yisroel ("love thy fellow Jew"), do hatzolas nefashos ("save a Jewish life"), and be melamed ("provide for Jewish education"), and help by tzedaka ("Jewish charity") for BOTH their children and those of their fellow Jews ANYWHERE (why else do Jews contribute to Jewish educational institutions all over the world), likewise kiruv is an expression of all the mitzvas and Torah literature that are the basis for Ahavas Yisroel, Hilchos Chinuch, Pikuach Nefesh, Tzedaka and much more.

And now that kiruv is so widespread you will of course find ample sources and writings that dredge up all sorts of sources from here and there but that effort is essentially all lemafrei'a (retroactive) because the Baal Teshuva movement and the related field of kiruv rechokim did not come to be and is not sustained and practiced because of any of these sources.

It is somewhat like asking what are the sources for the mitzvas of Yetzias Mitrayim (the Exodus) when all the mitzvas and Torah related to the events of the Exodus come about because of the events and not the other way around. Similarly (as we are in the Three Weeks), the observances and Halachos of Tisha Be'av are not because there are sources but rather there were cataclysmic events during this time and therefore a day and series of memorial observances were established backed by some sources and citations to support the remembrance of the days and not the other way around.

Thus the Baal Teshuva Movement, also known as the Baal Teshuva Revoltion was something that happened ON ITS OWN MIN HASHAMAYIM as part of social, political, cultural and historical upheavals in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, it was NOT "invented" by rabbis or scholars, but it was secular or vaguely Jewishly traditional young Jewish people who started to search for their uniquely Jewish roots, AS PART OF A GENERATIONAL SHIFT when young people openly rebelled against the past and wanted to find MEANING IN THEIR LIVES and became open to SPIRITUAL ANSWERS, unlike their parents' generation, and gaining steam with each decade after the Holocaust so that by the 1950s a SMALL handful of visionary Orthodox rabbonim like the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, and a few Rosh Yeshivas in America (by the way, the Baal Teshuva Movement was essentially shaped and instigated in America), and you can count them on one hand hand, like Rav Yaakov Ruderman of Ner Israel in Baltimore, Rav Yitzchok Hutner of Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, and Rav JB Soloveitchik of Yeshiva University took note of it, and sent the first crop of outreach rabbis, only later called kiruv rabbis, to work with the Baalei Teshuva (as the secualr teens and young people became to be called once they turned Orthodox) and hence the field of kiruv started to take form.

To those rabbonim it was a natural continuum of ahavas Yisroel, hatzolas nefashos, and chinuch and obviously all halachos that would go with that would naturally apply and then some, but there was also something deeper at work, they were "social scientists" of the times and they were perceptive enough to see a new changing of the tide IN THE WORLD and that it would be possible to start a process of returning the youth to the past Torah glory and heritage of the Jewish people. No great lomdus, just pikchus ("insightful smartness") and chochma ("wisdom").

So that by asking for sources NOW as you are, you are barking up the wrong tree because there is no shortage of sources.

It's actually very funny that you do so! Did Avrohom Avinu ask for "sources" when he faced his ten tests in life? He just wanted to hear from God. Did Moshe Rabbeinu ask for sources to start the ten plagues, split the sea, take out Bnai Yisroel from Egypt, and to go up Mt. Sinai to get the Torah, and then how to deal with all that happneed in the wilderness besides asking God for help and mercy? Are sources required to know if Jews should have been saved from the Holocaust? All efforts should have been based on pikuach nefesh and the laws of humanity. And I will touch on it delicately, when Jews are flooding Israel from all corners of the world for the last 100 years, do we need sources, or do we just say, look, the gates of Israel have been opened for any Jew to enter unlike the way it was for the previous 2,000 years. Oh yeah, there are plenty of sources about yishuv ha'aretz and even for not coming to Israel if you muct, but in the face of the tides and realities of history no one in Iraq or Yemen or Morocco was going around saying what are the sources justifying going to Israel when frenzied Arab nationalistic Islamic mobs were run after their Jewish blood. And so on and so forth.

So go easy with your questions, you may be self-defeating yourself with your penchant for tiresome scholasticism.

Here is what Rav Yitzchok Hutner had to say about the birth of the modern Baal Teshuva Movement in a rare article he published in the Jewish Observer, " 'Holocaust'--A Study of the Term and the Epoch it is Meant to Describe. The Jewish Observer, October 1977, pp. 3-9."

Rav Hutner states that the rise of the Baal Teshuva movement is a result of the internal disappointment the Jewish People felt in the gentiles of the world as a result of what happened during the Holocaust:


"As recorded in an article " 'Holocaust'--A Study of the Term, and the Epoch it is Meant to Describe"(1977), Rabbi Hutner "focused on significant aspects of the Churban that were hitherto either little known or studiously avoided. " 13 The response revealed an insight into the world of yeshivah leaders as they viewed the war and its significance for Jewish life and Jewish education. Rabbi Hutner states: "By placing the Holocaust in its historical perspective, we shall uncover two new directions in recent Jewish history with reference to the gentile persecution of Jews." What is of interest to us is the statement that:

The first of these epochal changes involves the shift from generations of gentile mistreatment of Jews, which, if unwelcome, was nevertheless expected and indeed announced by our oppressors--to an era where promises of equality were made and then broken, rights were granted and then revoked, benevolence was anticipated, only to be crushed by cruel malevolence. 14

Citing historical examples, Rabbi Hutner shows that France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and England with its Balfour Declaration of 1917, held out the hope to Jews that their plight was finally being addressed, only to end in disappointment. "Although these reversals are dramatic and telling enough of themselves, they pale in the face of the retractions and total turnabouts made by the Germans in the 1920's and 30's." Thus it came to be that following a period of trust, the culmination of this historical period was "the Holocaust, the largest scale annihilation of a people in history, yet resulting not from lawless hordes but flowing directly from legalized and formal governmental edicts." 15

What did this do to Jews? We have already noted Hilberg's conclusion in The Destruction of the European Jews (1973): "The effect of the German destruction process on the position of Jewry within Christianity has been twofold: the Jews have been forced into a reappraisal of the past, and they have simultaneously developed apprehensions about the future. " 16 Rabbi Hutner's conclusion is similar, but writing from within the world of Orthodoxy, he begins to reach out towards specific conclusions:

The end-result of this period for the Jewish psyche was a significant--indeed, crucial--one. From trust in the gentile world, the Jewish nation was cruelly brought to a repudiation of that trust. In a relatively short historical period, disappointment in the non-Jewish world was deeply imprinted upon the Jewish soul. 17

Rabbi Hutner goes a step further: "Our new understanding of the essence of our era allows us some comprehension of the phenomenon of our 'age of baalei-teshuva' ", 18 literally, "age of 'returnees' ". Davidowicz has noted that this phenomenon "became a commonplace phenomenon", and that when the "counterculture began to seduce young Jews, the Habad movement of the Lubavitch Hasidim undertook to save their souls. Other sectarian Orthodox groups followed suit. They . . . tempted them with authenticity, with a return to wholeness by way of their own tradition and a community of love among their own people." 19 Rabbi Hutner emphasizes, that it is not a single movement or group of movements that have created this state of "return", but it is rather the mark of an era or epoch:

It has oft been noted that teshuva seems to "be in the air", and indeed the many movements currently succeeding to an unprecedented degree in bringing Jews closer to Judaism are but a reflection of the fact that the very climate is permeated with a kind of teshuva-readiness. This climate is the result of the disappointment in gentiles which demolished the first stumbling-block to teshuva, and forced the recognition that "it is because my God has not been in my midst" that the awesome events of recent times have occurred. 20

The second of the two new directions in Jewish history in relation to gentile persecutions, according to Rabbi Hutner, has to do with the meeting of "East" and "West" in seeking the downfall of Jews. Beginning with the Mufti's close relationship with Hitler, a new trend emerges whereby "the nations of the Occident join forces with those of the East for the purpose of destroying Jews." 21 This served to increase the sense of betrayal, and enhanced the prospects of Jews"'returning" to their traditional cultural and religious heritage."


  1. I agree that a request for sources for Kiruv is a thoroughly misplaced demand. You seem to think that all of life is embeddable in legalism.

  2. "You seem to think that all of life is embeddable in legalism"

    Even the Quran repeatedly refers to Jews as the "People of the Book" (ahl al-Kitâb).

    For example:(Chapter 3:64)

    "O People of the Book! come to agreement between us and you: That we worship none but G-d; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than G-d."

    from Wiki:

    In Judaism the term "People of the Book" subsequently became self-applied to refer specifically to the Jewish people and the Torah; also the Jewish people and the wider canon of written Jewish law (including the Mishnah and the Talmud).


    In the absence of a defined “leader” of the community like the Nasi or Reish Galusa, talmidei chachamim have long been regarded as the de facto leaders of the Torah community. They served, and continue to serve, as the Einei HaEdah, the eyes of the Jewish collective. Torah leadership was consulted on all matters important to Jews at all times in history. Meandering through Shas, one is struck by the central role of Beis Din in areas we don’t usually associate with a court of law. Rather, the Beis Din appears as the supervisory voice of Torah experience, whether in declaring a state of war, or approving protocols of professional organizations, or setting price controls. The responsa literature from the Middle Ages and on overflows with questions put to local and regional rabbinic leaders concerning every conceivable issue that Jews faced. At each and every juncture, traditional Jews routinely turned to their Torah scholars for guidance and advice. I will not attempt to clarify whether they had a veto or only a vote, but it is clear that they were consulted. Those who would limit the voice of talmidei chachamim to more garden-variety “halachic” questions of mutar/ assur, chayav/patur (allowed/ disallowed, liable/exempt) are not being consistent with history or with Torah literature.

    The gifts of Torah excellence - Years of Torah study yield some obvious benefits: knowledge of what to do, a mind sharpened by deep thought. Because Torah is unlike any other discipline, some less obvious benefits are part of the package. Torah is a window to the Divine Mind. The more quality time a person has spent engaging it, while fully living the prescribed Torah life, the more his own mind begins to absorb some refining characteristics. This does not mean that he becomes a demi-god, or prophetic. It does not mean that he is correct about every question put to him. It does not even mean that he is guaranteed to know more than people with special knowledge in a given area. It does mean that the most seasoned and deepest Torah scholars are well worth consulting in any issue that they themselves feel they may have some insight worth considering. That insight is regularly available to the truly accomplished talmid chacham; you can take its availability to the bank. This gift sometimes can be described as special depth and perception; at other times, it may be in the form of siyata d’shmaya – special Divine assistance. It means, minimally, that an opportunity to take counsel with Torah giants is not one to be dismissed or squandered.

  3. I don't get where RaP is coming from. RaP himself refers to halachic categories in his own understanding of why kiruv rechokim is neccesary. Here's an illustrative quote: "...kiruv is an expression of all the mitzvas and Torah literature that are the basis for Ahavas Yisroel, Hilchos Chinuch, Pikuach Nefesh, Tzedaka and much more." Precisely. So what is the fundamental disagreement that he has with R' Eidensohn?

    I suppose I can agree with RaP that the imperative to engage in kiruv is poshut. But just because something appears to be poshut doesn't mean that it's somehow wrong or distasteful to speak out the halachic rationale behind it in a formal manner.

    Besides, knowing exactly how our chachmei hamesorah understood the mitzvah of kiruv rechokim will probably shed light on the manner in which one ought to pursue its fulfillment. Which is what I understood to be the point of the original post in the first place.

  4. "knowing exactly how our chachmei hamesorah understood the mitzvah of kiruv rechokim"

    If I understand the question, it is "can the observance of any mitzvah be institutionalized"?

    I guess this question would also apply to mass conversions.

  5. I believe RaP has an interesting point to make. He has a question: what drove the creation of the Baal Teshuva movement and its institutions? RaP holds, not unreasonably, that the movement arose out of spontaneously, min hashamayin, out of the interplay of countless historical and social forces.

    By quoting numerous rabbinic sources going back hundreds of years, an opposing impression can potentially be made, that the Rabbinic establishment engineered the "Teshuva Revolution" into being, and imposed it onto the Jewish masses to enable their repentance.

    To counter this possible impression, RaP pointed out that except for a few, those in the Jewish religious establishment were playing catch-up to social forces beyond their control.

    I think that the need perceived by R' Berkowitz for a list of sources actually supports RaP's view, rather than oppose it. R' Berkowitz and his Jerusalem Kollel are focused mainly on getting Yeshivish FFB' to be involved in kiruv (as opposed to the Aish model of getting their BT graduates back out to the field).

    Since the current mode of ACTIVE kiruv, going "out there" and promoting Yiddishkeit, is rather unprecedented, there has been a natural hesitation among many FFBs, who 1) never felt a need for it themselves, 2) may have never seen it in action, 3)and have never heard of their tattes and zaydes doing it.

    In fact, they were always taught not to prosyltize, so kiruv looks like it might be a little assur (esp. if one might end up teaching Torah, even inadvertantly, to actual non-Jews). Also, one has to go out into the non-frum world and expose oneself to myriad spiritual dangers. If it might be assur, and it might endanger your neshama, why take the chance? One could reasonably argue that loving G-d and loving other Jews is important, but those halachos do not expand, in the larger halachik calculus, into making kiruv rechokim in the current active style a requirement.

    I believe that's why R' Berkowitz had to prepare a list like this, to reassure those who take the conservative approach and take Halachic precedent VERY seriously, that kiruv is, in fact, nicely supported by the sources.

    In the end, though, isn't this how many chiddushim are created? A new social situation arises that raises halachik questions, and our Chachamim look into the writings of their predecessors to try to determine what should be done in this new situation. In addition, I agree with Chizki that going back to the sources can only help in guiding those who are involved in kiruv and bringing much needed insight into the manner in which one ought to pursue its fulfillment.

  6. Recipients and PublicityJuly 24, 2008 at 6:47 AM

    With his comments against me on this post, Dr. Eidensohn is committing a standard error in logic and it is often the basis for red herring (meaning diversionary) arguements.

    Simply because the following two postulates are BOTH 100%: (1) Events create realities, such as when a when a woman becomes pregnant she will under normal circumstances give birth to a live baby, and (2) there is the theory of childbirth as well as the lomdus of erusin, kiddushin and all the halachos of niddah and childbirth that must be adhered to by a Torah Jew.

    One does not negate the other.

    So that while Dr. Eidensohn is free to ask for Torah and Halachic sources for everything he comes into contact with, it does not detract from the fact and reality that the METZIUS and the MA'ASIM and ME'URAS often appear and function not as a result of a Halachic theory but they are events that Hashem himself springs upon the individual.

    Say one gets cancer God forbid, does one run to the Shulchan Oruch and look for how and why this came about? Not really. One can do cheshbon Hanefesh and come up with sources of musssar and hashkofa for why God has sent those sufferings, and then say tehilim, but it is not the "cause" for one's contarcting cancer which may have come about from smoking cigarettes (lung cancer) or from talking on cell phones too much (brain tumors).

    This blog is not a yeshiva, if it was Dr. Eidensohn would not post articles from secular newspapers and essays by non-religious writers that are decidedly not yeshivish and are anti-Halachic in their lives and actions as well as words.

    This blog is JUST is a discussion forum and from time to time, and Dr. Eidensohn in his self-appointed role as scholastic-in-general will stop the discussions and pop the question ok, where is it in the sources, but quite often that goes against the spirit of the discussions and to put it bluntly often misses the poin, as he did with the his last requests for Torahg sources for kiruv when the METZIUS (the reality) was not clarified. Even in pesak, a posek cannot rule on a matter if he does not understand or relate to the subject he is requested to rule on.

    Let me make it clear, I do not dispute Halacha nor the value of Torah learning and yeshiva studies.

    But in yeshivas they learn mesechtas of Gemora with Rishonim and Achronim, they do not even learn the Halacha le'ma'ase (practical Halachos) so it is not a perfect system either. But it is a very cheap shot to twist things around and claim that I don't get the need for a Halachic view or the perspective of Gemora and yeshivas when it is clear that I do, but that I am focusing on another set of angles first, and much later maybe one can get into the fancy footwork of this or that mekor (source) for this or that actvity, as poster Chizki seems to realize.

    Poster Chizki is on to something when he states: "I don't get where RaP is coming from. RaP himself refers to halachic categories in his own understanding of why kiruv rechokim is neccesary. Here's an illustrative quote: "...kiruv is an expression of all the mitzvas and Torah literature that are the basis for Ahavas Yisroel, Hilchos Chinuch, Pikuach Nefesh, Tzedaka and much more." Precisely. So what is the fundamental disagreement that he has with R' Eidensohn?"

    And actually I do NOT have any real disagreement with Dr. Eidensohn he just uses me as a foil to hang his preconceived agendas on. We are looking at the same thing but talking about it from two dimensions, as I am not disputing ANY of the sources he cites since they are all excellent, just that I prefer to look at reality and history FIRST.

    And because Dr. Eidensohn controls this blog, when it suits him, rather than asking me for clarification or a context for what I am saying, he jumps to conclusions and makes declrations that I am either this or that, which all miss the point of my response, and hence someone like poster Chizki gets confused because he asssumes that we are all suppoosed to work along the assumptions that Dr. Eidensohn declares.

    At no point have I said that Halacha, or Gemora or yeshiva learning is to be ignored or denied, on the contrary that is where the absolute truth is, but when looking at a PHENOMENON in Jewish history it is to the events and personalities that we must look deeply, the metzius, because Halacha is based on reality and not the way around (of course the world was built on Torah from the Zohar's point of view, but that is not what we are discussing here) since Halacha does not concern itself with theoretical and hypothetical matters. That is called mysticism and magical thinking.

    Si gimme a break Dr. Eidensohn and please don;t put words in my mouth, I can ably speak for myself if you will ask for clarification fro me.

  7. "With his comments against me on this post"

    "he just uses me as a foil to hang his preconceived agendas on. "

    "And because Dr. Eidensohn controls this blog, when it suits him, rather than asking me for clarification or a context for what I am saying, he jumps to conclusions and makes declrations that I am either this or that,"

    "someone like poster Chizki gets confused because he asssumes that we are all suppoosed to work along the assumptions that Dr. Eidensohn declares."

    RaP - do you take fish oil???

    It's good for your heart and eyes too.


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