Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Educators or Salesmen- What is the goal when it comes to kiruv?

One Friday night several years ago, I walked into shul and realized something was going on. The sanctuary was more crowded than usual, and there was a large group of casually dressed college-aged students sitting at several tables. I soon realized that there was a kiruv shabbaton going taking place in my community, and that they had decided to daven with us on Friday night. As Kabbalas Shabbos started, I became aware that we would not be davening in the same way we daven each week. The chazzan, who was part of the shabbaton, sang a great deal, and even started dancing at the end of Lecha Dodi. I remember wondering whether the young men who were attending the shabbaton knew that this was not the typical way we davened each Shabbos, or, quite honestly, any other Shabbos.

I noticed something else that night. As davening continued well past its usual time, a few locals started getting a bit chatty. A counselor from the shabbaton came over to one man and asked him to stop talking, explaining that it would look bad to the shabbaton attendees. It wasn’t until later that I thought about this exchange. Why was the counselor so worried that davening would look “right” to the attendees? What might have happened had it became clear that some people talk during davening?

Over the past few years, I’ve become aware of a certain phenomenon. I’ve met and spoken with a number of baalei teshuva who are experiencing some degree of “buyer’s remorse”. As they’ve discovered that the religious world is more complex than they were taught as they were becoming religious, and as they’ve met our community’s knaves as well as its heroes, they have become somewhat disillusioned. This is not what they thought they were getting when they signed up. For many of those who attended yeshivahs and seminaries in Israel, their formative frum experience involved only being around very inspiring teachers and communities. For some others, they were given a less than clear picture of the complexities of the observant world, leading  some to feel that the one who was mikarev them was more of a salesman than a teacher.

What would be the results if kiruv programs allowed people to see all parts of the frum community, the good, the not so good, and, yes, the ugly? What would be the effect of a Shabbos meal without planned talking points, and where people talked about what they usually discuss, and not what they think the guest should hear? While some people might come away a little less inspired, this approach would allow people to make a real choice about the world that they are choosing. Additionally, this would have the result of fewer people feeling that they were misled by the whole kiruv process. If the goal is not to find new recruits, but rather to educate people about their heritage, an honest and open approach seems like the better way to go.

[I originally wrote this post several months ago, but decided to not publish it. Now, with kiruv back in the news, due...

Posted by Pesach Sommer on Wednesday, January 6, 2016


  1. I think you need both. You need marketing to get people to the real kiruv, which ought to be education.

    But perhaps kiruv should just be "I am doing this mitzvah now with this Jew" with no long-term agenda. Works for Chabad.

  2. I am glad you have found that to be the case with the Chabad shluchim you've met. I have not always found that to be the case.

  3. Have you been following the Gafni story, apparently in the past he has been taking kiruv a bit to literally... any thoughts on today's debate?

    1. I do believe that some like Gafni and Lanner were excused because they were so good at kiruv.

  4. See R' Mark Frankel's (Reb "Beyond BT"'s) theory of "Circle, Point and Line Kiruv":

    In circle Kiruv, which is widely practice, the guiding assumption is that living within the circle of Torah Observance is good.....

    In point Kiruv, which is used by Chabad, the guiding assumption is that doing an individual mitzvah, a single point is good....

    In line Kiruv, which is practiced by a few, the guiding assumption is that moving along the line from distant to closer to Hashem, is good.... In the case of line Kiruv, the Mekarev should also be moving along the line taking their next steps.

    His advocacy for the third idea starts in "Successful Kiruv Begins With Getting In Line". A quote "At its root line Kiruv is about growth, and we all need to work on growing. If we’re not constantly working on growing in our relationship to Hashem, than we’re missing the main message of Torah Observance."

    IOW, he advocates for line kiruv because it's the same growth model FFBs should be aspiring to.

    What I meant about Chabad is that the majority of their effort could be "did you put on tefillin today?" or "did you shake a lulav today?" And only after much time do they want to make you Chabad.

    (Much the way Aish wants to make you an Aish-nik or Ohr Sameiach really wants to make you yeshivish; it is rare when the makareiv's circle is as broad as all of O. NCSY and a few of the "community kollel" kiruv centers come to mind.)