Is Aish HaTorah a Cult?
I read an article online by cult-buster who claims that Aish HaTorah is a cult. I've even heard the term "I've been Aish'd." All the people I've met through Aish seem normal and balanced. How can I be sure that you guys aren’t just some Jewish version of Hare Krishna?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
People tend to label anything as a "cult" that challenges them to rethink their belief system.
But if that’s the case, then for a European Socialist, American democracy is a cult.
Of course that notion is absurd.
So let’s define our terms: What is a cult, and how does Aish HaTorah compare to that?
1) Cults always force you to cut off ties with your family. Ask any parents of Aish HaTorah students and they will tell you that they are recipients of more honor and respect from their children than ever before.
2) Cults indoctrinate you not to think for yourself. The very foundation of Aish HaTorah's philosophy is that a person has to think for themselves and work out rationally the key issues of life. The Torah emphasizes building a rational basis of belief, to engage one's intellect through questioning and debate. It does not endorse leaps of faith, all-or-nothing decisions or disengagement from the world. Jewish life requires both the mind and heart, but the mind must lead the heart. The Discovery Seminar is based on this, as are Rabbi Weinberg's 48 Ways to Wisdom classes.
Aish does not use hard-sell because it believes it has the most powerful "product" in the universe – the Torah. As the Almighty's instructions for living, Torah teaches us how to maximize our pleasure and potential in life. As such, it is the most revolutionary book in history.
Aish helps young Jews see Judaism as a basis to answer the most important questions: How can I live a meaningful life; build successful relationships; deal honestly in business; fulfill my personal potential; really make a difference in the world?
So what does it mean to be Aish'd? It means to become educated. To strengthen one's Jewish pride through knowledge and understanding. To grow Jewishly, one step at a time. To replace apathy with idealism. To defend Israel. To respect every Jew. To take responsibility for the world, using the Torah as our guide, to fulfill the mission of the Jewish people. And most of all, being Aish'd means to love being Jewish.
If Aish is a cult, then it is the same cult practiced by Abraham, Maimonides and our Bubbies in Europe!