30 April 2012

AISH - Don't get burned!

8 Iyyar 5772
Day 23 of the Omer
Disturbing news about Aish HaTorah continues to come to light.

Today, Rabbi Lazer Brody reported the following via his Lazer Beams Blog:

I received an email from Chaim Michel (pen name, to protect his privacy for obvious reasons), calling my attention to his article, "What Husbands Need to Know" on Aish.com, where he attributes saving his virtually hopeless marriage to "The Garden of Peace" by our beloved rabbi and spiritual guide Rav Shalom Arush shlit"a. Chaim was quite upset that the Aish editors toned down his praise for Rav Arush and the book as well as removed some of his most important points, such as the necessity to guard one's eyes and maintain personal holiness to assure marital bliss. When he confronted them about it, they purportedly told him, "those parts are not for our readers." [emphasis mine]

Last December, I wrote to them to point out that their featured Hanukah video actually promoted Hellenism and this was their response, in part:

The strategy behind Chanukah: Rock of Ages is to reach totally unaffiliated, disconnected Jews who have no interest in Judaism. An entertaining, viral film that gets enormous traffic and exposure in mainstream media (the Chanukah film was just featured on The Today Show) gets people to visit Aish.com, where we have treasure trove of articles and films that explore the deeper Torah-based meaning of Chanukah and Judaism.

The idea seems to be to hide the fact that Torah makes demands on us. I don't think you can apply marketing techniques to Torah. This reminds me of the old bait and switch tactic - lure them in with some feel-good video and then hope the real Truth will grab and hold them.

They cite numbers and percentages as proof that their methods achieve success:

...Aish.com has an impressive track record in outreach. Our recent user's survey showed that over 80% of non-frum Jews told us that Aish.com has given them a better understanding of Judaism and has increased their sense of Jewish pride. 59% said they have increased their Jewish observance. Our last two viral films garnered just under 10,000 new email subscribers. That is an enormous success."
But the Torah teaches us that quality is superior to quantity. If Aish believes, as has been hinted, that the ends justify the means and that they measure their success by the numbers of subscribers to their email list, is anything off-limits?

Pastor Hagee on the Roof (of Aish haTorah) - Update

...Jewish Israel contacted the administration of the Aish HaTorah World Center at the Kotel and asked if they were aware that Pastor Hagee had visited their center and was filmed proclaiming the gospel from their roof. Shira Plotkin, Private Events Coordinator, spoke with me and confirmed that Hagee had indeed been at Aish. Jewish Israel remained on the phone as Ms. Plotkin and Mordechai David, Director of Operations for the Aish World Center, viewed the video. This writer was asked to give Aish some time to formulate a response before releasing a report.

About an hour after the initial phone conversation, Jewish Israel was called by Yossi Lapko, who introduced himself as the personal assistant to Rabbi Yehuda Weinberg, the COO of Aish Jerusalem. Mr. Lapko told Jewish Israelthat Aish can't take responsibility for what is said or done on their rooftop and that they have no control over tourists or guests. Lapko confirmed that he is fully aware of the fact that Hagee is a celebrated mega pastor and that he was aware of Hagee's visit to Aish last week. However, Mr. Lapko claims it was not a pre-planned visit with a film crew or entourage. Lapko reiterated that the Aish building is frequented by many visitors.

Mr. Lapko did feel that the content of the video was terrible and he said he would have stopped it had he known what was being said, but he clearly wanted to underplay the incident - referring to it as, "like spilt milk". Jewish Israelwas also told that Aish has no plans to change their visitation policy at this time or to caution guests to respect the nature and location of their site. Lapko also seemed opposed to having any type of supervision on the roof.
[emphasis mine]

One has to wonder if Aish has accepted donations from Hagee as have so many others. And if so, if the acceptance of "donations" might play a bigger role in directing decisions at Aish.

Could this perceived willingness to bend the rules for what some might see as the greater good be behind one very questionable "rabbi's" recent advice to an equally questionable conversion candidate? Having already been rejected by the most outstanding conversion schools, she was coached to approach Aish with instructions to emphasize to them that the family has money and might be convinced to endow Aish with some of it, ostensibly in gratitude for their assistance.

Once one steps onto that very slippery slope called compromise, no matter how worthy the cause, one can never be entirely sure of where one will end up.


  1. A friend of mine attending an Aish shul/synagogue in London was asked not to sit too near the entrance; his bearded image may put people off!

  2. I used to visit the local Aish branch where I am outside of Israel, still visit now and again. It’s a shame that Aish appears to have become compromised with news of the recent farces.

    Though I have my own disagreements with Aish, one cannot really expect groups like Aish to make demands on young Jews with little or limited connection with Judaism (a connection that is not always positive) as you have to allow them to develop an appreciation beforehand, I myself have seen many a disconnected Jew become more traditional / religious via groups like Aish, with many marrying Jewish / making Aliya or looking to marry Jewish / make Aliya, which is better then condemning them due to their life circumstances.

    Think about it this way, there are many Jews that either come from secular (or even intermarried) backgrounds, dysfunctional or divorced families (with quite a few young Jews immediately associating Judaism / Torah with their less-then-exemplary parents), bending the rules in order to bring young Jews back to Judaism or in some case show them that their bad parents are exceptions rather than the norm (that have nothing to do with Judaism) is a good thing.

    Expecting anything else or taking an all or nothing approach in Jewish Outreach is simply not realistic and demonstrates just how out of touch generation X is with generation Y (my generation).

    One of main reasons why Jewish Outreach exists (which could be a sign that the Geulah is close), is because both parents and educators of Judaism nowadays are simply bad teachers or bad examples that leave a negative impression that many young Jews find difficult to get rid of hence the nuanced approach by some groups to Jewish Outreach.

  3. BS"D

    Shalom and thanks for the inspiration! Aish, along with other organizations does great work!...but we can all use this opportunity to learn a thing or two and strengthen the vision of what Yiddishkeit is (and what it's not) and what Torah is. This comment isn't so much directed at Aish as it is to all of us trying to do the best we can in being inspired and inspiring others. The following is from Chabad.org about bringing other people closer...

    Some excerpts (for full writing: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/97529/jewish/Lech-Lecha-Bringing-and-Being-Brought-Closer.htm)

    One of the mishnayos in Pirkei Avos speaks about one of the greatest “mekarevers” — Aharon the Kohen Gadol: “Be one of the disciples of Aharon… love creatures (habriyos) and bring them close (mekarvan) to Torah.”
    The second half of the mishnah states, “and bring them close (mekarvan) to Torah.” The Rebbe says that one has to be very careful about the meaning of this statement: Bring the people to the Torah , but not the Torah to the people. ....(i encourage you to go to main article for more context)
    In the time of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, in the 1930s-40s, the Reform and Conservative movements really made tremendous inroads into Judaism, not only in America but also in Europe. The Previous Rebbe was unlike the Rebbe in that he traveled quite a lot. The Rebbe doesn’t travel; everybody comes to him. But the Previous Rebbe did travel. He was once a participant in a meeting to discuss the plight of youth. It’s not just today that people are worried about the younger generation; they were worried many years ago. At that meeting one of the speakers said, “Yiddishkeit is disappearing. It really looks as if by the next generation there won’t be anybody left.” That’s the way it seemed to people who lived at that time — that there was no future for traditional Judaism. The speaker continued, “We cannot raise the level of observance of the next generation. They’re just not interested. The young people do not want to live a totally Jewish life. So the only hope we have is to sort of modify Yiddishkeit, make it a little more appealing for the youngsters and then at least they’ll keep something, rather than not keep anything. The way we’re presenting it, being strict,” he said, “they won’t have any part of it.”

    The person speaking used an analogy to back up his point. “When a building is on fire, it doesn’t matter whether you use clean water or if it’s water that you’ve used to wash the floors…; as long as it’s water it will put out the fire. Right now, Yiddishkeit is on fire. We’ve got to extinguish the fire, so it doesn’t matter how we do it — as long as we achieve our goal.”

    The Previous Rebbe then spoke up and said, “But what if the fluid you’re throwing on it is kerosene? That won’t put out the fire, it’ll make the fire much bigger. What you are trying to do is not only going to not solve the problem, it’s going to make the problem so much bigger.”

    The Previous Rebbe was famous for being like Aharon — bringing people to the Torah. He didn’t budge. He had a lot of faith that people could and would get higher, that it’s wrong to say that a person’s on such-and-such a level and there’s no hope for him. He had tremendous faith that people would return to their faith. Baruch HaShem, today we’re seeing the result, when children are bringing their parents back.

    A number of women whom I taught told me that when they went to the mikveh just before their wedding day, they asked their mothers to go with them too, because their mothers had never gone to the mikveh. These girls were bringing their mothers back to what their grandmothers had done in Europe. And we see the pattern very often where the youth are more strict than the parents. As the Previous Rebbe taught, when we bring the people to Torah, not only do they come themselves, they even bring others.