Monday, 12 March 2012

Question! About Kiruv . . .



The discussion in the comments following the interview with Shilton Hasechel, has centered around kiruv organizations, and two elements stand out for me. 1) Commenters seem to be in agreement that kiruv organizations behave unethically when/if they distort factual information in an effort to make a "rational" argument for adopting an Orthodox Jewish  lifestyle. 2) Commenters are not in agreement as to whether or not kiruv organizations also make "emotional" appeals for an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, and, if they do, whether it is unethical to do so.  

So my question: Do kiruv organizations portray an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle as more emotionally satisfying? And, if so, is it unethical for them to do so?

My perspective is this: Orthodox Jewish Kiruv organizations are selling an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.  Their product is not "information about Judaism". That is the "product" of academics/scholars (who are ambivalent as to whether or not their students do more mitzvot). In order to sell a lifestyle, the organizations appeal to a) "rational" arguments that Orthodox Judaism  is  based on the "truth", and b) (in case that fails!) "emotional arguments" - that this lifestyle can be more emotionally satisfying. I'm actually not convinced that doing this is unethical. It's no different than McDonald's or Coca Cola suggesting happier/healthier(!) lifestyles in their marketing. It's also not different from campaigns that appeal to emotional reasons for making aliyah.

In the case of kiruv, I recently read an article that illustrates what I mean when I think of kiruv appealing to emotions reasons for adopting Orthodox Jewish rituals.

It is by Rabbi Adam Jacobs, managing Director Aish Centre in Manhattan who describes the physical/emotional satisfaction from maintaining family purity laws.

In it, he states:
     
"When there is no physical outlet available for a couple, they are compelled to deal with each other on an intellectual and emotional level. They communicate only through words and body language which engenders another -- perhaps deeper -- level of intimacy. In addition, many couples describe the conclusion of this period of separation as a monthly honeymoon . . . If absence makes the heart grow fonder, it does wonders for other anatomical regions."

My cynical self tells me this is a "Tell-The-Customer-One-Thing-Tell-and-tell- the -Employee-Another" marketing strategy for an Orthodox lifestyle. To contrast, Yehudit Rotem, an Israeli author who left Haredi Judaism discusses the same ritual:

         "I was insulted by this attitude toward me as a niddah, a forbidden woman . . .But there wasn't a single female friend with whom I felt I could talk . . . Am I the only one bothered by the fact that nothing will be put into my hands [by a man] because I'm impure - that the baby won't be taken from my hands when I'm 'forbidden'? Was I the only one who felt hurt when my husband separated the beds on the wedding night immediately after the act?"

I don't think niddah is horrible, nor do I think it is God's gift to Jews. I suspect it works for some couples, it doesn't for others. For most couples it probably sometimes works, and sometimes doesn't. Whatever - who cares what people do behind closed doors if it doesn't hurt anyone else. However, what I find suspect is when the salesman pitches the emotional benefits to his product, but those emotional benefits are simply an occasional lucky by-product.  My hunch is that the salesman believes that even if family purity laws (or kashrut or Shabbos) made everyone miserable, they would still have to be done, because that is the law. And, as someone peddling belief and lifestyle -  if that's what he believes, I wish that's what he would say. But, that would be bad marketing - and a double standard on my part since I don't expect this level of honesty from Coca Cola. 



49 comments:

  1. I don’t think that Kiruv is really comparable to Coca-Cola. The only thing they have in common is that both are trying to sell something. But with Coke, everyone knows that they’re being sold. When you watch a Coke commercial, you know that the point is to sell you a product. You also know that polar bears don’t really drink soda. Kiruv, on the other hand, presents itself as education rather than advertising, and claims all of its advertising to be true.

    If Kiruv organizations were held to the same standards as companies like Coca-Cola, they could probably be sued for false advertising.

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    1. Also, you don't give up your life as you know it forever to drink a coke.

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    2. Just to clarify - the comparison wasn't in products (drink vs. lifestyle) so much as use of appealing to emotions in marketing. If I'm reading you correctly, what you are saying is that Coca Cola elicits emotion within arguably honest limits, vs. Kiruv org's elicitation which is under a false pretext. With that I agree, they are very different.

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  2. I believe kiruv acts unethically by: 1: tearing families apart 2: Not informing clients that they will never fully integrate into society, there will remain a stigma (i.e.; many FFB will not consider BT for marriage) 3. Informing clients of positive "lifestyle" culture you mention while hiding the harshness of YAHWEH until brainwash is fully underway.

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  3. Without addressing the general question about kiruv organizations, I will say that I do not believe that the Niddah argument you cited is even an apology, much less something made up as a selling point.

    My reason for this is that this argument was already stated 2000 years ago in the Talmud, before anyone had ever heard of kiruv, and when halakha had no reason to apologize for seemingly misogynistic laws. Yet it is right there in Niddah 31b.

    You might ask, why did the Torah ground this "separation time" in the the menstruation period and not in something else? I think that in a historical/halakhic context the answer is quite simple – because when they were keeping the laws of purity and impurity (which are not relevant today since you only have to stay “pure” if you want to be able to eat from the sacrifices or from the priestly gifts, which we don’t do nowadays), the most convenient time to separate a husband and wife was that time of the month when her touch could render him impure.

    So, you might ask – why not make it when he is impure? (see Leviticus 15; a man can also become impure in a similar way to a Niddah, when he has certain seminal discharges - note this, btw)? The answer to that is pretty simple too – because they aren’t regulated in any way. If the Torah wished to insure a separation period on a regular, consistent basis, the most convenient and simple thing to ground it in would be the woman's period.

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    1. The reason is 2000 yrs old:

      Ha! The rabbis of the Talmud had no idea what God's reason was. It is a chok (a commandment in the Torah which we cannot understand). They were just speculating and trying to figure out what God was thinking. Today, Kiruv rabbis portray this speculation as a necessary outcome of keeping the laws of family purity to spin niddah in order to sell it.

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    2. Correction: They were just trying to figure out what God or whomever wrote the Torah were thinking.

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    3. I am not disagreeing with you. All I am saying is that this reason was thought of by the rabbis 2000 years ago, so it's nature is not an apology. That doesn't mean some people don't try to use it as a selling point also.

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    4. Ok. So it wasn't meant as an apology originally. It also wasn't meant to be used to portray a utopian vision of family purity laws. But that is how Kiruv rabbis today use the thought of one fallible rabbi 2000 years ago. The fact that it pre-dates Kiruv doesn't mean that Kiruv rabbis are right in the way they use it.

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    5. Cali Girl, I prefaced my comment with "without addressing the general question about kiruv organizations." I am not advocating using something as a sales-pitch if it isn't true, and I am not coming to defend the kiruv rabbis. I am simply commenting on the argument itself. And I agree that it was probably not originally intended to be used to portray a Utopian vision of family purity laws. I don't think we are disagreeing here.

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    6. Ok. Now that I have time let me be more clear. As far as I'm aware, the Talmudic discussion about this focuses only on physical desire for the woman. After all, back then a man had other women he could legitimately be with on any given night. There is nothing about connecting emotionally. That part is completely made up by Kiruv rabbis as far as I can tell. Thoughts?

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    7. I would not say so. The wording used by the Talmud is כדי שתהא חביבה על בעלה - so that she should be "fond" to her husband. If it was primarily about physical desire, the word used would be from the root תאוה/desire or רצון/want; חביבה/fond is not a term that has primarily sexual connotations.

      Besides, it should be noted that while the Torah (absent the ban, that is) has nothing against a man marrying multiple wives; from a strictly legal perspective it does not allow him to marry a woman if he will not be able to provide her with food, clothing, and sex,* respectively, according to societal norms. It is therefore not likely that the average man would have multiple wives, and historically speaking it does not appear that they generally did. For example, all the rabbis of the Talmud whose wives are known (Yalta & R. Nahman, Homa & Abbaye, Beruria & R. Meir, Rachel & R. Akiva, etc. etc.) do not appear to have had other wives. My speculation is that it was never a common thing for the regular folk, because of the legalism I noted. Therefore this wouldn't qualify as something relevant to most people, most of the time.

      *Remember I am talking in legal terms. The Torah's view of marriage is certainly very meaningful (see, for example, Hosea 2:16-22; yes it is a metaphor, but it is very telling about it's view of an ideal marriage), but as legalities go, there is only so much you can put on paper.

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    8. Ok. This is where we part ways. Your proof regarding the wording holds no water with me. It's all about how the husband might perceive his wife after a period where he cannot physically have her. There is nothing here about a lack of physicality being a causal agent for emotional closeness.

      Also, I disagree with your assessment of the historical account of Jewish polygamy. The rabbis of the Talmud only had one wife generally. So? Was that the norm during the temple days?Answer: NO. How many wives did David have BEFORE he became king...

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    9. David was not "regular folk" at the time that he married more than one wife. He was pretty powerful.

      Besides, sure, let's look at the early days. How many wives did Moses have? Aaron? Eleazar? Joshua? Caleb? Nahshon? The list goes on and on. Most of the people mentioned in Tanakh are not recorded as having being married to more than one woman (at the same time, obviously).

      As for the wording of the Talmud, you don't have to agree. But at least show me where I am going wrong in a way other than simply saying it doesn't hold water. I consider myself proficient enough in Talmudic literature to know what the word חביבה means, and as far as I know, you are incorrect.

      "Man is חביב for he was created in the image [of God]."
      "חביבין the nation of Israel for they are called chidren of God."
      "Your friend's honor ought to be חביב upon you as your own."
      "חביבה doing a Mitzva at its proper time."

      See any sexual connotations there?

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    10. Don't point to the context of the word in other places. We are discussing the context with regards to the supposed benefit of niddah and it has nothing to do with emotional closeness.

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    11. Umm, I know how to read. If you decide to disagree with the meaning of a particular word, obviously I will have to cite other passages in which this same word is present, if I wish to support my argument. No?

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    12. I know how to read too. How do you figure that they were refering to emotional closeness!? I'm not disagreeing with the meaning of the word, I'm talking about the context.

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    13. The word, Cali; that's what the translation of the word is. You can't just decide what a word should mean simply because you think it is being said in a certain context. It's like the guy learning English, he sees a guy telling his friend "let's go to the store," and he interprets "store" as "library," because the two friends happen to be standing across the street from the library. No amount of context is going to change the meaning of the word!

      Who told you this is a physical context anyway? It's a preconceived notion of yours. Open your mind.

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    14. Re: it's a perceived notion of yours.

      I could say the same thing about you. At the heart of the theory is: absence makes the heart grow fonder. It's NOT about emotionally connecting.

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    15. Btw,

      Who told me it was about physicality? Answer: Neve Yerushalayim, Aish HaTorah, JAM (Ashreinu), etc.:

      Husbands who get to be with their wives all the time get sick of them like too much chocolate cake...blah blah blah. The Torah had the wisdom to create a system in which a husband could not physically get sick of his wife and mikvah night would be like a wedding night every month (physically, not emotionally).

      I am NOT pulling this out of thin air.

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    16. Absence makes the heart fonder is not about emotions?

      A secondary aspect of it might be physicality, but with all due respect to Neve Yerushalayim, Aish HaTorah, JAM (Ashreinu), and etc., the primary connotation of the wording is about emotions.

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    17. They (big Kiruv organizations) disagree...

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    18. That's okay, I'm a confident guy :p

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  5. If the Torah wished to insure a separation period on a regular, consistent basis, the most convenient and simple thing to ground it in would be the woman's period.

    Why does the need for separation disappear at the exact time menopause occurs?

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    1. That's a very good question. I don't have a perfect answer, but I can speculate.

      There are many laws which aren't perfect for everyone. The object of the Torah is to create a system that works for most people, most of the time. In truth this is the way it is with every legal system. Take suicide, for example. For some people it might be the only way for them to get away from the pain they are suffering. Yet the law doesn't differentiate, and it is (in most states, I think) always illegal, no matter the circumstance. The Torah is the same way. When it says a man may not marry his father's first wife; what's the reason? For all we know, whatever the reason is might not apply to every single person in every single case. Yet the Torah is a legal system, and in its mind this is a law that is best for most people most of the time. So for a lack of better phrasing - tough luck on the individual. (Unless of course the person is somehow forced to do the prohibited thing - in that case halakha never holds the person responsible.)

      In a similar way, the Torah has objectives. Let's say separating the husband and the wife is one objective. Another objective is to make purity laws. Another objective is to make things not too inconvenient. Depending on how important a specific objective is, the Torah will choose whether to make something an absolute rule, or to lump it with something else and make it dependent on it.

      I don't know how important this objective of the separation period is in the Torah's mind. What I do see is that it lumped it together with purity laws and made it dependent on those. If someone were to ask, as you did, that why isn't there a more absolute rule of separation that applies even when the woman cannot become impure - it just wouldn't bother me so much. Because the Torah might believe that although separation is great, even for older couples, that's not enough to make it a whole new rule not dependent on anything else. If a couple wants to do so post-menopause, that's great, but that just may not be enough reason for the Torah to inconvenience the rest of the world.

      Just my speculation.

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  6. >Niddah argument you cited is even an apology,
    Not so much an apology as a glorification.

    >So, you might ask – why not make it when he is impure?

    That's actually not my question. I'm wondering why bother at all with it, if laws of purity and impurity "are not relevant today"?

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    1. I may not have been clear. I am saying is that the correct answer is the one you mentioned - about absence making the heart grow fonder - I was just proving that it isn't merely an apology. The rest of my comment was just to explain why this separation period was ever grounded in the time when the woman becomes impure and not in some other time of the month. For that, I provided historical context.

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    2. Thanks for clarifying Lex. Yes, I do think I originally misread what you wrote. I'm sorry - I just want to make sure I'm following your clarification correctly. (There's something in the syntax of your second sentence that's throwing me off).

      Are you saying that in Niddah 31b, the authors argue that separation is intended to heighten couples emotional connection?

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    3. Yes. Rabbi Meir, to be exact (c. 150).

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    4. Okay . . so historically a Rabbi may have used the same arguments as the essay's author, but the authors's wording implied _current_ sociological benefits. If the laws of niddah are made to bring a couple closer, and they fail . . does that mean Orthodox couples can just drop the practice?

      You wrote: "The object of the Torah is to create a system that works for most people, most of the time."

      Let's say we do a very well executed psychological test to see whether or not niddah laws are beneficial for most of the people most of the time. If they are found to be detrimental, do you think the laws would change?

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    5. If the laws of niddah are made to bring a couple closer, and they fail . . does that mean Orthodox couples can just drop the practice?

      Let's say we do a very well executed psychological test to see whether or not niddah laws are beneficial for most of the people most of the time. If they are found to be detrimental, do you think the laws would change?


      No. As Cali Girl rightly clarified above, this reasoning is (as far as we know) only the speculation and the conjecture of the rabbis. In Orthodox Judaism, legalisms always come before reasons. That is what makes the laws of the Torah immutable. If one were to do a study and conclude that separation is not, in fact, in the best interests of most couples, all that would say is that the rabbis' speculation was incorrect. But the law would remain unchanged, because the rabbis were only speculating after the fact anyway. This is a basic tenet of Orthodoxy.

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  7. G*3 - and I thought I was being hard on kiruv! Having said that - I agree.

    Jesse - welcome! Good points. the one re: family is one that I think is often overlooked. In my family people who became frum certainly did not tear the family apart (thankfully!) - I'd say we are still quite close . . . but that's not to say the transitions went without impact.

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  8. And there ya go. The laws work for the majority, most of the time, and if you show me that they don't, shut up and do as you're told. Got it.

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    1. yes, I think a actual truly loving God would have a little more nuance; "one size fits all" doesn't really work even for clothes.

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    2. tesyaa - With so much cruelty in the Torah (e.g. commandment of genocide of Amalek etc.), how would Orthodox people believe the OJ version of God is a loving one?

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    3. tesyaa -

      That's the only way any legal system could ever work. Obviously people are different and they have different needs, but it's impossible to make a rule that works for every individual all the time. Good rules, by definition, are only good most of the time. And you cannot have a stable society without rules.

      One thing needs to be emphasized though: This is only about society and its needs. Society cannot worry too much about the individual. This has no bearing, however, on a person's personal accounting with God. The literature is full of statements which say that when God judges a person everything is taken into account. It's just that since the Torah is being given to society as a legal system, it doesn't have that luxury.

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    4. C. Laundry - The OJ version of God is not that he loves everyone and everything, but that he loves good and hates evil. The premise is that Amalek is evil.

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    5. A God who takes all factors into account when judging a person might not enact a system that makes it so easy for people to judge others.

      I'm not really into theology, nor am I particularly worried about judgment, but some things are obvious.

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    6. People have to judge others (in practice, I'm not talking about personal feelings about people - no one should ever "judge" anyone). Society would fall apart otherwise.

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    7. LL, what I'm talking about is not legal judgment (Orthodox Judaism has limited powers of legal judgment today, certainly outside of Israel), but personal judgment, which runs rampant in the OJ community, which is obsessed with religious and other standards.

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    8. I have not condoned that in my comments, nor do I. Judging is wrong, and the literature OJ relies upon says so too. The fact that there are judgmental people is an unfortunate reality.

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  9. With so much cruelty in the Torah (e.g. commandment of genocide of Amalek etc.), how would Orthodox people believe the OJ version of God is a loving one?

    Simple - the answer is brainwashing. If you find something in the Torah problematic and you don't agree with the traditional apologetics, the problem is YOU. YOU are not on a high enough level to understand, you are not trying hard enough to be a good person, you have a problem because do not accept that "the ways of the Torah are pleasantness", etc.

    I'm very lucky I did not grow up with this mindset so I could shed it rather easily, and I work hard to keep my kids as unbrainwashed as possible... (so far so good)

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  10. > With so much cruelty in the Torah (e.g. commandment of genocide of Amalek etc.), how would Orthodox people believe the OJ version of God is a loving one?

    He loves US.

    Besides, the notion that “God is love” is Christian. Current Judaism concweives of God as a father and king in a very literal way. The Amalekim were big bullies, beating up God’s kids, and He’s going to take care of it.

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  11. >Current Judaism conceives of God as a father and king in a very literal way.

    Yes, this is more of the Jewish God I was taught to know and love . . .fear, really at Jewish Day School.

    >the problem is YOU. YOU are not on a high enough level to understand

    aahhh . . brings back fond memories of Aish Ha Torah for me!

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  12. Re: niddah, closeness, reality, etcetera...Your comments reminded me of a blog post I read years and years ago that really stuck with me, by a woman who believed the apologies for niddah, until she found herself with fertility issues. It's still worth reading: http://home.mayimrabim.com:443/frombeneath.html

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  13. Re: Kiruv and deceit:

    I commented on the original Shilton Hasechel post before I realized you were continuing the conversation about kiruv in a new post. I hope CL, you won't mind if I re-post a bit of my comment here:

    The issue is, kiruv folks pretend to be speaking in secular language and logic, but they are actually using a completely different sort of logic internally -- therein lies the deceit. Some kiruv workers use scientific and mathematical methods as if they believed in them; however, those who really do "believe" in such methods would be much more scrupulous in the ways that some commentators above mentioned -- they would watch out not to be caught in fallacies ( http://users.tpg.com.au/horsts/baloney.html ).

    The Aish style is actually anti-rational, anti-science, anti-modern...It's Sophism. They turn every conversation into a high-school-style debate, as if, if you can wiggle your way out of an issue rhetorically, you *actually win the point.

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  14. Good question.

    I don't think that "emotional appeal" per se is wrong. Most of us, in one way or another, react to emotional factors even if we try to rationalize it. If I enjoy a fun and peaceful Shabbat at a camp or youth group - that's emotional.

    I like the idea of exploring old mitzvot in new ways, and seeing if there are positive aspects - but do NOT like the idea of saying that a positive side-effect is THE reason for the mitzvah. I've heard Rebbetzin Rivka Slonim (Chabad) and Rabbi Benjamin Hecht (MO) make this same point. Ultimately, we do it because it's a mitzvah, period. Sometimes it may be wonderful, but not everyone will love it and there's nothing wrong with admitting that it can be really hard.

    I also wonder if there is a tension between presenting a marketing effort, and advocating for a truly more welcoming, more rational, more wonderful model of observance. I think that if you deliberately think, "I won't mention that, it will scare people", you are part of a marketing effort. If you have a POV which you use not only for outreach but also for inreach and really promote to the whole community, then its sincere.

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