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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Please Don't Do It

Hat Tip: Ezzie

Sorry to overwhelm my loyal readers with three posts in one day. But just one more before I switch gears. I have a busy week in front of me. If anyone wants to guest post, let me know.

Dear Editor,
I would like to address recent discussion regarding high tuition costs.

I believe I have bitachon especially in parnassa issues because of events that have taken place in my past. That having been said, last year, after receiving scholarships from the various yeshivos that my children attend (I have 6 children in 5 yeshivos - 3 different levels: bais medrash, high school, elementary school), my total tuition bill came to approximately 82% of my take-home (net) salary. My mortgage payment put me over 100%. That meant that even if I totally gave up everything in my life except the house, I would still be running in the negative. For the record, although I’m not going to give out my salary, I am receiving a high five-figure salary in a major New York financial institution.

While I don’t advocate any sort of ridiculous alternative to a solid - and necessary - yeshiva education, clearly, something has to be done about exorbitant tuition

It is good there’s plastic, I guess.

Shalom W.

This is a letter to the editor at Matzav. I know the letter writer is not alone in charging it to the card. I know other families that charge and move the debt from one card to the next as they chase 0% introductory rates. But such a scheme can't last forever.

Please, please, please Shalom W, don't charge it.


Anonymous said...

Something about this story doesn't quite add up. Is he leaving out the wife's income? Help from parents? By saying that the tuition and mortgage is more than the household income, he is saying that they are paying these tuitions and not eating, paying electricity, buying shoes for the kids, paying commuting expenses? There must be some other source of funds even if he is running up credit card debt. There is a limit on how much you can put on plastic before they turn off the credit.

ProfK said...

The letter does bring up one interesting point to note. If you have all of your children in one yeshiva, the yeshiva will frequently offer you a discount because of multiple children. However, if your children are spread out among yeshivas--male, female, elementary school, high school--then most yeshivas don't want to hear about your other tuition bills. There's no bargaining power and no leverage when the kids are spread out. One yeshiva told one of my nephews that if he wanted to bargain he should go to the other yeshivas--to them he had to pay full tuition. Only problem is that the other yeshivas said the same thing.

JS said...


Parents I have spoken to say the "multiple children discount" is a pittance. I believe one parent told me the yeshiva they use will deduct $1,000 when your 3rd kid enters. What's $1,000 when your total bill is $40,000?

Anonymous said...

JS, one other thing is that the "family obligation" (dinner, scrip) is only one per family, so that also becomes a discount once you have multiple children in a school.

Lion of Zion said...

"Please, please, please Shalom W, don't charge it."

what should he do?

Dave said...

Not spend 82% of his take home on education.

And yeah, that almost certainly means no Day School.

alpidarkomama said...

House of (credit) cards...

tdr said...

LOZ -- What should he do?

A friend who recently started in debtors anonymous just asked me the same thing.

When I don't have the money for my tuition bill, I call the school and say "I'm really sorry, but I simply don't have the money please do not take my tuition this month." Or "I'm really sorry, I only have enough for a $140 payment this month."

People need to stop relying on credit. It just postpones the disaster. Either for the family or for the school.

I am probably facing a situation this year where I will simply not be able to afford tuition. I applied for scholarship, but between the debt (huge) and the modest mortgage (utilities) I will not be able to afford what they will probably offer. I do not use credit. Simple. I do not have the money stashed in the bank. Simple. I have a retirement IRA, but I'm in my mid-40's and I'm not touching it. Simple.

It is really simple. I don't have the money. There is just no discussion.

What we will do if we get to an impasse with the school? I have no idea right now. Really no idea. It will not be plastic though.

Tamiri said...

I had "only" three kids in school when I left the US. Any five figure salary would not have left us with enough to begin the month, and we carried no debt besides our ~$2500 mortgage.
In my opinion, this guy's finances are doomed even before he opens his eyes in the morning.
Since giving up the house isn't an option here, I guess the Jewish schools will have to go.
Plastic isn't money. When will people realize that?
And, the stress that goes with bad finances can make people sick or worse.
Is it worth it?
This poor guy.
(FWIW I don't think the option is to have less children).

SephardiLady said...

Anonymous-Perhaps the wife has a salary, perhaps the family is borrowing from all over. Perhaps there is an inheritance that is being spent down. Perhaps they saved when young and are now liquidating those savings and headed into a never ending debt spiral. No matter what, when current expenses in the form of K-12 tuition take up nearly ever penny of the primary breadwinner's salary, it is problematic.

He could, at the very least, pull the oldest boy out of beis medrash. He has already had a K-12 education. Given the financial situation at home, it is probably best if he gets himself a job, starts to save, and takes some vocation/junior college courses as he can.

upperwestsidemom said...

I have an idea for Shalom W. He can tell his child (or children) in bais medrash to get a job and attend college part time (so that he/she can earn a living). That should free up some more money.

JS said...


I don't really consider that a discount, though it is ridiculous how schools throw in all these fees on top of tuition. A bigger issue would be schools that each have a building fund of several thousand dollars.


Totally agree. To your last point, I'd never limit the number of kids we want to have just because of tuition. I would also never want to live with the stress this letter writer has with full tuition + mortgage being over 100% of net income. I'd put my kids in public school in a heartbeat.

Anonymous said...

I have to call BS. No tuition assistance committee would allow tuition to reach 82% of net! There must have been/be money coming from elsewhere that stopped. Besides the fact that they do have expenses other than mortgage, they do eat, don't they? Even if they only spend $150 a week on food for his large family, that's $7800 a year, or 8.6% of a $90k salary.

LOZ - what should he do?

What should he do? Well, he can't afford yeshiva, that's for sure. First thing he should do is remove the older one from bais medrash and have him learn a trade as fast as possible. Second thing he needs to do is to put together all his financial info and go back to each tuition committee. Third thing, he needs to put all his elementary kids in one school, and all his high school kids in one school.

He should definitely not use plastic because it is only temporary and he'll be in the same fix, only worse, in a few months or a year. All it does is delay and worsen the problem.


Avi said...

Unlike most discussions on this board, this one's extremely simple to solve. He has exactly two choices: aliyah or public school.

Miami Al said...

Ditch Beit Midrash, now... he can come home, get a job, kick in rent, and start classes at community college. End of story, he can't afford that... that should swing him from 82% to 70%, plus get some rent out of his kid... plus get him moving towards self sufficiency.

Consolidate into elementary schools. Here is an idea, he has a fully educated child... pull the younger kids out of day school (move them in after puberty), and your educated child can be responsible for 1 hour/day with their younger sibling(s) to teach them...

Get Yeshiva payments manageable, get them all in for middle/high school years, and muddle through. If he borrows 20k this year to "get by" for one year, he's dead in a year, because it's going to get worse.

aml said...

Do what we're doing.. Put the little ones in public school until they hit middle school. And yes, the oldest one should be working and in college... such an embarassment to have grown, able-body and mind men sucking off of their fathers this way...

Anonymous said...

aml - Do what we're doing.. Put the little ones in public school until they hit middle school.

This doesn't work for everyone because of the danger that they will not be well enough prepared (Limudei Kodesh wise) to enter Jewish day school when they hit middle school.


SJ said...

Lol yeshivas aren't getting a dime of my money.

My yeshiva experience sucked. It wasn't co-ed, rabbis were completely fundamentalist, substandard secular department. Yuck O.o

Anonymous said...

Food for thought: in the secular world, people spend $40K/year for education and can justify it because it leads to making many times that in the long run. Med school, law school...your salary will be hundreds of thousands (Gd willing) should you be well-educated.

I understand Torah. I understand Judaism. I understand the responsibility of learning. But I don't understand burdening ourselves with such debt that we are no longer able to flourish as a people but rather are left struggling in the name of "education". This education begets more poverty, it seems. I am just confused...where is the resistance to change? The gedolim? Who is standing in the way of the overhauling of this system? I am not trying to oversimplify, I am just trying to see where the actual stalling is taking place.

Avi said...

Just because the credit card company is willing to give you rope to hang yourself doesn't mean you should do it. This man simply cannot afford yeshiva tuition. If the schools aren't willing to give him bigger scholarships, then he needs to pull his kids out of the schools. Will it be easy? Will the kids adjust? It really doesn't matter - he. can't. afford. it. Again, two options: aliyah or public school. The former option is obviously preferable.

Shoshana said...

"Unlike most discussions on this board, this one's extremely simple to solve. He has exactly two choices: aliyah or public school."

There are three choices: #3=homeschool.

Ahavah Gayle said...

Amein Shoshana - especially with an older son whose been through k-12 who can act as tutor and teacher's aid.

Shoshana said...

"especially with an older son whose been through k-12 who can act as tutor and teacher's aid."

My kids are 10, 7, 5, and 2. They take turns having solo instruction time with me. The things they can do themselves are on their own time. Subjects that are middle of the road they are expected to work on together. And whomever is not working on school work, reading, art, etc. is expected to watch, feed, change and entertain the toddler. They do an *amazing!* job of it and are turning out so much the better for it in every way - spiritually, emotionally, intellectually. We will be starting our first business venture in the Fall as we dip our toes into real-life money learning. My kids are for sure not going to live off of credit cards because they won't need to. Don't anyone take this as a slap in the face. I just want to illustrate that there is a better way out there if you can think outside of the box.

rosie said...

Have any of you in NY ever heard of an organization called FEGS? They take a guy who had only a yeshiva education, help him get a GED free of charge, pay 2 thirds of his vocational training, and guide him into which type of job to train. Most of these yeshiva grads are working on the side; some are married and some not. Some see it as a way out of NY in the future as they can look for the jobs in other cities once they are certified to work. It will help the Bais Medrash boys if they are over 18. Of course, these vocational jobs will not yield enough earnings for the next generation to pay tuition but at least they will make a living.

SA said...

I've never heard of the organization, but I think they could do with a new acronym.

Anonymous said...

Rosie, how is someone making a living if he can't pay his tuition obligation?? I agree, for a single man or a married man with no children, these vocational jobs make a living. (There are vocational jobs that make a good enough living to pay tuition, such as a master plumber, and I in no way mean to demean vocational jobs; but if one is reliant on charity, even for tuition, he's not "making a living.")

rosie said...

Tessya, I think that it has been pointed out that even those who make good livings will not be able to even send 3 children to day school 5 years from now. A married man with children not in school yet can also support the family with a vocational job. Day school will probably not be a reality for the children of anyone but the very rich. Tuition climbs at twice the rate of inflation or of peoples salary increases. Vocational training is at least a stop-gap measure for those whose secular education is too lacking for entry into college. If the family educates their own children for their religious education, they haven't relied on anyone.

Anonymous said...

Shoshana: That's great that you can homeschool your children, but that doesn't work for every family. Not all parents have the skills and knowledge and in some families, both parents have to work to pay basic expenses before even thinking about tuition.

Shoshana said...

Anonymous 8:24

Of course I don't think that homeschooling is for everyone. But it is an option for many who don't realize it and I like to keep it on the table in these types of discussions.

But the truth is that private Jewish education is also not for everyone. And these days it's for even fewer families than ever because they simply cannot afford it but refuse to entertain that fact even though they are drowning in debt, frustration and exhaustion.

Miami Al said...

Shoshana, it's not "fewer than ever," it's fewer than the past 20 years. If we eliminated scholarships, we'd potentially see tuition fall in half, which would probably mean 20% of the Jewish population could afford Day School (or, realistically, tuition fall by 15% - 20% and quality get much better), making it available to 10% of the Orthodox Jewish population. While that is lower than we've become accustomed to, it's certainly higher than the historical rate of Jewish education.

I think we have to lower our expectations of what it means to be an educated Jew... not all Jewish men need to be trained as well as Old World European Rabbis.

Universal Day School solved a problem, an ignorant Jewish population with minimal practice post-WWII. We now have a generation of reasonably educated Jewish men and women that are practicing Jews.

Children that grow up in a Shomer Shabbat home don't need the school to teach them Shabbat. Families with a Sukkah don't need the school to teach them what Sukkot is. Talmud Torah was a failure with non-observant families... doesn't mean that it will be a failure with observant families. and have more Jewish knowledge available online for free than most Jews had access to for centuries... I wouldn't be shocked if has more information on their website than a small town Rabbi had access to in medieval Europe.

The necessity of day school 30 years ago doesn't mean that it's necessary now. Charter schools that teach Hebrew, Talmud Torah that teaches age appropriate subject matter, could offer at an inexpensive level a vast amount of knowledge for the common man at a MUCH cheaper cost.

The argument that children won't take after school Talmud Torah seriously because you need to emphasize Torah above secular to make an impact is a silly argument. It's true for the non-practicing Jews that sent their children to Jewish schools 1-2 generations ago, it's not going to be true for a family that keeps Kosher, keeps Shabbat, and father engages in some regular learning during the week.

Shoshana said...

Miami Al-

Just want to say that I really enjoy your comments!

Yael Aldrich said...

Miami Al,

I'm not sure I agree with you.

Like Shoshana, I am also a Orthodox Jewish homeschooling parent and I know that in my family (my husband is a rabbi, learns (with a chevrusa and with our children) everyday and davens in front of/with his children everyday). I do not believe that is what happens in most families (especially ones who don't homeschool). And I am not sure most people (like those in Europe before WWI/II) knew much other than some rote observance and very basic knowledge of Judaism.

I think if you couple public education (and its social/holiday/weekend/afterschool programming) with afterschool/weekend Talmud Torah for Orthodox children, you will re-create conditions which will leave Orthodoxy ripe for (not necessarily active , but more passive) defection again.

No one (Jew or otherwise) wants to shlep to another school after a school day (and who would do it? a working parent? a TT school bus?) or make time on already crowded weekends. I'm not sure that the average person would be committed to such a thing like they are to a full day school education. What they might receive would be a gloss of Judaism is rather than what is deeper inside the texts that can't come with -- like a Chabad sunday school. People might feel proud to be a Jew but not know so much other what his parents/TT taught him (that the parents/TT learned from a day school or website).

On the other hand, BT yeshivas in America/Israel could get a lot more traffic this way for people who in their adulthood want to make the Jewish education equivalent to their secular education.

Honestly, I look at all the other options and I am not sure any of them will fly for the majority of Orthodox Jews in the US. People want it all for cheap and other than homeschooling (and perhaps small coop type homeschooling) I do not seem how you can get both for cheap.

Miami Al said...

Yael, at the Ben Gamla Charter school, the day ends when the school day ends, and the kids are free to leave. At the same location, the after school Judaic program "rents" the place, and offers the Judaic program.

There is no bus to take, the kids don't go anywhere, but the after school component isn't on the report card, because it's not part of the school. During the school day, they can teach Hebrew, Jewish Culture/History, and Israeli Culture/History, but not Judaism.

One of the local Israeli preschools in my area offers after-school care for public school kids. They run a bus service to the local public school and the Ben Gamla Charter school. So Israeli parents that don't want to pay for the religious program can pay for a secular after school program... Charter schools don't provide busing, but private after cares can.

At the Yeshiva Elementary Charter (that they were offered and turned down when some people raised money), they got even more flexibility. The "Charter School" was going to start at 10:00, and run until 5 (normal public schools are around 7:30 -> 2:30. The Yeshiva was going to start with Davening, go into Torah education, and end at 10 AM. The kids would then have secular/Hebrew/Culture classes, lunch, P/E, etc., during the charter hours.

The concern, once the secular day started at 10 AM, teachers couldn't mention religion, etc. Additionally, you had to teach the secular side to county/state standards, the teaching staff would have to be qualified (no more hiring only people from the community, etc)... if evolution was in the curriculum, you had to teach it. If sex ed was on the curriculum, you had to teach it. While parents could opt-out of sex-ed and get alternative subject matter (like at a normal public school), you couldn't coerce everyone to sign the forms to attend the charter, and your only coercion power was admission to the religious "pre school."

While anyone in the county could apply for the Charter school, honestly, who other than Frum Jews was applying for a school offering Hebrew instruction and a 10 - 5 school day?

The state is picking up 80%-90% of the educational costs (because the religious instruction is before/after), but will exercise control over the secular day. I find it unlikely that any voucher option (that seems DOA for the foreseeable future) would involve LESS control... they might not require you to cover up Mezuzot, but they are going to mandate the curriculum anyway.

The charter solution offers at least 90% of the educational goals of Day School (providing pre/post school Judaics on site) at 10% of the cost... The downside seems to be lack of community control of the secular side.

Mormons, committed Catholics, practicing Muslims, and Evangelicals all use public schools with religious instruction either before/after school, usually in the same building (the Supreme Court has ruled that the state can't discriminate between a religious group that wants to meet before/after school and a secular group that wants to meet before/after school).

Miami Al said...

Regarding the Calendar, the local school system, because of Jewish teachers/students, is already closed on Rosh Hashana (Day 1) and Yom Kippur... to close for the second day of Rosh Hashana, Sukkot, and Pesach only requires 9 extra days of accommodation, so I don't see getting two weeks of flexibility in the school calendar (start a week early, end a week later) being a huge problem if the schools are successful.

I understand that the Day School movement dates back to a time when Prayer in School was the norm, and religious groups weren't allowed on school grounds. I also understand that losing Sukkot Break and Pesach break means no traveling for the Chaggim to family out of town... However, for the families that want travel time, they can either visit family during Winter/Spring/Summer Break, or if they want expensive vacations for the Holidays, then the Day School/Yeshiva system makes sense for those families.

I think bankrupting the entire Orthodox world will cause people to leave, because who wants to be part of a bankrupt society, and the social net of Charity that keeps the poorer members dependent and trapped will collapse as resources dry up except tuition to but another few years.

It's not offering the children a 100% Frum environment, but we can't afford it, so let's try to figure out what can be afforded and throw our support there. The recent posts from the educational leaders has demonstrated that they don't have a clue, and they aren't going to lead us out of this mess.

Lion of Zion said...


i'm confused. the charter school you described above was a possiblity?

"I wouldn't be shocked if has more information on their website than a small town Rabbi had access to in medieval Europe."

without a question, although why are you limiting it only to small-town rabbis?

would you like to hazzard a guess as to how many complete medieval shas sets are extant?

JS said...

For those interested, I have a post up on DovBear's site (where this blog got a great review in the comments section) about some of the non-Orthonomic aspects of a yeshiva education's worth.

Lion of Zion said...


i read your DOV BEAR post. i found myself nodding as i felt i could have written a similar post. but then about half way through we divirged. whatever other problems there were with my school, it was a true MO school in every regard.

what scared me though i suspect that a lot of what you wrote in the second half is was lays ahead for my son in his school. so to respond once again to your question to me, that is why i am warm to public school.

Avi said...

@Shoshana - my mistake; you are absolutely correct, home schooling should be on the short list as well.

@Anonymous 8:24AM - true, home schooling doesn't work for everyone, but neither does aliyah, and some seem to consider public school yeharog v'al yaavor. Shalom needs to pick the best of the three choices for his family. Putting it on a credit card isn't really a choice at all.

Miami Al said...

LoZ, Ben Gamla is an active school, view the Ben Gamla Charter School website, it's real and exists. In the state grading scale, it just got graded an "A," and anecdotally, a friend whose kids transferred there (couldn't afford the neighborhood Modern Orthodox Day School anymore) said that the academics are MUCH stronger (her kids struggled to catch up with the new work load).

Yeshiva Elementary School is a RW school in the Miami Dade area. Miami, like NYC and other Urban areas, is run by a political machine. Special interest groups that can deliver votes are able to get special treatment, and Yeshiva Elementary School was offered a charter (they obviously applied) with the ridiculous accommodations.

You can read the Orthonomics Coverage and the original Jewish Press article cited in it.

Miami Al said...

LoZ, Ben Gamla is an active school, view the Ben Gamla Charter School website, it's real and exists. In the state grading scale, it just got graded an "A," and anecdotally, a friend whose kids transferred there (couldn't afford the neighborhood Modern Orthodox Day School anymore) said that the academics are MUCH stronger (her kids struggled to catch up with the new work load).

Yeshiva Elementary School is a RW school in the Miami Dade area. Miami, like NYC and other Urban areas, is run by a political machine. Special interest groups that can deliver votes are able to get special treatment, and Yeshiva Elementary School was offered a charter (they obviously applied) with the ridiculous accommodations.

You can read the Orthonomics Coverage and the original Jewish Press article cited in it.

Charlie Hall said...

"would you like to hazzard a guess as to how many complete medieval shas sets are extant?"

Are there any complete sets from a time prior to the invention of modern printing?

Charlie Hall said...

Regarding Charter schools: They would have to accept non-Jews on an equal access basis. Jewish schools in some European countries already do this.

Anonymous said...

Charlie: You are correct. They also can't discriminate in hiring and cannot promote any particular religion. They might also might not be able to separate boys and girls and they will have to teach the state mandated curriculum, even if that includes sex ed, evolution, a multi-billion year old earth, etc.

Lion of Zion said...


there is one complete bavli from 14th c. paris (munich codex hebr. 95):

and one complete yerushalmi from rome, 13th c. (in leiden), which was the basis for the bomberg yerushalmi.

(of course not to say that there weren't others that were the victims of the ravages of time and persecution)

Lion of Zion said...


yes, i now remember the story. at the time i thought that it was evidence of how the florida heat had fried the brains of florida's jews.

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