Is it proper to attend a secular university?
Higher education is to be praised as it is a means for a young person to further his/her breadth of knowledge and understanding as he/she grows intellectually from an adolescent and transforms to an adult as well as a productive member of society. And there are many in our community, including famous Orthodox rabbis and leaders, who went to the universities of yesteryear and became the pillars of their strictly Orthodox communities and amassed large followings, both as rabbis and roshei yeshiva. However, that was only when they combined the university study with Torah study.
Yet in today’s day and age we know that many of the professors in the colleges are at best agnostic and woke in their approach to the condition of the world and to the world society that they wish to impose. Additionally, there is often a very hostile student environment.
Both the yeshiva and Bais Yaakov movements have proven these past seventy or so odd years to be the basis for forming a religiously observant individual and as a consequence a strong Torah-observant Jewish home.
It is understood that one must have the ability to provide for his family and to gain the tools of a profession that is not only a benefit to society but a means of supporting his family. While a university education might offer that, there are some occupations that don’t require that, think of the plumber, electrician or various building trades and services. I have even heard that to be a rosh yeshiva one need not have a college degree.
While not everyone has the makings of a professional, all have the need of a firm yeshiva education to assure that their lives are lived on the spiritual plane that G-d expects of them. As mentioned, the secular university very often provides fare that is antithetical to that goal of a proper Jewish life. Therefore, colleges and universities such as Touro University and Yeshiva University, as well as other programs that are in concert with the various yeshiva and Bais Yaakov seminaries, are the proper way to go for those contemplating their future life’s endeavors.
– Rabbi Yaakov Klass is chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and Rabbi@igud.us.
* * * * *
There is no question that there are many dangers facing a frum person on secular campuses in today’s day and age. Besides anything else, the life goals and values of the culture one finds in this environment is very much opposed to a torah way of life. Belief in G-d is looked down on, family life is not a priority, and the pursuit of pleasure is glorified. To remain faithful to the Torah way is more than just a challenge. Modesty is not a value and poses a major obstacle, especially for men on campus. Many liberal schools today feature left wing professors who view it as a life mission to indoctrinate students in leftist ideology. Unfortunately, it seems that hostility toward Jews is becoming more of a problem in today’s progressive culture.
Of course, the younger the person is the more problematic, once a person is more established in his way of life it’s easier to stay on course. Graduate programs are more about getting where you need to go rather than absorbing a culture. However, why does someone need to put himself in a nisayon if there are alternatives available. A frum Yid should think long and hard before embarking on such a path.
– Rabbi Yehoshua Heber is Rav of Khal Tomchai Torah at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Dayan at Bdatz Mishptai Yisrael.
* * * * *
When we consider the appropriateness of secular college for an Orthodox Jew, our knee-jerk reaction may be to consider the impact that the culture of secular college may have on causing one’s level of religious observance to deteriorate. Some claim that a high percentage of Orthodox students go off-the-derech in secular college, but it’s not clear whether it is the environment of secular college that causes many Orthodox students to go off-the-derech or whether these students had already inclined to go off-the-derech and one expression of that desire was to attend a secular university. Nevertheless, there are certainly more challenges to religious observance in a secular university as opposed to a Jewish university.
Generally, I think Orthodox students should strive to attend a Jewish university. I, for one, attended Yeshiva University and I found that the immersive Jewish experience there, including the opportunities for high-level talmud Torah and religious growth, is vastly superior to what can be offered in a secular college.
There are probably some students for whom a secular university might be a preferred option. Some students may thrive in a secular university because they may be called upon to take on leadership roles in a religious capacity, such as to help make the minyan or to arrange Torah study opportunities, when they might not be able do so in a Jewish college setting when there are already plenty of minyanim and Torah study opportunities. For some students, a particular university may offer greater career opportunities in a particular field of study.
However, for the vast majority of students, I believe that the immersive religious experience at a Jewish university is so qualitatively superior than that which is offered at a secular university such that the Jewish university should be the default option for most students.
– Rabbi Jonathan Muskat is the rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside, a rebbe at Shulamith High School, and a pastoral health care liaison at Mount Sinai South Nassau.
* * * * *
40 years ago, this would have been an interesting question – can a person maintain their Torah perspective and torah outlook on life and yet gain a broader, wider understanding of various subjects within a secular framework. However, universities today are no longer open-minded institutions of higher learning.
To a very large extent, universities in Western cultures have become the propagators of an ideology that is the antithesis of the Torah approach. Far and away, they are one of the largest influences of an ideology that is woke, liberal and filled with rather perverse concepts and understandings. Any person who will spend four years under the influence of intelligent, learned people who are pontificating with passion and some level of conviction can’t help but be influenced by them. The culture, the approach, the framework is pervasively liberal, filled with concepts that are the opposite of the Torah perspective, from transgender-ism to re-creating history, to re-creating the understanding of what a man or a woman is.
There seems to be no level of intellectual integrity or intellectual honesty. And probably even worse than anything, it is no longer an open environment where debate or discussion is encouraged. If one speaks against the liberal agenda at university, he is mocked, scorned. If he is on the faculty and dares do this, he will lose his position, because it has become such a pervasive almost religious zeal that no longer can one even consider questioning or opposing such a position. In such an environment it is very difficult for one to maintain his or her Torah perspective, and in no sense could I encourage anyone to send their child or themselves to a secular institution.
– Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier is founder of The Shmuz and author of 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make (available at theshmuz.com).