Tuesday, December 28, 2004

It's very hard to be fanatically middle-of-the-road

According to the Jerusalem Post, Aish Hatorah celebrated its thirtieth anniversary last week. Whilst the article does a great job tracing various milestones in Aish's development, it offers no insight into why Aish has been so successful and how this reflects on the rest of the Jewish community; it is also a completely uncritical account.
For many people in the Modern Orthodox community, for example, Haredi Keruv organizations like Aish generate mixed feelings. On the one hand, they support any organization that brings unaffiliated/under-affiliated Jews closer to tradition. On the other hand, they are uncomfortable with many aspects of such organizations including the ideal 'end product' and the organizations' hard-sell.
Whilst much of this, I believe, is generated by fear that the increasingly powerful Haredi outreach machine is 'poaching' their own children, the subtext of lots of the negative feeling is, 'this could/should be done differently.' To which the obvious question is -- why aren't you?? Where are the Modern Orthodox outreach organizations?
The answer, much as it pains me to say it, is that they are simply not viable and will never be. The truth is that Aish and the other Haredi Keruv organizations offer something that the Modern Orthodox community simply cannot. Nuanced messages do not sell, especially not to 'spiritual seekers' who are looking for clearcut answers. Even if this were not the case, the Modern Orthodox community is too busy fighting for its own survival and debating its own viability to sell itself to others. And frankly, I've seen no evidence that the Modern Orthodox community has what it takes to perform outreach to the masses; if it had, we would have been trying to do so in a serious way a long time ago.
So, love 'em or hate 'em, when it comes to Aish and the other Haredi outreach organizations, it's them or nothing. I prefer them. And you?

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