Yeshiva University partners with many different Israeli yeshivot and seminaries for its S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program. Students earn, in effect, a year's worth of college credits for studying Torah.
But there is a problem.
Many participating yeshivot and seminaries have no real way to evaluate student learning. There is no testing, no expected knowledge gain, no planned progression from point a to point b.
"Learning" – and by this I mean living in a yeshiva/seminary environment immersed in the culture, not the gain of actual academic knowledge – is the end goal. It's all about keeping kids "frum," not about learning.
YU is trying to change this. It is demanding its Israeli partners start testing (at least to a minimum level) and structure their programs so that knowledge acquired in them can be duly measured.
Some people see this push as an opportunity to encourage YU to drop its affiliation with schools – like Ohr Somayach (note the catchy name-change to partially mask Ohr Somayach's control) – whose main purpose is to indoctrinate students to haredism.
The anti-MO bias of Ohr Somayach is well documented.
Yet, for years YU has continued to partner with Ohr Somayach, apparently because YU views kiruv and Orthodox retention as overarching goals that push off whatever damage Ohr Somayach does to Modern Orthodoxy and students themselves.
(If you find this strange, think about the case of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who abused NCSY kids for 30 years while OU leaders turned a blind eye. The rationale most given by those YU leaders for "overlooking" Lanner's abuse? Kiruv. Lanner was brilliant at it.)
YU describes the program this way:
The Israel Program has four objectives:
- To enable students to incorporate study at Israeli yeshivot, women’s schools, or universities into their college years, enhancing their Yeshiva University experience;
- To expose students to intense, concentrated study of Bible, Talmud, Jewish philosophy, and other subjects;
- To increase fluency in oral and written Hebrew; and
- To enable students to learn firsthand about Israel: the land, people, history, and culture.
Recognized under New York State law as a Yeshiva University extension center, the program is located at the Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Institute in Jerusalem and is supervised by full-time Yeshiva University staff. Credits earned in the program are Yeshiva University credits and not transfer credits. All courses taken in the program appear on the student’s Yeshiva University permanent record and on transcripts made from this record as long as the student completes at least 12 credits on either of the New York campuses. Courses in the Israel Program do not count toward the residence requirement at the New York campus.
As Yeshiva University students, those in the Israel Program are eligible for all applicable state and federal financial aid programs.
Aside from the obvious problems of state and federal governments paying for what is solely religious education, and aside from Ohr Somayach's hatred for Modern Orthodoxy and Ohr Somayach's cult like recruitment and retention methods, Ohr Somaych's program teaches no Hebrew (there is a one hour class taught during break time for those students truly motivated, but no class during normal classroom hours). Further, I'm told it it has no true ulpan (even though it claims one), and discourages students from interacting with non-haredi Israeli society.
It also has a faculty member Rabbi David Orlofsky, a vociferous opponent (yes, that is Rabbi Orlofsky's letter) of Rabbi Natan Slifkin and a proponent of the haredi ban issued against Rabbi Slifkin and his works.
YU should certainly clean up the Abraham program. It has already dropped Neve Yerushalayim and other schools from its approved partners list. As YU continues to strengthen the Abraham program, it should separate itself from any institution, like Ohr Somayach, that uses cult-like tactics or that sees Modern Orthodoxy as a less-than-ideal religious choice.