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Are there any responsa from 20th/21st century Rabbis which discuss attending University or College? If so, which?

I've heard there is a R' Elchonon on this topic speaking about whether one is allowed to go or not and he stipulates certain conditions.

  • Note that numerous rabbis e.g. R. Ettlinger, R. Hirsch, R. Hajes, R. Hildesheimer, and R. D. Z. Hoffman attended university, implicitly affirming its permissibility. (at least in certain cases). – mevaqesh Jan 11 '17 at 6:19
  • @mevaqesh ... Rs Soloveitchik, R MM Schneerson, ... – Double AA Jan 11 '17 at 6:20
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    Note Jewish life on many college campuses (among other factors) is very different from what it was even 20 years ago, let alone 50 or 75. Many older responsa would be practically obsolete at this point. – Double AA Jan 11 '17 at 6:25
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    @mevaqesh, I don't think bringing examples of people attending university in a different time and place means anything. – Miriam Jan 11 '17 at 13:53
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    @robev Birchas Shmuel, Kiddushin #27. Note that this was a teshuvah to R. Shimon Schwab (as was the teshuvah of R. Elchonon I brought in my answer). – Joel K Dec 25 '17 at 14:38
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I believe you are referring to the responsum of R. Elchonon Wasserman to a young R. Shimon Schwab. It can be found at the end of Kovetz He'arot (#11) as well as in Kovetz Shiurim vol. II #47.

(Parenthetically, see the beginning of this article by Dr. J. J. Schachter (and especially endnote 2) which discusses the circumstances surrounding this responsum, and the various other Rabbis to whom R. Schwab sent his question.)

In the responsum, R. Elchonon makes the following points regarding the permissibility of engaging in secular studies in general:

  1. If engaging in secular studies will involve reading works containing heretical material, then it is forbidden.

  2. If engaging in secular studies will involve attending high schools (gymnasien) or universities together with non-Jewish students, and there is a risk that this will cause the student to associate with them and their practices (להתחבר לנכרים ולדרכיהם) then attendance is forbidden.

  3. If engaging in secular studies will not involve reading heretical material nor associating with non-Jews, and one is doing so in order to be able to engage in a profession and thereby support himself, there is no prohibition. In fact, learning a profession in order to support oneself is a mitzvah. Nevertheless, if one sees that his son desires the Torah (נפשו חשקה בתורה) and that he is able to become great in Torah (מוכשר להיות גדול בתורה) then one can apply the teaching of R. Nehorai (Kiddushin 82a) who did not teach his son a profession, but rather only Torah.

  4. If one is not engaging in secular studies for the purposes of learning a profession, but instead because he wishes to entertain himself (להשתעשע בה) then there is room to forbid this under the rubric of bittul torah.

  • Much of the Arts & Humanities in today's colleges should fit under 4 :) – Oliver Dec 25 '17 at 15:51
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Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked in his Igros YD 4:34 from a Rosh Yeshiva if he should allow his talmidim to go to college in the summer. Rav Moshe answered (in June 1972) that talmidim going to college in the first place isnt so simple ,but he said we shouldnt protest because of pressure from parents and they wouldnt listen anyhow.

With regards to the actual question of attending college in the summer ,Rav Moshe answered that one cannot allow their talmidim to attend college even with the good intention of finishing classes in a shorter time (summer semester is shorter) to learn more,rather it is forbidden since the women dress immodest(one sometimes has to sit next to them ) and it can lead to bad things.

  • "since the women dress immodest" How is this worse than a subway car, which he permitted one to use (at least when there was a reason to)? – Double AA Jan 11 '17 at 18:53
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    @doubleAA,if. you ever attended college you would know the difference between a subway car and a classroom,no one on the subway asks for your notes or gets paired up to work on an assignment,its a pashut diffrence – sam Jan 11 '17 at 18:57
  • @sam Granted a difference can be drawn but that dif. is limited to certain fields. Also not so relevant with Jewish institutions, e.g. Touro. – Oliver Dec 25 '17 at 15:48
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The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was opposed to Jewish lads attending college in the 1950s - despite the fact he attended two universities himself (the University of Berlin and the University of Paris).

In the 1950s, a nineteen-year-old student at the Lubavitch yeshiva came for a yechidus to discuss his intention of going to college. More than three decades later, the then middle-aged man related to Rabbi Simon Jacobson the story of the encounter he had that day with the Rebbe.

"I told the Rebbe that the reason I wanted to go to college was because I felt I had done my studies in Torah and I wanted to expand my horizons." He explained that he intended to remain a Chasid but hoped a secular education and college degree would help prepare him for a future livelihood.

After the student concluded his presentation, the Rebbe responded, "Are you asking for an eitzah [advice] or for a bracha [blessing]? The young man, perhaps sensing the response that was coming answered, "I came in for a blessing."

"A blessing with advice is always better than one without advice." The Rebbe than proceeded to tell him, "In my opinion, you shouldn't go. You should continue your studies in yeshiva. You will be matzliach [successful] and you can be a leader in the Jewish community with that."

For the young man, the stakes were sufficiently high and he found it impossible simply to accept the Rebbe's veto of his plan. "How can the Rebbe tell me that when the Rebbe himself went to college?"

"Precisely because I went to university, I know what it's about. I know the environment, and I think it will have a detrimental effect on you instead of a positive one." Seeing that the young man was still unconvinced, the Rebbe tried another track. "Can you draw a circle?" he asked.

"Yes," the young man answered, presumably perplexed by the question.

"Can you draw a perfect circle?"

"No, I can't, not on my own."

"What would you need to draw a perfect circle?" the Rebbe pressed.

"A compass."

The Rebbe, whose interest in and aptitude for mathematics was well known, continued. "Tell me the difference between the circle you would draw on your own and the circle you would draw with a compass."

"The circle I draw on my own won't have a sturdy center around which to draw borders, but the compass's center creates a perfect circle."

The Rebbe then elaborated: "All knowledge you'll ever learn, every experience you'll have in your life, are the circles. They're not the center. If you don't have a solid center, you'll have jagged circles, incomplete circles, many different circles. I sense that you need that center before you start building your circles."

When the man, then in his early fifties, related this story, he added, "I didn't listen. I went anyway." He started to cry softly. "And I still don't have a complete circle. I have many circles, this one, that once, incomplete."

"Just because one person goes into a fire and comes out unhurt, doesn't mean that everybody should go into the fire."

Telushkin, Joseph. Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History. Harper Wave, 2014. Pages 328-329.

Obviously, from the above quotation, we see that the Lubavitcher Rebbe's opinion that Jewish lads should not attend college does not stand within the parameters of halacha, but is rather an opinion of his (because he believed "college-aged" youths were not firm enough in their faith and understand to be able to tackle the concepts and teachings that are taught in universities).

Hope this answers your question.

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