Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Kiruv Field Workers and Teachers

I'm coming out! I declare publicly, without hesitation or shame, that I am an orthodox Jew. Moreover, I would only be delighted if more Jews were to appreciate the wisdom of our tradition and to accept the yoke of Torah and mitzvot.

Why is it then that I am uncomfortable with the concept of the Kiruv movement, organized groups that aim to bring Jews back to religious observance?

I have identified two problems:

1. Kiruv tends to be one way traffic
2. Some Kiruv movements are interested in the ends not the means

What do I mean?

Even though I am an orthodox Jew who regularly studies and teaches Torah, I acknowledge that I do not have the answers to life's problems. I also have many doubts as to whether "my" way is the really right way. Furthermore, living in an orthodox community, I see, as well as the very many positive things, the myriad of problems that an orthodox way of life causes. I also see the contradictions and the hypocrisy.

Furthermore, I have learned and gained so many positive values from many of my non-orthodox and secular (and dare I even add, non-Jewish) friends and family.

We all have so much to learn from each other. However, my experience from some organized Kiruv movements (which includes training to be a kiruv field worker) is that they believe that they have a perfect gift to give. So perfect is that gift, that they had nothing to learn from others outside of the faith. Rather, everyone had to be saved.

Therefore, all the methods of encouraging people to orthodoxy were pseudo-educational, rather than educational. As a Kiruv trainee, I was taught how to give quick answers to difficult questions. A pretense of learning was made, rather than serious inquiry.

However, more disturbingly, I was taught amateur psychology, i.e., how to make a quick psychological analysis of a person, and to then feed them with the parts of Judaism that suited them best.

While, I cannot come out say that all this was wrong, after all, salesmen and advertisers use similar techniques (I guess I find them distasteful too!!), and we all do similar things at least on a sub-conscious level. Nevertheless, I was left with the unpleasant impression that some kiruv groups treated Judaism as a commercial product, and that they often used unethical and even dishonest methods in order to sell that product.

Judaism is very precious to me and I would like other Jews (all other Jews, in fact) to stake their claim and commitment to it, however, I would like to see that attained through a two way educational process, rather than latent coercion.

The fear I have, is that many Jewish Studies teachers in our schools are really kiruv field workers, rather than serious educators.

1 comment:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. Often, too much emphasis is placed on why Orthodox Judaism is its current form is so "beautiful" that people brush over the traits that need improving.

    More effort should be put into purifying our own Judaism and leading by example.