Seminary discussions tend to bring up very strong feelings. Indeed, rarely does a Shabbos meal spent with our extended family go by without a long, drawn-out conversation on this subject (together with the shidduch crisis!). The difficulty in answering the Big Question stems from the large number of pros and cons involved. The key issues raised are usually haskafah, shidduchim, and cost. Each of these three points has two sides to it, both of which are strong and true. So get up on the stand and let the debate begin!
Teaching Haskafah Values
Hashkafically, a girl can grow in many ways by attending any seminary, regardless of the location, that provides a high level of learning and inspiration—text-based, haskafah, and life lessons. But just being in Eretz Yisrael can bring great ruchnius inspiration. Some feel that a local seminary experience will never truly live up to one in the land of our forefathers, where the streets emanate kedushah. There are those who call it a life-changing experience, an investment for a lifetime. In addition, a girl learns responsibility by spending a year far from home. This benefit can’t be as effectively realized locally.
Or Wrong Values?
However, perhaps sending a daughter away for a year is irresponsible. Some argue that seminaries in Eretz Yisrael push girls to strive for unrealistic spiritual levels. Many girls end up feeling guilty when they can’t live up to the unrealistic standards they set for themselves as glassy-eyed sem students.
At the opposite extreme, without sufficient supervision, seminary girls can get away with lots of reckless behavior. One girl remarked that if her parents knew half of what she did in seminary they would never have sent her. Of course, not every girl who attends a seminary in Eretz Yisrael ends up in the wrong places, but the opportunities are much broader there. There’s no question that not everyone grows in seminary—some students view this year as an extended party before “real life” starts. Clearly, seminary is hashkafically beneficial only for the right girls who come for the right reasons and handle it the right way.
But How Will I Find a Shidduch…
A key justification for sending girls to seminary is shidduchim. Given the talk of the shidduch crisis, people are hesitant to go against the flow and not send their girls to seminary when “everyone else” does. And, to some, seminary does make a difference when it comes to shidduchim. There are those who see it as a red flag when a girl doesn’t attend seminary. Many parents feel they can’t say no to their daughter in regard to something that may harm her shidduch.
On the flip side, however, plenty of girls who didn’t go to seminary are happily married today. Shidduchim are from Hashem after all, and, of course, He can find anyone a shidduch whether she attended seminary or not, shidduch crisis notwithstanding.
The Hefty Price Tag
If seminary wasn’t so expensive, it probably wouldn’t be such a hotly debated topic. But $25,000+ is a big gamble to take, and many people feel it’s way more than necessary for one year of growth (and fun). Can housing, feeding, and educating one girl in Eretz Yisrael cost that much money? Families are going into debt to pay for seminary, and some also rely on tzedakah and need to request additional tuition breaks for their younger children. Is it proper to borrow or collect money that is going straight into the pocket of what’s essentially a private enterprise? And is it proper chinuch to show your children that you’re willing to spend (or borrow) so much for an enjoyable year?
Administrators counter that the operational costs are much higher than people imagine and no one is raking in obscene profits. Unlike other mosdos, seminaries don’t fund-raise and need to support themselves almost exclusively through tuition. They offer many scholarships, plus there are various government and foundation grants to help parents cover the cost. One mother relates that sending her daughter to Eretz Yisrael was cheaper than sending her to a local seminary, thanks to the seminary scholarships and grants she received. Additional value is in the fact that seminary studies often qualify for 30 college credits. With some planning, the seminary equation can become a year of growth in Eretz Yisrael + (lehavdil) 30 college credits – $10,000 or less in grants or scholarships = a pretty good deal in some people’s eyes.
So Should I Send Her?
As the seminary question is so complicated, no one blanket answer fits all. In fact, even if traveling to Eretz Yisrael is a good idea for your first daughter, it might not be so for your next one. The only possible way to approach this debate is with much discussion. Discuss it with your daughter, with your spouse, with your daughter’s teachers, with her principal. And, as is often the case, an excellent avenue is presenting your situation to your Rav. Believe me, he’s umpired this debate before.