If there’s one thing we’ve all learned since the horrors of October 7 it’s that elite universities make you stupid. Even Saturday Night Live could not help but poke fun at how brain-dead the presidents of America’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 go to 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, which castrates gay men and hangs them in town squares, to remain in control of Gaza. The kind of imbecilic antisemites who 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 of a million dollars of debt when you graduate and flip hamburgers at McDonalds with your degree in psychology. I’m asking whether it’s worth 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 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; he’d 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 7 — 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 get 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 at memorizing information, writing essays using that information, and acing tests. But not all of them were educated. I remember being gobsmacked at just how ignorant so many of our students were about 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 noncommitted 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 become 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 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 7 massacre. How could someone so smart do 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 intelligence and university training do 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. 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 gang-raped 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 okay 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, Bible-based Christian schools. 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 Stanford 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 Stanford 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 smartest among us who 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 say that the only time you can take a life is in self-defense. Hamas is evil because it targets the innocent and then hides among the innocent, using Palestinian babies as bulletproof vests, while the IDF is virtuous because it fights not to harm but to protect the innocent.
Notice that even the worst antisemites on earth, who hate 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 civilian, which they risk their own lives not to do, it’s only when Hamas installs its 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 7 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. 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 tried 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 bulletproof vests or 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 he is elected, he would continue to provide Israel with the annual military aid of $3.8 billion, even as he would deny the $14 billion that 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 who 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. “Thou shalt not stand idly by your neighbor’s blood.”
Maybe in his next debate preparation Ramaswamy 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.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood is the author of 36 books, including “Kosher Hate” and “The Israel Warrior.” Follow him on Instagram and X @RabbiShmuley.