Monday, December 05, 2005

Outreach Agenda

I went to a Shabbaton this past Friday night at the Hillel in my college. The food was fairly standard, though I was upset that there was no soup. Ah, what can you do? The group there was fairly homogeneous. Just about all kids with yeshivah educations as far as I could tell.

Anyway, after the meal it became very apparent that there was an agenda behind this shabbaton. The Rabbi gets up and asks if "we feel a responsibility to our fellow Jews." Say what? What's this all about? Responsibility in what sense?

Later on this was clarified as we get into circle time and basically discuss outreach. So this is "responsibility" in a religious way. Aha. The questions discussed are whether we should do outreach, what kind of outreach we mean, and how it should be done. The basic general consensus that I found there was that "outreach" meant turning non-religious Jews into religious Jews. And I swear, some of the things people were saying made me think I was at a Southern Baptist convention where they were working out strategies to help those poor souls who "don't even know they need helping."

Some of the people there clearly only understood proper outreach as making Jews into fundamentalist members of Orthodoxy and one individual even said that the only "right" form of Judaism was defined as one where adherents believe that the Torah was given to Moses, to Joshua, to the Elders, etc. Yikes! It's really rather scary having that type of thing thrown at you and obviously being taken so seriously when it's generally latent among most of Orthodoxy. I mean, yes, they believe it, but they'll more often state their beliefs in more generic ways. It's usually part of the background beliefs and not present in the forebrain, if you know what I mean. Having fundamentalism so fronted without apologetics is stunning.

The whole discussion was a little unsettling for me and I had to play a little privacy game of how much to express and how much to keep hidden. You see, while I do not want to see Jews losing the whole of their identity, I also don't want to see them being taken in by a cultish organization not based on truth. I mean, it was scary, the people in the group were even discussing getting to people who felt lost and were at a crossroads in their life and for them to offer Orthodoxy as a path. That's exactly the type of sneaky methodology that cults try.

My way of "outreach" would be to get Jews interested in their history and their heritage as a people and to get them interested in the philosophical, theological, and moral contributions which Jews and Judaism have produced. I'd want them to establish a strong identity as Jews rather than for them to follow a strict set of rules and believe in a strict set of dogmas. I believe in a plurality of Jewish expressions that will lead to Jewish survivability. The Orthodox Jews at the Shabbaton may only consider Orthodoxy as "real" Judaism, but people like me can see in Judaism a richer wellspring of variable legitimate Jewish expression.

9 comments:

Mis-nagid said...

"My way of "outreach" would be to get Jews interested in their history and their heritage as a people and to get them interested in the philosophical, theological, and moral contributions which Jews and Judaism have produced."

IOW, you want to be mekarav people like yourself. But haven't we already covered how unusual you are? A Judaism that would satisfy you is not one that would succeed at converting the masses.

Jewish Atheist said...

The whole discussion was a little unsettling for me and I had to play a little privacy game of how much to express and how much to keep hidden.

Although I understand your feelings, I have to point out that it is because people like you keep quiet that fundamentalists have gotten so much power within all the major religions.

Orthoprax said...

Mis-nagid,

"IOW, you want to be mekarav people like yourself."

I disagree. All I'd be doing is educating people and my only goal would be for the person to identify with what he is learning. How far he'd want to go with it would be entirely up to him.

Though, you do make a point. People more like me would be more interested in a program like that. But I do think it would have wider appeal.

JA,

You also make a good point. Ashamnu, bagadnu...

Mis-nagid said...

"All I'd be doing is educating people and my only goal would be for the person to identify with what he is learning."

Sorry, I was sloppy with the word "want." I wasn't trying to comment on your goal, only your technique.

rebelmo said...

Hit the nail on the head. The outreach kiruv organizations prey/attract the weak . The merchandise they are selling is good for some, but not for all. Sort of like Henry Ford's saying, you can have any color you want , as long as its black.

Their approach and mindset is no different than the Southern Baptists, who also have professional kiruv material/methods and are exclusivist.

Are they doing good? I would still say yes. Frum is on balance, a good lifestyle, and might be a lifesaver for many. I also think BT's are more free to opt-in or out, more so than FFB's, in any case.

Hayim said...

But I do think it would have wider appeal.

Honestly, I doubt that you would have many clients. Having spent time in a BT Yeshiva, I have met a great number of people who chose to "become interested in their heritage". Your program would clearly be targeted at the more intellectual ones (although a piece of cholent never hurts ;) ), and this group of BTs is normally interested in finding the Truth (with a capital letter).

To put it somewhat differently, it takes a tremendous effort of will to change one's lifestyle. I do not believe that simple intellectual curiosity, or even the need for rootedness, are sufficient to spawn a mature religiosity. You need something with more umpf than your dogmaless outreach.

Michael said...

Different forms of Judaism appeal to different people: someone who needs to believe he/she knows THE TRUTH (in big capital letters) will probably want something hareidi-ish or bail out on Judaism entirely.

Others will prefer more nuanced forms of Judaism (either within Orthodoxy or outside Orthodoxy).

As Gilbert & Sullivan might have simplified the point:

That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Orthodox
Or else a little Conservative!

(from Iolanthe, slightly altered for the occasion of course)

Lost said...

OA- I wasn't at the Shabbaton, so i cant really comment on it, but i heard it was not nec a "You must do outreach to bring pp 'into the circle' type of thing. It depended on how you took it. Interesting you saw it that way. I heard a diff story of what went on there. Enjoy break

Orthoprax said...

Lost,

No, it wasn't like that. It wasn't a "must" but it was a "you really ought to if you care about Judaism and your fellow Jews." More of a guilt trip back door approach than a command and conquer, but the agenda was still the same.