Letter: What Are They Teaching?

My wife and I have become stuck in a quandary of choosing between sending my teenage daughter to Eretz Yisroel for seminary next year or not.

With the massive expenses incurred by attending seminary, and applications having to be sent out so early, we need to plan ahead. My daughter is very excited to go, but I have my qualms with it, to put it mildly.

You see, my older daughter who attended seminary in Eretz Yisroel two years ago came back without having learned a single thing she couldn’t have learned here, and, even worse, they taught her nothing she actually could use in life and just stuffed her with random knowledge that could her get into Brisk perhaps, but won’t get her anywhere in life.

For example, she told me they learned Gemarah. OK. Why on Earth would they teach her Gemarah? Of what consequence is it to her? So she feels that they’re on the same wavelength with their dates when they come back to America and enter the shidduchim parshah? It’s ridiculous. What else did she learn there? Well, she learned how to write a 50-page report on a random gemarah that she needed my help with because, obviously, girls don’t generally learn gemarah and don’t know their way around it. So what’s the point? Maybe they want the women’s section by the next Siyum Hashas to be full of mesaymim as well.

And what did they teach her that could be used advantageously in life? Nothing. The seminary –  a top-ranked one – boasted that girls can earn college credits while studying in Israel. Except, it wasn’t quite true. Yes, they are “credits,” but when my daughter tried to apply them toward a degree so she can earn more than $15 an hour, every college politely turned them down. Maybe the credits she earned from shteiging in gemarah can only be applied to a Yeshivah.

So what exactly for did we spend $30,000+ on? She didn’t learn even basic things about life, marriage, work, anything! But she knows some great aggadata. Wow, how helpful. Now we are supposed to do this all over again with my second daughter? As a wise man once said, everyone makes mistakes, but only an idiot repeats them. Why should I be the idiot?

I really have no issue with sending my daughters to a seminary in Israel. It is definitely an enjoyable experience and I am happy to give that to them. But for tens of thousands of dollars, I would like for them to get something useful out of it that they wouldn’t get otherwise. I want their knowledge of real-world things to grow and expand. I don’t think that is so much to ask for.

This isn’t only a problem with Eretz Yisroel seminaries, from what I understand. I was recently told that a niece of mine who is in a certain seminary in the tri-state area is currently learning Gemara. What about the actual skills and knowledge that will help her in life and marriage? Nope, nothing. It’s like our chinuch system thinks that the primary job of being a wife is being be able to shlug up her husband’s chiddush at the supper table (after he makes it, of course. She’s busy learning). None of it makes any sense whatsoever, but apparently, every seminary thinks this is OK. Why? Who knows. It befuddles me.

I think the problem, plain and simple, is that seminaries have been robbing us blind. I’m sorry if that’s harsh, but it’s true. They have successfully created this concept that girls “must” go to seminary to gain a true appreciation for Torah and that what they teach is somehow important. It is not.

I don’t know what we will do with my high school daughter (we’ll probably cave and send her), but we definitely need a conversation about our priorities. What really matters in a girl’s education? Why do we really send our children to Israel for a year? Is it so that they can gain from it, or is it because we are stuck in a herd mentality and groupthink, and we are worried about what others will say if she doesn’t go? I think it’s worth thinking about.

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26 COMMENTS

  1. Not really sure what your point is. It us optional ,there are good seminaries in the US so why send if you don’t believe in it ? What is the point of this rant ? Just don’t send.

  2. So dont send. Send to college instead. But why does everyone always complain about seminary???
    There are ways to get college credits. I did it. But they will cost more- college costs.

  3. I went to seminary ( many years ago) yes we learnt one or two gemarahs , but much more than that we learnt hashkafah for life! Ask my children they can tell you how much I still talk about it. It was a breakout year in many ways! My daughter is currently in seminary and BH she is growing tremendously and of course having a great time too. They gain so much from the chashuv Rabbeim , the undiluted ruchniyus , and the hashkafah they learn. She just completed a report on bitachon that she completed on her own ( she’s very bright) she loved doing it and also learnt so much from it. So yes she may have a few gemarahs that she has no need for but she will have ammunition to get her through the next twenty to thirty years of her life as she raises her own children. And as a side note I know so much Navi and tanach and stories from the gemarah it’s really nice to stump my teenage sons!!! Do I need it? Not necessarily, but I’m glad I have it!

    • Can I ask u how ur parents were able to afford 30k for a year unless they are wealthy there is no way they dodnt have to struggle to pay the seminary expenses.

  4. Beruriah, wife of Tanna Rabbi Meir, learned learned 300 halachot in one day from 300 different rabbanim. She is mentioned in Shas for her sharp mind. Nothing wrong with a girl learning Gemara. You seem a little too threatened that suddenly every woman will become a posek.

  5. Why are you so angry about women learning Gemarah? Where exactly should women get intellectual stimulation from otherwise? Why can’t a woman enjoy learning Gemarah? Some women don’t feel fulfilled studying emunah, bitachon & how to be a good wife all day. I am not mocking a traditional woman’s role, but I am mocking the idea that women learning Gemarah is useless. For many women it is a skill that they use in life & enjoy very much. If it’s useless for your daughter, that’s specific to her but not to all women.

  6. While some of your points are valid, the tone of this letter is downright belligerent. There is nothing wrong with someone making the choice to send a daughter to Eretz Yisroel if they have the extra cash and believe it’s right for their daughter, who may need some extra chizuk that can only be addressed in a Seminary abroad.

    Where you’re correct is the majority of girls, especially in Lakewood, who’s parents DON’T have a spare 30K every couple of years, and who are on a high enough Madreiga to shteig in a Seminary locally. Several of my relatives attended a well known seminary in Lakewood and still rave about “Rabbi Mintz” (the main Mechanech there) at every family get together. If I’m not mistaken, they got college credits as well and a far lower price tag to boot.

    Often the answer is right in front of your eyes. Local sems are well established and respectable (often superior) alternatives to the EY craze. BH there’s been a strong and noticeable trend recently towards staying local. May it continue veiter.

  7. You are an angry dad who is stuck on the stupidity of girls learning agadata- there is so much more to a seminary year far away from the comforts of home That teaches girls to be independent (within a safe framework of a seminary and its madrichot), not being able to run to mommy when things get thought with personal friendship relationships etc etc. I believe that I went to the seminary that you are ridiculing- do you think that girls don’t have a need to stretch their analytical and research skills that doing a 50 page report on a learning model that they have never experienced before is not beneficial to their academic development? Do you want your daughter to just be a wife in the kitchen, and then a mother, and never gain from and academic experience in which she needs to push herself to succeed? My seminary experience was 20 years ago- and that report was the highlight of it (and I did NOT ask my daddy for help)- it helped me hone my analytical and research skills, opened up a higher level of learning than rashi and Chumash, and was fascinating in that it was a way of learning that I had never before experienced. I only wish there were classes like that for married women- not just the hashkafa and mussar that’s available all over the place. Something that makes you think, work hard, and be proud of your accomplishments. As girls we do not get enough of that- be grateful that your daughter has had that experience for one year of her life. Get off the “it costs too much” and “what’s the point of girls learning these things”- you chauvinism is showing.

    • What you proclaim to be the advantages of seminary education is actually what’s wrong with it. The so called independence they glean and the desire for academic experience to push themselves to “succeed”, rather than being the old style bas yisroel, that lives according to ruach yisroel saba, has them focusing on themselves, their ambitions and their own idyllic lifestyle, as they forget those who painstakingly raised them.

  8. This letter is very well written! I agree 100 percent! My idea is that girls should go to local seminaries and then take a trip to Israel in the summer.

  9. Going to seminary is a choice you and your daughter will make. Do you bash the high schools too? And anything you don’t agree with?
    Most parents are unsure if it’s 100% necessary or not. We did send our daughter this year to a great seminary and so far we are thrilled and very grateful for the tremendous experience they are giving her.
    Hatzalah in your decision. There’s no right or wrong. It’s an individual decision. But please, speak nicely.

  10. Lets not kid ourselves, most of us do not have the 30k. Why anyone is defending this is simply out of arrogance and denial. Good girls do not need this. Chances are, a girl that went to a local seminary is a more quality girl, more simple and does not require a luxury lifestyle. Its a real tragedy, then they need to get married with two cars and get supported, give me a break! I’m calling on Roshei yeshiva and askanim to stop this nonsense.

  11. I TOTALLY agree with the writer. Seminary is a fraud. Girls learning is a fraud. We should be taught how to manage life: finances, relationships, executive functioning, coping, manage under stress, time management, cook, clean, how to navigate jobs, raise kids etc. enough with the learning. Sickening.. give skills for life.. not idealistic ideas

  12. i went to Seminary almost 20 years ago and live in Eretz Yisrael with many friends who work in the high-end seminaries- and I can tell you all-it is is a five star camp with classes(at least you get some of your money’s worth! ) They may preach learning but they treat the girl’s like they are in a hotel so there is no preparation for Kollel life there! Yes- Seminary is a business (at least the mainstream Bais Yaakov ones) and don’t let anyone fool you.Its not a scam- just a money-making venture! An avereage sem principal here makes more than double a normal salary of any other worker in any school or any Rosh Hayeshiva. But by sending your children you legitimize this business!

    • Thank you for publishing what a lot of us were thinking….seems like this whole seminary business is a lot of money for a lot of hot air. The seminaries market their “goods” pretty well and we all fell for it, and made a few people rich.

      And unfortunately, society is pressuring many people who cant afford it (or who should be spending their money more wisely on other more important things) to follow the masses and go.

      And to all those people who say it’s a choice to go are right to an extent. It’s the unfortunate extent society labels families and girls for going or NOT going…v’hameivin yavin. We are all at fault as a society, and to make a significant change, we have to change our attitudes in a major way.

  13. My high school senior won’t be going to seminary because we can’t afford it and she wants to get started on college. So she won’t get a chance to learn Gemara in seminary. However she’s been learning Gemara, general Halacha, and tanach throughout high school along with secular subjects. Those who are concerned that she doesn’t know how to cook, clean, raise children, or navigate a job don’t have to worry: she’s very geshikt in the kitchen, knows how to clean, and has worked since middle school in childcare and other jobs.

  14. We all know the story if T Shach and his wife’s question and potato kugel. The reality is that this whole thing is a scam because parents should be raising their daughters to be independent and self sufficient without them having to travel 7000 miles away from them to force it on them. This is all just a huge money making business. Seminary should be viewed like institutions for children who are ord, it’s sad their parents couldn’t raise them without significant help so they now need to send their child away to get the support they need. Every girl who is well adjusted and mainstreamed should be in America with post high school Hebrew studies in the morning and then college or something in the afternoon. And at no point should they ever be learning gemara, like R Moshe’s wife did not and I’d venture to say every Lithuanian and Chasidishe Rosh Yeshiva today who is married their wives aren’t and didn’t learn gemara. Ask around, I know I will.

  15. The problem isn’t so much what’s taught in seminary. The problem is that people feel they are OBLIGATED to send. Seminary is a wonderful experience for some, and unecessary for others. It is a luxury. A luxury means it’s an extra. You should be able to choose whether or not to send your daughter if you don’t agree with sending.

  16. Why is the debate about seminary local or e Israel the real question is why do we need another year of schooling why cant the hashkofa be included in the 4 years of high school

    • Because 18 year old girls should not be thrust into the work force/ college most are not ready . and it may 2-3 years or more before most of them get married, it is not good for their ruchniyus to “hang around” for so many years. Let them have another transitional year it does t need to be in eretz Yisroel but overall it is needed

  17. the rambam in hilchos talmud torah discusses the halacha that one should not teach his daughter torah she bal peh, and if he does it is tiflus. What is tiflus? Rashi says its znoos. what is this noise about teaching girls gemorrah? it is not proper. and Yes, seminaries are a rip off. let her get some hashkafa shiurim here in the states

  18. I surely hope that you wont bash your son in law once your lamdan daughter gets engaged. You may say “hey my daughter can learn a blatt gemara better than my son in law”. Once you are in the bashing business, you will always be in the bashing business. Im sure that your wife and daughter would not let you sign your name on this letter since it will for sure generate negative publicity for your daughters prospective shidduch.

  19. There are 2 issues here.
    1) the cost. For that reason, many parents now send to local seminaries .
    2) the learning. I went to a very academic seminary and we didn’t learn gemara. We did cover much of tanach along with many seforim and meforshim. I believe this prepared me for life better than any hashkafa shmooz I got in high school. The world is a complex place these days, and most women will not be able to spend life in the shelter of their “4 amos”. It takes real knowledge to keep hashkafos strong– knowing that Hashem said this, not just Rabbi X who likes to pontificate. As a married woman, I refuse to listen to the ranting and sweet-talk that constitutes most women’s shiurim today, but I wish there would be similar learning available to me now, and I do open nach and sefor when I feel uninspired and need a boost of motivation.

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