Sunday, February 27, 2005

In Defense of Secular College

As I sit here in my dim, dank dorm room reading "Courts, Judges, & Politics" (yes, it is as boring as it sounds), I feel a need to defend secular college - partially due to some blog comments I've seen and partially due to some recent discussions (and partially due to an intense need to procrastinate).

I love Columbia but I also realize that the fact that I'm happy with my choice does not make it a good choice. I fully recognize that life is not a choose-your-own-adventure novel where you can figure out what would happen based on different choices and then flip the pages back and re-do it if the outcome wasn't desired. So, I don't know where I would be had I gone to Stern or made some other decision that did not involve a four year stint at this fine institution of higher education, but I don't think that I would be where I am religiously - not even close.

I came back from seminary not incredibly impressed with the experience; it was a little bit more to the right than I expected, a little less academic than I expected, and all-in-all not what I had gone to Israel for. And while the way of life that I glimpsed seemed nice, I figured what I had in my more "modern" background would serve me just as well; I was ok with where I'd been religiously and intended to stay there.

Or so I thought. My first year of college was a learning experience for me (and I'm not referring to the illustrious Core Curriculum). Let's just say that Modern Orthodox Jews on a college campus act pretty much the same as the other students on said campus. And it was only after witnessing that behavior that I realized that Modern Orthodoxy was not exactly where my heart lay.

But it took secular college to show me that. It took being exposed to the "real world" and all that that entails to send me running back to an Orthodoxy that remains true to Torah values. I don't know that I would have come to those realizations and changed my religious beliefs had I not come to a secular university. And while I can't say that everyone belongs in a secular college, I truly do believe it is the right place for certain Orthodox Jews, myself included.



At 2/28/05, 12:13 PM, Blogger Devorah said...

Touche, my dear! Touche!

At 2/28/05, 12:51 PM, Blogger T. "B." M. said...

Yeah, I definitely agree with a lot of your general ideas. I mean I certainly don't hold that secular college is ossur, and I can surely see how it could help certain people grow. Good for you for learning from your not-so-frum environment, instead of being dragged down by it.

At 2/28/05, 7:31 PM, Blogger EN said...

It seems to me, and correct me if I'm wrong, that your opinion is the college experience has made you more frum. Agreed, that you might now appreciate frummness more, but what about the sullying of the soul, with the experiences that you have had. Is it worth the gehinnom that will be required to remove it from the soul? (I'm not trying to be argumentive, this is a purely philosphical question).EN

At 2/28/05, 8:15 PM, Blogger Eli7 said...

T."B."M, I think that's exactly the point - secular college is not a great place; I certainly would not argue that it is the most spiritually enhancing place around, but you can grow from it - grow even more than you could elsewhere.

Which brings me to EN's comment: yes, I am well aware of the negative aspects of secular college - I've come into contact with more of them than I would have liked. But I am also aware of the positive aspects of secular college. And I am frummer for my stay at Columbia. Really.

So, you say, is it worth the future cleansing of my soul from all the negative aspects I've been affected by here? And I have no answer for this. I will tell you that half the battle is being aware of the negative aspects and knowing when to avoid something or even when to ask a shaila.

None of those things are as easy as they might seem and all are incredibely important to remaining a frum Jew here and everywhere. So, I try to keep my eyes open and use this distinctly unspiritual place to grow spiritually. Does it work? I hope so.

I really do think this was the best choice for me; I do really, truly think I am frummer for the experience and have grown from it, and isn't that what matters?

That does NOT, though, mean that I think everyone would benefit spiritually from being thrown into the spirtual desolation that is often secular college. I think it really has to be determined for each indivdual seperately. I've seen plenty of people lose their Orthodoxy on secular college campuses as well. And I can't give you a test to figure it out.

I think it was worth it for me, but I also think it's a really big decision that needs to be made with the pros and cons in mind.

At 2/28/05, 8:24 PM, Blogger Stx said...

Wow, I'm with Devorah on this one. There's nothing else to say.

(Although "spirtual desolation that is often secular college"....hmmm never thought I'd hear you say that.)

(Oh, and tell me how the weather is down

At 6/28/05, 9:56 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

Maybe you've met the wrong MO sort of people. The ones I knw at NYU are so devoted to Judaism and Torah that it reaffirms my decisions of loving Torah UMadda every day . . .

MO can be divided into 2 types (as can the Yeshivishe world prolbably) - the fakers and the dedicated ones. The fakers make me horribly angry. The dedicated few make me proud to be Jewish at all.


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