Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Harav Reuven Feinstein's Advice About Kiruv

When I was in Staten Island recently, I saw the following, quoting my father in law:

Question: Someone who wants to start keeping Mitzvos would like to know the first Mitzvah to take on.                 Answer: I would say Shabbos – because it’s what defines us as a Jew. We celebrate Shabbos because G-d rested on that day, but that’s not the real reason why Shabbos is first. There’s a Rashi in the beginning of Bereshis that says the Torah should’ve really started with the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, as it’s the first Mitzvah that applies to Jews particularly. So, why doesn’t it?                                                     We don’t keep Shabbos because Hashem created the world. We keep Shabbos for us to realize that we’re the servants of G-d. In the portion of Vaeschanan, Hashem says, “I commanded you to keep the Shabbos because I took you out of Mitzrayim. You were someone else’s slaves, now you’re my slaves. When you become my slaves, you’re obligated to do my Will." If a non-Jew wants to rest on Shabbos, he is not allowed to. He is not a servant of Hashem. If he wants to celebrate Shabbos, that’s fine, he’s allowed to make Kiddush on Shabbos and say that G-d created the world – and therefore there’s a purpose to life. Shabbos is for that. After we spent a week in creation, we want to know, what did we accomplish? On Shabbos, we review what we’ve done.       By doing that, we understand that we’re different from the nations of the world. Everyone has a purpose, but a Jew has a higher purpose, that is a servant to his Creator, his Master because he was commanded. And the command is not to work on that day. It’s not optional - a person cannot be a volunteer slave, unless he wants to become a convert (at which point he must keep Shabbos).          Also, we see that Hashem pays for Shabbos. This is because the owner of slaves has an obligation to his slaves to feed them. So, G-d is taking responsibility to cover the costs. That, I think, is the biggest commitment a person can make. Once he does that, all the other Mitzvos will fall into place.                                          Please send your questions to Rav Feinstein to Stay tuned for details about the Rav’s new Sefer.

Many years ago, I heard this from my father in law quoting his father, so this is Reb Moshe's shittah.

I have no experience in kiruv, but it seems obvious to me that this would be counterproductive and a disservice to the person that is considering adopting Orthodoxy. Shabbos is a hard mitzva, and if you tell someone who is slowly adjusting to the concepts and practices of Orthodox Judaism that it is the first mitzva he has to keep, he is probably going to say מה לי ולצרה הזאת- this is impossible for me and goodbye.

So I asked my father in law how this would work in the real world, and he said that when he said "Shmiras Shabbos" he did not mean to know and to scrupulously adhere to the whole Mishna Berura Cheilek gimmel. He meant a conscious decision to honor and to keep the Shabbos. This, initially, will most likely be minimal. For example:  A person that is a mechallel Shabbos b'farhesia- openly, continuously, and notoriously. This person can resolve to not be mechallel shabbos b'farhesia. This is a simple matter of, if you must drive to shul on Shabbos, be embarrassed to park in front of the shul, don't come out of the car and hail-fellow-well-met-Good-Shabbos! the Rabbi who happens to be walking by. The simple embarrassment takes you out of the category of b'farhesia, and that is enough to be considered, for our purposes, a Shomer Shabbos.

I just got a note from a friend who tells of his own method- he does start with Shabbos, but with a chochma,
I tell people to pick a mitzva that they really like , really speaks to them
Plus one that that they dont like, makes no sense to them
Plus shabbat
That's it for 3 months , we'll work on those only, even if they want to
do more

Shabbat is so inclusive psychologically, becomes the focus of everything
we do, the constant by which we measure all our variables Kinda like
being married 

His "kinda like being married" says a lot about the centrality of Shabbos in Jewish life.

Reb Micha Berger also sent an interesting comment- which helped me to realize something that was on the tip of my tongue since reading the previous comment. Thanks!
For a guy who wants to start REALLY slow, I would recommend tzitzis. No one else needs to know, but all day long the man new to tzitzis realizes he's doing something Jewish.
Only later does it get taken for granted, but by then we hope he's tried more things.
"Kinda like being married" reminds me of the machloqes about why a non-Jew shouldn't observe Shabbos. One likens it to geneivah, but the other idea is that it's too akin to eishes ish! 


  1. I would start with a mitzvah that interests him. You are chatting and you mention a few things: lashon hara, chesed, blessing the children on Friday night, strict honesty in business, tzitzis as a reminder of our general duties. Whatever one grabs his attention. Start with that.

    1. Yes, that does make sense. Do you have any experience in kiruv?This is why the Feinstein approach is surprising.

  2. I assume you are talking about someone who has already started learning and is doing the mitzvah of Talmud Torah in some form or other and wants a mitzvah in addition to that one, otherwise wouldn't that be the best place to start given that "ohr she'bah machziran l'mutav?"

    1. I just don't know. I wonder if limud hatorah is a good beginning. I do know some people that would just learn for the mental stimulation, or for cultural archaeology.

  3. I agree with Yisrael. I don't believe there can be a one size fits all for these kinds of questions. Any attempt to take the particular baal teshuva (and his situation) out of the equation is probably counterproductive.

  4. Hmmm... Kiruv can come in different forms. Sometimes, a person might come to you totally broken and ask for guidance in Judaism. That seems like an easier situation in a lot of ways, because they have already decided to "take on the Ol Malchus Shamayim".

    But when you are "just chatting with somebody", you likely should first befriend them. Then you can, here and there slip in something inspiring, or a fairly simple thing for them to do. That is just my opinion. Don't necessarily take it as answer, because I don't have too much experience.

    Kol Tuv and have a great night!

    1. You know, I wonder if the Feinsteins were referring to a different step in kiruv than we are used to thinking. You're certainly right- someone expresses some interest, you can't hit them over the head and tell them "Shabbos, or go away."

  5. Kiruv is a very deep kind of thing, and not a "one size fits all" thing. Whatever kind of kiruv you do, I wish you only Hatzlacha.