Monday, July 21, 2008

Kiruv VIII - Kiruv's corporate culture & soul

The following article of RaP's is too extreme - though I agree with the essence. However the article in JPOST was not concerned with these issues - it is not even clear that she attended any Aish program - but attacked kiruv in general in the name of Aish HaTorah. I think RaP is projecting his own views on the author of that embarrassingly bad piece of writing.

I also don't think Aish is a monolithic corporate culture - especially in recent years. My initial impression was that Aish was initially set up as a form of chassidus with Rav Noach as Rebbe and there was an attempt to develop a cult of personality. It is clear that most rebbeim there did not accept him as such - but that is another story. For the Baalei Teshuva who became lifers it is different. Perhaps it is time for someone to do a dissertation on Aish HaTorah. An important preliminary work "Returning to Tradition: The contemporary revival of Orthodox Judaism" by Herbert Danziger Yale Press 1989 is a good start.

Recipients and Publicity comment to "Jewish institutions & money - the critical role of...":


Presumably you have posted this article about Talanksy and his fundraising work as some kind of response and "counterbalance" to the comments in the previous post of "Kiruv VII - Aish HaTorah - what makes it tick?" that notes Aish HaTorah's huge success in fundraising.

However, the point of the previous post was not to negate the importance of fundraising, as it is a beneficiary of the key mitzvas of tzedaka and ma'aser, and Jews are per capita the most philanthropic people in the world giving to all sorts of causes with wide open hands and bank accounts.

The secular leftist Hungarian Jewish Holocaust survivor George Soros donated a BILLION dollars to various Russian institutions to help that land become "more democratic" and he continues to spend billions on all sorts of causes through his Soros Foundation so this kind of awesome generosity is nothing new especially for Israel that has long had a tradition, in its Haredi communities especially on relying on the foreign "chaluka" and no one begrudges Aish HaTorah because at one time or another most Jews living in Israel or in any Jewish community have and still do benefit from the tzedaka and generosity of many gevirim who help to support local yeshivas, medical facilities, social organizations, gemachs and much, much. much more.

But let's try to remain focused in our discussion, and we are talking about kiruv, the Baal teshuva movement and its mission of bringing Jews back to authentic Torah Judaism, and try to "keep your eye on the ball" (a favorite saying of Rav Noach Weinberg) like in any game, and ask yourself, are the big Orthodox run outreach movements like Aish (conncted to the Yeshiva world), Chabad (of the Chasidic world) and NJOP (a Modern Orthodox project) acting in a manner that no matter where you stop to look at them, or to be a little dramatic, no matter where you cut and puncture it, DOES IT RELEASE WARM HUMAN BLOOD OR DO COLD IMPERSONAL DOLLAR SIGNS COME OUT?

What is this "kiruv machine or behemoth" all about?

Mass kiruv, somehow also tied in with mass conversions if need be, are something new and there must always be an awareness, like Tip O'Neal of the US congress used to say, that "all politics is local" and similarly "all kiruv is local AND personal" and it should NEVER just be about "empire building" or "power-mongering" or "access to big money" while the real needs of individuals are ignored.

The beauty of the Golden Age of Kiruv from the 1950s to the 1980s was that it was a spontaneous movement in many ways, there was not a lot of planning by Orthodox organizations in fact there was even hostility from the hard-core yeshvish velt to kiruv as the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent out his new Chabad shluchim starting with his ascendancy to being Rebbe in 1950. Rav Hutner of Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn and Rav Ruderman of Ner Israel in Baltimore encouraged and supported the creation and work of NCSY under Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, but it was all pioneering and revolutionary work, of how to turn the tide of mass assimilation and bring back secular Jews to Torah observance.

Hippies and counter-culture people rejected money and materialism and they were searching for SPIRITUALTY and GODLINESS, but with the turning of the times and the advent of the second era of Kiruv from the 1980s until the present it was a more business-like and materialistic attitude that set it.

Chabad adapted to that as they do to all circumstances, but it was Rav Noach Weinberg, who had been in business ventures before turning to kiruv who grasped the new set of circumstances from the 1980s onwards and set out to produce a different breed of kiruv workers who had their roots in banking and capitalism and not in the counterculture that was a thing of the past.

That was all good and well. But when Aish became smitten with its own success in narcissistic fashion and operating like a huge corporate machine, there is the legitimate fear that it has lost its soul meaning a deeper connection to Yiddishkeit.

That is why the girl who writes the "You've been Aish'ed" article in the JP talks of the process she experienced as being mechanical and PROGRAMMED and by instinct she is rejecting that and making her own individualized statements which are all valid and that any reasonable kiruv worker would deal with rather than dump and reject her.

She does not wish to feel like a cog in a huge machine and that when she has her doubts she is spat out like a piece of garbage in an impersonal manner.

Helping a secular Jew become religious is like giving birth to a new soul, and a mother can only give birth to one baby at a time, and likewise in kiruv, if an organization becomes too big for its boots and loses sight of what it stands for, that the individual is king/queen, then it loses its soul and reveals itself for the "mass kiruv" machine that is somewhat akin to the "mass conversion" aparati that were recently shot down and God-forbid should not be the spiritual equivalents of "mass killing" instruments that cause more harm than good if for every two people mekarevd ten are lost to bitterness and more rebellion than they would have resorted to previously.

To be continued...


  1. I just want to mention that my criticism of the Jpost article had to do with the fact that she was leveling criticism of Aish's programs accusing them of cult like activity. I spent almost two years at Aish and I did not find that the case. The author also failed to mention (she her self was probably not aware) that much of Aish's programs are community based. Also their seminars travel to various communities. In other words it is not just culture shocked traveling college students that they are dealing with. Again this was not a well sourced article. She herself mentioned her source being what is whispered on college campuses. People whisper a lot of things on college campuses. Most of which i would not be aloud to write on this blog.

    Now if she wanted to do an expose on their fund raising apparatus she might have had an interesting story.

    However I think that most outsiders envy Aish when it comes to fund raising because they are so damned good at it. Without going into details, their are skeletons in every closet when it comes to finances. Even in the most ideological Zionist settlement enterprises. After all we are talking about real estate here.

    However when it comes to kiruv their is big money involved. Sometimes it is a numbers game. The more heads, the more funding. However Aish does not make its techniques a secret. In fact they offer courses on how to be a high power fundraiser in the corporate world. One may not like their shitta, but they do not keep it a hidden secret like they have something shameful to hide.

    Other organizations may walk around with halos on their heads but they are still sharks underneath.

  2. well, when you are ready to talk about tzedakah, i would be happy to help out.
    danny siegel ( stresses that there are three parts to the mitzvah: meeting and getting to know the mitzvah hero who had the idea, the vision to start the project; studying appropriate texts and sources to see the relevance of the Torah, Talmud, etc. to what we do today; and thirdly, to actually do the mitzvah.

    for more info about mitzvah heroes:

    yasher koach.

    arnie draiman

  3. "Helping a secular Jew become religious is like giving birth to a new soul, and a mother can only give birth to one baby at a time,"

    Chabad and Aish programs are usually just the initial "points of contact" which are introductions to traditional Judaism.

    For 20 years, we had a number of young people living in our home along with our family. I have never met a family who was involved in kiruv who did not "adopt" a number of grown children.

    My "kids" today are married frum people who are giving me lots of "grandchildren" and lots of naches.

    We would not hesitate to open our home again to Jews who are interested in exploring traditional Judaism. The only reason that we stopped doing so is that it has been about 7 years since I have met an unaffiliated Jew who is halachically Jewish. I am sure that it happens, it just wasn't happening to us.


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