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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Subsidizing the Ba'alei Teshuvah

My husband brought home some reading material for me on Shavout. One of the pamphlets available at our shul was from a well known Kiruv group. The first column was regarding setting priorities. The scenario set up is as follows: A man's tefillin are stolen and he decides to replace his tefillin with a $900 pair. Later that week he receives a call from an outreach yeshiva asking him to sponsor a pair of tefillin for a newly observant Jew through a subsidized program at the cost of $250. The man asked to sponsor the tefillin does not have extra ma'asser funds and if he were to sponsor the tefillin at $250 it would come at the expense of his own purchase.

I'm not interested in reprinting the methodology used to reach the conclusion that perhaps the man would indeed have a responsibility, or privilege, to underwrite his fellow's first pair of tefillin even at the expense of his own higher level of performance.

The choice that was not given or discussed, is the choice that I think would be the best choice: enabling a newly observant man of limited means to purchase his own (discounted) tefillin.

I don't believe I've ever dedicated a post to kiruv, but I do know that there is both kiruv and a kiruv industry. I'm not sure if it is a recent trend in kiruv to offer so much up "free of charge" or if it is a more recent development (when I was in college, we paid somethings towards lunches and Shabbat dinners), but I'm not sure that it is a particularly productive trend.

Now certainly I would expect a strapped student or even a strapped young professional who is just starting out to have the funds available for a pair of tefillin, especially where becoming more observant comes with some other costs. As such, it is obviously necessary that he have tefillin to don in the meantime. However, from a psychological standpoint, there is something extremely healthy about "buying in". Chazal recognized this discussing na'am dekisufa [bread of shame] in which it is assumed that a free handout is enjoyed less than what is earned by one's own labors (thank you to Ariella for discussing this important concept not so long ago in regards to children's literature). I've read more than one biography/autobiography of a competitive athlete who believes that taking ownership of his/her career (i.e. footing the bill) has been a great motivation and very transformative. In other words, there is a psychological difference between how something "tastes" when it was handed to you, gifted to you, or purchased by you through the "sweat of your brow."

While I do believe that the reason a wedding band needs to be owned by the chatan is a legal issue, as opposed to a psychological issue, I think there is great value in a man giving something of value that he worked for and saved up for to his bride. Tefillin is symbolic of a marriage and I think there would be great value to the wearer of the tefillin to pay for his tefillin, perhaps through some sort of work-study or even a loan (yes, I did use the word loan although that wouldn't be my personal preference).

To sum up this post, I do believe that all things worth striving for, religion especially, requires "buy in". I have heard it argued that one cannot ask [American students] targeted for kiruv (for lack of a better term) to help share in the any of the costs of dinners or events, and that sometimes you have to attract them with other incentives. And perhaps that is true if you are looking to attract large quantities of students. But, I think that when the line has been crossed from experimentation to growing commitment, helping to facilitate "buy in" would be the best choice of all.

When given two options, I've been known to choose the 3rd option.


Bklynmom said...

I completely agree. As someone who did not grow up observant and came to it in college, and knows many other people who followed the same path, I can say with complete certainty that a peson who wants to increase his/her commitment to religion will do so, with the spirituality as the only incentive. Paying someone to attend a Jewish function will not lead to increased level of observance.
Another issue that needs to be looked into is what you refer to as the "kiruv industry." Where exactly is the money going? What is their overhead? Other than sending out glossy brochures, what exactly do they do? With the Jewish communities struggling financially, is this a worthwhile cause? With the schools struggling, is taking in non-observant kids for free or a small fraction of tuition, regardless of family income, really better than making tuition more affordable for families who are already there?
I don't know how to go about looking into these issues, but I am willing to bet a scratch at the surface would reveal interesting numbers.

Anonymous said...

Bklynmom: The kiruv industry has lots of different components. Ranging from Chabad to Aish to others. The net effect probably is bringing a lot more money into the orthodox world. For example, the chabad houses in the u.s. are supported by the secular and unafilliated jews (and in the case of college students, their parents) that the chabad houses and their shuls and preschools are geared toward. This provides jobs for many thousands of Lubavitchers as well as donations to other chabad organizations.

Lion of Zion said...


"This provides jobs for many thousands of Lubavitchers"

this is the worst reason to support kiruv. the kiruv enterprise has to be justified in it own right and not because it serves as an employment agency for capable young men who have not been steered toward the acquisition of marketable skills.

"The net effect probably is bringing a lot more money into the orthodox world."

If this were true, then why do we continue to receive so many solicitations to contribute to kiruv. apparently it really isn't self sustaining.

also, i'm not sure we should be proud that we mooch off of the non-orthodox world.

Dave said...

Proud? It's being touted as a business plan.

NNJKIDS is apparently looking for multi-million dollar donations from secular Jews as their solution to tuition.

Lion of Zion said...


the NNJKIDS proposal regarding secular jews is even more galling for a different reason (but in its defense, i think it does give money to solomon schechter)

FFB said...

Kiruv has greatly increased the number of frum/chareidi people in the US at the very least. And it has brought in some very high quality, highly functioning individuals and families. These are families who also have enriched the religious communities by their ability to fund their own kiruv and their families' commitment. What I mean is - when we were children in the 1960's, frum people in my town were relatively poor. We were "mistapkim b'meut" and happy with simplicity. There were exceptions, the individual benefactor who funded community institutions, but most frummies were living on the edge. With kiruv, people joined our group who had parents who were professionals. Their parents had financial means and were able to help their newly religious children to get established. They also had a firm work ethic which they taught their BT children, so that the baalei teshuva had both new ideals and old realism, backed by parental funding. The BTs married into FFB families and raised the poor FFBs to the secure middle class. The FFBs, while still very idealistic, were amazed and awed at the prosperity of their in-laws. To me in my experience, kiruv has been an economic benefit to frum people, as they have acquired the financial cushion and secular realism of the BTs as they marry into their families.

Bklynmom said...

If a person wants to support a chabad house, or any other Jewish or non-Jewish philatropy, he/she is free to do so. I am asking about the myriad of organizations that flood my mailbox with glossy requests for money in the name of kiruv. And about the best use for cumminuty and school resources. Money is scarce. How is it best spent?
As an aside, I am not at all sure how much parents support chabads on college campuses. In addition, a great many college campuses have a Hillel presence, which reaches a far wider group of Jews and is thus, in my opinion, more worthy of support.

Miami Al said...

Before becoming observant, we had recently gone to a Conservative Synagogue to check it out. We were visited by a member of the Shul board who saw we were knew, said hi, and talked to us about membership.

When we went to an Aish service, not realizing that they were "Kiruv" we were warmly welcomed, invited to stuff, etc.

We were young professionals, relatively affluent, and the Conservative group said, here, come join us an pay -- and anyone affiliated with the non-Orthodox world knows that the Synagogues use their entire budget on family matters like Hebrew School, so young childless professionals are a profit center, which we felt immediately.

The Orthodox people seemed concerned that we had a lunch to go to (we declined, and IIRC, went to a local restaurant). That Jewish ideal, that you help a Jew do a Mitzvah BECAUSE it's a Mitzvah, is VERY VERY powerful for Kiruv.

Given the higher levels of education and income that the BTs bring in, I think that Kiruv is a STRONG net positive for the Frum world.

A few hundred bucks towards Tefillin might bring a family that contributes $1000 - $10,000 a year down the road, that will always be grateful of the effort made early on, because nothing touches that warm and welcoming feeling you get when you first encounter a Kiruv person...

tesyaa said...

I know that in the 1980s, NCSY Shabbatons charged $11. That included all programming + 3 meals plus snacks. AFter kids got involved, within a few years many of their parents were making 4 figure contributions to the organization.

Bklynmom said...

My issue is not with helping a person or a family that wants to be more committed do so. Helping a young man buy a pair of tefillin is great and will probably result in some level of commitment from that young man. Sending out a mass mailing to everyone in town asking for funds to provide tefillin free of charge to whoever the organization sees fit may not be the best use of communal resources.
Aish and NCSY are organizations with a track record of doing positive things in the community, but not every organization is. There are so many others, at least in Brooklyn.
Another question I have is how many BTs who are professional high earners deny their FFB children the educational and earning opportunities the parents had. I have no idea how that compares with the numbers of children of FFBs entering the professional world, just wondering.

squeak said...

Lion of Zion said...

"[that] is the worst reason to support kiruv. the kiruv enterprise has to be justified in it own right and not because it serves as an employment agency"

Tell that argument to the IRS, the tax lawyers, CPAs, tax court judges, baliffs, stenographers, etc. LOL

Anonymous said...

I'm Anon 8:51. The point of my comment was to rebut the notion that kiruv is a drain on resources. I was not trying to disparage Chabad in any way. I am a big fan. I was not suggesting in any way that kiruv is justified as an employment agency, and no one is "moooching" off the not yet observant. Yes many Chabad families make a living that way, but they are also performing a valuable service that obviously the people they serve are happy to support financially. They are not mooching any more than rabbis are "mooching" off of their congregations or teachers are "mooching" off of their students.

There may be kiruv groups that also need and/or ask for money from the frum community. If you don't want to give, that's fine. Everyone has to make choices about where to give since we can't give everywhere. I would say, however, that there are many people who disparage secular, unaffiliated and reform and coservative jews. Its rather hypocritical to criticize them if you are not willing to support kiruv. There are millions of jews whose families have not been observant for several generations. How are they supposed to learn without kiruv?

As for SL's original post, I agree that at some point people need to gradually buy in, but the point and how much the buy in is open to judgment. Don't forget people in the frum world who get plenty without a charge. I'm not sure you should charge college students for dinners (you can accept donations) unless you are going to charge your next shabbos guests. How do you teach about the beauty of community and hospitality when you are charging for it?

Anonymous said...

Hi - assuming one needs personal "buy in" to maximize the benefit of spiritual endeavors, what does this say about the kollel system?

Orthonomics said...

Anonymous writes: The kiruv industry has lots of different components. Ranging from Chabad to Aish to others. The net effect probably is bringing a lot more money into the orthodox world.

I recall seeing an article long ago by someone long involved in kiruv who seemed to indicate the opposite. I need to find this and I'm searching like mad. I believe in making learning and observance assessible. I'm doubtful that pouring more money into kiruv will result in more ba'alei teshuvah.

FFB-I am finding your comments very interesting and also a tad bit disturbing. I hope that you are not implying "work ethic" is something that is inherently lacking within the Orthodox community and it is something that needed importing. Please do clarify.

tesyaa-It would be interesting to compare the results of NCSY which has always charges a nominal amount to groups that have not.

I'm not sure you should charge college students for dinners (you can accept donations) unless you are going to charge your next shabbos guests.

When I was in college, students paid a small amount for Shabbat dinners at Hillel and the turnout was huge. I've seen free events with far less turnout. I don't think you can compare inviting a student for a homecooked meal to charging a small amount for a catered event by an organization.

assuming one needs personal "buy in" to maximize the benefit of spiritual endeavors, what does this say about the kollel system?

I'd say that parents who don't want their children to "suffer" in kollel and give them a blank check aren't doing their children any favors. I think there is a world of difference between kollel families for which everything is provided and kollel families that "make it work."

Upper West Side Mom said...

My husband and I are BT's who became frum through Rabbi Buchwald and NJOP. Whenever there were events such as a meal, we always had to pay for it. The same goes for Manhattan Jewish Experience a group we are currently very involved in. I would guess that the vast majority of BT's here on the Upper West side and in areas such as Bergen county, Riverdale, Westchester, Monsy and the 5 Towns are a net plus financially for the Jewish community.

The amount of money that it cost to help us become frum has been given back many time over in both money and sweat equity( and I can say the same for the other BT's I know). That being said I definitely agree that BT's should be invested financially in the process even on a minimal level. For example I don't think that even a poor college student should get tefilin for free. I would guess that if they were free they would probably be given to to many people who just wouldn't end up using them

I also believe that the majority of Rabbis who decide to go into Kiruv really have to have a passion for it. It's not something that you can do by just going through the motions. The Rabbis and Rebbetzins who I know who are in Kiruv work like dogs and are not making tons of money. The kind of Rabbi's who go into Kiruv have to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk. I'm sure that they are capable of earning more money working in the kinds of jobs that the people they reach out to tend to have.

Of course like any other tzedakah you need to make sure that the money is going to a reputable kiruv group.

Offwinger said...

If you're going to resort to commodifying things, I think it's a mistake to judge the success of kiruv based on the people they do attract without balancing it against the number of people they fail to attract. How many cholents are being provided to people who have no interest in joining the community but like the free lunch? There is nothing wrong with being kind and offering a meal to every new person or guest. But if you're providing things of significant COST (and kindness costs NOTHING), then it's a different story.

Kindness is not an industry. Hosting guests is not an industry. Once it becomes a fundraising campaign and you devote your energy into attracting the "right" kind of BTs into the fold, then you're basically selling timeshares. Come listen to our shiur, then you get the free food and prizes!

I used to have a very optimistic attitude about providing meals to whomever was in town, needed a place, etc. Then I lived in places where these meals were used by:
- people who didn't otherise participate in the community, but wanted the free meals
- people who didn't feel like cooking for shabbat & went every week to a volunteer host
- tourists who thought that being frum entitled them to full room & board service hosted by other frum people and treated me like the hotel staff

I hate that my attitude went from "Yes, you can call me whenever you need to seat someone at a table" or "I'll cook extra so I can make it known I have extra food" to being far more guarded about hachnasat orchim.

I am sad that this happens, and I am sad that I've lived in multiple communities where it happened so much! If anything, I think it was a sign of how much those communities wanted to perform the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, and it left me with the notion that sometimes no mitzvah goes unpunished.

And one other point: If you stay at or eat at Chabad as a "minyan on the road," you SHOULD pay for that, and some places that are more tourist-attracting DO charge for meals for that reason!

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on the specific activity.

I do not think that kiruv organizations should charge anyone for shabbos meals or students for events, although they should ask for a "suggested donation". However, it is certainly reasonable to charge something for tefillin which require commitment.

Anonymous said...

Offwinger: It's too bad that people abuse the system, but talking about housing and a minyan for people who are frum and kiruv are two separate things. The former sounds like it might be a lack of goyishe manners. For the latter, (and not necessarily responding to you Offw), I don't think you measure the success of kiruv just by how many people become frum. There is a lot of benefit in having people who have never been exposed to frum people see that men in beards and black hats and women in skirts and wigs are normal, approachable and warm human beings. Learning just a little more about judaism and being just a little more connected and reducing some of the hostility between frum and non-frum is a good in and of itself.

Mike S. said...

I am responding more to the comments than the original post. And let me add that I have little personal experience with "industrial kiruv." But the reason for kiruv is simply that the Torah holds us responsible for our fellow Jews. That needn't mean running a "mitzvah tank", but at a minimum it means being welcoming, and living our lives in such a way as to be a positive example to all who know us.

tdr said...

There is a lot of benefit in having people who have never been exposed to frum people see that men in beards and black hats and women in skirts and wigs are normal, approachable and warm human beings.

As someone who grew up in the heart of the Conservative/Reconstructionist/Chavurah world (NW Philadelphia), I wholeheartedly agree with this comment!

It was an eye-opener to me to find out that frum people were just regular people!

Have a good Shabbos everyone!

Anonymous said...

I'm all for subsidizing Baalei teshuva, as long as people donate to this cause out of their own will, and aren't coerced to donate or to foot someone else's bill.
I went to Ohr Somayach and got subsidized tuition at one point, and since joining the working world I've given them back 10x what they gave me. Subsidies are fine as long as they are done in a rational, respectable way.

Anonymous said...

A parallel to this post is the cost of going to college. In Israel, where I live now, it is expected that students from all social classes work before (for a year or two) and during their degree to pay for tuition. This contrasts with the US, where (in "our" social class at least) parents pay for college, which is way too expensive for any student to be able to afford on their own.

There are advantages to both systems. In Israel, you have many fewer "freeloaders" who go to college intending to party rather than get an education. (It is hard to justify that choice if you have to pay for it.) On the other hand, there are talented people who spend lots of time working in entry-level jobs, making little money or contribution to society, taking away years of more productive employment they could have had later on.

Anonymous said...

So how many ffb people are asked to buy in? How many ffb boys mow lawns and shovel snow to save up for their first teffilin? How many teens take after school jobs to save up for summer camp, the year in Israel or Kollel? Its not exactly kids are sent on a year or more of rumspirga and then given the option of whether or not to sign on.

Tefillin Rabbi said...

I'd assume that the tefillin for $250 are a quality, albeit economical, pair that the person will be happy with once he is more frum and hence these tefillin would already be subsidized and that the Kiruv source has arranged for the best possible price from the supplier. In this case, the kiruv source would not be bringing in income to be used towards salaries or other activities. Other than in extreme cases where he truly has no means to come up with $250, even with a generous payment plan, the person should (and should want to) pay this minimal amount for the tefillin. The person is already getting a deeply discounted price, which is not available to most FFBs so the cost is affordable and considering how we live today and the many luxuries we have, it shouldn't be a significant burden, particularly if it could be paid off in 5-10 payments. The fact is that someone who is considering or becoming frum is aware that it is a more costly lifestyle and is prepared to make the committment nevertheless. If we can make the transition for the newly frum, who are not truly poor, financially easier (by volunteering time to teach and assist them, or with small short term loans or offering them discounts - all of which should not burden other important tzedakahs then great. Whether we should pay for people, take classes or attend shabbatons or to give out tefillin, etc., to those who could likely afford it, is an issue for discussion.