Thoughts from Parsha Lech Lecha

This is My covenant, which you shall observe between Me and between you and between your seed after you, that every male among you be circumcised.Chapter 17:10 Genesis

Circumcision is the bais of future righteousness. Fortunate is Israel! Zohar

You know there are things I do that I understand and then there are things that I do that I don’t understand. In the infinite complexity of life the mechanisms and chain reactions that lead me to walk and think, to be thirsty, to prefer roses that carnations. Why I enjoy the sunset or the fresh freeze.

Perhaps the thing that I have trouble understanding is the reason why so many Jews continue to circumcise their boys, even when they are ignorant of or ignore every other single mitzvah they can. They live a life totally rejected by tradition and Torah, and then their little boy is born, and CHOP! off comes the foreskin.

And especially since the bris is a “sign” of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, a completely spiritual act that can only be accomplished in a purely physical act, it would seem that natural thing to give up first! However, that is not how it happens.

[EDITED TO INCLUDE FULL STORY]

The following powerful story appears in “Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust” by Yaffa Eliach:

Circumcision

“I will tell you another story,” said Rabbi Israel Spira to his student Baruch Bear Singer, “a story that took place in the Janowska Road Camp. Janowska was one of those camps about which, if one is to recall the events that took place during one year, one can fill pages with tales of heroism, suffering, and death. Not one book, but ten volumes. And even then, it would just be a drop in the ocean.
“Many have asked me to publish the stories of Janowska in a book. I told them I am not writing new books. It would be sufficient if we read and studied the existing books. But this particular story is a duty to record. It is a mitzvah to tell it, for it is a tale about the devotion and sacrifice o a daughter of Israel.
“One morning in Janowska, I was standing and sawing wood with another katzetnik (camp inmate). To humiliate us as much as possible, I was given as a partner a very short mane. As you see, thank God, I am not among the short ones. It made the wood sawing both a difficult task and a laughable sight. With each pull of the saw, my partner would stretch out and stand on the tips of his toes, and I wold bend down till my aching, swollen feet were bleeding. And the Germans stood by and watched our misery and suffering with delight.
“One morning, on Hoashana Rabba, as wee were sawing wood, the wind carried in our direction piercing, tormented cries such as I had never heard before, even in Janowska hell. The desperate clamor was coming closer and closer as if the weeping was filling up the entire universe and drowning it with painful tears.
” ‘ It is a children’s Aktion, little angels from the entire vicinity of Drohobycz, Borislov, Lvov, Stryj, Stanislav, and others were brought here to meet their maker.’ ” said a ktzetnik who passed by, pushing a wheelbarrow, without even glancing in our direction. I though the cries would shake the world’s foundation. We continued sawing the wood as our eyes became heavier and heavier with tears.
“Suddenly, just next to us, I heard the voice of a woman. ‘ Jews have mercy upon me and give me a knife.’ In front of us was standing a woman, pale as a sheet. Only her eyes were burning with a strange fire. I thought that she wanted to commit suicide. I looked around, and since I saw no German in sight I said to her, ‘Why are you in such a rush to get to the World of Truth? We will get there sooner or later. What difference can a day make?’
” ‘ Dog, what do you say to that woman?’ A tall young German who appeared from nowhere demanded an answer, while swinging his rubber truncheon above my head. ‘The woman asked for a knife. I explained to her that we Jews are not permitted to take our lives. For our lives are entrusted in the hands of God.’ I hastily added, ‘And I hope that you, too, will spare our lives.’ The German did not respond to my words. He turned to the woman and demanded an explanation from her. She answered curtly, ‘I asked for a knife.’
“As she was talking she kept examining the German with her feverish eyes. Suddenly her eyes stopped wandering. Her gaze was fixed on the top pocket of the German’s uniform. The shape of a knife was clearly visible through the pocket. ‘Give me that pocket knife!’ she ordered the German in a commanding voice. The German, taken by surprise, handed the knife to the woman.
“She bent down and picked up something. Only then did I notice a bundle of rags on the ground near the sawdust. She unwrapped the bundle. Amidst the rags on a snow white pillow was a newborn babe, asleep. With a steady hand she opened the pocket knife and circumcised the baby. In a clear, intense voice shoe recited the blessing of the circumcision. ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by thy commandments and has commanded us to perform the circumcision.’
“She straightened her back, looked up to the heavens, and said, ‘God of the Universe, you have given me a healthy child. I am returning to you a wholesome, kosher Jew.’ She walked over to the German, gave him back his blood-stained knife, and handed him her baby on his snow white pillow.
“Amidst a veil of tears, I said to myself that this mother’s circumcision will probably shake the foundations of heaven and earth. Next to Abraham on Mount Moriah, where can you find a greater act of faith this this Jewish mother’s?”
The rabbi looked at his student with tear-filled eyes and said, “Since liberation, each time I am honored at a circumcision to be a Sandak, it is my custom to tell this particular story.”

Based on a conversation of the Grand Rabbi of Blozhov, Rabbi Israel Spira, with Baruch Singer, January 3, 1975. I [Yaffa Eliach] hear it at the rabbi’s house.

I just had the honor and privilege of being able to make a bris for our third son, Naftali. Every time the experience is moving and transformative in such a deep way that I have trouble speaking. I literally can barely get a word out. And for those who know, this is highly unusual. But at the bris of my sons, no word. Incomprehensible sense of joy. Overwhelming responsibility. Sadness —that my father OBM is not there. Feeling of great accomplishment, coupled with a sense of total humility. Deep, so deep. A sense of being humbled and awed by the power of creation, amazement at my own act in the continuation of this eternal covenant.

I could give a whole lecture—I have— on all the intricacies of all the symbols and meanings of the bris. It takes me an hour and a half just to get started. But ultimately, it is something that I find nearly impossible to explain, why it is so important to so man,y that they have risked their lives for this.

May God grant the Jewish people a quick and speedy redemption based on the merit of their faithful adherence to the Bris.

[I apologize for not using the original story, just that before Shabbat it would have taken toolong to type in.]

Short Version

One of the forced laborers in the camps related that one day he heard frightening cries of anguish the likes of which he had never heard before. Later he learned that on that very day a selection had been made — of infants to be sent to the ovens. We continued working, tears rolling down our faces, and suddenly I heard the voice of a Jewish woman: “Give me a knife.”

I thought she wanted to take her own life. I said to her, “Why are you hurrying so quickly to the world of truth…” All of a sudden the German soldier called out, “Dog, what did you say to the woman?”

“She requested a pocketknife and I explained to her that it was prohibited to commit suicide.”

The woman looked at the German with inflamed eyes, and stared spellbound at his coat pocket where she saw the shape of his pocketknife. “Give it to me,” she requested. She bent down and picked up a package of old rags. Hidden among them, on a pillow as white as snow, lay a tender infant. The woman took the pocketknife, pronounced the blessing — and circumcised the child. “Master of the Universe,” she cried, “You gave me a healthy child, I return him to You a worthy Jew.”

About the author

Rabbi Yonah

38 Comments

  • WADR, this story is suspicious, not least because of its origins, and the stories in the book you are citing and drawing this one from are not presented as pure fact, but some are clearly myths, testimony to the mindset of the chassidm at this time, and perhaps, afterwards. They are not restricted to what actually traspired.

    A few questions: How did the protaganist survive to this point of having an 8 day old infant? And how did a heavily pregnant woman give birth in a labor camp? And did nazis usually offer prisoners their knives? And this soldier was paranoid over a conversation between two prisoners. But he trusts her with his knife? Are we missing part of it? Did he also say, “Sure, no problem lady, happy to help you out, on your own terms! If you don’t mind, please wipe the blood off my knife before you slit your wrists, but if you don’t, no problem, I can wash my knife anyway. No big deal, happy to help out with camp morale!”

    This is using the Holocaust (and if you’re Aish.com, even Hollywood movies about the Holocaust are good enough for Big Aish http://www.aish.com/rabbi/ATR_browse.asp?s=circumcision&f=tqak&offset=2) as a cudgel to inspire mitzvah adherance, on top of the problem that this story is not presented as it should be — as a myth.

    Quite frankly, it reads a bit like a Y.L. Peretz satire, “The Three Gifts,” which remarkably, is told over to teenagers in kiruv situations, but without the satire.

    This specific tale is told all the time in charedi kiruv circles, and presented as something to take seriously.

    There is verifiable documentation on many instances of tremendous spiritual resistance to the Holocaust. Why are you using what appears to be questionable, from a dubious source in terms of authenticty? We should not be willing to blur the line between history and myth. Leave that to the crossword puzzle “proof” guys. Leave that to Big Aish.

  • So Rabbi, we can derive from this story that a circumcision performed by a woman is considered valid, or only valid when the baby’s going to die anyway?

    Maybe it woulda been better if the alleged mother had kept the baby hidden as long as possible instead of her supposed act of valour, which under such harsh conditions would certainly result in infection and death if the Germans didn’t bake the baby.

    I agree with DK. I hate these friggin’ romanticized versions of the Holocaust to guilt people into feeling a sense of obiligation to continue ultra observance.

    At my daughter’s graduation from 8th grade the Rosh Yeshiva opened the joyous ceremony with a story about how jews in the camps waited on line to give the one jew with a chumash their bread ration for the day in order to learn from it, so precious is learning.

    I made sure to tell my daughter that he was one damn smart business man and probably the only one that survived the camp. If ever confronted with the choice of eating or learning, I told her to pick eating.

    Why couldn’t the Rabbi have spoke about how wonderful it is that group of girls can go to school and learn to read when they were kept illiterate in the shtetls? Couldn’t he have spoken about the value of questioning what we learn? No, it had to be another Holocaust Romance tale. Oh Happy Day!

  • Chutzpah’s observation is an important one. This story is not only used by the charedi kiruvniks to promote continued circumcision in liberal and secular Jewish circles, but is also pointed to by the Mohelet movement and its supporters who feel public baby penis chopping by women is more egalitarian than just by men.

    The fact that the protaganist offered in this story did so publicly, and is considered a heroine–in Chassidic circles, no less– is “proof” that Mohelets may be used in public circumcision rituals, as opposed to a limited private one as given in the Biblical case of Tzipporah.

    If the anti-circ camp continues to gain ground, the downside is that for Jews already ambivalent about circumcision–the exact target you, Rabbi Yonah, are concerned with– will be further antagonized and unimpressed by the “egalitarian” aspect of a woman cutting baby dick in front of a mixed audience, and will inevitably compare this gender equity to, say, not cutting either genders genitals at all. The perception of a more inclusive and egalitarian Covenant by a small band of Jewish feminists will not be the reaction of all Jewish men, particularly if acceptance grows among secular and liberal Jews that some sexual capability is amputated with the removal of the foreskin, and the boy was not given a choice in the matter.

    Misappropriating this Holocaust myth as fact may ultimately serve to weaken loyalty to this ritual, not strengthen it.

  • The story of the circumcision at the Janowska Concentration Camp was told by the witness to it, Rabbi Israel Spira, the Bluzhover Rebbe, who survived and made it to New York after the war.

    If anyone has any counter-testimony that the Rebbe was halucinating or fabricated the story, then please, by all means, present it.

    Waiting……………………….

  • He was a witness? The Bluzhover Rebbe himself? Right there when it happened! How fortuitous! Please show me a link where he is the witness, and not just telling over a story he heard as well. Non-Chabad/Charedi link, please.

  • Non Chabad/Charedi link? I’ll see if I can find a Shinto site that interviewed the late Rebbe.

    That’s as good as you can argue? And which concentration camp did you survive?

    Several of the Bluzhover Rebbe’s testimonies were documented in interviews with him, going back to the 1970’s.

    Eliach’s book received quite a bit of praise in its time from several non-religious very famous Jewish authors. Please line up the relevant detractors – other than yourself, of course.

    Waiting………………..

  • DK, I forgot to reciprocate. When you quote reliable detractors, please provide only non-secular/irreligious links, please.

  • Shy Guy,

    Let’s start with the title shall we? Wait, let’ start with the first word. Tales. In my dictionary, while some of the possible meanings are only used to impy 3. a falsehood; lie. or 4) malicious rumor, let’s instead look at the first meaning 1) a narrative that relates some real or imaginary incident; story

    The choice of the title avoids demanding that the reader believe these stories to be accurate. It isn’t the point. The publisher offer it’s own explanation for “inner meaning,” and it is clear as well from other quotes that these “tales” are not about accuracy. Some may be partially true, or they may not be. Like all chassidic tales. Like all myths.
    See for yourself: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780679720430

  • Stuck on semantics? The Random how link you gave states “An important work of scholarship”. Not too many ficticious books of tales get to be associated with scholarship.

    As for the definition of “tale”, again, you yourself pointed out that the very frst defintion states: “a narrative that relates some real or imaginary incident; story.”

    BTW, have you actually read the book?

  • I bet the Bluzhover Rebbe was the one selling time with his Chumash for bread rations! (Kidding)

    The actions of people during the Holocaust, whether brave or stupid, aren’t for us to judge, and if we get inspiration from them …that’s great, but to try to emulate them or base our faith on the martydom of others isn’t so healthy.

    The above dvar torah by Rabbi Y would have been much more appealing withouth the lengthy retelling of the “powerful” story, and just a discussion of the parsha and how it relates to his families recent simcha. I just don’t appreciate the school of thought that a dvar torah has to have a Holocaust tale to evoke emotion.

    It’s in vogue now for the Bar Mitzvah boys in Plifton to tell these stories. Funny when there “zadies” were not in Eastern Europe in 1940’s but rather at Woodstock in the 60’s. Why do ba’la tshuvas have to do this to their kids? I find it pathological.

  • In my families and those of my married cousins, we have plenty of grandmothers and grandfathers still from the Holocaust generation and with plenty of experience and practical lessons to convey to their children, grand children and great grand children.

    Already, we can see that so many lessons learned have been forgotten, especially here in Israel. Just look at today’s Jewlicious entry with the text of author David Grossman’s naive speech at the Rabin rally last night.

    Davka the “Woodstock generation” needs to hear these. There will very soon be no living witnesses left to remind us.

  • ok shy guy, it’s a good point that soon there will be no living witnesses. My complaint is that Outreach Rabbis utilize these stories to invoke emotional responses that then makes questioning or debate on a topic seem unecessary or hertical. Luckily, many ba’la tshuvas don’t have first hand experience with the Holocaust and bringing these stories in for simchas just seems to be a downer.

  • Chutzpah, I’m personally not deep into the BT scene but from the many smachot I’ve been to from people with a BT background, I can’t recall such a trend.

    I missed out, unlucky me! 😉

  • I guess I hit your hot button DK and Chutzpa. Perhaps DK that have some residual pain from a bris afterall. And no, please do not use this story to infer any halacha, Chutzpah, that would be unwise.

    This story is from Yaffa Eliach’s book Hasidic Tales from the Holocaust. Notice she writes “tales” and not these are actual events that happened. [Though there are many reasons to believe that most of what is written DID happen] And what is wrong with stories that inspire? Have you never seen a film? Have you never read a novel? Are these not written for the explicit purpose than to make you think and to job you from your complacency? Or to entertain and humor you?

    Tell me that you never saw a movie—that you never read a book that moved you in some way. That made you think about existence in a different way.

    But when it comes to the sacred cow of the Holocaust, alas, I stepped onto DK’s hallowed ground. I stepped onto the sacred Holocaust earth, where supposed facts are what its all about. Hah!

    And I don’t think it is wrong and immoral to us stories about the Holocaust to inspire other Jews about Judaism and being Jewish. I do think it’s misguided to raise money for countless monuments and museums that cover the globe that glorify death and the expense for celebrating life—when most Jewish kids are not in Jewish schools because they are so expensive. And what do you think about using the Holocaust for a big-budget movie, that pretends to tell the story of the Holocaust, so that it will sell millions of dollars in tickets, but may leave people with an important message and change their lives for the better? [Did you watch Life is Beautiful? Or did you storm out in protest, throw things at the screen? I personally have not seen it.]

    In addition, there is misinformation in what you have written, especially chutzpah in your claim that women were kept illiterate in the shtetles. They might not have been taught hebrew or aramaic, but many learned yiddish.

    And so what is wrong from using stories from the Holocaust to inspire and make us think? Should I have used the story of the Shofar in the coffee cauldron? That would have gotten all the starbuck-caffein addicts raging at me. Is it somehow wrong?

    And DK’s quest for authenticity is also puzzling given that anyone reading this blog is not looking for Rabbi Yonah’s Definitive Study of the Holocaust.

    The Holocaust is an event that lasts until today. The wholesale murder of a civilization. Most of those involved perished. The destroyed communities, the lives shattered, the pain that lingers and haunts many 2nd and 3rd generation survivors.

    Oh, and by the way, most scholars agree that survivor testimonies are uniformly inaccurate. Does that mean that we should tell them to shut up and not tell their stories?

    I spent ten years studying the holocaust and its aftermath. I lived in Easter Europe for over five years, speak the languages and have studied the matter in depth. And if you want to know my credentials, I am happy to share them. I find it soooo ironic that you have labeled me with all kinds of terms like “charei kiruvnik” and “aish” and “outreach rabbi” and then take this dvar torah for a platform for your own issues.

    And if I offended you by my stories, I am sorry, they were not meant to offend you.

    DK have you given your kids a a bris? Chutzpah?

    If you have not, then I bless you to merit a son, and give him a bris on the eighth day, then lets talk.

  • Rabbi, I’m not Jewish, but I’ve seen Life Is Beautiful, and it was offensive for many of the reasons so cogently stated by chutzpah and DK.

    Maybe I’m a cred-challenged outsider to this debate, but the notion that the Holocaust (the freakin’ HOLOCAUST!) is in need of embellishment, strikes me as bizarre and, on another level, profoundly immoral. It’s noted the survivors are dying off, and so they are. Not to worry– we don’t need them, we’ll just make stuff up!

    (I’ll keep this short– but remind me to tell you the story of how the first kibbutz was founded by a band of brave knights during the Second Crusade.)

  • R. Yonah,

    As a matter of fact, I did not see Life is Beautiful, as hard as it is to imagine I would pass it up. I did see the Pianist at a friend’s house, because I was too baked to protest, and quite frankly, I thout it was an absolutely useless and unimportant film, though I really liked the soundtrack. I don’t even understand why you would ask me that. You know I disapprove of Holocaust Museums, but you assume I will approve of romantic Hollywood Holocaust movies? Well, I don’t. Now you know, okay?

    I do appreciate your clarifying that you are not insisting on Tales being true, but remember, this story is presented by Charedi kiruv (Big Aish) organizations as true, because they are by nature tricky and dishonest, and that is being nice. So when you presented the same story in what I thought was the same way and for the same reason, well, the alarms went off.

    As for my concern about sticking to facts, I do think it is important to separate fact from myth in part because of the problem of Holocaust Denial, which at a more sophisticated level, is really charging Holoaust Exaggeration. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for myths; there is, but they must be presented as such. But even without that, it is always important, if we are to respect our history.

  • DK’s point about Holocaust denial calls to mind a standard jury instruction in US courts: a witness who is found to be untruthful in one aspect of his testimony, may be permissibly disbelieved in every other aspect of his testimony.

  • Of course, the rabbi is correct– ‘tales’ can have a useful, edifying effect.

    Certainly we would have wanted Germans to intervene to stop the inhumanity in their midst… Calls to mind the tale of the humble Munich shopclerk, outraged by the persecution of the Jews. He snuck out to Dachau one night, and in defiance of evil Nazi sentries, spraying fire at him from the guard-towers, he cut a hole into the wire mesh surrounding the camp. Several thousand fled that night, and escaped over the Swiss border by dawn.

  • The pathos of the rabbi’s post: good most emphatically did not triumph over evil; we can’t accept this result, and invent stories to invert it.

  • Just to clarify also, I added the entire story as it appears in the original in Yaffa Eliach’s book. It took about twenty minutes to type in, and those were twenty minutes I did not have on Friday.

    That Aish or anyone else tells students a story like this, well, what can I say, that is their right. I have never been to Aish, so I did no know this. I did see this on their website when I google searched for Yaffa Eliach Circumcision Story Holocuast on Friday, hoping that someone had gone through the trouble of typing this up online.

    It was in an abridged form, but still close enough.

    I notice that the Rabbi used “KOSHER” and that the abriged version reads “WORTHY”. Hmmm that is intereting too. Is this a case of telephone or was this actually changed there, I do not know.

    As far as holocaust deniers and sticking to the facts and skipping the stories, I have a lot to an aweful lot to say.

    Holocaust deniers are pathological, and their since there no way to “prove” every aspect of the details of the holocaust, they can always find places to chip away.

    Holocaust deniers say that the Gas Chambers never happened etc. not that a woman did or didn’t give her child a bris.

    And I want to repeat what I said before. Scholars of holocaust oral history know that these stories are not always accurate. Dates, places, incidents get mixed up after fifty years. However, they still find it very worthy study material and an important project.

  • Rabbi– shalom, and proud to be circumsized, something I hope cuts (!) in my favor if you’re right and I’m wrong.

  • DK are all Aish rabbis in your opinion ” by nature tricky and dishonest, and that is being nice”. I suppose you have met and interview everyone of them or you would not publicize something that is not empirically and verifiably true. Im just saying…

  • Did I say ALL Aish rabbis? I said Aish the organization, and other organizations like it. And yes, they are dishonest and tricky.

    But what are you saying, Rabbi Yonah? Are you saying that Aish, the organization, not some great rabbi you know, isn’t dishonest? Is that what you are claiming? Which points, if any of the following, do you not agree with?

    1) Do you deny that their “‘Bible Codes” are statistically meaningless, they know that, but they use them anyway?

    2) Do you deny that their “Kaballah” section is sometimes of very dubious authenticity and the reason for it purely bait and switch?

    3) Do you deny that Aish as an organization seeks to invalidate Modern Orthodoxy as a legitimate expression of traditional Judaism in their full-time institutions?

    4) Do you deny that the recruiters that feed them new recruits at The Wall and on campus are disengenous and cult-like? that they are not, in fact, just seeking to offer them a traditional Shabbat service or offer a free stay at the Heritage House like they say, but are interested in bringing them into full-blown Charedism?

    5) do you deny that Aish tries to hide the fact that it is a Charedi organization?

    6) Do you deny that Aish is, in fact, a Charedi organization?

    7) Do you deny that Aish takes direct orders from the fundamenatlist B’nai Torah leader, no matter who he may be?

    8) Do you deny that Aish approaches recruitment as a “numbers game,” and has little concern whether their “hashkafa” is right for any speciifc person?

    9) Do you deny that if a young middle class recruit follows Aish’s “hashkafa” to its logical conclusion, they will inevitably be impoverished?

    10) Do you deny that Aish rejects scientific method whenever it is inconventient, such as a rejection of Evolution, and then hides that fact?

    11) Do you deny that for Aish this is a “spiritual war,” and that means the ends justifies the means, and you are allowed to lie in order to “save a soul?”

  • My son had a bris and I was very proud when the Mohel spoke about perfecting mankind, “let US make man” and other stuff I don’t remember due to lack of sleep from having a newborn.

    I thought the girls in Eastern Europe did not go to school and that’s why the Founder of the Bais Ya’cov movement was such a heroine and trailblazer.

    I would’ve liked to hear the story of the Shofar and the Coffee Pot.

  • I am NOT a defender of Aish. Please. THere is much truth in what you have written here. I am just trying to say that you grossly exagerated your own points while being upset that the story in question might or might not have embellished theirs.

    Sorry to have hit your buttons again. Wow. Excuse me.

  • And yes, I know some great rabbis that work for Aish tat are not dishonest. I even know some administrators that work for them that are not.

  • I know some priests who don’t molest little boys, but I wouldn’t want to hang around them either.

  • DK-
    you obviously have spent a lot of time with Aish and have a deeper understanding that I. If what you say here is true, of course, we have lots of religious and ethical issues / problems.

    Each one of the points that you articulate is very interesting, while some are plain disturbing.

    Were you ever burned from Aish? Is this from personal experience with the org? Were you once an follower and then changed your mind? Af course it would be helpful to know if your info is insider info, ie. you worked for the org. or if this is second hand info, or perhaps this is compiled from many sources.

  • I thought the coffee story might have been from some time other than the Inquistion or WWII or every other time the Jews were victimized.

    Why do you think the tales of Chanuka & Purim have continued to inspire (of course the food,drink & festivities) but it’s the fact that there was finally a triumphant ending.

    TM is right when he says we invert the stories, putting a spin on them is the only way to discuss the undiscussable.

    Just my personal note on Aish: I 1st hand heard an entry-level Rabbi (a.k.a. McRabbi, i.e.: pick up your smicha with a burger and fries) say that it is o.k. to shnor money from secular parents once you become religious, because they need the mitzvah points since they didn’t raise you religious and that by taking their money to put their grandchildren through Yeshiva or buy you Shabbos food is a tikkun for their souls. Basically, beliefs like this allows their students to drop out of their chosen secular careers and sit on their asses to try to catch up for all the learning they missed by going to College instead, while having their in-laws pay for everything.

    I was never personally burned by Aish and I think it’s good that there is hierarchy with supervisors and accountabilty. The Rabbi who runs the Passaic Torah Institute is on his own and is one heck of a loose canon.

  • Rabbi Yonah,

    Read this, from BTA

    I did not go to Aish, but went to another insitution similar to it, but not as obsessed with hiding who they were, though certainly quite deceptive in other ways. Aish is assiduous in masking its true Charedism to the outside secular world, and is therefore much more succesful in deceiving people that they are just a general Orthodox organization. They are not. There are good reasons they are on Rickross’s hit list of cults. Here’s a real heartwarmer for you: http://www.rickross.com/reference/ultra-orthodox/ultra1.html

    I am not personally interested in debating whether they are a cult, as I don’t think that is what they are at their core. I personally believe they are more accurately described as being fundamentalist. But what bothers Ross and others is the tactics they use to recruit, and over time, demand Charedism from their students. In the 90’s Steinhardt flipped out when he found out what was going on, and publicly lambasted them and announced he would no longer fund them.

    Most of the Jewish community is not willing to stand up to them, as the organizational Jewish community will pretty much back any Jewish group seen as sufficiently pro-Israel.

    But pushing B’nai Torah fundamentalism (through deceptive entry) as the only option for traditional Judaism to Jews for a secular background is filled with problems, complications, and often, eventual fallout. And when the lies and deceptions are eventually understood, or at least, suspected, regret and distrust towards Judaism itself.

  • Dear DK
    I have read both of those before.
    They are sad stories that do not prove what you are saying, only illustrate your point. And not that I think you are so wrong, I am frustrated that you have so little first hand information, and have relied on other sources.

    Your last paragraph is totally right on.

  • Rabbi Yonah,

    We (Shmarya Rosenberg a/k/a/ failed messiah) are collecting first hand sources for our book: http://www.kiruvstories.com

    So if you know of any Aish grads with an interesting story to tell, send them our way! Or from any charedi kiruv institution.

  • Really! Wow that will be interesting and shocking to read I am sure.

    So let me ask another question DK.

    What is your favorite Jewish org that tries to educate and inspire assimilating Jewry?

  • Rabbi Yonah,

    I would have to say NJOP. They are open about what they want to achieve, and do not recruit through deception. They focus on general skills, like Hebrew, and not “hashkafa,” which is a way to only offer Judaism from a narrow, Charedi perspective.

    Of course, focusing on basics like Hebrew (they are very strong supporters of that http://www.njop.org/html/hebrew_across_usa_can.html)and Shabbat and the reading and meaning of the prayers is way too left-wing Orthodox for many, like apparently the Orthodox Union, who prefers a Charedi partner like Aishhttp://www.projectinspireonline.com for BTs (not for their own kids). NJOP doesn’t teach them to feel bad about themselves for the sin of growing up secular, or reject engagement with the world, but encourages part-time growth, not leaving school or work. It just focuses on education, and enables Jews to develop their own ideas and be able to study on their own. Very dangerous stuff for adults to be able to do, so they are not liked very much at all by the Charedim at all. All that honesty and general skill building is so half-assed! We need Haskafa Hashkafa Hashkafa!

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