Culture, Identity, Religion

Beyond Haredi Kiruv: A Plea to NCSY, the Orthodox Union, and Modern Orthodox Leaders

Is NCSY a gateway to haredism?
This morning,, 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.  But still…I am writing a book with Failed Messiah 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 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. 
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. 
But there are also some troubling disconnects emanating from the Modern Orthodox camp.
The post-high school Orthodox kiruv world is dominated by haredim.  And the Orthodox Union, which houses NCSY (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.  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.  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.  They are absolutely not Modern Orthodox institutions.  In fact, they have a profound contempt for Modern Orthodoxy. 
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? 
I would ask OU and NCSY leaders to imagine if these kids were their own children. 
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?

26 thoughts on “Beyond Haredi Kiruv: A Plea to NCSY, the Orthodox Union, and Modern Orthodox Leaders

  1. I think the question should actually be “are MO Jews in the US plagued by a terrible inferiority complex which is the result of having a religion and values which do not jibe with each other”. The answer is, of course, “yes”, and the result is that since MO Jews “know” all non-Orthodox Judaism (which does jibe with their values) to be false, they implicitly endorse rejection of ther (liberal) values in favor of a Haredi lifestyle.
    MO is, apparently, not a solution, but a problem.

  2. aish is very good at providing a warm modern-ish face for its organization. how else would it get its target demographic into haredi yeshivot? clearly frankness would be less effective.

  3. I’ve learned with Aish rabbis in both Miami and Newton, and I always felt their lifestyle was modern. We discussed sports, they had TVs, etc.

  4. Can someone describe MO? What is it? Conservative Jews with seperate seating?! Orthos with TV’s?! Reform Jews with a whole in the sheet?!
    Sombody please enlighten me.

  5. well, I’ll try, and I’ll try to say what it is, not what it’ not.
    it’s a firm commitment to halachic observance, and to Jewish traditions. it doesn’t see Judaism as contrary to modern life, be it university, the internet, new ideas, as long as it stays within halacha. Additionally, there are sometimes extra-halachic traditions which hold great sway. There is a spectrum of observance levels, but most people who identify as MO will explain their observance in those terms.
    As for theology, it generally runs according to God–> torah and oral law at sinai–> we keep halacha. But there’s no set in stone theology, and some would claim that MO is a matter of halachic practice than theology.
    There is generally a pretty pervasive support for the state of Israel, and MO’s who aren’t Zionist generally don’t base their opposition on Israel’s non halachic/messianic character; rather on their own views of if it’s necessar/ good for the Jews.
    It tries to balance conservativeness with openness to change (as long as halacha is preserved); the question of how well it succeeds I will leave to the peanut gallery.
    comments? additions? objections? feedback?

  6. It appears that Modern Orthodoxy has become so factionalized, that it is now defined by others in terms of what is not.
    The non-Orthodox denominations point to the pronounced rightward shift that has taken place within MO over the past several decades, and label it anachronistic.
    Conversely, the Haredim see MO as an unacceptable compromise. My nephew, who used to attend an MO high school, and is now in a Chabad yeshiva, complained to me the other day that MO doesn’t work, that too many compromises have to be made, and that laxity in observance is widespread. He feels that it has failed, and that the MO movement has produced generations of largely secular Jews with a sentimental attachment to traditional Judaism. (For the record, I agree with none of this.)
    He went on to tell me that the only true Modern Orthodoxy is Chabad, in the sense that it combines complete observance with an acceptance of modernity, insofar as that is possible (which isn’t much). Of course, this is only one opinion, and it’s the opinion of a yeshiva bocher who thinks he’s got it all figured out – but obviously he isn’t alone.

  7. cipher,
    Your nephew make alot of sense.
    your description is one of Orthodox Jewery, what is modern orthodox about that.
    I think that, similar to the Conservative movement factioning into Reform-Conservative and Conservadox, the MO has factioned. It has moved to become just like the rest of Orthodoxy and the less-observant factor has melted into the conservative movement.
    I simply see nothing modern about Rebbeca M’s description. Ciuphers nephew makes alot of sense b/c at the Chabad I visit 80% are non-orthodox and will tell you that. But they practice for the most part like an Orthodox Jew. Some guys drive on Shabbat, etc. which can be perceived as hypocytical, but what the hell, they (it is hard to generaize, but a large number) are far more observant than your average non-Orthodox Jew.

  8. rebecca m-
    I think that was a pretty good description of MO. I only take issue with one item-
    “But there’s no set in stone theology, and some would claim that MO is a matter of halachic practice than theology.”
    I don’t think that the theology (or hashkafa) of MO is that wide open. I would say instead that the MO view is that, in order to reconcile Judaism with modern findings, one may take any position
    that has been advocated by any major source (one of the acknowledged great Rabbis) even if this has been a minority opinion.
    I would also add that, at least as of now, there’s a spectrum of Orthodox people taking various positions between the “ideal” versions of MO and chareidism. So, for example, we have numerous people with a largely chareidi outlook who go to law school.
    Further, one problem that haunts the serious MO is that because MO is more tolerant of the laxly observant (in the sense of associating with the more laxly observant, not in the sense of agreeing that lax observance is okay), non-MO sometimes conflate the serious MO with the less observant people.
    “and it’s the opinion of a yeshiva bocher who thinks he’s got it all figured out – ”
    There’s a lot of truth packed into that line.
    Great piece. Regarding some of the comments on the longer article, while I disagree with the commenter who said that the intellectual approach won’t attract anyone while cholent will, why take a chance? How about both? (“Kook & Kiddush Club”? “Soloveitchik and single malt”? OK, I’ll stop now.)

  9. DK- I get the impression that you assume that college is by definition a good life choice for everyone (“I complained that NCSY was at least inadvertently directing secular Jews to ultra-Orthodox institutions where they would be discouraged from going to college…“), when in fact it is not.
    Is it better for someone to waste four years at college and end up with a liberal arts degree, a minimum wage job, and tens of thousands of dollars of debt, or to go to yeshiva?
    Obviously, there are some people who are going to have financial struggles no matter what path they take, and I’m worried that the topic of your upcoming book is too short-sighted.
    I myself am still in college, and I only wish I would have gone to a haredi yeshiva instead of going straight to a four-year university.

  10. Gsquad, you said,
    “Is it better for someone to waste four years at college and end up with a liberal arts degree, a minimum wage job, and tens of thousands of dollars of debt, or to go to yeshiva?”
    You are assuming that the wages will be comparable. I don’t think they are. But I would certainly be interested in your experience and P.O.V. as a BT, and we would definitely consider publishing your story.
    J, you said,
    “Kook & Kiddush Club”? “Soloveitchik and single malt”? OK, I’ll stop now.”
    Why stop? And it’s comforting to me to know that the haredi rejection of single malts will always keep you in the MO camp!!

  11. what is charadi? what is modern,what is reform? the nazi bastards did not care!!!
    why do you? as jews let g-d worry about whos right or wrong.lets just try to get along.its not as fun as agood fight but in the long run its the only way to go
    peace and love

  12. while DK was kind enough to provide a link to my post on different varieties of kiruv, I believe that the emphasis in my post was as misconstrued here as it as by certain readers at Beyond Teshuvah. I merely contrasted different types of BT movements and experiences and indicated that different approaches work for different people. As far as NCSY is concerned, it is non-judgmental in allowing a adolescent to make their own choice as to where to attend a yeshiva or seminary. Its advisors run the full gamet of yeshivos and seminaries. That’s why you will NCSY alumni in a full range, as opposed to either exclusively MO or Charedi institutions.
    The other factor that David failed to mention is that YU’s own JSS, which once was a home for thinmking BTs, almost ceased to exist for that purpose from the demise of its founder R M Besdin ZTl until the very recent decision to rebuild JSS from the ground up . In essence,MO’s flagship institution essentially washed its hands from any role in kiruv. Despite R D Lamm’s many successes as the President of YU, the neglect of JSS and the supporting of pluralism at the expense of Kiruv, was IMO, a mistake of no small proportion.

  13. Steve,
    Two questions on the “inclusive” approach of NCSY, run under the Modern Orthodox OU auspices:
    1) Do MO parents allow charedim to attempt to recruit their children to intitutions which will discourage college education in the name of inclusiveness like the OU’s NCSY is allowing for Jewish kids from secular and liberal Jewish backgrounds?
    2) Are NCSY parents aware of the realities of a charedi approach to Judaism? And are they under the false impression that NCSY promotes a functional, Modern Orthodox approach to Judaism? We are dealing with teenagers here, not consenting adults, right?
    I personally don’t think the charedim should be given a forum in NCSY without some litmus tests and restrictions. I understand that you might want to allow the Left-wing yeshivish types to preach their message. They are within the OU camp. That’s fair. But to be taking directives and allow recruitment by haredim whose institutions reject scientific method and absolutely preach policies that incur socio-economic devastation if followed properly, I think this is a  mistake.
    That’s NCSY and the OU’s choice, but they should have to explain why, and stand by it. Do you agree?
    NCSY needs to be upfront that their teenage recruitment program is aligned and cooperative with those whose sole concern is not just to educate Jews about Judaism and encourage a functional Orthodox lifestyle, but also with those who insist that a BT must be taken out of an “environment of sin,” a place most non-charedi Jews might prefer to call “the real world.”
    IMHO, it seems that while NCSY has not hidden it’s relationship with Ultra-Orthodox groups, the ramifications are not understood by most, or what that can translate into. When this is coupled with a lack of MO post-high school insitutional kiruv (at least until JSS ramps up again), it is particularly revealing. NCSY is pragmatically, if not intentionally, a coed front for haredism.
    If so, the fact that Rabbis Weinberg and Weinbach are giving directives to NCSY professionals makes perfect sense.

  14. David-Let me try to answer some of your questions. AFAIK, NCSY encourages its graduates either to commence or continue their yeshiva educaton in the yeshiva or seminary that is most suited for them. It is not a conscious policy to steer graduates either to the Charedi or RZ oriented yeshivos and seminaries. Like it or not, some MO parents view a Charedi yeshiva or seminary as a religious insurance policy that will fortify an adolescent’s committment to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim in the face of a secular culture that is not as easy to reconcile with as the secular culture of the 1960s and 1970s. MO parents have mixed views on the realities of the Charedi world. Some view it with unbridled hostiility, some could care less and some view it as having 24/7 passion and love for Torah , Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim that they view as watered down, parve and devoid of emotional content in their own lives and within their MO communities. There is some anecdotal evidence of some parents who either became more observant in a positive way , some insisting on their kids signing a written agreement to college and some who refuse to allow their kids to attend any yeshiva or seminary post high school. Gershon Seif’s posts on NCSY outline that advisors put aside their own hashkafic differences and work solely for the NCSYer without manipulating them towards any particular hashkafa except Basic Torah Judaism 101.
    While some NCSYers commence or continue their Jewish eduation in yeshivos and seminaries, others do not. In an ideal and perfect world, all of its graduates would be doing so and its honor society would be flooded with nominees on an annual basis. From what I see on an annual basis, NCSY has a lot of work to do in the US. I believe that one of the great positive virtues of NCSY is that it allows an adolescent to explore Judaism and to make his or her own decision how far the exploration process should proceed with the assistance of rabbis and advisors, but never by their manipulation of a teen.
    FWIW, I would tend to challenge your notions re R Weinberg and Weinbach. First of all, R S Burg, the National Director of NCSY, is a RIETS musmach who ran NCSY’s largest region with a great deal of success. and many innovative progams that he is now utilizing elsewhere with a great deal of positive results. The Public School Clubs and Friday Night Lights are two particularly excellent programs. would not be surprised to see many NCSYers going to JSS as its original mission becomes a real option for some NCSYers. R Burg also probably has a greater sense of what types of programs will be effective than either R Weinberg or R Weinbach. OTOH, noone has a monopoly on what is a success and sharing ideas with leaders such as R Weinbach and R Weinberg, despite hashkafic differences. is better than proceeding alone in the dark.

  15. David-Let me try to respond to and possibly answer your concerns.
    First of all, the NCSY parent of today can range from a MO parent with kids in Yeshiva to a not yet observant parent whose kid attends NCSY as a social outlet to be with other Kewish adolescents. There simply is no such thing as a model NCSY parent.
    1) NCSY is not a funnel either for yeshivos or seminaries of any hashkafic variety. One of NCSY’s greatest virtues is that the NCSYer , together with his or her parents, and the help of, but never the manipulation by an advisor, chooses whatever seminary that they deem appropriate. It is a completely judgment free enterprise in that regard.OTOH, Most MO high schools have an Israel night for yeshivos and seminaries. The yeshivos and seminaries that attend many of these nights run the gamut from Charedi to MO/RZ to completelty post-denominational. In an ideal world, every graduate of NCSY would be attending a yeshiva or seminary. In this imperfect world, NCSY has not yet reached that lofty goal.
    2)MO parents have an ambivalent or mixed attitude towards the Charedi world. Some see it as a religious insurance policy of sorts against the cultural and other norms of today, which are nowhere as friendly to Torah as those of the 1960s and 1970s. Some view that world as having a real 24/7 enthusiasm for Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim despite its excesses and some are completely hostile to the notion of their kids becoming more observant than them. This is one of the main issues that MO parents discuss before, during and after the “Israel experience.”
    3) I doubt that R Weinberg and R Weinbach are ‘giving directives’ to NCSY professionals. NCSY’s National Director is a RIETS musmach who has many innovative programs such as Friday Night Lights which works in tandem with Reform and Conservative youth and Public School Clubs. OTOH, since ‘two heads are always better than one” and noone has an exclusive patent on how kiruv works, I see nothing wrong with meeting with R Weinberg and R Weinbach.

  16. David-Take a look again at the OU press release. R Weinberg and R Weinbach were hardly the only two speakers at the conference.. R S Riskin, R D A Twerski and Richard Joel-three speakers who are hardly Charedi-also spoke at the conferene, as did the leaders of the OU, RCA and NCYI. I reject your claims advanced here and elsewhere that NCSY funnels kids to Charedi institutiuons. Such a claim might look nice in the Anglo Jewish press-federation or secular-but really lacks any evidence to substantiate it.
    FWIW, NCSYers are not funneled anywhere. Those who attend yeshivos and seminaries go the ones of their choice, as opposed to being sheperded to one by an advisor as if they were brain dead members of a cult.

  17. Steve,
    I am not saying all NCSY counselors are intentionally pushing people to the charedi insitutions, or that this is NCSY’s policy. I am saying charedi insitutions are more readily available for beginners.
    You said,
    “would not be surprised to see many NCSYers going to JSS as its original mission becomes a real option for some NCSYers.”
    But it isn’t a “real option,” and hasn’t been for a while, right? So they aren’t going there.
    So where else are they going?
    Do we have stats for where Jews from a non-Orthodox background are going who are turned on to Orthodox Judaism through NCSY and seek intensive Jewish study?
    Does NCSY know where they are going?
    You say they go to the ones of their choice. Well, what are their choices?

  18. David, I challenge the premise that Charedi institutions are more readily available than MO institutions for beginners. FWIW, many NCSYers attend YU, SCW and many other yeshivos and seminaries JSS has been totally overhauled back towards its original mission. NCSY has begun its own seminary in Israel. AFAIK, back in the late 80s. there was a foundation that studied NCSY and whether it succeeded in its mission of increasing Jewish continuity. I don’t think that there has been anything more current as an official study.
    You seem to think that all graduating seniors of public high schools who are NCSYers attend a yeshiva or seminary. Since we live in an imperfect world, that is far from the case. Halevai that would be the case. For a variety of reasons, some do, some don’t. OTOH, Anyone who is a member of NCSY’s honor society receives a ballot with the names of nominees and their plans after they graduate high school. The plans range from the Ivy Leagues to YU/SCW to study in Israel at a range of yeshivos. As far as the choices, I know that the choices range from YU and Gush to points right. Some NCSYers stay in touch with NCSY as a form of expressing “thank you.” For a variety of reasons, some walk away. NCSY does not expect that all graduating NCSYers will do so .
    FWIW, since you were silent on the content of the OU press release, I will understand that to mean that you realized that the speakers at the conference represented a range of hashkafos, as opposed to the charedi domination that you previously asserted both here and at BT.

  19. I was not claiming that there is not a range of hashkafos. I was claiming there are limited places to go for beginners.
    And I clearly, clearly stated that I was only referring to those students interested in intensive Jewish study.

  20. DK-Your posts here and at BT implied that R Weinberg and R Weinbach were dictating Charedi view of kiruv to NCSY. and that NCSY all but took orders from these rabbisl Thank you for acknowledging that a range of speakers incorporating a wide “range of hashafos”, to use your term, spoke at the conference. May I suggest that you read the release as opposed to the headline before you reach a conclusion?
    I reject your claim that there are limited places for beginners for intensive study both here in Israel. Any review of the institutions both here and in Israel would disclose that there are numerous such institiutions across the hashafic spectrum of Orthodoxy. More importantly, if the quantity based argument was a guide to the future, YU, RIETS, and SCW and their similarly oriented yeshivos and seminaries would have closed up shop a long time ago-a claim that cannot be supported by any evidence as to the record high enrollements in all three institutions.

  21. you are terified of the haredi, because you know this is what jewdism actually supports. look in the rambam or shulchan aruch or all the other sforim they all seem like haredi. modern orthedox run from the truth as are you. all your problems can be answered. se your head true threr are crazy extremists but the main ideas of haredi are traditional judiasm.

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