Sunday, July 20, 2008

Kiruv V - Orthodox and Reform meld - the slippery slope

Recipients and Publicity in his continuing series on the dynamics of contemporary kiruv





1980s to the present: A dangerous turning point in the history of Kiruv Rechokim and the Baal Teshuva Movement and Revolution.

Just in passing reference to Chabad, it would be worthy to note that with the mere existence of Chabad husband & wife shluchim/shluchos teams, lets assume that there are about five thousand of them in the wide world and if each couple brings in just one secular couple a year into their sphere of interest, not a far-fetched idea, then that makes five thousand new couples and ten thousand new "recruits" a year, and if even a quarter are not Halachically Jewish, then that means that all over the world, Chabad is responsible for pulling in 2,500 people into Jewish religious life who require Halachic conversions PER YEAR, and if one multiplies that over ten years that amounts to 25,000 people in that category which brings the entire matter to critical mass, and if one just doubles the figures assuming that Chabad rabbis and rebbetzins can each pull in more than one couple a year, that means that in the last ten years 50,000 people are involved in Chabad and Orthodox life who had not started out life as Halachic Jews, so that one clearly sees that what is happening is that with the success and spread of Orthodox kiruv, as practiced by Chabad or Aish HaTorah or NCSY or any group active in the field, many tens of thousands of non-Halachic Jews are being drawn in, just based on the UJA's groundbreaking and eye popping National Jewish Population Surveys (NJPS) of 1990 and 2000 (the 1990 report was so bad that they had to doctor the results of the 2000 report, but that is another subject) and that it is therefore beyond any shadow of a doubt that KIRUV AS WE KNOW IT OF REACHING OUT TO JEWS ONLY IS OVER, the "NEW" KIRUV IS ALL ABOUT REACHING BOTH JEWS AND THE NON-HALACHIC JEWS ATTACHED TO THEM. (That is why Rabbi Leib Tropper and his "kosher" EJF efforts are so cutting edge and relevant and when the BADATZ finally got to smell the coffee and wake up and sent notices out to Recipients and it received Publicity that ehrliche Orthodox rabbis were not to join in the EJF worldwide effort to welcome in non-Jews to Orthodoxy conversions no matter how "appealing" or "right" things mayy seem from a so-called kiruv perspective.)

And this brings us to the main topic of this post, that it can safely be stated, based on both the admissions of those in the field and the statistical and social realities, that the BROAD RANGED AGENDAS of BOTH the huge Orthodox/Haredi/Hasidic kiruv organisations and movements and those of the REFORM movement, with the Conservatives running a close second ARE THE SAME, in that they are:

(a) NOT to be repelled by the thought of having to reach out to non-Halachic Jews and even gentiles thereby rejecting them from mass strict Halachic conversions as required by Halacha itself of course, but on the contrary to

(b) REACH OUT and "MEKAREV" the non-Jewish and gentile spouses or children of non-Halachic Jews and provably gentile mothers, and even easing up on welcoming any gentiles who drop by a for "coffee and kiruv".

So that this is what it adds up to:

What the Reform and their Conservative allies are doing DE JURE (officially), the major kiruv movements are doing DE FACTO (unofficially) and at times even approaching the de jure efforts of Reform and even, believe it, being in the same boat with the same students and sharing the same synagogue spaces, such as when Orthodoxy's Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald's huge NJOP program runs programs for the last twenty years in almost every Reform, Conservative and even Reconstructionist synagogue and venue, not caring about Orthodox venues or what his Orthodox kiruv co-workers may think about it all!

It must be noted that Reform goes even further, that it has decided to outright proselytise gentiles not personally connected to Jews or Judaism in any way in order, they rationalize, to increase the numbers of Jews. This is like allowing a bunch of alcoholics to run a liquor business in the hope that they will bring in "more sobriety and more business" or like offering free bread and cheese to mice in the hope that they will join the human race in not being pests. All very distorted, yet taken very seriously in Reform and Conservative circles.

The Reform call it "keruv" with an "e" faking dikduk correctness, but the Reform and Conservatives are now as much into "keruv" as the Orthodox and Haredim are into the less correctly spelled "kiruv":

The official Reform movement site states openly:

"Union for Reform Judaism / Outreach

Reform Jewish Outreach serves a diverse population: men and women; interfaith and interracial couples; converts, those in the process of conversion and religious seekers; Jews of color; people of all sexual orientations; single adults and blended families; rich and poor; young and old and in-between.

As Reform Jews, we are committed to actively welcoming all and building vibrant, inclusive congregational communities. We seek to perform the mitzvot of ahavat ger (loving the stranger) and keruv (drawing near all who are far). The William & Lottie Daniel Department of Outreach and Membership, together with the URJ-CCAR Commission on Outreach and Membership, has a dual mission:

*to empower and encourage individuals and families, including interfaith families, to make meaningful Jewish choices in the context of membership in a Reform congregation

*to assist Reform congregations in their efforts to become sacred communities that welcome the full diversity of Jews and their families and those seeking to join or come closer to the Jewish people, through effective recruitment, engagement and lifelong retention of members"

And that gets one thinking, hey, if Reform is so positive about this stuff, instead of preaching the old doctrines of "Berlin is Jerusalem" and their notoriously schismatic Pittsburgh Platform (1885) opining that:

"3. We recognize in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and today we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.

4. We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.

5. We recognize, in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect, the approaching of the realization of Israel s great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state."

But see, today they talk of "keruv" and are actually envious of Chabad's and other Orthodox groups outreach that they must ape that, because in any case, most kiruv in the first stages does not expect anything different than just hanging out with the rabbis and attending some generalized classes and having a good time at Shabbat dinners "across America" or whatever.

The Conservative's Dr. Gary A. Tobin's "Opening the Gates: How Proactive Conversion Can Revitalize the Jewish Community" (San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers, 1999) and in he concludes

"...The American image of Jews as either central or eastern European, largely Ashkenazi descendants from Fiddler on the Roof does not reflect the complexity of the American Jewish family.

Those who are subject to nostalgia often long for some particular time and place, and associate it with some particular mythology of “how life used to be. ”Moreover, the Jewish community as a whole continues to cling to an ideal that may not even be desirable. Maybe bringing non-Jews to be part of the Jewish people, for example, so that we grow and prosper rather than diminish is desirable rather than horrifying. Perhaps we should embrace the growing diversity rather than be afraid.

If the Jewish organizational and institutional structures — our synagogues, community centers, federations, and the vast array of human service and educational institutions — are going to do their job in helping the Jewish community to be vital and strong, they should embrace who we are, rather than lament who they think we used to be or think we should be. For, indeed, we live neither in the 1950s nor in the time of Abraham. We live in the 21st century, and we should deal with the reality of who we are—now."

The Conservatives also have a program called "Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs: Our Mission":

"The Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs is an organization of approximately 270 Conservative/Masorti Jewish men's groups consisting of 25,000 individuals across North America and the world. The FJMC involves Jewish men in Jewish life by building and strengthening Men's Clubs in the Conservative/Masorti Movement.

Our objectives are to train and develop leaders to build and strengthen Men's Clubs; to create and implement programs to involve men in Jewish life; and to be an active and influential participant in the Conservative/Masorti Movement."

And one of their biggest aims, is what else, "keruv" , naturally, with things like "Congregations with Keruv Programs and Consultants":

"What's a Keruv Consultant?

The Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs Keruv Initiative seeks to provide guidance and comfort to those within our congregations who are intermarried, whose children are intermarried, or who have extended family of another faith

Keruv Consultants are experts in the implementation of the FJMC Keruv programs, as defined by the FJMC Publications, HEARING MEN'S VOICES - VOLUMES FOUR & FIVE, Building the Faith & Let's Talk About It.

The issue of intermarriage confronts us as a community and within our own families. Given the fact of the dual faith marriage, how do we reach out to encourage these families to adopt a Jewish lifestyle, indeed to increase their involvement in Jewish life? Where do we begin as a congregation and as individuals to transform ourselves to make this outreach a success? should this be a priority at this time? With the publication of ''HEARING MEN'S VOICES: Building the Faith'' in 2001 there has been an outpouring of interest at program after program led by men's clubs in synagogues throughout North America"

and this is backed up with articles from the Baltimore Jewish Times "Conservatives Grapple With Intermarriage":

"The high stakes were not being glossed over.

"The bad news is, the way things are, there probably won't be a Conservative movement in 50 or 100 years," said Stephen Lachter, noting that the 2000 National Jewish Population Study saw the percentage of Conservative Jews slip below that of Reform ones. "The good news is that those of us in the Conservative movement have the power to change that."

Later, he added, "We are all Jews by choice. We make choices about our Judaism every day. It's not unusual that people move along. They take an introduction to Judaism course. They take a basic Hebrew course and then they convert to Judaism. That happens in our synagogue and I assume it happens elsewhere. You need to provide people with information. But you have to do it in a positive, effective way"."

and the Washington Jewish Week "consider best approaches to reaching out to intermarried families":

"...a new Conservative movement initiative to guide congregations in welcoming intermarried families.

The keruv think tank and training program last week in Baltimore was the second seminar organized by the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs to help rabbis and lay leaders address a range of issues arising from intermarriage. (Keruv means "bring near" in Hebrew and is often used to refer to inreach and outreach.)

The seminar included sessions titled "Broaching Conversion to the Non-Jewish Partner" and "Developing Strategies for the Non-Jewish Spouse," as well as advice in areas such as the proper language Jews should utilize to talk to a non-Jewish son- or daughter-in-law...

But Simon stresses that the keruv project is not sanctioning intermarriage, but merely reacting to the large percentage of Conservative Jews with intermarriages in their own families -- and encouraging those who are intermarried to raise their children in the synagogue.

In addition, non-Jewish spouses who feel welcome are more likely to explore conversion, say Simon and local Jewish leaders who attended last week's conference.

"We need to figure out a way to welcome [the non-Jewish spouses of intermarried couples] into our shuls or lose these people," said Stephen Lachter, past president of the Adas Israel Men's Club and a keruv consultant who attended last week's seminar...

"As a result of having the kind of policy we're talking about, [and] without setting any kind of precondition, these individuals ultimately decided to embrace Judaism," Weinblatt said.

Lachter called the keruv initiative "the most profound and important thing going on in the Conservative movement today."

"What else could be more Jewish than to treat people in a caring way?"."

The important thing to note is that both the Reform and Conservatives have taken over and now embrace and welcome the language AND THE ACTIVITY of "keruv"/"kiruv" OPENLY, OFFICIALLY with unashamed keruv/outreach to those of doubtful Halachic Jewish status as well as to to pure gentiles, so that then it is really no different to the often HIDDEN, UNofficial yet also unabashed mekareving that Orthodox, Haredi and Chabad rabbis and kiruv workers are doing when they too lure and welcome into their midst the same people that that the Reform and Conservatives are now "keruving" out to.

This is a dangerous turning point in the history of Kiruv Rechokim and the Baal Teshuva Movement and Revolution.

In the first stage of the Golden Age of Kiruv from the 1950s to the 1980s when Reform and Conservative were still cock-sure of themselves and did not care if their youth joined "fringe groups" (and even if they did care, there was nothing they could do about it in any case), but from late 1980s and especially from 1990, when the frightening truths about intermarriage and Jews and gentiles welded and melded and wed to each came to the fore in the shape of the 1990 UJA sponsored National Jewish Population Survey in the USA they panicked and began their "keruv" initiatives to all and sundry and it was at that time, combined with the results of Reform's decision to accept patrilineal descent as being enough of a criterion for Jewishness that then meant that one could no longer take for granted the "Jewishness" of anyone who claimed to be Jewish, and with the rise in intermarraige across the board, THE AGE OF KIRUV AS WE KNOW IT WAS OVER, and thus began THE AGE OF ORTHODOX AND HAREDI KIRUV MEETS REFORM AND CONSERVATIVE KERUV that has been ongoing from the late 1980s into the 21st century.

Thus the very real squabbles and battles over conversions, which are valid and which are not, and how far kiruv workers should be involved in the process has become a key issues all over the world. In Israel, the struggle involves rabbinical organs inside and outside of the official state of Israel's legal and legislative structure in both the Halachich and secular legal domains due to the political realities of living in the political state, but the issues are just as critical and burning in North America, the UK, Europe and wherever large groups of Jews are to be found facing the assimilation, intermarriage and conversion issues of the day.

The following analogy may be a little sharp, so please pardon it, but the word "kiruv" or as spelled "keruv" share the same root as the word "kirva" and alas also "kurva" and as much as "kirva" may refer to the elevated spiritual state of "kirvat Elokim" of being close to God, yet in another context and degrading sense there is also the word "kurva" in Hebrew and Yiddish which means "prostitute" since it is also a form of "coming (too) close" but of the wrong type of "closeness" that while it may give momentary pleasure also carries with it risks of disease and degradation and even death. Similarly the Biblical word "zona" can mean healthy "sustenance" and denote positive nutrition such as with breads as "mazon" yet it shares a root, if used against morality of "zona" a woman who "sustains" a man sexually with fleeting carnal pleasures for the wrong reasons and with degrading results that are paid for rather than attained in a moral and legitimate way.

The Reform and Conservative's "keruv" must be seen as the dark side of Orthodoxy's Kiruv in order for the Orthodox and Haredi kiruv rabbi and professional to retain a correct perspective and a clear conscience that they are not swimming in the same cesspools that the Reform and Conservatives created for themselves in the first place.

Thus it's clear that THE challenges for the Orthodox erhliche and Halachicaly uncomprisng kiruv rabbi and professional is to cut through the haze and the maze that now links Reform and Conservative "keruv" with Orthodox and Haredi "kiruv" OUT THERE IN THE FIELD, in the so-called "real world" where "East meets West" and how to split this atom requires the brains of an Einstein, the wisdom of a Solomon, and the prophetic spirit of Eliyahu Hanavi in CORRECTLY bringing the hearts of JEWISH fathers and mothers and JEWISH sons and daughters together but NOT to cause spiritual Chernobel-like meltdowns that will hurt everyone who comes close to the radioactive and toxic mess of the inevitable interplay between bad kiruv and conversion decisions..

To be continued...


  1. Great post.

    I fear use of the term "non-Halachic Jews." Non-Halachic Jews are gentiles, aren't they?

    We need to find a different word to use when describing people who are not Jewish but either think they are or want to pretend they are. (any ideas?) I know it's hair splitting, but to call them non-Halachic Jews is to call them a type of Jew, and they are not.

  2. To mel kaminsky, while "non-Halachic Jews" are indeed gentiles ACCORDING TO HALACHA, in the context of this post it is a term meant to describe those who may have a Halachic Jewish FATHER but a gentile mother, or were converted to Judaism by Reform and Conservative. It is not mean to refer to pure gentiles or "people who are not Jewish but either think they are or want to pretend they are."

    According to Orthodoxy the definitions are clear, but in the world at large they are not. And when one is dealing with a subject that jumps from the secular world to the Orthodox world and to the non-Orthodox world (and by the way, "non-Orthodox Jews" is never taken to mean "plain gentiles" but rather, it means "Reform, or Conservative or secular Jews") so that one then has to fall back on some sort of nomenclature and descriptors that will make it clear that the subject matter is about "one who is regarded as Jewish by some definitions, such as Reform's, BUT NOT by Orthodox Halacha." How else to have a dialague on a common subject?, and I for one am not interested in having a conversation with myself as Jersey girl is typically apt to have.

    If you have any better suggestions about what terminology is more suitable or helpful in this of discussion, then suggest something please as I would greatly appreciate it.

  3. Perhaps "pseudo-Jew" would work.

  4. "pseudo-Jew" is not clear because how do you know he/she is not a Halachic Jew since the word "pseudo" can also mean "shallow" or "hypocritical" or "deceitful" and how would a reader know you don't mean that?

    At least "non-Halachic" Jew, while it sounds odd, is VERY clear that the person is not deemed by Halacha to be a Jew even though he/she may claim to be or be known to be so.


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