Supporting Basic Torah Education

Could it be that after too many years of sending out the message that basic Torah education at the elementary and high school levels is not a community responsibility or tzedakah priority, Torah leaders are coming to realize that yeshivas and day schools, as well as their faculty, are suffering and a new message advocating support for our most vital institutions needs to be sent out?

This is an issue that I have trumpeted for far longer than I care to recollect here. The exercise has been akin to knocking one�s head into a stone wall. I am frustrated and I am angry because I know who is being hurt, including the many for whom no yeshiva or day school chinuch is available.

But now at the Agudah convention, both the Novominsker Rebbe and Professor Aaron Twerski picked up the theme, with the latter following up with an impassioned article in the latest Jewish Observer. He asks that �yeshivas be put at the top of our agenda� and that �the next Agudath Israel convention be dedicated to the problems of our yeshivas.” It�s startling, even scary, that the Torah world needs to be told that yeshivas � and Professor Twerski makes it clear that he is referring to basic chinuch � need to be put at the top of our agenda.

We should be thankful for this progress, yet we are a long way off from reversing a dangerous trend which inadvertently has promoted the wrongful view that yeshivas are a consumer product and therefore the responsibility of parents who are the consumer. So long as Torah leaders send out an endless stream of communications promoting chesed and other causes which they disregard basic Torah chinuch � just look at the mail we get or the weekly Yated � it is unlikely that there will be much improvement. Right now, many yeshivas and day schools are in trouble and contributions continue to decline.

I believe that there will be meaningful change only if more of us speak out , only if parents and others send out the message that we have our priorities wrong.

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7 Responses

  1. Reb Yudel says:

    I’m glad to hear that your message is being heard.

    What I’m growing increasing curious about is this: What is the place of hinuch within a broad look at the economy of a Jewish community?

    To illustrate a bit what I mean: A generation ago, when I was growing up in Cleveland, Irving Stone brought serious funding from the Federation to the city’s Jewish day schools. At the time, there were two of them. Agnon had about 150 through 8th grade. Hebrew Academy and its high schools numbered what? Perhaps a thousand? We can go back to the records and calculate the percentage raised by federation, by synagogue dues, and everything else, see the aid from federation, and figure out how big a role it played as a community expense, and how important it was as a per-student subsidy.

    Today I live in Teaneck. Bergen County has thousands of kids in day schools — the total budget of which dwarfs that of our federation. It would not a be a stretch to say that the total tuition paid on my block alone exceeds the federation contribution.

    In other words, once increasing federation aid to yeshivot would have been like doubling the NASA or foreign aid budget. Today it’s like doubling the budget for Medicare.

    Looking outside at the New York Agudah community, I wonder to what extant similar factors are at work. The community now includes kollels. How many? What is the enrollment of Kollels compares to a generation ago? How many of the hesed appeals are part of the kollel system? And on the input side: How many yeshiva students were there in 1975? How many were from “heimeshe” homes, how many from “modern Orthodox,” how many from nominal or not-at-all Orthodox?

    I raise these questions because I think a systemic look at the various hinuch systems, as they work within the various Jewish communities, needs to be undertaken. Maybe we should try a joint grant proposal to Avi Chai?

  2. DMZ says:

    I find it fascinating that people are honing in on the monetary aspects of this, rather than the problems with how gemara and chumash are taught. There is steadfast resistance to changing teaching methodology, even in the face of modern educational technique. While this might not have been what Agudah was pushing for, I think it is a serious, serious problem.

    Right now, most guys coming out of a Jewish day school simply are not at the level they should be, considering they’re hitting the Talmud for three or four hours a day for six years. It is entirely inexcusable that the schools can “settle” for schooling the kids just enough so that they can get into the Israeli yeshivos. Why are these schools so ineffectual? What are they doing wrong? No one asks these questions, yet the answers might prove far more enlightening than yet another mis-spent million dollars.

    Yes, this issue is somewhat dear to my heart, being deeply dis-satisfied with the level of education I was given in my day school (and I graduated Hebrew studies valedictorian – it was not for lack of motivation, I assure you). But, in my limited experience, the problems run far deeper than lack of money.

  3. Leapa says:

    Dr. Schick, I would note that chesed is closer to the original halachic definition of tzedaka than education is.
    Moreover, the time of the Day School Yeshiva which accepted all regardless of tuition has passed, causing skepticism towards the movement.

  4. Reb Yudel says:

    Leapa — is that really true? And, if so, might it not be the fault of the schools not having enough money?

  5. Leapa says:

    There’s no way any school has less money than Yeshiva Bais Yehuda in Detroit in my youth.
    After being founded with self sacrifice by talmidim of R’ Shraga Feivel Mendelovitz, the menahelim would pick up public school children from city bus stops while substituting for bus drivers.

  6. ben meir says:

    I agree with alot of what you have written on this subject (and I have followed your thoughts on this for tears now). But even if you forget about competitive users of community funding there are many factors affecting our elementary school education. First of all, picking up on RebYudels comments, while Cleveland had two schools today there are three frum schools, and at least three non frum schools. So we have the education movement evolving in the opposite direction of sound economic theory. This is driven idealogically (you need a Black Hat school, a community school and a mizrachi school) as well as by the growing numbers of our community, but it is an incremental stress on our community. Teachers, with complicity from Torah U’Mesorah have become union negotiators – don’t get me wrong (I view my kids teachers as THE most inportant person inmy kids lives) and I believe the staff in our schools need to be compensated WELL, and pensions need to be provided for our retiring teachers, but a more antagonistic relationship is emerging between the layleaders of the community and the educating class. Finally, I don’t know if our generation will be as financially succesful as the previous one and unfortunately isn’t willing to sacrifice on the same scale as the generation that built the original day school network in America.
    I am involved in the Board of my childrens school, it is very hard to approach people to get them involved with the school. People are used to a consumer driven culture and don’t perceive the schools as delivering “good” value for there dollars, nor do see them being responsive to their needs and desires. aside for that, take a typical frum family, a guy who learnt in kollel and started working at 27. He has four kids and is making we hope a decent salary, but he has to pay $25K in tuition.
    The Rabbonim talk constantly about it being a community responsiblity to support the schools, but again the response is less than overwhelming.
    Maybe a litle verbose, but we are a train wreck waiting to happen, and I have no idea how it will reverse itself.

  1. January 19, 2005

    Jewish education… back to basics?
    Marvin Shick writes on Cross-Currents:Could it be that after too many years of sending out the message that basic Torah education at the elementary and high school levels is not a community responsibility or tzedakah priority, Torah leaders are coming…

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