Friday, July 18, 2008

Kiruv I - The end of kiruv as we know it!

The following post was sent in by
Recipients and Publicity as comment to "Outreach (kiruv) programs & intermarried couples -...":

As someone with a lifetime's devotion to both the art and study of Kiruv Rechokim (also known as Jewish Outreach) and the Baal Teshuva Movement (also known as the Baal Teshuva Revolution) it is very evident that the practice and institution of Kiruv/Outreach has now changed forever.

All the real-life drama and confrontation over conversions in the Orthodox world attest to this because until now the main struggle was between the Orthodox and the Reform & Conservative movements.

But once the Reform movement openly accepted patrilineal descent 30 years ago (around 1978) it created a de facto schism with Halacha because until then they had a nominal official acceptance of, and paid lip-service to, albeit hypocritical, a public posture that to be Jewish meant to be born of a Jewish mother and to require "some sort of" conversion. But THAT was no longer required once they ruled for themselves that having just a Jewish father was enough to qualify one to be "Jewish"!

While the Conservatives have not done this yet, they are headed in the smae direction, they have done all the same preliminary steps that Reform did before they got around to legitimating patrilineal descent, and the biggest signpost along the road to the meltdown is the Conservatives willingness to (a) accept female students into the previously all-male JTS (which a century earlier was actually a very modern Orthodox institition in many ways) and (b) to ordain the women students as rabbis. This radical cave in to feminism resulted in a schism within the Conservative movement and it led to the breakaway Union of Traditional Judaism (UTJ) led by former JTS professor Weiss-Halivni (now at Bar Ilan).

Therefore the Reform and Conservatives have self-destructed and done themselves in so that the Orthodox need not battle them, and thus the real wars are among the Orthodox themselves, manifested more than anywhere else in each faction's attititude to geirus/conversion and its sister-ship kiruv/outreach, because as we see in today's world of the 21st century, there is turmoil in both how to mekarev (to do outreach) and how to megayer (to do conversions) and they are inter-related in many ways and on may levels, most of all in the real world of real lives as we see from all the problems and issues facing Orthodox outreach rabbis and outreach workers.

When exactly to pinpoint the change of eras from a time when Kiruv meant reaching out to Jews ONLY is not an exact scince,

But it has been coming to a head recently because up until about twenty years ago it could be asumed that most Jews in America were the products of both a Halachically correct mother AND father. This formula changed forever once Reform in America snactioned, accpted and practices the validity of patrilineal descent as enough of a criterion for being "Halachically" Jewish.

There has also been a rise in the movement of "Jews by choice" of gentiles who decide to "be Jewish" without conversions, and the arrival of the mixed marriages of Jews from the former USSR, the Falashas in Israel and the controversy they have stirred in the Orthodox world as well as never ending claims by so-called Conversos, Anusim, (they are still "conversos" and "anusim" after 550 years?) and all sorts of "10 Lost Tribe/s" claimants to being "Jewish" not to mention Hollywood's fascination with pseudo-Kabbala-Judaism. Soon the whole world will qualify to be "Jewish" if all the arguments are accepted which will then lead to the dangerous logical fallacy that "if everyone is Jewish then noone is Jewish" -- not even truly Halachic Jews -- and that will be, and it is already, a huge challenge to the existence of Jews according to Halacha (and in this I understand and agree with Dr. Eidensohn's [the owner of this blog] deeply-held concerns.)

Outreach organizations that are connected to the Orthodox, Haredi and Hasidic world will not be able to dodge the bullets forever. But that they resist facing the music is not a surprise.

Kiruv people think that it's odd indeed that the "the kiruv/baal teshuva revolution" is being challenged, something like the French Revolutionaries who were challenged by those who sort to impose more order and stability and respect for the rule of law in Framce (just a rough example).

There is a lot at stake for them. Especially big money, jobs, livelihoods, and the very art itself because like all human-based professions there is great pleasure and, yes, undeniably, much power, that is often wielded by the Kiruv workers as they lure and recruit and welcome secular Jews and their less-than-Halachically Jewish-families and loved ones into their spheres of influence.

To be continued...

1 comment :


    It would NOT be an exaggeration to say that all Orthodox kiruv rabbis and workers deal with either students who are either the children of intermarriages or who are themselves intermarried, perhaps multiple times.

    In a way there was a paradox that for about thirty years, from the 1950s through the 1980s, while society was in turmoil, that the turmoil of the world was itself a cause for the rise of the revolutionary Baal Teshuva Movement when tens of thousands of mostly young Jews from all walks of life began the trek back to Orthodox life and abandoning their secular/Reform/Conservative/traditionalist roots, and to their parents' dismay openly followed Haredi and Hasidic rabbis with long beards much like others around followed gurus and swamis. But they were MOSTLY Jewish kids with a Jewish mother AND a Jewish father.

    But the last 25 years have been different, from the 1980s until the present the numbers of Halachic non-Jewish who thought they were Jews, with most not understanding the ins and outs of the Halachic points, started to be part of all outreach programs and it could not be avoided.

    Anyone who reads the statistics of intermarriage knows that outside of the Orthodox world intermarriage now stands at about 90% and it is a miracle if one Jew marries another Jew, whereas 25 years ago the official intermarriage rate was "52%" (what is "2%" in terms of numbers here?, I am not sure).

    While the local rabbis and busy kiruv workers know this from reality now, that they must deal with intertwined issues of kiriv and geurus (outreach and conversion) the "higher ups" have developed "grand strategies" of sorts, and that is why the example of Rabbi Leib Tropper is so fascinating, and what he is doing is not unique to him.

    Rabbi Tropper is a purist who wants only the highest standards of Yidishkeit. He started out in kiruv as Rebbe in the original Ohr Somayach in Israel when it had the purist (and some would say simplistic goal) of turning intellectual Baalei Teshuva into regular yeshivishe lamdonim, but Ohr Somaych split four, perhaps ven five, ways over this issue:

    1) Rabbis Nota Schiller and Mendel Weinbach moderated the original fervor and opted for a slower yet serious pace for the curriculum (remember, Baal Teshuva yeshivas were a new invention at that time).

    2) Rabbi Noach Weinberg (the original founder of Ohr Somayach) set out to establish the Aish HaTorah that was not based on Ohr Somayach's intensity, easing up on the atmosphere, and as can be seen on Halachic standards when it comes to having non-Jews in their programs online and off.

    3) Rabbi Leib Tropper went in the other direction, feeling that both Ohr Somaych and Aish HaTorah had lost sight of their main mandate of basing everying ONLY on intense Gemora learning and rapid paced transformation to being a Ben Torah (not a bad goal but not as attractive to the nasses as Aish HaTorah's appeal, as is evident.)

    4) Rabbi Rosenberg broke from Ohr Somayach and founded Machon Shlomo as an elitist Baal teshuva yeshiva.

    5) Ohr Somyach franchised out its name and in turn branched out to Canada, South Africa, the USA where its Monsey NY namesake became a broad-based institution encourging gradautes to mostly go to work as do most yeshivas in America but not like Rabbi Tropper's Kol Yaakov yeshiva also in Monsey that stresses only the learning element, even though it does have an outrecah "Horizons" program.

    There were and are other yeshivas but while in the past almost all students came from Halachically Jewish mothers, matters are now much cloudier and its harder to know which boys will turn out to be non-Halachic Jews. The same goes for girls' kiruv programs.

    Rabbi Tropper is a venturer because with his EJF program to welcome in by doing outreach the non-Jewish spouses of interfaith couples under "strict" Beth Din auspices (actually fueling the flames of the process, as it were) he is doing a classical juggling act, that on the one hand he is trying to preempt and ward off attacks from the Haredi world he admires and respects and needs but at the the same time he is caving in to the interfaith flood at the gate and in this he is no different to ALL other Kiruv workers out there today trying to cope with the flood tide of interfaith students (meaning students from mixed marriages or intermarrieds themseleves, or those with non-Halachic conversions), and instead of calling a spade a spade and seeing the writing on the wall, that THE AGE OF KIRUV AS WE KNOW IT IS OVER and maybe even walking away from it, he tries to to finesse it (Dr. Tom Kaplan has lots of money and what else is there to do for a living if not helping millionares find solutions to their intermarried problems?), and that is why he was slapped by the BADATS who then sent out letters of warning to all those Recipients and asking for Publicity that Rabbi Tropper's agenda and methods were not part of the solution but were more part of the problem.

    Ditto for Chabd out there in the field and ditto for Aish HaTorah and even Ohr Somaych who, like Nero fiddle while "Rome" burns, in the name of "saving" the Jewish people, when they are undermining them instead with the hanky panky, not-so-secret welcoming of non-Jews into the arms of Yiddishkeit and then think that that they are doing a great Mitzva. Tricky stuff indeed.

    To be continued...


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