Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Teves 5762 - December 26, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
A Torah Education is College-Equivalent

Two weeks ago, the scandal of the phony university degrees broke loud and clear in secular Israeli circles. No less than the president of the Israeli Teachers' Union was forced to suspend his activities under the suspicion of having acquired his university credentials under false pretenses. It is suspected that he did not do all of the work necessary to earn his college degree but rather just paid to use another's work. He was given a financial break to look the other way as others also bought their degrees.

His deputy was also suspended, and investigators said that the investigation is very broad. Altogether over 100 people -- including teachers, police and security forces personnel -- have so far been questioned in connection with the scandal.

Generally speaking, the fact that someone has a degree is taken as evidence that he has reached a certain level of intellectual maturity and sophistication and that he will thus do a better job. Since he has learned and mastered the subjects involved, the "academic" degree holder is expected by an employer to be able to do a higher quality job. In Israel, in big organizations, holding a degree entitles one to a higher salary. Thus, the head of the Teachers' Union is suspected of actually committing fraud by getting a salary increment that he was not entitled to.

With all the accusations, no one has been accused of incompetence. Even if they got their degrees dishonestly, it does not mean that they do not know how to teach their subjects. Though it is real, the development that the degree is supposed to signify is very difficult to measure or even to characterize clearly. This situation has prompted some reflections.

The time has come to recognize that the intellectual maturity and sophistication that are achievable through study of Western literature or science are also achievable, at least as well, through study of Torah.

We are certainly happy with our Torah education and, as far as we are concerned, neither we nor our children need anything else. But there is also every reason that business and the government should recognize a yeshiva education as the full equivalent of secular training.

Study of Chumash as well as Nevi'im and Kesuvim provides the developing mind with broad exposure to literary material whose form and content is of the highest caliber. Moreover, the material was selected by the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah as being "necessary for all generations," meaning that they thought that it was important for everyone to study it. Their reliability and authority is much greater than any board of education, and their work has certainly stood the test of time -- close to 2,500 years.

As far as the training in gemora, its value is even more evident. Writing about the utility of a legal education last March, the New York Times noted that "legal training has often been a springboard to positions of power" in business and politics, because the preparation in analysis and evaluation is really the background necessary for responsible decision-making. The average yeshiva student at the age of 24 (about the age that a typical law student in the U.S. graduates if he studies straight through) has a legal background that is at least comparable to a typical lawyer: he has certainly spent many more hours studying law and has covered many different legal areas.

Recognizing a yeshiva education as the formal equivalent of a general secular education may bring another important bonus. In contrast to Western education, which is exclusively skills- oriented, Torah education includes a very overt emphasis on ethics and morality. Given the stories that we hear daily, this can only improve matters.

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