Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Kiruv I

Many people have difficulty finding the proper and successful ways to do Kiruv. First, “proper” and “successful” are 2 different things, and often they come in conflict.

Proper means that just because doing something will make someone else frum, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are allowed to do it. Everyone understands that driving a car on Shabbos to meet a non-religious Tinok Shenishbah in the hopes of influencing him is prohibited. But what we also need to understand is that doing something like that would not only be wrong, it would be a bizarre inconsistency, kind of like smoking on Shabbos while writing Chidushei Torah in the bathroom. But this is worse, since not only are you contradicting yourself, you are using the Torah against itself – the reason we are Mekarev people is because it is the Will of Hashem that we do so. It is the will of Hashem that Kiruv is a good thing. But that very reasoning should tell you that Kiruv done this way is wrong.

Just as taking a non-religious concept and giving it religious significance is idolatry, since you are synthesizing religion, so too a neo-idolatrous synthesizing of religion takes place when you take a legitimately religious concept but make it into an Ikar. Doing so doesn’t illegitimately add to the roster of Judaic concepts quantitatively, but it does add to our religion qualitatively. And so Zionism for instance, falls outside the parameters of Judaism because (a) Nationalism, which is a totally non-Jewish concept, becomes idolatry when given religious significance, and (b) Eretz Yisroel, which is a religious concept becomes a distortion of our religion when made into much more of an Ikar than it actually is.

If memory serves, it is the Ber Mayim Chaim who writes that the Yetzer Horah can sometimes get a person dedicated to a particular Mitzvah and by doing so distract him from other Mitzvos, or make him think he’s higher than he really is etc., and the litmus test to tell whether your commitment to a Miztvah is good or bad to see whether you are equally dedicated to other Mitzvos. If not, then take stock of your motives for emphasizing one Miztvah over others.

And so, just as Eretz Yisroel taken wrongly can c"v become "Zionism", people can take Kiruv, which is a great thing, and make it into "Kiruvism", where making non-religious people frum becomes an Ikar, or the Ikar, or much more of an Ikar than it actually is in Judaism. There are very very great merits in doing Kiruv Rechokim, but we always must remember that Kiruv is just one part of doing the Will of Hashem, and that it makes no sense to violate or distort the Will of Hashem in order to make people frum. Kiruv Rechokim does not supersede Judaism.

So no twisting the Torah in order to make someone frum. No giving him anti-Torah answers to his questions because he will “accept” them more than anything else you can think of. If someone asks you a hard question, find out the real answer – don’t distort the Torah. You cannot tell people that the Torah believes in evolution, that the world is billions of years old or that Chazal didn’t know what they are talking about. A problem occurs when people doing Kiruv do not know the real answers to the theological questions being asked to them. Some questions are not easily answered without great knowledge of Torah, and bear in mind that just because someone is not frum does not mean they can’t ask a question that needs serious Torah scholarship to answer.

The worst thing in the world for a Kiruv worker to think is "because I am frum and have had a frum education, I certainly am able to answer this non-frum person's questions". The second worst thing is, "Because my answers will make him frum, that means the answers are right". This, too, boils down to the "Educate Yourself" rule, and learn what is proper Hashkafa and what is not. A little light dispels a lot of darkness, and the more "light" you use the more darkness you will dispel. You don't need fake Judaism to make someone frum. You need to know real Judaism.

Also: No "kabbalah" stuff. That means don’t make believe you’re teaching them kabbalah and also don’t believe yourself that you’re teaching them kabalah. If they ask you about the latest Judaic "fad" tell them Madonna is nuts. If they want "mysticism" there is enough of what they want in the study of Brias Haolam, the human and animal and inanimate Neshomos, and Yichud Hashem - all found in the Ramchal's Derech Hashem (and get a good understanding of it) will more than fulfill their desire for sky-high religious concepts. You don't need and you should not enter into the realm of anything that you would not do yourself, for obvious reasons, for the sake of Kiruv.


Although Shmore Mitzvah Lo Yedah Davar Raah, Mitzvos protect one from being harmed, would you go into a burning building to save someone, which is a great Mitzvah, without protective devices and no training? Then why is your Neshama any less worthy of protection that your body?

No question, people are often influenced by those they are being Mekarev. And so, whether an individual should be involved of not depends on who the individual is and what type of Kiruv they are doing. That is a judgment call that needs to be made by someone who is familiar with the details of the situation and the people involved. But to blatantly say there is nothing to ever be concerned about because shomer mitzvah lo yeach dava raah is wrong.

The Gemora in Brachos (16b) says that Rav Zeira used to add a special prayer to his Shemoa Esrei, asking Hashem to protect him from doing Aveiros. The commentary Iyun Yaakov explains that the Gemora in Sanhedrin says Rav Zeira was in the business of Kiruv. Therefore, he prayed that he should not be influenced by those who he is being Mekarev.

Note, the possibility did not stop Rav Zeira from being involved in Kiruv. But neither did he believe that there is nothing to worry about.


People going into Kiruv often think that “well if I am frum and have a frum education, I surely can answer the basic questions that a non-frum person will ask." It doesn’t work that way. A frum person teaching non-frum people Torah is not the same as an accountant teaching 5th graders math. The non-frum person may not even have a 5th grade Torah education, but bear in mind that the advantage in Judaic knowledge that you have because you learned in Yeshiva all your life, is probably not going to help you nearly as much as you may think it will. The non-frum Jew is not going to ask you how a slave can be emancipated by acquiring a Get when a slave is unable to acquire anything on behalf of himself, or why you should marry a Kollel guy. They will more likely ask something like: Why does G-d care if you are religious? What’s in it for Him?

Can you answer that? (Hint: If you tell him that Hashem created the world and religion for our sakes, he will ask you what do we gain by it? And if you say we have to earn Olam Habah they will ask you why can’t G-d just allow us to enjoy it as a gift – G-d can do anything, right? The answer, by the way, is in the Basic Judaism section of

For whatever reason, you probably haven’t learned these basics. Suggestion: Do so. Use the site! This information is all there, especially the Basic Judaism section, the G-d section, and the Bechirah section.

And my recommendations for books:

1) Rabbi Avigdor Miller’s books, Awake My Glory, Sing You Righteous, and Behold A People, are unequaled anywhere. It would be a pity to engage a non-frum Jew (or even your own Yetzer Horah to be a less frum Jew) without knowing the information contained therein. Basic Jewish theology and history is explained, as well as excellent debunking of evolution and fake religions, including fake versions of Judaism.

2) Rabbi Leib Kelleman’s Permission to Believe, as well as Permisison to Receive. You definitely want to read the Vatican’s answer to the questions he posed about Christianity. You also want to read the parts about other religions and the archeological evidence for the Torah’s narratives.

3) The more Torah Hashkafa you know, the better armed you will be. The greatest problem I find in Kiruv is that people think they can go into it without knowing a lot. Do not rely on "canned" answers, where some Kiruv training people will tell you, "If they ask you this, you should answer this; if they ask you that, you should answer that". This is like a medical school that creates doctors by teaching them, "if the patient complains about this, give them this; if the patient complains about that, do that." It's much better to learn biology and medicine, understand the fundamentals on your own, and then benefit from the experience of veteran doctors. So too you want to know FOR YOURSELF all about your religion, and from there you can use that knowledge to meet the challenges posed by others.


Kiruv means influencing someone else to change their lifestyle. If you want to know how to do that, think for a moment: if someone wanted to influence you to change your lifestyle, what would it take to get you to listen?

They'd have to make sense, for sure, and they’d have to say it in an intelligible and clear manner. As they say, what you say is not more important than how you say it. But there’s a third factor that’s much more important than either of the above.

Who is doing the convincing? The person most likely to succeed to convince you to change your lifestyle would be someone (a) who loves you dearly, (b) understands you, your needs, and what would make you happy, and (c) someone whose motives are totally and completely your own benefit.

So what you say to the person is important, and how you say it may be more important, but even more important than all that is WHO is saying it. If it’s someone you trust, someone you know is talking only for your own benefit, you are likely to seriously consider what they say.

The Rambam (Deos 6:7) says that the Mitzvah of tochachah has the following conditions:

1) You should correct the person's action privately, not in public

2) You should speak in a calm and soft voice, and

3) You must let him know that you are not correcting him for any reason at all except for his own sake, to let him merit Olam Habah. "And he is able to communicate to him that he is criticizing him for no other reason than the other person’s welfare – to bring him to the life in the next world.”

So if you want to be Mekarev someone, you have to make sure you are doing it for their sake, not yours. To be successful, you have to love them and your involvement in their lives has to be because you want them to go to Gan Eden, NOT because:

(a) you want to go to Gan Eden by being mekarev them
(b) you want to feel a sense of accomplishment
(c) you want something interesting and positive to do with your spare time
(d) kiruv is in vogue

Although none of the above motives are evil – on the contrary, they are quite positive – in this context, they are misused - imagine a mother whose motive to have children is to feel a sense of accomplishment or to have something positive to do in her spare time. The idea of getting a Miztvah, too, is of course a wonderful motive, but the Mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel is to love the other Jew, not yourself, and if the only reason you are being good to another person is for your own sake, you don’t love him, you love yourself. I explained this idea elsewhere but it got lost in the disaster.

Regarding the mitzvah of shiluach hakan, we are taught, kol haomer al kan tzipor yagiu rachamecha, meshaskin oso - you are not allowed to say that Hashem's mitzvah of helping a bird is due to mercy on the bird. Mitzvos are mitzvos and we can’t describe them as acts of mercy.

However, it does not say the same thing regarding mitzvos of chesed and tzedakah - it does not say that whoever says Hashem has mercy on poor people should be quieted.

People are not birds. Birds are what we call a cheftza demitzva - an object with which you perform a mitzvah, like an esrog, a lulav, tefillin. But people to whom you do chesed are not your "mitzvah objects". They are people, and although we know that Mitzvos are beyond our fathoming, and we cannot even begin to attribute reasons for them, it is a mitzvah to emotionally care and love the person, not to look at him as some mitzvah object. In fact, one of the reasons given for the fact that we do not make a bracha on mitzvos baim adam lechaveiro is because making a bracha would detract from the spirit of the mitzvah --- imagine visiting a choleh and, while hovering over his bed, making a bracha, "boruch ata Hashem .... vetzivanu levaker es hacholim"! You're objectifying the person, and making it Bikur cholim into being about you, when it's about the choleh.

Same thing in Kiruv. It's not about you getting a Mitzvah, though you do. It's about caring about someone else and helping them get Olam Habah.



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