Sunday, May 30, 2010

Kiruv Styles: Intellectual Depth or Simplicity

A correspondent on Hirhurim blog claimed (paraphrased):

I think that if Torah Judaism is presented as having depth, profundity and having also survived the best and worst aspects of Jewish history, it can attract anyone. The real problem-the Charedi [and kiruv] world all work from this proposition as a given.

OTOH. many MO evince an inferiority complex by obsessive navel-gazing over the future of MO.

I responded, however: (somewhat expanded)

Actually, the Chareidi world just keeps its internal politics out of the UJA-distributed paper, so the non-O world knows little of it. Internal politics leading to fistfights and thuggery on top of the sexual and financial scandals would be just as damaging to the Chareidi image as MO obsession over its future portrays internal weakness – both indicate systemic problems.

MO depth/profundity is often indistinguishable from academia, hidden from the common man, whether through erudition, language or publication in expensive academic journals and books. Meanwhile the Charedim and other kiruv organizations provide predigested pap (I'm thinking of Aish Hatorah's 48 Ways, or NJOP's "Crash Courses") pretending it's profundity. But the real profundity, if any that isn't just rehashes of medieval ideas, is hidden, just as inaccessible behind the Beis Medrash doors - because in either case, the threshhold of knowledge is very high. Profundity is not just in hearing a simple answer to a complex issue, it's understanding why the issue is complex in the first place.

Face it, extremists are better at marketing than moderates. Having a simple message (not a profound message, but a simple, if extreme, message) is easier to explain than the life of tension between kodesh and chol that was the centerpiece of much of RYBS' writing. And, as one co-congregant in my old shul put it, "I like that the (L) rabbi has a plan, an idea. I may not agree with it, but I like that he has it." As opposed to the lack of focus other than politics in his previous C-nagogue.

Right there - the L are not presenting the profundity of chassidus. To really understand that takes years of study. They're presenting the beauty of the Orthodox lifestyle, and the simplicity of letting your will go, relinquishing much individual responsibility onto the rabbi's (or rebbe's) shoulders.

People join Orthodoxy because of emotional pull. They may need to intellectually justify some of the new ideas to themselves, as I did, but that’s a rationalization of the emotional tug. Yes, there are exceptions, like the fellow I know (through the Internet) who had been in a Christian seminary, then started learning Chumash/Rashi and Rashi’s answers made more sense to him than what he was getting in seminary, so he converted to Judaism. But I wonder if there was an emotional component as well – he was a child of intermarriage, his father was Jewish.

The Charedim are not selling profundity, they're selling simplicity, whether through existential* kiruv or intellectual. Really, so does NCSY, but the Charedim have embraced the kiruv concept much more than the MO.

*existential – through emotional appeals to the pintele Yid.

No comments: