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How Should Jewish Modern Orthodox Students Attend College in North America?

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Jan 18, 2017 -- Addressing its constituency on a sensitive issue for its community which, as a matter of principle, “values an advanced education in both Torah and secular studies”, the 1000 member rabbis of the Rabbinical Council of America have adopted a resolution setting forth how university students can best pursue rich Jewish lives on campus.

They encourage "community rabbis, teachers, and educational professionals to engage 11th and 12th graders and their parents" to carefully evaluate "the religious and spiritual ramifications" of their choice about which school to attend.

While recognizing that many students "grow, both personally and spiritually" and become Jewish leaders at secular colleges, the rabbis note that the environment on such campuses poses strong challenges for "Torah-centered" Jewish students, causing some to "abandon their commitment to their faith and/or the observance of halacha [Jewish law]." As a result, the RCA urges its "community to study the impact of secular campus life on religious youth and to suggest better ways for high schools, yeshivot and seminaries to prepare their students for the intellectual, halachic, spiritual, and emotional challenges of campus life."

In practical terms, the rabbis recommend attendance at a college only if its "religious students' minimal needs are met - i.e., kosher food, regular prayer services, and a community which observes Shabbat together." Preferably, however, students should select among schools "with larger religious communities within which students can, alongside their academic growth, grow spiritually and religiously." In this light, the rabbis single out the work of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) in fostering such positive environments on secular college campuses.

Ideally, the rabbis “advocate that Jewish students nurture their commitment to Torah by attending an Orthodox Jewish University,” such as Yeshiva University or the Touro College and University System.

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