Deciphering Off The Derech: Differences Between Kiruv and Chinuch


By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin MA

Director: Jewish Professionals Institute

The Kiruv (“Outreach”) field is known for its informality, while Chinuch (“Education”) is known for its formality. While Kiruv thrives on meetings and discussions in an informal atmosphere, Chinuch is known for its fixed settings of teaching and learning in classrooms and schools.

Kiruv workers search out colleges, communities and any venue that they can reach to find and connect with secular Jews to TRY to Mekarev them to Yiddishkeit. While in Chinuch, parents enroll their children in Yeshivas, Bais Ya’akovs and Day Schools for structured classes taught on grade levels from Kindergarten to High School and then on to post-high school Yeshivas for boys, Seminaries for girls etc.

It’s two different worlds. Kids and students drop out of the structured environments of Chinuch to become “OTD” (Off The Derech) while in Kiruv it is secular Jews who are disconnected from formal Judaism that are drawn into and introduced to the fundamentals of a Jewish and Torah lifestyle.

These are two “educational systems” that are devoted to the same goals, to educate Jews to become better and learned in their Jewish Heritage to become Yirei Shomayim and Shomrei Torah Umitzvos, yet the two movements live and work in different ways.

Each can teach the other a lot, and they do.

Kiruv does not stop with informal encounters. Soon after meeting a Kiruv worker a potential student will be invited to join and participate in a Shiur or workshop. Then for some, they may decide to spend time in a more structured environment in a Yeshiva or Seminary or Program that offers classes and lectures in a more “academic-style” structured environment. This is how Kiruv evolves and merges into more of a Chinuch type scenario. And in fact almost all Kiruv professionals and Kiruv workers are themselves products of formal Yeshivas and Baas Ya’akovs, so they know how to become formal Kiruv teachers and lecturers when that is required of them.

But at its core the field of Kiruv remains informal, very flexible and adaptable to the needs of the students, relying on word of mouth, serendipity or chance meeting that are of course Hashogacha Pratis, and on the personal interests of students who attend Kiruv classes and programs VOLUNTARILY since no one is forcing anyone to do anything at any time.

So here is the big question: What does and can the formal field of Chinuch with its formal structures and set classes learn from the educationally related informal field of Kiruv?

This question takes on great importance as Roshei Yeshiva, Menahalim, Rebbeim, Morahs and Community Leaders are now faced with preventing those kids and students who are slipping in their Yiddishkeit, from going all the way “Off The Derech” as is in fact happening.

Yes, ALL Rebbeim and Morahs in Yeshivas, Baas Ya’akovs and Day Schools, know, or should know that in addition to just formally teaching their students they must also be warm and friendly to them, to not just teach them but to also MEKAREV them, to know that they too must be like “Kiruv workers” to show love and compassion, and dare one say it, spontaneity and informality, be human and humane, and always practice Ahavas Yisroel towards their young students.

As a famous writer once put it, he has nothing against teaching as long as it does not interfere with learning, and in our case in formal Yeshivas and Bais Ya’akovs and Day Schools, Chinuch learning from Kiruv, should draw students CLOSER LeAvihem SheBashamayim and not Chas Vesholom push them in the opposite direction that leads to the sad end that is the Off The Derech phenomenon.

To be continued…



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