Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kiruv Professionals Should Stay Away from Children

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.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why I Hate OnlySimchas

Not because I’m jealous. While I’m not married, I’m also not really looking at the moment, so I don’t resent your evident success at life. And it’s not because I find the concept annoying. In point of fact, I think it’s a fantastic idea! As my friends and I have graduated from yeshiva and college and Yeshiva College and grown up and moved across the world, it’s become impossible for us to keep up with everyone. So when I hear that so-and-so is engaged, naturally, the first place I turn to is OnlySimchas.

Which is why it’s such a shame the site sucks. Now, I don’t really know if a similar website exists in the secular world, and if so, whether the problem afflicts all of humanity, or whether the trouble is endemic to the Jewish community, but the people who leave mazel tovs are the banes of my existence. I mean it. I hate them with a passion bordering on the insane. And I am completely certain, although I have not taken even an informal survey of any rigor whatsoever, that the fault lies with girls.

If somebody tells me that an old yeshiva friend, say Yaakov Fine, is engaged, I am, as the ray of sunshine I strive to be, very happy for him. “That’s great,” I will think. “I am full of goodwill and well-wishery.” If I remember, the next time I am in front of my computer, I will try and leave him a message communicating the above thought. One phrasing I am particularly fond of is “Mazel Tov!” An oldie, but a goodie.

Imagine my dismay, however, when I find the new couple’s page on OnlySimchas. The ten comments that are already there are all along the lines of:

“OMGGGGGG!!!!!!! Mazel ToVvVVVVVVvvvV! [Translation of random pasuk from Tehillim in a combination of Hebraic and Cyrillic script]!!!!!! You should be zocheh to build a bayis ne’eman b’YisrEal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMG!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!! !!!!!??? ??&&^%%$$# OMG You’re so lucky!!!!!!!!! With gratitude to Hashem Yisborach!!!!!! Can’t wait to dance at your wedding!!!????!!!! I luv you so muchhhhhh. [Then there usually follow a bunch of acronyms that I cannot quite follow, but that my little sister employs with abandon; as far as I can tell, the intent of them is to communicate various kinds of platonic hugs, kisses, and various and sundry other displays of sisterly affection].

These are invariably left by all the Miris and Chavis and Ruthies and Dvoris and Tzipis, etc. so I know whose fault it is. And, girls, don’t think you’re fooling anyone because after you got married you officially got yourself a “joint” OnlySimchas account for you and your husband. Everyone knows it’s just you.

Now don’t get me wrong, girls, I applaud the sentiment. I do. It’s just that it’s not a sentiment I can physically express. I just can’t. I am literally incapable of expressing those emotions. (I’m pretty sure I’m incapable of even having these emotions. Granted, I have the emotional range of a fruit fly, so I represent an extreme case. Still, I think it’s a difference of degree rather than kind.) The above sample was very tiring on me even to fake. I had to actually go to OnlySimchas and find some actual posts for inspiration. You’ll notice I left out emoticons and failed to repeat everything three times (is that a lucky number for you guys, or something?) because I (also) lack the ability to do that sort of thing in Microsoft Word.

And it makes me look bad, to be frank. Very bad. Now my measly little “Mazel Tov!”, once so cheerful-sounding to my apparently tin ear, will come out as mealy-mouthed and begrudging. “I hope you and your cursed union rot in the fiery bowels of hell!” I might as well be saying. And that’s really not the effect I was going for. I want to be invited to the reception, after all.

And, honestly, what’s the point of all this exuberance? Are you really this enthused? Then why don’t you call them up and communicate your feelings to them verbally? And if you’re not that kind of friend, maybe you should respect some lower consonant-to-exclamation mark ratio? Sincerity isn’t measured by the amount of asterisks in a sentence. Ever seen a headstone with an emoticon?

OMGGGG!!!@#$% Chanie, you were the gr8est person ever!!!!! So sad you’re gone :-( :-( :-(, but hapy to hve known you!!!!!! :-) :-) {:-)!

Didn’t think so.

So, a plea. Rein it in. Curb your enthusiasm. Let us sentimentally-deprived have a chance to give our good-wishes to the happy couple or new parents or proud owners. Think of all the extra energy you’ll save for texting.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Somebody to Love

I would post this exuberant dub of "Somebody to Love" done by the students at Hebrew University, but I'm worried that Time Magazine's Karl Vick will only see it as further evidence of Israelis enjoying themselves too much to care about making peace. Ah, what the hell.