Thursday, July 26, 2007

From the Ashes - Review

My shul showed the Aish HaTorah movie "From the Ashes" this Tisha B'Av. I saw most of it, but walked out near the end - I was disgusted.

1) R' Weinberg was inspired by the physical holocaust to counteract the spiritual holocaust. Like the decline of Orthodox Judaism had anything to do with the Holocaust? (Leaving aside the theory that the Holocaust was the punishment for Reform, a theory I find morally difficult).

But the movie was bizarre. Clips of R' Weinberg talking about himself, or other people talking about him and the yeshiva, and how great they are, looking for all the world like an ad for Aish HaTorah - come to our yeshiva - alternating with clips of Holocaust scenes narrated by some guy with a South African accent (some British colony or another). Why the pictures of the Holocaust, except that it's a Tisha B'Av movie, and of course we have to bring up pictures of the Holocaust?

And of course, R' Weinberg implies that he invented kiruv - "bemakom she'ein ish, yishtadel lihyot ish" - implying that nobody else was doing kiruv when he started Aish. Riiight. Aish HaTorah started in 1974. He didn't even start the first kiruv yeshiva in Israel - that was the Diaspora Yeshiva, started in 1964 by my wife's cousin, R' Mordechai Goldstein shlit"a. And where did R' Goldstein learn about kiruv? Working alongside R' Shlomo Carlebach z"l in Chabad in the 1950s. (See "Returning to Tradition" by Dr. M. Herbert Danzger)

The whole thing was very self-serving, and not so interesting in terms of actual kiruv.

2) Discovery Seminars. Someone talks about hearing the guy who invented Discovery, "logical scientific proofs that Torah is Misinai" and wanting to give seminars himself.

That has to be a reference to Torah Codes, which are ever so much garbage. There are two aspects of Torah Codes, both of which are garbage.

1) the coincidences found in letter-skip sequences. That's just data cherry-picked for impressiveness.

2) the minimal skip distances for equidistant letter sequences, that which was published in "Statistical Science". One has to be a professional statistician to really grasp that. I know mathematically sophisticated people who have been taken in by it. I also know frum statisticians who have poked several holes in the argument. Torah is from Sinai - granted, the Rambam says it's a fundamental of our faith. Skip-letter sequences exist, and are cute. But the one doesn't prove the other.

3) R' Weinberg takes his rabbinical students to the death camps to impress upon them that they have to be as scientific, as efficient, as the Nazi killing machine. They tried various methods before coming up with the most efficient gas-and-crematorium method. So too kiruv professionals have to search for the best way. Why? Because he looked around after some years, and realized, that no matter how much success Aish HaTorah had, kiruv was losing the war for Jewish souls - so he needed a new source of inspiration.

That was the point at which I left. If you want to compare efficiency and single-minded devotion for kiruv professionals, you should compare to Chabad, that changed itself from an inner-directed small contemplative sect before WWI into a huge international kiruv machine, under the Sixth and Seventh Rebbes. Chabad has got to be the most successful kiruv operation out there. But of course, to the yeshivishe velt, Chabad is off the radar. So what's left? Nazis.

R' Weinberg tried to walk the fence on this one, calling the Nazis "monsters", but saying that his kiruv professionals have to be as efficient as the monsters. On the other hand, during the segments on the Holocaust, he & the narrator spoke about Nazi deception, to get people to leave their homes, to get them to go into the railroad cars. But here is R' Weinberg, using deceptive tactics (blinding them with the pseudo-science of Torah Codes), in order to bring people into Judaism. Not only does he advise absorbing the efficiency, his program uses their moral failure of deception. Zu Torah vezu sechorah? Isn't the seal of Torah, truth? Or does single-minded devotion to Torah and kiruv justify the means? It doesn't ring true to the Torah with which I was raised.

It bothered me, and I walked out.


z said...

""And of course, R' Weinberg implies that he invented kiruv - "bemakom she'ein ish, yishtadel lihyot ish" - implying that nobody else was doing kiruv when he started Aish. Riiight. Aish HaTorah started in 1974."

1) R. Noach was doing kiruv before Aish was started. He worked with others before starting his own Yeshiva.

2) Mentioning בּמקום שאין אנשים השתּדל להיות איש doesn't mean that someone claims that they invented something. It means that they felt there was a void and a need where they were which needed to be filled. There was a need for non-Lubavitch kiruv of a certain type, in the view of R. Weinberg. If there was a Yeshiva somewhere else doesn't matter, there was still a need for more so R. Noach tried to provide it.

thanbo said...

Oh, don't get me wrong, in kiruv the more the merrier, and in 1974, it was still regarded with suspicion by many elements. Lincoln Square Synagogue, where I grew up, was regarded as a bit of a pariah by the other MO synagogues in part because of its kiruv orientation - and that was in the same period. My parents came to LSS from the Reconstructionists in the early 1970s.

Kiruv got a big boost after tbe 1967 war. R' Goldstein was a bit of a pioneer in doing so, outside of Chabad, in 1964. R' Goldstein got his start as a shaliach for Chabad, but later broke with them to set up a non-chassidish yeshiva of his own.

I'd be interested to know if, and with whom, R' Weinberg was doing kiruv before 1967, if at all. His bio on says nothing about his activities before 1974. Wiki on Ohr Somayach tells me that he was one of the co-founders in 1970.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i upped and left shul on tish‘a b’av when the explanatory qinot speaker suddenly transitioned from reading gruesome excerpts of holocaust diaries to talking about 'more recent tragedies' such as.... gush qatif?!

thanbo said...

yeah, it's of a piece with praying for pollard along with the captives in Lebanon like Ron Arad, etc. I put my fingers in my ears when they do that.

there's a difference between the Narzis and the US or Israel governments. The Gush Katif people went willingly, and were cheated by the government, so I guess there's some institutional deceit there.

Anonymous said...

i wouldnt let them show it in my shul, and told aish that.

Emes! said...

Ok, attention everyone who posted here:

Lets face some facts:
Fact 1: We are in Golus
Fact 2: We are falling apart
Fact 3: Nothing posted here is helping us get out (except Mr. Z whoever he is). I'll tell you why. We are in Golus because we have slandered each other, didnt judge eachother favorably, treated eachother with disgust. Therefore, any attempts of ours to impress or please Hashem have been turned away. Bringing it down to a nowadays level situation- whatever intention Aish had by making the video- the point was to inspire many to be involved in Kiruv and to give streghthn to those already involved. If this is not the way that you are inspired, then just smile, nod, and walk away. BUT! WAKE UP! How righteous do you think you are defending Kiruv and Religion and yada yada - you can go on forever- But to OUTRIGHT slander and speak negatively of Jews and a Jewish organization- there has got to be something wrong with you! Realize that we are in Golus and are being heavily judged, not one person in Klal Yisrael needs another claim against him and we so desperately need Hakadosh Baruch Hu to have favor on us, now is not the time to degrade our fellow brothers, especially those who are just trying to help. Open your eyes- dont be fooled by incorrect feelings. Lets try and be positive about one another...its our only chance of pulling out of here.

thanbo said...

It's not slander if it's public information, and I said nothing that was not public information. The film is the film, its messages are its messages, R' Weinberg's bio is in the public record.

Fact: Kiruv people like to toot their own horns, like many other people who have accomplished something in this world.

Fact: Drawing inspiration from the Nazis is a bit difficult to swallow for many people.

Emes is I had problems with the movie, but that's my issue - it doesn't have to be yours.