David Kelsey has been one of our regulars for quite a while and has a blog called The Kvetcher. He often speaks out on his blog against some of the aggressive recruitment practices among certain Ultra-Orthodox groups such as Aish or yeshivas such as Ohr Sameyach who conscript and then educate secular and Modern Orthodox youths and young adults into and within their fold.

Generally, his remarks point to aggressive recruiting practices that might, for example, push students away from mainstream universities and into yeshivas or less respected universities where there may be a greater opportunity to live religiously. He also points to the the lack of information provided to the recruit by many of these groups during the recruitment and early post-“conversion” stages (generally the recruit is called a ba’al teshuvah – literally, “possessor of answer” – an unfortunate term since it indicates the rest of us are wanting for answers), and perhaps relatives as well, thus often pushing people into situations that are challenging both in the short and long runs.

Recently, another blogger, Ron Coleman, has openly criticized bloggers and individuals such as Kelsey for simply being bitter ex-ba’alei teshuvah who are using their blogs to disseminate their bitterness. Kelsey has written an eloquent and strong response on his blog, In Defense of the Bitter Ex-BT Blogs, which I encourage our readers to read. In part he writes:

In the haredi BT world, you are frequently discouraged from checking under the hood. All too often, you are sent to the races, and encouraged to drive quite fast and reckless. And sometimes—go figure–you end up in a few fender benders, and get dizzy, and feel like you are going nowhere except in circles. Then when you announce you don’t like this race anymore, people start changing. No one in the racetrack wants to help you, especially the referees on the side wearing the black and white outfits of authority. They all just start screaming at you that you’re messed up for riding off the racetrack. If you’re lucky—very lucky—someone might secretly whisper in your ear that it’s okay if you stop racing like you have been. But almost everyone at the racetrack just tries to get you to race some more. And then things get kinda ugly. Cause you want to reclaim your car, and some people don’t approve of paint jobs and changing brakes, or adding gas. Definitely not adding gas.

So you go outside, and you stay kinda quiet. And you don’t tell people about your racing days. Only a couple of people know. But then you see that they are opening more racetracks, and adding bleachers to the old ones, always recruiting new racers. And you see that the referees were the same ones who were there when you used to race, and are making the tracks even more dangerous in accordance with management’s new rules for still better racing.

And you feel a sense of solidarity for the new racers, especially the young ones. You want to tell them what you know about racing. And make sure they do check the oil, and make sure they don’t drive too fast, that they get enough gas, and quite frankly, not to trust that the referees are on their side. Because they are not. They are simply there first and foremost to make people race as fast as they can make them, in accordance with management’s wishes.

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themiddle

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  • In the haredi BT world, you are frequently discouraged from checking under the hood. All too often, you are sent to the races, and encouraged to drive quite fast and reckless. And sometimes—go figure–you end up in a few fender benders, and get dizzy, and feel like you are going nowhere except in circles.

    But it’s time for that car-and-driver metaphor again. Because ultimately my rather mundane point, of course, is that it is a special bitterness — I cannot say wickedness; we all are tinokos shenishbu (compared to “captured children”) — that makes a talented former BT, man or woman, do this. They do not just walk away from what they think is a car wreck of a spiritual journey but flag everyone else tooling happily along the road and swear that the bridge is out, there are monsters waiting on the next exit and that it was actually much better where they were coming from and you can’t U-turn fast enough to get back there.

    What motivates them? My armchair psychology tells me that they would rather believe the journey is an eight-lane disaster than consider whether they themselves forgot to check the oil under their own hoods before setting out. But, you know, “who am I to say”?

    A talented rabbinic friend came to me once and told me that after half a century or so of trying, he resolved that there are some cases — and far more of them come across his desk than mine — that he has come to realize he cannot solve, some lives that he cannot make the investment in trying to fix. His words haunt me regarding my friend. He is not asking me to solve anything; far from it. He tolerates my company because, well, maybe I am a little bit of fun myself. But whereas I once thought I offered enough gravity, mixed in with the comedy, to contribute to keeping him in orbit, I can’t compete with the Bitter Ex-BT Blogs. Well, I could; but I can’t. I’m as good an Internet polemicist as anyone; I know enough about frum life, about the Torah, and about life in the BT yeshivas to make quite a good debate of it.

    But there’s no natural place for that debate — it won’t be on their blogs, and it won’t be here; and frankly, my anger and hurt cloud my judgment when I make some attempt at it. I fought in the early Internet wars for orthodoxy (largely in the ancient and venerable “Moment Magazine message board debates”) and, frankly, I’m not sure anyone’s listening.

    Okay, I know one person.
    Beyond Teshuva: The Dilemma of the Talented ex-BT’s

  • Heh… you used the term aggressive recruitment practices twice! Overstating the point a little? Look, I like David Kelsey – no trip to New York is complete without some quality time spent in his company. But…

    Well, I have no objection to anyone spending some time at either Aish Hatorah or Ohr Samayach. Despite Kelsey’s assertions these organizations are as transparent as can be. They are Orthodox Hareidi Jews interested in Kiruv. The vast, vast, vast majority of people who go on their programs emerge a little more knowledgeable about the Jewish religion. These institutions are not zombie factories. Not by any means. I’ve dealt with cults before – the comparison is totally inappropriate.

    That having been said, I wish David Kelsey and his supporters train their discerning eyes on how secular culture aggressively recruits mindless zombie consumers and how the lifestyle promoted by MTV and mass media sometimes leads to misery and unhappiness.

    Hey! Have you taken your Zoloft/Paxil/Prozac today? Bulimia much? Party on dude!

    Just looking for some balance here… or a better alternative. Kelsey sent me something about an alternative. I’ll publish it forthwith…

  • Yeah, you know ck, I keep thinking about my secular friends who now live in Samaria with their head-covered tznius-lovin’ wives and seven children running around, and recall fondly when they had very different Jewish lives and futures.

    I don’t think they were quite aware what it meant to be married so quickly with babies popping forth as if on an assembly line back when they first innocently went to meet a girl at some Aish programming. I don’t think Aish talked about those things in their early days there. It was a process. However, once the process reached a certain stage, suddenly everything became harried and hurried…and soon irreversible.

    I happen to know these people well (I am thinking of two in particular) and believe they were both in very tender moments in their lives. They were confused and unable to find solutions to their difficult circumstances. Aish did not find solutions for them, merely gave them n alternative existence which was a template with restrictions that provided the escape mechanism they needed. Their escape, however, was into a lifestyle entirely different from their previous lives with no way of returning. This time there was no escape, unless one knows how to make one’s wife change her attitudes and faith and also foist those changes upon one’s many children. Who again are the tinokos shenishbu?

  • Oh good grief. Do I need to tell you about the dozens of women I know who are bullimic? Who was there to warn them when as 11 year olds they bought their first copy of Vogue magazine? Do I need to talk about the miserable corporate drones I know too? Lemme see, there’s C_ who gave up his passion for Jazz music and now works 16 hour days – totally miserable. Or how about A_ who makes a stunning 6 figure salary but who has suffered from eating disroders, drug abuse, and unmentionable venereal disease. She bought into the promise of happiness that secular culture offered and she too is miserable. This is not an exageration.

    Everyone’s got problems. People need to take responsibility for their decisions. Above and beyond everything else, we need to provide balanced critiques. Is the Kiruv world perfect? No. But neither are the alternatives. So unless someone is clearly not in possession of all their faculties, I will continue to recomend Aish and Ohr Samayach to anyone who wants a cheap trip to Israel and some basic Torah learning.

    Aggressive recruiting tactics? Sheesh. Look at what they have to compete against. Omnipresent media that urges narcissism and thoughtless consumption. Kelsey really ought to temper his criticism with some balance – to hear him speak you would think entering the gates of these institutions is an irreversible one way ticket to mindlessness.

    Wrong!

  • Um, my point was that the people I know who have gone into that world of “Kiruv” (another word that’s a misnomer) happened to be doing so at a time in their lives when they were quite vulnerable. Unfortunately for them, later on even if they became vulnerable again, the fast track they were on took them to a place from which they could not return. What do you do, ck, give up the children?

    I also must say that they don’t work as hard as the 16 hour a day corporate drone, but they raise a lot of money from such miserable drones. It may also very well be that they marry A because her eating disorder and drug abuse lead her, in a vulnerable state, to seek out help. So she gets help, and will be married off to the guy who was vulnerable until recently too…because after all, they cannot be married to life-long hareidim…

    Yes, aggressive recruiting tactics.

  • Uh… the point I was trying to make is that any number of decisions one makes in life may be equally irreversible. Like say, certain venereal diseases. Or psychological damage that persists even after years of therapy and reliance on seratonin reuptake inhibitors.

    Your second paragraph is uh, clearly beyond my limited intellectual capabilities…

  • I’m sorry – are we comparing bulimia to kiruv here?

    I agree that people need to take responsibility for their mistakes/decisions – I am also quite sure that no one asked me to become a bulimic 19 years ago and told me how great it would be for my soul, or for that matter, my body. I was 16 years old and had been recently raped.

    Completely not the same as a recruiter coming to a young person and telling her how wonderful her life will be and how her neshama will shine if she will just come to one Shabbos dinner, then one group at Aish then one service then one seder and on and on.

    I’m not saying she’s not making decisions along the way but the step by step indoctrination (not to mention the way they never tell you that BTs will always be 2nd class) is a problem for me.

  • BT leads to having children.

    Being secular is taking the risk, possibly a pretty big risk, of having no children. Even if you are a darn fine specimen.

    The unbearable sillines of most of life is solved only by looking at one’s children. NO MATTER HOW they turn out. They are there! Real people!

    Living poor, wierdly, and second-class is NOTHING compared to dying childless.

    Fertility is a youth thing. Like being crazy.

    Most of us were not going to climb the Himalayas anyway. It’s not like we couldn’t climb the Himalayas, or be a lawyer, or be president, because we got ourselves saddled with all this family stuff.

    Law school is very expensive and very, very difficult. Nobody tells you that. Everybody says, “you can be anything, darling”. That is usually nonsense.

    For most of us ordinary folks, the most productive and humanity-enhancing thing you will leave behind is not your invention of a better mousetrap or a cure for the common cold. No, it’s your children.

  • CK rushes to defend all things haredi when it comes to kiruv, but he himself advocates and lives a Left-wing Modern Orthodox life.

    Additionally, CK recognizes no difference between the deceptive, underhanded practices such as NCSY encouraging secular teenagers to go to third tier Touro against their parents will instead of the “Poison Ivys” and a 35 year old visiting Aish for three weeks.

    Well, there is a difference. And don’t bring me some 21 year old either, CK. NCSY is recruiting for haredi places and third tier Touro through NCSY. Their parents do not know this. There is good reason they aren’t informed of this, because they would think twice, or not — they just wouldn’t send their kids to these recruitment shabbatons. And watch how the haredim who fear every possible goyish and immoral influence for their kids, suddenly become intensely individualistic when it comes to secular Jewish kids going to Aish/Neve/O.S., and declare it’s “their choice.”

    Who are they kidding? They won’t let their own kids the same age go mixed dancing or watch tv or go to non-dual curriculum schools. “Their choice,” indeed.

    Duplicity!

  • With all due respect JM, I do not want children. Your focus on children applies to some, but not to everyone.

    I am an aunt to many and I love my work in HIV research. I give more of myself to others because I do not have children to care for. I love my husband who also does not want children. We are closing in on 40. No regrets.

    Living second class in a world that you were asked to join is a complete shanda. No one tells baalei tshuva that they are going to only be able to marry other BTs and that their children will be second to ffbs.

    I will take my tikkun olam, my selfishness and my autonomy over dying childless any minute of any day.

  • I completely respect your choices. But they are not everybody’s, obviously, or you wouldn’t be an aunt.

    I still maintain that a full chair, with someone with problems in it, is preferable to an emptly chair.

    You do not address the miserable fact that BT’s, who are only able to marry other BT’s, are at least marrying at all.

    Many gorgeous, educated seculars are not getting even that.

    One just has to wonder if it’s the system. The secular system. The BT thing has real results to point to: squirming, noisy, demanding, spoon-throwing results. I like that kind of thing.

    You are a fulfilled person, bless you. But not everybody has a wonderful husband, a precious and useful career, and great nieces and nephews. What about them? Many hav nothing. They need the BT thing, problems and all.

  • Sophie, thanks for sharing with us – I apppreciate your candor and forthrightness. But here, let me paraphrase you if I may and with all due respect:

    Completely not the same as an advertiser accessing a young person and telling her how wonderful her life will be and how her happiness/popularity will increase if she will just buy one skin moisturizer, then one brand of shoes then one brand of sweater then one type of cell phone and on and on.

    I’m not saying she’s not making decisions along the way but the step by step indoctrination (not to mention the way they never tell you that mindless consumerism will does not guarantee happiness) is a problem for me.

    See what I’m saying?

  • I agree that the same tactics are being used in kiruv as in advertising. What I was specifically disagreeing with was the comparison to bulimia.

    Advertisers are known for their less than ethical tactics, essentially not caring if one becomes eating disordered on their way to buying the profferred product. I would hope that the kiruv movement was more honest than Madison Ave. and would want better for those who follow them than the editors of Vogue.

    Prada can leave me out in the cold when I don’t meet their financial (or hipness) standards. For haredi to leave someone to “deal with it” when she has gotten herself into trouble, this is another story. Am yisrael, remember?

  • I am in total agreement with Middle’s “Tender Years Alternate Existance Theory” and can tell you it was true for my ex.

    Not being frum does not put you at risk of dying childless, I happen to have many many Jewish Ivy League friends who are anywhere from non-affialited, secular, reform, conservative, reconstructionist etc. who are happily married to other Jews. Shout out to Cornell Class of ’86!

    I can tell you that Bulimia and Anorexia are VERY prevalent in the Yeshiva community, especially with the pressure the girls have during dating and they have never seen a copy of Vogue.

    I can also tell you that my ex left his brain of the doorstep of Ohr Somayach and hasn’t had an independent opinion or thought since 1990.

    To quote Joseph Campbell/Oprah “It’s never too late to live the life you should have had.”
    If two bal tshuvas love each other they can take the seven kids and move, start a new life elsewhere and children adapt. If one loves the religion more than the spouse, then “bal tshuvah remorse” is unreversable without a vicious divorce.

  • CK said “I wish David Kelsey and his supporters train their discerning eyes on how secular culture aggressively recruits mindless zombie consumers and how the lifestyle promoted by MTV and mass media sometimes leads to misery and unhappiness.”

    On the one hand I don’t share Kelsey’s antipathy towards Yeshiva in general. On the other hand I can see how the aggressiveness of recruiting may be at times unethical. On the other hand the secular lifestyle is prone to manipulation by the mass media. On the other hand, young Jews are being manipulated into a Charedi lifestlye but overzealous outreach. On the other hand, secular, liberal parents indoctrinate their children into a consumerist lifestyle by forcing them into a secular school system. On the other hand…

    “THERE IS NO OTHER HAND!” screamed Tevye.

    CK, I agree the secular world, like Bowie sang, “Ain’t the kind of place to raise a kid…” (Although my local JCC was). Kelsey’s not arguing in favor of growing up through Vogue, Spin, MTV, etc.. He’s simply making the same point he always does, his opposition to the Charedi lifestyle and outreach. It’s his POV. It’s a blog post. Leave fair and balanced for Bill O’Reilly and Al Franken. We come here for the opinionated posts and the arguments that ensue. It’s not Kelsey or his supporters’ job to train their discerning eyes on the evil secular Mad. Ave. brainwashing. That’s your job. And you do it well. 🙂

    It’s Kelsey’s job, however, to apologize for beating the race car metaphor/analogy into the ground.

  • ck, don’t kid yourself, eating disorders are not at all uncommon in the Modern Orthodox and Haredi worlds. Just less reported.

  • The comparison between advertising and kiruv is facile. There is no relationship between a shampoo commercial and a person telling you to change everything in your life to satisfy god. When it’s convenient you tell us that an observant life is terrifically important but when you need to downplay the mindgames played by the recruiters, yeshivas and their supporters, you suggest it’s like seeing commercials or billboards.

    Actually, it’s more like going to a Hare Krishna or other cult’s weekend indoctrination event where they wear down your defenses and then feed your mind at its most vulnerable point. Those who are most fragile are the most deeply affected.

  • not sure if this has been mentioned, but im fairly sure that in the term BT, the word teshuvah is translated to “repentance” rather than “answer”.

  • BD, you beat me to that.
    ba’al teshuvah != “possessor of answer”

    ba’al teshuvah == “possessor of returning to God”

    Shuv-a = return to hashem

    FWIW,
    accusing the kiruv industry of taking advantage of people at atime in their lives when they were quite vulnerable is like accusing the whole institution of higher education as well. Maybe we should all be like the Australians and Israeli who ‘start’ their lives by flying off to tour the world rather than getting educated from some organization.

    Another thing is the simple disagreemtn of whether a material job is more important than a spiritual concentration.

  • A material job sucks, especially if your taxes or charitable gifts fund somebody else’s “spiritual concentration.”

    Higher education, by the way, is much more likely to get you a material job than the kind of education kiruv promotes. Right? But I find it laughable that you take religious practice and compare it to higher education. Perhaps you didn’t get my meaning. I am not necessarily speaking about youth, although inexperience in life might make one more susceptible to the convincing ways of the recruiters. I’m talking about true vulnerability; people in pain or turmoil or depression or after loss, etc.

    Here’s a nice discussion of teshuvah: http://www.jtsa.edu/community/parashah/archives/5761/vayiggash.shtml

  • What happens is the BT wants very much to fit it, to pronounce Hebrew correctly, to know stuff. After the get to that point, they are already programmed to expand their limited universe, so the next step for them is to drive a wedge between themselves and their spouse, who doesn’t march along w/ them.

    For some reason, they decide that strictness for strickness sake is the answer.

    It is very sad really. They are mimicing stuff that is fed to them by aish.

    aish started w/ the corny crappy marketing schemes that ropes peoplein to their dopey 8 hour classes. aish simply copied w/ was once a popular class known as est. It would not surprise me if some of the original aish head honchos in NYC were once into est.

    I am experiencing this problem directly as are some of the other posters on this thread.

  • First of all thanks to Jewlicious for raising these issues. It’s a little ironic that as part of an argument you’re making about incomplete disclosure and disingenuousness in Big Time Kiruv you didn’t see fit to link to the original post of mine that DK responded to. Ironic but not shocking; as usual, the only real issue is whose ox is being shechted. Or perhaps, DK, would we call that a “minor, editing note,” an “inadvertent deletion”? 😉 Still, not a way to treat a former Jewlicious advertiser! Regarding which I do appreciate the link to Likelihood of Confusion. In any event thanks to Shy Guy for wasting no time in correcting the inadvertence.

    As to this discussion, well, it’s such a rich chulent that it demonstrates that at the end of the day kiruv is probably just one of several generic topics on which everyone can play out his or her kvetch de jure. Fertility, bulimia, amateur Hebrew linguistics… whatever. But I will say this:

    Sophie, “step by step indoctrination” — is that supposed to be the bad kind of “indoctrination”? For that matter, is there any kind of Jewish outreach, resulting in a person making meaningful changes in his life, that you would not call “indoctrination”? I think CK has hit this nail on the head, here, as has Ramon. Gosh, DK, he demonstrates the point I’ve been trying to make to you for a week and a half: Give me someone who actually is committed to torah and mitzvos, and not haredi at all, and then let’s talk about “extremism.” When I hear people who are not committed at all to the halacha mewling about “extremism” and “unwarranted strictness, it falls pretty flat. If you don’t even keep the Ten Commandments, I don’t expect you to be sympathetic to either outreach, whose each success is a silent reproach to you, or meticulousness in religious practice, for obvious reasons. But just admit it: It isn’t Aish or Ohr Someach or haredism that bother us, it’s God and the Torah!

    Now, Sophie, you drop some kind of bomb about “dealing with it” that lacks context, facts, or coherence, frankly. I do know that as a member of an orthodox community, actually a number of intersecting ones, I’m better plugged into caring people who will extend themselves to help me than the I am as a member of a college alumni community of comparable scale and incomparably greater wealth and influence. And when I look at either suburban or urban life and the utter lack of communal connection implied, well, I have no idea what your point is.

    Themiddle then says, “Actually, it’s more like going to a Hare Krishna or other cult’s weekend indoctrination event where they wear down your defenses and then feed your mind at its most vulnerable point. Those who are most fragile are the most deeply affected.” It’s more like that, yeah, in the sense that cotton is more like ginger ale than it’s like a Buick. I guess. You haven’t demonstrated likeness at all. None of the the things you describe, TM, actually happen. It’s “like that” because both of them live in places in your mind that you view with distaste, but that’s the extent of the similarity. This idea of kiruv being directed to people in pain or turmoil is nonsense. In fact the majority of kiruv efforts are focused on people at the peak of their strength and independence — college students and recent graduates. Oh, you think kiruv should turn people away who are in pain or turmoil? Or what exactly do you think?

    Steves, what are you talking about? Did you read this somewhere? Who do you know who has actually “decided that strictness for strictness sake is the answer”? Utter hogwash. This is based on, what, your extensive delving into the sources of halacha — you’ve had it with these people deciding halachos based on the Mishna Berurah, damn it, when there’s a perfectly good lenient Taz they could be relying on! Give us some examples from your research. 😉

    Yummy chulent!

  • I’m not sure if what I just wrote will be/was posted or not. Anycase. The important part was this: there is a sickness in our generation i would call it ‘waiting for someone to make my life’. We are like sheep- we follow this or we follow that. The most important thing is to be like our Zaidy Avraham- have a little chutzpah and change the world. Don’t let anybody, not some kiruv rabbi nor some advertising exec nor some demanding law firm nor your parents send you to a crash. Cuz the inner truth is that THEY didn’t do it, they can’t do it. The momentary pain is caused by others, but the actual crash is at our own (masked) instigation.They can cause pain, but it is up to us to RESPOND and we can CHOOSE to respond in our own unique ways, we can get out of self-defeating behavior whether religious or not. This is not easy. But real character has to be earned. In many cases it is important to find a truly good therapist- NOT to solve things for you, but to show you how to LET YOURSELF FREE. Unfortunately there are those therapists out there who should not be therapists, just like there are rabbis out there who should absolutely not be rabbis. I’m sending out my blessing to all those searching to be able to find real help. Mainly, in my personal opinion, based on personal experience, some real words (forget the siddur/prayerbook for a minute) to G-d can be the healthiest choice a person ever makes.

  • Ron wrote,

    I think CK has hit this nail on the head, here, as has Ramon. Gosh, DK, he demonstrates the point I’ve been trying to make to you for a week and a half: Give me someone who actually is committed to torah and mitzvos, and not haredi at all, and then let’s talk about “extremism.” When I hear people who are not committed at all to the halacha mewling about “extremism” and “unwarranted strictness, it falls pretty flat.

    Ron, CK does prove the point. Mine. Tragically, not even otherwise reasonable Left-Wing Modern Orthodox (LWMO) Jews can be consistently counted on to defend and shield young, naive secular Jews against the excessive demands as normative Judaism of the Haredi BT institutions.

    It seems that even in LWMO circle, the Orthodox remain too interested in “saving souls” to insist it be done responsibly. Instead, they turn the other cheek, and pretend they do not see what is sometimes happening, provided that it isn’t always happening.

    Yes, Ron, we indeed can learn much from CK’s intentional blindness.

  • Ron,

    I don’t mean any disrespect – truly – but this post wasn’t about you. If people want to read your post, they can click to Kelsey’s post and find it. This post was about Kelsey and his strong claims about why it’s important to have voices like his out there. I’ve been reading his comments and posts for a long while now and felt that in this particular post he clearly articulated and encapsulated many of the issues driving him. Although you were a catalyst for his post (as I mention above and include a link), your post about bitter BTs was not at issue here because he’s been addressing this subject for a very long time.

    I don’t claim that kiruv targets people in pain or turmoil. I claim they are the group that happens to be most susceptible to the claims made by the recruiters and rabbis who promote kiruv. There’s a difference and if I haven’t been clear, now I’ve clarified this.

    Some cults take active steps to engender an environment that weakens the mind and perception before they move in with their pitch of better lives and better people, and the similarity to the kiruv folks resides in that some kiruv groups find their attempts to entice people resonate best with those who are in internal turmoil – a state not dissimilar to the one created by the cults. Again, there’s a distinction here and if it wasn’t clear to you before, I hope it’s clearer now.

    The result can be very similar to the cults in that a person isn’t completely aware of where they’re headed in their new devoted lifestyle. They may also not always be able to discern whether it truly is right for them or wrong for them. However, it becomes a decision that can consume years to undo and perhaps may not be undone for the rest of their lives. What do you do, tell the kids you were wrong all those years?

    As for college students and graduates being targeted, I think Kelsey has shown that in some circles, the kiruv starts earlier and without the parents’ awareness.

    Nevertheless, let’s focus on your comment regarding students and college graduates. How are they stronger or more independent than middle aged people exactly? I know far more today than I did in my student days. I also have more money and am better known in the community than as a student. I have a deeper understanding of life, love, marriage, religion, business, art, etc., etc. Students are just beginning the process of acquiring the knowledge and experience that will shape them as adults.

    In other words, some students may be independent and strong but many aren’t. Some are in turmoil and some aren’t. While their sperm and egg counts, and perhaps athletic ability, may be at their liftetime peak, that’s about it. There’s better strength and independence coming.

    And of course, these young folks aren’t surrounded by families with seven children or even ones with two children. They’re not yet aware of the realities of life because life experience is earned over time. I personally think it’s fairer to approach – not target – those who are in their mid to late twenties since you’ve brought it up.

    Now, as part of the acquisition of experience and knowledge, I believe it’s perfectly legitimate to introduce these students or any adult for to a hareidi lifestyle, even if I personally shun it. In the marketplace of ideas, your idea has the same right to be introduced as mine.

    If you approach your prospects with integrity and if you don’t prey on those who are weak.

    By integrity, I mean that very often the initial approaches and months of “courtship” of the prospective ba’al teshuvah do not address the end result. Very often, it isn’t readily apparent, for example, that you’re on your way to a black hat dress code and an early marriage and kaboodles of kids.

    To conclude, it is perfectly legitimate to attempt the kiruv if the person is mature and aware, and if you’re open and honest about your intentions and where the process leads. It is not legitimate when the prospect isn’t mature and self-aware or if the person is in turmoil in their life. After all, the turmoil probably has a cause that has nothing to do with whether that person lays tefillin or prays 3 times a day.

    If rabbis can turn prospective converts away or dismiss converts of movements other than Orthodox, they can be just as picky when they choose their targeted ba’al teshuvah. Right?

    ‘Cuz, next thing you know, you can’t get out because you love your children. All seven of them…

    Or is that what the kiruv rabbis want?

  • No disrespect inferred. I was mostly having a little fun. I think a hyperlink to the original post is a painless way to make a balanced presentation, not just of both points of view so to speak, but of the context in which the comment of interest was made. Just better blogsmanship.

    Cults have some characteristics that are like kiruv, yes. But so do a lot of other things and at the end of the day, Aish and OS are not cults. I know that because Reb Noach told me they’re not. 😉

    Do BT’s sometimes not know what they’re getting into? Definitely. I agree with that. Do most of them figure it out well before they’re saddled with a wife and kids? Yes, the vast majority. Are some of them too overwhelmed by the psychological and emotional experience to realize what’s going on until there’s no turning back? Yeah, I’d say so. If this never happened in non-frum life (there are all kinds of choices we make that effects down the line) it would be more compelling, but I agree that this is an issue in some percentage of cases — neither of us knows how many. Do some people wake up and wish they could escape? Yes. Does that mean they were duped? Probably not. It happens to FFB’s too, you know. Have you experienced middle age yet, TM? I’m guessing no.

    Your argument about college students proves too much. We only get smarter ever single day. But college students are independent, physically strong, have options before them, are in a mode of critical inquiry and are idealistic. I consider these strengths, not vulnerabilities.

    But should people with obvious psychological vulnerabilities not be preyed upon? Yes. Is that really DK’s thesis — is that the big problem he’s writing about? I can’t believe it is. It’s a marginal problem. But it is, frankly, very useful for people with an “issue” about frum life and the BT movement to have as a marginal problem (if it didn’t exist “they’d have to invent it”) because it enables us to wave away the phenomenon as something for especially needy, warped or vulnerable people. Which, by the way, frum people do whenever they talk about people who left the life of observance and became irreligious: They are inevitably people with “problems,” too. Should we compare which group of “movers” contains a higher percentage of dysfunctional subjects? Well, we’ll never get a straight answer on that. But look around you and think about what I’m saying.

    DK, we just aren’t going to agree about this. To me, “even” left-wing MO’s look at the “excessive” demands of the Haredi life and weigh it against the spiritual state of those who live without Torah and mitzvos, and even holding their noses they typically recognize which is a better outcome for people they care about. They do this because they recognize the massive value of a single mitzvah, positive or negative.

    Your response is, But what about MO kiruv? I think the answer is that if I buy a book about hitting, I want the one by Ted Williams, not the one by Chris Chambliss, as respectable a chap as Chris is. I want to learn from someone who’s committed his life to the art. DK, when I fall short, and I do every day and most nights, too, I at least know what the baseline of performance is and I know I’ve fallen short. Dealing with it is my responsibility, and as an adult I may choose compromise. Some stronger people don’t. But: I’ve been to the mountaintop, you know? I want to learn from Yoda, someone who’s completely committed to his discipline. His little green face appears over my shoulder, like Gazoo, and yes, I can draw on his example to improve and get back in line a lot more readily than I can if I conjure up one of those guys in the plastic white armor.

    Remember what the Rambam says is the Golden Mean: Not compromise and half-measures out of the box, but getting to that happy middle by, just as you’d think, doing more where you’ve done less, compensating where you’re weak, overshooting the goal. It’s the only way anything worthwhile is every achieved.

    Good Shabbos everybody!

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