Did I Join A Cult And Not Even Know It? II

When I asked Chaim Amalek, he said: "You joined a cult years ago and didn’t even know it."

So I’m in shul Friday night piously studying the week’s Torah portion in the Artscroll Stone Chumash and found this culty commentary on verse three about offering an unblemished male cow as an elevation offering, something I do every Tuesday: "The completely healthy state of an offering symbolizes that when a Jew seeks to come closer to God, he should do so with all of his faculties, with nothing omitted, nothing missing. In exchange the Torah promises a life in which even pain and death lose their sting (R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch)."

That last sentence got to me and I asked four religious Jews around me if they agreed with it. Does leading a Torah life cause pain and death to lose their sting? They all agreed it did.

I think that’s nuts.

It’s just the sort of stuff that I hated about Christianity. "Jesus Christ provided victory over death, blah blah blah."

I asked one bloke if I punched him right then, would he not feel pain? "No," he said. "[My mate and] I had three shots of vodka before I came here."

Bloody Hell!

Here’s a little more Artscroll commentary on verse three: "No one can be coerced to bring an offering. If someone is required to bring one but refuses to do so, the court may coerce him until he expresses his willingness. Rambam explains the seemingly incongruous  course of action that someone can be "coerced" to be "willing." The Jewish soul always wants to do the right thing, but external influences and temptations cloud a person’s judgment. The coercion applied by the court merely counters those external influences and allows the esential goodness of the soul to come through."

That sounds like culty Orwellian double-talk to me.

Here’s a RickRoss.com collection of articles about culty forms of Orthodox Judaism.

Is Aish Ha Torah and Ohr Somayach a cult?

I hold Rick Ross and Aish Ha Torah in high regard so I have no dog in this fight.

Rick Ross writes:

Both Aish and Ohr have generated serious and repeated complaints from Jewish families including Orthodox Jewish families. Based upon those complaints and statements made by those influenced by Aish and Ohr, much like the above quoted member of this board, I would not recommend Aish or Ohr to anyone under any circumstnces.

Aish uses "Shabbat" as something like a lure to get unwary Jews to "experience" what they want and then draw them deeper into their layered programs.

The ultimate goal of Aish and Ohr is to bring Reform and Conservative Jews out of their respective denominations and into their version of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. And though this recruitiment goal is usually not realized it nevertheless reflects thier intention.

Aish and Ohr will insist, much like other fundamentalists, that their version of Judaism isn’t a version at all, but rather "true Torah Judaism."

Aish/Ohr has repeatedly been accused of "brainwashing" American Jewish tourists in Isreel. These are typically young people, that started out on vacation and were instead sucked into Aish/Ohr. These recruits then often gave up school, work, previously set goals and relationships to study at times for years with Aish/Ohr and stayed in Israel.

Recruiting was often done at the Western Wall and began with a simple invitation to a dinner or "Shabbat."

Families should be aware of all this before sending their kids to Israel for any programs or vacations.

Some of the most hateful and nasty emails I have ever received from any group mentioned on the Ross Institute database have been from Aish and Ohr participants, which have denounced other Jews (e.g. Reform and Conservative) and have expressed often extreme, bigoted and even violent sentiments.

RICHARD M. GREEN WRITES: I spent a few Sabbaths at Aish and they are very slick. The food is good, the facilities including the dorms are basically well-maintained but I can tell you it’s a numbers game.

You were quite correct to tell me that the kiruv organizations are essentially flops. It’s true.
On one video that I had of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Shlomo said that “If they get 100 people to listen to an outreach worker and 2 remain Jewish, the kiruv organizations consider it a success.”
Shlomo went on the decry “professional outreach.” He said, “Have you ever heard of someone being called a professional husband, wife or parent?” Shlomo claimed that if you do outreach you have to do it with all your heart and your heart has to ache for every Jew who doesn’t keep Shabbos.
Shlomo hated the term outreach – he used the term in-reach – and he also didn’t like the term Baal Teshuva. His reasoning was as follows. Shlomo claimed that all he wanted to do was to put people in touch with their innermost being.
When I was at Moshav Modi’in and when I was involved with Shlomo he never pushed me around. Other people on the Moshav did annoy me. Shlomo used to call me “Reuven the Holy Weightlifter”.
One person came up to me and said, “You don’t want to help us, do you?” when I couldn’t handle coming to yet another Shabbat service and I was lying in my room, dead tired from exhaustion as per going to a shul 4 times a day on the Sabbath. I felt that I was dealing with an idiot.
As I mentioned the term Baal Teshuva also rubbed him wrong. He said it seemed to promote the idea that people were doing something wrong and that now they were repentant and trying to turn their lives around. Shlomo claimed that all he was trying to do was put people in touch with their innermost being to bring out the divine spark (the so-called pintel yid) in every Jewish soul.
I confronted him once and he told me that he just does his thing and he hoped that people would follow him. He never laid any kind of trip on me at all.
You have to understand something about Shlomo – he was an extremely successful composer and he made a lot of money at it. Money, which he gave most of away. He really didn’t need to become the hippie rabbi or be an itinerant preacher. A lot of people had a hard time with him because he told all those really wild Chasidic tales and he was very spacey. It was difficult being associated with him because of his deviation from the normal way of orthodox life and thought.
The orthodox Jewish establishment treated Shlomo very well in his youth and as soon as his considerable intellectual gifts became apparent early on in his life and studies he was taken up by the crème de la crème of the yeshiva world. My take on him was that he wanted to share the love and respect that was shown to him with the rest of the world.
He got into Lakewood Yeshiva at the age of 15, he was a ben bayit (he was living with an upscale Jewish family who hosted him while he was at Lakewood) and he was groomed by some of the very best teachers the orthodoxy had.
Shlomo always maintained that the people who came back to the orthodoxy were the heroes, not him. He said he was “born to greatness”. It is claimed that he was descended from King David and he was taken care of at birth by extraordinary leaders. He wanted to share that with others.
I never saw anything insidious about what he was trying to do and although my father had issues with him and my Carlebach/Chabad connection, I found a hero and friend in him.

RICK ROSS WRITES: Yes my work began within the Jewish community regarding unethical prosyletizing targeting Jews.

I once worked for Jewish Family and Children’s Service and also the Bureau of Jewish Education in Phoenix, Arizona.

During the 1980s I served on national committees for the Reform Movment of Judaism, which is the largest Jewish denomination in the United States, officially called the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC).

Unethical proselytizing is wrong, whether its done by Christians, Jews, or anyone.

Missionaries should approach people openly and honestly, admitting their agenda from the beginning.


In May of 1994 my 21 year old son graduated from a prestigious business school. In September of 1994 he started Law School at our state university, finishing his first year in May of 1995 on the Dean’s List. The first year of law school was very demanding and I encouraged him to take a trip during the summer. He chose to go to Israel, and decided to help pay his way by working in an army program for several weeks and to spend the rest of the time touring Israel and the surrounding countries.

Our religious background is Conservative and Reform Judaism. My son attended religious school, was Bar Mitzvah and then confirmed at the end of the tenth grade. I was enthusiastic about his trip to Israel–where it seemed things he had learned about his heritage would come alive.

While he was in Israel he was approached at the Western Wall by a man named Jeff Seidel–who asked him if he would like to have a "Shabbat (Sabbath) experience" with a Jewish family? My son trustingly said yes and was pulled into an experience that I believe included psychological techniques akin to "brainwashing"–designed to ultimately encourage him to leave his family and choose an isolated lifestyle within a closed community in Israel as an ultra-Orthodox Jew.

Jeff Seidel introduced my son to an organization named "Aish HaTorah", whose mission seems to include influencing Reform and Conservative Jewish young people to become ultra-Orthodox. This organization often targets Jewish youth traveling without their parents in Israel. They slowly lure them step-by-step into a radically different lifestyle–they (e.g. Mr. Seidel) never really fully disclosed the actual intent of their ultimate mission.

"Aish" [Ha Torah] begins by having lessons, which are attended by both young men and women to discuss general topics about Judaism. These initial topics discuss the happiness of being one of "God’s Chosen People" and are not controversial. The young person is often paired with another who has already been indoctrinated and that person may be instructed to become friends with the newcomer. The discussions gradually separate the men from the women–after these friendships have been developed the more serious indoctrination into the concept of "The True Torah" begins. Young people are often encouraged to change their way of dress to conform to their new "friends"–although they are told they do not have to change their dress "until they are ready". The clear implication is that–they will eventually be "ready".

At the end of the summer, my son called and said he did not want to return to law school–a goal he had set for himself and discussed for many years, but instead he now wanted to stay a while in Israel to "study Judaism". I did everything I could to get him to return home, but he was being told by Aish’s rabbis–"God" was more important to his future than his parents. By the time I could get to Israel, during December of 1995, I found my son dressed in a long black coat and hat, with a long beard–who could only talk about one topic–"THE TORAH". I could not convince him to return home.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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