I'm not sure how widespread the practice of giving Chanukah Gelt (cash gifts) to Rebbes is. The first time I heard about the custom was a number of years ago when I was a frequent guest of a family in a large community which a very wealthy block of families. These families were known to give very, very sizable gifts to their children's Rebbes on Chanukah. The discussion left me wondering about the practice.
This week, I caught this letter in the Yated, which brings forward numerous issues. Here is the letter below:
CHANUKAH GIFTS FOR REBBI AND MORAH
My husband and I have always felt that Chanukah is a great time to show our appreciation to our children’s teachers. How much is given and what is given are dependent on one’s financial situation. This year, we were not able to give as much as in past years.
When my daughter gave her teacher the envelope with the Chanukah gift, the teacher got up in class and told the students that this is the appropriate way for parents to show hakoras hatov to teachers. The comment rubbed me the wrong way completely. It made me think that there may be kids in the class whose parents contributed to the PTA gift, but could not afford to give more.
Why do teachers think it is their right and that we as parents are expected to give them gifts? As I recall, last year, the Yated printed letters going back and forth about it. The bottom line is that I don’t expect my boss to give me a gift when I make him/save him money, because that is what he hired me for. And if he does give me a gift, I have to show him my appreciation. The same applies here. We contract the teachers through the schools to give our children an education. The fact is that rabbeim’s and teachers’ salaries often don’t cover their expenses and they do deserve to earn more money. But parents do not owe them gifts and it is important for teachers to realize that.
I Tip When I Can
I like to write about "Orthonomic" issues that affect the lives of various sectors. Admittedly, Chanukah Gelt is not something we currently deal with. But, the public way that gifts are given from student to teacher directly strikes me as inappropriate (the letter writer was rubbed the wrong way by the teacher's comment. The teacher's comment does appear to be tasteless, but presenting a gift in class doesn't seem to classy either).
In the past, I have written about my distaste for involving children as the middle men when schools and/or teachers solicit additional money for a party or project. Here too I feel a similar distaste. I can only imagine that involving one's children in giving gifts to teachers in front of their peers makes for uncomfortable moments for other students (especially students who aren't presenting a gift, or are only presenting something "unrespectable"), as well as for the student presenting the gifts. G-d knows that we don't need to add to the material competition that many children, as well as adults, experience.
And, I'm sure many teachers experience discomfort too when they receive gifts directly. A teacher who receives less than others may feel slighted. A teacher who receives a ridiculous sum of money from a certain parents is sure to feel pressure. Knowing what parents gave what can feel like "too much information."
Now, I am not criticizing the practice of giving gifts to teachers, although if parents have not cleared their obligations to the school vis a vis tuition, I believe there would be a problem. But, I don't like the idea of students presenting gifts in front of other students and teachers receiving gifts directly. I think gifts of this manner are best presented discretely, although I'm sure teachers don't open them in front of the class.
And, of course, as an accountant, I can't help myself but to wonder about the tax issues surrounding these "gifts," especially where they are very sizable, as is the case at my friends' school. Being no expert in this area of tax law, I'll let the more experienced chime in.