Kiruv: What is Acceptable and What is Not

 

I have been hearing about a lot of different Kiruv events around the LA area lately and I thought that I would take this time to give my two cents on Kiruv methods. The idea of trying to bring people close to/teach people about Judaism is a very noble one, however often times I see Kiruv professionals overstep their boundaries. This is not going to be a long article, rather I want to compose a short list of what I think are acceptable Kiruv arguments and things that I think cross a red line.

Please note that me placing something in the acceptable category does not mean that I necessarily agree with it.

Acceptable: Various arguments as to Gods existence – even if you do not believe in God, there are good arguments for his existence.  There are also good arguments against his existence.  Weighing these reasons against each other in a respectful discussion, even if you have a bias one way or another, can be a very positive experience.

Not Acceptable: Saying you have 100% proof of God’s existence – You don’t.

Not Acceptable: Saying that people who do not believe in God/Torah are doing so because of some innate desire for immorality or are immoral because of their disbelief – Yes people actually say this.

Acceptable: Talking about the beauty and innate morality of the Torah and Jewish tradition.

Not Acceptable: Saying that there is definitive proof or even arguments beyond a reasonable doubt as to the Torah’s Truth – including (but not limited to) Bible Codes, Pseudoscience, stories of miraculous events that happened because of someone’s allegiance to the Torah – These cultic methods are very dangerous and with someone charismatic enough offering specious proofs you can convince almost anyone of anything.

Acceptable: Talking about the social utility of religion including how it strengthens families, happiness, and communal bonds.

Not Acceptable: Saying that being a religious Jew is the only way to achieve the goals of the above point.

Acceptable: Suggesting that certain areas of research (such as literary comparison, archaeology, and history) cannot give us the same certainty as a “hard science” so we should be wary of their conclusions.  – I disagree with this statement, but it is acceptable nonetheless.

Not Acceptable:  Saying that all academics who deny certain dogmatic principles are doing so under an anti-religious bias.  Many of my religious studies professors (who deny dogmatic ideas) have been deeply religious themselves.

Not Acceptable: Saying that the fields of history and archaeology confirm the biblical account – They don’t.

Acceptable: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – I disagree with this line of thinking (we can conclude some crazy things using this logic), but it is a fair point.

Not Acceptable: Saying that your life will get better in some completely disconnected way (such as wealth, dating, or health) if you become religious – people in these situations are very vulnerable and while Rabbis should offer support and love, they should not promise things they have no control over.

Acceptable: Trying to convince someone to try out a religious ritual, like maybe keep Shabbat for a week.

Not Acceptable: Telling someone not to read my blog because it contains iconoclastic views. 

The above list is probably not exhaustive, but it is some of the things that came to me off the top of my head.  If you feel that I have left anything out, or disagree with any of these, please comment or message me.

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2 thoughts on “Kiruv: What is Acceptable and What is Not

  1. Some of your “not acceptables” are because they can lead to exploitation of vulnerable people.

    Some are because, in your opinion, they are intellectually foolish.

    Some are really in the second category, but you present them as if they are in the first category.

    As for the second category, what makes you the final authority on which arguments are convincing enough to be believed, and which not?

    I think only the first category should actually be unacceptable.

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  2. I felt that I was pretty unbiased in terms of what I deemed Acceptable or not. I do not think that I am the final authority, although these are all topics that I have devoted a lot of time and thought to and have developed (what I believe to be) extremely credible opinions on them. I would love to know which specific examples in your second category you took issues with.

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