What is the best Jewish education?

George Washington once said “ …that a national university is a thing to be desired.”

By JACOB SCHARF
September 9, 2013 21:13
Harvard University

Harvard University. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Throughout my high school career I have noticed something disconcerting; tremendous students are abstaining from elite universities, and instead acquiring degrees from lesser schools – like Yeshiva University – to further their Judaic knowledge. I do not write this article to question the value of Judaic knowledge in ones personal life, rather I would like to question the value of this knowledge in the marketplace.

Let’s be pragmatic for a moment. We send our children to college so that they can pursue a career upon graduation. I am sure there are many who feel that gemara can help someone who wishes to be a lawyer, and gematria can help someone who wishes to be a mathematician.

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However, it seems to me that if Jewish students wish to become lawyers, their time on gemara ought to be exchanged for legal study, and future mathematicians’ time is better spent on math. Please excuse my harshness, but it is my argument that Jewish studies at the university level are an inefficient use of time.

The conclusion of my argument is simple.

If a Jewish student is given the opportunity to attend an elite university, like an ivy-league school, it would be a mistake to forego such an excellent education in exchange for attendance at a lesser Judaic institution. The argument that a student should go to the best college available should seem like a platitude. I only raise this point because I have seen too many Jewish parents encourage and glorify the attendance of a yeshiva as compared to an elite, secular university.

Once again, I do not mean to attack the value of Judaic knowledge. The main support for my conclusion is not that it lacks use, rather it simply lacks efficiency. If your goal is to become a doctor, there is no utility to be gained from attending a lesser university in order to learn gemara inside the classroom. This point is strengthened by the fact that it is remarkably easy to learn gemara outside the classroom. Simply go to synagogue. Buy some books from a Judaica shop.

This argument does not just apply to Judaic knowledge, but it applies to secular forms of knowledge as well. In an example, let’s substitute Judaic knowledge for mathematics. If I wanted to become a lawyer, it would obviously be foolish to attend a lesser university simply because they offered a great math department. I am not there to graduate with a degree in math, thus surely this is a bad decision.



The same line of logic applies to Judaic knowledge and Judaic institutions.

I have no doubt that the most common counterattack to my argument will concern how I came to decide that a Judaic institution, like Yeshiva University, is objectively lesser in comparison to an ivy-league university. Many will feel that this is a subjective matter. I disagree. Like it or not, a degree from Harvard or Yale will be viewed objectively by secular employers as being superior to a degree from any Judaic institution. On conclusion, as a Jewish community I think we should set our sights higher. There is no need to settle for a lesser school to pursue Judaic knowledge when provided with objective better alternatives.

There are other avenues to pursue Judaic knowledge. Do not hinder one’s college and career goals by inefficiently spending time with Jewish studies.

Though, they are praised by their parents and community for their risky decision, it could prove detrimental to them in today’s economic recession. Maintaining your Jewish roots is all well and good, but it might not allow you to reach the peak of your academic potential. Ideally, the college a Jew chooses will have both a well-rounded academic background as well as a solid Jewish Education; however, this is rarely the case. In Jewish communities globally, we hear about the “futuredoctor” or “future-lawyer,” but in today’s dicey economic state, it’s confusing to be considering Jewish education as an academic priority. There is no doubt that Jewish life is important, just don’t let it hinder your intellectual potential in your future profession.

According to collegedata.com, the average GPA for those accepted to Yeshiva University is roughly 3.6. In contrast, the average GPA for students accepted to Stanford University is about 3.8. Both schools are being graced with excellent students applying to their university. However, only one school has proven time and time again to be academically superior, that is, Stanford. Having been ranked 6th best national school in US News compared to Yeshiva University which is ranked 46th. The proof is in the pudding.

Though, people insist on allowing Yeshiva University to become serious options amongst many prestigious universities.

As someone who has attended Jewish day schools until 9th grade, I have witnessed many friends succumb to the pressure of choosing a school based on religious affiliation, such as, Yeshiva University.

Though, I am not discrediting schools like Yeshiva University, I’m saying that students who have the capability of attending schools like the University of Pennsylvania should gratefully accept that opportunity rather than squandering it. In times where the state of our economy can be described as, bewildered, we should be striving to achieve the best academic background possible. When our future employers view our portfolio, they will not appreciate the importance of attending a primarily Judaic-based school. Rather, they may ask follow-up questions as to why religious affiliation was a priority over secular, academic goals. Why should we allow religion to be responsible for allowing secular, academic shortcomings? Personally, I have witnessed religious organizations and synagogues worldwide attempt to convince impressionable high school students to continue their Judaic knowledge obtained in high school. “It would be a waste” some say. This, I believe, is corrupt. In a society where jobs are not guaranteed we should not be persuading high schoolers to attend a lesser school to obtain knowledge that will not help them in a future occupation.

Although, it is necessary in being a devote Jew – our future employers will not care for our ability to cite Jewish doctrines. No doubt this is not easy on the ears. But it is the truth. Plain and simple. After years of viewing a vicious cycle of children choosing an outstanding university, then changing it because of peer pressure or religious inclination, I am disappointed. I am not only disappointed in the parents and youth organizations like NCSY and USY for convincing vulnerable children to choose a different route; but I am also dissatisfied in the children for choosing such a detrimental path. Although, people who persuade these children into choosing this path do have a purpose for their action. With religion becoming increasingly less relevant, it becomes imperative to Judaism’s “survival” that schools like Yeshiva University are packed to the brim with Jews. Though, it risks sacrificing a greater, secular education.

To reiterate, employers do not empathize with the notion of Judaic education.

If an employer receives two applicants, one from Stanford University, and the other from Arizona State University, who gets the job? It’s a matter of logic. Of course, this is a hyperbole. But, the reality is, people chose schools like Yeshiva University over Stanford on a yearly basis.

Though misinformed people continue to give false hope and advice. There should be no praise for someone considering a worse path. Why settle for mediocrity? It’s difficult for me to grasp this idea.

Although I know that religion is a positive element in one’s life; in this particular instance, it seems to be detrimental. It’s causing people to act illogically. For illustration, the “future-doctor” in your synagogue has many choices for college, amongst them are probably, Yeshiva University, University of Maryland and Temple University. Although, I understand the comfortable aspect of choosing a religious- based school, but doesn’t Temple or University of Maryland, for example, offer Judaic outreach programs? Still, it’s scary to think that choosing Yeshiva University is considered a legitimate option amongst those who want to receive a degree in medicine – not rabbinical studies.

I hate to burst your bubble, but this is the truth. We need to begin to prepare children for life outside of Judaism. We should be praising them to being accepted to a well-renown, secular university, rather than looking for Jewish alternatives.

George Washington once said “ …that a national university is a thing to be desired.”


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