Posted on | March 15, 2007 | By Guest Contributor | 48 Comments
By Yaakov Weinstein – Part 1 is here.
Strategies for a rebbi, teacher or pulpit rabbi:
1) Never give up on a student! Let us say a rebbi tries to convince a student to skip college totally or attend Touro/YU. What happens when the student goes against the rebbi’s suggestions (due to his own thinking or forced by his parents). Well, sometimes the rebbi ‘gives up’ on the student. Since you’re going to college anyway, you may as well throw your yarmulka away… (note the rebbi may not word it this way but this may still be the message the student gets). It should not have to be stated (but unfortunately it IS necessary to state) that this is the worst possible thing to say. Besides the fact that it is utterly false (many great Orthodox leaders of all streams attended secular universities),the student might believe what the rebbi says. The student will get to college and think – I’m already going to ‘burn in hell’ for being here in the first place – why bother getting up for davening, learning a seder, dating a Jewish girl. My dear reader may find this outrageous but it is not – this has happened to good students from wonderful yeshivos.
2) Students can grow in learning, spirituality and all else good, on secular campus. Believe it. Anyone who became frum on campus should already know this. But it is not only ba’alei t’shuva who can grow on campus. Rather then give up on students for going to the ‘wrong’ place, give students the means to grow – book lists (see post of R’ Hirsh for some good books), curricula, email shiurim to them, talk to them in learning when they’re home. Do not be surprised that they learn, expect it from them.
3) Don’t give glib answers to sincere questions. If you think you can answer who wrote the Torah or the evolution ‘problem’ in a one minute conversation keep it to yourself. You merely show that you are not taking the question seriously. Also, don’t say a question is stupid, and if you don’t know something, admit it.
4) Email students, visit them, talk to them, volunteer to give a shiur on a campus near you, invite your local Hillel’s orthodox students to your house, invite students over for a tisch when they are home for winter break. Be active! PLEASE! A quick story from my time on campus: a friend was clearly upset. He told me about a girl in his class he was acquainted with and who was irreligious. That day he had been walking through campus and noticed the campus Chabad rabbi handing out Purim paraphernalia (hamantaschen and the like). He decided to take some for this girl to help spread Purim cheer to someone who, he thought, may need an extra reminder. When he offered the stuff to her she reacted very graciously and said, “Oh, but I already have everything I need. My (Reform) synagogue sends out care-packages before the every holiday.” “A shul sending out care packages to kids on campus?” my friend exclaimed, “Can you even imagine an Orthodox shul doing that? Of course not.” A notable exception to this is R’ Bieler of Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring, MD. Here’s a description of some of what he does – and students who I have known from his shul truly appreciate it (the rest of the discussion is interesting too).
Strategies for parents:
All of the above applies doubly for parents – the ultimate ‘rebbi’ for their children (whether the parents think so or not). So go back and read those suggestions again! After you’ve read the above twice here are some additional suggestions:
1) Care about the kodesh. Before college – don’t rely on a college advisor who doesn’t REALLY know what’s going on Jewishly on a campus. Instead, get on the Hillel website and talk to the Hillel’s Orthodox rabbinic advisor. While your child is on campus – Keep in touch with him religiously too. When your kids are at college ask them how their learning is going, maybe you can even learn with them on the phone. Keep the number of that Orthodox advisor.
2) Demand strength in high schools especially in Tanach. Kids don’t need to learn about the Documentary Hypothesis in high school. But they do need to see how Tanach works. Insist that students see the majesty of Tanach as can be gained from serious study of Rashi and Rambam but is brought out clearly by R’ Hirsch and R’ Hertz. Do your kids know why different names of the Almighty are used in the Bible?Their Judaic studies professor does (and you won’t like the answer)…
3) Humble skepticism – teach your kids to question unproven statements but realize there are people a lot smarter than them (I must thank Mike Berkowitz of Alon Shevut for this wonderful formulation – see it here.
4) I was told by a Brigham Young University student that at BYU (Mormon) before being allowed back on at the beginning of a semester a student must have a signed letter from their cleric (Mormon or not) that they’ve been keeping up with your religious duties. I have never heard of a Jewish parent who stopped paying tuition because his son or daughter was not learning enough Torah.
5) There are kind, moral, and religious people who are not frum and not Jewish. B”H, on this website I should not have to convince anyone of this. Make sure your kids know this too.
Strategies for students:
1) Time management – students have lots of free time. They’re not in class much, all their food and other necessities are taken care of for them, and, especially liberal arts majors, don’t have much homework. But the free time may be scattered throughout the day and it may not line up with other people’s free time. Students need to learn how to maximize their free time for useful endeavors.
2) Know what situations you might be in and know tha answer before-hand. I’m not a fan of speculating on every possible thing that can happen but some things have a good chance of happening so think about it before hand. Here’s an example: you’re working on a group project. If the project goes well there’s a decent chance someone may suggest going out as a group to a restaurant or bar. Should you go at all? If you go can you eat or drink anything? Thinking about this in advance will help you answer properly when the situation comes up. Another example: you learn with a non-frum chavrusa in the “Study with a Buddy” program. Your chavrusa may invite you to a party, a get-together, or some other event. Do you go? If you go, how much do you participate? Will you walk out if something happens that you do not approve of?
3) Learn practical halacha (especially laws about the kitchen) – you’ll need it.
4) Intense secular studies needs intense Torah studies. There is a lot of chochmah on a college campus. It’s intricate, complex, beautiful… and it can make Torah seem dull by comparison. Unless you can see the beauty and complexity of Torah. Study Torah deeply and intensely! Do not settle for superficial learning. Make up a goals per week and per semester – but be realistic. You can finish shas mishnayos while on campus. You can finish gmara mo’ed. You can learn all of Shulchan Aruch! See how long it is and how much needs to be done on average each day (it’s not much) … Understand that you won’t learn that much during mid-terms and finals. Know this in advance and get back into learning afterwards. If you pull all-nighters for work, pull all nighters for Torah (after midterms or finals please)!
The above are only a few suggestions that people may want to utilize in preparing for a studenton a secular campus. The list is not exhaustive and, of course, individuals need individual preparation.Another series of suggestions from a different approach can be found here.
I have a picture of the ideal Orthodox community on a secular campus. It’s made up of students who are impeccably honest, selflessly helpful, and fiercely proud of their religion. This community is a beacon of moral clarity on a landscape of moral relativity. Jews in this community treat others with respect and dignity while strongly protesting secularism and moral relativity. This community sanctifies the name of God and is a true ‘kingdom of priests.’ To such a community, others would come flocking. There is truly a thirst for knowledge on a college campus – and only a truly religous community will demonstrate that this thirst is a manifestation of the ultimate thirst – “Not a thirst for water, but to hear the words of the Lord” (Habakkuk 2:14).