Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Guest Post: Letter to Orthonomics Regarding Rebbe's Pay

A reader writes to me the following:

Dear Sephardi Lady,

One of our local Jewish newspapers carried an article about my son’s yeshiva and its new building project and I am wondering if perhaps some of the complaints from schools about lacking Jewish ed $ and Rebbeim not making a living wage are perhaps misplaced.

According to the article (available at the Jewish Star’s website here) 70% of families pay full tuition (I admittedly don’t – full tuition for my son would be $10,500 a year) and “the school uses its tutition dollars to pay its rebbeim well, by most standards: $70,000 to $80,000 a year”.

A Rebbi who earns 80k teaching and gets a tax break from parsonage and on top of that has enough free time to pick up a camp job in the summer and tutoring during the year ($75 an hour and up) can easily earn upwards of $100k a year, more than what I earn working at a major investment bank without summers off, longer hours, and yamim tovim counting as my vacation time. Orthonomics, please help me out here!

Dear Parent,

Like you, I have not joined the chorus line to sing about underpayment of Rebbes. Having been through the public school system and now being a full fledged member of the Orthodox community, I have noticed that there is a mesorah of sorts for teachers to complain about being underpaid. I still remember hearing all of my own teachers complaining about how little they were paid.

While I have no doubt that many Rebbes are underpaid and far too many educators suffer from the inequity of not being paid on time (which is absolutely unacceptable!), there are plenty of people working 50,60,and 70 hours a week (and enduring the commute) for what ends up being equal or even lesser pay. My father is one of those people. He always worked insane hours to pull in not that much more than a seasoned public school teacher with some senority (and my mother works for my father gratis). And, he pays for his own health insurance and has no retirement plan.

Being a Rebbe comes with benefits the rest of the working world rarely benefits from. You mentioned parsonage, shorter hours, summers off, and not having to use all your vacation time for the yamin tovim. Parsonage is a large benefit that comes with another "hidden" benefit:
the wife's salary becomes more valuable. And, if the school offers its educators automatic tuition discounts, as some do, that too is a huge benefit. In addition, many Rebbes either run summer camps or serve as camp counselors. A side benefit that often with the job: a camp scholarship for one or more children.

I'm sure that we would agree that Rebbes deserve to be paid a fair salary and I believe the community must unite to provide less expensive and better quality health insurance coverage as well as retirement benefits. But, it sounds like your son's Rebbes are being well compensated and I would agree that many of the complaints about Rebbeim not making a living wage are misplaced. The only way to clear the arguement up is to publish salary scales and the value of benefits received. I can look up the exact salary of my neighbor who teaches in public school, but I have no idea what my Rebbe neighbor makes, although I suspect it is a living wage.

My advice: If you can go into chinuch in your son's school, you might want to consider doing so.

Shabbat Shalom and Fire Away.


Anonymous said...

Go to and look up Passaic Hebrew Institute (which is YBH of Passaic) or Shulamith (Shulamis in Brooklyn). Recent Form 990s are there for both of these institutions. They have to list highest 5 employess making over 50k. 73k and 80k was what the administrators were making. I really think the Five Towns has its own standards. And I assume that Yeshiva Ketana is probably pulling in the best of best with these salaries, considering that some rebbeim, who are coming from Lakewood, are committing to maybe 4 hours of commuting a day.

Anonymous said...

>>>considering that some rebbeim, who are coming from Lakewood, are committing to maybe 4 hours of commuting a day.

Think about how much competition there is in Lakewood for a job as a Rebbe and you will realize why they do it.

TwinsMommy said...

I have no idea what the administrators make at my husband's school (non Orthodox, but still a Jewish day school). I would hope in the 90-100,000 range.

But I do know that my husband is one of the highest paid teachers at the school at a WHOPPING $45 K a year (he makes extra through coaching soccer and tutoring, and I have a decent job which is how we survive, but still.

He deserves a lot more. Good thing that even though I'm a full time mom I enjoy the challenge of working at home too (even though housework doesn't get done in a timely manner!)

Anonymous said...

aside for anon 10:02 and 10:05s comments about the great need for the lakewood-oriented for a job in chinuch, there is also the matter of training. speaking generally, there are 500+ guys in lakewood with the basic training to go into chinuch. this makes the job something akin to unskilled labor.

1. also, something not mentioned in the post, a rebbi does not have the stress of business lunches, holiday parties, and the general atmosphere of a non-frum environment.
2. at least in more rw environments, there is some status associated with being in chinuch.
3. there seems to be a great degree of job security in chinuch with little required in the way of quality control or added education, skill refinement, etc.

Selena said...

Twins Mommy: It seems that generally, Rebbes make a good deal more than a secular studies teacher at the same school or a Jewish studies teacher at a non-Orthodox school. After all, they have to support a family (you know, unlike everyone else, like your husband and mine:))

rachel said...

Anonymous 5:56;
Unskilled labor would imply that they get paid less than a skilled labor.
In most jewish schools rebbeim get paid the highest salaries, secular teachers the lowest. I know of a school that their paying scale was that semicha was paid at the same level at a PhD. So the 500+ rebbeim who got their smicha in 2 years or less would earn a lot more than a secular teacher with a masters (2 years of school) and similar to a biology teacher who spent 5+ years in school. And this is a MO school that "values" secular education a lot.

SephardiLady said...

Selena-When I taught secular studies, I practically had to pay to be mistreated. When I was asked to come back, it was a resounding no. I'd rather flip a burger since it doesn't talk back. (Aaaaakkkk, I'm still bitter after all of these years).

Ariella said...

I know just what you mean, SL. I had the same experience in a yeshiva high school. And while some schools take pride in paying their rebbeim well and giving them other perks, especially if they send their own children to the school, the same does not hold true for their secular teachers.

Twinsmommy said...

Selena --- *lol* We only have 2 kids each, so our husbands can't possibly need to support a family! A family is at least 8 kids, no? bleah!

SL--- flipping burgers, you might be able to work your way up to be the manager or something. Look at Lee Scott and what happened to him at Walmart. So actually a lower wage job like burger flipping might ultimately make one more well off. :)

DAG said...

I taught in two Yeshivas' secular program. In one school, I was NOT allowed to give homework. That meant that ALL of the reading for my English class had to be done DURING class hours. There was not much time to teach.

Not that the subject was respected. I'd walk into a room, to find the Rebbe left his material strewn all over the teacher's desk.

I used to daven Mincha in the Beis Medrash before class. The students felt the need to time my shomei esrai and confront me with it later in the year.

arisblog said...

(i am only writing about MO schools, as i know nothing about RW schools)

1) i could not find the article using the link. what yeshivah pays 80k? when i looked into teaching in the late 90s, starting salary was low 30s (with crappy or no benefits). i can't believe that salaries have more than doubled since then. even if this one schools does pay 80k, it suspect it is an anamoly.

2) a lot of schools no longer offer tuition incentives to teachers. (and in any case, this is only good if you live where you teach, which often you can't afford to do on a teacher's salary).

3) "shorter hours"

a) a (good) teacher's job does not end when he gets home

b) in schools that mix up the jewish and secular classes in the schedule, teachers do not necessarily get to work only mornings or afternoons.

4) "$75 an hour and up"

for science and math. not for gemara.

5) everybody likes to think they have a stressful job, but teaching, especially certain populations or age groups, is really stressful

on the other hand, two points that weren't mentioned in the post:

1) what may seem like a low salary needs to be adjusted for 10 months worth of work.

2) having a schedule that follows the jewish calendar and your kids' vacation schedule can be very valuable.

arisblog said...


they included you in the minyan? don't complain.

the animals i babysat in a yeshivah one year were far worse than the students my father had in an bad inner-city school.

Shmilda said...

Without jumping on or off the "teachers are underpaid" bandwagon, can't we agree that, taking the article at face value, Yeshiva Ketana got it right? Tuition ($10,500) is reasonable for the Five Towns, most parents (70%) are able to pay it, and scholarships are available (the other 30%). The rebbeim are paid well enough that they can actually afford to live in the community, rather than flee teaching after a couple of years. Assuming they take in $175,000 per year per class (70% of 20 students at full tuition is $140,000, plus the other 30% are paying something), they can afford to pay both the rebbeim and the secular teachers $70,000 - assuming they keep costs under control, give minimal benefits, and have additional donations to cover the buildings. Is that unreasonable?

DAG said...

Ari...there were more than 10 w/o me :-)

Anonymous said...

shmilda, in theory you would be correct, but factually speaking you are not. The majority of YKLI rebbeim do not live in the 5 Towns. One lives in Far Rockaway, a couple in Lakewood (for that kind of pay, the commute is worthwhile) and the rest, I believe, live in Brooklyn. There used to be some from Queens, but I'm not sure there still are.
Based on what someone who used to send her sons there told me, I would have to say the picture pained by the article is far rosier than reality. She told me that the English teachers not only are not paid well (they would laugh bitterly to see what you suppose they earn) but that they are not paid on time. The school does attempt to pay the rebbeim on time, but secular teachers are seen as more expendable.
As for the large number of people supposedly paying full tuition -- they wish. They may be listed as paying in full, but many parents drag their feet on payments.

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that a parsonage allowance was only for ministers of any faith. Do Rebbeim qualify in this way? I didn't think so. When I was growing up, only congregational (pulpit) rabbis could take this exemption. Has the law changed?