Op-Ed: TAP: What’s the Excitement?

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Last week many hailed the passage of the New York State Tuition Assistance Program for rabbinical students. Many activists and community leaders hurried to claim credit for the passage of the historic bill that will shift much of the economic burden for Yeshivos. It was indeed historic; for the first time ever, rabbinical college students will be eligible to receive TAP grants. For many school-choice activists it seemed like a step in the right direction; it appeared to be a bill that will serve our community and assist our institutions. However, for many of us it looked like a step backwards; it felt as if it was a stride in the wrong direction.

President Barack Obama advocated for better education in his State of the Union. “Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future – if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas – then we also have to win the race to educate our kids,” he exclaimed. He claimed that the United States education lags behind other competing nations, and attributed economic growth in foreign nations to better education. Indeed, David Baltimore, former President of the acclaimed Caltech University, claimed that America’s world economic stance is falling behind due to the lack of quality education.

The Jewish community needs to heed the message as well. Too many people are falling between the cracks because of inferior secular education. Far too many in our midst are unemployed or underemployed because of illiteracy. Staggering rent prices along with the expensive cost of living for orthodox-Jews is breaking us, and no end is in sight. Arrests and indictments of community members that occasionally make the news serve us as a reminder every so often, but the message isn’t taken. Yet, the latest phenomenon in many circles of the Jewish community that despises basic elementary education and sheds important secular studies to focus on more Talmudic studies continues. It is no question that our purpose is a Jewish education. But is that enough? Will we be able to support our children in spite of the inadequate education given in many Yeshivos?

Financial assistance for college and undergraduate education wasn’t created because of fairness; it was formed to give people the opportunity to strive. It is a program that was made to assist the poor and needy to achieve the American Dream, and prepare them for the future. It is an effective tool to prepare a person for the hardships in life and create more and better opportunities to get better, sustainable jobs and employment options. Rabbinical colleges didn’t receive the grants because of their cause not because of their religion. It wasn’t a discriminatory issue rather a syllabus matter.

The passage of TAP is indeed a milestone for many communities. Decades of hope, and years of tireless lobbying finally gave end results; it demonstrated that the work wasn’t in vain. Yet, is it to our favor? Is it such an achievement that we should celebrate with champagne?

Students attending rabbinical colleges with a curriculum that graduate ordained Rabbis with a future should celebrate; others should not. The thrill falls short of our expectations and doesn’t serve our needs. Financial assistance for colleges should be based on merits, and only those that graduate students with a profession or degree should deserve it. Courses should be created to prepare young men for jobs which should be paid by the financial assistance programs and it shouldn’t be used as a method to help Yeshivos survive.

School choice should be law because of equality. People should be able to choose the institution of their choice for their child’s education. Yeshivos and Hebrew schools should not have to carry the burden of raising funds for their institutions while their counterparts that often yield poorer results don’t. We, as law-abiding, tax-paying citizens of the United States, should deserve equality and choice. School choice will also enforce a better curriculum for Yeshivos that are lax with general studies. It would help the institution financially while the students will achieve better. A loophole in the system shouldn’t appease us. We should demand NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to work on the behalf of his orthodox-Jewish brethren and create a bill that will serve for our benefit – not against our interests.

Dave Hirsch is a political analyst and columnist. He can be reached at[email protected]

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Hirsch:

    The Rama 246:4 rules explicitly that it is absolutely prohibited according to Halachah to engage in a curriculum of secular studies. To read secular studies now and then, is permitted, he says. The source of the Rama is the Yerushalmi Sanhedrin.

    It has been suggested the difference between a curriculum and just a glance, is that this prohibition is not due to Bitul Torah but rather a Bizayon HaTorah, by establishing studies in areas other than Torah, it shows that you believe they have some value that would justify learning them when you could have been learning Torah.

    Rav Shimon Schwab ZT’L sought the Torah opinions of two great authorities, Rav Boruch Ber Liebowitz ZT’L and Rav Elchonon Wasserman ZT’L, regarding college education. Their responses were that secular education is against halacha (Birkas Shmuel Kiddushin #27 p.42, and Kovetz Shiurim II:47).

  2. “The Rama 246:4 rules explicitly that it is absolutely prohibited according to Halachah to engage in a curriculum of secular studies”

    That was never accepted by Klal Yisrael. Rambam and Sforno went to university, as did many other observant Jews starting in the middle ages. So did Rav Hirsch z’tz’l, Rav Herzog z’tz’l, Rav Hutner z’tz’l, Rav Soloveitchik z’tz’l, the Lubavicher Rebbe z’tz’l, Rav Lichtenstein, and many other gedolim.

    And even gedolim without formal secular education themselves valued it. Rav Reines z’tz’l started a yeshiva that had secular studies. Rav Kook z’tz’l spoke at the founding of a university. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach immersed himself in the study of electricity. Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg z’tz’l and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z’tz’l immersed themselves in the study of medicine and were assisted by the leading physicians and scientists of their time.

    “it shows that you believe they have some value ”

    They do have value. To be on the Sanhedrin you had to know seventy languages, astronomy, veterinary anatomy and physiology, and a host of other matters. How do you think they learned them?

    “Their responses were that secular education is against halacha ”

    Rav Schwab himself attended Rav Hirsch’s yeshiva that combined secular education and Torah learning. The two opinions you mention have not been accepted by Klal Yisrael.

    Do you really think that HaShem intended us to rely completely on non-Jewish physicians, non-Jewish scientists, and non-Jewish engineers? The gedolim I mentioned above surely don’t think so!

  3. I should add that I am pleased for a change to be agreeing with my colleague Dave Hirsch!

    To get government support of religious schools in New York will require an amendment to the New York State Constitution. This was attempted back in 1967 but it got less than 30% approval in the required referendum. Since then, nobody has been willing to touch it. It will take a tremendous amount of coalition-building to make this happen; it won’t happen just with the support of conservative Republicans. I’m on board.

  4. I, a card-carrying liberal, agree with the opinion set forth in this article that yeshiva education must include education not directly related to Torah.

    Commenter No. 3: How do you know that Dave Hirsch is the author of this article? No where above is that explicitly stated, though it is inartfully implied by the apparent non-sequitur paragraph in italics at the end of the article.

  5. Add my name to those who support David Hirsch’s position. Not every young man is cut out for whatever reason to be a Rabbi. It doesn’t mean they’ll stop learning, it just means that Hashem perhaps intends for them to be the wholes to help support K’al Yisrael. It’s time for us to cease looking down upon “earner/learners”, but in terms of shidduchim and overall.

  6. That was never accepted by Klal Yisrael.

    Incorrect. See Birkas Shmuel Kiddushin #27 p.42 and Kovetz Shiurim II:47 as cited in the first comment.

  7. “Incorrect. See Birkas Shmuel Kiddushin #27 p.42 and Kovetz Shiurim II:47 as cited in the first comment.”

    Those references simply show that the two poskim you mention held that opinion, a fact I of course did not dispute! In my comment I have listed far more gedolim who did not agree with R’Liebowitz z’tz’l and R’Wasserman z’tz’l. There are just too many university-educated gedolim — in every generation — to take your claim seriously.

  8. Actually, Charlie, in my humble opinion it’s fine for a true talmud chochim (read, as perhaps a future Gedol) to skip a college education. But our error is in thinking that every yeshiva bochur is a potential gedol hador. Many might be, but by the time they’ve reached their early 20’s and have spent several years in Beis Medrash, the cream has risen to the top in terms of learning. While the rest of the bochurim are fine Bnei Torah who should always maintain a regular sedar, it might be time however for them to think about a parnosa.

  9. Woman: It isn’t an error in thinking. The p’sak is quite clear. It is applicable to all not merely to talmidei chachomim.

  10. “It isn’t an error in thinking. The p’sak is quite clear. It is applicable to all not merely to talmidei chachomim.”

    According to the gedolim I cited, the psak isn’t applicable to anyone at all.