Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Kiruv Movement

I wish I had more time to post on this, but I’m just too busy this week. Nevertheless, the recent posts I’ve seen concerning Avakesh’s BT post haven’t been up to par, so I’ll just throw out a few quick points. For what it’s worth, I think that Avakesh’s points are irrelevant more than they are incorrect. At any rate, here we go.

1. The BT movement is shielded from frank discussion in exactly the same way that issues of race are shielded in the United States. BT is the frum political correctness, and unless you familiar with, and have worked with many BTs, everything you think you know about them is probably “off.”

2. It is true that the BT movement is a blessing. The problem is that it’s really hard to pin down the real effects of modern kiruv – after all, the kiruv industry requires money to grease its wheels, and they have a strong bias to cook the numbers. Would the millions of dollars perhaps be spent better elsewhere, such as the day-schools, or perhaps kiruv krovim? I just don’t know, but I also don’t know of a serious effort to find out. And of course, it is true that fundraising for kiruv is not a zero-sum game; there are many sources for kiruv funding that otherwise wouldn't donate to Orthodox causes. Nevertheless, I would like to see some serious discussion of this fundamental question.

3. Many BTs come to religion through a deep recognition of the truth of the Torah. Some too, see the falsehood of the world about them, or have always felt an emptiness inside, and instinctively adopt Orthodox Judaism as the natural alternative. But the fact is, many and many more BTs become observant for less than altruistic reasons. Let’s face it – what sort of stable person would change his life on the basis of a few discussions with some kiruv punk who studied for six months at Aish? The answer is, not many at all.

4. The kiruv industry needs serious reform. Potential BTs are not made aware of the real hardships they will face in the frum world. Kiruv workers often seem to care about one thing – the sell, and are little concerned about what happens beyond that point, despite the fact that this should be a major, if not the primary, concern of kiruv. Also, many kiruv workers are of exceedingly low quality; the big, charismatic names we all hear and know are the exceptions, not the rule. How can we expect competent kiruv to come from this?

5. Our modern outlook of the BT is seriously skewed. To entice potential BTs, the kiruv movement has gone out of its way to convince people that BTs are the top of the food-chain, the pinnacle of religious virtue. Now, beyond the fact that much of the Torah taught on behalf of this idea is flatly false (the modern BT is not the BT of the gemara) the practical result of this overcompensation is even worse. Because many BTs are taught that “they are the best,” many feel no need to attempt to integrate into normative frum society. This applies even to young BTs that might integrate nicely, but are held back from doing so by this strange mentality. To use Yaakov Menken’s analogy, these are immigrants that refuse to learn the language, yet expect all the benefits of society. More precisely, the immigrants are both pleased and proud of the fact that they cannot speak the native tongue, and have been convinced by ideologues that their ignorance is in fact a form of enlightenment and cultural retention. (Note the parallels to political discussion of multiculturalism?)

6. The problem is not “us.” Yes, there is intolerance everywhere. But for the most part, people go out of their way to accept BTs into communal life.

7. I’ll say it once more. BT is the frum PC. Nothing will get solved until there is frank, honest discussion of this subject beyond the confines of the institutions that have a direct financial stake in the movement.

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