During this past Pesach Bein Hazmanim, an online survey was conducted that posed the following question: Would bochurim who are currently in Bais Medrash be interested in attending a Bais Medrash in the USA specifically geared to 21-year-olds? If so, what features might such a Bais Medrash offer in order for them to consider attending?
More than 400 people – either bochurim currently in Bais Medrash or parents of Bais Medrash bochurim — responded to this survey, sharing comments, personal thoughts, and insights. All told, the respondents represented attendees of more than 30 different Batei Medrash in the U.S. Canada, and Eretz Yisrael. A full 77% of the respondents characterized themselves as Litvish/Yeshivish. Each person who responded did a tremendous service: all of the candid and spirited responses opened a window into a little-known area of Bais Medrash life: the changing needs and interests of our current bochurim.
The survey revealed a groundswell of support for a USA-based Bais Medrash for Bochurim age 21. Nearly 60% of the respondents answered that they would be interested, to some degree! 30% of those said they would definitely consider such a Yeshiva, while a second group of approximately another 27% of the interested respondents said that they might consider such a Yeshiva, depending on the circumstances. A sampling of these respondents’ comments revealed enthusiasm for the possibility of a different option for post-Bais Medrash Bochurim, taking into account some of the challenges of learning in Eretz Yisrael. One respondent enthused, “This is long overdue. We have now in the system so many Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbeim who wish that the Bochurim would not go to Eretz Yisrael and wish they would stay here but there just aren’t enough choices here. If a few new Botei Midrashim would open in the tri state area that would be awesome.” Another respondent wrote, “Good Luck and hope you’re successful. Even if it’s too late for my son it will be great for the next group of boys.”
A significant number of the survey-takers, when explaining their interest, mentioned the spiritual challenges which bochurim face, along the lines of this response: “Eretz Yisrael has its Nisyones. It would be great to have another option.” Others commented on the difficulties both b’ruchnius and b’gashmius of being away at a young age, detailing the hardships and potential problems such as “constantly fending for meals, worrying where to be next Shabbos, leaving the Yeshiva building on Thursday and coming back on Motzei Shabbos or Sunday.” A concerned parent wrote about the strain of distance: “It is so much easier to know where your child is if he is local instead of being thousands of miles away.”
Many interested respondents mentioned financial concerns. One person wrote, “It also costs too much money for tuition, deerah, plane tickets etc.” Another respondent hoped that “the tuition of these new planned programs [would] be geared for families of lower income.”
Shidduchim and marriage is another factor that ranked high among those who were interested in a Bais Medrash for 21-year-olds. Their opinions went along the lines of this respondent: “I believe [a bochur] should get married and go to Eretz Yisrael with his wife to learn.” Another respondent cheered: “Great idea, and will (hopefully) produce healthier, more stable boys ready for shidduchim earlier (to help all our wonderful girls get married).” These opinions are ostensibly in response to the Kol Koreh of the Roshei Yeshiva that has been published in frum media outlets, advising young men who are ready for marriage, to begin shidduchim at age 21.
Social circles are also a significant factor for bochurim. Of those who said “it depends on circumstances,” this respondent speaks for many others: “I would stay if my friends would stay.”
What features of a Beis Medrash are these who answered the survey interested in? Interestingly, there were a few clear standouts, pointing to what our current bochurim wish for most in a Yeshiva environment. The feature that was requested most often was “A Rosh Yeshiva who interacts well with bochurim,” which was chosen by 145 respondents! Coming in at a distant second place, was the request for a Shiur in Kodoshim, and in third place was a request in Sugyos L’halacha. Further down the list, in order of preference, respondents said they would appreciate Shidduch coaching, supervised diras, Chaburos said by bochurim, and guest Shmuessen. Many said all of these seven features were important. There were other requests as well.
What about the respondents who said they would not consider a Bais Medrash for 21-year-olds in the U.S.A.? Approximately 40% of the respondents said they would not consider staying in the USA at age 21 in any Bais Medrash, even if it had features that they deemed important. In general, members of this group support learning in Eretz Yisrael as their first and, often, only choice, because of the level of learning there, or because of Kedushas Eretz Yisrael. In their answers to the survey, some passionately explained their preference, describing “an experience that should not be missed”, and extolling the “rich flavor of Yiddishkeit and holiness” in Eretz Yisrael. Others seemed quite agitated that a survey like this should even be up for discussion, stating, “Our grandparents dreamt all their lives to spend their days in the holy land; don’t try and put people off from going.” Such respondents might be worried that, as a result of the existence of a new Bais Medrash option in the USA, 21-year-old bochurim in the future might have to justify going to Eretz Yisrael to learn.
The survey touched on very real emotions. Judging by the high levels of enthusiasm for, or possible interest in a new Bais Medrash on one hand, and the impassioned arguments against it on the other, it is clear that this survey touched an emotional chord in many of the respondents. Hundreds of people gave of their valuable time to share their opinions, and each of them represented a perspective of our multifaceted klal. They survey gave a voice to those who are happy with the status quo, love learning in Eretz Yisrael, and see no need for change. But, more importantly, it gave a voice to a less-heard, but statistically larger demographic: those bochurim and parents who believe that a new Bais Medrash in the U.S. could potentially be a better environment for growth and learning, given the right circumstances.
Aren’t there already a number of excellent Batei Midrash in the U.S.? There are of course, Batei Medrash in the US that currently cater to 21-year-olds, but they tend to be for very specific demographics. Yeshivas Chaim Berlin, for example, mostly enrolls bochurim that have attended their yeshiva since elementary school. The same can be said for the Batei Medrash of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim and Ner Yisrael. But not every bochur fits these parameters. For a sizable percentage of the 850 or so new bochurim who yearly register for the first time at Bais Medrash Govoha at age 23 (on average), there currently is no U.S.-based Bais Medrash option at age 21. One bochur’s response expresses the lack of options: “My parents don’t want me to go to Israel, but as of now it’s the only choice.”
Who Would Support a New Bais Medrash for 21-Year-Olds? Several Roshei Yeshiva catering to 18-to-20-year-old bochurim are very much in favor of a Yeshiva for 21-year-olds in the U.S.A., and have said that they would advise some of their own bochurim to stay in a U.S. Bais Medrash for 4th year and beyond, if it had certain key features. Of paramount concern to the Roshei Yeshiva is that such a yeshiva be specifically geared to 21-year-olds, and not just a large Yeshiva where the 21–year-olds might get lost in the crowd. This survey has determined that many bochurim and their parents also have interest in such a program. Even more significantly, the bochurim and their parents have shared which features they consider vital for such a program.
In Summary. With this remarkable consensus from Roshei Yeshiva, Bochurim, and their parents about the importance of a Bais Medrash for 21-year-olds, it seems like the time is ripe for such an endeavor.
To join in the survey and offer your insight, please click here.
(Please note the raffle has been drawn already and the winner has received $500)