Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Doing Outreach Right

Hirhurim has a great post up about Dr. Jonathan Sarna's new book, A Time to Every Purpose, and it sounds brilliant in its simplicity. In Gil's words:
The brilliant part is that the book does not proselytize. Yes, an outreach book that doesn't proselytize! At first I found it jarring, maybe even offensive. But then I realized that, as a college professor, he is around young people all the time and he really gets it. He understands what young people today are all about. The entire book consists not of him telling readers what to think, but of him putting the onus on the reader -- study more and make your own decisions. He never tells any of them that they should become Orthodox, although he does recommend becoming more observant so that you understand Jewish life better. He even claims that he doesn't want to be called Orthodox himself.

He recognizes that his readers will likely reject authority automatically so instead he encourages people to learn more and reach their own conclusions. What's the worst that can happen? They'll become more knowledgeable, but not Orthodox, Jews? That's pretty much a success story, given his audience. And it is likely that those who study more will realize that they need to become part of the Orthodox community because that is where they will find large groups of knowledgeable, observant Jews.

This also helps him tackle some of the difficult theological issues without actually addressing them. He simply says, "Some say this and some say that. Study it yourself and make your own decision." It's brilliant. It pushes off the difficult issues until people are more familiar with the basics and are already sufficiently committed to Judaism to retain a Jewish identity.