Ideology or Community? An Exchange Between Rabbis Broyde and Feldman
[YA – Rabbi Ilan Feldman’s contribution to the new issue of Klal Perspectives continues attract the most attention. Our plan at KP is to collect both letters and longer responses to the issue, and publish them as a separate, special issue.
Some responses can’t or shouldn’t wait. Rabbi Michael Broyde is a neighbor of Rabbi Feldman’s in Atlanta. He communicated a strong caveat to Rabbi Feldman’s piece to which I was privileged to be included. (Full disclosure: both of them are friends of mine.) I urged both of them to share the exchange; they both agreed. They have edited the original only slightly to make it better understood by readers. My guess is that it will stir up some healthy debate.]
I read your piece today in Klal Perspectives and I enjoyed it very much. It was well written and persuasive and made a few excellent points — it was very very nice. Congratulations!
I write a criticism of it in two parts, not because I did not agree with what it said, but because I thought it was missing two central issues which temper it.
First, I think that you think that many people are not Orthodox because they have not seen yet a beautiful social community. As you put it: Orthodox Jews would lead lives of idealism that extend beyond their own religious needs, inevitably becoming role models and attractive examples of lifestyle to non-observant Jews.
I think, however, that many many people are not Orthodox because they have taken a close look at what we believe in and reject it. They find us, in their opinion, to be ideologically and scientifically backwards. If we were going to adopt your approach alone, we would have to shed some of those views, and many of us [myself included] do not want to. My read is that many Orthodox Jews stopped being actually Orthodox because of the Slifkin matter and became merely Orthoprax (or less) as they took a close look at how many of us treated the Torah and Science problem and “jumped ship.” Torah and science are not the only ones and there are many other areas where Orthodoxy is in a different place — totally and completely — on important matters of ideology from our secular brothers.
The idea that if we live beautiful lives, that is enough to make people frum strikes me as inadequate to fully explain what is going on around us. They are not “us” because they do not agree with us on core ideological issues. Indeed, the “spiritual battle” (as you call it) will have casualties on our side as well, as — beautiful as our social community is — many of our dogmas and ideologies are thought of as untenable by many secular people. We can, on many matters, sadly enough, just retreat to insularity, in the hope that people do not actually look closely at many issues.
So my first comment is that the kind of open outreach community has to really be prepared to be honestly questioned about all of our different views, and many of them will be subject to ridicule. While we have answers — some excellent, some okay and some weak — do not doubt that sometimes the outside world has better questions than we have answers. The kind of open community that you describe will be hard pressed sometimes to function. — Some of the academic research on the teshuva phenomenon notes that we attract a certain type of person while others are not at all interested in us. You seem to gloss over the existence of such an ideological gap and you treat it merely as a social gap. I think there is much more at play. People leave Orthodoxy as we do not seem to ring true to their rational selves rather than because we are not good social models.
Second, and even more complexly, this situation discusses only America. The truth is that the Charedi community in Israel will never be perceived as a role model for anything until they agree to carry there fair burden of the obligations of the community around them. Secular Israelis, and indeed many in the tzioni dati community as well, view the non-army serving charedi community as bad role models and unattractive examples of a Torah lifestyle. While if Israel were Mars — far away and strange — this would not matter, I sense in a very clear way that the image of us America-based Orthodox (particularly the charedi looking ones) are being tarnished day in and day out by this. In Israel, kiruv towards Israelis is hardly being done by anyone other than the army serving tziyoni or sefardi community, exactly for that reason. This is the same issue as above, but in a different form. For your idea to actually work, we have to actually be role models in a full and complete way. In Israel, many parts of Orthodoxy are not.
The sum of both of these criticisms is that to adopt your model actually could open our community not just to the outside world becoming like us, but to us being subject to the outside worlds’ deep and close criticism of who we are and what we stand for. Exactly for that reason I think kiruv needs to be done by professionals who know questions and answers and reflect, parry, and feint. I fear that many in the Orthodox community can not withstand the rigors of the questioning being part of an outreach community would bring.
In short, living a “life of idealism” as you put it, will not fix the problem entirely. It will leave out the many who think our ideals are wrong, and it will cause all of us to have our ideals closely examined and being forced to defend them. We need many more people than we have at the moment who are capable of doing that. We have contented ourselves with a kind of retreat into an intellectual insularity that does not produce the people who could be the ablest spokespeople for Torah and its values.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think the difference in perspectives between your view and mine reflects the different worlds we operate in. In academia, there is at least the assumption that non-Orthodox are thoughtfully non-orthodox. Most of the balanced non-frum I meet are open, largely unschooled in regard to the basics of Judaism, and mostly open to inspiration. As to the issue of possible losses from the ranks of Orthodoxy when exposed to others, that is precisely my point: a responsible Orthodoxy would produce thoughtful and articulate people who would would be able to hold their own in an intelligent discussion with people who have another world view. This is no more difficult than training masses of students to be conversant in a Ketsos; it is merely a question of priorities. I am maintaining that a society grounded in Kiddush Hashem would have this as a priority.
Your comments about Israeli society and chareidim ring true. It is definitely more complex than I make it out to be in the article. However, even with Israeli chareidim not serving in the army, a kinder, gentler chareidism which was not insecure would soften the blow, and at least model something virtuous. I fear that this is not happening at the moment. We have no idea what Israeli society would accept from a scholarly elite that demonstrated devotion, compassion, and plain interest in the well being of broader society.
These are thoughts largely developed in passing, by-products of an activity that has been taking up much more of my time. I find myself meeting with uninspired Orthodox Jews who desperately need a community of passionate, responsible neighbors who have sense of mission in their lives, and that continues to be my focus. There is more to be said about your thoughtful comments.
Rabbi Michael Broyde is a Professor of Law at Emory University, was the founding rabbi of the Young Israel in Atlanta and is a dayan in the Beth Din of America. Rabbi Ilan Feldman is the rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Atlanta and one of the founding trustees of AJOP.
Rabbi Broyde and Rabbi Feldman seem to be talking about different issues. RMB is speaking about why the multitudes of Jews have no interest in being Orthodox and RIDF is speaking about how to attract those who are already close to Orthodoxy into the frum community. Both of them might be correct, actually, each to hos own mission, but I think that Rabbi Broyde is closer to the truth with his basic claim that most secular Jews think our core ideology — hashkafa, if you want — is wrong and they would be glad to come visit the Orthodox community for a moment of comfort or joy, but deny the basic truths of the way we want to live. Chabad has mastered serving the Jews who come for comfort or joy with no desire to live the life.
As a baal tshuva who initially found inspiration from the “life of inspiration” promised by Orthodox Judaism, and eventually found much disillusionment which has been, in large part, related to the two points raised by Rabbi Broyde, I want to say that it is refreshing to see these issues discussed in a public forum, and in an intelligent and respectful way.
I’d like to suggest two related ideas for consideration.
First, I think it is important for people to consider that a successful kiruv process eventually leads the ba’al tshuva to become a full-fledged member of the Orthodox community. This is rather obvious, I suppose, but the point I want to make is that the hashkafas that are put forward in kiruv should not be different fromthe hashkafas that really exist. Perhaps an example would help me make my point. If a kiruv program were to answer questions about Torah and Science along the lines of Rabbi Slifkin’s approach, that might help the ba’al tshuva overcome his or her intellectual reservations about Orthodox Judaism. But what, then, when the ba’al tshuva finds that these positions are considered heretical by many of the greatest leaders of Orthodox Judaism? What I’m trying to say is that issues such as Torah and Science, or army service in Israel, or many other issues, should not be addressed specifically for the hozer b’tshuva – there should not be the “ba’al tshuva’s” hashkafa and the “regular” hashkafa. These are issues I feel the Orthodox world needs to address internally, and more openly than they have been addressed until now. I believe it is misleading, and ultimately destructive, to approach these issues from a “marketing” perspective, which I think is sometimes done today.
Secondly – and perhaps this is one way of approaching my first point – I believe that charedi kiruv programs should be more open than I think they are today about steering hozrai b’tshuva into non-haredi frameworks and communities. Just as ideal chinuch should be tailored to the individual child, so should Torah chinuch for adults be tailored to the adult. Here, I speak from experience in saying that if you take a person with a university background and an intellectual orientation and steer him or her towards a community in which certain books written by highly respected rabbis are not allowed in shul because their hashkafas seem too “modern” in somebody’s eyes, and in which support of gender segregation on buses is considered a mark of frumkeit, instead of a community of professionals who share a much stronger intellectual background with the ba’al tshuva, you are doing a major disservice to the ba’al tshuva, and no great service to the community and hashkafa that you believe you are favoring.
I write this with much respect for the authors of this post, in the hope that some of my observations from experience may be useful.
I have to agree with Rabbi Broyde especially with regard to his first point. I interact with many non-Orthodox Jews. And while they all think that the Orthodox lifestyle is wonderful, none of them have the slightest interest in actually being Orthodox (some are somewhat Orthoprax). The reason is that they regard Orthodoxy as intolerant (with regard to women, non-Orthodox, and esp. gays, and they see proof of this coming from Israel all the time) and laughable when it comes to science. Sort of how we tolerantly look down on the Chabad Meshichist, recognizing he is a nice person but feeling sorry for him on account of his strange views, that is how they look at the Orthodox. There is no normal college educated person who will every become a haredi baal teshuvah if he is told that he must believe the world is under 6000 years old. That is just the reality.
By inserting Israel into the equation, Rabbi Broyde introduces a very relevant point especially as it pertains to Rabbi Feldman’s “model community”. And, I think that what happens in Israel does not stay in Israel. It is just as relevant to Kiruv in America. The truth is that many Jews who have started to embark on a journey towards Orthodoxy have in some ways passed through Israel directly or indirectly. For some, it may have been a Birthright trip. For others it might have been a stint at Aish Hatorah or Ohr Sameach. For others it might have been a Federation or AIPAC mission to Israel. These experiences have either been inspirational, experiential, or merely political. But, regardless of the sponsor, anyone with their eyes wide open will see at least two things. First, as with any country, there needs to be an infrastructure. This includes economic, (high-)technology, and simply keeping the lights on. Second, there are the obvious military and internal security concerns. Merely passing through Ben Gurion Airport will hone in on this. Certainly, leaving the airport and seeing members of Tzahal and checkpoints en route to one’s destination will drive this point home. In many ways, in America, we take many of these things for granted, given the size and relative buffer from organized enemies. When an intellectually mature and thinking person has his/her eyes wide open, there is obviously a disconnect when it comes to the Chareidi community. Not only do they look and dress differently, but they do not seem to be contributing to a broader “model community”. In an era where many young people are seeing the world through the lens of social justice, there is an obvious inequity. Justifications that the Chareidi community through its wholesale IDF exemptions, is somehow contributing towards this model community (and certainly contributing to its defense through Torah), is a tough sell. And if and when they are ever exposed to the Dati Leumi Hesder community who “do both”, it is an impossible sell (The hard sell is made more acute through the two other fronts of Torah and Science that Rabbi Broyde talks about and the prevalent increasing gender segregation). In the face of anti-Israel sentiments on college campuses, making a case for Israel and indirectly justifying one’s Judaism must include arguments on these two fronts. And one need not actually traverse through Israel to observe and conclude this. Many of the same conclusions can be made virtually through content on the Internet and social media. [Aish(.com) realizes this and has had to become more Zionistic in its persona of late.]
Secondly, inasmuch as the balance of power in the Torah world has shifted to Israel’s Chareidi (“observant”) community, Kiruv professionals and Baalei Battim in the U.S. are tethered to that space for energy, guidance, and Psak. Once again, there is dissonance. This is even stronger in an Israeli election season when one reads of the jockeying and even internal bickering within the Charedi world and the Torah luminaries very much playing a role. With all of the pettiness going on that really boils down to money and power, without equitable contributions towards the economy and security, just sharpens the differences between the observant and model community.
There is also a false dichotomy between being Orthodox and secular. Surely there are folks who are religious but not Orthodox. And surely there are folks, particularly in Israel, who may be somewhat traditional but not Orthodox.
It does a disservice to everyone by perpetuating this false dichotomy.
Here is my wish in all this: I wish that Torah Judaism would not be such an all-or-nothing issue. Many people in the Orthodox Jewish world claim that already it is not, but that is not the reality, at least not in my experience. For example, the first question invariably coming out of such people’s mouths whenever they see me, is to ask where I live, so they can decide in their minds whether I drive a car on Shabbat, and thus decide whether I am truly part of their in-group or not. Nor does being a good person seem to be central to their vision of Torah Judaism, since the three bottom line criteria of what defines somebody as Orthodox, namely laws of family purity, keeping the Sabbath and other major Jewish holidays, and the kosher laws, are not matters that directly relate to how we treat one another.
And so, I would like to offer an alternative vision here, and that is, to see every single Jew as being religious, at least to some degree, and some more than others, of course. Even the most ardent atheist born Jewish, must have done something kind in his or her personal life, and thus has done at least some good in G-d’s Eyes. I know for myself, that for a variety of reasons, I have come to the realization that I could never be a full-fledged Orthodox Jew, and yet I define myself most of all by my Jewishness, and do carry out a few of the many laws to some extent. Again speaking only for myself, the times I feel most proud to be Jewish, is when I see or hear about Jews behaving in a morally exemplary manner. And, the tremendous wisdom of Rabbis coming as a result of Torah learning also impresses me to no end. In fact, I so much enjoy studying the Torah, that I have increasingly felt as if Torah study is the very reason why I was created in the first place. Yet since I am not religious, my saying what I just said, means absolutely nothing to Orthodox Jews. Something is wrong with this picture.
I personally am in the camp of those who were dissuaded by anti-intellectualism, as described by Rabbi Broyde.
But I was talking to somebody who I think is somewhat more emblematic of Jews in general, and I don’t think she can be neatly categorized into either the group described by Rabbi Broyde or those ready to be mekarved by Rabbi Feldman. She was Reform her whole life, but due to my influence when I was frum, has been going to an Orthodox synagogue — in Atlanta — for around 7 years! But she has no plans to become frum and has demurred from the offers of those who offer various classes. She likes the community. She believes in “Judaism,” but generally, not in every aspect of frumkeit. She keeps kosher in the house, but drives on Shabbos. She’s turned off by mechitzas and women being moved to back rooms when Hasidic rebbes come to visit. She lives in the modern world, and simply sees no reason to be frum.
Thank you for including this dialogue between two giants in the field of Judaism.
“In academia, there is at least the assumption that non-Orthodox are thoughtfully non-orthodox”
This is a CORE STATEMENT that can not be overlooked or ignored. Many of the graduates of my day school (of late 1960s)are not practicing Torah Jews today, to my chagrin. When I meet them & the discussion begins, it is not the lack of inspiration or ignorance of Torah laws that hit them between the eyes. It is modern-day Judaism (which includes no science, no secular studies, no women, no courage of Rabbonim, growth of Jewish fanatics, no open-discussions, racism and discrimination of the “other’)which has destroyed the “pleasantness of Torah”. They have concluded intelligently that Judaism of today is AMISS.
In his article Rabbi Feldman makes some very strong points about the nature of our community. However, while I am convinced of the truth of many of his ideas I am not convinced that the adoption of these ideas would lead to an overwhelmingly more effective Kiruv environment. His ideas should be adopted because many of them are Emes irrespective if they would lead more people into the fold or not.
Rabbi Broyde is correct to temper the idea that if only we would have a “model society” all would flock to join it. Rabbi Feldman oversimplifies when he writes “Do people avoid peace, sweetness and truth? Shouldn’t Torah living have sold itself by now?”
Rabbi Feldman holds up his 1998 Federation/UJA trip as a model of success. He writes “By all accounts, I was wildly successful in my mission.” Yet he fails to mention if even one non-observant member of that mission became religious. He writes that “some have even made major contributions to the growth of Orthodox institutions due to the relationships we forged.” and “What happened on that trip — and many have experienced this — can happen in the millions”. That is all very fine, but what exactly did happen (in a kiruv sense) on that trip?
I agree with both of them.
I asked a chusheveh person in our community what his feelings were about the fierce infighting that charecterizes the current election cycle within the Yahadut Hatorah factions, with all kinds of harsh talk and actions that do not befit elevated human beings. His answer was that he is ashamed to be associated with these people and can’t understand how we can be in the same camp with them. I had neverf heard of Slifkin until he was persecuted,but have never felt the same since. If these people were a minority, dayenu, but I think they are growing so fast that we, the normal people (to be chauvanistic) are being outflanked. Kiruv that demands belief in an age of the earth that is simply untenable is a non starter. There is a lot of bath water that has accompanied our essential beliefs in our long road through the exile and today the bathwater seems to be drowning the baby. When will the center have a backbone and stop giving in to those who are an embarresment to be associated with.
“In academia, there is at least the assumption that non-Orthodox are thoughtfully non-orthodox”
For the first of Rabbi Broyde’s points, this is (as an earlier commentator said) the core statement, and it’s incorrect in many cases.
Many (although certainly not all) non-frum Jews have a some hostility to conservative religion in general, but in most cases, they are ascribing Evangelical Christian ideas to Judaism. What they are rejecting is bigotry and “old man with a white beard in the sky” religion.
More fundamentally, people don’t make decisions based on pure intellect. The advertising industry (few ads in any medium rely much on intellectual persuasion) is the most obvious example. Having worked in political communications for about a decade, I can confidently say that most political advertising gets is persuasive power from factors other than pure logos. Most of the time, intellect justifies decisions one makes for other reasons.
That plays out in kiruv as well. I have yet to meet someone who has become frum by first agreeing with traditional Judaism on, say, homosexuality, then deciding Torah must be true. In practice, most people become frum for more intangible reasons, then progressively accept the parts of Torah that are at odds with current intellectual fashion.
Model communities would, tactically speaking, be a constant source of these intangible but deeply persuasive examples and experiences. That persuasive strategy sidesteps intellectual fightings and is quite powerful.
[That’s not to say that wrongly insisting one must believe the world was created in 6 days won’t turn someone off instantly. Anyone who believes that will have a hard time succeeding in kiruv.]
One of the central problems in American kiruv is that around 80% of non-Orthodox Jews think of themselves as far-left liberals or progressives, and see Orthodoxy as right-wing. When they see choices between between secular, Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox, there’s usually no way they will choose the one “non-egalitarian” option, even in response to the most beautiful community. People are so attached to their identity as progressive 21st century Americans that they will not become frum unless someone proves to them that one can in fact be a good progressive — feminist, pro-gay, pro-science, etc. — and an Orthodox Jew. Someone needs to write a Guide for the Perplexed for progressive Jews — they are today’s Aristotelians.
For most people, the path of least resistance is to stay on the same life track and career track as before. In Western society, this path includes continuing to accept certain cultural and intellectual givens. But people also have a transcendence about them, and some thought or event or experience can prompt a radical re-examination of the givens.
At that point, more active thinkers might set off on a search for the better way or better idea that can set their world straight. More passive thinkers might at least become more receptive to alternatives they had never considered, if proponents of the alternatives turn up in their space and try to persuade them.
Either way, these seekers have their antennas up to detect insincerity and inconsistency in the new options and in those promoting them. Communal insincerity includes active subversion of positive stated goals. Communal inconsistency includes intellectual approaches where the pieces don’t fit, because of shallow thinking and lack of rigor. Sending aspiring baalei teshuvah into deficient communities is asking for trouble. After feeling betrayed, the stronger baal teshuvah may resume seeking, but the weaker one may head off in worse directions than ever.
As someone who left orthodoxy (an almost baal teshuva) and will not return (bli neder) I want to say “wow” to these thoughtful responses from the soldiers who stayed. Kol Ha Kavod.
Interesting how once again the lack of any serious data gathering leads to different folks seeing the world through their own (in this case clearly conflicting) anecdotal glasses. Reminds me of Doctors prescribing without testing, they may be right but wouldn’t you rather have better information before betting the ranch on your gut feel?
“There is no normal college educated person who will every become a haredi baal teshuvah if he is told that he must believe the world is under 6000 years old. That is just the reality”
This statement like others are based on the assumption that the rabbis should/would do everything to attract the biggest number of Baale Tshuva. I believe this is not so.
The hashkafa in the haredi world is based on the concept of פח השמן הטהור. The famous Hanukka vessel containing little but lasting for 8 days. Another concept is “we want only jews committed 100% to our worldview. Less than 100% is zero.” It is like Tefilin: 99% kosher Tefilin are 100% possul.
So it goes like this: “we do not care about having 100 000 BTs if they are only 99% committed to our worldview. We want to have 10 000 BTs committed 100%. Who says that there have to be millions of frum jews to bring the world to its tikkun if they do not fit exactly to our worldview which we consider as the only Torah true worldview?”
It seems weird but they’re both right but they are because they’re really talking about different experiences and environments as Rabbi Feldman points out. it sounds like Rabbi Feldman is coming across very different types of people than Rabbi Broyde is.
I’m finding a lot over over generalizations in the comments, however. There are Jews who have been highly educated and who have become chareidi. Just look at the Bostoner Rebbe, zy”a, and how successful he was with highly educated Jews. I’m guessing a fair number of them became chareidi. In my own experience in a Lubavitch community, I have met many highly educated baalei teshuva or heard of highly educated baalei teshuva. And of course what about the Chareidi “poster child”, Rabbi Yonasan Rosenblum, who is definitely an inspiration to me and I’m sure quite a number of other baalei teshuva. yes, I’m sure there have been highly educated people who had trouble with some of the ideology but for a nice number of people somehow that isn’t a problem. I’m not saying this means you don’t have to ignore this, but over generalization doesn’t help when trying to understand the big picture.
What’s happening is that whether you call it kiruv or whether you call it shlichus, it’s not a one size fits all story. Something that works for someone will not work with another. It has to be done with sechel. It has to be b’oiften hamiskabel (in a way that can be accepted and understood).
Baruch Hashem, we have different drachim, because not all of us are meant to be in one derech. Maybe that’s the story as well. By necessity, different kiruv groups will present their own derech’s way of doing things. The truth is, what other choices would they have? At the same time, this isn’t a contest. Maybe there might be a time where one Rabbi might realize this person he’s helping might really benefit from a shiur or a program someone else in his community is giving. This might be a little tangential, but imagine the benefits when people work together and imagine the positive impact on their community, whatever the backgrounds might be of the people there?
“In Israel, kiruv towards Israelis is hardly being done by anyone other than the army serving tziyoni or sefardi community, exactly for that reason.”
Have you never heard of Lev L’achim, which has regular kollel avreichim knocking on secular Israelis’ doors weekly. They’ve enrolled thousands of secular children in torah schools annually for the past 14 years.
And who do you think runs Shuvu?
After reading the entire Klal Perspectives this past shabbat, I was left breathless. As confirmed by Rabbi Broyde’s cogent reponses to Rabbi Feldman’s article, it appears that the subject matter is not at all kiruv – but rather the viability of orthodox Judaism in general.
Apparently, a large number of contribors believe that Kiruv Professionals are trying to “sell” a product that is not worth “buying” at all.
It would appear that the product needs to be removed from the shelf for a bit, until we can work out its problems. A serious discussion of Orthodoxy’s viability (Chareidi, Dati, Dati-Lite, Modern, etc.) needs to be forthcoming.
Dear Rabbis Broyde and Feldman,
As a congregant at both Young Israel and Beth Jacob and someone who is relatively observant and yet non-Orthodox I feel I have some insight into this issue.
I believe that both of you are correct about why people are not interested in kiruv, or even if interested not progressing in their religious observance.
Both issues you highlight have certainly played a role in why I am not more committed to Orthodoxy.
To start with Rabbi Feldman’s point. At some point a community must stand for its values and not be welcoming. For example, my first Shabbos in Atlanta some five years ago was when the JCC had taken the decision to be open on Shabbos. In your Friday night comments post Kabbalat Shabbat, you denounced this decision as a major mistake. While it happens that I agree with your position, many non-Orthodox people who have good arguments for why the JCC should be open, would have I believe been turned off by your comments.
To speak to Rabbi Broyde’s point. It is quite clear that there are Jews who consciously and obviously reject Orthodoxy and are quite knowledgeable about doing so. While the number of non-Orthodox who fall in this camp may be small they certainly exist. One of the primary reasons for this is that most Orthodox Jews and even Rabbis I have encountered are not able to give a closely and cogently reasoned explanation of how halacha has developed and why precisely we should practice the way we do without any evolution. there are of course many other troubling issues from an academic viewpoint with Orthodox observance. Many arguments on these types of issues seem to devolve into Orthodoxy yelling Tradition, Tradition from the rooftops which is certainly not an inspiring argument.
Ultimately I think some of this is futile because it is impossible to judge at what point in ones observance will one feel that they are sufficiently observant under the yoke of heaven.
I’m an Orthodox convert and the Slifkin affair was a severe blow to my theology. Whereas I used to assume that most Orthodox Jews were fierce guardians of intellectual honesty, I now realize that Charedi Judaism requires no less than most of the World’s other relgions; we believe it because we believe it. And maybe that’s the way it should be. It is a “faith” afterall.
A) A quick reality check for those not up on the IDF:
– Combat units are highly competitive – if you don’t want to fight, you’re not going to.
– There are a heck of a lot of jobniks (ג’ובניקים): truck drivers, kitchen managers, floor moppers, paper pushers, etc. They are necessary for the army to run, no question. But it’s not glamorous, and it’s hard to argue the army really needs a bunch more Chareidi jobniks.
– The IDF’s record on accommodating religious soldiers is a mixed bag – see previous articles on this site.
Please do not misunderstand me: I self-identify as Chareidi, and I don’t think work is a dirty word – and neither do my Chareidi Rabbonim. I think Israeli Chareidi society will have to become self-supporting and figure out how to include its members who are not cut out for full-time learning without making them feel like failures. I have seen plenty of boys floating through the yeshiva system aimlessly, neither learning nor accomplishing. But my anecdotal observation of Israeli Chareidi yeshivos has been that they are full of motivated, dedicated, intense boys learning on an impressive intellectual level.
If Rabbi Broyde (or anyone else) can show statistics about the percentage of Israeli Chareidi yeshiva students who would rather go to work, and are wasting their time in yeshiva due to lack of options, I might accept his conclusions. Until then, I regard them as an unconscionable example of being דן לכף חוב.
So far I have purposely dodged a critical element of Rabbi Broyde’s point: the topic is not how he or I or other observant Jews judge the various segments of our society, but how we appear to those on the outside. If you’ve been patient this far, please keep reading…
B) When I read R’Feldman’s original article, I immediately thought to my self, “Wow, too bad his community is so depressing, he should come visit mine.”
I arrived in Pittsburgh as a college freshman at CMU in 1998. I wore a kippah, kept approximately kosher, and was nominally shomer Shabbos. I left four years later, moved by the warmth and joy of Pittsburgh’s small frum community, which I experience primarily through the lens of Rabbi Shmuel Weinstein, the Chabad shaliach on campus, and Rabbi Daniel Wasserman, the Rav of Shaare Torah. Whether the Chabad community or the modern community, as students we always felt welcomed for Shabbos – when we didn’t have plans, we would just pick a shul, walk in, and go to the first family that invited us. Every frum person should be required to spend a Shabbos in Pittsburgh for basic training in hachnasas orchim.
Because of Rabbi Weinstein and Rabbi Wasserman’s influence, my next steps led me to a small yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Mattersdorf neighborhood – mixed Anglo/Israeli and very Chareidi. I lived there for the next five years, and still miss it tremendously. From the brilliance of the Torah personalities I overheard on the street engaged in intense halachic debate (or sometimes a discussion of clinical psychology!) to the sound of zemiros through open windows as my wife and I walked on Friday night to the incredible chessed done by people who themselves have virtually nothing (those who have met Rebbetzins Weinbach and Fogel know what I mean) – Mattersdorf shaped our hashkafa and showed us the ideals we hoped to build our family on.
We left Israel to return to my hometown of Washington, D.C., specifically the Kemp Mill section of Silver Spring, to work for NCSY. Coming from monochrome Chareidi yeshivos in Israel, the beis medresh at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington was refreshingly diverse – from the kippah choice of the talmidim to the incredible range of seforim on the shelves. I still routinely direct friends and students with questions about the Torah’s views on science to R’Aharon Lopiansky’s excellent Da Ma Shetashiv series.
NCSY led us on to Thornhill, a suburb of Toronto, our arrival coinciding with the opening of the Thornhill Community Kollel, a vibrant beis medresh where I learn and daven. We bring NCSY public school students to learn in the kollel weekly, and the kollel families (along with many others in the community) routinely host NCSYers as well as Aish college students. These students – many of them Israelis, children of Israelis, or from families from the former Soviet Union – are impressed by the diverse families eager to welcome them to their Shabbos tables. NCSY has brought speakers from community organizations such as Hatzalah, Chai Lifeline, and Tomchei Shabbos to Shabbatons – it makes a very big impression on the kids.
My head’s not in the sand. I’m not scared to confront or discuss the many issues facing various segments of the frum community. We have a lot of work to do – our davening needs to be more inspired, our Torah study more serious, our very lives more yashar.
But I’ll take R’Feldman’s challenge – I think every one of the communities I’ve had the privilege to live in makes a fantastic model, and I’m proud to bring not-yet-frum visitors in to experience something most of them have never seen.
It’s a big challenge; the average secular Jew has pre-digested opinions about “those Orthodox” or “those Chareidim” fed to him from a young age. I’m not scared to let them see first-hand and hopefully draw their own conclusions.
This statement like others are based on the assumption that the rabbis should/would do everything to attract the biggest number of Baale Tshuva. I believe this is not so.
The hashkafa in the haredi world is based on the concept of פח השמן הטהור.
So it goes like this: “we do not care about having 100 000 BTs if they are only 99% committed to our worldview. We want to have 10 000 BTs committed 100%. Who says that there have to be millions of frum jews to bring the world to its tikkun if they do not fit exactly to our worldview which we consider as the only Torah true worldview”
This comment says it very well. I was told it once by a godol, Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller of Telshe Chicago. I asked him how anyone could do kiruv if the starting point is that the world is less than 6,000 years old. He answered/ told me in a loud voice that I wanted to defend emes with sheker and that one could only defend emes with emes and then he walked away. I was most polite and respectful bu I guess challenging his Torah true view made me not worth his time. It left a strong impression on me.
Berel: “Have you never heard of Lev L’achim, which has regular kollel avreichim knocking on secular Israelis’ doors weekly. They’ve enrolled thousands of secular children in torah schools annually for the past 14 years.”
Do you know this for a fact, Berel? Or are you relying upon their propoganda? Dont be fooled by all the pious names on their material. When I examined some of their brochures, they wrote, if I recall correctly, of opening up nearly a thousand new schools in Israel within a few years. Now that is an outright lie. Even what you assert, that they “annually enroll thousands” of children in Torah schools is almost impossible to believe. Israel is not a big place, and most non religious families have low birthrates. To get “thousands” of children every year to actually switch schools would be the equivalent of bettering the efforts of the entire United States kiruv industry several times over, and repeating that every year. Either Lev L’achim is taking credit for enrolling children who would anyway have gone to religious schools, or, more likely, they are simply making things up out of whole cloth.
Given the exchange between Rabbi Broyde and Rabbi Feldman, as well as the responsive comments thereto that have followed, I feel constrained to respectfully re-post the most salient point of the comment I made — and it happened to be the first comment posted by anyone — to Rabbi Adlerstein’s original (December 19th) announcement of the new Klal Perspectives edition: “While I commend Klal for its choice of Kiruv as worthy of discussion, I respectfully suggest that a future edition be dedicated to the issue as Dr. Schlick has put it of ‘richuk k’rovim.’ We need to put our own house in order (perhaps as Rabbi Feldman is suggesting in his piece) if we want our outreach efforts to garner the true and long lasting success that it so desperately needs. . . . I would hope that Klal would deem it appropriate to examine — painful as it may be — how this internecine squabble has affected our community to retain k’rovim if not attract r’chokim.” I truly hope that the editors of Klal take up my suggestion, as the R. Slifkin affair, while no longer front and center, clearly remains an issue that concerns thinking Orthodox Jews (again, as evidenced by the R. Broyde-R. Feldman exchange and the reaction to it) and one that requires serious attention and far better “closure” than what we may have (if at all) as of today.
A few points to add:
First, the notion that everyone is scientifically literate, let alone bases life decisions on core scientific beliefs, or even possesses core scientific beliefs, is laughable. Most can text and access Facebook; few can hold their own in a debate on Darwinism.
Second, the notion that all secular Jews are liberal is a myth. For some reason, just as secular Jews view the Orthodox as right wing, we Orthodox tend to believe that they are all left wing. It’s not so. In my office, no one is happy Mitt Romney lost and no one is shy about speaking out against gay marriage. This includes the secular Jews. Perhaps kiruv professionals should be on the lookout for conservative (small C) Jews whose current world views are more in line with ours. There are approximately five million non-Orthodox Jews in America. We have plenty (unfortunately) to choose from.
Third, as much as the Chareidi headlines haven’t helped our cause, no one in my workplace has asked me about it. They have asked me questions about kosher and the holidays. As embarrassed as we are by the Chillulei Hashem that seem to never end, most people are too busy with their jobs and families to be paying much attention. Except here on the blogs, where there’s no end to the torrent.
An Isha Chachama once told me, quoting Ruth, the famous proselyte, that “your people is my people” comes before “your G-d is my G-d.” If the the first step is unappealing, you’ve lost before you’ve begun.
For me the most off-putting part of the Slifkin ordeal was the absence of halachic (or really any) due process in handling objections to his writings. Nowadays, a Jew can get railroaded by parts of our “system” in various ways:
1. Arbitrary action by leaders outside any Beis Din framework
2. Action or inaction by a corrupted ad-hoc or permanent Beis Din
3. Leaders ordering victims not to resort to the secular courts, while at the same time providing no honest, effective means of redress in our Batei Din.
It’s a big challenge; the average secular Jew has pre-digested opinions about “those Orthodox” or “those Chareidim” fed to him from a young age. I’m not scared to let them see first-hand and hopefully draw their own conclusions.
Will you tell him how the community views him and his in their current state? how you will view him if he decides your (orthodox) community is not for him? If he is philosophical will you present him with the weak points r’ broyde mentions? if practical will you discuss the bias against children of bt’s in shidduchim (which often exists)?
I’m all in favor of kiruv, but we must also be introspective imho. As r’keller was quoted above “He answered/ told me in a loud voice that I wanted to defend emes with sheker and that one could only defend emes with emes and then he walked away.” I might disagree with his definition of emes and tactics, but imho the statement “one could only defend emes with emes ” is mostly true (mostly because of course you can defend it with proofs you know fail(even if your student doesn’t), imho that’s not what hkb”h wants)
I always like when Rabbi Broyde writes on CC, even if he isn’t responding to comments. I wonder this.
You say that people who have been exposed to orthodoxy and don’t join, do so because they rationally reject our ideology and beliefs.
You say the only way to remedy that would be to change our beliefs, which you then say “many of us [myself included] do not want to.” When you say you don’t want to, I assume you mean because you know our beliefs are true.
So then, do you think that our beliefs are subject to rational disagreement, that is, that reasonable people could disagree on them? And is it then just an accident of fate that you happen to be among the believers, much as Keynes “happened” to believe in his economic theories?
About the science issue, I don’t see what the big problem is. Kiruv people do not bring this issue up. If someone brings it up, then the kiruv professional should simply tell the truth: there are different views on Torah and science issues, and Modern Orthodox Jews believe in science, agreeing with the Rishonim who held that Chazal erred in scientific matters.
I don’t believe Rabbi Broyde is correct about kiruv in Israel; there are many charedi ba’alei teshuvah there, inspired by various camps from chassidic (Breslov, Chabad) to Yemenite (R’ Amnon Yitzchok). There was an article recently about how the dati leumi had just begun serious outreach efforts, in contrast to the charedim. If they had started a couple decades ago, and focused on that rather than (or in addition to) building and retaining the settlements, the national religious camp would probably be much larger today.
Raymond, I think Chabad has the approach you’re looking for. Unlike other kiruv groups, they never really engage in an effort to get people to be completely frum, as if people are either frum or not; instead, they appreciate whatever mitzvos each Jew is able to accomplish.
“There was an article recently about how the dati leumi had just begun serious outreach efforts, in contrast to the charedim. If they had started a couple decades ago, and focused on that rather than (or in addition to) building and retaining the settlements, the national religious camp would probably be much larger today”
Yeshaya, that is an interesting comparison.
Just like the Charedim felt that ‘Limud Hatorah’ needed to be uplifted, reignited and reintroduced to the Torah Community so did the Dati Leumi olem feel that the Mitzvah of Yishuv Haeretz was laying in the dust and needed to be uplifted, reignited and reintroduced to the frum community. Each choose their path, when they illuminated their Mitzvah, then KIRUV of others entered the picture.
Arieh Leib said (above): “I now realize that Charedi Judaism requires no less than most of the World’s other relgions; we believe it because we believe it. And maybe that’s the way it should be. It is a “faith” afterall”
אמונה DOES NOT translate as “faith”.
Rambam’s opening to the Yad: יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות, לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון
לידע – to know
Please see also: Kuzari, Chovos haLevavos, Sefer haChinuch, etc etc etc
Yes Ari, emunah means “faithfulness to the knowledge,” however, most Rabbeim I speak with say the “knowledge” comes from knowing it. In other words, it’s an endless circular argument that puts the scientist out of business and affectively ends rational discussion about the veracity of many, many, problematic areas in Torah that require literal intrepretation.
IMO, the Slifkin affair had far more impact in the Charedi world where the Torah and Science are viewed as polar opposites, especially on issues like the age of the earth, evolution, etc. I have always felt that bad solutions at reconciling such issues have far worse theological and hashkafic consequences than living with the fact that some issues are beyond our ability to propose a proper solution and/or that Torah and science operate on mutually exclusive tracks with science explaining how and what happens in the world and Torah, and/or all other metaphysical systems, suggesting why and a proper way to live for their followers. As RYBS stressed, living with Teiku or unresolved questions is a sign of a mature sense of Emunah.
R Broyde posited the following:
“The idea that if we live beautiful lives, that is enough to make people frum strikes me as inadequate to fully explain what is going on around us. They are not “us” because they do not agree with us on core ideological issues. Indeed, the “spiritual battle” (as you call it) will have casualties on our side as well, as — beautiful as our social community is — many of our dogmas and ideologies are thought of as untenable by many secular people. We can, on many matters, sadly enough, just retreat to insularity, in the hope that people do not actually look closely at many issues.
So my first comment is that the kind of open outreach community has to really be prepared to be honestly questioned about all of our different views, and many of them will be subject to ridicule. While we have answers — some excellent, some okay and some weak — do not doubt that sometimes the outside world has better questions than we have answers. The kind of open community that you describe will be hard pressed sometimes to function. — Some of the academic research on the teshuva phenomenon notes that we attract a certain type of person while others are not at all interested in us. You seem to gloss over the existence of such an ideological gap and you treat it merely as a social gap. I think there is much more at play. People leave Orthodoxy as we do not seem to ring true to their rational selves rather than because we are not good social models.”
IMO, focusing on a hashkafically attractive model for would be BTs ignores the fact that there are so many Mitzvos like Shabbos that need no hashkafic apolgetics or sales pitches and whose beauty speak for themselves, especially in our overly technologically connected world.
Cj srulowitz absolutly nailed it.Does anyone realy believe that your average non frum joe has even a rudimentary knoledge of science,evolution or the age of the universe ?I think a lot of projection is going on here ,with people taking advantage of the discussion to highlight their personel gripes with frumkiet
“Does anyone realy believe that your average non frum joe has even a rudimentary knoledge of science,evolution or the age of the universe “
There are different types of people as far as being either more emotionally, socially, or intellectually inclined, however, the internet is a relevant factor, because it gives more people access to information, whether accurate or not. In an interview on OU Radio this summer with Steve Savitsky, Rabbi Moshe Benovitz of the NCSY Israel Summer Kollel Program mentions that:
“In the kiruv community, for example, they are coming to grips with the fact that some of the arguments– historical arguments, philosophical arguments– that like I said, a charismatic educator could tell a person off the street and who would know better, is checked instantly on a hand held device that’s pulled out of a pocket. If those arguments do not hold water, then we’ve done more damage than good. We need to adjust to that, and we should adjust to that…”
R. Benovitz writes similarly in the Fall, 2012 Jewish Action (“The Social Media Revolution: What Does It Mean for Our Children”) regarding teaching yeshiva students, that “while sourcing and accountability are still significant flaws in Wikipedia and anonymous blog operations, modern students use their wireless worlds to augment skepticism and to reject dogma. While this sounds alarming, why must it be even the least bit negative?….By finding opportunities to integrate technology into learning, students will automatically sense the beautiful blending of Torah and their cyber world. Instead of two spheres coexisting uneasily and warily orbiting one another, there is a valuable experience of synthesis between the two.”
> however, most Rabbeim I speak with say the “knowledge” comes from knowing it. In other
> words, it’s an endless circular argument that puts the scientist out of business
I don’t know the rebbeim you speak to, but I’ve heard Rabbi Tatz suggest something like that – knowledge the way you know you’re alive, or that the world is real and not a dream. He claims it fits better with Eastern concepts of knowledge (Buddhist?) but reaches a singularity under Western methodology; his metaphor was a camera trying to take a picture of itself.
I kind of hear it, but I think the Kuzari’s empirical Jewish-history-based (which most of the acharonim prefer) approach is much more straightforward. R’Ahron Lopiansky, Rosh Yeshiva in Silver Spring, presents it excellently in his “Da Ma Shetashiv” series available at torahlectures.com. For the record, R’Lopiansky was the one who put his haskama on several of Slifkin’s books 🙂
I am not yet convinced that the Chovos haLevavos and Rambam would agree with Rabbi Tatz – I think they intend their mathematical/logical proof to be conclusive. I’m gradually trying to fill in some of my background to properly tackle Shaar haYichud; I would be happy to discuss transfinite set theory and Godel’s incompleteness theorem with anyone interested, but people always seem to get this glazed look in their eyes …
Aryeh Leib and Ari, i suggest that moshe halbertal’s lecture on the distinction between belief in and belief that (and belief as) is important. often “belief that” is assumed particularly by fundamentalists.
it is always worth noting that translating “to know” is a great deal more challenging, particularly with respect to articles of faith.
I am not yet convinced that the Chovos haLevavos and Rambam would agree with Rabbi Tatz – I think they intend their mathematical/logical proof to be conclusive. I’m gradually trying to fill in some of my background to properly tackle Shaar haYichud; I would be happy to discuss transfinite set theory and Godel’s incompleteness theorem with anyone interested, but people always seem to get this glazed look in their eyes
IIUC the idea that you could prove things conclusively in this arena was universal in the time of the Rambam et al. For most folks Kant put the last nail in the coffin and so R’YBS imho was forced to the “do you have to ask if your beloved exists?” approach which will not necessarily resonate with a nonbeliever.