What A Wonderful World!*

by Robert Lebovits

In my professional world perception is reality. What individuals believe to be true forms the basis of their worldview and directs the choices they make. Consequently inaccurate perceptions can have profound effects on the course of one’s life and in some circumstances on the future of a community. The dialogue initiated by Rabbi Adlerstein and the response from Dr. Schick have generated an unprecedented outpouring of reactions from readers of all backgrounds. As Rabbi Adlerstein has noted, he has simply articulated the thoughts and feelings of many observant Jews struggling with the demands and economic pressures that living a frum lifestyle entails. The cost of providing for a child’s Jewish education is the focal point of this torrent of frustration but not its real source. I believe that to be something far more central and deeply-rooted in the competing hashkofos of our Torah values.

In order to examine the real issues underlying the resentments and developing rifts between the various groups in Orthodox society, we must first resolve the misdirection present in the discussion regarding tuition costs and the burden baalei batim experience resulting from the perk of “free” education given to the children of klei kodesh. To put it succinctly, there is no truth to this assertion.
How much does it really cost a school to grant tuition waivers to klei kodesh? The prevailing notion is that since the tuition at Yeshiva A for a given child is “X” dollars, therefore every child from a klei kodesh family attending that school generates a benefit worth “X” dollars to the household. This reasoning is flawed on multiple levels. First, it is predicated on the principle that the first unit of service (i.e., educating a child) costs the same as the last unit of service, like paying for hours of a professional’s time: 5 hours of consultation at $300/hr. will cost me $1500 while 3 hours will only cost me $900. That conceptualization ignores the economic realities of fixed costs and variable costs. A more accurate analogy would be that of setting up a business. The expenses of rent, utilities, manpower, etc. are going to be incurred at a basic level no matter how many clients walk through the door. As more and more hours of service are provided, the per unit cost declines. If the business is increasingly successful and grows, expenses will rise but so will the revenue opportunities leading to even lower per unit costs. An elementary school K-8 of 200 children will not cost much less to operate than the same school with an enrollment of 300 children as shall be seen.

A more accurate way to assess the cost to a school of children who generate no tuition revenue is to ask the question: What would happen if we had no children of klei kodesh? Imagine a world in which all of klei kodesh belong to a self-contained, self-sustaining guild where all the needs of its members – including the educating of the children – are met internally, without any interface with the community at large. They provide for the education, spiritual guidance, kosher supervision, and ritual activity of the klal and are paid accordingly, but in dollars not perks. What would be the operating costs of a school without these children compared to one with them?

A number of factors come into play in arriving at this calculation. How large is the school? What percentage of the student body are of klei kodesh families? How many of the rebbeim have children in the school and what percentage do they comprise?

In a K-8 elementary school where boys and girls are in separate classes, it will be necessary to create at least 18 classes to serve the community. The class size before a second class will be formed is approximately 25 – 30. Assuming equal class size per grade – which is frequently not the case but is presented for illustration purposes – a school with an enrollment from 1 to 450 – 540 students will require a full complement of staff and have a physical plant adequate to provide the necessary classrooms and adjunct facilities. The fixed costs will typically be in the 90 – 95% range of the budget owing to the fact that staff salaries comprise 70 – 80% of operational expenses and plant maintenance including utilities run in the 10 – 15% span. The variable costs that are dependent on level of enrollment thus amount to at most 10% of the entire budget (if you wish to verify these figures please consult your local school’s administrator; my informal survey has borne out these proportions).

Assuming the children of klei kodesh make up 40% of the student body – an inflated estimate by my research for virtually all locales outside of Lakewood and certain Brooklyn communities – their presence in a school no larger than the range noted above will increase costs by approximately 4% (40% of the 10% that is discretionary based on enrollment). In a larger school where the children of klei kodesh tilt the school size to needing more than one class per grade the costs may be significantly higher – or not. As one administrator explained to me, teachers will not accept a position if there aren’t enough teaching periods offered and having a second class in a grade may simply fill the work time the teacher expects.
In truth, the absence of klei kodesh children will actually cost the school more money. Remember that world where klei kodesh looked after their own kids and thus had no tuition perk? You can be sure they would demand significantly higher salaries, perhaps as much as 20% more. With salaries accounting for 70 – 80% of the budget, an additional 20% would mean an operating increase 14 – 16%! And since their children are not going to be attending the school, the increase in salaries will not be coming back as tuition revenue.
Further, in communities where additional funding is provided by state income tax credits or grant allocations from local Jewish federations, numbers count: The larger the enrollment, the larger the funding. Losing the children of klei kodesh would actually decrease the revenues not accounted for by tuition, putting the school in an even deeper financial hole.

If it is true that providing a tuition-waived education for klei kodesh in fact does not raise the costs for everyone else and the arrangement may be more akin to Zeh N’Henneh V’Zeh Lo Chosser, then what is the source of people’s frustrations and resentments toward their fellow Jew? Consider a parallel phenomenon going on in Israel today.

The Tal Law granting broad exemptions from universal military service to those asserting to be learning Torah was overturned by the High Court of Justice about a year ago. Since then the Plessner committee was formed to find a replacement arrangement that would be satisfactory to all segments of Israeli society – a fool’s errand if ever there was one. The clamoring to have virtually all chareidim with very limited exceptions do “their fair share” and not live comfortably on the backs of everyone else called to serve has been huge. In fact, the latest iteration of the Netanyahu coalition was formed with the express purpose of correcting what many in Israel see as a grave societal injustice.

About a week ago Likud MK Moshe Feiglin wrote an opinion piece in Arutz Sheva entitled, “Does Israel Need A Compulsory Draft?” In the essay he reports on the 2006 Ben Basat Commission formed by the IDF to investigate manpower utilization and future needs. The numbers are striking. Only 59% of eligible conscripts actually enter the military and with ten different ways the IDF offers to shorten one’s duty call, much less than half of those called up actually complete a full 36-month tour. In reserves the numbers are even worse: Excluding elite combat units, less than 2% of the pool of discharged soldiers show up for reserve duty. Feiglin essentially argues that the notion of the IDF as a People’s Army is a myth and the country would be much better served by moving to an all-volunteer force, where those who want to serve do so professionally and those who do not continue on with their lives.

Again, the question presents itself: If the facts indicate that in regard to military service the chareidi olam is behaving more like the majority of Israelis than the minority, why such resentment and rancor? A few thoughts:

As much as we try to ignore it, it is incontrovertible that a chasm of beliefs and behaviors exist between the Right side of the Orthodox community and the Center and the Left. It is so definitive that each bloc perceives its counterpart as The Other – that similar yet oh-so different entity we struggle mightily within ourselves to accept or even tolerate. The divergence we see from our norms and mores arouse a degree of confusion and irritation that makes all their actions suspect. “Why can’t they just be like us?” is the thought that reflexively comes to mind.

Living in the non-Jewish world involves being exposed to alien values. One of the great social scourges of the last generations has been the ascendance of the entitlement mentality and the perception that another’s elevation comes at the price of one’s own decline. From the comments to the articles from Rabbi Adlerstein and Dr.Schick it is clear that many people feel their life choices were limited due to the inconsiderate actions of others. I’m sure we aren’t the first generation to be looking into someone else’s basket and not just our own but it certainly seems to have amplified greatly in the recent past. Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh L’Zeh does not mean I must make my choices based on how it will affect you. That is co-dependency, an extremely unhealthy sort of interpersonal relationship.

Many commenters have offered creative solutions to the immediate dilemma of the high cost of Jewish education. It strikes me that all of them would require communal cooperation and respect for all the various forms of living a Torah life. This time of the year historically has been a period of divisiveness and ruin for our Nation. We can change that trajectory now and for the future.

*(Thank you, Satchmo)

Dr. Lebovits learned in Beis Hatalmud in Israel. He received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Case Western Reserve University, and maintains a full-time private practice. He served as president of the Pittsburgh Kollel for eight years and as a member of the Board of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh for the last six.

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61 Responses

  1. yehudis says:

    One cost of excluding klei kodesh from the community-school system is, of course, that the children of baalei batim are not learning together with the children of klei kodesh. Are the children of klei kodesh not considered a kind of community asset for bolstering the frumkeit of a school? I very distinctly remember a number of pitched battles in communities with well-established schools, when klei kodesh wanted to set up their own services. My memory was that community leaders felt that it was an unfair move, to strip a broad-based community school of its strongest element. (This assumes that the children of klei kodesh are generally “frummer,” although perhaps the assumption is itself at fault.)

  2. Z says:

    I’m sorry, but on a societal level Dr. Lebovits’ mathematical argument fails. It is impossible that the overall cost of educating 100,000 students is equal to the cost of educating 60,000 students – otherwise per-student tuition should be going down every year as our community grows. (Each individual student is unlikely to represent a significant marginal cost, but over the entire klal the children of klei kodesh have represent many marginal classes/entire schools of significant cost).

  3. Bob Miller says:

    The number of teaching positions has to be compared with the number of people available to staff them. As long as there is a surplus of such people, the teachers’ bargaining power, including their ability to command higher salaries as a condition of remaining in the school systems, is limited. That labor surplus (if real), created in part by a lack of non-teaching employment options for those with their level of education/training/experience, is very germane to this discussion.

  4. Al says:

    I don’t fully understand this. Education costs (like army service in Israel) are a tax that frum Jews are required to pay; it is not a good or service that one can easily choose to or not to consume.
    The fixed costs are spread more thinly per household when those 100 extra children are paid for by their households. People get very touchy when they are asked to shoulder a tax burden unfairly. This, I think, is really the crux of the issue.

  5. Eli says:

    If not charging tuition is a net benefit, why charge anyone? Obviously someone needs to be charged, just like someone needs to go to the army. The arguement is that why should one group get the perks just because someone else was responsible?

    Based on your arguement, not charging anyone would be the way to go. Tzedaka money can be raised for those who are willing to teach for free (if needed). And the school will lose less money, as each additional free child is a net gain!

    I look forward to implementation.

  6. Dan Daoust says:

    Robert, we all get the idea that there are fixed costs that don’t increase every time another student is added. I don’t know what makes you think that nuance was lost on anyone. What you’ve completely overlooked here is that those fixed costs are pretty high in the first place, and the klei kodesh are not helping pay for them. That’s the problem we’re talking about.

    If there is a shortcoming to R’ Adlerstein’s essay — and it might be too late to walk it back at this point — it’s the idea that the financial shortfall is entirely due to the klei kodesh not paying their share. This overlooks the broader issue that the community of income-earners is not earning nearly enough to comfortably pay their own way. If everyone who can be a doctor or lawyer or banker instead sells mortgages with this degree from Touro, then we’ll have a tuition crisis whether or not the klei kodesh pay for their share.

    The problem is the attitude that has taken hold in the Yeshiva world with respect to parnassah: that it’s a bdi’eved, a necessary evil. Because of that attitude, our community has created a hierarchy of career paths, of which the most ideal inevitably lead to a life of working poverty. Star with the ultimate ideal: a life of full-time learning. That’s l’chatchila. Can’t quite pull it off? Fine, learn until you’re 26, take a BTL from Lakewood and be one of the 20 yungeleit who score high enough on the LSAT to get into Columbia. Can’t wait till you’re 26? Fine, learn until you’re 22 and then go to a glorified community college that no one in their right mind would even sneeze at if it wasn’t doubling as a Yeshiva. After you graduate from that joint, go sell mortgages or work in a nursing home or whatever else that has become the official frum job.

    Only once we go through those steps do we then arrive at options that would realistically be expected to lead to meaningful careers that pay sufficient income to bear the cost of tuition. And as our community moves more and more to the right, fewer and fewer students are choosing one of those options.

    I’m not saying everyone has to be a doctor or hedge-fund trader. That’s obviously not shayich. I’m just saying that we have to approach the concept of a profession the same way that any other community does. Bachurim should have every option open to them. They should do what they want to do. If that becomes the prevailing attitude, we’ll have enough high-income earners to stave off the tuition crisis.

  7. Chaim says:

    Dr. Lebovits’ argument has a fatal flaw. He is correct that, from an economic perspective, there is a distinction between fixed and variable costs and that, viewed that way, the marginal cost of educating the children of klei kodesh is, in many instances, negligible (assuming no additional class is required – although, in many instances, once is required which cannot be taught with existing staff). The flaw in his argument is in his glossing over the inherent injustice in treating the children of working bal habatim as the “fixed” costs and the children of the klei kodesh as the “variable” ones. Why is my child more fixed or variable than yours? In a system in which all participants receive equal benefit, both fixed and variable costs are justly spread equally across all participants. It is the allocation of the fixed costs solely to the children of bal habatim that is so troubling. In fact, the ability to spread fixed costs over more people is the precise financial reason that schools usually have more children per class than optimal; it allows for fixed costs to be more broadly spread.

    I do not dispute Dr. Lebovits’ assertion that having the children of klei kodesh in our classrooms adds value (although query whether that same value might be provided solely by the children of school rabbeim), nor do I dispute the value of klei kodesh to a community; personally, I’d not want to live in a community without them. My bone to pick is with a system that imposes klei kodesh by fiat. Keli kodesh and their number ought to be a communal choice, not one imposed from on high by a small group which, by virtue of our tuition system, gets to spread their cost across all parts of the community, whether or not the rest of that community sees their value. If the community values the klei kodesh, they will provide the dollars for them (if the choice was mine, I would) and, if they do not, they won’t. But that should be a communal choice and not a tax.

    Tying this back to a point made in Rabbi Adlerstein’s initial article on this subject, when bal habatim are the “fixed” costs, a bal habos wanting another child needs to consider the cost of that child in a way that klei kodesh, who’s children are “variable” costs, needn’t. Ever wonder why one almost never sees a bal habos, even an erlich, black-hat-wearing one who learns multiple hours a day, with more than 5 children? To those who insist that this stems from a lack of bitachon on the part of the bal habos, I say: Don’t judge someone else’s bitachon until you stand in his (financial)shoes. The bitachon required of variable-cost-klei-kodesh is, at least in this regard, much less than that required of a similarly-situated bal habos.

    Some schools mitigate (without wholly eliminating) the inequity through a variety of methods, including capping tuition for all families, giving everyone a multi-child discount (thus converting everyone’s children to “variable” costs at some threshold), restricting assistance even to klei kodesh to demonstrated need, not as a class privilege, and restricting privileges to school faculty, where it is part of the compensation package, rather that providing it on demand to all klei kodesh of the community. Yet, there remain schools in which few or none of these methods are used – and the working class is simply handed a bill they cannot pay.

    Aggravating the issue are those klei kodesh (and there are many more than I’d previously thought) who view bal habatim who object to the current approach as “selfish” and “self-centered.” Is there something selfish and self-centered about wanting to keep some of what one earns instead of being told that, above a certain threshold, 100% of every dollar one ears must be given to the school?

  8. BenShaul says:

    We don’t pay tuition on a societal level. Each city and school charges differently based on their costs, services, and sometimes perks that they provide. So comparing it the larger society misses the mark.

    Bob Miller
    Chicago actually does have a form of frum teachers union, and their(the teachers)collective bargaining power is therefore greater. You are correct that if there are a surplus of teachers the cost of a teacher will go down. Classic guns & butter capitalism. In a city like Lakewood that has that surplus, of both male and female, it has held the costs down considerably. However market forces are now changing that. With the pay scale of teachers -particularly of the women being so low, fewer and fewer woman/girls are willing to consider a teaching career and over time that will increase the pay scale. Again classic market capitalism.
    Try this. If 25 children are in a class, and we add 2-5 more kids to the class, we have not increased our “fixed cost”. There are no extra teachers to hire, no extra services to provide-so any additional income of those “extra” kids is extra. Of course if they need special tutoring etc, that wont be the case. But in a typical school-that DOESN’T charge more for full tuition than actual cost, this is true.

    NOTE TO ALL: I am on the phone as I type with the CEO of a day school and A-their tuition DOES NOT exceed actual cost,B- they want the “klei kodesh” kids b/c they receive more Federation funding and every which way they analyze it- it is a profit for them to have klei kodesh, rather than lose those kids to a different school. FACT!

  9. Eli says:

    BenShaul: Which day school? If I had to guess, I would say OOT, smallish classes, and minimal Klei Kodesh. It DOES work there, as the Klei Kodesh DO pay (in the form of raising money via scholarships/assistance from the Federation). It is similar to the Lakewood or minimum tuition scenario, and since the class itself can be expanded, additional costs are minimized.

    The same however is not true once you either:

    1: Take the Federation out of the picture
    2: Have to increase number of classes, or even worse, building size

    The parallel scenario does happen in Brooklyn, where there are schools that have a minimum tuition (BYOBP IIRC), and either you pay it or raise it. There, variable costs increase less per child than the minimum raised amount, similar to the minimum costs rising less than the Federation scholarship provided.

    Dan: That was a choice made by the Yeshivos to follow the Eretz Yisroel Derech instead of doing what Rav Miller ZTL recommends. There are other societal costs as well due to that choice, but that decision would have to be rescinded by the current Gedolim.

  10. Frustrated says:

    Completely agree with Dan. I have one thing to add though: I am one of those who took a BTL from Lakewood, scored high enough on the LSAT to get into Columbia, work at a big law firm and, even so, STILL do not enough to repay student loans and pay full tuition for 5 kids. Houston, we have a problem. We need more people who believe its okay to earn a living.

  11. BenShaul says:

    Finally I am enjoying the comments and the exchange so far, b/c we are debating ideas with logic, facts, and understanding. As yet we have not had ad hominem attacks.
    You are correct in pointing out the flaw in Dr Lebovits’ assertion. Perhaps the change would be to make his argument for ALL lower income children not klei kodesh. The other point to make is that baale batim can also ask for a discount if they are unable to pay full tuition. If pride is the issue -one can’t blame klei kodesh for being willing to accept tzedakah subsidies. If its the hashkofo of it, ask your LOR.

    I repeat the point I made in an earlier comment. If the school does NOT charge anyone more than actual cost, then no-one should feel they are paying for anyone else. If they are solicited for a charitable gift to the school,then it is made of your free will.

    Exactly my point. To say that ALL klei kodesh are being subsidized is simply not the case. Each city has its demographic and the costs for scholarship and klie kodesh cant be assessed on a national scale. To take Lakewood specifically, everyone pays a minimum which cover the salaries of each class for both kodesh & chol. What Lakewood is uniquely challenged by is the capitol outlay for space, ie. buildings.
    Again every city is different -which is why I feel that my good freind Rabbi Adlerstein may have done a disservice to the klal by posting the emotional anguish of some- when it may not be justified at ALL on the national scale; and provided an excuse for some -not all-to vent their sinah and attacks on klei kodesh or others. Not to mention those who explicitly advocated limiting family size of the poor. I respect Him immensely, and he will be moderating my comment:), But I humbly suggest this may have been an error

  12. Bob Miller says:

    Benshaul wrote, “However market forces are now changing that. With the pay scale of teachers -particularly of the women being so low, fewer and fewer woman/girls are willing to consider a teaching career and over time that will increase the pay scale. Again classic market capitalism.”

    Do you expect the leaders of all these communities to encourage women (or men) to embark on careers with high income potential? Wherever the necessary education would involve a real college degree, I bet there would be plenty of objections. Likewise, wherever the work environment was considered to threaten tznius. As a result much of the job world outside of teaching might be ruled off-limits to many Jews. I’m not saying that such judgments are necessarily wrong, but they do limit options.

  13. Robert Lebovits says:

    Eli: Why charge anyone indeed? In NYC one of the premier universities – Cooper Union – charges no tuition at all for any student without regard to financial means. In Israel there are many yeshivos that also charge no tuition and rely on the largesse of donors to keep their doors open. There are any number of creative ways to generate REVENUE; my point addressed the cost structure of running a school and the inaccuracy of identifying the increased enrollment of non-tuition paying students as generating increased costs borne by others. Depending on the availability of Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) and federation allocation for children on scholarship, the additional children whose parents are unable to pay DO become a net gain for the school. But again, that’s the revenue side – not the cost side – of the ledger.
    Dan: I’m appreciative of the fact that you and others see the same cost structure I do in regard to operating a school and that you’re framing the issue as a revenue dilemma. Many of the observations noted by R. Adlerstein and commenters to the previous pieces certainly expressed the sentiment that baalei batim were bearing the costs of educating klei kodesh children. It’s also astute of you to recognize that the financial shortfalls are not caused by klei kodesh alone.
    Your depiction of the Yeshiva attitudes toward making a parnassah is a view many people share, I’m just not sure it’s quite accurate. There are certainly more than a few young men who leave learning and take on the reponsibilities of supporting a family with feelings of loss and second class status. But for most of them – particularly those who can recognize that each of us has a unique tafkid in life – joining the workaday world is an uneventful transition. What sort of work one ought to take on with an eye toward maximizing income is a very uncertain proposition. Law has been a very depressed profession for quite a number of years now and the prospects for improvement are hazy. Medicine as a high income field is virtually a thing of the past with the advent of Obamacare and other changes in reimbursement. The general culture is rather inconsistent in assigning monetary value to purposeful activity. Develop a killer app for Apple products and your golden! Be in social services and get paid barely a living wage. I certainly agree we ought to encourage everyone to pursue any occupational path they desire.
    Chaim: I have not identified any child as being in the category of “fixed costs” – and therefore one of the payers – or “variable costs” – supposedly a non-payer. In a school where EVERY parent can only pay a very modest amount of tuition the costs may be equally shared but there will be a revenue shortfall that will have to met with other funding for the school to remain open. Again, costs are on one side of the ledger and revenue on the other. No matter how many children are given reduction in tuition – both klei kodesh and working families – the money necessary to meet the school’s budget can be sought from multiple sources not just tuition increases.
    If your ire is over the school’s decision to provide tuition waivers to klei kodesh – and it IS the school Board’s decision, not “the system” – then you would be well served to become active in lobbying with like-minded parents to alter school policies. Energized parents can and do make a tremendous difference in the way a school is organized and run.
    Bitachon and decision-making are extremely intimate matters that each of us struggles with and no one should have to justify to others. And sadly intolerance is certainly present on both sides of the aisle. It doesn’t have to be perpetuated.

  14. MiriamS says:

    It seems the article above suggests anyone complaining about tuition costs is in Center or Left, while all the klei kodesh are on the Right. Funny I thought I was a working Charedi, I guess I had myself all wrong, I hope our son’s school doesn’t find out….

    Communities are no longer run as integrated wholes, with a specific school or schools founded as part of the big picture, and a specific number of klei kodesh raised within or invited to that community and receiving its support in all ways. The issue here isn’t a tuition break for teachers within the school, it’s the large numbers of families who have set themselves up as klei kodesh requiring scholarships from schools, versus those who were ro’eh es hanolad and made plans to have financial means to provide for their families.

    There are even some klei kodesh who make more efforts than others. One of our Rebbeim tells how Rav Wasserman zt”l hounded him to train as a Mohel, because while he was studying Rabbanus he “also needed a parnoso.”

  15. ChanaRachel says:

    I don’t know about the tuition crisis but I disagree strongly with Dr. Lebovits’ comments about army service. Three of my sons have had to leave pregnant wives or newborn babies to do miluim (reserve duty) this summer (not to speak of school, jobs and Yeshiva studies that were interrupted, as well). Bottom line, some things in life are zero-sum.. if more people were doing reserve duty, maybe members of my family could do less. As to why anger is directed specifically at the hareidim if only 2% of discharged soldiers (I don’t know the accuracy of this statistic; among my kids and their friends it is certainly higher) perform reserve duty, I think it is because the hareidim opt out as a group, and because they view their refusal to serve as a postitive religious act. It’s like the difference between and individual who eats treif because he isn’t strong enough to resist the temptation, versus a group who suddenly decides that eating trief is a mitzva. The first guy is a Jew who sinned, as for the second group, they are inventing a new religion.

  16. Dan Daoust says:

    @Robert Lebovits What sort of work one ought to take on with an eye toward maximizing income is a very uncertain proposition.

    This is true, of course, and your examples bear this out. (Except for your example about Obamacare, which won’t really take full effect until 2018. But I digress.) And this is why we daven to Hashem — we ask Him to make our efforts successful, as opposed to the modern-day Yeshiva-world distortion of davening to Him to miraculously give us all we need in spite of our total absence of effort. Talk about kochi v’otzem yodi.

    But having said that: all things being equal, we can make certain educated guesses, predictions, about which career paths are more likely to produce higher incomes. Even if and when a career choice does not work out well for this or that individual, we can expect the community’s revenue outcomes in the aggregate to follow historical norms. If more — way more — of our mesivta graduates would choose to pursue medicine, law, computer science, engineering, finance, etc., we would likely see a lot more high-income-earning professionals in our community. It just stands to reason. Sure, this or that industry may go through an unexpected dislocation, but we would have enough success stories to overcome that.

    On the other hand, if a huge swath of our bachurim go into learning full-time and another swath only attend a bottom-tier college whose top priority is to maintain eight hours of sedarim a day above all other academic standards, then we won’t have a shot. We’ll just be dooming ourselves to creating yet another cohort of real-estate agents, mortgage salesmen, nursing-home managers, therapists, sponge salesmen and whatever other task-fillers you can think of.

    And don’t get me wrong — we need to have people filling those roles; not everyone can be a doctor. I totally get that. But we’re creating a SOCIETY of those workers. It’s depressing. And then we wonder why we have a tuition crisis.

  17. Z says:

    Benshaul: We don’t pay tuition on a societal level. Each city and school charges differently based on their costs, services, and sometimes perks that they provide. So comparing it the larger society misses the mark

    Looking at the marginal situation of a specific institution at a specific time ignores the inevitable impact on larger society. You have not dealt with the simple math – it must cost more to educate 100,000 students than 60,000 and if those 40,000 extra students are not paying, the original 60,000 will have to pay more.

    You are right that the added costs are non-linear and, because the minimum class count for each grade is one, are minimal societaly if the % of students in question is very low because there is high probability when distributed in each locality, one or two students in each class can be absorbed easily.

    However, as the percentage of klei kodesh increases and their family size increases relative to everyone else the cost burden increases approached linearity. Another abstraction along the same vein – if a 40% of the population are klei kodesh averaging 15 children per family and everyone else average 2 children per family…

    While each marginal individual non-paying student is unlikely to have a direct marginal cost, on average they clearly do. Many schools with multiple classrooms for a grade would be able to revert to a single room. There would also simply be fewer institutions if there were fewer students instead of simply fewer students in the same number of classrooms.

  18. shira says:

    Klei Kodesh is a very loose term and has different meanings in different communities. Is it defined as anyone doing communal work (rabbi, kollel, kashrus, teaching) or is it defined narrowly as the employees of the school? Each school (and its board who set tuition) need to evaluate the scope of a broader klei kodesh discount based on the cost of living in a city, the difficulty in attracting quality professionals to the city (OOT vs In town) and the percentage of klei kodesh to the overall student population. For the sake of this comment, I am assuming klei kodesh are the school employees.

    (Some communities give discounts to those in kollel but many do not. Kollel discounts could be based on the low income. Since the size of the kollel population outside of Lakewood is small, varies greatly from community to community, and generally consists of young families, it’s impossible to really discuss the pros and cons of that situation.)

    Tuition breaks for mechanchim are really a salary for employees of an institution being paid as a tuition benefit vs. having them being paid in actual dollars. At what point does the school begin to lose money because the employee has more children than he would ever get paid in salary dollars? To calculate this, you have to figure that a number of factors.

    1) Not all faculty take advantage of the tuition break. Many teachers are young or older (or not Orthodox Jews) who don’t have children in the school’s demographic. You would need to raise the salary for all of the teachers not just the one who are getting a tuition break.

    2) Teachers generally start teaching when they have smaller families. For a long period of time, they are losing out because their salary is lower and they don’t need the tuition benefit. After their children finish school, they no longer need the tuition benefit, but they also don’t have the salary in dollars.

    3)There is a limit to even the largest family. 14 is exceptional, 8-9 is still quite large. The average yeshivish family in NY according to the UJA has 5 kids. Given that there is a space between children, a school will probably never have to give more than 6 reductions at once for one family. What percentage of families in the school meet this criteria?

    4) Faculty retention and quality is a huge factor both in educational quality and enrollment. The only product a school has that keeps its customers coming back is what its teachers are doing in the classroom. When a teacher leaves, the school loses money because of the training and resources it invested in the teacher. Hiring new staff also costs money. The tuition benefit keeps good employees loyal to the school because they have an interest in staying with the job. It also attracts quality professional to come teach in the school because they are interested in having the tuition benefit.

    5) Many comments have encouraged schools to encourage family planning. This issue is a very complex halachic topic. It runs counter to the religious values of many Orthodox families. If a school would make this kind of demand on its faculty, it probably wouldn’t be able to attract and retain a significant percentage of its qualified and committed teachers.

    To sum up, out of a whole faculty, there may be a few children who are costing more than their parents would have gotten in a pay check if the tuition benefit was cancelled. However, overall as it stands now, it should be win-win for everyone.

  19. Benshaul says:

    Bob Miller
    The facts actually prove your case. The trend for girls who want to support husbands in Kollel is now for them to GO to college and earn degrees in various profession. So much so that it was even the focus of a Yated column :). I know of klei kodesh who are encouraging their daughters to get degrees so they can support their husbands learning, something previously seen as verboten. [I am not addressing the merits of supporting husbands in learning, just what the market forces are doing] And so the answer to your question is YES.

    Miriam S
    I am at a loss as to what it was that gave you that impression. I am a “right wing Charedi” and I share the complaint and hear it from all my friends.

    I want to reiterate what a breath of fresh air this discussion is. Open, forthright, and respectful. Thank you to Dr Lebovits for reframing the discussion and the issues.

  20. Ellen says:

    “Living in the non-Jewish world involves being exposed to alien values. One of the great social scourges of the last generations has been the ascendance of the entitlement mentality….”

    “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh L’Zeh does not mean I must make my choices based on how it will affect you.”

    It seems to me this turns things on their head: accusing the working class of an entitlement mentality, because they have the gall to wonder whether life would be easier if there were a smaller proportion of kollel-style families intentionally living too low below the tuition line to take part in paying for it.

    And rejecting the idea that one should avoid putting themselves on the tzedaka rolls, because that’s beyond the definition of kol yisrael areivim – maybe there’s some other Jewish value that discourages a life dependent upon charity?

  21. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Benshaul isn’t exaggerating when he calls me his good friend. He knows what trouble he would be in if I outed his true identity. I appreciate his trust, even if he thinks my decision was an error.

    It might have been. But then again, it might not. I stand in greater fear of the consequences of muzzling our community than of providing an opportunity for venting some explosive thoughts. I think it should be clear that this entire exchange did not create those thoughts. They were there well in advance. All that happened is that people who were angry – for good reason and not good reason – found out that others shared their anger. In some cases this was good, in others not so good. For the majority of our readers, paying close attention to the debate was not entertainment, but downright instructive. People saw arguments they had not considered before. I strongly suspect that many realized things about the contributions of klei kodesh that they had not realized before, and that some klei kodesh got an inkling on how deep is the crisis for the middle class. So in the end, I am left with small hesitations, but no major regrets.

  22. Shaul says:

    Robert Lebovits wrote:

    “Medicine as a high income field is virtually a thing of the past with the advent of Obamacare and other changes in reimbursement.”

    Obamacare has nothing to do with this. The steep decline in medical salaries began 20-30 years ago when insurance companies began to introduce to HMOs to ration medical care.

  23. Robert Lebovits says:

    ChanaRachel & Dan: Your posts precisely illustrate the points I am trying to make.
    I have no doubt the commitment to reserve military service is very high among the Dati Leumi. Nevertheless, the 2% figure Feiglin quoted came from the IDF itself. For further corroboration visit the website of an Israeli think tank, the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, and read their white paper on “A Professional Army”. While the offspring of the Tel Avivy intelligentsia may not perceive their avoidance of duty as a “mitzvah”, they are certainly proud of not being “freyers” and giving up 3 years of their lives for an activity they see as jingoistic. Yet they do not get the vocal censuring the chareidim do. Double standard?
    Arguably the only predictably remunerative majors in college are the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Medicine). How many of our university-attending Orthodox youth are enrolled in those areas and how many not? One of my daughters has a degree in Biology and is looking to enter a healthcare field, uncommon for a young Orthodox woman. For that “large swath” of non-STEM students, for all practical purposes they are likely going to be no more marketable and high-income earning then post-kollel yungeleit and as young parents need scholarship consideration as well. Do they evoke the same frustration for their career choices?
    Ellen: Wondering what one’s life would be like if other’s followed a different set of choices is certainly not evidence of an entitlement attitude, though the specific consideration of being able to then contribute to the support of educating their children is applicable to all those seeking scholarships from the schools, not just klei kodesh. When those thoughts morph into frustration and condemantion then it’s reasonable to wonder “Where am I coming from? I made my choices; can’t they make theirs?”
    If you believe that there is a real percentage of the Torah world who cavalierly dismiss personal responsibility for their support and maintenance and presume the rest of the klal will look after them, then I would suggest engaging in more dialogue with the “yeshivish” group. They are no more – perhaps even a degree less – thoughtless about how they will make it in the future when family support ends then their more MO cohorts who have been supported through college and grad/professional school and now entering the job market. They are ALL our children and worthy of our respect.

  24. Orthonomics says:

    The very basic economics lesson given by the author assumes a conventional model of one class per grade (or in the case of the yeshiva model, 2 classes per grade). But if we presume the model to be flexible, rather than fixed, econ 101 might be too simplistic.

  25. L. Oberstein says:

    There is a counter trend in the Tri-State area. I have heard from severral sources that now in Lakewood,new rabbeim work for free just to get a job with the hope that in a few years they will get a salary. I know that my own son was offered a rebbe position in a yeshiva gedola where the salary would not pay rent in that community. The Rosh Hayeshiva told him that maybe his father or father in law would support him and in time maybe he would get a better salary.He didn’t take it.

  26. yakov says:

    I cannot make any sense of this post. True, increased enrollment brings down the cost per student, but every child in the school contributes to this. Based on the logic of this post, I should be able to go to one family in each class and say “you would have to pay teachers full salaries to educate your kid even if the rest of the school was not here, so please just let the rest of the community share your teachers with you. It’s Zeh N’Henneh V’Zeh Lo Chosser”.

    Let’s say I have a school with 100 children that costs $1,000,000 to run. The cost per student is $10,000. Now let’s say we pay out ten free tuitions to our employees. Let x = the cost per student, then (1,000,000 + 10x)/100=x. 10,000 = .9x. the cost per student = 10,000/.9 = $11,111. This adjusted cost per student should be considered part of the employees salaries. If it isn’t then it’s not fair to the parents or teachers. If I’m a rebbe in a school and I’ve been getting more free tuition every year as my family has grown, and my children start to graduate, I should be able to expect a raise since they’re not paying my child’s tuition anymore.

  27. LifeAct says:

    1) Let me put some numbers down. In your example where 40% of the students are klei kodesh, assume there are 1000 students (400 klei kodesh and 600 not). The fixed costs of operating a school of 1000 students are quite different from the fixed costs of operating a school of just 600 (smaller building, fewer personnel and management, etc). So the difference is not just the marginal cost, when we are talking about 40% of the population.

    2) You said, “The prevailing notion is that since the tuition at Yeshiva A for a given child is “X” dollars, therefore every child from a klei kodesh family attending that school generates a benefit worth “X” dollars to the household. This reasoning is flawed on multiple levels.”

    If you simply remove the words “klei kodesh” from that quote, you will have the answer as to why people feel they shouldn’t have to pay the quoted tuition amount. Tuition = $X but the benefit generated is <$X? Yeah, I'll take 2 of those please.

  28. Benshaul says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein

    I refer you to shiras post to counter your question. and i think your terminology is incorrect, at least from the schools i have spoken to and the model that Dr Lebovits is speaking of. if the cost per student is x and the schools provides “free tuition” as a benefit, that difference is what the school takes on for itself the task of raising via solicited contributions and fundraising; but they DONT raise the tuition for everyone else to make up the difference.
    ACTUAL COST TUITION means just that- what it costs per kid – budget of school divided by number of students.
    Those institutions that RA referenced, are doing something else. They are charging scholarship as tuition to those that “can afford” it, and subsidizing those that cant pay full tuition. If that were the case in most schools, the anger he referenced would be more than justified, esp. as you arent getting A-a choice, B-not even a tax credit for what essentially is a forced contribution to the scholarship fund.

    L Oberstien
    You are correct, and i was waiting for this point to be made, which reinforces some of what i have said on many levels. the market forces are making it even harder for teachers in certain areas to earn an income, while the out of town mosdos pay better but want experience. the counter trend to this is what Jonathan Rosenblum has commented on about the lack of talented women entering the chinuch field. It also will ensure that only those who are truly devoted to chinuch or are good at it, enter and stay in that profession.

  29. DF says:

    I agree with the general spirit of my landsleit Dan Daoust’s comments, but thought the solution he proposed is actually one of our community’s biggest problems. Dan decries the idea of having people “learn” [in reality, quite a few are not even doing that] till 23 or 26 and then get a low paying job in a nursing home. He is certainly correct there. But then he suggests, as a solution, we need more doctorlawyeraccountants.

    That, I think, is where we’ve gone wrong. In general society, anyone can be one of thousands of different professions. In the sciences, in heavy industry, in cinema, sports, etc etc. But in the frum world, working men are pigeon holed into only about 7 or 8 different professions. Working women are similarly pigeon holed, though in different fields. The reasons for this are chiefly because of, in no specific order, 1) the stigma of working with one’s hands, 2) the perception that one cannot be a halachic Jew working in some professions, and 3) the need for higher salaries. Because these areas are so few, it is only natural that we have so many people whiling away time in kollel and so many people in what Dan described as “selling mortgages.” In the gentile world people with less mental ability can still do really well in other jobs. In the frum world, other jobs are all but foreclosed.

    It’s a different topic, though it impacts the tuition crisis in that its partly the reason for the poverty in our community that causes the crisis [along with the other factors.] I’d like to see it addressed at a later date. I wrote an article once promoting the construction industry for Charedim in Israel, and Rabbi B. Wein wrote me personally to say it was “just what the doctor ordered.”

  30. Daniel Wiesel says:

    It seems that the best way to maximize the fixed costs associated with education is to pool the fixed resources required to educate kids. If multiple schools were able to use the same facilities, the parent-bodies/donor bases of each of the schools would be contributing to the same fixed costs without duplication of resources. A broader base of parents/donors can more easily sustain a large, central school facility that can accommodate a variety of hashkafos (or whatever other reason there may be to have a separate school). This would be a similar model to large public schools that run separate programs on a single large campus (such as a magnet school or charter program housed alongside a larger public school).

    This model will likely break down once the campus becomes too large to be properly managed and/or adequately disciplined, but economics would certainly dictate that pooling common resources allows everyone to gain.

    Further, my point is not necessary limited to the physical facilities. Generally, it is less expensive (on an hourly basis) to provide an employee with a full time job than a part time job. Practically, this means that a general studies teacher teaching part time (i.e., only during the Jewish school’s general studies periods) can demand a higher hourly wage than the equivalent full-time salary. Why should two Orthodox schools pay more in the aggregate for two general studies teachers that teach the exact same class in both schools–is 5th grade social studies really all that different across schools?–instead of pooling their resources and hiring a full-time teacher who teaches at both schools? If the two schools are housed in the same facility the benefits to the teacher would be even greater, having eliminated travel-time between schools.

    I fully realize that there are many reasons a community may have to create a separate school. However, you cannot deny that there is unnecessary duplication of facilities and services provided at the separate schools that are truly duplicative. We should strive to eliminate these and other unnecessary duplications across the educational system as part of any greater effort to address the tuition crisis.

  31. Bob Miller says:

    When we lived in Oak Park, MI (Detroit), our electrician, car repairman, handyman, appliance repairman, and realtor were all Jews. A Jewish neighbor in the landscaping business plowed our block after snows that the city wouldn’t touch.

  32. Robert Lebovits says:

    LifeAct: 1) Your example of a school with an enrollment of 1000 of which 400 are children of klei kodesh will still bear out my position. In a K-8 elementary school with 9 grades for boys and 9 grades for girls for 1000 students each grade will average 55 kids (I know that some grades will have more than the average and some will have less, but it is also true that some grades will have fewer and some will have more klei kodesh kids so let’s use the average for illustration purposes). If I remove 400 from the rolls I will still average 33 students per grade. While there is a large difference between 33 and 55, most schools will start a second class once the census reaches more than 25 – 30. Consequently a school of 600 will have 2 classes per grade just like a school of 1000. One school is at the early stage for expansion while the other is nearing the maximum space available per grade. The staffing required for both schools are essentially the same and the facilities operating costs may not be be very different either. Capital expenditures – as opposed to operating budget – may well be higher for the larger school but tuition is rarely directed to bricks and mortar outlays. That is addressed by separate capital campaigns that generate funding from major donors besides the parent body.
    2) The frustration voiced by those tuition payers vis a vis those who are not paying tuition focused on the idea that the latter were receiving a huge benefit at the expense of the payers. That idea confuses benefit with cost. If I am driving back from the airport after seeing someone off and a neighbor happens to be there and asks me for a ride, I may be saving him $50 or more by doing him that good turn but it is costing me virtually nothing to do so. That is the classic paradigm of Zeh N’Henneh V’Zeh Lo Chosser. When a school’s budget increases modestly with growth in enrollment the new students may or may not become sources of revenue but they are not significant cost generators.
    Do full-paying parents feel put upon by all scholarship students or just the klei kodesh children?
    As an aside, it is bewildering to me how many commenters seem to presume that a school’s budget should be fully covered by tuition payments. That is certainly not true for non-Jewish day schools, prep schools, or universities. In fact, a paper published in 2004 by PEJE, the Partnershiop for Excellence in Jewish Education a non-profit research organization, reported that while day schools ought to strive for 70 – 90% funding from tuition the reality is that most schools only raise 40 – 60% of their budgets from tuition. The remainder comes from other fundraising efforts. ALL parents can be required to assist with seeking outside revenue streams, whether they pay tuition or not.

  33. meir says:

    Another aspect to consider re incremental costs is the fact that a class of 15 vs. a class of 25 is a different learning experience. You can’t expect the same rebbe to give the same amount of attention to 15 vs. 25, and if there is only one class per grade, rebbeim may focus more on the klei kodesh kids who “get it” and neglect trying to go slower and help along the more needy non-klei-kodesh kids. I have seen this first hand, and assume others have seen it too and felt a little disappointed.

    As an additional issue, in general klei kodesh have a strong say in the “hashkafah” of the local religious day school regardless of their tuition payments, so for example, the school will refuse to march in the Israel parade (or even acknowledge it) due to the influence of the kollel kids, while many of the paying families (who believe deeply in Hakaras Hatov, including for the gift of Israel) will wonder why their more YU-type modern kids are being forced into a more anti-zionist hashkafa due to these “free-loading” Klei Kodesh. Also, certain classic books will be banned from the curriculum, and don’t expect any nuanced class on evolution. I am not belittling all the positive aspects of kollel families and their generally more intense religiousity, but noting a facet of the klei kodesh/charedi hashkafah that does cause particular rifts in schools (at least in my limited experience).

  34. thinking outloud says:

    “If it is true that providing a tuition-waived education for klei kodesh in fact does not raise the costs for everyone else and the arrangement may be more akin to Zeh N’Henneh V’Zeh Lo Chosser, then what is the source of people’s frustrations and resentments toward their fellow Jew?”


    Much of the frustration comes from people, who pay tuition, *****making very hard and emotional reproductive decisions***** based on the cost of schooling whereas other people, who tend not to pay for tuition, are free of this burden.

    It comes down to perceived fairness.

    If Keli Kodesh were given a limit as to how many kids could get a tuition break, and/or if that benefit took into account the same considerations when a non-klei kodesh child gets financial help – i,.e, are there resources in the family (and often in the extended family) that could pay for this child’s education, thenI think a lot of people would be less unhappy.

    also, your analysis fails to take into account that notwithstanding the marginal cost of adding a child to a classroom, the parent still reaps the benefit of the cost of the first unit. And that benefit is often unaccounted for in an analysis of whether or not a teacher gets a raise — consider this, every time tuition goes up, the teacher who gets tution benefits, gets a raise commensurate with the increase in the cost of tuition.

  35. yakov says:

    As an aside, it is bewildering to me how many commenters seem to presume that a school’s budget should be fully covered by tuition payments. That is certainly not true for non-Jewish day schools, prep schools, or universities. In fact, a paper published in 2004 by PEJE, the Partnershiop for Excellence in Jewish Education a non-profit research organization, reported that while day schools ought to strive for 70 – 90% funding from tuition the reality is that most schools only raise 40 – 60% of their budgets from tuition. The remainder comes from other fundraising efforts. ALL parents can be required to assist with seeking outside revenue streams, whether they pay tuition or not.

    This doesn’t make much difference. After fundraising the school will have x dollars that will have to be raised from tuition. In a fair society everyone would pay an equal amount per child . If the school hands out tuition waivers this adds to the burden for everyone else.

    Your airport moshol doesn’t quite fit the nimshol. A better example would be:

    I take a cab to work everyday. My neighbor get’s a job in my building. He wants to get a free ride with me everyday since “I’m going anyway”. It’s true that I lose nothing by taking him. But he really should pay for half the fare. When he doesn’t do what he should do, I lose.

    Or let’s say Reuvain and Shimon buy a cow. They need to rent space to keep the cow but Shimon can’t afford it. Reuvain pays the rent. Later when our cow starts producing milk Reuvain wants Shimon to pay him back for half the rent. Can Shimon say “You needed to pay the rent anyways for your half of the cow so it’s zeh neheneh zeh lo chassur?”

  36. Eric Leibman says:

    Bottom line: The system is broken and unsustainable. A smaller and smaller percentage of us make enough money to pay for full tuition, and those of us that do are probably sinking deeper and deeper in to debt. Airing complaints and trying to figure out who to blame is pointless. We need to be spending all our time on thinking outside the box and figuring out how to raise more money from more sources, especially unique ones that haven’t been considered before.

  37. Eli says:

    Since the “zeh neheneh zeh lo chassur” issue poped up, I’ll point out that teh Gemorah & Rishonim (as well as the Shulchan Aruch) are all in agreement that if there is any detriment, the user (Nehenah) is Chayiv. In our situation, the freeloaders (not neccessarily Klei Kodesh) certainly cause detriment to the other payers. Meir pointed out one example. Another example is that the slots used by the freeloaders can now no longer be assigned to full payers, who now have to pay full fare. (Instead of getting their “freeloader” discount).

    To expand of Yakov’s example, it like four in a carpool where a fifth wants to join. Not only does he cost them gas due to extra weight (and as such must pay his fair share according to Halacha), but he also causes discomfort to those in tha back seat. In addition, when a fifth person who wants to pay tries to join, there is no longer any room (or there are additional costs) due to there already being five people.

    Most of all, “zeh neheneh zeh lo chassur” is a Bidieved. No one would suggest to L’Chatchilah use someone else’s object jsut because that person will not be Chaser. That is a Shoel Shelo M’Da’as.

  38. meir says:

    Yes Yakov, it seems several commenters through the different posts have been referring to zeh neheneh vezeh lo chossur, but appearing to not know much about the concept and the related concept of Yored, when one does something for someone (e.g. plants a tree in his friend’s backyard fit for planting) without permission, he must pay the going rate for the benefit. Per BK 20a, zeh lo chassur is only a case where there is not even a theoretical loss, i.e. if you own a house that is up for rent but have no renters, the person who squats there (if he didn’t have another place to rent for free) is not a case of zeh lo chossur. since you are requesting rent for the house, the fact that someone who would have had to pay elsewhere for board used your property without paying your rent, yuo have suffered a loss and the squatter would be required to pay. the only case would be where you keep an extra house for the summer and during the winter (when you don’t use and don’t put up for rent) someone stays there a night. But in the case of schooling, there is always a price tag and a required tuition, so one’s choice to send a kid without paying is per say not zeh loh chassor, since the school is losing out on a tuition that has to be made up by inflated tuition for payers or additional fundraising (usually from same payers in the case of local cheders).

    EVEN if one would say that the normal tuition payers are not “chossur” (as noted, i think this case is actually zeh chossur per the above and the fact that there is less individual attention when there are more students in class, and in any event note that there are opinions that by zeh lo chossur you should still pay for the benefit received), this case may be considered closer to YORED where the tuition payers lay out money for a community service for which all parents NEED and get benefit (e.g. clearly fit for planting), and the one who accepts this benefit for himself should at the least pay for such benefit at the lowest possible rate (not necessarily market price, but the value to such person, i.e. at least childcare value). Therefore, if one claims that due to the concept of zeh nehene klei kodesh should be able to go to school for free due to kofin al middas sdom, i’d expect a serious teshuvah addressing all the issues and examples to explain why there would be no responsibility based on Yored. In any event, it is interesting to see people who are generally so meticulous in commandments and going lechumrah relying so tenuously on arguments with respect to absolving their responsibility to cover their children’s chinuch, per apparently basic halacha.

  39. DF says:

    Dr. Lebowitz, what you describe is NOT the classic paradigm of “Zeh Nehne”. I could be wrong, but as I recall, the classic case arises in Bava Basra, involving the laws of inheritance. It also comes up in property disputes. In other words, it is a theory which makes sense in limited individual cases, in isolated circumstances. It does not work when great numbers of people are all trying to take advantage of that logic. At its core, reliance upon that principle is an excuse to “game the system” using lomdus. As our community has seen too many times in recent years, all such shortcuts eventually come back to haunt you.

  40. klonimus says:

    This post completely misses the point. Yeshiva tuition is much too high and we are starting to see the harmful effects of this in an internal “class war” as resentment is being felt towards klei kodesh. The answer to this is NOT that based on a reasoned economic analysis this resentment is unjustified. That is the same as saying “a yeshiva education is worth sacrificing your last dime for like they did in previous generations” or “complaining about yeshiva demonstrates a lack of emuna”. We can debate the the merits of these arguments forever. However, it hard to to think that way when you face the choice of having your electricity cut off or your child being publicly humiliated by being thrown out of school because you haven’t paid tuition. (And yes, we can also endlessly debate the proper tuition collection methods). In the end, these arguments simply treat the symptom – parents are stressed over their tuition payments so lets explain to them why they shouldn’t be stressed – instead of treating the root cause of the stress – tuition is too high. Realistically, the only way this can be addressed is by drastically reducing yeshiva expenses.

    It is also worth noting that above economics lesson works the other way as well. If a few full paying families get fed up with their share of the burden and leave yeshiva – and we are already beginning to see yarmulkes and tzitzis in public schools – the damage done to the yeshiva financial picture will be enormous.

  41. Ellen says:

    “They are ALL our children and worthy of our respect.”

    That’s very sweet. It seems to me that the approach here is to say “back off workers stop complaining about those getting scholarships, and THEN we can all work together.”

    I don’t agree with you, that giving an “other” feedback about how they’re living their life, is a violation of some general principle of ahavas yisroel. Such feedback needs to be done properly, and constructively. But I think the point of the discussion is that it’s time to think of something.

  42. Eric Leibman says:

    I will say it again: We should be focusing on thinking of newer and better ways of making money. The Kollel families and other similar families…we can rail back and forth forever about who did what to who or who is responsible for what. The fact is, most of these families simply don’t have the money and they never will. All the debate we’re having about this article won’t change this basic reality. I repeat again, our time, in its entirety, would be better spent concentrating on finding newer, better ways to raise money for our schools while increasing the efficiency and reach of the methods we already have and aggressively pursuing increased funding from the Federal government. Anything else is just spinning our wheels when we are already hanging half way over the edge of the cliff.

  43. Shaul says:

    There is a very delicate dance here. If you stoke resentment towards those who can’t pay full tuition (including both klei kodesh and people who don’t earn enough) you risk a situation where a yeshiva education will be something only for the rich. Those who can’t afford will move to Israel or send to public school.

    If that happens the game is over. A yeshiva education that is for the wealthy alone has no value for klal yisroel.

  44. shira says:

    After reading this discussion, I decided to do a rudimentary cost benefit analysis.

    The reason to eliminate the tuition benefit is to, as I understand, making klei kodesh feel a similar need to limit their family size. The question is will removing the benefit give money back to the families or will it just spread the sorrow that more Jewish children can’t be born to anyone.

    These number make a lot of presumptions and certainly low ball costs and number of employees needed to run a school.
    I assumed a school of 250 kids with 20% being klei kodesh kids (this is an accurate percentage in my experience). There is 1 full time teacher per 18 children, 2 administrators (one fundraiser, one principal), 2 secretaries, and a tech support person. There are no specials (computers, art, social worker, nurse) in the building. There is no resource room available for kids with remedial needs.

    The average salary for faculty is set at 50,000 (work 10 months), 100,000 for administrators (12 months), 70,000 for tech support (11 months), and $40,000 for each secretary (who work 12 months). Even with parsonage, schools need to pay 8.5% for FICA.

    I set up a spreadsheet looking at what would happen if we decided that we faculty should pay tuition. Assuming that we don’t feel that faculty deserve huge paycuts and assuming that we believe that it is “reasonable” for an Orthodox family to have 3 children, every faculty member needs their salary raised by the cost of tuition for 3 children plus 8.5% for FICA that everyone has to pay. Female teachers will be losing money because they don’t get parsonage. A school cannot discriminate and give pay raises based on family size so the raises have to be across the board.

    Here are how the numbers pan out.

    Number of Students 250 250 Same # either scenario
    Klei Kodesh Kids 50 50 Same 20% faculty chidren
    Number of Faculty 14 14 Same # of faculty
    Administrators 2 2 Same #
    Secretary 2 2 Same #
    Tech support 1 1 Same #
    Money for Tuition 0 21190.05 raise for 3 children’s tuition
    Teacher Salary 50,000 71,190 teacher salary vs salary +tuition raise
    Administrator Salary 100,000 121,190 admin salary vs salary +tuition raise
    Secretary Salary 40,000 61,190 secre. salary vs salary +tuition raise
    Tech salary 70,000 91,190 tech salary vs salary +tuition raise

    Total Salaries paid 1,050,000 1,452,611 The school will pay $402,611 in increased salary
    FICA 89,250 123,472 The school will pay $35,222 in increased taxes
    Other expenses 488,250 488,250 30% of the budget- fixed costs

    Total Budget 1,627,500 2,064,333 The school will have an increase of $436,833 in operating expenses
    vs. a cost of $325,000 for the tuition benefit.

    Tuition per child 8137.5 8,253. Tuition per child increases by $80

    Fundraising needs 651,000 825,733 Schools generally get only 60% of tuition from parents
    This means there is $174,733 more that needs to be raised.
    Does another admin need to be hired to raise the 25% more funds?
    If so, tuition goes up even more

    So to sum up, schools can get rid of the benefit if the only goal is to make teachers want to limit family size. However, if the goal is save money, getting rid of the benefit will not do the trick, will raise costs for the school and will cost every parent the same or more in tuition.

    Of course, as the number of klei kodesh increase, there may be a point where it is cheaper to charge tuition based on income instead of with this benefit.

  45. L. Oberstein says:

    The middle class in this country is not as secure as it once was.The system isn’t working well and the people who are in charge i.e. the politicians can’t cooperate on anything and we go deeper into a quagmire of unsustanible debt and growing inequity in income between the wealthy and the rest of us.
    Kal ve Chomer, in the orthodox Jewish sub group, we are overwhelmed.We don’t have the ability to tax, we are sinking deeper in debt. You have described the problem but is there a solution? The rich have fewer children and don’t want to subsidize the poor who have many children. We want the gold standard in private school education with a dual curriculum, yet we can’t afford it. What I learned so far from this ongoing discussion is how big a hole we are in. Everybody talks about the “crisis” of too many chlidren learning in Kollel and not getting careers. This is a drop in the bucket of the problem. People who have degrees and professions and where both parents work still can’t pay all their bills and put away money for the future. The orthodox Jewish middle class wants everything the rest of middle class Americans want plus expensive private school education, much higher living expenses, more expensive housing,and we are expected and want to give at least 10% to txedakah. How on earth is this sustainable?

  46. Eli says:

    “The reason to eliminate the tuition benefit is to, as I understand, making klei kodesh feel a similar need to limit their family size.”

    Of course not. As Klal Yisroel, I don’t believe we have any interest in limiting others’ family size. What should be limited is the amount of subsidization given by those on whom the burden is already too heavy. I believe the end game is minimum tuitions for all, as they have already implemented in Lakewood & elsewhere.

    Besides, I also don’t think the issues are with teachers in the schools (in which the perk is part of salary), but rather with every Tom Dick & Harry that decides to open a Shteebel or remain in Kollel for the monetary benefits.

  47. DF says:

    “The orthodox Jewish middle class wants everything the rest of middle class Americans want plus expensive private school education, much higher living expenses, more expensive housing,and we are expected and want to give at least 10% to txedakah. How on earth is this sustainable?”

    It IS sustaiable. What is not sustainable is the thousands and thousands of people in kollel or klei kodesh, which are consuming the community’s resources. In other words, exactly the issue R. Adlerstein began this discussion with. Fix that problem, and you’ve fixed the tuition crisis.

    [YA – I never said that, and I don’t believe it!]

  48. klonimus says:

    The median income for college educated households in the US is $80,000. It is unreasonable to expect that the median income in the Jewish community would be much better. Accordingly, tuition must be set at a level that is affordable for that income. Expenses need to be cut so that $5,000 is full tuition. Certainly, this will lead to many changes in the way things are done today. Without this, the system is bound to collapse.

  49. Benshaul says:

    Eric, Shaul, & Shira
    Thank you for putting it so well. Stoking the resentment wont give us more money and wont solve any problems. Additionally, I am glad that someone finally pionted out that it isnt about klei kodesh -its about all of the middle class who cannot afford full tuition.
    Lets focus on solutions, but at the same time make sure the system isnt taking advantage of some. Capping tuition at X percent of income and only charging ACTUAL COST for tuition are two steps in that direction for all schools.

  50. L. Oberstein says:

    My son who lives in Modiin told me that the solution is not necessarily moving to Israel because the cost of a house in Modiin is getting very high. Unless they can sell a house for a lot of money in the USA, they might not get to live in a desirable location in Israel. The cost of living is high and the wages are lower for most people, unless one commutes abroad to earn a living and just drops in on his family in Israel. But, the fact remains that tuition is negligible in Israel and health care is also a pittance. i think the hardest part is that one cannot remain a moderate American style “chareidi lite”, you have to go one way or the other and limit your options drastically, especially for your own son’s education.

  51. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I continue to state, at the cost of monotony, that the solution for many, though not all, families is aliya. Everyone should go back to the drawing board, looking past assumptions and conventional wisdom, to see whether and, if so, how it would work for them. That said, if people need to stay in America from the left-wing hareidi through MO population, the schools have to be reinvented. They cannot be expected to be comparable in standards to secular private schools with sports teams and all sorts of extra-curricular activities. The school and the community will have to make painful decisions on priorities. At the same time, for the sake of Jewish survival, public school or Hebrew charter school is no option for the family who want their kids to stay Jewish. A Hebrew charter school could have Christian children who want to get close to their “Hebrew roots”, or secular kids with very different standards of behavior from what we expect. Those who think they can counter this influence with afternoon Talmud Torah are smoking something weird. The yeshivish and chassidish mosdos will have a better survival rate because they aren’t trying for the fancy private school shtick. The YU-type people are headed for Nefesh B’Nefesh.

  52. Z says:

    LifeAct: 1) Your example of a school with an enrollment of 1000 of which 400 are children of klei kodesh will still bear out my position… One school is at the early stage for expansion while the other is nearing the maximum space available per grade. The staffing required for both schools are essentially the same and the facilities operating costs may not be be very different either.

    Again, while this may true for a specific school at a specific time, it is impossible that the cost to educate the children of the North American Torah community would be the same if there were 40% less of them. The distribution of schools and entire communities would be different if there were 40% less children in order to re-align institutions to reasonably efficient economics.

    If the 40% are largely non-paying, it must be that there is an increased burden on the paying.

  53. DF says:

    R. Adlerstein – all I said was that you had opened this conversation by discussing klei kodesh. I did not say in your name that if you fix the problem of proliferating klei kodesh you fix the tuition crisis, I said that on my own. Naturally I dont mean literally the problem will vanish overnight, only that a huge step forward will have been accomplished. Right now, large amounts of community resources – that is, donations of generious patrons – are going to support people in kollelim. Many people far greater than me have noted that the growth of the kollel concept has spiralled out of control. It is well-recognized even in Agudah circles (ie, the chief proponents of the idea to begin with) that the numbers have to be drastically reduced.

    Therefore: If the community can wean itelf off promoting the kollel-for-everyone notion, a) it will free up those donations to schools, and at the same time, b) there will be less people needing tuition breaks. True, some who support adult kollelim might not support schools, and of course there will always be people in need. As I said, it wont solve the problem overnight. But if you fix the problme with kolleim, you will have largely fixed the tuition crisis as a by-product.

    [YA – So now I understand that we are speaking about two different phenomena. There is the issue of kollel families in a given community adding their children to the rolls at significant discounts. Then there is the issue of a culture in which everyone is encouraged to learn for many years, almost always supported by parents and in-laws.

    In the course of the several posts and many comments, we have learned much from each other about the first phenomenon. We have seen that absorbing some children does not always add to costs. We have heard about communities in which reductions are not guaranteed, but given only after scrutinizing available sources of income and depth of need. We have learned about the great service that these children often contribute, by bringing up the level of learning and commitment. And, yes, we have seen that there are indeed communities in which schools do incur expenses because of those children, and the costs are callously passed on to the middle class, further crushing an already overburdened group.

    The other phenomenon is indeed ironic. As my good friend Rabbi Yanky Horowitz points out, for centuries, the community was moser nefesh, overextending itself to see to it that all children received as good a Torah education as they could get. As they grew older, only the most gifted were kept on an “academic” track, and only the elite were supported for years as adults. Today, we’re doing things backwards. We demand that all our young adults stay in full-time learning, and direct our available funds in their direction. Children, meanwhile, are short-changed. We contribute less towards them, to the extent that some families are left with such financial woes that some children are not even getting a chance to be born! However important years of adult learning is (and I for one, will scream its importance from the rooftops), it seems obscenely bizarre that by perpetuating the “system,” we are denying effective Torah education from our children, and in some cases, pulling the plug on the lives of some children before they are born.]

  54. BenShaul says:

    You seem to insist on a paradigm that isn’t real. Yes, of course 40% more of students should add to the overall cost. But where; Lakewood, Brooklyn, or an out of town Day School that views its klei kodesh and other non-full paying customers as its responsibility? To use Lakewood -and this point has been made already, they charge everyone across the board the same base rate and with 30 kids in a class and the need for NEW schools every year they can make it on a 4.5k base rate-Excluding capitol expenditures. Other communities don’t have a large amount of scholarship kids and do well. Then there are the schools where 50% of the kids are receiving some scholarship. Each city has different needs, different demographics, and a different set of circumstances. Which is why your argument doesn’t work globally or even nationally. Even the public school system has HUGE discrepancies in the cost and rate for educating children; not just from one state to the other but even within the same county.

  55. Z says:

    My issue is not with klei kodesh (and non-earners in general) or the community’s choice to support the education of their children, it is with pretending that there aren’t actual real costs associated with the education of these children that have to be carried by someone.

    Overall there clearly are costs associated with these extra students, and that burden is largely borne by the members of the community that are paying full tuition and funding other community institutions through Tzedaka. Even at a low minimum $4.5k per student, given community economics and family size, I suspect that much of schooling costs in Lakewood ultimately is paid through Tzedaka (including via shelichim sent to my way-out-of-town community) even if it passes through the parents along the way.

    If there were 40% less children in Lakewood there would be (close to) 40% less spent on education overall (fewer schools) and a significantly lower burden on the funding members of the community/more funds available for other community institutions.

    This is not a value judgement, just a statement of fact. I am not advocating a particular local or global solution just stating a problem which is certain to get bigger as (a) the non-earning proportion of the community grows; (b) the non-earners have larger families than the earners; (c) the cycle perpetuates.

    Each community must solve its own problems its own way, but the problem needs to be solved.

    Things that can’t go on forever, don’t.

  56. Robert Lebovits says:

    Z: “If there were 40% less children in Lakewood there would be (close to) 40% less spent on education overall (fewer schools) and a significantly lower burden on the funding members of the community/more funds available for other community institutions”.
    Your assessment might be accurate if all the schools in the community were confederated, essentially identical to one another, and funded by a central source. They are none of the above. In communities with more than one educational option each school prides itself on its unique identity, quality of instruction it provides, emphasis on Limudei Kodesh or General Studies, faculty, etc. Each school has its constituent parent body that subscribes to the school’s mission statement. Consequently lowering the overall number of students would likely NOT lead to a reduction in the number of schools, only their size, which brings us back to the phenomenon of burdensome fixed costs.
    Of course that begs the question ought some schools be consolidated for the sake of conserving community resources? In addition, some commenters have also suggested “outsourcing” other services schools provide such as the General Studies program (via charter schools for example), social services, and utilizing parents to perform tasks on a volunteer basis that may reduce staff size so as to achieve economies and lower the burden on paying families.
    No matter what combination of reduced spending and increased funding is pursued, Rabbi Oberstein’s observation is undeniable:”The Orthodox Jewish middle class wants everything the rest of middle class Americans want plus expensive private school education, much higher living expenses, more expensive housing, and we are expected and want to give 10% to tzedakah. How on earth is this sustainable?”
    Is the culture of “kollel-for-everyone” a root cause of the current crisis as DF argues? I see the facts to be otherwise. First, about 85 – 90% of those entering kollel immediately after marriage leave the bais medrash within 4 – 6 years for occupational education and/or full-time empolyment. As R. Adlerstein noted, their support through that period – and often times considerably beyond – was essentially provided by parents of the couple, and I would add the working wife. Thus being “in kollel” does not inflict a cost on the community. To the extent one chooses to contribute to the maintenance of a community’s kollel owing to the enormous benefits that institution gives back to its community is a separate tzedakah decision no different from the allocation of personal tzedakah funds to other communal entities. Many of the jobs taken by post-kollel men are those that serve the klal in chinuch, rabbonus, kashrus, etc., positions that are indispensible to a thriving Orthodox community. Consequently they should not be identified as somehow less legitimate than non-klal occupations.
    Second, the need for scholarship funding in day schools goes far, far beyond klei kodesh. Even if we assume Jewish families as a group are more affluent than the norm, less than 20% of the population in this country have household incomes greater than $100,000. On average across the country, an Orthodox family with 4 children would need a net income of at least $140,000 to “pull its own weight” and not look to the community for fee reductions. Those among us who have been blessed with greater wherewithal have been giving a hand to many of our fellow Yidden for quite some time now. The disparity between expenses and income has been around much longer than the relatively recent kollel surge.
    Changess are inevitably coming. On the one hand, it is predicted that the next couple decades will see the largest tranfer of wealth in our history as the pre-Baby Boomer generation passes on its asset base to its heirs, perhaps forestalling total disaster. On the other hand, we may be going back to a time when a small number of extraordinary gevirim provided communal maintenance while a modest middle class paid their way and the predominant lower middle class squeaked by.
    Let’s ask the questions what precisely should we expect from our schools and what are we willing to sacrifice, whether that may be instructional, extra-curricular, social, or even hashkafic. I am of the sliderule generation – even before the handheld calculator – though I still have kids in school. It is marvelous to see some of the innovations kids enjoy today. But can we let some go if they are too costly? Do we have to live in the NY/NJ area or the West Coast, with some of the highest living costs in the country? There are more options worth considering to alter one’s own dilemma even if fixing the “system” is in doubt.

  57. Z says:

    Robert Lebovits:
    “…consequently lowering the overall number of students would likely NOT lead to a reduction in the number of schools, only their size…”

    Fewer schools of same size or fewer classrooms over the same number of schools – doesn’t really matter (studies have shown that large schools are not really cheaper per-student than smaller schools). I think it would be a combination of both as the smallest constituencies would have to compromise somewhat since they would not have sufficient numbers for their own schools.

    “Thus being “in kollel” does not inflict a cost on the community”

    Other than: (a) forgone tzedaka related to 4-6 years of lost income and a 4-6 year career setback; (b) forgone portion of income that would have gone towards tuition that must now be granted as a scholarship both during non-income years and as a result of a 4-6 year career setback; (c) parental funds spend on kollel support not available to fund future grandchild tuition and/or other community causes. Not a value judgement, but money (and time) are fungible and resources deployed to support adult Torah learning are coming from elsewhere.

    “Do we have to live in the NY/NJ area or the West Coast, with some of the highest living costs in the country?

    Are the people complaining about tuition willing to move to a small (Canadian) community with no eruv, kosher butcher, or pizza shop, but with $4,000 after-tax tuition due to government subsidies and tax deductibility?

  58. Robert Lebovits says:

    Would your Robert Lebovits send me an email address that I may be able to contact him on.

  59. Benshaul says:

    Many have commented on the “cost” of supporting a kollel life style -even if only for 5 years. I find it somewhat ironic, as I know quite a few families who are supporting their children to the tune of 80 to 90K ANNUALLY, and doing it for more than 5 years, not to mention buying the nice house for the kids. Oh, i forgot to mention, its for the cost of college, medical school, and internship; and we dare not let them live in anything less than the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to. With the cost of tuition at YU & Stern at 52K a year, i have a hard time seeing the need to justify those kollel guys, who if they are from the lucky ones -will get support in the 15k annuall range. I know I am being a touch cynical, and it is anyones choice to give as much money to their children as they want. But please dont tell me about the loss of tzedaka funds for those years of being in kollel. And we havent even begun to discuss the debt that many a professional has from loans they took for their schooling, so they START earning an income in the mid-30s, encumbered with debt, 3 kids, tuition- and the life style of the successful upper middle class.

  60. Z says:

    Again, I am trying not to make any value judgements. You are absolutely correct that parents (and people in general) are free to spend their money as they wish. You are also correct that money spent on non-Yeshiva education is by no means guaranteed to be well spent.

    My point is that there are actual costs and opportunity costs related to 4-6 years of kollel. Individuals and/or communities may feel that the benefits justify the cost and that is fine. However, as with dayschool education, I feel it is important that the costs be noted and considered and not ignored in decision making processes.

  61. Benshaul says:

    you are correct. I hate to repeat myself, but again i will do so- if schools are fair in ONLY charging actual cost tuition , then those paying full tuition arent subsidizing anyone. if the school wants to assume the burden of scholarship children, and has a donor base to support it then those DONATIONS are made fairly. That seems to be the first way to deal with it. In those out of town communities where the city and lay-leaders feel there is a value added by having a kollel, then it is their choice to make in supporting it.

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