Today, boruch Hashem, there is a tremendous increase in Torah study, both in quantity and quality, amongst tens of thousands of avreichim. Households are being financed mainly by the wives who increasingly fill all the jobs in teaching, bookkeeping and computer programming which are limited. It is natural that some women seek out areas where there are available jobs which often require academic training to obtain the necessary degree to work in those areas. As is well known, our Torah leadership forbids these courses, as has been publicized so many times verbally and in writing.
Before we explain the opposition to academic education, I wish to relate to one thing expressed by voices rising up from within our camp:
Parents who see how their children struggle without means of livelihood cannot help but feel pained and embittered, which leads them to think sometimes, "So what's so terrible about taking such courses? Doesn't the family need parnossa so that the husband can continue learning? Necessity calls for this. In such a situation one should be lenient." Some of them even go so far as to say, and I have heard this expressed to my dismay and find it even difficult to say, that the rabbonim do not sufficiently feel the economic pressure, for if they did, they would talk differently. They think that the rabbonim are taken care of financially, as are their children, and they don't feel any financial pressure, so therefore it is easy for them to ban such courses. Chas vesholom that we utter such a thought. It is also altogether erroneous!
The reality is otherwise. Those gedolim who decided what they decided, feel a total sense of responsibility and empathy towards every single one. They feel each person's pain and their hardship in earning their bread. They also have families who find themselves in exactly the same predicament of want and deprivation and they know exactly how difficult a trial it is from their own firsthand experience. These gedolim are amongst us, living in our midst and not removed from the people or ensconced in their rooms and detached from reality where they say what they say. They sense the hardship and are living with us, bearing the burden and aching along with us, within their own families. What they ruled is a hard and fast psak! It was handed down with full responsibility, cognizance of the difficulty and with compassion for each and every one of us.
And this is the first principle we must keep in mind when approaching this subject.
What danger, actually, lies in academic studies? The very fact of academia, as kosher and innocent as it may seem, is threatening to a girl who was in a protective environment all her life, of family, neighborhood and school, exposed only to love for Torah and yiras Shomayim, whether in Bnei Brak, Elad, Kiryat Sefer or Yerushalayim. Even if she already works in a chareidi workplace which meets the standards of halochoh and kedushoh, if she is suddenly exposed for several hours a week to secular-chiloni studies it can influence her. There is no guarantee that she is immune because all academic studies pose a risk. We are not really talking about something that is subtle and delicate but something more severe and threatening.
Let us examine what the danger is in academia.
The first thing to deal with is if the course itself incorporates kefirah, in whole or part.
Some will argue: "Even if there is an element of kefirah, a girl can shut her mind off and it will pass over her without leaving an imprint. `It won't affect me,' she will insist, `and I can deal with it and carry on.'" Most people will understand that this is not true and is altogether forbidden. One should keep a healthy distance from such courses, as Chazal explicitly say (Avoda Zora 17b), "Distance your path from it — this refers to heresy." The gemara there explains that one must shun heretical talk altogether, even the slightest mention of it.
There are situations where one goes to university to learn something specific, on the campus itself, and let us assume that the course itself is kosher, but because it takes place on their turf, this situation can surely affect the student. I think that most of our community does not know what this really is since they were never in a university and have never visited such a campus. It is a very impressive place and a Bais Yaakov student who is suddenly exposed to such a big place, is taken by it. She goes to a class taught by a professor who comes from an entirely different world and she cannot help but being affected, if not awed. It puts her into a difference world, with a corresponding cooling off in her avodas Hashem.
To say nothing of the secular student body to which she cannot normally help but be exposed to as well. Undoubtedly, arguments about religion will crop up and again, she will hear much kefirah. I believe that the very act of learning on a university campus and being exposed to the prevalent atmosphere, even if the course itself is kosher, but to sit in on it together with chilonim has a severe detrimental effect. In addition it is natural to want to make a good impression on classmates, and this will bring one to dress in a style that will meet the approval of the classmates. And I will not want to say things that may invite ridicule from other students. Enough said to make the point that it should not even be a consideration to go study in a real university.
The problem with our public is that it doesn't understand what is wrong with an education where only other chareidi girls study, and the course material is entirely kosher. It is not a university. Just perhaps the teacher is secular, or perhaps so-called religious without a smattering of Torah spirit. What's wrong? The course material itself is kosher. There are no fellow students to be a bad influence. So what's wrong with this?
One rav told me that a father came to him all wrought up: Why is such a course forbidden? I have two daughters who support their kollel husbands, whom I know to be serious, diligent talmidei chachomim. They are growing in learning all the time. Why shouldn't my daughters be able to advance themselves in academic studies? The rav answered, "Before we continue, I want you to call up your daughters and ask them if they have been at all influenced by their lecturer."
The father was sure that there was no harm, but he called them anyway after the rav persisted. One daughter told him that while the course itself was fine, the lecturer occasionally injected snide remarks about the chareidi public and she couldn't help but being affected by them.
I have heard this from other girls as well. Even one heretical or mocking remark can do much harm to their minds — and this is an everyday occurrence, constituting a real danger.
If we ask: what is the difference between such opinions stated by a lecturer and similar talk which we hear on the street or in the work place?
There is a definite difference! A major one! In a course, the teacher is the `wise professor,' with a glib tongue and in a position of authority. Respect is created by the knowledge he presents. If this lecturer utters mocking remarks or kefirah, his word surely has an impact.
A father may claim: "My daughter is strong, has yiras Shomayim and such remarks will not influence her."
This is a grievous error! I know this from experience with boys' education. A boy can be excellent in studies, a paragon in tefillah etc. but still harbor questions in emunah that no one else can detect. His parents will never know either. They are certain all is fine with their dear son. So, as well, it is with their beloved daughters.
Therefore, if there is a teacher who does not believe in the Oral Torah or in Torah min haShomayim, and he is cooled off in his avodas Hashem and aspects of halacha, it can be disastrous.
The Rambam writes in Hilchos Avoda Zara (Perek 2, Halacha 2): "Idolaters have written many works on idolatry and its main form of service and other aspects. Hashem commanded us not to read such books and not to even think or utter such related thoughts... And even if you don't worship but just interest yourself in its form and have no intention of worshiping false gods, it is prohibited since this causes your thoughts to dwell on this. This relates to other things as well, so that every thought which causes a person to digress from the fundamentals of Torah is forbidden since such thoughts can sway a person in favor of those forbidden acts and we should not follow the musings of our hearts, since man's mind is short."
It is referring here to a person who is only intellectually interested in heretical philosophy, which teaches us to what extent the Torah feared for a person's exposure to kefirah. We can extrapolate this to our subject and see what can result from hearing heretical talk, and all the more so to be exposed to that kind of environment.
We are left with the problem of parnossoh.
The answer is that we must be strong and know that everything is decreed in Heaven. Opening another faucet will not help us to extract more parnossoh from the same barrel. The parable told by the Chofetz Chaim of one who opened another faucet from the whiskey barrel. Doing so did not increase the total amount of whiskey in the barrel.
So it is in all matters of hishtadlus. We must know that whatever was decreed in Heaven as far as parnossoh for someone is what he will have. Extraordinary hishtadlus will not improve matters. No doubt the nisoyon of parnossoh is very difficult, but one must strengthen emunah and bitochon.
This is one more thing that should be mentioned. The standard of living since I first came to Eretz Yisroel 44 years ago has changed entirely. When I first came, there was a drastic difference between the standard of living in America and in Eretz Yisrael. Here there was no intense pursuit of worldly pleasures and a life of luxury.
For example, once it was common to buy a new hat only once in four years. Today, a family must buy every boy a Borsalino at the beginning of each zman. This certainly requires a lot of money, and therefore it requires a job that has a higher income.
There is no doubt that if the standard of living were lower, the nisyonos would be lower. This was the opinion of Maran HaRav Eliashiv zt"l, that bnei Torah and mevakshei avodas Hashem be'emmes should go back to smaller apartments and reduce their standard of living. The nisyonos that Hashem sends us are due to the fact that we should lower our standard of living.
We must strengthen ourselves in our way of life, in Torah and tefillah, to increase our emunas chachomim and to accept what the chachomim tell us. Thereby Hashem will help us and there will be enough for everyone to have a proper parnossoh, shelo neivosh velo nikoleim velo nikosheil leOlom vo'ed.