ear Sara,

I’m not sure if this is a dating question or a life question, but I hope you’ll be able to help me. I’m a senior in high school and as all my friends are filling out applications to seminary in Eretz Yisrael and getting excited, I’m very unsure about whether I want to go. I know that my parents really can’t afford to send me (I don’t know how everyone else does it) and I myself am not so sure it’s necessary. When I mention this to people they inevitably respond with, “How are you going to get a normal shidduch if you don’t go to seminary?” Are they right? Is the risk of jeopardizing my shidduchim enough of a reason to go?

Bucking the Trend but Kinda Scared

Dear Bucking,

I take the wording of this question as license to step outside the purview of shidduchim and address a larger question. If I’m overstepping, I’m sorry — but not so sorry, because I’m grateful to be able to share my thoughts on this topic.

I think you’re asking if you’re required to toe the line to get a “good” shidduch. This question is a microcosm of the constant tension experienced by independent thinkers who feel connected to their community but don’t necessarily agree with all of its norms.

It has a different feel than questions sometimes asked by nonconformists and by rebels. There’s no anger attached to it, but rather a vague background voice that wonders, “Just because so-and-so said it, does it really make it so?” The question is asked earnestly and the conclusion is that if, in fact, it is so, I’ll follow along.

So, once we establish that we are having a legitimate discussion and not a battle of rhetoric (the “we don’t all have to be cookie cutter!!!!” type) then we can honestly ask if it’s necessary to go to seminary simply to land a good shidduch.

Let’s start from the surface and move in deeper. On the most basic level, the assumption is that seminary is a spiritual finishing school of sorts. It’s a year dedicated to entrenching certain hashkafos deep in the psyche of the students so they can later draw on them as life presents its challenges. It certainly makes sense that, if when people say “good” shidduch they’re referring to a boy who is a serious ben Torah, such a boy will want a girl who feels those hashkafos in her bones. So, on a purely logical level, there’s some merit to this argument.

But let’s be honest. Logic is great, but so often irrelevant. More likely, what’s really going on is an irrational fear we have of people who are different. People who subscribe to this line of thinking need the world to be like them and to think like them to validate their own way of life. They distrust independence.

And who’s to judge? Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes a person’s need to buck the trend is rooted in an unhappiness, or a lack of ability, or inner anger, that may mushroom into significant issues later in life.

So do you have to go to seminary to make these potential future in-laws or potential shadchanim feel better? Probably not. Honestly, some people could care less whether or not you went to seminary. And Hashem has shidduchim for girls who go to seminary, for girls who don’t, and (gasp) even for girls who go to college or straight to work. There are so many other more important considerations in a shidduch.

Will it come up and will there be people who reject you because of it? Possibly, maybe even probably. But that’s okay. There will be people who say no to many people for many reasons. “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” I would not recommend making a major life decision to please people you don’t even know and whose opinion you may not respect.

What I would recommend you do is examine closely and honestly your reasons for not wanting to go to seminary. And as you explore the costs and benefits of going versus staying, begin to develop a plan for filling in the deficits you’ll experience if you choose not to go. Your wish to not overburden your parents is commendable, but many people who consider seminary a priority find a way to make it happen. Please be sure you are not hiding behind that to avoid fears you might have about going. And put a plan in place to cement your own hashkafos at this crucial stage of your life: classes, mentors, good friends, etc.

May Hashem guide you to the path that’s correct for you!


(Originally featured in Family First Issue 617)