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Shmuley Boteach

The Ivy League Is Making University Students Into Imbeciles

If there’s one thing we’ve all learned since the horrors of October 7th it’s that elite universities make you stupid. Even Saturday Night Live could not help but poke fun at how braindead the Presidents of American’s top Universities – Harvard, Penn, and MIT – were when they were asked the simple question if threatening to annihilate the Jews constitutes harassment. Any sanitation worker or cab driver would have answered the question with greater moral clarity.

So why is anyone wasting time at Harvard? OK, it will get you a job at Goldman Sachs. I get it. You to go Columbia in order to make oodles of cash when you graduate. But what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and become a dumbbell in the interim?

Then there is the issue of just what imbeciles and hate-filled dullards the IVY League University students are becoming. It’s not only that so many are raging antisemites in their late teens or early twenties. It’s that they’re stupid antisemites. The kind of antisemites who champion LGBTQ rights while calling for Hamas, who castrates gay men and hangs thing in town squares, to remain in control of Gaza. The kind of imbecilic antisemites that ostensibly revile sexual violence against women but want Hamas to come back to power to that they can gang rape a few hundred more women.

The only thing worse that an antisemite is a truly dunce-like antisemite. And Harvard, Penn, Stanford and MIT seem to be manufacturing them.

It’s therefore time that we asked the honest question of whether University degrees are even worth it. I know the question has been asked in relation to college debt. But here I’m not questioning whether you’re better off with a BA after four years and a quarter million dollars in debt when you graduate and flip hamburgers at McDonalds with your degree in psychology. I’m asking whether it’s work going to University and graduating with no knowledge of good and evil?

What if Universities, instead of educating us, are actually making us all imbeciles?

Once upon a time I would never have asked that. In fact, being a student of the Rebbe and a member of Chabad, it always bothered me when that the Rebbe actively discouraged people from going to University and told them to go to Yeshiva instead. The Rebbe used to tell people that he was speaking from his own experience of having attended two of the world’s greatest universities, the Sorbonne and the University of Berlin, just before the holocaust. University was a waste of time.

Really? How were people supposed to get a job? How were they supposed to feed a family?

But just as I saw that the Rebbe was prophetic and absolutely right in his fiery and uncompromising opposition to Israel trading land for peace – as Israel learned with unforgiving savagery on October 7th – it might just be that the Rebbe was on to something about how Universities can provide the opposite of an education.

Let’s be clear about the difference between being educated and learning a skill. I do not for a moment deny that you need to go for special training to be a lawyer, engineer, doctor or the like. You need formal training for a skilled profession and in that sense formal courses and testing at Universities are a must. No one denies that. But does acquiring a skill mean that you’re educated?

I was the Rabbi at Oxford University for 11 years. My students were brilliant, that is, at memorizing information, writing essays on that information, and acing tests. But not all of them were educated. I remember being gob smacked at just how ignorant so many of our students were at current events, history, philosophy, and moral thinking. And they struggled with so many moral questions that deeply affected their personal lives, like whether casual sex in a non-committed relationship was healthy or harmful. Was it possible to have the closest and most vulnerable human interactions in a merely recreational way? And if it was possible, then why did so many men and women who were having sex becoming so cynical about love and relationships? Why did so many leave university believing that careers were infinitely more fulfilling than having a family?

What the Rebbe railed against was not gaining training at a University to have a craft, but rather  the idea that you are somehow more complete with a liberal arts education that had no moral grounding. The Rebbe was opposed to the confusion that a BA conferred moral knowledge as opposed to simply skills for gainful employment.

Being educated means being enlightened. It’s where your soul is allowed to soar to see distant moral vistas and ethical horizons. Enlightenment is meant to lead to goodness.

My friend Senator Cory Booker was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and is intellectually brilliant. But degrees from Stanford, Oxford, and Yale could somehow not confer upon him the moral courage to vote against giving Iran $150 billion which without a doubt ultimately trickled down to Hamas for the October 7th massacre. How could someone so smart doing something so stupid? Indeed, Barack Obama, who put together that deal, might just have had the highest IQ of any President in recent memory!

The answer of course is that that intelligence and University training does not confer a moral backbone or the knowledge of good and evil. Only a solid moral grounding in an absolute moral code can do that. Which is why any truck driver who knows the Ten Commandments would have voted against the Iran Deal because they know that you’re not allowed to murder. And the government of Iran are a bunch of murderers. So don’t arm them, don’t fund them, and don’t legitimize them.

We see clearly from all these amoral ignoramuses running around Columbia University that a degree offers no such thing as moral clarity. Rather, a University should be relied upon merely for practical knowledge to learn how to make an iPhone. But to what moral use that iPhone can be put – from downloading porn and degrading women to using it to call your parents before the Sabbath for a blessing – only religion can teach you that, and even then, it has to be a religion that insists on moral virtue before all else.

Why are Harvard students pulling down posters about innocent Jewish hostages being gangraped in Gaza? Isn’t that a no-brainer. What kind of stupid, dumb, dullard who aced their SAT would be dumb enough to think it’s ok to leave a baby to be raised away from his parents in a tunnel by Hamas? Well, it’s because Harvard Business School can teach you how to take a tech startup public. But it cannot teach you how to be good person.

That’s why the Rebbe never opposed Universities like Touro, Yeshiva University, and, I’m assuming, Christian schools that were Bible-based. His opposition was to a vacuous liberal arts education that was not grounded in any kind of moral framework.

But here is where things get really sticky.

Does a person really need Harvard to teach them that murder is wrong? Do they need Stamford to teach them that raping women, cutting off their breasts, and shooting them in the genitals is a moral abomination, even if the woman is Jewish? Do we need Columbia to teach us that beheading babies is a sin, even if the baby is circumcised?

Aren’t these morals supposed to be things that come naturally. In this sense, haven’t the students of Harvard, Yale, and Stamford gone backwards? How can these students be so embarrassingly ignorant? How is it possible that going to an Ivy League University actually made them into bad people? How have they lost any sense of a moral compass? Why do their Presidents and faculty need to be fired by, let’s even assume worst case scenario, selfish and greedy billionaire philanthropists before they know that genocide is wrong, even if it is the Jews who are once again being slaughtered?

The answer is intellectual arrogance. So often it’s the brightest and smarted among us that think that they can outsmart God. That they are gods. That they can create their own moral codes of good and evil. But the construction worker has the humility to admit that he knows what he doesn’t know. He won’t create his own personal construct of good and evil. He or she will submit to the simple dictates of the Ten Commandments which says that the only time one can take a life is in self defense. Hamas is evil because they target the innocent and then they hide among the innocent, using Palestinian babies as their bullet-proof vests, while the IDF is virtuous because they fight not to harm but to protect the innocent.

Notice that even the worst antisemites on earth, who had the IDF with every fiber of their being and falsely accuse the Israeli army of a genocide in Gaza – the ultimate blood libel – cannot cite a single instance of an Israeli soldier even being accused of rape. Because if the IDF ever harms a civilians, which they risk their own lives not to do, it’s only when Hamas installs their military headquarters in nurseries and under hospitals.

Last week I traveled to Tuscaloosa for the Republican Presidential Debate at the University of Alabama as a guest of Governor Chris Christie whom I’ve always liked. I played a part in his visit to Israel a month ago where he was hosted by my friend, the openly gay Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Amir Ohana. To date Christie remains the only presidential candidate on the Republican side to visit Israel since the October 7th attacks, following in the footsteps of President Biden who deserves immense and lasting credit for going to Israel right after the slaughter. But even President Biden did not visit the killing fields outside of Gaza, which I don’t fault him for given the security threats, but Christie did.

After the debate I went into the spin room and confronted Vivek Ramaswamy who had just lied on national TV and said that he is the most pro-Israel candidate on the podium. He tried his best to avoid me and his team try to run interference. But it didn’t help. I confronted him directly. “You’re pro-Israel but you want to defund Israel military during a war for its very survival? You want to cut off all military aid to Israel, just like the Squad and Rashida Tlaib, but you have the chutzpa to say you’re pro-Israel? My sons, American citizens, are soldiers in the IDF and serving in this war. They don’t have bullet proof vests are night-vision goggles or tactical headgear. How are you?” With the world’s media watching the confrontation, Ramaswamy was forced to change his policy publicly and say that, if elected, he would continue to provide Israel with the annual military aid of $3.8 billion, even as he would deny the $14 billion which both President Biden and the Republicans agree on.

What a jerk. But more importantly, what an ignoramus? Anyone who watches the GOP debates can see that Ramaswamy is clearly brilliant and has a super fast mind. He is Yale-educated. So how can be so stupid as to believe he is increasing American security by defunding America’s foremost ally which is fighting the Islamists that would be gang-raping New York and California women if not for Israel stopping them in the Middle East?

Because Ramaswamy like so many other Ivy Leaguers is an arrogant man who thinks that he knows morality more than God and more than simply common sense. The Bible is clear. “That shalt not stand by idly by your neighbor’s blood.”

Maybe in his next debate preparation he should read less oppo research about Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and Chris Christie – who accurately called him America’s foremost obnoxious blowhard – and read more of the Bible.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.