Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is yeshiva worth it?

A guest post by JS:

My wife and I don't have children yet (we've quickly learned that in the Jewish community, it's essential to say "yet" whenever referring to not having children). However, a frequent topic of conversation is yeshivas and whether or not they are worth it. The conversation has taken on more immediacy as we start to consider what community we'd like to make our home and therefore what options we would have in terms of where to send our future children.

Cost is obviously a major driver in any discussion about yeshiva. The MO yeshivas in our area currently cost around $12k-$15k for K-8 and around $22k-$25k for 9-12. And of course even if the stork delivered a kid tomorrow, by the time they were in Kindergarten the cost would likely be $15k-$18k and 9th grade would likely be $35k-$40k. That alone is staggering and should give one pause. But, I'd like to focus more on what exactly does one get out of yeshiva education.

I went to an MO yeshiva K-12 and never went to yeshiva in Israel. As I understand it, the year in Israel is critical as that's where you REALLY learn (What exactly were K-12 for then? practice?). Now, more than 10 years out of high school I couldn't tell you a single rashi, midrash, vort, inyan, sugya, etc. that I learned in all my years of yeshiva education. Anything I now know is from my own personal learning that I did after yeshiva. I also don't really believe my "love of learning" (and granted, it's not all that big) came from yeshiva either. I enjoyed Judaic studies and was in the advanced tracks, but that's more because I'm a curious person, I enjoy learning almost any subject, and Judaic studies was in the home. It also helps that I enjoy debating and logical and critical thinking. But in actual yeshiva? Except for a few teachers, I was pretty bored. I didn't find many of my rabbeim that interesting, that intelligent, or that inspiring. Many were recent YU grads who merely went over shiurs they learned 1-2 years prior. I found that most of my questions couldn't be answered and were met with a "good kashya!"

Another thing is that I never learned how to learn in yeshiva. I was never given the proper tools. This is certainly true in the Hebrew/Aramaic department. It's only because of hearing Hebrew at home that I can even pick up a siddur or chumash and understand what I'm reading. And despite this I am reliant on English translations to get through difficult sections. My wife went K-12 at a MO yeshiva and she can't even do that. Her Hebrew is so poor she is totally reliant on Artscroll. Most grads of MO yeshivas fall into this category. The kids who get up to do Anim Zemirot or Ein K'Elokeinu who are the proud recipients of a yeshiva education can hardly pronounce a single word correctly, have no idea what they're saying, and zip through ketoret, etc faster than I can say more than 5-6 lines.

Then you have DB's post below about the shallowness of a yeshiva education. I think through about 5th grade and maybe a bit longer, my Jewish education consisted nearly entirely of arts and crafts projects, cute midrash stories like how Rivka was 3, and a rashi here and there. And of course, we never returned to re-learn Breishit or any of the other "story" parts of Torah. We never even learned all of Chumash - VaYikra was nearly entirely passed over as was most of D'varim. And we maybe made it through half of Neviim and hardly any of Ketuvim. As for gemara, we made it through 20-25 daf each year in a random masechet. We never learned any practical halacha either. And we only had a short half-year, once a week class in Jewish philosophy, which was a complete joke and treated all major philosophical issues in Judaism as "obvious" and that these aren't major concerns, but if they are simplistic answers should suffice. I hate to return to the cost issue and I know it's not all about quantity, but seriously, shouldn't you get a bit more for your money here?

Finally, there is so much hashkafically that I was taught in yeshiva that I simply don't agree with. This ranges from secular hashkafa relating to politics and how to interact with the outside world to Jewish hashkafa. When I was a teen and completely obnoxious and thought I was right about everything, the yeshiva took advantage of this to force hashkafic arguments at home. Every Shabbos without fail the meal would denigrate into a heated debate about how my parents were wrong about everything and weren't properly adhering to Jewish values, halachas, and ideals. The yeshivas pitted me against my parents as what they taught wasn't what we did at home. Another major problem is the outright racism and xenophobia explicitly taught in yeshivas both subtly and not so subtly. We were taught we're superior to everyone else, other religions are lies and their practitioners are just stupid and will see the light when mashiach comes, other races do drugs and commit crimes. We were taught to fear the outside world and to stay as close to other Jews as possible - to go to Jewish colleges or at least to stay on Jewish floors. We were told not to trust ourselves since the outside world is full of temptations and we would surely succumb without a constant Torah environment. Yet of course, at the same time, the yeshivas ignored the fact that drugs and alcohol were serious problems. And they of course ignored how the students had little to no derech eretz, would run around the shul/school like vilda chayas causing property damage, and cause chillul Hashems on class trips. I recently asked a girl who attends a MO yeshiva which has a new building how the new facilities are and she responded, "It was nice when we first moved in, but they already need to fix it up since everyone wrote on all the desks and some kids kicked holes in the walls, etc."

So, this is the background with which we consider the yeshiva question. I'd like to know what people think of the above - do you agree or disagree? Do you buy into the argument that if a child didn't go to yeshiva there's simply no way they will ever remain frum? Do you think there's absolutely no way to provide a Jewish education outside of a yeshiva? Does the family count for nothing? If a family provides a frum, Jewish home which demonstrates a love for Yiddishkeit and if the parents learn with their children or hire a rabbi to learn with them this is still not nearly as good as a yeshiva? Most importantly (for me): Is there any hope for a LW MO couple like my wife and me?

Search for more information about the pros/cons of yeshiva at 4torah.com.

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