The Halachic Status of the Project ReJewvenation Program

by Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro


Rabbis Yisroel Grossman, Moshe Shterenbuch, Shabse Wigder, and Ephraim Greenblatt

Regarding the mitzvah of kiruv rechokim as it pertains to Jewish youths who grew up in religious homes but for various reasons left the Torah way of life. Usually victims of abusive, dysfunctional, or broken homes, these children have taken to the streets where they encounter overwhelming trials and temptations. The future of kids on the street is bleak, to say the least. In my opinion, the halachah is clear that the return of these youths takes precedence over those unfortunate tinokos shenishbu who spent all their lives in non-religious homes. Briefly:

1) To be sure, saving a tinok shenishbah from an eternity without schar is a great Mitzvah, but saving those who are responsible for their actions because they know of Torah is even greater. Since they are responsible for their actions, the eternal fate they are being saved from is much more severe. Saving someone from a more severe situation takes precedence over saving someone from a less severe one.

2) Each one of these youths poses a threat to the spiritual safety of their friends and acquaintances, upon whom they exert a negative influence . Most of these wayward youths were, in fact, influenced by others to leave home and adopt their non-Torah lifestyle. Public school children exert no such influence on our youths. Thus, every one of these youths poses a threat not only to himself, but to others as well. The return of one of them marks the elimination of a public mikshal.

3) There is no type of home that is immune to the danger of runaway children, hashem yishmereinu. This calamity has struck at even the very best of households. Therefore, the mustering of forces to combat this sort of tragedy must be perceived not only as an assistance to the youths themselves, but an assistance to each and every one of us. We are protecting ourselves by creating facilities and services for the prevention and return of wayward Jewish youths. This element of Mitzvah does not exist in the usual types of kiruv.

4) An additional consideration has been suggested by R. Moshe Sterenbuch and R. Shabse Wigder shlita. Each one of these lost children is the cause of a heartbroken, shattered family. Bringing these youths back is a great chesed not only for the youths themselves, but also for the entire family. This element of Mitzvah, too, is not found in the usual types of kiruv.

"I have received your letter. 'The inguiry of the wise' in this case is not only 'half an answer,' but a complete responsum, founded and formulated according to Halachah (Das shel Torah). May Hashem be with you . . ."
Rabbi Yisroel Grossman, Dayan in Jerusalem
Author, Shiurei Gitin, Responsa Netzach Yisroel

"If the family [with the wayward child] is religious, then there is a great kindness and tzedakah and chesed to the parents and the family to return the children to their home. And although there is a great kindness done to the ancestor of the tinok shenishbah, [still], to mollify parents or a family that are still alive is an [additional] tzedakah."
Rabbi Moshe Sterenbuch

"In my opinion, there is no reason to give the kiruv of tinokos shenishbu precedence over those who left their [Torah] path; on the contrary, one should give precedence to those who grew up religious, either because of the reason stated in your letter . . . or because these [children] destroy their families, and thus it is considered hatzalas harabim because of the families themselves . . . Therefore, my conclusion is that the Halachah is as you say . . . it is universally agreed (by all poskim), without any disagreement, that one should give precedence to those who grew up on the proper path . . ."
Rabbi Shabse Wigder
Author, Likutei Halachos

"I concur . . . that one must give precedence to those youths who strayed from the proper path, over those who were never religious . . ."
Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt
Author, Tehsuvos Rivevos Ephraim