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
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
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.