Friday, March 31, 2006

Are Kiruv Workers Evil?

One of the Lakewood chevrah emailed me recently to complain that some of the skeptics are evil, since they intentionally try and ‘convert’ people from Orthodoxy to Skepticism. Not only that, but death threats against these kind of skeptics are a good thing (presumably he meant fake ones), because the 'kiruv' skeptics deserve some harassment.

WITHOUT getting into the discussion of whether this accusation is actually true or not about certain skeptics, I wondered if his claim that it was ‘evil’ behavior is valid. So let’s discuss this.

We all support and approve of (Orthodox) Kiruv organizations. We actively go and try and mekarev people to Orthodoxy. We do Outreach.

Is this evil?

We assume the person will be happier if they are Orthodox. We assume they will have a more fulfilled life. And of course we assume that they will get a better olam habah. On the other hand, I personally know of BT’s who are miserable, who don’t like being Orthodox and are now stuck (usually because their spouse is Orthodox). So, we can’t necessarily guarantee a happier life. We can’t really guarantee Olam Habaah either, since only God can do that. In fact, we can’t actually guarantee anything at all, since we all agree that fundamentally our religion rests on faith. Without proof, nothing can be rationally guaranteed.

Not only that, but making someone religious will require them to keep Halachah. This includes Yehoreg v’al yaavor on Giluy Aroyos and Avodah
Zoroh. Hence we could be influencing someone to give up their life instead of bowing down to an idol or something like that. Yes, I know this is far fetched, but the possibility is there. In fact, a simpler example would be someone who gets religious, gets Zionistic too, and goes off to live in the West Bank, thinking they are fulfilling God’s wish of a greater Israel, and then they get blown up by terrorists.

If Judaism is true, then of course this is all correct and good. However if it isn’t, then this is all bad. Very bad indeed if you get blown up for no good reason.

Now let’s look at the (theoretical) 'kiruv' skeptics. Their belief is that religion is all bogus. Sure, it can give you a nice lifestyle, but ultimately it’s all fake. They believe that the world would be a better place without religion, and they believe that each individual would lead a truer, more fulfilled life without religion. They believe that religion has perpetrated many evils. Hence they do ‘kiruv’ to their version of the truth.

If the claims of the skeptics are true, then this is all correct and good. However if it isn’t true, how bad is it really? They are not persuading people to go risk their lives for their religion, or for a distant country. They are not advocating anyone to give up their lives instead of bowing down to an idol. Yes, they advocate dropping Torah & Mitzvot, but they still advocate morality, which is of course one of the most important things anyway.

So who is really evil here?

An objective assessment leads me to conclude that if the skeptic 'kiruv' workers are evil, then the Orthodox kiruv workers are doubly so. Do we really want to conclude that kiruv workers are evil? And if (fake) death threats against skeptic 'kiruv' workers are okay, then are death threats against Orthodox kiruv workers more okay?

What if your non religious child was mekareved by Aish, ended up in Israel and ended up dead. Does that mean that Aish killed your child, by filling his head with nonsensical beliefs (from your perspective) ? Should Aish be charged with second degree murder? I guess so, according to the Lakewood chevrah.

How can anyone possibly claim that skeptic 'kiruv' workers are evil, yet advocate Orthodox kiruv? The mind boggles.


The skeptics respond:

You want to talk about problems with kiruv, talk about how they sell it as the solution to people's emotional problems, which rarely actually get fixed. Talk about how they dishonestly portray the plausibility of their claims in regards to evidence. Talk about how they don't talk about the stigma BTs have in the frum world, despite many people joining specifically for the emphasis on marriage. Talk about how they don't discuss the very high ex-BT rate, and the difficulty people have recovering from being a BT. Don't talk about Aish getting someone blown up. That's just stupid. If a newly skeptical ex-Orthodox Jew gets killed in a car accident on Shabbat do you blame Spinoza?