A Lesson in Education

By Karen Greenberg [A Young Writer Submission]

When I first decided to become an English major, I didn’t really anticipate any problems that would involve my Judaism. This is not a common choice for Orthodox college women, but I chose a different path because I knew what I loved and I was confident that I could land some sort of job with an English degree. Throughout my young adult life, I have read books that both complimented my Torah worldview and contradicted it. There were no problems with those books that were complimentary, but then I would pick up an Ayn Rand, for example, and I would have to learn to separate my aesthetic enjoyment of the work from the parts of the books that contended with my Jewish perspective on life. If I disagreed with what I read, there was no one to actively argue for the book’s point of view. In a debate between myself and a work of literature, I always won; and so I thought my college literature classes would be in the same vein. I would continue reading and writing, as I had always loved to do, and would simply filter out anything that came along in contradiction with Orthodox Judaism. All Orthodox students going to secular college are well aware of how this goes, but a personal experience opened my eyes to the minefield of a forum where all views are considered, regardless of our opinions as Torah Jews.

This summer I took an English course that focused on poetry from 1945-present. The class was not required for my major, but I chose it as an elective. The course description was pretty vague, but I anticipated a survey of modern poetry over the course of 6 weeks. When I got to class, I learned that we would actually spend about 4 weeks focusing solely on the poetry of Wallace Stevens, whose works revolve almost entirely on an agnostic worldview. This, I felt, was not the ideal situation for me as an Orthodox student.

When I continued taking courses, things got a lot more complicated than that. The writers who argued for agnosticism and atheism were no longer a silent page that I could turn over, but were brought alive by my professors. My teachers would explain the rationale behind these controversial views and, since these were actual classes, I would have no choice but to sit and listen. Furthermore, I would have to write papers expounding upon these views, finding further support for perspectives that confidently deny the existence of G-d. Although these papers clearly did not reflect my personal opinions, they were nevertheless occupying the majority of my time. I can only assume that Orthodox students across the country are sitting in secular college at this very moment, actively filtering through a world of theory that completely contradicts Torah Judaism, but is being presented as fact, or at the very least, something they should be contemplating seriously.

So what do we, as students, do in such situations? The fine line between Torah U’madda becomes a lot more difficult to navigate in the college classroom, where liberal professors are attempting to mold your mind, and yeshiva education is a mere memory. As intellectuals, we are expected to consider all points of view, and objectively work through those fields of study which we involve ourselves in. As religious individuals, we expect ourselves to avoid situations in which we are immersed in agnosticism and anti-Torah sentiment.

We could, of course, simply avoid the classes that run the risk of such controversy. Many of the rabbis and peers that I discussed this with advised me to take other courses. So I could have chosen not spend my summer semester immersed in the poetry of Wallace Stevens; but that, to me, is simply the easy way out. We as thinking, religious Jews cannot run from situations in which our beliefs are challenged. That is not to say that one should get up in the middle of class and denounce all of his or her course material. Rather, we should tread carefully, anticipating what we will face in the classroom and bearing in mind that higher American education is an intellectual gauntlet unlike any other for the young Orthodox Jew. Amidst the philosophy and literary theory that make up our everyday occupation, we must remember to think critically, because madda is only secondary to Torah, no matter how convincing one’s professor may be.

I think this issue is becoming more and more relevant today as an increasing number of Orthodox students are choosing city and state colleges in this economic downturn. Many students do not properly anticipate what they will be facing in the classroom, especially coming off a year or two in Israel or straight from yeshiva high school. Because I am still struggling with the matter myself, I cannot pose a solution, but can only suggest that the Orthodox community be aware of what their college students are facing on an everyday basis. This is an issue that has always been around in some form or another, but I believe today’s college students are challenged on an entirely new level, and must therefore be duly prepared for an education they have never faced before.

Karen Greenberg lives in Queens, NY. She attended the Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central) and spent her year in Israel studying at Midreshet Harova. She is now a junior at Queens College with a major in English and a double minor in business and secondary education.

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36 comments to A Lesson in Education

  • Doron Beckerman

    Halachah unequivocally demands that one drop a college course that spends time contemplating heretical views.

    ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם – זו מינות

  • joel rich

    This is an issue that has always been around in some form or another, but I believe today’s college students are challenged on an entirely new level, and must therefore be duly prepared for an education they have never faced before.

    —————————-
    Just as every generation views itself as an orphaned genrtation(take it from one who experienced the 60’s). Welcome to the fight, we’ve been waiting for reinforcements! Feel free to call on those who are battle hardened for tips on staying alive (cue the Bee Gees)
    KT

  • Ori Pomerantz

    It sounds like a kiruv exercise (even non-Jewish students should acknowledge G-d as Noahides). This is the same kind of people you’ll work with after college. Their perceptions are shaped by this kind of professors.

  • William Kolbrener

    I think things might be a bit more complicated than the previous response implies. Without being tedious, the Rambam seems to have read Aristotle with some care:did he just skip the heretical bits? have an expurgated version? (was there an Artscroll Aristotle?)

  • yitznewton

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I will offer a counterpoint to R’ Beckerman’s comment: as a thinking individual, perhaps you might be in touch with one of the great Jewish thinkers who also has an extensive general background in philosophy. The Chief Rabbi immediately comes to mind as someone who has described his direct academic relationship with atheist philosophers in his writings.

  • Big Maybe

    “but that, to me, is simply the easy way out”

    Sometimes, the easy way out is the right way out. You are facing possible loss of religious function due to excessive smoke inhalation. Better to open the front door, situated directly behind you, and escape the burning building, rather than don fire-retardant clothing and attempt to fight your way out the back door.

  • One Christian's Perspective

    In reading your article, I appreciated your honesty and awareness of the situation on campuses today. Even Christian students struggle with ridicule, harassment, discrimination not to mention an over-abundance of liberal secular philosophy that excludes any other view that brings G-d into the picture.

    I cannot advise you but would only offer the story of Lot who chose with his ‘eyes’ what looked like the “greener pasture” and ended up pitching his tents near Sodom.

    Years ago, a wise teacher said “if you are exposed to something from the secular world by choice, then, make sure you expose yourself to Bible Study and seek G-d’s righteousness more……..and surround yourself with people who appreciate and seek the things of G-d.”

    The only way the secular world is exposed to the things of G-d, is by having people of faith in their midst. Light always shines out of the darkness.

    I wish you the very best as you continue your education. May Hashem bless you abundantly.

  • Doron Beckerman

    William Kolbrener,

    The Rambam never contemplated heretical views . He was not studying heretical material from a neutral standpoint which is precisely (at best) what this young woman is being asked to do. (And I am assuming Rav Lichtenstein’s lenient parameters of the prohibition and not the far more restrictive guidelines of Rav Yehudah Parnes on this issue.)

  • Chava Klein

    Karen,
    I also majored in English in Queens College.
    You can kind of regard the stuff you hear the same way you do the fiction: it isn’t true, just because somebody wrote about it. But that said, why not stick to the classes that aren’t too deep into that? I was in your shoes not too long ago, and I never read anything that was all about heresy, just stuff like Shakespeare. I didn’t run around discussing my beliefs, but I never wrote anything supporting heresy. Change your view from Torah U’Maddah to Torah U’Torah (with a little parnossa and non-heretical liberal arts knowledge thrown in) and you will do fine!

  • Dovid Kornreich

    I think Ori Pomerantz has the right idea. This regrettable experience is a microcosm of life in the outside world.
    Using a kiruv angle might not be a bad idea. I would suggest the young lady use her precarious spiritual situation to motivate her to organize with fellow Jewish students towards receiving inoculation against these influences. You guys should run regular seminars and bring in intellectual rabbis (from across the Orthodox spectrum) whose express purpose is to address and refute her professor’s assigned material and prevent him from imposing his worldview.
    It will strengthen you and make you an educated, discerning consumer instead of a hostage to secular-left academia.

  • S.

    “The Rambam never contemplated heretical views . ”

    The Rambam certainly contemplated (if you italicize it or not) all the works which he studied. He also writes that he would have accepted the eternity of matter (!) and intepreted the Torah in that light, had he been convinced it was scientifically correct.

  • Karen Greenberg

    Just to be clear, I would like to draw a line between material that is blatantly heretical and that which I am referring to– material which merely based upon problematic views. I certainly would not have taken a course entitled “Christian Philosophy” or something of that nature. Rather, the situation contains grey area when these views are being expounded upon behind the mask of English literature, or some other subject.

  • Doron Beckerman

    S.,

    I am very surprised at you. The Rambam’s approach mandates that if the eternity of matter (!) was proven to be correct, it would, by definition, not be heretical to believe that it were true. Torah is true and does not demand that we believe untruths. Contemplating the viability of Aristotle or Plato’s view of eternal matter is not heretical.

    Ms. Greenberg is describing a course where agnosticm and atheism are seriously contemplated.

  • L. Hershman

    Although my experience in the Ivies is a decade old, I can relate to your struggles. I have since tried to prepare my post-high school seminary students who plan to enter the secular university for these types of challenges (among the many others presented by the university). I have borne witness, with a heavy heart, to ideological defection (in most cases fueled also by a desire to join the licentious campus culture), and consequently have a conservative approach to these matters. I would encourage any Orthodox student who recognizes the existence of the problem (unfortunately, many don’t) to turn to a personal Rav for guidance as specific issues come up. In terms of a broader approach – what type of coursework to avoid, the propriety of avoiding altogether, whether, when and in what context to offer a counter-approach (kiruv?), how to personally avoid integration of ideas foreign to Judaism – it is essential to have a consistent approach, and preferably a mentor. I encourage you to look at the dialogue between Rav Lichtenstein and William Kolbrener in the 2004 Spring issue of Jewish Action – which outline two different approaches.

    No doubt, our great polemicists had to have understood the other viewpoint to refute it, but I do not believe this is the province of every 19 year old Jew, whose education in Jewish philosophy is sorely lacking. I agree with you that there is a huge difference between controlled exposure (reading) and imposed exposure (being lectured at, forced to write about, in an atmosphere where one voice dominates), and this should be sufficient to assuage your feelings of guilt at “running away from situations in which your beliefs are challenged.” On the contrary, I think this not only the wise approach, but the courageous one. You would never accuse someone who avoided fraternities as running away from situations which challenged his integrity – you would agree that there is no reason to test it in the first place. There is great courage and humility (something you don’t see much of on the secular campus!) in being able to say “I am not up to this challenge.” At the same time, I would agree with other comments suggesting programming for a deeper Jewish understanding, making yeshiva education not just a “mere memory” – but an integral part of your intellectual development.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >Halachah unequivocally demands that one drop a college course that spends time contemplating heretical views.

    Funny, because Rav Soloveitchic’s Phd thesis shows a deep familiarity with works that are heretical in their nature. It is fairly clear that he spent much time contemplating these works. Plus, both the subject of this thesis as well as one of his supervisors were heterodox Jews. I guess no one informed R’ Soloveitchic of this unequivocal halacha.

    >I am very surprised at you. The Rambam’s approach mandates that if the eternity of matter (!) was proven to be correct, it would, by definition, not be heretical to believe that it were true.

    That is a bit disingenuous, it is clear from the Moreh, that for the Rambam, there were two classes of people, the masses, (to whom the passage in the Mishne Torah is directed), and the nevuchim, the elite, who use their reason to arrive at the truth and take it as their a-priori responsibility to use their intellectual faculties to arrive at the truth of reality. It is to this latter group that the Rambam dedicated his magnum opus, the Moreh Nevuhim, realizing that to this elite, there can be no a-priori acceptance of a creator or any other religious truth. According to the Rambam, the truth of these beliefs needs to be established by philosophical proofs or at the very least needs to be proven not to be in contradiction to reason (which is why the Rambam’s view of the olam haBa and techiyat haMeitim is so untraditional and was quite shocking to many other rishonim as well as achronim). To the Rambam, the first mitzva is to prove the existence of God through reason and the “Metzaveh” of this mitzva is the intellect itself. Anyone who has seriously studied the Rambam’s philosophical works (or for that matter the work of ANY serious Jewish philosophical thinker) can see that they seriously contemplated works that were at the time (or still) considered heretical. In the words of R’ Kook:

    “אם אני מוכרח להיות איש ריב לכל העולם מצד הנטיה של האמת העמוקה שבנפשי, שאינה סובלת שום הטיה של שקר, אי אפשר לי להיות איש אחר. וצריך אני להוציא מן הכח אל הפועל רק את יסודות האמת העקריים הצפונים ברוחי, בלא שום התחשבות עם מה שחושב העולם בכל הסכמותיו.” זהו הפתגם של דורש האמת, המתעורר בגבורתו העליונה.

    It is up to the individual to judge for themselves the cost/benefit analysis of engaging in literature or speculative philosophy. A person who is truly engaged in the search for truth can not deny themselves access to any area of study and contemplation. THAT is the tradition we have received from our philosophical greats and it the tradition that those who hear the calling of truth must answer to.

  • Bob Miller

    The typical university today (but I’m excluding most math, hard science and engineering departments) is a perverse sort of kiruv institution with a mission to bring every student closer to atheism, socialism, and sexual immorality. This goes far beyond the old ideal of presenting all views dispassionately and having a truly free exchange of ideas.

  • Shmuel

    a question –how on earth can anyone get aesthetic enjoyment out of an Ayn Rand book? (I’m not saying her books aren’t interesting, just that I’ve never thought of any of them as a work of art). anyway I suppose there is no accounting for taste.

    that aside, I don’t think that the study of Wallace Stevens (whose poems are certainly works of art) is per se harmful to a Jew’s outlook. In fact in certain cases understanding opposing views can sharpen one’s understanding of what we believe and also strengthen one’s emuna.

    But a young person should only undertake such study if they are in contact with an advisor –could be their rabbi, could be a parent or older sibling if the person is qualifed– on the related issues, including whether the course of study is for them, and ideas that come up in the course of study. Further, I think a young person should only study these subjects if they are firmly grounded in Torah (how this is done is different for each person, but an easy example is that the person is learning half the day during college and thus has the Torah and its demands on his mind). So I may have taken away with the left hand what I granted with the right above, since I think the number of young Jews who are both interested in these subjects and also are approaching it the way I suggest is quite small.

  • SRS

    You wrote

    “I certainly would not have taken a course entitled “Christian Philosophy” or something of that nature.”

    Funny, because Rabbi Soloveitchik would have taken precisely such a course. Not “Christian Theology” but “Christian Philosophy”. And the Rambam took the equivalent of Islamic philosophy.

  • Charlie Hall

    I would love to hear what Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein and Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Rosenblatt have to say on this issue. Both earned PhDs in English literature (Dr. Lichtenstein at Harvard, Dr. Rosenblatt at Columbia). Perhaps the editors can invite them to offer a guest essay here.

    The list of unquestioned gedolim with secular university education is now quite long. I once asked Rabbi Dr. Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb what they had written on the challenges of secular education for religious Jews. He said that he was unaware of any writings by any of them. I am only aware of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s strong endorsement of secular education for its own sake, but he was probably not referring primarily to post-high school education.

    There is a common misconception that modern universities present greater challenges than universities in the past. It is not clear to me that this is the case. Universities in the western world were known for licentious activity by the 18th century; a famous song “Gaudeamus igitur” has lines (quoting Latin lyrics written in 1781) that go “Vivant omnes virgines; Faciles, formosae.” That is not the kind of thing that comes from a yeshiva environment, or at least I hope it would not! I’ve read enough first hand accounts of universities from 200 years ago to see that drinking and partying were also quite common and took their toll.

    And except for the fact that only men could attend most institutions, what went on inside the classrooms was potentially an even greater challenge, with heavy doses of Christian theology and philosophy almost everywhere. There isn’t much of that today. Instead we get postmodernist deconstructionism and objectivism. I do not discount the real danger: You would not believe the number of allegedly frum Jews who have told me that admire the philosophy of Ayn Rand, a hedonist atheist who openly expressed the desire to destroy religion because she considered it evil.

    But we better be prepared to deal with all these challenges. Is the Torah so fragile that it can not stand up to Wallace Stevens and Ayn Rand, or, for that matter, C. S. Lewis? Chas v’shalom! We better have a community of educated Jews who can argue on Stevens, Rand, and Lewis.

  • Doron Beckerman

    Charedi Leumi,

    No. The Rambam’s distinction is as follows: for people with fully grounded Emunah Sheleimah, there is a difference between the masses who should not be engaged in trying to prove Hashem’s existence via philosophical methods, and the elite, who should, and indeed it is a Mitzvah for them.

    Nobody is allowed to seriously contemplate heretical views as anything more than utter falsehood. When you show me the Rambam’s treatise wherein he defends atheistic or agnostic viewpoints (which is what I understand Ms. Greenberg is being asked to do), you will have proven your point.

    This will be my only response to Charedi Leumi. My silence should not be construed as any form of agreement.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >for people with fully grounded Emunah Sheleimah, there is a difference between the masses who should not be engaged in trying to prove Hashem’s existence via philosophical methods, and the elite, who should, and indeed it is a Mitzvah for them.

    This is a subversion of the Rambam’s view of the nature of Emunah. Emunah, for the Rambam should be the result of intellectual contemplation and not an a-priori condition for such contemplation.

    Here is the passage in the Moreh where the Rambam discusses the pre-conditions for the sort of investigation regarding divinity that he supplies in his book (Moreh 1:5):

    וכך נאמר אנו, שאין ראוי לאדם להתפרץ לעניין הגדול והנכבד הזה בהשערה ראשונה בלי שיכשיר את עצמו בחכמות ובמדעים, ויטהר את מידותיו ככל הראוי, וירסן תאוותיו ותשוקותיו הדמיוניות. וכאשר ילמד הקדמות אמיתיות נכונות וידע אותם, וידע חוקי הדיון והלמידות, וידע דרכי ההישמרות משיבושי המחשבה, אז ייגש לחקור בעניין הזה.

    ואל יחליט בסברא ראשונה שתיראה לו, ואל ישלח מחשבותיו בהתחלה וישליטם כלפי השגת הבורא, אלא יבוש וייעצר ויעמוד עד אשר יתקדם לאט לאט.

    The preconditions for investigation is not a-priori beliefs but rather:

    knowledge of general wisdoms and sciences
    knowledge of logic
    a certain level of ethical perfection (The Rambam writes in several places that lack of ethical strength leads to faulty reasoning)
    a control over ones lusts (a lack of which causes faulty reasoning according to Aristotelian thought)
    control over ones imaginative faculties.

    Nothing about a-priori beliefs in his list.

    Again, to the Rambam, this investigation is the entry way into Emunah, not post-priori apologetics and justifications for something that already exists. In this vain, he, like most great Jewish philosophers of the past, contemplated the truth of our religion as well as other doctrines which are heretical to our traditions.

    I will ask again, if it is such an unequivocal halacha, then how could have R’ Soloveitchic, the Seridei Eish, the Rav HaNazir have allowed themselves to enroll in graduate programs in philosophy and bibilical studies which indeed required them to seriously study works and opinions which are heretical? The fact that they did so such such an halacha is not so unequivocal.

    On a political note, I find it somewhat problematic in the modern world to advocate any sort of thought police or put limits on what people are allowed or not allowed to think. If we have learned something from the pre-modern era it is that policing thoughts often leads to the most horrid sorts of human oppression and suffering. Assuming that orthodoxy has a vision of one day re-integrating Torah thought with actual political life, it is quite frightening to me when I hear people putting limits on what others are allowed to think about, even though at this point in history, they do not have the political power to police this “halacha”.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >When you show me the Rambam’s treatise wherein he defends atheistic or agnostic viewpoints

    Why such an impossible criteria?? Of course he will not defend positions he considers false! He does, however, often, modify traditional beliefs because of his contemplations. For example, his doctrine of hashgacha in the Moreh 3:17, he modifies the traditional approach to be more inline with the Aristotelian approach (although he does not accept either fully). It is clear that his position is the result of serious contemplation of these matters and that he gave all parties a fair chance in his pursuit of truth. To say otherwise would be to accuse the Rambam of being completely disingenuous in his pursuit of philosophy, a position that I do not believe is easily defensible.

  • Daniel Weltman

    Doron, the Rambam (and Rav Saadia in the introduction to Emunot V’Deot) both hold that coming to knowledge of God through philosophical inquiry is more desirable than belief based on prophecy. As you say, it is a mitzvah to engage in this type of investigation.

    Do you honestly think that the Rambam and Rav Saadia expected people to engage in philosophy one-sidedly, without contemplating the other side? On the contrary, they hold that the prophetic, oracular traditions are there as a stop-gap to keep people faithful on the long and arduous road to philosophical perfection (as they saw it). This is only necessary if the philosophical inquiry is engaged honestly, and open-mindedly, with the possibility for making mistakes. Unless philosophical inquiry includes the contemplation of heretical views, and the defense of such views (at least as thought experiments) by the philosopher, there would be no need to provide a stop-gap.

    If you think the Rambam and Rav Saadia are advocating a game — nothing more — a game in which a person comes to the table with their beliefs, and sets out to prove those beliefs with a cynical use of philosophical argumentation, then that is not philosophical inquiry at all, but sophistry.

    True philisophical inquiry, with the very real danger of making a mistake (in the Rambam’s and Rav Saadia’s views), is the intellectual desideratum which, because of its danger, requires prophecy as a protective measure, to keep the philosopher believing until his inquiry leads him to the ultimate truth.

  • Chaim Wolfson

    “[I]t is clear from the Moreh, that for the Rambam, there were two classes of people, the masses, (to whom the passage in the Mishne Torah is directed), and the nevuchim, the elite, who use their reason to arrive at the truth and take it as their a-priori responsibility to use their intellectual faculties to arrive at the truth of reality. It is to this latter group that the Rambam dedicated his magnum opus,” -Chareidi Leumi November 30, 2011 at 4:27 am.

    True, the Moreh was written for the elite. But nevuchim doesn’t mean “the elite,” it means “the confused.” Which is precisely the point.

    “Is the Torah so fragile that it can not stand up to Wallace Stevens and Ayn Rand, or, for that matter, C. S. Lewis?” — Charlie Hall November 30, 2011 at 11:25 pm.

    It is not the Torah that is fragile. The concern is how well grounded we are in it.

  • Steve Brizel

    The real question posed by the author is not whether one should or not read and study heretical works, but whether the average MO or Charedi college student is correct in thinking that they are on the spiritual and intellectual levels of a Rambam, RYBS or RAL.

  • Dovid Kornreich

    I think some commentors here are suffering from the illusion that your average 19 year old, fresh from their one-year of innocence and inspiration in Israel can instantly stand up to all of academia like the Rambam and Rav Soloveitchik.
    Reality check, please?
    It takes years of dedicated grounding in classic Jewish philosophy under the guidance of a seasoned mentor to even start dreaming of doing that.
    Let’s say it the way it is. Without some serious religious and social support, most frum kids are shark bait on a secular college campus–especially in the humanities division.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    That is a fine meta-halachic consideration. I was responding to the supposedly unequivocal halacha that one not contemplate heresy – which is contradicted by the intelectual history of our people.

    Further, if our students are shark bait on college campuses, than that is a grave failure of our educational institutions.

  • Daniel Weltman

    Dovid, I agree with you. Our frum kids are mostly shark bait in secular colleges. But this is the tragedy!

    Tragically, the type of dedicated grounding in Jewish philosophy is not accomplished in the logical places for it — Jewish High Schools and Jewish post-High programs in Israel. Our children grow up woefully ignorant of the treasures their traditions afford. Our schools know of the tremendous challanges our tradition will receive once our students leave the yeshiva high school, and still, we dismissively decline to arm them with the philosophical competence to defend their faith from college professors, at least to themselves. דע מה שתשיב לעצמך, at least.

    In our day and age, we need to recognize that our kids’ access to knowledge is not subject to debate; sooner or later they will bve exposed. The question is, will we prepare them so that when they are so exposed, they will come away proud of the heritage they preserve? Faithful bearers of a proud outlook whose chain they are priveledged to continue? Or will they come away ashamed at the childish thinking they were taught as young adults, and either live a bifarcated life — one of intellectual honesty in all areas but religion, in which they will remain infantile, or worse, find the first opportunity to toss the yoke of this “childish religion stuff”.

    And if our schools cannot get it right, it is each parent’s responsibility to correct at home.

  • Shmuel

    I agree with Steve Brizel and Dovid Kornreich above (though I said above that in theory there is nothing wrong with studying these things in my view and it can be positive for the right person under the right circumstances and guidance), although I believe the primary reason for most of the problems orthodox Jews have on secular campuses is the cute lab partner, not the brilliant atheist professor or the ideas of St Augustine.

  • Danny Rubin

    Although it does not help this immediate situation, I’ve long been an advocate of teaching the Acharonim on Chumash during high school years. The Malbim and Rav Hirsch are among the Meforshim who address contemporary issues head on and thereby assist in building a foundation of security to deal with these issues. I would also like to see a specific course in girls high schools addressing workplace issues such as emunah, Choshen Mishpat, interaction with bnei noach, etc. If we are sending them there let’s prepare them.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >True, the Moreh was written for the elite. But nevuchim doesn’t mean “the elite,” it means “the confused.” Which is precisely the point.

    You are, of course correct that nevuchim does not mean “the elite”, however it is clear from the Rambam’s introduction, that the indended audience for the book are elites who have become confused through their intelectual investigations. the kind of “perplexed” for which the book is written are the ones who are perplexed pricecly BECAUSE they are intelectual elites. Notice, that the Rambam does not tell such people that it is forbidden to contemplate philosphy because in some cases it leads to kfira, rather, he writes a book advocating a particular philosphical approach (and one which shows a deep familiarity with doctorines which are indeed heretical – a familiarity that the Rambam could only have achieved through deep contemplation of the potential truth of those doctorines; The rambam was the real deal, he was not just writing appologetics for a priori Jewish traditions, he was advocating a deep and new philosophical approach that allowed the intelectuals of his day to stand proud. An approach that could only have come into being through a deep understanding of those who were not among the faithful).

  • dr. bill

    rabbi beckerman, three points:

    1) i wonder how much mekhankhim who overstate what are ikrei emunah and understate the breadth of views within our mesorah contribute to the problems students face when having to confront ideas and/or facts presented by others?

    2) avoiding the main debate, i question when a person’s decision to drop a particular course is a generalized halakhic decision versus at the other end of the spectrum, an eitzah tovah, the latter being much more situational and hardly given to being a unqualified psak? i suspect most cases fall in between but often closer to eitzah tovah.

    3) rather than categorical pronouncements, I would encourage college students to find a person with whom they can discuss what they find challenging to their beliefs.

  • Doron Beckerman

    Dr. Bill,

    1) I think we can agree that insisting on G-d’s existence is not overstating ikarei emunah.

    2) The other end of the spectrum is not “eitzah tovah” but “Ploni(t) is objectively unequipped to deal with the challenges to Emunah he or she will face in that course and therefore it is unequivocally forbidden for him or her to attend.”

    3) I wholeheartedly join you in encouraging the same, and not just for college students. Categorically.

  • Yaacov Marsh

    You may be interested in the following extract from an editorial that appeared in Hamodia last February.

    Is Higher Education a Waste of Time and Money?
    Since Jews began to enter the outside society during the so-called enlightenment, secular institutions of higher education have served as the first stop on the highway out of yiddishkeit for millions of young people. This is not surprising. Richard Rorty, a leading American philosopher, wrote in 2000: “When… college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists…we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We…go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity… those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft [domination] of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents … I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer.”
    In recent years, ways have been found to acquire the skills signified by college degrees while avoiding this toxic secular college environment, but despite the dangers many in the frum community have rejected these options as too limiting. Today, though, American society at large is beginning to question the hegemony of conventional higher education.
    The reason for this evolving trend is economic. Over the past three decades, college tuition has increased more than tenfold, over twice as much as the fourfold increase in home prices during the recent real estate bubble. Many people are observing the higher education bubble and concluding that it must burst.
    There are a number of reasons that people feel they need to send their children to college. First, they hope they will learn skills that will help them earn a good living. Second, it may make it easier for them to find a job, because employers believe that earning a college demonstrates the ability to stick at a task and complete it. Third, attending a college provides an opportunity to make contacts who may be helpful later in life. And many students just want to have a good time and delay their entry into the real world for a few more years.
    There has been little questioning of the first reason until recently. The belief that higher education makes students more productive has motivated governments to continually increase the availability of loans and grants, and parents to spend or borrow huge sums. Over the past decade, federal spending on student aid has grown by 99 percent. Americans now owe more money for student loans than on their credit cards. And President Obama wants even more young people to attend college, perhaps so they will come to adopt his worldview. To this end, his 2011 budget includes an increase of $156 billion in federal subsidies for student aid.
    That is unlikely to happen in the current economic climate. The public realizes that there is a need for both families and the government to cut down on unnecessary expenses, and the claimed benefits of higher education as we know it are now being scrutinized more carefully than before.
    After measuring the actual competence of college graduates, the National Center for Education Statistics found that most are below proficiency in both verbal and quantitative literacy. Researchers at the University of California found that today’s students study an average of 14 hours a week, compared with 24 hours in 1961. And according to a survey of 714 colleges and universities by the American Council of Alumni and Trustees, “by and large, higher education has abandoned a coherent content-rich general education curriculum.”
    Increased higher education is not a panacea. To quote an extreme case, the recent revolution in Tunisia was sparked by disaffected beneficiaries of free university education, which the government guarantees to all qualified high school graduates. Now, 57 percent of Tunisians entering the labor market are college educated – and have an unemployment rate exceeding 40 percent. The American situation is obviously not so bad, but it should be noted that 12 percent of mail carriers have college degrees. Walter Russell Mead of Bard College believes that worldwide trends mean that those with jobs requiring college degrees, including government workers, professors, lawyers, health care personnel, upper and middle managers are going to face a harsher environment, with increasing pressures of automation, outsourcing and harsh cost-cutting measures similar to those that have held blue collar workers down for the past thirty years.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    Why not “attend” a legitimate correspondence school? They exist (WGU, for example), and they allow you to study without being immersed in a secular environment. BTW, college education in general is in a bubble. But STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is still valuable. Speaking as somebody who works in the IT industry, we need more people.

  • Yitzchok Adlerstein

    Readers may notice that we held up a few comments by Chareidi Leumi and Daniel Weltman for several days after submission. Here’s why: Our stated policy is that we won’t publish material that we believe is contrary to halacha or fundamentals of faith. The very interesting and rewarding exchange between Rabbi Doron Beckerman and the two commenters mentioned above certainly set off warning bells about a possible violation of this rule. We allowed the discussion to continue as long as Rabbi Beckerman kept supplying counter-arguments. When he signalled that he was ending his part of the discusssion, we had no choice but to quarantine the possibly suspect comments until we could better look at them and see if they had unwittingly crossed a red line.

    I finally got around to it tonight, and quickly saw that there was much interesting and valuable material in the comments we had held up; we then approved them. This does not mean that Cross-Currents believes that they are halachically correct. Personally, I strongly believe that they are entirely incorrect. After all debate, we still follow halachic decisors. Rambam (as alluded to by one of R. Beckerman’s earliest comments) is abundantly clear about the halacha. Hilchos Avodah Zarah 2:3 (free translation): “It is not strictly speaking Avodah Zarah that the Torah forbids us to turn to even in thought. In fact, we are forbidden to consider and contemplate any ideas that cause a person to uproot from his belief system important principles of the Torah. We are not to follow the musings of our hearts in these areas.” In other words, we are obligate to self-censor. Arguments and material that may cause us to abandon principles of faith are off-limits. Students straight out of high school, ill-equipped with strong background in Torah machshavah, have no halachic sanction to take courses that have in the past caused others to question their observance.

    None of this really stands in opposition to anything pointed out by Chareidi Leumi and Daniel Weltman. They correctly demonstrate that some Rishonim – including Rambam himself – want people to build arguments for belief from the ground up. This process must include considering possibilities like atheism c’v, and lack of Sinaitic revelation. But those Rishonim do not advocate this process for everyone. Some are quite explicit about the prerequisites for such inquiry, including proper general and Torah education, refinement of character, and acquisition of self-restraint. Anyone who believes that students graduate high schools with these accomplishments should strongly think of giving up what they are smoking. For people without the requirements, the Rambam’s formulation of what is forbidden to study is completely on target. For those who acquire them, the Rambam’s formulation is irrelevant! They will not be adversely affected by what they read or think about. It is to this latter group that RSG and the Moreh address their words.

    Without R. Beckerman on call, keeping up the dialogue exceeds the availability of time of the editors. By executive decision, this thread is closed.