Shmuley Boteach’s article in the Jerusalem Post, “What are universities for?,” is the silliest rendition of “kids today aren’t like they used to be” that I’ve ever seen. It’s the usual rant about how today’s college students have too much fun and don’t learn anything. Despite having been written by a rabbi and appearing in the JPost, there’s nothing specifically Jewish about this most classic of conservative complaints:

“Thousands of young college students – all in their late teens and early 20s – were lounging on the sand. It was a sobering sight. The female students’ beach attire was close to non-existent. Time was when the bikini was considered revealing. Today it is only for prudes and the modestly attired.”

OK, he has a point. I remember college well, as it was quite recent for me, and it’s true that at the University of Chicago, a bikini was considered far, far too modest.

“The simple fact is that the American campus is not a very healthy place and belies its description as a place of ‘higher’ education.”

Can’t argue with simple facts. But, since this college doesn’t much resemble Chicago, I’m curious, which college in particular? Oh, I see, the one in I am Charlotte Simmons:

“Readers of [Charlotte Simmons] would scarcely believe the description of the American campus as a giant orgy filled with misogynistic men who harbor indescribable contempt for women and arrive on campus with the stated intention of bedding as many as possible. Less so would they believe the complicity with which women have joined in their own degradation.”

What sort of reader of fiction would be so foolish as not to believe every last description in a novel as a fact about the real world setting on which it was based? Idiots.

Then, he explains that college seniors did worse–worse!–on a test than did college freshmen. Undeniable proof that college in fact makes you dumb! What was being tested? Boteach doesn’t say. As one commenter points out, the test is probably on skills one uses in high school and not much later in life.

The end of the article is most informative:

“I now believe that parents should be looking at single-sex and religiously-inclined alternatives to the mainstream universities for their sons and daughters, schools that truly are about maturing, being educated and preparing for the mastery of both the professional and personal sectors.

I attended rabbinical college. There were no women. We were there to study, not socialize. When people ask me today how young rabbis have so much information, I tell them it has less to do with any kind of genius and more to do with the absence of socializing with the opposite sex.”

Because of course it’s either-or. Of all the doctoral students I know, not one engaged in college debauchery, nor had premarital sex. All follow strict, religion-based codes of ethics–acquired no doubt at single-sex religious undergrad schools–in their sexual behavior, and none would so much as consider getting drunk. That’s how we, much like young rabbis, are able to “have so much information.”

But my real reason for responding to this article, one which makes similar rants in places like National Review look brilliant, is this response, from the comments on Boteach’s piece:

I’m not clueless
Sara Roth – USA
03/19/2007 22:56

Call me clueless but I’m still with the guy I hooked up with on Birthright. Only thing, he’s not really Jewish so my parents are unhappy. But he’s great. Birthright was the best thing I ever did. That guy said he won’t send his daughter. Her loss. It’s a safe nice environment to meet people and when you are a college kid, sex is part of it.

I have nothing to add.

Crossposted at WWPD.

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  • Just wait till you see his upcoming article on depravity of Israelis as exemplified by the new Hooters franchise.

    By the way, he does make some valid points.

    I think that it’s also hard to dispute that there is a cultural evolution going on in some places where the interaction between the two sexes is, uh, unhealthy at best. I don’t think he exaggerates much. It certainly depends on your campus and circle of people, but there are plenty of people behaving exactly as he says.

    Placing the blame at the feet of the university, however, is misguided since they are not the ones who dictate the prevailing culture.

  • I disagree with you. When I was in college, only 15 years ago, I and others were punished for bad behavior on and off campus. Universities are learning environments and one of the things they need to teach is how to act in a social setting. Yes there is a complex relationship in causality, but schools can do a lot more to make kids behave. Thereby linking proper decorum with education and effecting prevailing culture.

    Schools these days seem far too interested in athletics, new food services, making money, etc… than actually changing the lives of the kids they educate.

    But then again, I guess that proves your point, schools are reflecting the abusive excessively money grubbing society as a whole.

    I also do not think Hooters is a hallmark of depravity. It is Denny’s at best and I am certain there are plenty of eastern european hookers in Israel that will now have a safer place to work.

  • I’ve only got a few things to note here.

    1.) Err… Sara you ignorant slut! ‘Still with the guy I hooked up with on Birthright’? And ‘he’s not really Jewish’? This is not how the game is supposed to be played. That’s a 20 yard penalty for personal foul!

    2.) And just knowing this …’which makes similar rants [by comparison] in places like National Review look brilliant’? Just personally distasteful to the extreme.

    3.) Me, I want to know exactly when the hell this happened: ‘I remember college well, as it was quite recent for me, and it’s true that at the University of Chicago, a bikini was considered far, far too modest.’ I can only recall the quiet math & chem majors with glasses, long skirts & sweaters.

    4.) And when I was in University just a mere 110 years ago, it was pretty much more of the same. Only more so. And BTW, some of the oldest known songs in the English language are yes, old college drinking songs dating from the Middle Ages. (Some of the most dedicated & studious drunks I knew way back then were Seminary students too). Down through the years at least they’ve cleaned up the violence & rioting a bit at the U. The big problem comes in with the huge issue of a truly ‘post literate’ society, and there’s not much any one college can do about that. That’s cultural.

    5.) I wholeheartedly agree with Nathan’s sentiment about Hooters too. Pretty wholesome fare compared to some obvious alternatives. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • Rabbi Shmuley is busy talking about depravity and sin both on Jpost and on TV I wonder how his children are doing at home. WHY DO WE GIVE THIS GUY A MICROPHONE? I mean if he was some smuck with a blog we would bust on him for his ideas, but because he is on TV he must have something to say?

    (Great post by the way)

  • Though I don’t agree with R. Boteach’s preachiness, I think he does have a point.

    Thousands of students are graduating in fields of study that they never use in employment or continue to study in academia.

    In the US, college is an institution that everyone is expected to go through. Actually learning anything in the process is quite auxiliary.

    And the one who believes that the thousands of colleges across the US are solely noble institutions of higher learning, and not out to make a profit, are naive.

  • TM, well put.

    POLJ, “WE” didn’t “GIVE” him anything. He took it. He says what he likes in the forums he creates, to an audience ready to hear him. G-d bless America, where controversy gives you ratings and detractors are just fuel for the fire. Hell, YOU could have a show on TLC given the right angle. 🙂

    Let’s face it – people who WANT to learn, WILL. Kids who don’t care to be there, will make it a place for goofing off on mom and dads tab. Human nature is what it is, culture sets the boundries.

  • Now that the rest of the post is visible, somebody should get Birthright to get their money back from Sara Roth’s boyfriend.

  • There is an argument to be made that not everyone needs to go to college, or that requiring job applicants to be college grads is silly when one looks at what it means in 2007 to be one. The argument that every last American between 18 and 22 should be or wants to be or, for that matter, should want to be reading Great Books and “really” learning is a joke. It’s this last argument that comes closest to that of Boteach, but he doesn’t even quite make it there. But where he really goes wrong is associating things he personally dislikes (promiscuity, revealing attire, care for personal appearance) with not getting anything worthwhile out of college. He’s confusing value systems–those who by all accounts thrive the most in college–those who go on to become academics–do not necessarily–I would even argue rarely–act in ways Boteach would approve of.

    Let the future Mr. Roth be–it’s Sara’s religion that makes for Jewish babies 🙂

  • Perhaps, TM, Sara’s beau has a Jewish father, which would allow him to participate in Birthright? But it would be weird that Sara would be observant enough to know the Halakhic distinction… :-/

  • That man is a total lunatic, sadder even than yours truly. I have seen him prancing around public events of the Jewish community with this glazed fearsome personae. as if he is daring some asshole to throw out a Hey Shmueli whas shaking dude, and then he runs off holding on to his little daughters.

    It is truly a testament to the low American intelligence level and culture that this pile of nothing has a TV show now in its second or third year.

    I have seen a couple of episodes and was totally unimpressed and bored, with his attempts at integrity and emphathy.

    The worst aspect of this person is his Rabbinical attire.

    Oh yeah listen to how he luciously describes the young babes in bikinis, as if they all dress to that extent. Some do, but most wear a more modest bathing suit.

    So he looks, which he is not supposed to do, and then he writes about it, as if his words, are going to change society!

    Or is this an Averiah lishmah?

    I am sorry for his children and the effect his carrying on will have on them.

    At the very least one can learn some important things here.

    How much success and greed must you have?

    It is important to shut down the BS more often than less often.

  • Shmuely is brighter than most people and he doesn’t see eye to eye with the black hat world, but adopts many Orthodox values.

    Going wild in college is a good thing, because then when you are 50 you can look back and remember the fun you used to have that you probably aren’t having anymore.

    I’ve heard about plenty of girls gone wild in Israel while away on their year in Seminary.

    Youth is for being youthful…and if that includes sex, drugs and rock & roll…I say “Toga”!

  • Hmm. I live in the city where Rabbi Boteach did his rabbinical training, supposedly in a single-sex environment devoid of contact with such distractions as women. I know the rabbinical school, and many of its graduates, well and it was not as pure as the Rabbi makes out. Basically many of the students went to the rabbinical college here because it was so very far away from their parents and the supervising rabbonim were not exactly always on the ball.
    Incidentally, Shmuley married a local girl…

  • Oyster: “But it would be weird that Sara would be observant enough to know the Halakhic distinction.”

    I’d think most people with even a basic idea of Judaism know it’s the mother that counts, even if they wouldn’t use a word like “halachic” to explain it.

    Adam: University of Chicago, class of 2005. There were “spring break” types, but they were the oppressed minority, whereas the majority’s drinking/promiscuity was done more tastefully, at pseudoacademically hipster apartment parties rather than frat parties. This means I can’t comment on how accurate Charlotte Simmons-type depictions are, but can say that Boteachean “immorality” and serious intellectual thought are by no means mutually exclusive.

  • More drivel from Boteach. Of course universities are having trouble on some fronts: for one thing they have become far less selective as to who they let in academically. For another, as has been noted, going to university has become nearly expected, even of people who really arent’ equipped to handle the style of study etc. taht is provided there and would do well elsewhere. Universities are worried about money making because, at least for a large number of them, they are being asked to accomodate more students (see above) and especialy at public schools, they avhe to pay for them. and Muffti wants more collegues, all of whom want to be paid, so…

    What does this have to do with some girls flashing and getting drunk and laid a lot? Nothing. As usually, Boteach weaves a thin thread between a bunch of vague abstract ideals and then calls it a day. Jpost goes in for a lot flack these days, but Muffti can’t think of any greater shame on their record than the fact that they let this guy publish half baked articles full of trivialities, poorly connected non-sequitors, random bits of data that are decontextualized and hence virtually meaningless in the context of his argument. If he wants to know about college, he should probably go and see hwat life is like rather than go to spring break, the period of time where students are generally AWAY from college and trying to get relief from teh stress of college (midterms are around then after all).

    Universities aren’t there to tell you how to act, and certainly not to tell you how to act while you are on vacation. Muffti’s experiences at several universities at various levels of education can confirm to some small degree that you can find a wide distribution of types no matter where you go: smart, slutty, fun, prudish, mysogynistic, fruity…you pick it, you’ll find it. and sure enough, boteach picked a group and found it.

  • Boteach is right– times have changed. If I were still in college and found myself on SoBe for vacation, I’d sure as hell bring something like Robert Conquest’s history of the Gulag along to make the experience worthwhile.

    He’s right about this, too: topless chicks make you stupid.

  • Once the genie is out of the bottle there is no turning back.

    Popular culture rules. The problem for religious families is how to protect their children from it.

    I recall a bit of a shock in my first year in a secular college seeing an old yeshiva school mate sitting w/ a pretty non Jewish coed in the sun, rubbing her legs. Out there in the open. Later I heard that they were having full intimate relations. Him wearing his Yarmulka and going to minyans at all times.

    The same was happening w/ the other religious guys on campus that I knew from HS. Except me of course. I wasn’t the ladies man in those days.

    But you do have many Jewish kids who believe/get off on following Torah morality in this context, SHomer Negiah and all that.

    But yes, for the majority of people they think that SN is crazy and furthermore see nothing wrong in displaying their perfect bodies.

  • If you wanna read about the Gulag, you read Solzhenitsyn.
    Everyone else is second in line.
    Topless chicks can make you stupid but, with proper analysis,
    it’s amazing how quickly you can wise up.

  • Yep, I gave up on Conquest right after this mindless screed came out: “What to Do When the Russians Come: A Survivor’s Guide”. They went down the tubes soon afterwards. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • Pablum rabbi is at it again. Muffti is convinced that there is no greater sign of the decay of Jpost than letting his write anything in their paper, never mind a weekly column.