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.