web analytics
September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
Blogs
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



The Outreach Revolution

Our battles with the Conservative movement are over. They no longer pose a threat to Orthodoxy.
Jack Wertheimer

Jack Wertheimer
Photo Credit: Between Two Worlds

I think I’ve said this before – or something like it. Jack Wertheimer is one of my favorite Conservative Jews. A recent article of his in Commentary Magazine could not be more positive about Orthodox outreach. In fact I think he is even more supportive of it than many Orthodox Jews.

Why would a prominent Conservative Jew be so supportive of Orthodox kiruv? I suppose that he believes in the values of Torah and mitzvot. Despite popular notions to the contrary, Conservative Judaism is not opposed to doing mitzvot. They actually support it. At least on paper. How they define mitzvah observance is where the problem lies. Another problem with Conservative mitzvah observance are the percentages of those who actually observe…

My guess is that the percentage of Conservative Jews who observe Shabbot in any meaningful Halachic sense – is very small. I believe that Professor Wertheimer is a part of that minority.

Theological differences exist too. But those problematic views are not mandated… and thus surmountable in an individual. That they are tolerated by the movement is beyond the scope of this essay.

Professor Wertheimer has done an excellent job of studying and analyzing Orthodox kiruv – in virtually all of its incarnations. He discusses its history, financing, appeal, and examines why it flourishes. He credits the Lubavitcher Rebbe for starting this revolution. And he correctly notes that many non-Habad kiruv workers have learned from Habad.

From Habad; to Aish HaTorah; to Torah U’Mesorah; to community kollelim; to Modern Orthodox kiruv… he lauds it all. He even concludes that Orthodoxy underestimates its own success. Success that he views with a very positive eye.

He also notes the friction created between Conservative rabbis who lead synagogues and kiruv workers. The claim is that Habad (for example) will set up shop and undermine the Conservative shul business structure by offering smaller friendlier shuls with little or no synagogue dues. They also offer to provide Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies without any minimum shul religious class attendance requirement (typically 3 years). Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations are a drawing card for membership. True to form, it seems that Professor Wertheimer has no problem with Habad doing that.

The realities of 21st century life in America have caused lofty kiruv goals of bringing Jews to full observance to be lowered. One of those realities is the massive attrition of Jews from the Conservative movement into secular lifestyles. The pool of Jewish kiruv targets from there has been diminished. Conservative Jews tended to give their children at least a minimal Jewish identity making them more receptive to kiruv. Those who have left it to become completely secular makes it much harder for them to be attracted to an observant lifestyle. I agree with him.

That the expectations have been lowered and that the Lubavitch model of linear success is increasingly becoming the model for non Lubavitch kiruv. Any increase at all in their level of commitment is now viewed a success. As such Professor Wertheimer contends that Orthodox Kiruv is having far more impact on American Jewry than anyone might imagine. Those who have come into contact with Orthodox outreach programs but do not become Orthdodox themselves take that knowledge and impart it to other non-Orthodox Jew is their shuls. These Jews might never come into contact with Orthodox outreach. Thus there is a sort of multiplier effect.

Professor Wertheimer has the highest praise for Habad. They seem to be the most successful and the most organized. For example he points out their JLI program:

Of particular note is the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), by far the largest internationally coordinated adult-education program on Jewish topics, offering the same set of courses at hundreds of Chabad locations around the world, all on the same schedule. This means that Jews who are traveling can follow the same course from session to session, even if they find themselves in a different city each week. In the fall of 2012, nearly 14,000 American Jews were enrolled in JLI courses, and overall close to 26,000 participated in Chabad’s teen- and adult-education programs.

The Chabad network is striving to create a seamless transition, so that young people who attended its camps or schools will gravitate to a Chabad campus center when they arrive at college and later, as adults, will join Chabad synagogue centers. No other Jewish movement offers this kind of cradle-to-grave set of services. The participants in these programs, needless to say, range in their Jewish commitments, but with the exception of a small minority, all are drawn from the ranks of the non-Orthodox.

But he also notes the explosion of non-Habad Kiruv organziations as well – including the far more insular world of Haredim. There are about 50 or so community kollelim that do outreach. My only real quibble with Professor Wertheimer is that these kollels are really more about in-reach than outreach (although they do outreach too). They tend to reach the already observant world and raise the level of observance and limud Torah. There are drawbacks to this too which I have discussed in the past but are also beyond the scope of this essay.

Professor Wertheimer does note that there are problems as in the push back by Conservative rabbis who see Habad (for example) poaching their members. Ironically the most critical of it are the Orthodox themselves. Among them is Rabbi Ilan Feldman who discussed the issue in Klal Perspectives (I posted about it a while ago:

“Frum communities as cultures are simply not conducive to outreach,” he believes, because those communities have a defensive perspective and don’t welcome Jewish seekers who are not yet planted in the Orthodox life. Put differently, outreach workers of necessity develop a far more empathic understanding of the non-Orthodox population than do other sectors of the Orthodox world.

There is much more in his article. It is a very worthwhile read. I highly recommend it.

My hat is off to Professor Wertheimer. It almost sounds like he would like to see a merger of all movements into one that will truly be guided by Halacha… and that he is willing to concede the process to Orthodox outreach. I wonder how the hierarchy in his own movement feels about an essay like this. Or about him.

What are the implications of all this for Orthodox Jews? Should we become more directly involved with Hetrodox rabbis? Habad already is.They have no problem appearing on the same platform with Conservative rabbis. But most of the Orthodox leadership has always rejected that – claiming that it would amount to giving them legitimacy. I agree that we should not do anything that would do that.

But where do we draw the line? If the goal is making Jews more observant there ought to be some leeway in this regard. Our battles with the Conservative movement are over. They no longer pose a threat to Orthodoxy. Now that the Conservative movement is shrinking all on their own, we need to re-think this issue. Without getting into specifics (which I am not at liberty to say) I detect that this is already beginning to happen quietly with tacit approval even from the right. And that is a good thing.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “The Outreach Revolution”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
Current Top Story
Convicted murderer of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, Mumia Ab-Jamal.
Convicted Cop-Killer Mumia Abu-Jamal is College Commencement Speaker
Latest Blogs Stories
terrorists

Is the global community clear in its response to these extremist groups?

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu speaks to the UNGA, Sept. 29, 2014.

Bibi speaks resolutely in forums like the UN but we don’t see that strength on the ground here.

Jewish archaeological finds

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking but no, I haven’t lost my mind and no, I am not kidding.

Abbas again used the UN to attack Israel, distort history, and undermine prospects for peace.

Discover the motivations and the emotions that may affect investing.

This piece partner- no it was not a spelling mistake- they desire piece after piece of our Land.

President Obama showed courageous leadership with his decision to attack “Islamic State” despite the unavoidable ensuing collateral damage.

The solution to the friction with Hareidim on El Al flights is so simple and obvious, it amazes me that it hasn’t been implemented yet.

Global resources flow to young and capable descendants of Arabs who left Palestine over 60 years ago

There was a problem: A different speech, in part, was delivered on September 27

Obama’s speech was the epitome of chutzpah and hypocrisy.

After Israeli-Arab and Zionist Mohammed Zoabi expressed his support for Israel, he was forced to go into hiding for his safety…

Here is your chance to show your appreciation to the IDF!

This video of IDF soldiers singing one of the most powerful prayers Jews say on the holiest day of the year is simply amazing!

When I think back to one year ago it actually feels like a lifetime ago; I was truly another person.

More Articles from Harry Maryles
Brit Milah

Though the Talmud doesn’t give instructions, Metzitza has always been done B’Peh – by oral suction.

ethics

If not scared by God be scared by man; Hopefully ethics will integrate into lives for proper reasons

Smear campaigns by people with agendas other than justice do not faze him; He does what is right.

There’s much confusion about the definition of Daas Torah; simply put it means the wisdom of Torah.

Pashkevil: “Come out today and battle the Zionist Amalek and all the traitors in Nahal Haredi…”

Rabbi Fink: “There are many ‘true believers who can’t even be in the presence of Orthodox Judaism.”

“The Obama administration proved once again that it is the best friend of its enemies, and the biggest enemy of its friends.”

1st thing that must be done: tear down that wall; 2nd thing: allocate empty classrooms to Charedim.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/the-outreach-revolution/2013/04/26/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: