Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Guest Post: Some Economic Observations on the Current Kiruv Framework

Thank you to another great guest poster for his observations and thoughts. I redacted the name of one example of a program and as always welcome comments on an interesting topic.

Some Economic Observations on the Current Kiruv Framework
by Rabbi Dr. Daniel P. Aldrich

After observing the current state of kiruv for the past few years, I have come to feel that some of the popular methods and frameworks may also providing external incentives that are not ideal for student growth. If I can be blunt, the current system is a pay to play system– one organization even calls it “Earn and Learn.” That is, to attract students – initially to a [Program Name Redacted] or similar seminar program, and then to yeshiva – mkarvim have a number of incentives, ranging from 500 dollars a semester in cash to free books and plane tickets. My biggest concern is that the system is, as we say in social science, “crowding out the intrinsic motivation” of the students who want to go. Fortunately, I don’t have to rely on my own intuition to understand the theoretical and empirical problems with paying people to do something that they (and others) may actually really want to do. A lot of peer-reviewed research on this topic has been done by others.

More than four decades ago, the economist Richard Titmuss argued that paying regular donors to give blood actually decreased their willingness to donate. His book, titled The Gift Relationship, suggested the radical notion that offering incentives to volunteers made them less interested in volunteering (you can buy an updated, edited version of the book at

Titmuss showed that, in contrast to the American system with incentives and marketization of blood, the British system of pure volunteerism produced more blood. Scores of studies followed these initial observations. In 1978, Mark Lepper and David Greene showed (in their book entitled The Hidden Costs of Reward) that monetary rewards reduce motivation across the board. In 2008 Mellstrom and Johannesson showed (in their peer-reviewed article entitled “Crowding Out in Blood Donation”) that introducing monetary rewards for donation decreased blood donations by half. Closer to my own academic work on social capital and civil society, economist Bruno Frey (1997, 1999, and especially his 2000 paper “Motivation Crowding Theory: A Survey of Empirical Evidence”) showed that offering money to communities to host “unwanted projects” such as nuclear power plants and garbage dumps actually made them less likely to accept the offer. Without the incentives on the table, Frey showed, many local residents would have been glad to host a nuclear power plant. For readers interested in seeing how states have tried to solve the problem of building controversial facilities with a variety of tactics, please see SITE FIGHTS ( But once developers of these facilities started offering incentives, the residents lost their enthusiasm, calling the incentives “blood money.”

Economists, recognize this same effect, but label this phenomenon “crowding out.” In general, our cognitive space is divided into our intrinsic motivations (those things that we want to do) and external motivations (things we do, like coming to a seminar for fear of failing, because of incentives or disincentives). Offering incentives to a volunteer makes him or her less likely to participate – because if you’re offering money for the person to take on a facility or to give blood, then that signals to the volunteer that the outcome must have a negative value. In contrast, valuable things are pursued, and strong demand drives up their price. If a food manufacturer has to pay consumers to eat its products, it probably won’t last long. Parents fork out 45,000 dollars a year to send their precious charges to Harvard because they believe that it is worth it. Therefore, by paying students to participate in kiruv programs, we may be inadvertently telling them that being Jewish, rather than being a wonderful goal to aspire to, is an undesirable outcome that they have to be paid to accept!

The terrible irony with the kiruv system is that the problem is worse than just “crowding out” of the motivation of students who may have otherwise had a strong interest in furthering their Judaism. Imagine a student who is truly interested in learning more about Torah. He joins a [paid program] type class – and is placed with 10 to 20 other people, most of whom don’t share his natural motivation. They are there because they’re being paid to do so. They tap their pens, bounce their foot, repeatedly look at their watches, and shuffle impatiently as the time ticks down. I’ve spoken to local Shabbos hosts in various communities who have told me that their experiences with [paid program] students – who, to receive their checks, must go to several Jewish experiences like a Shabbos – have been less than rewarding. Those of us who do kiruv the "old fashioned way" (that is, without incentives, and based on long term relationships and incremental growth) feel very blessed that the students who show up at our table – and it may be as few as five, or as many as thirty five –seem engaged and interested in what’s going on.

So it is a double whammy – offering students money or incentives to do what they want to do actually decreases their motivation. Social scientists and economists have produced four decades of empirical evidence supporting this claim. And, on top of that, we’re forcing naturally motivated students to sit in close quarters with many other students who completely lack interest.

I wonder if others have noticed a similar trend, or feel that the system is okay as is?

Related reading from your truly:
Subsidizing the Ba'alei Teshuva
also posted at Beyond BT under the title The Benefits of Buy In for the Newly Observant


Anonymous said...

A number of years ago, I noticed a shift in the motivation for kiruv from "show unaffiliated Jews the beauty and meaning of Torah" to "the entire Jewish people must do tshuva before the redemption will take place". The latter is a lot more self serving than the former. It's like saying, "I don't care so much about another Jew's neshama, but the redemption - well, there's something in in that for me!"

Maybe that's one of the reasons for pay-for-mitzvos. I'm not really familiar with this model myself, thank God.

Anonymous said...

I've done campus work for over a decade and I have watched the growth of the type of kiruv programs you are talking about. The students were always trying to get out of Shabbatonim or class, and in many cases exhibited exactly the behavior you describe. BUT the enrollment was high. Most students said it was because of the money. There was a small percentage (under 20%) in every class that was joining for the money, but was truly interested in learning. I always got the impression that these pay-to-play programs were really to boost numbers. The students who were really interested in becoming more observant studied one-on-one with the rabbis anyway, as they would have done with or without the class.

Anonymous said...

For some, kiruv is an end in itself. For others, its at least in part a business. If you need to attract attendees to justify your paid kiruv job and need numbers of attendees to justify the fundraising, then I can understand why the attempt at paying people to attend programs. For those who are less cynical, I can also understand the logic of let's at least give it a shot and maybe some people who come for the money might actually like what they hear and return for more.

H. K. said...

Having run successful kiruv programs for many years, and as the product of successful kiruv for more than 25 years, I think that both ideas can be reconciled. Getting them in the door is the main thing. There are many programs, clsses, and activities competing for people's attention, and without incentive, they will not venture forth. Once in the program, students have the opportunity to interact with others their age, and discuss topics that they are learning from the rabbis and other speakers. There is less initial awkwardness in going for Shabbos because they will be with friends. Successful mekarvim are warm, personable, and real, and they will make every effort to get to know and connect with their students. Even though only a small percentage will ultimately become shomer mitzvos, they will be left with positive feelings about Orthodoxy, and will likely maintain contact with their rabbis as they go on to marry and raise their own families.

Anonymous said...

Have other people seen fewer students going to yeshiva? Or perhaps fewer ba'alei teshuva attending shul? That is, has this new method of kiruv resulted in more yidden engaged in our community?

Anonymous said...

The only way to really know the effectiveness of monetary rewards and other "carrots," would be to do long-term controlled studies. That would be rather difficult to do since it would be hard to keep all the other factors equal and there would be some self-selection. It is also hard to fathom how the study could be blinded with respect to the kiruv workers and families, so anecdotal evidence will have to do. Bottom line is that unless you are indoctrinated from an early age to be observant, there has to be some carrots to get people interested. Those carrots might be social or emotional, but we have to be honest that those are still carrots and feelings that kiruv workers use.

Tzurah said...

One can call the intrinsic motivations of wanting to connect with your past, connect with G-d or live a meaningful life "carrots", but that misses the point of the post. Intrinsic motivations and external motivation are both, indeed motivations ("carrots"), but they are different. At the end of the day you want people being Jewish out of intrinsic motivations, even just for the practical reason that such motivations are more durable over a lifetime.

What's been driving the kiruv Fellowships with their stipends is a "mitoch shelo lishmah ba lishmah" approach, with the hope that once you get people in the door, you can facilitate a transformation of the initial external motivations into intrinsic ones.

What Rabbi Aldrich points out is that the potential effect of such programs is not just limited to being between a maximal positive effect (the kid becomes frum, loves G-d and loves Yiddishkeit) and no effect at all (the kid stays frei). The very introduction of external motivations can actually introduce a negative effect and hurt the kiruv process.

Tzurah said...

This type of critique of the pay to play model of kiruv has been around since such programs were first conceived. However, it's starting to be raised again now because the enrollment at kiruv yeshivas and midrashas in Israel (which is one of the primary goals of organized college kiruv in America) has been flat across the board for the last decade (precisely the time period when enrollment in these Fellowhip programs skyrocketed). Considering how much donor funds these expensive Fellowship type kiruv programs tie up, people are beginning to wonder if it's sufficiently successful to justify the price tag. (In some ways, this issue is similar to the arguments surrounding the effectiveness of Taglit.)

JewintheCity said...

Having done recruitment in kiruv for several years, I can tell you that getting people through the door is one of the biggest challenges and the people that I nudged the most (not a monetary incentive in this case, but rather an incentive for me to stop calling!) almost always were not affected as deeply as the people that who were easier sells.

I very much hear Rabbi Dr. Aldrich's point. I decided to use new media - YouTube videos and funny short blogs - as a way to try to put the message out to as many people as possible and let them come to me. And when they do, no incentives or arm twisting is necessary - they're already interested.

Ari said...

A fascinating article. However, as someone who has worked on a college campus for a number of years, I disagree with the underlying premise. Surely paying someone to do something they intrinsically do not want to do will not serve as a "magic bullet" of religious inspiration; on the contrary, it may even have negative consequences. This would be analogous to the nuclear waste plant in the proverbial backyard.

Here, however, we are discussing something fundamentally different: incentivizing students to give a try to something they otherwise would never even consider, simply out of fear or ignorance.

My golden rule would be as follows: incentives can be meaningful and effective if they will bring a student to an experience that he/she will ultimately appreciate and recognize he/she needs.

Thus, incentives serve an important role because even to participate in a rudimentary way students need to overcome so many obstacles - peer pressure, negative preconceived notions of Orthodox Judaism, time constraints, etc. But clearly the "carrot" at the end of the incentive "stick" must be of sufficient quality, so that ultimately the student does come to love Judaism per say.

Just as a small example: every semester we take a group of students on a long-weekend Shabbos retreat to New York (from out of town). This weekend often is the most impactful to date of a student's Jewish life; and yet, I am fully convinced that not even a small fraction of them would participate if not for the lure of an incentive, and the specter of its attendant consequences.

Of course there will be "low hanging fruit" on every campus - students who were basically waiting for the rabbi to walk on campus and meet them. Naturally, they have the intrinsic motivation to grow and will do so with loving guidance. These were likely the students of a decade ago, and I would imagine that a greater percentage would have exhibited interest.

But for the vast majority of the precious men and women who do not fit in to that category, they likely do not even know what they are rejecting or avoiding, and need a justification to give these opportunities a try.

Of course, in terms of attracting less interested students, a seasoned m'karev will learn how to recruit effectively via word of mouth, ensuring initial buy-in and quality control. If the program itself is of outstanding repute, then the incentive becomes a mere background justification to the student for his/her time and emotional commitment.

Which leads me to a deeper/quasi-Kabbalistic point: if we are to assume that at some deep level of consciousness students do in fact want this connection to their neshama, then surely some form of incentive might help shake off the "klipos" and allow the student access to this deeper self.

Certainly this is neither a statistical analysis nor a panoramic view, but it is my set of strong impressions borne of years in the field.

SJ said...

Kiruv needs to be reduced to basic social skills. Stop being judgemental assholes and have some fun, and maybe people would want to be orthodox. O.O

(psst, real fun, not let's not do anything for 1 day a week and call it FUN!!!!! YEAH CAUSE DETENTION IS SO MUCH FREAKEN FUN!!!!)

Bewildered said...

I understand that funders want transparency and want results so that they know that their money isn't just being blown. On the other hand, the effet of what is being described above is that yiddeshe neshamos have become mere widgets on an assembly line that need to be produced. I don't think the gedolim foresaw kiruv rechokim as missionary work. G-d forbid that we should be like Mormon's. It's not about how many kids we were able to bribe by coming to a keg party. What a topsy turvy world we live in. What's the answer?

Ari said...

Bewildered - I really must say I strongly resent comments such as yours. The accusation that those in kiruv look at students as "widgets" is not only inaccurate, but it is also an extreme affront to those (very) few people today who dedicate their lives to our most distant brothers and sisters.

Of course there are unideal practitioners, as I'm sure exist in your profession as well; but the overwhelming majority of those in kiruv are motivated by a profound sense of ahavas Yisroel and an appreciation for the individual beauty of each of their students.

Your statement about bribing kids to come to a keg party is also a gross distortion of what campus kiruv is all about - namely, connecting curious students with meaningful educational opportunities and experiences, while building strong and lasting personal relationships. IY"H the fruits of these efforts should help acheynu b'nai Yisroel connect to Avinu she'ba'Shomayim, no less than we would hope for ourselves and our own descendants.

Miami Al said...

If you grow up non-Orthodox, you fall into two camps:

1. Very involved egalitarian families, complete with summer camps, Havdalah in parks/beaches/etc., activities, etc. (< 1%)
2. A few years of Hebrew lessons to prepare for Bar/Bat Mitzvah, then suffering through Yom Kippur service before breaking the fast in the early afternoon. (99%)

There might be some middle ground, but there isn't much.

The MOST effective Kiruv experiences are Purim or Simchat Torah, NOT because they are "keg parties," but because it shows someone that grew up with Judaism as a painful thing you do 1-2 times/year people celebrating their Judaism. It's NOT a Judaism=keg party, but it's compensating for the Judaism=funeral that is contemporary American non-Orthodox Judaism.

The MOST important part of Kiruv is the children meeting open minded, non judgmental Orthodox Jews. They can be the most modern of Modern Orthodox, or the most dedicated Hassid, but they have to be people that your target thinks, "I want to be like them."

If you really wanted to do Kiruv, you'd simply flood American Jewish life with Orthodox kids, so Orthodox wasn't a concept, it was real. The non-Orthodox would see that the Orthodox kids weren't backward, sexist, judgmental jerks like they've been told, and they'd show an interest. OTOH, you'd need to have enough confidence that your Orthodox kids, upon meeting non Orthodox Jews, wouldn't want to run away.

If you think given the fair an honest choice between Orthodoxy and non-Orthodoxy, if the Jews see each other, the Orthodox would run to be non-Orthodox, then your Kiruv movement is going to be inherently dishonest.

I don't think that the stipend is right/wrong, I see reasons for it (serious graduate students get stipends), but I do see the problem with it, it takes away from the "giving" nature of it. But it's absolutely a function of a system that thinks you have to trick people into exposure.

Agreed that the HARDEST part is getting them through the door the first time... But you do that by doing social stuff/activities that will get them to show up and not "kiruv events" that you have to pay them for.

tesyaa said...

Everyone knows that what motivates college students (and most other people) is FREE FOOD. Activities offering free food get the most attendees - whether you are trying to get them to support Tibetan independence, support gay rights, or to be frum. People may be mercenary and practical about money; but free food is not only free, it also fosters a social atmosphere that furthers the cause. That's why Lubavitch shuls offer big buffet kiddushes, and that's probably one of the best ways to get that first step in the door for kiruv.

JS said...

I'm not entirely familiar with the entire kiruv system, but if you're talking about incentives to just "walk in the door" then they absolutely work. Having been heavily involved in Orthodox groups on campus when I was in college, I can absolutely assure you that they work. Many more students will come to an advertised FREE Shabbat dinner than would come on any given week no matter how much it was advertised. After all, every group on campus uses similar incentives from the frats having free "keggers" to the campus environmental group offering free pizza. That's just a fact of campus life.

But, once people come in that door, I think incentives are no longer so valuable. What's a LOT more valuable is showing the worthiness of what you do. If the free Shabbat meal is just a cheap way to grab a meal with your friends Friday night before heading out to a frat party, the incentive was worthless. But, if the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and other involved kids talk to people as normal people, one-on-one, it breaks down a lot of stigma and awkwardness associated with religion. Most unaffiliated people have a negative impression of Jewish observance either because it's meaningless, antiquated rituals or because they remember some jerk Hebrew school teacher or being teased for being different. Overcoming that requires just being a nice, normal person.

Unfortunately, it sounds a lot easier than it is. The biggest difficulty we had on campus was getting Orthodox kids to go along with the program. Some simply had no interest because they were tired after a long week of classes and didn't want to be putting on a show - they wanted to eat with their friends and leave not talk to strangers and explain the rituals and just be "normal." Others though were actively against kiruv because they felt the people coming in were at best ignorant and at worst a bunch of schnorrers looking to score a free meal before heading out to get drunk and have sex (a lot of Orthodox kids assume if you're not frum your life is one big debauchery). Some of these kids would make disparaging marks about Conservative and Reform and unaffiliated Jews and were angry at attempts to integrate the various Jewish communities on campus (e.g., at communal sedarim mocking egalitarian efforts at a Miriam's Cup - Kos Miriam).

Anonymous said...

I've read the original article (has everyone in this thread?) and the following comments with interest. But I wonder if some if these discussions - especially about free food, for example - are missing the point. Is the goal of kiruv to "get the foot in the door" so that students come in? Or is kiruv about altering behavior? Because the original article says that offering cash to people to give blood, for example, makes them less likely to go on with giving blood. Offering food to get students to a meal will get them to a meal. Must we offer them cash to get them to take Judaism seriously? Or should we not offer the money and see who is serious about attending?

Orthonomics said...

I was thrilled to receive a guest post that looked at economic and social science research and a current economic model used in kiruv. I'd be thrilled if some commentors could try to keep the discussion at the same high level (as most have).

I think a great follow up discussion might be rewards in Jewish (yeshiva) education. Many parents are concerned about what the constant flow of prizes, raffles, rewards are doing to internal motivation, and middot.

Ariella's blog said...

The clash between altruistic and materialistic motives is also examined in the book Sway (discussed I just want to mention another incentive for giving blood. Those called to jury duty in Mineola, Long Island, are given the option to donate blood and get off. Some do opt for to give rather than to serve.

For some things, ideal participation is only achieved by offering monetary rewards. Some sites don't only pay the writers but even the people who comment on them to keep up a certain level of activity. If you get the right people for the job, it can work out well. If you get the wrong people, they will just make a lot of inane comments to make their quota.

Parents will sometimes offer bribes to children to get them to do what they want. I don't offer bribes for grades, but I will once in a while reward a job that is not part of the regular chores, like raking leaves, shoveling snow, etc.

Ariella's blog said...

Paying students in this way reminds me of the model used a few decades back when some yeshivas and other organizations capitalized on grant money to open up college programs. They signed up Russian immigrants who showed low income and so qualified for scholarships that also left over enough for a stipend. Then the yeshivas who hosted made money, the colleges who participated made money, and the students made money. No one ever got a degree, though, which tipped the government off. That was the end of that, except for Touro that still has programs going for Russian students.

Anonymous said...

I think that offering money to attend kiruv events demeans religion. It suggests that if the mormons or buddhists or whoever are offering more, then go to the highest bidder (not that I can envision buddhists doing this). I agree with js, however, that getting ones foot in the door is the problem, and that you have to have a way to show secular and non-orthodox jews that orthodox jews are "normal," nonjudgmental and warm and good people to spend time with. Therefore, wouldn't it make more sense to make sure that more orthodox people are stepping outside of their isolation and getting to know other jews as fellow students, team mates, and colleagues, etc. In other words, the best college kiruv might be to have orthodox students who are interested in kiruv actually attend college and interact with others as fellow classmates and peers.

JS said...

It's the great cache 22 of kiruv: If you want to attract non-frum kids, you need Orthodox kids to get out of their enclaves and interact with other people, but if Orthodox kids leave their enclaves, they may not remain frum.

Miami Al said...


"at worst a bunch of schnorrers looking to score a free meal before heading out to get drunk and have sex "

Funny thing about that, most of the Orthodox kids all looked like a bunch of schnorrers... They showed up to Hillel every week for a free meal, but when the organization charged dues, they'd never ante up. They sat in their own table and wouldn't talk to anyone. The most successful Kiruv on campus were the few "normal" Orthodox kids who were just friends with other people. I'd guess that of the handful of observant people that didn't arrive at college that way, that was a big part of it.

Most useful Kiruv, within a 2 year span, the Jewish fraternity and Jewish sorority each pledged a MO kid. The integrated socialization was huge. I don't know how much that did for "kiruv," but it resulted in 150+ people over a 7 year period to have an Orthodox friend instead of thinking of them in caricature (there really are so few Frum Jews that most Americans will go their entire life without meeting one).

To my knowledge, both of those individuals are still Frum despite being exposed to secular Jewish life.

I presume there are plenty of college students that do lots of drugs and have lots of sex. That certainly didn't describe the secular Jewish people I know. Life in secular Jewish America really isn't a debased orgy, it's mostly socially awkward kids trying to get into good colleges and live up to parental expectations.

My wife went to a very "diverse" high school, plenty of people dropped out because they got pregnant. Not one of them was Jewish.

Bewildered said...

I don't know that anyone is questioning the mesiras nefesh of those that do kiruv work. Most of the people I know who do this work, including yourself are really on the "front lines" doing something that many see a value in doing. Yet, if indeed $60 million dollars has been spent on kiruv (by whom?) in today's world there needs to be a very serious look at that return on investment. While I may have exaggerated about keg parties, I have heard from someone who has worked on a major college campus that some mekarvim are held to a "numbers game" and if a kid isn't "moving along" then they are dropped like a "hot potato" in favor of someone else who could help boost their numbers. Is this what it's all about? Look at the success of birthright. They can point to studies that show what effect a birthright trip has on a participant and the likelihood that it will increase the chance that someone will marry Jewish and become active in the Jewish community. What is the ultimate goal of college kiruv? Sending people to Eretz Yirsroel to learn?

Miami Al said...


If a secular kid is exposed to college Kiruv, and marries another Jew, is that a success if they never become Frum but he "gets" his heritage? What if he doesn't become Frum, but goes to Chabad twice/year instead of a Reform Temple twice/year, is that a success?

What if he becomes quasi-observant, but doesn't go to Israel to learn? What if he becomes observant, but doesn't go to Israel to learn? Is the only goal to get more kids to go to Yeshiva in Israel and drop out of college?

Is there even any evidence that secular kids exposed to Kiruv that go to Israel to learn are any more observant in the long run?

anon426 said...

SL you completely read my mind with this comment:

"I think a great follow up discussion might be rewards in Jewish (yeshiva) education. Many parents are concerned about what the constant flow of prizes, raffles, rewards are doing to internal motivation, and middot."

R. Aldrich's article is very interesting and the discussion comments have been interesting as well. Reading them prompted me to think about my own kids and then your comment came along!

Throughout my 15 years of frumkeit I have frequently struggled with my level of observance.

I'm one of those Yidden who had very positive non-frum experiences growing up. Miami Al supposes 1% but there were a lot of us so I'm thinking it has to be more than that.

There was a strong and warm chavurah presence in the neighborhood where I grew up. My labor zionist summer camp experience totally rocked. :-) Without a doubt these positive experiences contributed to my wish to spend my life as a shomer Shabbos Yid, immersed in the Jewish community.

For a variety of reasons my own kids are just not that "into it". I am conflicted about how much to push them (ie make them sing zemiros and they will come to see how fun it is and how much they like it), how much to entice them with external motivation (ie give them candy to go to shul), and how much to simply leave them alone, make it cozy and comfy and fun for them, so that when they are older and ready to choose their path in life they will feel pulled toward Yiddishkeit. My natural inclination is #3, but it's something I am by no means certain of and I struggle with it constantly. Am I simply a lazy (tired, really) parent? My co-parent is very confident that strategy #1 (pushing them) is the way to go, but I feel it has contributed to their lack of enthusiasm over all. But maybe my reluctance to push them has just given them an out, ie it's easier to hang out in bed on Friday night than come to the Shabbos table.

I find this information about internal and external motivation to be very interesting and I wonder how it works with kids. Do the data apply to children as well? Kids are certainly internally motivated for many things, but perhaps they have more room for accepting external motivators before it starts to crowd out the internal motivators.

My oldest son has had some behavior problems in school and the administration is motivating him with various behavioral techniques (ie charts, slurpees, cold hard cash) to work hard to control himself so as not to disrupt the class. They do what they have to to make things work. I have to think that in time, with the help of external motivation, my son will figure out how to behave better. But in light of this article I wonder about the longterm. Is all this external motivation going to backfire ultimately? I'm not sure what their other options are. They believe my son is very special and are concerned about "losing him." (lately it has come to light that he has a learning disability and hopefully managing that will help with the other behavior problems)

One reason I am such a big fan of Hold On To Your Kids is I think Dr. Neufeld gets to the heart of what inspires kids from the inside... namely strong relationships with responsible adults starting with (but not ending with!) the parents. He even observes that the weakening of child-adult relationships has correlated inversely with the rise of behavior modification "tricks" (i.e. external motivators) that parents have to rely on to get cooperation from their kids.

Shoshana Z. said...

So happy to see Dr. Neufeld mentioned here again. I can't say enough times how important his work is. Find his website here -

JS said...


I think the relationship with the parents is really key in transmitting any set of values to kids be it religious, moral, ethical, or otherwise. If that relationship is strong there is at least the possibility of transmitting values, if the relationship is weak it's more of a crapshoot.

I don't know how old your kids are, but when they are older and start making decisions of your own, the relationship you have with them is going to shape how they process outside influences.

The important thing now, in my opinion, is to show your kids how much Judaism means to you while fostering as close and open a relationship as you can with them. If Judaism is something you shove down their throats or something only worth doing for a bribe, Judaism will not be valued down the line when it comes time in their lives to make their own decisions. Further, if their relationship with you is weak there's less reason to follow in your footsteps.

All that said, each child is his/her own person. No one is a carbon copy of you, the parent. But, if a kid is not going to choose your values and religious observance, better to have a good relationship with them despite that than one clouded by memories of forcing them to wake up early for shul and yelling at them for not making brachot or whatever.

anon426 said...

I guess I used my comment to angst a little about my own situation vis a vis my kids. Yes, I agree with your reply, JS. And thanks, Shoshana for posting the link to R. Neufeld's site.

One question I'm interested in knowing the answer to is this:

What do we know about behavior or children vis a vis internal/external motivators? Does it mirror the behavior of adults? Or is it different for them?

Anonymous in Teaneck said...

@JS - it is not "cache 22" but "Catch-22" - see

Abba's Rantings said...


"I think a great follow up discussion might be rewards in Jewish (yeshiva) education. Many parents are concerned about what the constant flow of prizes, raffles, rewards are doing to internal motivation, and middot."

i can tell you that in my son's public school they use rewards too. not as extravagant as in his yeshivah and not as incesant (and certainly not with candy as in his yeshivah), but i don't know if it's exclusively a yeshivah problem. (on the other hand, my wife works in a public school and she was shocked by the use of rewards in my son's school, so maybe it isn't that common in public schools and my son is an exception?)

Miami Al said...

I really enjoyed How to hold on to your kids. Paying attention to issue of attachment and some minor ways it plays out has been tremendously helpful for us. It's very easy to line up a "play date" lunch with kids to play with, which the children enjoy, but cut into parent-child time. It is very difficult after a long week to spent the quantity of time (a little quality time during the week is easy).

I agree with JS. If you have a strong parent-child bond, the child is very likely to pick up on the parent's values. If you have a weak one, there is very little likelihood of transmittal.

If your concern is that your children, as adults, will choose to continue following in your path, then a strong parent-child relationship is key. If your concern is that your child EVER flips a light switch on Shabbat, then lifetime control is key. Plenty friends that did the RWMO -> YU cycle that used the freedom of being college students at YU as an informal Rumspringa, only to return to Yiddishkeit as adults.

Is that a successful transmittal?

Is that a failure because the child was non-frum for 2-4 years?

In terms of the 1%, maybe that's too small, 2%? 4%? It isn't high. My parent's synagogue had 400 families when I was growing up... one serious hard-core egalitarian observant family (mom leined at the synagogue, Israeli dancing at the Bar Mitzvah, Shabbat observant home)... a handful of active families with kids at Jewish summer camps. And then the "getting Bar Mitzvah'd circuit."

Anon 426, how many families in your synagogue growing up, and how many were "into things?'

Anonymous said...

When I was in college, I used to go the the local Chabad House for a free shabos dinner and free alcohol on Purim. We actually made them our first stop before we went to frat parties. This did not make me or my friends want to be more observant. I found out later that a girl I met through these free dinners did, however, become Baal Tsuvah. She had some obvious emotional problems at the time, and I later learned through experience and talking with former Chabad members that they tend to attract a lot of Jews with drug problems who never got proper treatment because they listened to some know nothing Chabad Rabbi. This might help to explain some of the dysfunctionality described by many on orthodox leaning blogs.

Anonymous said...

I also had similar experiences as a college student traveling through Israel. Free shabos dinners and arranged at the Kotel and free tours, meals, and lodging in Tsfat by a Chabad group. I have to admit I was poor at the time and went for the freebies. These activies were clearly targeted at potential Baal Teshuva. Problem was those who bought into it often had deep seated emotional problems, including one guy who was formally diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and stopped taking his meds, that could not be cured by a massive dose of Torah study or taking on an observant lifestyle.

anon426 said...

Miami Al,

I'm not sure counting families in the synogogue is a good way to judge how many kids held onto Yiddishkeit. It was more loosey-goosey than that. I hardly ever went to synagogue. All the "happening" Jewish activities were taking place in people's homes. (West Mt. Airy in Philadelphia -- anyone reading this know of it??)

I am in touch with many of my old Habonim friends via Facebook. While a small handful became frum, it seems that the overwhelming majority maintain a string Jewish identity, ie marrying "in", kids in Hebrew school, etc.

Clearly the very positive experience we had back then was more influential than any learning we did (which was none).

I had one sister in Hashomer Hatzair. I was Habonim. And one sister who had no Jewish "chevra" to speak of.

My Hashomer sister maintains her strong Jewish identity but remains completely outside the religious world. The other sister remains completely outside Yiddishkeit. She even seems either unable or unwilling to pronounce the "ch" in my daughter's name.

Miami Al said...


I think you and are are largely in agreement in concept, just disagreeing in terminology.

I think that learning is valuable in and of itself, but I believe that the value of learning in terms of preservation of Yiddishkeit is pretty close to nil (and history agrees, the handful of people that can trace their lineage back to the centers of Jewish learning are tiny and make a big deal of it, those that can trace it back to more integrated areas dominate the population).

I don't know that counting families is good, or bad. I just know of the hundreds of families I knew that were Jewish, most didn't "do much Jewish" beyond whatever was done in their family. Those that did a lot in their family have generally in-married children with strong identities (not 100%, but mostly), those that did little in their family have generally inter-married children. -- I am counting spousal conversion as in-married, even though the conversion might not be 100% under Halacha.

My point was that most non-Orthodox Jews have mostly negative experiences with Judaism... those that have positive experiences tend to remain attached to Judaism, those with negative experiences tend to disappear.

One of the most positive aspects of Chabad Kiruv is giving Jewish youngsters a positive impression of Judaism, particularly it's observant wing.

Look the Kiruv "success stories" tend to involve the mental cases, I get that. But what I've seen, via Facebook, is much more of what the Conservative leadership is bemoaning.

A Reform/Conservative "success" case, involved, Hebrew High School, Jewish Summer camps, at college went to Hillel, affiliated with Jewish social clubs, dated amongst the Jewish population... The people we are talking about. Lots of them have floated into the Modern Orthodox sphere. Because if you are looking for a real expression of Judaism, it happens more there.

Positive Experiences = Interest in Judaism

Amongst my crew of involved families, there was strong identity and involvement. But when I think back to Hebrew School, we really were a small fraction of the group. In college I met plenty of secular Jews who had never been to synagogue, Hebrew school, Jewish camp, etc., maybe a Seder or two growing up. Looking at your involved group years later, you see a "handful" being frum (5%, 10%, 3%). What about the Jewish kids from your high school NOT affiliated with those groups? Are they more like your full assimilated sister or the non-observant religious one?

Anonymous said...

I can attest to the fact that these outreach programs can defintely backfire. My personal experience, as a non-observant Jew who is professionallly successful,is that many of those who hang out at Chabbad Houses appear to be real losers. Many of the guys, who were actually not born in observant families, had marginal educations and were unemployed. They had no interest in the outside world and appeared to be waiting for a better deal in the world to come. What a turn off. I am not intending to hurt anyone's feelins really has been my experience.

Anonymous said...

I know a guy from a MO Yeshiva who pretended to be reform so he could get free room at board at a hostle for Ba'alei Tshuva college students in Israel. He was outed by a guy from home who ran into him while he was with one of the guys who ran the hostle. Let's just say it turned into a hotile situation.

tesyaa said...

I was part of a group of friends who all became religious in high school, partly through NCSY. During our seminary year, many of us denied being baalai tshuva when asked point blank. (I don't remember if I denied it or not, honestly, but I know others who did). The perception that baalai tshuva have emotional problems and/or dysfunctional family backgrounds is very strong. I don't know if there's a correlation, but it seems possible.

Along the lines of Miami Al's comments, my motivation for becoming religious in my teens has to do with coming from a family that was not "Orthodox" but nonetheless very religiously involved, i.e. Friday night kiddush, kosher and kosher for Passover, Hebrew school, shul every single Shabbos morning. If you want to continue this lifestyle, where is there to go from there, socially and religiously? The chance of meeting friends and a future spouse with a similar background is small.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Are we really to believe that "shelo lishmah" crowds out or prevents "lishmah"? Why do we teach about Divine reward and punishment at all, given the "risk" that someone would then go and do the right thing for not totally altruistic reasons?

In the case under discussion, involving payment for doing things that are already obligations for Jews (not only kiruvees), it's inevitable that some will get involved in order to cash in. The other side of this is that some who start off this way may grow to see the inner truth and progress toward lishmah. While studies such as those Dr. Aldrich cites can be instructive, I'd like to see some (maybe he can be persuaded to do one) specifically in the kiruv context.

Such initiatives vary in purpose and scope, and the outlooks and abilities of the rabbinic leaders also vary, so generalization may be misleading. I know one rabbi who innovated one such university-level approach starting in the Midwest, and he's one of the finest, most inspiring people I've ever met. He has been a success at kiruv in whatever form.

tesyaa said...

I'm really surprised no one has mentioned the success Aish (and others) have had at kiruv for wealthy, successful professionals, many of whom essentially pay FOR kiruv by making significant donations to the organization.

See the article on the "Executive Learning Program".

Alex Howie said...

A few years ago, I signed up for a learning program through a kiruv rabbi on campus before I was even aware that it involved getting $500. The other students who signed up did know they were getting $500, and the program was thoroughly boring because others cared less that I did, and now I am the only one still involved in traditional Judaism.

JS said...

Something to keep in mind: rewards may only undermine internal motivation when it already exists. For example, Loveland & Olley (1979) showed that Lepper and colleagues' results only held for individuals with initial motivation. The rewards actually increased motivation in kids who didn't find the activity fun to begin with.

Anonymous said...

The hot summer swept across as a tornado ,and then took off heavy spring overnight. This is a season of blooming female charm. In the summer, coach outlet prepares you for every kind of coach handbag, coach Sunglasses Outlet. whether you are a beautiful youth, the remarkable grace or elegant, every woman has a unique meaning. coach outlet store can also create a suitable product for you in the coach outlet online store. Go quickly into our coach outlet online store to choose your favorite and required coach handbag which is the latest series. In the summer for you coach outlet online deducts publicity unruly or understated elegance, simple or extravagant, which let you charm every moment.

Anonymous said...

The hot summer swept across as a tornado ,and then took off heavy spring overnight. This is a season of blooming female charm. In the summer, coach outlet prepares you for every kind of coach handbag, coach Sunglasses Outlet. whether you are a beautiful youth, the remarkable grace or elegant, every woman has a unique meaning. coach outlet store can also create a suitable product for you in the coach outlet online store. Go quickly into our coach outlet online store to choose your favorite and required coach handbag which is the latest series. In the summer for you coach outlet online deducts publicity unruly or understated elegance, simple or extravagant, which let you charm every moment.

Blogger said...

You could be eligible to receive a $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.