How Today’s American College Experience Imperils All Efforts Invested by Modern Orthodox Parents
or: Today’s Colleges Are Not What They Were When We Parents Attended, and We Need to Know That
[Editors’ note: An earlier version of this essay appeared in the Jewish Press. This version, prepared for Cross-Currents, greatly expands upon it.]
Understand where I am coming from. I graduated college with a political science degree from Columbia University, where I was elected by the undergraduate student body as University Senator to represent all the college’s students. Later I graduated UCLA School of Law, where I was Chief Articles Editor of Law Review. I then clerked in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, followed by practicing complex business litigation for more than a decade at two of the nation’s leading firms, JonesDay and Akin Gump. For the past fifteen years, I also have been a law professor at two major Southern California law schools, where I teach Advanced Torts, Civil Procedure, and Remedies. None of this is to brag. Rather, it is to advise the reader that I am the beneficiary of a deep American secular education that I cherish having had. With it I have been able to live an interesting life that now includes not only being rav of a Young Israel but also serving as a Contributing Editor at The American Spectator and a regular contributor to other publications.
I used to define myself as “Modern Orthodox.” By the 1990s, I started identifying instead as “Centrist Orthodox.” If I were voting in Israel, I would be voting for Bayit Yehudi, Smotrich, or Bennett-Shaked. That is my world. And it is for that reason that I write this article primarily for “Modern Orthodox” (M.O.) parents of teens and pre-teens. Because I love the world of Torah U-Mada, and that world no longer exists in America. The simple reality is that Modern Orthodoxy is in very perilous trouble because, as a general matter, the model as it took full shape in the late 1950s and 1960s never contemplated the current utter public debasement of American culture and society, and in particular the socialist-brainwashing-reeducation-camp intimidation that has overtaken American colleges. Today’s America is not the America in which we grew up, and today’s colleges reflect the worst of today’s America.
The vast majority of Modern Orthodox kids, by definition, (i) go to college (ii) but not to YU/Touro. That simply is the reality. Do the math. In that reality, notwithstanding how much money, time, and love American M.O. parents have invested in giving their children the best of the secular world and the best of the Torah world, most of those children simply will not survive four years of contemporary American college. It goes beyond a question of whether the Modern Orthodox yeshiva high school system and its education values and methods fail. Even so, by and large the schools do fail. Just look around and talk to the M.O. Yeshiva High School grads who subsequently also have finished secular college. If you honestly feel “Hey, Rav Fischer, you are so wrong. Fully 75% of the kids from frum homes still are frum after four years of college,” then we have a disconnect. Because even if we had a 75% survival rate and that is what we are discussing: survival — that still would be a catastrophe, with 25% attrition in four years. And the numbers are worse. Just look around in your own world.
Even if the system were rock-solid, with the greatest teaching and with fostering the greatest of classmate friendships and with uniformly great high school rebbes as pedagogues and with a “Gap Year” at an Israeli yeshiva thrown — it still collapses for so many M.O. collegiates that every parent deserves a simple “head’s up” warning to proceed at peril.
Rather than looking exclusively at the impressive “ben Torah” or “bat Torah” you now successfully are rearing, look at what is happening to the kids of other people you know who have sent their b’nei and b’not Torah graduates of yeshiva high school to college. Look furthermore at the children of non-Jews you may know, people who reared their scions with excellent measures of decency and with values, who have gone to college. It manifestly is not the campus environment that we attended. Rather, there now is mass indoctrination — not liberal arts education and the broad pursuit of knowledge. The current social climate is so intense and rife with psychological and social intimidation that it comprises brainwashing.
You read and see news. Was your college experience like this? Was it impossible for you then to find safety in expressing traditional values and Torah morality and ethics without enduring public shaming? If you did not believe in gay marriage as a sacrament, would you have feared expressing your Torah belief in a classroom discussion as part of a respectful give-and-take with others? And would you have felt so defensive about Israel that, by your senior year, you would be saying whatever you had to say about “Palestinian suffering” in order to get through with your B.A.?
In today’s cancel culture, wonderfully qualified conservative candidates do not have a chance to get hired on the tenure track in the social sciences. There is no diversity on campus at all, in terms of freedom of thought. The social sciences departments are ideologically homogeneous and control most hiring.Today all kinds of speech rules govern what may be said — and what is forbidden. A patriot like Gen. David Petraeus gets shouted off a CUNY campus. Jerry Seinfeld will not accept comedy gigs on any campus anymore — and he is right; it is not worth risking his reputation if one single joke offends one single intersectionalist snowflake. In other words, it is not just Ben Shapiro and Ann Coulter being heckled — and both of them, frankly, have come to parley getting barred into bigger and better publicity. Good for them! But less combative conservative voices are canceled, too — Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Dinesh D’Souza, Heather MacDonald. These are contemplative coherent conservative voices.
In our day, there were plenty of student causes: equal pay for maids as for janitors; freeing Nelson Mandela and opposing the utter illegitimacy of apartheid in South Africa and Rhodesia, living with the the terror of being drafted to die in the jungles of Vietnam. Whatever your politics, these were issues of great consequence. And for those of us who focused on Jewish issues, there were movements to free Soviet Jewry, to free Jews in Arab lands, to free Jews in Ethiopia, to secure Israel’s very right to survive when she was attacked on Yom Kippur 1973. Today, by contrast, since the campus students never will make a cause of marching for the persecuted and suppressed in Iran or Hong Kong, there simply are no grand issues of majestic consequence. Really. Blacks undoubtedly still encounter some disadvantages here and there — but so do Orthodox Jews — whether in the workplace or elsewhere; yet Blacks long have enjoyed full equality in every way, with extra opportunities arising from efforts towards “diversity.” Indeed, if we can remember back to that day, on the eve of Barack Obama’s initial presidential election racial harmony finally had become warmer than ever before in American history. Thus, Obama was supposed to be the post-racial President; instead, he divided the races for a new era. Likewise, women nowadays often outnumber males in academic programs, and they are being paid fairly in the workplace. They enjoy equal rights. Meanwhile, no one is being drafted to fight anywhere. Gays are not being bashed to death or humiliated into committing suicide upon discovery; rather, they parade quite ubiquitously. Despite 9-11, ISIS, and so much else, there is no serious Islamophobia in America; rather, it is anti-Semitism that continues to hold commanding lead on FBI lists as the blind hatred that results in the most violence.
So today’s college youths find themselves seeking great new causes of magnitude and consequence in an era where America finally seems to have “figured it all out.” After half a century of Affirmative Action, gender sensitivity, peace in Southeast Asia, the fall of Apartheid, the fall of Communism, and the liberation of Jewry from everywhere they wanted to leave, the grand issues are gone. As a consequence, the only causes that remain now center around matters that never are conducive to a holy Judaic environment. We all now the acronym: LGBTQ. However, whereas the subject arises for us in a magazine article or a newspaper column that we may skim or skip as we prefer, on campus these are the ubiquitous issues — even at Yeshiva College and at Stern College, by the way. And on the secular campuses, the causes extend beyond transgenderism to non-binary identification, non-binary pronouns and bathrooms. If you have not been in college for a decade or two, you would not recognize it. Students and faculty now regularly advise their peers, when they sign letters, as to how they are to be addressed — for example:
Rabbi Dov Fischer (he, him, his)
All this focus on gender and on matters that we identify with “intimacy” goes diametrically opposite Judaism’s teaching that such subjects are not for public discussion but are the most intimate, modest of issues. Orthodox Jews even are modest about going to mikvah. The mother does not announce it to the kids. If she needs her husband to pick her up, he is not supposed to park right in front of the mikvah. A married man is not even supposed to put his arm around his wife in public because that signals to others that she now is at the time of month that is after mikveh but before the next cycle. Meanwhile, all the campus is obsessed with “L” rights and “G” and “B” and “T” and “Q” and and even “+” — and whether the government should require insurers to provide free condoms and other contraceptive devices. And whether schools should, too. It comes up in class discussions, in assigned readings. It is a different world from when we read the great Western classics, which of course raised some other concerns.
So it is not just about the politics of Israel and BDS that pollute the campuses but about the spiritual gestalt and the zeitgeist. The whole thing now is hefker, and 1950s and 1960s Modern Orthodoxy never was built on a model of confronting such a clash of cultures. Torah U-Mada contemplated that an authentic Torah would view could coexist with secular wisdom from science and even could be augmented by insights drawn from secular minds and culture. But this cultural-social degeneration was not anticipated. Thus, it always was assumed that eight years of yeshiva ketanah and four additional years of yeshiva high school was ample inoculation. After all, how in the world would any sophisticated and intelligent Torah-trained child conceivably be tempted by secular offerings to give up being part of a special and chosen nation? And certainly how could any young person so educated contemplate giving up Olam Haba, the World to Come, for secular pursuits?
In our day, the college Hillels had the most awful rabbis (with exceptions, of course). They were theologically Reform or Conservative, with radical agendas aimed at raising the parity of non-observers with Torah-observant students. Even the Orthodox Hillel rabbis often were drawn from Orthodoxy’s left. But today it is even worse. The college Hillels now reflect the times, the issues, the corrupted and degenerate values, as do the vast majority of the rabbis they employ. Their philosophy is to attract more students, so they shamelessly appeal to the lowest common denominator. Except for a few JLIC couples sponsored on select campus by Yeshiva University, even most “Orthodox” rabbis on most colleges are not up to the job or, worse, exacerbate the problem.
And if that were not enough, now there are so-called “Open Orthodox” women rabbis and their male “Open Orthodox” rabbinic colleagues whose campus agendas focus on LGBTQ+ and feminism and intersectionalism, too. Their writings no longer are shocking because there comes a point that the false teachings in the name of a pseudo”Orthodoxy” are repeated in so many journals that they simply no longer shock.
So that is the problem. It is worth having stated it forthrightly. For those of us who have been monitoring and working on the crisis for years, we uniformly are persuaded that a critical mass has been reached such that the situation will get only worse before it gets better — if it ever gets turned around. Modern Orthodoxy has no solution to four years of college reeducation-indoctrination. Even those who imagine that a Brandeis is a good non-YU solution should contemplate the implications of a college social milieu where an award to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, truly a righteous soul and a victim of Islamic female genital mutilation, has to be canceled because of student rage and faculty pressure. That college was built with Jewish money half a century ago to open more college doors for Jewish students and faculty barred elsewhere by admission quotas against Jews back then. That was then. Today’s Brandeis is not that Brandeis. Like virtually all colleges (except for Hillsdale and a few others), it takes federal money, so must comply with the requirements that come with that money.
Is there a solution? One approach is to send the kids to YU, Stern, and Touro — but many M.O. yeshiva high school students will not be taking that route, no matter what. They may be unwilling to sit through a double curriculum, or they might fear missing out on something “out there.” Nor is a YU or Stern college experience a guarantee any more, as many ruefully will tell. Another approach is to send the kids to four-year college in Israel — which is not a perfect solution nor a guarantee, but it comes with much better odds if at Bar Ilan, less so at Hebrew University, and much less so if at Tel Aviv U., Haifa U., or Ben Gurion U. The best solution, of course, is more years of Israel “Gap” learning. But, again, that will not appeal to many. Another option: At least stick with STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math courses — instead of the social sciences that are rife with Identity Studies and Grievance Studies.
Or, as a fall back, just pray and prepare to have replacement kids so that you have someone to say kaddish for you later.
Rabbi Dov Fischer is Rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, California; a Senior Rabbinic Fellow and West Coast Vice President of Coalition for Jewish Values, and an adjunct professor of law at two major Southern California law schools.
of course this line of reasoning applies to anyone who interacts with the outside world. (BTW do you really know what the parents want?)
Thought experiment: If all of orthodoxy adopted the Israeli Chareidi model overnight, what would the results look like in 50 years vs. today . What alternative models might be adopted and what might they look like?? Is aliyah a possibility?
aliya won’t help for MO— the wastage rate for DL is at least a third if not more , and the dati lite which is left about as orthopraxic as OO is widely rampant.
don’t know what the loss rate in haredi and hareili judaism will be , but in 100 yrs they will be the only religious jews left …
a wise actuary once said, “linear projection of current trends is always wrong, the question is in which direction?”
Thank you Dov, for speaking the TRUTH & depicting the horrendous environment on college campuses for observant/traditional Jews &/or any young adult of moral, traditional & conservative leanings.
As an alumni from a liberal arts college, Brooklyn College where I occasionally stop by for graduate seminars – the atmosphere is tense, focused on anti-Trump, anti- Israel & anti – White even when researching reading & literacy defects of younger students.
Mr Rich – this is not a MO versus Charedi issue. It’s a lack of a safe/secure place for Jewish individuals to attend, participate & secure higher education.
My children have chosen the online, St. John’s (Queens), Downstate medical program (15 plus years ago), while living at home or married. Other situations look pretty bleak.
This is an excellent and very important article that all parents must read!
The author mentions some options for studying in Israel, but I wonder how many Jewish parents here can afford sending their children to the ones worth attending.
Sticking to STEM subjects in our colleges and universities is only a partial answer, because compulsory PC thinking has made its way into some of these disciplines, too, and because the environment has been degraded wherever the student might wander, such as:
1. Other required classes
2. Everywhere on campus
3. The town around the campus
Orthodox Jews of any description or self-description face much the same situation that all culturally conservative students and their parents face:
1. The institutions that lost their way are not going to magically return to sanity
2. There is a severe shortage of the good kind, to teach in the proper spirit whatever “secular” subjects one wishes to learn.
We have in America an alleged conservative movement that has done well for some of its stars, but many of the stars and foot soldiers have abandoned the field to the enemy and even fraternize with the enemy or share aspects of the enemy’s depravity. Some conservative snobs are more put off by Trump’s manner than by liberal / leftist social destruction. Others are all talk (or write) and no action. So now, after many decades, maybe a century, of breakdown, Americans have to somehow step into the breach and create a multitude of institutions in a hurry.
Think about this-a college that has Hillsdales ethos and which doesn’t take a nickel of federal funds and the anti fraternization rules of the military academies
The need is not just for one college here or there of this type. The necessary nationwide scale is millions of students. The necessary non-governmental (= non-taxpayer) funding is enormous. The government educational authorities will often want to shut down competition for hearts and minds, on various pretexts. This is the price Americans all pay for the past surrender of education.
The canard in this piece and throughout this site is that being open-minded and liberal on one hand and being an observant Jew on the other is impossible.
One could argue quite the opposite of what this piece is arguing–there are far more possibilities today for observant Jews on college campuses than ever before. It could not have been more than several generations ago, for example, that keeping kosher took real efforts on all but probably several dozen U.S. campuses. Today, there are far more options whether in Jewish institutions like Chabad or Hillel or, increasingly as part of the Dining Services options themselves run by the particular university.
There are a growing number of campuses that have eruvim. More and more campuses have offerings in Jewish Studies. There are shomer shabbat theater groups, etc. Colleges and universities want to attract observant Jews. They know that they are well trained for college given the strenuous, demanding dual curriculum years they’ve spent in Jewish day schools.
A good college should open our eyes up to the world around us. And yes, this should absolutely include examining and re-examining our Jewish identities. But this is how we grow and develop, both as human beings and as Jews.
If you don’t agree with any of this, fine. But then, as you’ve already said, you’re no longer part of the MO world, anyways.
Well, sure, if you define “Modern Orthodox” in that way, then that runs counter to “Modern Orthodoxy.”
Except, you see, that’s not Modern Orthodoxy. That’s Reb Yid “Orthodoxy,” or post-modern Orthodoxy, or something. Modern Orthodoxy is, well, Orthodox. That some Red Yids out there have decided to pervert it (even if such perversion lies, willing or not, in the base of Modern Orthodoxy) does not make it a principle.
The perversion lies with those who claim to be “MO” but are afraid of the world.
MO has always embraced the modern world. Show me a time in its history where it hasn’t. It has never been solely utilitarian or transactional.
Again–if you don’t like the modern world, that’s your choice. But then you’re really not MO–don’t kid yourself.
Are we to consider all types of “modern world” to be equal? If today’s version doesn’t measure up to our Jewish needs in some crucial way, we need to control our engagement better than we used to. If that means not being MO by Reb Yid’s definition or anyone’s, so what?
Long ago, Rav SR Hirsch ZT”L made these still-cogent points about religion allied to progress:
” More and more campuses have offerings in Jewish Studies.” Their value depends on what is taught, how it is taught, and who teaches them.
” Colleges and universities want to attract observant Jews. They know that they are well trained for college given the strenuous, demanding dual curriculum years they’ve spent in Jewish day schools.” They know that their efforts to divert many such Jews away from their faith will often succeed.
“They know that their efforts to divert many such Jews away from their faith will often succeed.”
I suppose you also think that the “goyim” are still out to crucify us erev Easter.
Yes, build eruvs, establish more and more Batei Midrash at Hillels and make kosher dining much more mainstream. All to make Jews less Jewish.
“They” are the administration and faculty. They’ll make us oh so comfortable, but one aim of the typical university experience, since the days of John Dewey, is to make students question their parents’ values.
To Bob Miller:
College is an opportunity for all, and I think you and others are only looking at one very narrow perspective.
In the courses I’ve taught that deal in some way with the Jewish experience, you’d be amazed at the variety of students who enroll and why they’re there. Some of my students do not feel comfortable in any way, shape or form inside of a synagogue or any other Jewish institution. But they want to learn more in a venue that feels safer for them, and come to appreciate more about their heritage and identity in this fashion Other students, be they Persian Jews or Russian Jews, learn to contextualize their particular experience within the wider framework of American Jewish history. This has also been true of the many Orthodox Jewish students I have taught.
Still other students are not Jewish at all. Some have Jewish romantic partners and want to have a greater understanding of their partner’s heritage and background. Others want to learn from the experiences of one of the more remarkable ethnic and religious groups in US history, understand its challenges and successes and apply this understanding to their own group. Still others find themselves attracted to Judaism and the Jewish experience in a variety of ways and want to learn more.
I never taught in American colleges (all of my teaching is here in EY, barukh Hashem, and only in religious colleges), but I find this sentence horrible- ” Some have Jewish romantic partners and want to have a greater understanding of their partner’s heritage and background”. That sounds as if you encourage intermarriage, r”l.
rkz, i will be me’lamaid zechut, since you are living in Israel, I will assume your English comprehension is to be blamed. Reb Yid was describing the various types of students in a course on the Jewish experience; nothing can be construed about his opinions of those various groups.
Not sure how you’re addressing the article. Yes, there are more eruvin and more kosher, but there’s a very solid chance the graduating student won’t be frum. Just because Modern Orthodoxy isn’t afraid of that, according to your claim-does that make it ok? And if MO subscribed to something that goes against Orthodoxy-because taking a serious chance in giving up Orthodoxy isn’t permitted.
I’m skeptical of the claim that secular colleges are bad for keeping kids frum. There’s selection bias going on here, and I’d guess that the same student is marginally more likely to stay frum going to a secular college with a good Jewish community than going to YU.
That is, unless we’re considering it a failure case if the student is still frum but has gay friends and attends their weddings, etc.
Your view of modernity WADR would more probably be viewed as post modern . Today’s college environment has a toxic perfect storm of the following elements:
1) direct threats of a verbal and physical nature to freedom of religion including Judaism
2) the equating of Jews with white privilege
3) the notion that there is no truth and falshood but rather narratives each entitled to consideration
please, don’t pretend that today’s”liberals” will tolerate anything that remotely resembles open mindedness. in an open minded environment orthodoxy can more than hold it’s own, but the whole point of this essay was to point out how open mindedness has been eliminated from the modern college campus.
R Fischer demonstrates why you don’t fight today’s wars with the weapons of a prior generation no matter how well phrased written and intentedvsimply because the world we live in today is as described by R Fischer
The RCA issued a resolution in January, 2017 addressing “How Should Jewish Modern Orthodox Students Attend College in North America?” This is an excerpt:
“In practical terms, the rabbis recommend attendance at a college only if its “religious students’ minimal needs are met – i.e., kosher food, regular prayer services, and a community which observes Shabbat together.” Preferably, however, students should select among schools “with larger religious communities within which students can, alongside their academic growth, grow spiritually and religiously.” In this light, the rabbis single out the work of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) in fostering such positive environments on secular college campuses (https://oujlic.org/)
Ideally, the rabbis “advocate that Jewish students nurture their commitment to Torah by attending an Orthodox Jewish University,” such as Yeshiva University (https://www.yu.edu/) and the Touro College and University System (https://www.touro.edu/).”
What is the total number of American Jews (Jewish according to Halacha) graduating from high school in a given year? What is the total number of openings for them at YU, Touro, and anything comparable? Much less. Would increased demand ramp up supply? Maybe, but it takes time. Would ostracism of Jews on other campuses stampede them toward these schools? Maybe and maybe not. They might just try to blend in and be inconspicuous.
“What is the total number of American Jews (Jewish according to Halacha) graduating from high school in a given year?”
At the beginning of a JLIC video(top of the JLIC home page, linked above), the national JLIC director says that 75% of all day school graduates(8,700 at any given time) will attend a secular college in North America, and that most of those students will be on an OU/JLIC campus.
And the non-day-school graduates?
R’ Fischer – the problem is not so much about what there is on the outside , but an understanding and comittment that being connected and involved in learning , davening in a minyan requires mesiras nefesh. We are not talking about majoring in English literature but degrees that keep you up late at night and require you to be present early in the morning. Further we need a better kehilah framework that younger people feel part of , and that gives them support in sustaining that connection with learning and Tefilah.
Allan Katz makes an excellent point here. I am a member of an eclectic MO shul in Southern New Jersey. Daily minyanim and Torah classes (any day of the week, including Shabbos) are attended almost exclusively by people over the age of 50. A large percentage of younger people who show up to shul only on Shabbos come only Shabbos morning and come very late when they do come. Most of the wives of the men who do not attend daily minyanim or learn Torah do not dress in a manner that meets even the most liberal halachic standards of tznius. It is difficult to believe that for most of this people their Yiddishkeit is anything more than social, cultural, or based on some desire to maintain some minimal level of family continuity. The type of role models their children see at home probably present a greater danger than all outside influences combined. (But one could argue that those outside influences, both past and present, contributed to what those role models are now.)
Yes. Rabbi Fischer is right. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, Columbia University, for example, was far from ideal for a modern Orthodox student. (I know; I was there.) Now, it’s worse.
How about more single-sex Orthodox Jewish professional and trade schools?
Perhaps people should consider the option of obtaining a college degree through a certified correspondence school. Aka distance learning.
Yes. An excellent point. Also, some universities that are within commuting distance from home might be preferable to campuses that require staying in a dorm or in off-campus housing.
my kids have been doing online undergrad degrees , and then a RN program thru a seminary , and a COPE [aguda ] CPA program. this may be the only salvation—israel style ‘parallel ‘ programs
I think the first 6 paragraphs of this piece make excellent points. Surely the open decadence and low culture of American society and the anti-religious, anti-Israel, and identity politics/victimology indoctrination at secular universities present serious challenges to the continuity of Orthodoxy. But the article, IMO, probably should have stopped there and not continued to conflate those significant religious issues with some of the right-wing political polemics that follow. (For example, even reasonable people on the right might not agree that someone like Dinesh D’Souza is more “contemplative coherent conservative voice” than journalistic hack spreading unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.) Another point I would add is that the problem generally does not begin at the college level. Our children are already being indoctrinated by the movies and television shows they watch. Sometimes this can be subtle. For example, at its core, Seinfeld is a show about 4 people who sit around speaking lashon hara about everyone they know. But more times it is in your face – programs designed to make us empathize with the plight of the same sex couple or the biological male who identifies as female and objects to the horror of being referred to as “him”, etc. Such indoctrination already has been imbedded in the teenage Netflix watcher long before he or she (they?) arrives at the university.
Today’s political Left is largely the same as the cultural Left and causes most of the problems on campus faced by religious Jews. Leaving the Left in its dominant position there means ruling out real progress. Reasonable liberals might agree.
Also see: https://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/2019/12/only-campus-free-speech-left-will-fight-hating-daniel-greenfield/
Jeff Schwartz is correct when he writes that our children are being indoctrinated by pop culture long before they go on to university. I would add that much of what they learn in high school English class does the same thing, and is of course considered legitimate by parents and faculty.
Joel Rich said in the opening comment, “Do you really know what the parents want?” This is the most pertinent question and should not be ignored. If the fall-out rate among mitzvah-observant university students is 25%, then all of us already know that how perilous university life is. We didn’t need Rabbi Fischer’s article to tell us. So if we’re still sending our kids there, perhaps it’s because we don’t care that much about their religious lives. To offer an analogy, if you knew that there was a one-in-four chance that your child would be beaten up if he attended college, would you allow him to go? Obviously not. So why are those same odds acceptable if the stakes are his losing his Yiddishkeit? Of course, one can argue that being assaulted is out of one’s control, unlike religious observance. Still, a 25% attrition rate should give every orthodox parent pause. Why should we think that our kid won’t succumb?
And let me be uncomfortably honest here. What are the other 75% of orthodox college students doing? Not doing? Remember, they are leading unsupervised lives in a secular environment. Why do parents reassure themselves that everything is okay? Unless, of course, they don’t need reassurance because they don’t really mind. Indeed, “Do you really know what the parents want?” Rabbi Fischer, why not ask the parents? Ask them what they consider acceptable for their children and what they don’t. You’ve raised the alarm, but you should consider that not everyone minds that the house is on fire.
Today, Jewish parents could have many reasons for sending their children into these institutions, such as:
1. To increase their earning potential
2. To avoid giving them the stigma of not being a graduate
3. To make them well-rounded educationally and socially
4. To let them pursue studies that most interest them
These and similar reasons apply to non-Jews, too. To the degree that American Jews, both parents and children, have become culturally assimilated, specifically Jewish considerations take a back seat to these.
So we can see the current excesses on college campuses as a good thing. They might dissuade some parents who would otherwise send their kids to secular schools.
Jewish parents not under some spell or force of habit might catch on.
To assume that one can advise all college-bound students is folly. Students are inherently different. For some Queen’s college, for example, possibly with a learning program, or Princeton or Penn or Maryland or a junior college is the preferred path.
the college atmosphere has deteriorated; the changes likely have quantitative impact on the preferred choice. that does not change the need to make an individualized decision. in conversation with someone nervous about the more liberal environment, the University of Chicago was raised and ultimately chosen.
If anything, in some places like Penn and Maryland there is now such a hyper clustering of MO students and its various organizations and activities that one could live in a complete cocoon during college. This did not exist anywhere 50 years ago or even 30-35 years ago when I was in college.
While most on this board would find that a positive development, I do not. College is about learning about how to live with others, be they Orthodox students, other Jewish students who are not Orthodox or other students who are not Jewish. It’s about learning from others as well–no one person or group has all of the answers to everything.
if the cacoon was impenetrable, i would agree. but the classroom and study experience is hopefully enough to allow other ideas to filter through, while the cacoon provides coreligionists who can provide needed support.
” It’s about learning from others as well–no one person or group has all of the answers to everything.” learning from non religious Jews or le’havdil from Goyim, is very very dangerous, and must be done with extreme caution. This is not a task for a college student.
U of Chicago operates by a set of principles that views freedom of speech as a paramount consideration. Far too many universities are held hostage by the tenured radicals that purport to be its faculty. One can argue that in general that there is no rational basis for a person to walk into an intellectual and cultural threat to his or her observance
A point to consider: Limited exposure to non-Jews means a lower risk of intermarriage. Certainly, socializing with non-Jews increases that risk.
It may be that there is an increase in intermarriage among young people from modern Orthodox homes. No statistics yet. Whatever the numbers are, do we want to risk increasing them?
From Alan Brill’s website:
“From my class lists from the 1990’s, I have a rough anecdotal sense that about 7-8% of my former students from committed day schools living in the center of Jewish life have intermarried. Someone at an Orthodox Forum circa 2000 raised the point and independently came up with a similar percentage.”
rkz, sadly you remind me of current hareidi gedolim who proclaim that the previous generation could and we cannot. where did hazal learn details required to establish a fixed calendar? From whom have Jews learned philosophy? Where did Rabbeinu Hannanel (and subsequent generations) learn algebra?
Dr. Bill, indeed Chazal and Rishonim knew what and how can be learned from Goyim. How is that fact relevant to the current discussion?
RYBS in one of his teshuvah dead his earned one of his Boston acquaintances not to send his daughter to a prominent college The advice was ignored and the daughter became engaged to a Gentile RYBS questioned whether the actions of the acquaintance were acts of a Mezid or Shogeg
Parents have IMO a duty to exercise due diligence and investigate which campuses have the best environments and faculty and students that pose little or no threat to the well invested K-year in Israel expenses in their children’s education.
Much of University of Chicago has ideas different than frum world, most obvious is Theory of Zmarriage by Nobel Prize winner the late Gary Becker. Not exactly what one hears from RY.
There is no virtue in learning to walk into an environment that will result in you abandoning a commitment to Shemiras HaMitzvos
There are now numerous college degrees that can be studied via distance programs. Consider Western Governor’s University, Thomas Edison State University, University of London, Open University of England, and others. Anyone who wants can get a degree from a regionally-accredited or equivalent foreign institution without needing to set foot in the craziness of the US college campus, often for significantly less cash outlay than a brick-and-mortar institution would charge.
Not all correspondence schools are good enough to award degrees that are respected in the marketplace. Before using one, check it out very thoroughly.
All the kosher kitchens, daily minyanim, Chabad Houses, Aish programs, and Batei Medrashim are no match for the constant and active indoctrination toward a lifestyle that is diametrically opposed to Torah values and absolute ethics, which students experience on a daily basis at virtually every liberal arts university in America.
In the classroom and in the dorms, in casual conversations between students, and in projects taken on with prestigious faculty to enhance one’s resume, the spirit of political correctness and the need to hide one’s independent thinking is overwhelming. This condition is not only confronting Modern Orthodox students; it is faced by all students who have some abiding faith that they have brought from home.
One simple statistic: The likelihood of an unmarried student completing college and remaining a virgin is one in eight. And that number does not reflect less definitive sexual activity. Include other sorts of lifestyle experimentation that is both available and encouraged and the level of temptation to step out of the bounds of proper conduct is staggering. Can we really expect a typical MO 20 year-old to hold fast to his/her heritage in that environment? Could you? I very much doubt I could today – though I did it in the 70s.
Few universities are centers of intellectual curiosity and honesty. As R. Fischer most accurately points out, the out-of-step academic is not welcome to apply.
While circumstances appear to be less challenging at the graduate/professional level of higher education, sending a child away to a secular university for an undergraduate degree is akin to an act of spiritual abandonment. There are better choices, including attendance at local community colleges as well as online education and only very brief stints at commuter 4 year schools, that students can choose to complete their initial degree on their way to their careers. Parents must make a choice: The vicarious gratification of your child going to a name school that is the envy of your friends or your child’s religious and spiritual well-being. It is extremely unlikely you can have both.
Doesn’t your comment also apply to technologically oriented universities that also have liberal arts faculties, plus liberal arts requirements for graduation in any field, not to mention fully PC campus life? In the early 2000’s, I was at my alma mater (MIT) during a business trip and saw posters in the main corridor touting “safe sex.” Even back in 1966, freshmen in MIT living groups were treated to the “nuts and bolts” talk by the Dean of Student Affairs, in which he told us we could do basically anything in private that did not cause negative publicity for MIT in the news media.
Extremely well said. I have several college aged kids and you hit the nail on the head.
Worse still: the dirty little secret of the so called MO community is that your critique/analysis applies to our highschools as well. Most boast more about the colleges their kids get into rather than the post highschool yeshivas they attend. Our famous school in Brookline has a “Head of School” who posted that being MO meant you stuff yourself with kosher sausage at the patriots game, boasted that 75% of graduates send their kids to day schools (admitting that many were schecters), failed to teach the Rav’s writings until literally the last week of highschool year (of course in a “special seminar”), bragged about vacations etc. The joke in Brookline is that that MO means “moneyed” jews.
Modesty, the primacy of torah, general studies as a handmaiden to torah but not the ikar, are no longer MO values
One important question which you mentioned is the degree of observance among such students I have heard that a rebbe at a prominent MO decided that Halacha LMaaseh in basiic mitzvos such as Tefilin etc was far more beneficial and important than a seminar in RYBS when far too many of the students admitted that they had not put on Tefilin during the summer vacation A rebbe in a prominent gap year yeshiva told me that far too many of his students lacked any understanding of the basics of Hilcos Shabbos
Perhaps MO high schools and elementary schools should schedule attending the. Siyum or some time in Lakewood the Mir ( which one does) or the RIETS Beis Medrash as part of a tour of other communities beyond their own daled amos
since those mentioned communities denigrate the MO community and see its youth as conversion material to their own religion , this generally would not be accepted — and wouldn’t happen in the other direction al achat kama vkama…
Halachah lemaaseh is much more important than learning Torah Shebealpeh peh not Maaseh .thus in all Day Schools Hilchos Shabbas is neglected. How many understand the elements of borer? Halacha lemaaseh is crucial but ignored by Yeshivot. There are many who decry present ideas of learning Torah Shebealpeh peh in general before learning halachah lemaaseh. Easy place to find discussion see shiur last week from assistant Rabbi of my schul. I heard it in schul available on YU Torah. Your scarcastic about RYBS, he is rarely followed in North America. He is not the cause of students not knowing Halacha lemaaseh.
Mycroft -you missed my point High school students who are not observing basic Halachos of Tefilin and Shabbos should be taught the same rather than RYBSs philosophy .The average student in any Yeshiva or Beis Yaakov is taught that on Shabbos Borer means that one selects what one needs immediately rather than what one does not need now someone who is taught philosophy rather than basic Halacha is functionally illiterate Learning TSBP snd Halacha LMaaseh should be both taught
Mycroft wake up snd smell the coffee most Beis Yaakov and yeshiva ketana students can explain the kedusha of Shabbos and borer on a basic level no student should study Jewish philosophy if he or she is ignorant in basic Halacha LMaaseh
For the average MO student and parent RYBS is just another book in the library this is truly a Dor Asher Lo Yadah Es Yosef OTOH Charedi youth have a deep reverence for Gdolim past and present
The real pressure on MO parents to send their kids to college is the financial pressure on living a Torah observant lifestyle. To have a large family, to provide adequate housing in a Jewish community within walking distance of school, to provide all the needs of Jewish living and, most of all, to pay tuition requires a household income well up in the six figures.
So what is a parent to do in order to help their children grow up to live this lifestyle? Unless you are fortunate enough to be born to great wealth or manage to achieve great wealth through other means there are basically only two ways. You can survive on handouts (have someone else pay) either from within the Jewish community or from government assistance or try to get an education that would enable a highly paid professional career.
The living on handouts approach has been more or less the choice of certain segments of the Jewish community, but it is not without its problems some of which can be seen in the political efforts in NYC recently to have government control of the curriculum in Yeshivos as well as the political situation in EY where we are perilously close to having a majority government centered on the platform of attacking the Chareidim.
So many parents feel pressured to encourage their children to attend college, even with all of its risks, because they see that as the only realistic financial pathway to being able to live a frum lifestyle.
But now the “realistic financial pathway” can lead the student in the wrong direction, toward an unintended goal. Is there something in our way of life as now practiced that reduces the Divine Shefa we receive, making all these worldly calculations seem necessary?
Agudah deserves a huge Yasher Koach got its promotion of Daf Yomi and the arranging for a very inspiring Siyum HaShas which 90,000 plus including this writer attended in cold but not windy weather The videos were wonderful especially Why We Learn and the arranging for such a venue sale of tickets and a website informing all attending re transportation options and what to bring all were thoroughly professional and the Siyum itself beginning with Mincha and proceeding thereafter was extraordinary inspiring.
The response has been fascinating. It is inspiring other Jewish organizations of a more pluralistic nature to follow suit:
Reshet Ramah (alumni association of Ramah network) is also instituting a Daf Yomi (I received publicity/recruitment material for it in today’s e-mail).
Very disturbing article at Commentary re Jews interested in Buddhism