I don’t have a lot of regard for kiruv workers. Don’t misunderstand me – I don’t think they are bad people, or that they are just doing it for the money, I’m sure the vast majority of them are dedicated, sacrificing individuals who want to bring their fellow Jews closer to optimal way of life, which just happens to resemble their own. I don’t have a lot of regard for their ability, though.
Again, though, just so I’m not misunderstood, I’m sure they’re very “successful,” in the sense that they can take a lot of unobservant Jews and convince them to keep shabbos and kosher, but I don’t think they do it through rational argument.
This probably wouldn’t bother me so much if many of these organizations didn’t explicitly rely on the apparent logic and obviousness of their claims. Kiruv professionals like Rabbi Mechanic, programs like the Discovery Seminar, and books like “Permission to Believe, Receive, Conceive, Retrieve, etc.” all make the argument that things like the existence of G-d, the divinity of the Torah, and the truth of Orthodox Judaism can be proven, and proven easily, to anyone who is willing to use their brain, and forget the “brainwashing” of the surrounding culture.
Of course, they’re wrong. I mean, I’m Orthodox, but I don’t rely on garbage “proofs” based on the Kuzari, or on logical reasoning that should be obviously lacking to any college freshman. I happen to like Orthodox Judaism, it’s the religion of most of my family and friends, and I don’t think it really conflicts with my inherent moral outlook all that much. That’s basically it.
As you’ve no doubt surmised, I am not a good kiruv worker. It’s hard for me to evangelize others, when I’m kind of meh on the basics myself. To me, there are any number of obvious, fatal questions to the obvious truth of OJ, and there is no way I could give a prospective returnee to the faith a bullshit answer just to get the “right” result.
And this flaw extends to all kiruv professionals. None of them have the right answers, or can really defend their claims. I’m sure they believe they can, and they believe that the fact that they believe the Torah says 3,000,000 men, women and children witnessed a divine revelation at Sinai means that the mesorah must be true, but it doesn’t. To me, to avoid facing the hard questions, they have to rely on a few underhanded tactics. Firstly, they can structure conversations in such a way as to reduce the chances of a truly hard question of being asked. Two, they can give bullshit answers, and believe the bullshit answers. Three, they can give the bullshit answers, and not believe the bullshit answers, but believe there are answers, and nobody dies from a question anyway, and it’s better to have a frum guy who got there on bullshit, then a not-frum guy because he wasn’t given bullshit. Fourth, they can downplay the importance of the question, perhaps by relying on other “evidence”, the charisma of the kiruv professional, and cholent and kugel.
And this strikes me as fundamentally wrong. If you can’t convince someone truthfully, and can’t answer all the questions thrown at you, perhaps you shouldn’t go around trying to change people’s lives to match your own. I mean, turning someone into a BT, can have huge consequences. These are life-changing decisions. They can rip children away from parents, break up marriages and estrange siblings. They can make a person give up his lucrative career, or give away lots of money to charity, that they really can’t afford. Now, you may think that since you’re giving these people the answer to “life, the universe and everything”, a little upheaval in their lives is a fair trade. Perhaps. But before you start screwing up somebody’s life to bring them to nirvana, you better be damn sure. Damn sure. And if you can’t answer questions, or believe you have to evade questions or give bullshit answers to people questions, you are not damn sure enough. Even if your target has never even asked the hard questions, and you know there are hard questions, that’s just as bad. All you’ve done is brainwash an idiot.
Which brings me to kids. Many of these kiruv organizations target children in high school, or even younger, who society believes lack the critical thinking skills and decision-making ability to pilot a motor vehicle or consensually engage in sexual intercourse. Why it’s understood that of course we won’t let them drive, drink or have sex, but will let them take their run at brainwash roulette is beyond me. Kids are idiots, they just are. Of course, there are exceptions, but as a species they’re idiots. And the consequences of the decisions these brainwashed kids will make have much greater ramifications than the mere choice to have sex with their boyfriend. Kriuv workers should stay away from kids until they have the ability to think for themselves; maybe until they’re 20.