Is this the way to effect kiruv?

Matzav, reports the following story:

Rav Aryeh Leib Shteinman

Rav Shlomo Levenstein, a gabbai of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, recently spoke at a bar mitzvah of twin boys whose father was niftar over Pesach. Rav Levenstein related the following incident. A young man who lacked interest in limud haTorah went to Rav Shteinman and asked him, “Would the rov like a steak or ice cream?” Rav Shteinman, apparently not knowing what either of these items are, asked the young man what he meant. The young man replied that these items are delicious foods. Rav Shteinman responded that he doesn’t want them. The young man, with a streak of wit, said to the senior gadol that he is offering him foods that all people consider to be delicious and appetizing and yet Rav Shteinman does not have any interest in them. “If so,” said the man, “I, who have no interest in learning Torah, can feel that way even though everyone says that Torah is sweet and enjoyable. So why must I be forced to learn Torah?” Rav Shteinman smiled at the young man and told him, “If you give someone honey and they tell you that it is bitter, then he has sores in his mouth.”It is not the honey that is lacking sweetness, explained Rav Shteinman. It is the person’s mouth that is the cause of the bitterness. “The same is with learning Torah,” said Rav Shteinman. Those who do not want to learn Torah have sores – i.e., lashon hara – in their mouth, and they therefore have no desire to learn Torah.”

Of course, the follow up comments were along the lines of “Gevaldik!” — the sort of line you’d hear down at a Lakewood Kollel and the like. After reading it I had four thoughts:

  1. Take the story with a grain of salt (I think that might burn the mouth too) as it might well be untrue
  2. Are there not upstanding individuals who do not speak Lashon Hara or use bad language and for whom Torah is not a subject of interest?
  3. Did this clever retort have a positive outcome. Would the person have thought “Yes, he’s right, now I’ll learn Torah”. I think not
  4. A different form of Kiruv (Chabad Style) would have invited the guy to indeed share some Steak and (parve) Ice Cream and farbrenged with him trying to make him feel better about himself.

It’s times like these when I’m convinced that I’m either on another planet or (perhaps more likely) I am so far removed from such levels of spirituality that I can’t digest them.

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

15 thoughts on “Is this the way to effect kiruv?”

  1. There is a well known saying to the effect that more Yidden have been brought to Yiddishkeit through the Rebbitsin’s cholent than through the Rabbis drasha.Of course what this really means is that some kindness first makes the person more receptive to what you wish them to listen to.That is surely a major reason why Chabad has been so successful.The severe Rabbi here may have won the battle but he surely lost the war.I think Mussar is great for those who are receptive to it but it needs a Rabbi with special skills to be able to pick his “customers” or more harm than good will be done


  2. This story is foreign to me but it is of no surprise. There are many such stories that cause one to wonder what the author was thinking while writing it, and if it is in fact true, what was the “Gadol” thinking when it happened to him. Another story that comes to mind is one I read in a small English book of short “mussar” stories. They tell a story about a certain Rabbi (I don’t remember the name) took his neighbor to a דין תורה because the neighbor’s chickens were disturbing his learning. I think that this idea is so ludicrous that I can not find anything positive about the story.


  3. One first needs to be sure that the story did indeed happen(as you brought up in the opening comments ) and even if true, the full facts behind it all first need to be known. Especially as different people need differents prods.


  4. There are some very different perspectives in the Torah world that are hard to get one’s Chabad mind around. In Adass on King Street, which used to be a church, there is one room that was the main part where church services were held that is now the lunchroom. Sometimes it is referred to as the ‘tumah’ room. From their point of view then, it logically follows that tumah cannot be elevated therefore has more power than kedusha. I could never understand that way of thinking.

    Likewise in the above mentioned story, from my understanding, this Rav appears not to believe that learning Torah will strengthen one’s ability to combat the yetzer hora. In essence he is saying that Torah learning does not refine a person. What’s with that? Strange ideas.


  5. SS, do you really think that when someone calls it the “tuma room”, they are thinking about elevating or Kedusha. I am sure it is just “off the cuff remark” on its previous status. In Chabad they call the Kollel Bes Hatalmud “bes hamesim” for the same reason..


  6. Well maybe for good reason. There were Poskim who were against converting a church into a place of Mitzvah, e.g. Rav Moshe Feinstein.

    I also can’t see what this has to do with RALS story, which may or may not be true and even if yes, one needs to know all the facts before judging.


  7. Morristown Yeshiva in New Jersey was converted from a Monastery. So was Beis Chana in Minnesota. Regardless of Rav Feinstein, in Chabad it is considered a mitzvah to convert a place of klipah into a place of kedushah. So I guess there are differing halachik opinions on this issue.


  8. Well then(according to you at least) Ir Hanidachas conflicts with Chabad, otherwise why aren’t we allowed to use it/rebuild it for Mitzvos. After all, the klippa can be elevated to Kedusha?


    1. Ben, I’m not a spokesman for Chabad, and know very little Chassidus. Notwithstanding that, let me explain. My comment was that you would prevent an Ir HaNidachas if you avoided litvish or charedi modes of kiruv which tend to view everyone as a Ben Sorer uMorer even though they aren’t. Next, as far as I know, it’s not as if everything is redeemable. If you ignore a place long enough, or turn them off long enough and they become an Ir HaNidachas, then that’s the Halacha; it’s not redeemable. The key is to avoid that happening, and therein is the difference.


  9. Ben, I believe chabad call the kollel the “Fishtank” not the beis hameisim. That is based more off its name more than on its description.


  10. Take a look at this kiruv promotional video recently released by Aish:
    What are your thoughts on this approach to Kiruv, particularly the line “It’s something called Torah. We have it and they don’t”, and the usage of the word “prod” in ecnouraging Kiruv?

    I myself subscribe and am used to the Chabad concept of hafotzah and mivtzoim, and found this video interesting.


  11. “it’s not as if everything’s redeemable”
    Exactly my point, as according to her tuma can always be elevated.


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