Is NCSY a gateway to haredism?
This morning, beyondbt.com, a website for newly Orthodox Jews of varying stages, strains, and sects, published an article I wrote decrying the lack of Modern Orthodox options for post-high school secular Jews interested in traditional Judaism.
Their choice to publish an article by a “haredi-basher” like me was an interesting one on their part, though I did agree to avoid haredi-bashing in my post.Â But still…I am writing a book with Failed MessiahÂ examining the challenges of those recruited by the Orthodox “kiruv” (outreach) world—a world which is dominated by the haredim, and some of the stories we have received so far (we need more, contact us! SUBMISSIONS_ AT_ KIRUVSTORIES.COM) have been less than flattering to the methods and goals employed by ultra-Orthodox institutions. Not so shockingly, they do not all end up as happy or satisfied as those in Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz’s book of anecdotes of the “teshuva revolution,” “Anatomy of a Search.”
The fact that beyondbt.com never the less published my call for a Modern Orthodox alternative approach to traditional Judaism for the newly Orthodox suggests that there are at least some in the kiruv world itself who are concerned that the Orthodox outreach infrastructure is dominated by haredim.Â
Additionally, there have been encouraging developments in the right-wing Modern Orthodox camp that suggest many have grown quite weary of attempting to appease the haredim, and no longer seek their acceptance.Â
But there are also some troubling disconnects emanating from the Modern Orthodox camp.
The post-high school Orthodox kiruv world is dominated by haredim.Â And the Orthodox Union, which houses NCSYÂ (an Orthodox recruitment program for secular and liberal Jewish teenagers), does not have institutions and programs like the haredi world does for high school graduates.
Why not? And what does this mean?
Many years ago, I had a conversation with Avi, a Modern Orthodox NCSY counselor originally from Silver Spring, MD.Â I complained that NCSY was at least inadvertently directing secular Jews to ultra-Orthodox institutions where they would be discouraged from going to college, and face indoctrination into a radically stringent interpretation of traditional Judaism, which if followed properly, leads to eventual socio-economic devastation, particularly for Jews from the middle and working classes.
Remarkably, Avi shrugged. He coldly explained that unlike him, (Avi was finishing his degree in computer science), newly observant Jews could not be trusted to stay religious, and hence needed essentially to be “trapped,” isolated from western life and secular temptations, preferably in institutions in Israel, far away from their social and family network.
I was shocked at Avi’s sentiments, though I had detected them in more veiled statements before from other Modern Orthodox Jews, and feared they were more widely shared than I would like to admit.
I don’t want to assert that Avi’s sentiments are held by the majority of Modern Orthodoxy’s right wing.
But not only does the OU not offer significant alternatives to haredi kiruv after high-school, they actually boast of working closely with the haredim.Â In a press release last week, the OU bragged about how NCSY’s professional staff was addressed by the Roshei Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah and Ohr Somayach.
They also offer internet links to these organizations on their site.
Both of these institutions, Aish HaTorah and Ohr Somayach, are soft selling but still hard-core haredi institutions with a fundamentalist interpretation of Orthodoxy.Â They are absolutely not Modern Orthodox institutions.Â In fact, they have a profound contempt for Modern Orthodoxy.Â
I realize not everyone understands the difference, or why a haredi lifestyle is sometimes problematic in ways that a Modern Orthodox lifestyle may not be, and this is part of what Shmarya and I will attempt to examine in our upcoming book.
But if the Modern Orthodox are going to be the front man for the haredim and facilitate teenage recruitment, thereby implicitly sanctioning (with an “OU” hechsher, no less) the methods employed and stringencies advocated by the charedim through NCSY “inclusiveness,” without even offering alternative institutional options in Israel following high school, that has to be discussed and understood.
Aren’t teenagers attending the OU’s NCSY being directed to haredi institutions? And is this understood by parents, in terms of what that means both ideologically and pragmatically?
Why is the OU—a bastion of functionalism within traditional Judaism–advocating haredi insitutions (and therefore a haredi lifestyle) to Jews from secular backgrounds when they would never advocate (and for good reason) such places for their own kids at parallel institutions where they would face demands to adhere to a severely stringent lifestyle based on maximum halachic compliance and indefinitely postponing secular higher education?Â
I would ask OU and NCSY leaders to imagine if these kids were their own children.Â
Would you only be concerned that the food they eat is kosher, or would you also want them to be able to put food on the table? (By food, I also mean the ability to afford things like the high cost of private Orthodox Day Schools for their children.)
Why deliver them to those who are only, or at least mostly, concerned just with the former?
Why, when it’s Jews from secular and liberal backgrounds, are the OU’s rules so different?
Why is this okay?
Is NCSY a gateway to haredism?