Why Seminary Still Makes Sense

In a recent piece on Matzav.com, Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin discusses “Sending Girls to Seminaries and the Shidduch Crisis” and asks: “who are the American boys supposed to marry at 21 if all the good American 18, 19 and 20-year-old girls are away at seminary in Israel?” He writes that he will be glad to be “shlugged up,” and I will endeavor to do so. Besides belittling the Israel seminary experience for girls, in my opinion the writer appears not to understand why the Gedolim now encourage boys to begin dating at a younger age, and as a result is essentially advising girls to make the problem worse rather than better.

The writer dismisses the Israel seminary experience as a “dizzying” environment with “dreams of travel, touring, having fun, inspired lectures about all sorts of subjects, etc.” One could, of course, say similar things about yeshivos in Israel, but we obviously do not.

Rather, we point out that yishuv Eretz Yisrael, living in the Land of Israel (even for a limited time), is a great Mitzvah, that every 4 amos walked in Israel is a Mitzvah, and that avir E”Y machkim — that the very air of the land makes one wise. And, of course, spending time in Israel before marriage is conducive to the decision to return after marriage, which, as American Gedolim will be the first to say, often leads a young Kollel yungerman to greater growth in Torah.

Which of the above is not applicable to women? On the contrary, the growth in both Torah knowledge and Yiras Shamayim of most girls after a year in seminary is apparent to all. It generally has a great impact on the type of house she wishes to build and the life she wishes to lead.

In order for young couples to choose to live in Eretz Yisrael after marriage, it is the wife’s previous time there that is arguably more critical. Gedolim routinely advise young couples to find a community where the wife will be happy, so far better for her to start off without fearing Eretz Yisrael as a great unknown.

Even without all of the above, seminary in Israel is also likely to be the first time in an observant young woman’s life that she finds herself dealing with daily situations and minor crises when she cannot call her parents for help, not unless she wants to wake them at four in the morning US time — or take an intercontinental round-trip flight for a hug and her mother’s chicken soup. Can the author honestly ask how spending a full nine months living thousands of miles from mommy helps to prepare a young woman for the “hard job of marriage, running a household, often with a full-time job to cope with, as well as motherhood and child-rearing?”

And, as I said, ultimately the author’s advice could hardly be more counterproductive. He claims that girls are in seminary “to age 20 or 21” (which incorrectly presumes that they are not usually dating by the age of 19) and suggests that younger boys need to marry yet younger girls.

That is the precise opposite of what the Gedolim are doing to solve the crisis, which is caused by our community growing at an incredible rate ka”h while boys marry significantly later than girls. As the enclosed chart demonstrates, in Lakewood alone the number of annual births grew from 2800 in 2004 to 3450 in 2008, and then to 3960 in 2012. This means an increase of roughly 5% per year. Thus if 19-year-old girls continue to typically marry 23-year-old boys, then simply b’derech hateva — according to the rules of nature — hundreds of girls will be unable to find spouses each and every year, just in Lakewood alone. This same growth, this same disparity between the number of 19-year-olds vs. 23-year-olds, is found in every Torah community.

The reason that Chasidim do not have this problem, and why Litvishe girls in E”Y (Israel) do not have this problem (at least, to not nearly the same extent), is because boys marry girls their own age. It has nothing whatsoever to do with “travels to far-off yeshivos or seminaries,” but only how long boys vs. girls wait to start dating. And given the choice between telling girls to wait until 23 and telling boys to start earlier, the Gedolim endorsed the latter option. One way or the other, telling girls to maintain the age gap by marrying even earlier is nothing but a recipe for disaster.

For all of these reasons, I sincerely hope readers will follow the approach advised by our Gedolim. Girls should continue to go to seminary, and on the contrary should delay entering Shidduchim if they want a 23-year-old boy. It is the boys who should date earlier and welcome shidduchim with girls their age and older. That, along with a lot of Tefillos, are the ways to solve this crisis.

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29 Responses

  1. Robert says:

    A help for both the shidduch crisis and for the income/tuition crisis might be anathema to many in the US yeshivish world but could include putting the girls “in the freezer” for a few years by having them pursue professional degrees. This would make them older when they are ready to marry, and they would be able to earn more to better support a family in which the husband wants to learn full-time, making these young women more attractive than a woman of the same age who lacks such professional income prospects. Will a few more years “off the market” hinder their child bearing abilities too much? I would suspect not, but those afraid of exposing those young women to the very same secular world that Hashem made might disagree with me.

    • Eli Blum says:

      Absolutely, but no girl is willing to be first. Also, if you take away the need for the girls to push harder than the next girl to get considered, you also take away the incentives those girls’ parents feel obligated to offer in order to get their daughters considered.

      The current system has its pros and cons.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    I thought that the author’s premise was also quite flawed-many young women ( and men) first realize the depth of Torah and Mitzvos during their years in seminary, Beis Medrash in one of the Charedi yeshivos or in gap year programs, as well as a greater appreciation of EY as a Torah reality, as opposed to a source of obscure and different Halachos, Minhagim and great Gdolei Torah. , and concomitantly are far from being sociologically and psychologically ready to assume the role of Rachel Bas Kalba Savua, to paraphrase the words of R Pesach Krohn.

    The article also presumes that marriage at a young age is per se preferable,an idea that cannot be sustained with a divorce rate that can only be ignored by closing one’s eyes.  There is no mitzvah or midas chasidus to either be the first person married or divorced in one’s post seminary and Beis Medrash chevra.

    I think that drawing an analogy between the American yeshiva world  and the Chasidishe communities where the entire process of a shidduch from the initial meeting between the young man and woman is a make or break proposition as opposed to the equally problematic “three strikes and you are not shayach” style of shidduch dating ignores the substantial sociological differences between the communities, and offers little, if any insight to BTs whose children are exposed to some of the less savory considerations and values of the FFB world during what can be a trying process for parents and their children. ( I should also note that if you read the author’s linked history thesis, you would be hard pressed to find any discussion of the roles of RYBS, RIETS, the OU or NCSY in what is clearly a description of   the impact of the yeshiva world on American Jewry and the development of the Torah observant world in North America .)

  3. sberman says:

    though without doubt many girls benefit from a year in seminary there are many reasons not to send your daughter. Many will get their first boyfriends in Israel (and based upon my experience this applies to schools across the spectrum). The cost is obscene, at least 30k. I applaud those girls who show their struggling parents the decency of not forcing them to take out a mortgage for a year in Israel.

    the stated belief that a year in Israel prepares a girl for marriage is dubious. The only crisis most will face is where to eat out for dinner. In addition , since the seminary tract in yeshivish circles pushes for kollel. earning a degree that can help a husband learn is much better preparation.

    i lament that a year in Israel has become a necessity and that those that choose not to go are looked down on when it comes to shidduchim.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    I thought that the author’s responses to many of the comments added very little to the discussion, and basically indulged in urban myths and stereotypes , especially about “MO, RZ and BA” who he lumped together for reasons best known to the author, without regard to the well documented many subsets ( just look at the YU Connects website)  within the above three labels of convenience.

  5. GG says:

    I don’t know Rabbi Rudiman, but had assumed his article was a bit tongue in cheeck. Meaning assuming the given system we should do the following . I wasn’t sure he was actually advocating this as a real solution .

  6. Alexandra Fleksher says:

    Rabbi Menken,

    As you are aware, this article has not been without controversy. Most of the outrage has not been related to the writer’s ponderings about the age gap or even his dismissal of seminary as a formative experience, but rather his concerning attitude towards young girls as fruit for the picking. To suggest that there is a qualitative difference between the desirability of a girl right out of high school and a young women of the ripe age of 20 is contradictory to our Torah values, and quite frankly, disturbing. As if our dear bais yaakov girls should be told this truth while they are still in high school of what it really is that their prospective suitors (who are, of course, sitting and learning our holy Torah) want! A fresh piece of produce who hasn’t yet whithered on the vine! Because apparently that is what happens to a woman of 20. It is absurd, and in fact, degrading to both our frum young men and women. Rabbi Menken, or other Cross Currents writers, please stand up for this blatant disrespect for the Jewish woman — and our future wives, mothers, and builders of Klal Yisroel.

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      I have a daughter studying in Ma’alot now, meaning she is freshly back from Seminary. She told me that her online post-seminary group was abuzz with talk of having withered already, and that the group responded very positively to my article. In theory one could write a book about what was wrong with the article, but I said my piece.

      • Alexandra Fleksher says:

        Rabbi Menken,

        I was so happy to read your rebuttal, just disappointed that you did not address the author’s tone and attitude towards women and physical attraction. And how sad that girls straight out of seminary are feeling “withered”! This attitude is clearly coming from somewhere. No reason to feel like a raisin in the sun. These girls are at their prime…for their opportunities at independent self actualization. They should get the message to embrace it, focus on their own development, and do their hishtadlus to to find their bashert. If a boy finds a girl unattractive or post-prime at 21, then he should get some help. Our girls deserve better.

      • sb says:

        Living in Flatbush and hearing numerous firsthand stories of “shidduch circles ” I have come to the conclusion that mothers are a huge part of the problem. one meeting my neighbor went to is illustrative. Every mother went on about how her son needs “the best and prettiest “. IMO , if a girl feels “withered” the angst is female driven, since most guys will go out with whomever their mother advises.

        The guys I knew in yeshiva actually preferred (and married) girls closer to their age 21+. I don’t think I had a friend who married anyone under that age. We all recognized the immaturity and post seminary brainwashing, and tried our best to avoid it.

        Personally, I think the way to end the shidduch crises is to put fathers in charge of shidduchim. After all the obligation is on the father to marry off his kids.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Any boy who “finds a girl unattractive or post-prime at 21,” not only needs serious help, but is demonstrating that he has bought the secular world’s view of women hook, line and sinker.

      • Alexandra Fleksher says:

        Steve Brizel,

        I think frum society has its own laws and definitions of attraction. I actually don’t blame Hollywood for this one. In fact, there are plenty of movies with the theme of younger men being attracted to older women (I have only heard of such things. But it proves the point. Even if it’s not the norm, it is completely possible.)

        Nonetheless, I blame Hollywood for our body image issues, but even that, frum society seems to have taken that to its own extreme. Requesting dress size, not getting dates due to dress size…we all need a healthy dose of normalcy. Look around at young couples in the secular world. It’s fascinating to see that not all of them have bought into Hollywood’s skinny ideal…and they still have dates! We have bought into the frum ideal of doing whatever humanly possible to become as marketable as possible. That’s OUR problem.

      • southern belle says:

        I believe this proves the point that the commodification of young women is damaging and dangerous.  Who among us in our fourth decade or better can look at a twenty-one year old young woman as withered on the vine?  Language to that effect undermines the strength, dignity, and purity we are trying to instill in our daughters.  It should not go unaddressed.

  7. Joe Hill says:

    Rabbi Menken, I believe it is counterproductive and wrong to advise young women to “delay entering Shidduchim”. Considering that the reality is that there aren’t sufficient young men to marry every young women (due to the age gap), it is beneficial for any young woman to enter shidduchim as early as feasible for her, in order to increase the opportunities she’ll have to find a shidduch rather than be one of the unfortunates who will remain unmarried with all the eligible bachelors for her already married.

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      I agree with you. I also think it is very shortsighted for her to expect to date someone four years older than she is.

    • Robert Lebovits says:

      Is it your contention  that there is no difference in maturity and preparedness for marriage with age – for both young women and men? Do you believe 18 and 19 year-old girls and 21/ 22 year-old boys  have the same appreciation and fitness for spending a life together with a spouse as their older cohorts?

      We don’t just have a shidduch crisis – we also have a breakup and divorce crisis. Speak to the mental health professionals in our community and they will tell you about the very disturbing growing number of young couples who present with major marital issues – to a considerable degree – owing to immaturity, underdeveloped menschlichkeit, dependency, and gross distortions as to what marriage requires in the way of work and sacrifice.

      Getting married is relatively easy. Staying married is the real challenge. Younger couples today are less equipped with the skills they need to do so. And of course the true korbonos are the children who face a life without an intact family. In the frum world this is like coming up to bat with two strikes before you even take a swing.

      Early dating and marriage for today’s bochur or seminary girl does not guarantee “happy ever after” even when the shidduch is found.


  8. Bob Miller says:

    There has to be a cost-benefit analysis here.   Families who can’t afford overseas seminary, because of the tuition (less scholarships, but including room and board) per daughter or their number of daughters, need spiritually healthy domestic alternatives.  Those who could afford it in principle need to look at the pros and cons in their own specific cases, and not be swayed by the “Joneses.”  One size does not fit all, as I’m sure the Gedolim know well.   If the families of an eligible bochur won’t accept a shidduch because some specific ticket wasn’t punched, they need to look deeper and reconsider.

  9. Eli Blum says:

    “Which of the above is not applicable to women? On the contrary, the growth in both Torah knowledge and Yiras Shamayim of most girls after a year in seminary is apparent to all. It generally has a great impact on the type of house she wishes to build and the life she wishes to lead.”

    An assumption that may or may not have a basis in fact. Especially in the current shidduch situation, a girl who wants to marry Kollel may very well be better off pocketing the 30K+ that it costs to go to Seminary in Eretz Yisroel and use the money to offer additional support to a guy who otherwise has no source or idea how to support a family, and needs that support to get married.


  10. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that if one reads the reactions of the author to more than a few of his comments, he has a studied lack of tolerance for anyone who he lumps together as “MO, RZ and BA”. Like it or not, the issues of dating and shidduchim are quite personal and require different strategies within the same family depending on the make up of each child. There simply is no universally valid strategy or SA for all families-even within the same strain of hashkafa,Asking individuals who don’t fit into the same emotional pod to do so is asking for emotional and marital disaster-especially if there is no time during the dating experience for a young couple in the limited dating time span to get an intelligent answer as to whether the young man and woman are emotionally compatible- an issue that goes far beyond whether they share the same hashkafa.

    Two of the best sources of info as to the angst that is involved in shidduchim in today’s yeshiva world are the letters to the editor and the Shidduch Roundtable in every week’s edition of Yated Neeman. The local weekly free newspapers also have columns about dating issues, but the sources in the Yated are ripe with evidence as to the depth of the issue.

    I remain convinced that the wholesale reliance on a resume, cannot serve as  a substitute for a simple answer whether the young man or woman is a Baal or Baalas Midos. While separation of the genders is a worthwhile educational policy, the fact remains that a local rav or rebbitzen who knows a young man and woman and/or  the atmosphere of a Shabbos table even without the formalized and routinized coordination of a Shadchan can lead to wonderful shidduchim and marriages.


    One other factor that I think that both genders can rethink is as folllows-let’s assume that a young man and woman went out for a few dates and everything clicked emotionally except for one issue-let’s assume emotional maturity and readiness to commit to marriage and its responsibilities. I think that if the couple broke up, went out with others where there was far less emotional compatibility and then the young man asked the young woman if they could go out again-that IMO can prove to be a way of a shidduch taking effect in a wonderful way. If thinking outside the box is a key to avoiding the unfortunately obsessive and meaningless questions of shidduch dating, then a young couple have the right and obligation to do so as well, if they want to be viewed as adults within the Torah observant community.


  11. DF says:

    Leave aside the style of his article. At the end of the day, R. Rudomin makes a simple point: If you want men to marry at 21, there must be an adequate supply of 19 year old women to date. The thrust of this article was predicated on this truism,  that, exceptions aside,  cuts across all ages, races and religions: men marry women younger than them. Arguing with that bit of DNA hardwiring  is like arguing with the color of your hair.

    There is, to be sure, much to quibble with about R. Rudomin’s overall article. But a lot of that (for me, anyway) comes from fundamental disagreements over kollel and general worldviews. Given the premises he was working with, his point was entirely valid.

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      DF, your assumption that men marrying at 21 must marry girls of 19 is precisely that which the Gedolim say is broken. [Actually, it’s more like 23-19. 21 would be a great improvement.] You are making the same mistake that he did. Please reread my article — if you believe there must be a substantial age gap, you believe that there must be a substantial cohort of girls who will not find shidduchim.

      • Eli Blum says:

        Rabbi Menken:

        It isn’t the 19 year olds the boys need to marry, it is their pocketbooks. If you want 21 year old boys (or 19-23) while still supporting Kollel, there needs to be a larger supply of parents that can support. Otherwise the boys will just wait until the girls who will support start going out.

        Fix the support issue and then you fix much of the problem (if it really is one as some claim). And as a famous Shaddchan says, the most important thing for a girl in our society to get dates is that her parents (not the girl) are willing to put up support.

  12. tzippi says:

    I do not know where to begin, especially as I only have 15 minutes.

    Seminary does not automatically mean Israel. Not that it isn’t amazing, and for many people not significantly more if at all than chutz l’aretz options. (No MASA, Federation, or other funding.) I think it is important but not essential. However out of town girls greatly benefit, and most don’t have viable in town options.

    I have grave reservations about young men pushing off learning in E”Y till after marriage. There is enough stress, albeit happy, in this new relationship that adding not having any experience with the bureaucracy or yeshiva system sounds disastrous to me.

    I do not like the social engineering. If we are in fact going to try to get as close to 18 as possible (why not, the Talmud says) are we going to redo our education system to match? And what of young women who are ready significantly earlier?

    Why are we avoiding the real problem, which is so much more than hard numbers? It is that we have become increasingly superficial, we are not following the dictum of “chanoch l’naar al pi darko”, and we are not creating resourceful children. I think kollel is fantastic. I do not believe it should belong to the elite. However, the current system is broken and making seminary the fall guy, or creating a freezer for girls is all building hospitals while ignoring the broken bridge.

    Maybe when I have more time I’ll tell y’all what I really think.,

    • tzippi says:

      Since there’s no edit, I wanted to clarify. The shidduch system has potential to be excellent, a way to  get to the goal and maintain the dignity of both parties. However, because of misplaced emphases on just about every important aspect of the parties’ futures, it is not working. But the idea itself should not be called broken.

      And of course, I didn’t even touch on the very important angle Alexandra Fleksher mentions.

      • Alexandra Fleksher says:

        So that makes two commentators (thank you, ladies, tzippi and southernbelle) who have supported my concern about the troubling comments of this author. I would hope that male readers as well found his remarks distasteful and inappropriate.

      • Yaakov Menken says:

        As I said, I have a daughter who just came back from Seminary and they all found the comment laughable, not just distasteful. And also as I said, one could fill a book rebutting every wrong thing the author wrote. If we are waiting for girls to come back from Sem obviously we do not feel 20 is “withering!”

      • tzippi says:

        And I should add that (IIRC) his response that he was writing for a narrow audience and using hyperbole or the like to make his point was incredibly naïve. This is the wild wild web and unless one’s on a password only forum (and even then….) wise people will be careful with their words.

  13. AK says:

    Please tell us which Gedolim are advising the girls go off to Seminary. This is an idea pushed by the girl’s high schools and peer pressure, as when as the myth that you won’t find a shidduch if you didn’t go to seminary in EY.

    I live in a very large community, where the vast majority of girls do not go off to EY for seminary and they seem to turn out just fine. (Boro Park)

  14. David Ohsie says:

    Rabbi Menken got this one exactly right. It’s a matter of simple math given the growth curves. All the networking and self-improvement in the world can’t help if there is a numerical disparity between eligible men and women.

    “At the end of the day, R. Rudomin makes a simple point: If you want men to marry at 21, there must be an adequate supply of 19 year old women to date. The thrust of this article was predicated on this truism, that, exceptions aside, cuts across all ages, races and religions: men marry women younger than them. Arguing with that bit of DNA hardwiring is like arguing with the color of your hair.”

    This argument is extremely weak. The people we are talking about here have already gone against their “DNA hardwiring”: they’ve kept separate from the opposite sex until their early-to-mid 20’s! In addition, many have already agreed to pick their spouses from a selection filtered by others (or else their marriage is simply arranged). It’s not clear at all why social norms can’t alter the relative ages involved here in general. Those norms have already accomplished something much more powerful than that by the time they reach marriage age.

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