Two Visits

Two visits by pairs of wonderful young rabbis highlight an issue in Torah education that I believe requires attention. Both meetings were set up by senior rabbis whom I respect greatly and both were efforts to secure support for their projects. One project is a creative and I think fruitful effort in special education, while the other is a more tangential approach to assist people with severe disabilities who wish to study Torah. The first project is extremely expensive at $20,000 per year per student; the other is far less costly.

I was greatly impressed by the earnestness of those responsible for these projects and by what they have accomplished. As things turned out and as I had anticipated, there is no ready way for me to help them, although I will continue to try.

But here is the problem: Special ed is terribly expensive. Even if we assume, as I am willing to do, that the investment pays off, in view of the obvious fact that communal resources are limited, is it right to spend substantial charitable funds on these children, while so many dayschoolers are shortchanged? The fact is that there are immigrant and kiruv schools that spend significantly below $5,000 per student on a dual curriculum program and certainly the students would benefit if more funding were available. More generally, nearly every yeshiva in this country is underfunded ´┐Ż in terms of the salaries paid, maintenance, special attention to children and counseling and everything else. Why should we be so solicitous of special ed children at a time when we are neglecting tens of thousands of other children?

The question actually has two answers: one is that special ed resonates with us as chesed and not as chinuch and as a community we are increasingly doing what other Jews do, namely prefering chesed in our charity allocations over education. A collateral factor is that we have come to accept the notion that ordinary Torah education is a consumer product to be paid for by the parents who are the consumers.

There is a lot more to say on this subject and maybe I will return to it after looking at the feedback.

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7 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    Economics is often defined as the study of the allocation of scarce resources to unlimited demsnds. Some societies do this via government fiat, others by the free market. The interesting question is how does HKB”H want us to do this? Is there only one way or are there equally acceptable approaches(shikul hadaat.) How we have answered this question in the past and will answer it in the future says a lot about our priorities and how we as individuals and as a clal prioritize them.
    Joel Rich

  2. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    If individuals set aside their tzedakah budget for the year and sat down to allocate it ahl pi seichel and ahl pi halacha and ahl pi hadrachas Chachamim, the issue you raise would be more exigent. When I see people giving for tsunami relief because their hearts hurt to see the suffering, and none of their funds go to hungry Jews who need help, I must say that seichel and halacha are not big factors. Schools closing for lack of funds is tragic, but says more about effective fund raising than improper allocation. One Rov builds a edifice that occupies a square block, while another, the tzadik and talmid chochom, who lacks people skills, grumbles in his dingy, shabby shtiebel. It’s all marketing and PR.

  3. 1rabbi says:

    I can appreciate the dilemma. As one who has taught both special needs students in day school and congregational religious school, I have found the exprerineces rewarding and have enjoyed waatching the children grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. I encourage you to find a way to include the speical needs students.

  4. Moishe Potemkin says:

    Two quick points:

    1) I’m not sure that the chesed/chinuch dichotomy is accurate. When the gemara notes that R’ Papa repeated his lessons 400 times, it uses that as a point about teaching, not about being nice.

    2) Part of this equation, as Joel Rich suggests, hinges on the scarcity of resources. Perhaps we should contemplate whether individuals’ mesiras nefesh automatically implies an appropriate level of sacrificing the resources of the klal. This is obviously an easier point to make regarding Borsalinos or massive houses than regarding kollel, but the question stands for both.

  5. P. Konstam says:

    The special ed child may become a ‘goy gomur’, a tragedy, and separately, a tragedy on top of a tragedy for the parents.
    The Day School child will suffer in peripheral programs – also a terrible outcome, but on a different scale.

  6. David Brand says:

    I’m not sure I buy into the “scarcity of resourses” idea. In some cases, community growth and the growth of institutions is the answer, rather than the problem. Take the case of a large midwestern community that was stagnant for years. Add one kollel, that people complained would drain “scarce” resources away from chinuch. The result was that very different than the naysayers’ predictions. The growth of the kollel enhanced the entire community and stimulated even more growth. By bringing more people in, the community and its resources both expanded. My point here is that I don’t think that people should look at a new institution as a competetor which could potentially reduce income. Quite the opposite. Growth is good for everyone.

    As to the issue of why day schools are somehow lost in the shuffle of other tzedakos that appear more “glitzy”, I take issue with Dr. Shick’s assertion that chinuch is a “consumer product”. Everyone knows that there are families who have tuition charges alone that are way above their ENTIRE income, and that it would be unrealistic to equate full price for tuition to full price for food. Therefore, there are substantial differences between tuition and other consumer products. However, there is a ring of truth to the notion that day schools are somehow less “cool”, particularly for younger donors who do not yet pay tuition of their own, but are ready to step into one of the many new “young leadership” roles prepared for them by many non-chinuch charities. I guess I would question the day schools themselves (and I have) about why they don’t have a young leadership division. I would also ask why they don’t focus on alumni the way high schools do. The difference, as has been pointed out, is in how these mosdos think about their marketing program. Inasmuch as we have a community chiuv to support day schools, the schools themselves have a responsibility to market themselves to potential donors the same way other charities do.

    Not every day school is in the same situation. At my Alma Mater, Torah Academy in Minneapolis, the fund raising is led by my capable friend, JB Bornstein. His creativity is evident by the amount of community involvement that he gets, even when those involved do not send their children to the school. It is possible to be successful at getting people involved. We just have to try harder.

  7. P. Konstam says:

    In what way is this different than all allocation dilemmas – why spend money on the sick who will evenutally pass rather than on the young with a life ahead of them, why spend money on the hopeless poor rather than on those who can develop a trade, why spend money on old age homes rather than kirov rechokim?

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