Religious Students Warned About the Dangers of University

A long list of dangers awaits young men and women from the religious Zionist community beginning their first days at university or college, according to some of the community's rabbis. The risks include remaining single, becoming a single mother, apostasy, becoming a leftist, promiscuousness (immodesty ) and "crushing every value that is national and Jewish." These "dangers" at university emerged from an internal community discussion ahead of the new academic year.

Knit skullcaps and long skirts have always filled the university campuses and continue to fill all ranks of academia, with the blessing of most mainstream rabbis. However, in recent years opposition among conservatives has been growing with complaints about religious and secular students being together in the same classrooms, but more generally about education that is not purely "Torah-based."

Rabbi Avraham Wasserman, who teaches in the Ramat Gan Yeshiva, attacked academia in an article a week and a half ago in Olam Katan, a pamphlet disseminated to synagogues before the Sabbath and known for being very popular among the younger members of the community. His article is titled "A little stupid: On looking for a career and having excessive education." It attacks not only academia but also the demand that teens study math and sciences in school. "Who decided that a university diploma is 'respectable' and manual labor is not?" the author asks.

However, Wasserman is most concerned with the influence of student life on religiously observant students. Arguing that higher education has affected "the essence of humans' existence," he says that "the natural way in which they have been created, including the great motivation to create a family and to manifest the parenting instinct and the continuity of the generations" has been marred.

The article says: "Education may disrupt this nature, to the point of extended bachelorhood, and even many who never marry ... which has led to the distorted reality of single-parenthood, in which a child is orphaned from the start of his creation ... when one becomes too smart, he loses the natural state of being, which is erroneously described as stupidity."

Olam Katan hosted a response to Rabbi Wasserman's article from Rabbi Uri Sherki of Machon Meir, who teaches Judaic studies at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa. Sherki writes: "While there is a great deal of appropriate criticism regarding academia ... the enormous importance of academic tools should not be rejected when one recognizes them for what they are, tools."

At a time when part of the ultra-Orthodox community is opening up to academia and thousands of Haredim are studing at religious colleges, questions are being raised in the national-religious camp about the value of the academy, with rabbis trying to implement a classic Haredi model, rejecting "external wisdom."

"This is an effort at containment, an attempt to adopt an approach that in the past was ultra-Orthodox, and in my view does not reflect the religious community. It is a vocal minority, which is not dominant," says Dr. Shmuel Wygoda, who heads the department for Jewish thought at Herzog College in Alon Shvut.