Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kiruv XI - Present Judaism as positive? Or scary demanding system?

Chizki said...

garnel ironheart said, "Professional kiruv is ruining Orthodoxy by presenting it to secular customers as something they will benefit from if they adopt the lifestyle."

Perhaps it's ruining Orthodoxy, or perhaps it's not - I don't know. What I do feel is that the type of kiruv that focuses on selling Judaism primarily as a system of living that leads to the "good life" - stable families with low divorce rates, happy children that respect their parents, a strong sense of community and purpose among its adherents, etc., etc. - feeds right into the conundrum that the blogmaster and others have presented here of modern kiruv professionals de facto engaging in the proselytization of non-Jews. Regardless of whether or not non-Jews are attending Eish seminars, presenting Judaism as a lifestyle that any sane, family-oriented person would want to engage in is going to get the attention of non-Jews looking for that sort of message just as surely as it would get the attention of non-practicing Jews.

Perhaps selling Judaism primarily as a powerful, demanding, and sometimes even scary system of ancient teachings that is designed to mold its adherents into servants of the ineffable and inscrutable source of all Existence would be a better way to go.

7 comments :

  1. truer but a much tougher sell.
    KT
    Joel Rich

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Perhaps selling Judaism primarily as a powerful, demanding, and sometimes even scary system of ancient teachings that is designed to mold its adherents into servants of the ineffable and inscrutable source of all Existence would be a better way to go"

    I strongly disagree with most of the above:

    Recall Rav Moshe's famous dictum to the effect that the generation that said "shever tzu zein a yid" caused the destruction of their children's Yiddishkeit. (I don't know where the actual quote is found and perhaps our blog host can assist.)

    Of course Yiddishkeit is demanding.

    Yiddishkeit, like life in general is indeed not always a bed of roses but it is not without many moments of happiness and contentment. It is not necessary to lie or hide its challenges but it is equally an inaccurate presentation of its reality to emphasize such challenges them without showing its profound beauty and the happiness and contentment and fulfillment of life purpose that its observance makes attainable.

    KT
    Eliyahu

    ReplyDelete
  3. Eliyahu wrote:

    Recall Rav Moshe's famous dictum to the effect that the generation that said "shver tzu zein a yid" caused the destruction of their children's Yiddishkeit. (I don't know where the actual quote is found and perhaps our blog host can assist.)
    ==============================

    You might want to see "The Joy of being Jewish"
    http://www.nevehzion.com/docs/TheJoyofBeingJewish.doc

    It provides a source for this quote as well as other similar citation from other gedolim

    Also look at Igros Moshe(Y.D. III #71)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Eliyahu,

    The two of us are in complete agreement with each other that a Torah-centered life is a thing that is full of, in your own words, "profound beauty," "happiness," and "contentment and fulfillment of life purpose." I'm not sure how the words I decided to use, i.e. "powerful," "demanding," and "sometimes scary," are contradictory to this. I think we have a profound mental disconnect here.

    And I most certainly was not suggesting cultivating an attitude that is anything at all like "shever tzu zein a yid." I'm astounded that my last sentence could be interepreted as such.

    I knew I was being a little cryptic in my last sentence, but I had no idea that my words would be so radically misunderstood.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Garnel IronheartJuly 22, 2008 at 3:03 PM

    I like to compare Judaism to medicine because in many ays the latter can work as a powerful metaphor for the former. For example, in this case:

    Imagine on the first day of med school the lecturer at the very first lecture starts taking about the pharmacokinetics of anti-epileptic medication following a hemicraniotomy for advanced glioblastoma with osteonecrotic metastases to the spine. I think every student in the lecture hall would either start to cry as they realized how in over their heads they were or their eyes would glaze over as they realized they were really not understanding a word of what the lecturer was saying.
    Take that same lecturer and put him in front of a group of final year students reviewing for their licensing exams and suddenly you have students eagerly taking notes and asking clarifying questions. They might still appreciate the complexity of the material but would have a better approach on how to handle it.
    Rather, what did we learn on the first day of med school? Where our lockers were, what the curriculum for the year would be, where to buy our books and what the best prices on golf courses was around the city. (I'm kidding about the last part - we learned that in second year 8-) ).

    It should be the same thing with kiruv. Simplified concepts should be provided with the catchline: Real Judaism is far more complicated. We're just giving you some things that, at your educational level you can grasp but be aware that if you're serious, there's a huge amount of material to digest. If it did that, isn't of presenting a comprehensive but shallow worldview, that would address both the concerns of those who don't want to be overwhelmed and those who don't want a dumbed-down version of Yiddishkeit to be presented.

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  6. I have been told that the reason that kiruv professionals will sit a young man who cannot fluently read Hebrew down in front of a Gemara is that they are hoping to hook him into Jewish observance via the intense intellectual stimulation of Gemara study.

    Given that much of Ohr Sameach and Aish's outreach is to college educated professionals, I would imagine that they have a lot of success with this method.

    But on the other hand, I have heard a good bit of criticism along the lines of what Garnel Ironheart is saying. That is, that how can you learn to pop a wheelie when you're riding on training wheels?

    There are others who believe that you have to start from the very beginning and teach Aleph Bet (if necessary), Chumash, halacha and the Jewish Lifecycle. Personally I have taught Hebrew, Tefillah, Halacha, Chumash and Navi to adults in Outreach Programs via several synagogues and to me, the slow and steady method with lots of coffee and cake, Shabbat and Yom Tov meals, "join us for our Simchas" etc will better produce long-term committed comfortably religious Jews, than "Orthodox Ulpan", but as I mentioned, due to my personal experiences, I am somewhat biased.

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  7. To Jersey Girl...

    It depends on the student. When trying to convey the profoundness of the Jewish mesorah, sometimes the Midrash Says approach will not cut it. You need to be profound. This is where gemmorah comes in.

    It is the same reason why modern poskim have mattered learning gemorah for women. The rational is that in a world where women are law professors, doctors, physisists, astronomers, etc... You cannot have them relate to torah just by learning chumash and saying tehillim. They must be intellectually stimulated by torah no less than they would be stimulated by their secular interests, studies or professions. The same applies to many balei tshuvas.

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