Volume 31 Number 50
                 Produced: Thu Feb 10 23:41:38 US/Eastern 2000

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Chilling stories
         [Melech Press]
Chilling Story
College and (IMHO) related issues
Observance vs. enlightenment
Secular College
         [Leah S. Gordon]
Secular colleges (and Jewish High Schools)
         [Carl Singer]


From: Melech Press <mpress@...>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 00:06:31 -0500
Subject: Re: Chilling stories

Carl Sherer noted
> However, I do not recall seeing a similar phenomenon when I was in law
> and business school a few years later. I would be interested in hearing
> Dr. Press comment as to the age (if any) at which the environment
> becomes less of an influence.

Carl makes a valid observation.  I think that there are probably several
answers to his question.  The most important is probably the declining
role of social involvement in graduate school as compared to the
undergraduate years.  Graduate students are more likely to live off
campus, to have jobs, to be involved in other life activities and to be
married.  These all, together with the greater maturity brought by age
and the greater certainty on one's life direction, serve to reduce the
powerful influences of the intense social pressures that were
characteristic of the undergraduate campus.  It is my impression, both
from my own graduate years and those of people I know, that the level of
busyness in the graduate years is much higher and the time available for
social interaction much lower, thus reducing risk factors.

David I. Cohen  writes
>     While I have great respect for the knowledge and opinions of
> Dr. Press, I believe that he missed the point that I (and I believe Carl
> Singer and our mutual friend Jerry Parness) was trying to make.
>     To me, it is not an issue of "making" children attend secular
> universities rather than YU or Touro. It is a question of whether we
> should allow them to consider an option other than YU.  My answer, and

I thank David for his compliment, but I did not misunderstand him, since
I hadn't yet read his original post.  Of course he is right that a child
who won't go to YU (even reluctantly) is better off in an institution
with a strong Jewish community than a weak or nonexistent one.  This is
not the situation of most youngsters who go to secular colleges, since
it is often their parents who are more insistent on such a course of
action than the students themselves.  I would however assert without
qualification that one should first make every effort to get the
youngster to go to a more intensely Jewish environment during this
particularly vulnerable psychosocial period.

>     The bottom line is that at that stage in life, the important
> influence will be the peer group that your child chooses, no matter what
> school they attend. And the choice of peer group will in part depend on
> the attitudes toward their Jewish upbringing that they bring with them.

I certainly agree, but different settings make very different peer
groups available.

> And, yes, Dr. Press, I can't dispute your clinical
> experience, but there must be some intellectual challenging teens who
> make lifestyle decisions on based on the way they are responded to by
> teachers and role models.

You seem to think we disagree.  Certainly a teacher's response can have
a profound effect on a student.  My point was only that it was much more
likely to be related to the tone of the response or its social climate
than its intellectual content.

Melech Press
Professor of Psychology, Touro College
<mpress@...> or melechp@touro.edu


From: Anonymous
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 15:18:26 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Chilling Story

Appropos the effect of attending a secular university on observance.
Both my boys attended such schools after 12 years of a MO day school.
The initial effect this had on both was to make them more observant, as
they felt the responsibility to maintain their own observance as the
school was not doing it for them. (ie-kashrut, etc.)  The long term
effects were different, once becoming far more observant than his family
and the other, while holding on to some observance, has move rather
further away, but we have not given up hope for him.

I do think that for some young people, the responsibility of
self-policing can be an impetus to further growtn and development
religiously as well as intellectually and socially.


From: Anonymous
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 06:29:34 EST
Subject: College and (IMHO) related issues

David I. Cohen wrote:

>   A child (or better, young adult) who adamantly does not want to be 
>  at YU (for whatever reason) is going to be much better off at a secular
>  institution, provided there is available adequate Jewish orthodox
>  infrastructure to make an Orthodox life fulfilling. Forcing that student
>  to YU can be extremely counterproductive.  

And "force" can take many forms, whether parental insistence, including
by control of purse strings, or other types of community pressure.  I
began my undergraduate studies in a secular university, having been
observant for quite a few years before leaving my parents' home.
However, my first day on campus, I came under the "spell" (and this word
is indeed an accurate descriptor of my experience) of a kiruv
organization whose methods struck me, and I think at least some others
who encountered the parties in question, as extremely cult-like.

The mekareivim in question tried their doggonedest to get me to leave
the university in the middle of my first year and learn at a particular
seminary in Jerusalem.  While learning in Eretz Yisrael certainly is not
necessarily a bad thing, the environment of the seminary they were
"pushing" on me would have been disastrous for me emotionally and

In the end, when they realized that my parents would not allow me to
leave the university for a seminary, these mekareivim GRUDGINGLY
conceded that YU-sponsored academics were marginally "less bad" than the
undergraduate institution at which I got my start.  I therefore
transferred, with my parents' GRUDGING agreement, out of my original
university.  However, I spent only one semester within the YU system and
it was the most thoroughly miserable experience of my entire life from
all standpoints: academically, religiously, spiritually, emotionally,
socially, and on from there.  The fallout from that semester, combined
with the mind control tactics applied to me by the mekareivim at my
prior institution, nearly drove me "off the derech" altogether.
Eventually, amidst great anguish, I made the best decision of my
entirely life, even up to present day (20 years later): I transferred
back to my original undergraduate university, where I finished my

>      The bottom line is that at that stage in life, the important
>  influence will be the peer group that your child chooses, no matter what
>  school they attend. And the choice of peer group will in part depend on
>  the attitudes toward their Jewish upbringing that they bring with them.

I think this comment accurately reflects one aspect of the broader
issue: insularity on the one hand, vs. appropriate introduction to the
best and inoculation against the worst of the secular world on the
other.  One sidelight of some of the turmoil I described above was that,
for a nontrivial period of time, I tried to settle in a very
anti-secular, "black-hat" community.  For a variety of reasons, many of
which reflect circumstances of my life that I did not choose and over
which I had no control, and as much as I might have wanted that life at
the time, THAT WORLD WOULD NOT HAVE ME.  Nevertheless, its "citizenry"
also berated for maintaining any ties to "the outside world."  In other
words, I "couldn't win for losing."  I would note that even in less
insular communities that have been at least a bit more tolerant of
interaction with the secular world, I meet with enough hostility and
rejection on a daily basis that life is very difficult and painful a lot
of the time.  Nevertheless, having been observant for nearly 30 years, I
think it's safe to say I'm in the fold for keeps.

While I haven't surveyed a representative sample of people out there,
I'm sure I'm not the only one with experiences such as I've described.
In my case, maintaining professional and, yes, even a few selected
social ties OUTSIDE the insularity of the "shtetl" is a very important
support FOR my ability to remain "on the derech," in that it buffers
some of the lack of acceptance that is my lot within the "frum" world.

Most of our young (and not-so-young) people are going to have to venture
out into "the world" at some point, whether we like it or not.  As such,
I would respectfully suggest a lesson to be learned from experiences
like mine.  If we want to minimize the risks involved of "losing them
from the derech" when they venture out, we should bend over backwards to
alleviate the intolerance and hostility within the observant community.
Unfortunately, if anything, what I see of the behavior of those with
influence on this issue suggests that the trend is in the opposite


From: Steve <stevehome@...>
Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2000 19:02:13 +1100
Subject: Observance vs. enlightenment

I was surprised at the following statement from Dr. Press regarding
higher education:

>However, if I had to choose between observance and enlightenment, there
>is no question.  Much of the discussion of this issue seems not to
>believe that commitment to the modern world pales to insignificance
>compared to commitment to Torah.

Our problem in Modern Orthodoxy is that we compartmentalize. The
spiritually conscious observant Jew IS enlightened! As Rav S.R. Hirsch
taught, exposure to science, arts, literature and culture serve to
enhance our understanding of God's Universe and our own nature. A rich
university education allows us to appreciate the accumulated knowledge
of civilization. The knowledge of Torah allows us to evaluate such
knowledge in moral terms -- such that we accept that which is compatible
to Torah values and reject that which is incompatible.The empirical
sciences are amoral -- they are morally neutral and therefore
acceptable. The arts need to be consciously assessed as to their moral
value.The result is that we can be cultured, university educated and
professionally competent while choosing to live a life guided by Torah

As previous posters exclaimed: What are we afraid of?

Steve Bailey
Sydney, Australia


From: Leah S. Gordon <lsgordon@...>
Date: Wed, 09 Feb 2000 21:10:10 -0800
Subject: Secular College

Bill Bernstein writes:
>conforming, but the conformance is to something other Orthodoxy.  It
>would be interesting to compare stories of people who grew up religious
>in smaller communities and went to college vs those who grew up in
>larger communities.

Well, since you asked, here is my data point.

I grew up Orthodox in a small midwestern town.  My sisters and I had
after-school tutors in Judaica, as well as Jewish summer programs, and
we attended public schools.

When I attended MIT, it was a matter of course for me to e.g.  skip
class on chag and get notes afterward, or reschedule exams.  Many of my
Ortho Hillel friends, who had never been in this kind of situation, were
unwilling to miss class (and would go but not take notes--which I found
inappropriate and not in the spirit of chag).  Some even made personal
"exceptions" to take exams instead of asking the professor for a
different test date--which, by the way, I never had a problem arranging.
(There were stories of one or two mean professors who would be bad about
it, but I never experienced this.)

I knew a few Ortho Hillel people who ended up dating non-Jews on
campus...they had never even met non-Jews of the opposite sex before,
much less had to make decisions about what kind of socialization was

I have to say that being in a predominantly Jewish Hillel social group
made me a _much_ more committed Jew than before or even since.

Also, someone mentioned that people should consider Catholic
universities, citing their openness to religious opinions on such topics
as abortion.  Let me remind everyone that the Catholic opinion on
abortion is anathema to the Jewish opinion on same:

Catholics believe that the life of the fetus supersedes that of the
mother in all cases.  Some Catholics buy into the idea that in cases of
rape/incest an abortion may be allowed.  Catholics believe that the
Church opinion should ideally be legislated for all women.

Jews believe that the life of the mother [and some say, her emotional
health as well] supersedes that of the fetus in all cases.  Jews further
understand that [with the emotional health exception] the origin of the
pregnancy is *unrelated* to the halakhic status of the fetus as a person
or not.  Jews believe that each case of abortion should be decided (for
Jewish women) in consultation with medical and rabbinical advice.  Even
if there were some overall Jewish ruling, it should still not apply to
non-Jews, who have different rules.

These differences do not even go into the question of when the fetus
becomes a life, etc.

--Leah S. Gordon


From: Carl Singer <CARLSINGER@...>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 08:14:56 EST
Subject: Re: Secular colleges (and Jewish High Schools)

<<  From: David I. Cohen <BDCOHEN613@...>
A few years ago, I read in the Commentator of the problem of
chilul shabbat in the YU dorms!

 Which leads me to the next point: High School. Why is it that our
 Jewish high schools are (with some notable exceptions) are afraid of
 students who ask the tough questions? Is there a faster way to turn off
 a thinking teen ager? >>

David brings up several points of note:

1 - a good school with a given haskofeh (Y.U. in this case) attracts all
kinds (or at least attracts their parents) thus is not an monolithic
island -- your child may not have his (haskofik) clone as a roommate or
classmate, but someone who (if they wre younger) you wouldn't let him /
her play with.  This may include: they watch TV and you don't allow in
your home, to they don't do Chalov Yisroel, they do drugs, they don't do
Shabbos (pardon the crude wording.)

2 - days schools and high schools are faced with the same challenges.
At the same time that you reach out, you confront issues such as the
child who brings a ham sandwhich into the lunchroom (just a visible
token of a deeper situation.)  One solution is to put up tighter filters
-- we only take kids from frum homes, or we only take kids with B+
averages and who have never had a problem in their lives and who are
enroute to some Jewish equivalent of sainthood (I'm speaking
figuratively -- obviously.)

It just dawned on me that this has taken a decidely New York / New
Jersey flavor -- where there are multiple choices and day schools / high
schools can try to set a narrower bandwidth.  In other cities (yes,
there are frum Jews who've never been to Brooklyn) schools often are
community schools and must service a wider range of families.

Also, for many YU may not be a dorm and home for the weekends, but 100's
of miles away.  I did my undergrad at Case Tech, primarily because I
could live at home and commute -- which takes away a number of problems
(and exchanges them for others.)  I imagine others have had similar

Carl Singer      


End of Volume 31 Issue 50