Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Kiruv Vs. Soul Mongering
Sometimes I wonder why I do this (well, maybe more than sometimes), but I guess I just can’t help myself. Here goes: I want to discuss something about kiruv, and I know that this will be easy to misunderstand and no doubt get me in trouble – so for those reading it, I hope you’ll give me a break.
Recently someone mentioned that Chabad is comfortable with chilul Shabbos, specifically people who drive to shul. We’ve discussed that before, but I want to get to something deeper than specific examples. To understand what I mean, let me start by asking if kiruv can be considered humane, ethical, moral, healthy or good? Is it even mentchlach to try to convince people to reject their families, backgrounds, friends, perhaps wives and children, and completely change their lives to join a community that in all likelihood they will always struggle to be a part of? Is that even fair? Is that really good for the individual prospective Baal Teshuva?
The obvious answer is that we’re talking about someone’s soul here – but let me ask: if so, are we the same as any other missionary group? Sure, we make a distinction: We’re only interested in Jews. But still, we must make sure that we really ARE different. We need to insure that we offer something truly better, and it must also be done in a better way – as the only way to truly overcome anything, is to offer something better.
And this is what bothers me with certain types of kiruv. I think sometimes people forget that the potential mekurav is a real person. He/she has a life, family, background, etc. They were raised a certain way and have certain responsibilities. They love and are loved. And all those things are important and need to be considered carefully – I can’t reconcile carelessly ripping people away from all of that and turning them into virtual orphans superimposed onto a society that’s often quite foreign, and sometimes remains foreign forever. How can we do that to people?
Yet, we must do something. If we believe in Torah, we must believe in kiruv. And that’s where I think Chabad does it better.
I find it to be very troubling for some guy with nothing to lose to tell anyone to turn their life upside down, in every way, and to heck with the consequences. To the contrary, I really think that the only acceptable method of kiruv has to be with extreme sensitivity to the individual. We need to be careful and sensitive to these issues, be a positive influence, encourage them to take it at their own pace, and avoid lecturing or pressuring them. It needs to be entirely their decision – and it’s certainly not our place as frum Jews to judge them; we’re not in their shoes. Obviously, we don’t endorse chilul Shabbos; it is one of the most grievous offences in the Torah, which the Zohar counts as violating all of the mitzvos. But how dare we "tell off" those who weren’t raised with Shabbos as if they were truly aware of the kedushah of Shabbos? Who do we think we are?
But it seems to me that some of my frum brethren find this unacceptable. If some fine family is mechalel Shabbos, rather than just seeking their involvement in Yiddishkeit – which is, after all, their Jewish heritage – they feel that said family must suddenly go all the way or none of the way. This bothers me greatly.
It needs to be our role as frum Jews to seek the betterment of everyone. We need to value a single act. We also need to recognize that G-d isn’t crazy and his expectations aren’t crazy. To some, kiruv is along the lines of other missionary groups that are seeking to save your soul – they aren’t interested in any single act or progression – they are looking to only to for complete and total transformation to their lifestyle – and while I don’t blame Christian missionary groups for this, I do find it inhumane.
All I can think is that this is a result of a fundamental inhumanity that comes from legalistic view of religion. I call it soulless.