Big Aish kiruv in the Washington Post?

This is a guest post by David Kelsey. David is a former baal teshuvah who left ultra-Orthodoxy after witnessing the dark side of Jewish fundamentalism. He is a proud fourth generation secular Jew who has written about the recruitment techniques of kiruv organizations and their Liberal backers on Jewschool before, especially NCSY and the Jewish Student Union (JSU).

The Washington Post has shamefully printed an advertorial for Aish HaTorah in DC without even marking it as such.
In “Modern Jewish eucation [sic] about focusing on values, friendships and community,” Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum offers lies and deceptions about what Aish stands for, and why parents who care about “encouraging diversity” should send their preschool children into their care.

In September, Aish will launch a new Sunday School program for children ages 5-13, encouraging diversity, and imbuing the vibrancy, relevance and joy of Jewish life, regardless of background or affiliation.

In fact, despite Rabbi Buxbaum’s denunciation of “labels and sects,” Aish promotes a specific brand of black hat Judaism, which includes contempt not only for secular and Liberal Judaism, but even Modern Orthodoxy.
Ultra-Orthodox deception is so embedded in their recruiting process that even some Modern Orthodox rabbis have felt the need to publicly condemn it. In a 2006 video from the annual NCSY conference, the founder, Rabbi Noah Weinberg, outlined his understanding of what was the acceptable amount of “dramatization” to facilitate recruitment of secular and Liberal Jews. Most of us would understand this to be a discussion on the acceptable parameters for lying. The founder may be gone, and the video taken down by NCSY (after I exposed it), but the philosophy continues.
As a black hat “kiruv” institution, Aish believes that the concept of “pakuach nefesh,” a dramatic allowance for discarding most morality for the sake of or saving a life, extends as well to some degree to saving a soul, i.e., making a Jew Orthodox. Rabbi Buxbaum’s deceptive phrasing is in-line with this institution’s point of view.
And now even the Washington Post has seen fit to promote their lies as news.

If you would like to learn more about Judasim [sic], if you have a child who would like to get involved, or if you know somebody who could benefit from what Aish has to offer, you are invited to come along for the ride.

Aish obviously has a lot of power, wealth, and support to be able to push through a shoddy press release like this as “news” in one of the nation’s most prestigious newspapers. Will there be an outcry? A protest?
Don’t count on it. Don’t count on it. The general attitude of mainstream organizations towards deceptive recruitment of young, impressionable Jews to ultra-Orthodox institutions like Big Aish has been one of tacit and even explicit support.
And even as the corruption, the nepotism, the radicalism, the sloth, the quasi-caste system based on “defiled” menstrual bloodlines, and the contempt for others of the ultra-Orthodox world becomes clearer and better known, those of us who were in black hat institutions as young people and now protest their methods and agenda will continue to be dismissed as “crazy” and, of course, “hateful.” Not just by ultra-Orthodox institutions like Aish, but by (supposedly) mainstream Jewish organizations that pretend not to know that Aish is Orthodox, never mind ultra-Orthodox.
And now, apparently, even mainstream, secular newspapers are enabling them.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Aish is the “no label” approach to Judaism.

No. What is unique is this hardline ultra-Orthodox institution’s willingness to feign ecumenicalism, and for one of the most respected newspapers in country to print the opposite of the truth as if it is news.

17 thoughts on “Big Aish kiruv in the Washington Post?

  1. This is appalling. Thanks for exposing it, David.
    You’d think if Rabbi Buxbaum were going to try to pass off an ad as an editorial, he could at least be bothered to spell-check it.

  2. Aharon, the Rebbetzein’s article is quite good, because she is being honest and heartfelt in defending her haredi beliefs and ideology. This is strikingly different compared to the usual Aish approach, which is willfully and manipulatively dishonest and deceptive, like say, the article the Washington Post published by Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum.
    Why don’t you tell us about how much you like that article, Aharon.

  3. Not surprisingly, the original link by Miriam Kosman is far superior to David’s post.
    —Aharon · April 30th, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    I suspect that if Miriam Kosman’s article were equally as well-written, but instead expressed disillusionment with the Haredi way of life, you wouldn’t think so highly of it.

  4. This site seems to be filled with hate and anger…groups like Aish and Chabad have people enjoy Judaism…lots of times for the first time in their lives.
    Why is that so bad?
    I have been to both groups…no one is manipulating or brainwashing anyone!
    You should all lighten up a bit in my opinion.
    I wonder if you will post my remarks??

  5. Rjacu– I’m glad you didn’t experience any brainwashing during your Aish experiences. Can you see how that does not change the fact that others, such as DK, have had much more negative experiences?
    As for myself, I dodged the worst of it, but saw enough to get the heebie-jeebies. My high school brought in Aish lecturers twice, and both made a hard sell– slick, savvy presentations about how a fundamentalist form of Judaism is both incontrovertibly true, and the only thing standing between us and a savage nihilistic abyss. Highlights included: 1)Jews saved the whole world from being gay baby-killers, and 2) One must believe in the Torah, because the Torah reports a revelation witnessed by multitudes.
    I’m grateful that my exposure was limited, that I had a sense of *wrongness* I couldn’t articulate yet, and that my Talmud teacher quietly encouraged myself and others to be skeptical (since the rest of the administration and staff seemed on board). Also grateful that I encountered profound Jewish experiences elsewhere, so I realized no one group had a patent.
    Yes, I’ve heard of Aish hosting warm joyful shabbat dinners like no one’s business. But they use these experiences as bait and aren’t necessarily upfront about what they want to get you hooked on.
    (I’m not addressing Chabad here, since my experiences have so far all been: sweet people who see the world so differently than me that it’s hard to find a common language. But I’ve never yet been afraid they were out for my soul.)

  6. So far I’m aware of a few people with roots in the DC Jewish community (myself included) who wrote in to the Washington Post about this piece. I’m hoping for a response, but would settle for increased consciousness on the part of the editors. Also increased copy-editing.

  7. Here’s a fresh new post explaining to Liberal Jews that who are kohens that they are forbidden to marry a woman who had sex with a gentile, she has the Jewish law status of “whore,” and that this is a life and death issue.
    How is this helpful? Why should people be allowed to drive our youth nuts like this? Why does Liberal and mainstream Jewry fund and work with this fanatical organization that, if their directions are followed, drive people nuts?
    “A Kohen is forbidden to marry these women, not because she is a bad person, but because there is metaphysical reality that is created which prevents a Kohen from being able to create the proper bond. Consider that H2O is water, and H2O2 is Hydrogen Peroxide. The difference may seem negligible, but is actually the difference is between life and death”

  8. David,
    Nothing will make liberal rabbis hate on Aish more than opening non-denominational, low-cost Hebrew schools.
    Aish is sensibly following Chabad’s lead in undercutting Reform and Conservative congregations.

  9. DK– while many liberal Jews have strong and legit objections to those Kohen rules, that’s classic halacha.

  10. “that’s classic halacha.”
    There are different opinions on what constitutes a cohen today, as it is easily corrupted, and this is NOT so simple.
    Calling it a life and death situation is abysmal.
    Insisting it is a black and white situation to Jews from Liberal backgrounds, where interfaith dating is the norm, is yet another proof of why ultra-Orthodoxy is absolutely inappropriate and inherently insensitive.
    Having said that, people should know what Aish is advocating, and the misery it will cause cohanim from secular and unaffiliated backgrounds.

  11. I didn’t say it’s the only view; and I agree that the “life or death” bit is a special twisted Aish touch. But I’ve never encountered the “it’s more complicated” views in any of the modern Orthodox circles I spent 21 years in. Perhaps they’re out there, but not widespread. This particular issue is much bigger than Aish, and even ultra-orthodoxy.

  12. I spent ten months at aish. I think they are doing a great job of scaring the hell out of people. Are other forms of Judaism even legitimate? I can’t be sure after ten months there.
    They cover everything very in depth. They seem to actually care 100 percent about Judaism. They make no excuses.
    Are they correct? I have NO idea.
    But we need more SPECIFIC attacks with EVIDENCE as to what is WRONG with orthodoxy.
    Just saying it is brain washing is not enough.
    They sure scared the hell out of me. I would not recommend it to anyone.
    But they also made a lot of kids frum.

  13. I agree with Tuvia. If it works for some people, and they feel it makes their life better, I don’t see a problem here.
    Now I agree, that people should always search for as many perspectives on a subject as possible, but I don’t think that because one person thinks it’s horrible/scary/dangerous those who find meaning in it should be excluded from the experience.
    The world is so vast with so many different thoughts, ideas and people,.. can’t we all exist?
    As someone in his early 20s who is by no means frum, but has participated in numerous different Kiruv programs. I can tell you from 1st hand experience:
    Yes, I can see how some could perceive it to be brainwashing. However, I could also see how others could find real meaning in it and some who need it.
    Brainwashing btw as discribed by Websters;
    “a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas”
    Now that we all understand what that word actually means, lets be a little objective here. No One is “forcible” indoctrinating anyone. Convincing someone of a different lifestyle, definitely, but forcing? Common.
    May we all find a way to open our minds/hearts and live in peace 😎

  14. I have a son you Aish has managed effectively to indoctrinate. So much so he is currently studying to become a rabbi for them. I accept that if a son has appropriate respect and tolerance of others views before becoming religeous then these could possibly continue afterwards. In our sons case. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. No matter how much he may losily quote that he loves us. In my personal case I would prefer him to hate me, yet at least show basic respect. As you can hear, that is not the case. We his parents have literally bent over backwards to accommodate him and your taught demands. His arrogant supercilious attitude would grate on all but a proverbial doormat.
    Whilst in principle we are proud that he is following his dreams, the reality is that his personal personality combined with his Aish teaching in real terms means that due to his behavior I admit that I have emotionally withdrawn from him so much that the effect is that of a major loss.
    You and your teachers must be so proud of stealing our children from caring loving Jewish families. I cannot support the future in which he plans to wreck the hopes and expected dreams of other equally loving unsuspecting traditional Jewish families. I admit that my wish would be that a similar painful experience comes to the doors of these religious leaders via their beloved children making lifestyle chooses which leave them feeling bereft.
    Whilst I know you will not display my addition, this omition will serve to prove me correct yet again.

  15. Having clicked through to the article in Washington Post I have to say I’m strangely amused. I went to their Fellowship programme and after that to Neve for about 7 months. Diversity??? Pluralism???
    Among other things I ‘learned’ that non-Jews (goyim) have a lesser soul than Jewish people. Because they are lower it is sufficient for them to follow the more simple Noahide laws. There is such thing as a righteous goy – that is, someone who has assisted Jews. Generally they cannot be expected to have any real spirituality. Every religion except for Judaism actually began with a ‘deception’. And I learned so much more!
    The one good thing about all this is that the obscene and explicit arrogance helped me look beyond the supposed ‘proofs’.
    Tuvia, if you google most arguments used by these organisations (especially the codes!) you will find many analyses that clearly reveal the various errors.

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