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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

PSA: OU's National Convention Opening Session, Open to the Public

Anyone want to be a roving reporter? I'd volunteer, but I have a pre-existing commitment. So, if you want a report, volunteer to take notes. Thanks in advance.

Opening SessionThe Cost of Jewish Living
Free admission for all!
The cost of Jewish living is probably the most talked about topic in our community. Of course, the cost of tuition dominates the discussion. But it is not the only contributing factor to what seems to many families to be an unmanageable burden. Housing costs in a neighborhood near an Orthodox shul are comparatively higher than elsewhere. There are also the costs of special clothing and foods associated with observing Shabbat and the Yamim Tovim, as well as the high costs of bar/mitzvahs and weddings, and of giving gifts to those celebrating them. Does a family have to be wealthy in order to be observant? Is this a sustainable model for the future?

Motza’ei Shabbat, January 15, 8:00 pm
at OU-member Congregation Keter Torah
600 Roemer Avenue, Teaneck, NJ 07666

Anchor: NACHUM SEGAL, host of radio shows JMintheAM, and The Nachum Segal Show
Panelists: ROBERT P. ARONSON, President, Birthright Israel Foundation, and The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life
MARGY-RUTH DAVIS, Executive Vice President, Perry Davis Associates, and community activist
WILLIAM E. RAPFOGEL, CEO, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty
DR. MARVIN SCHICK, veteran educational adviser and community observer


abba's rantings said...

special clothing and foods associated with observing shabbat? bar mitzvahs and weddings? its amazing how that highly educated and intelligent people can't figure this out on their own. in any case, i guess not everyone reads orthonomics, so the OU is doing a good thing.

"the cost of tuition dominates the discussion. But it is not the only contributing factor"

this is silly. it's like using a paper cup to stop the titannic from sinking. i'm not saying that there aren't other expenses that drain jews' money, without tackling the tuition issue it really won't make a difference.

Abba's Rantings said...

i think its interesting that the OU is including someone from steinhardt on the panel.

Abba's Rantings said...

looks like my first comment got lost.

special clothing/food costs for shabbat? bar mitzvahs and weddings expenses? it's amazing that highly educated and intelligent people need an OU convetion to help them figure out how to solve these issues. besides, they're just a distraction.

"the cost of tuition dominates the discussion. But it is not the only contributing factor"

not the only factor, but by far the most important one. looking to cut costs in other areas without tackling tuition is like trying to stop the titannic from sinking with a paper cup.

Miami Al said...

Tuition isn't the only contributing factor, it's the determining factor.

Depending on school, between 25% and 100% of families are on scholarship of some kind. For every since one of those families, whether they receive 1% in assistance, or 99% assistance (the 100% are a special case), there is:

1. No incentive to earn more money via second job, third job in family, overtime, higher paying job, etc., as 100% of additional monies are absorbed by the school
2. Financial pressure to have expensive cars/housing, since costs in those areas increase your tuition assistance dollar for dollar, so if you save $1000 on housing, your tuition goes up $1000, why downsize/not upgrade

So while other costs contribute to financial problems of individual families, the communal problems stem from the income redistributionist side of the tuition situation.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Miami Al for stating the problem so clearly.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see the OU addressing the issue.

tesyaa said...

If Miami Al's analysis has merit (and many of it agrees that it does), there's no apparent solution as long as the Orthodox establishment insists that "no Jewish child will be denied a yeshiva education due to inability to pay". Sure, there can be some tweaks to the financial aid formulas, but yeshiva for all necessarily implies a good deal of redistribution (particularly where large families are involved).

I have heard, though, that there's a waiting list for the charter school in East Brunswick and that there's a renewed push for an Englewood charter school. I've heard that the parents using the charter schools are not super-concerned with a high level of Judaic supplementary education; they're looking for a minimum amount, but not much more. This confirms my view that many Orthodox parents are mostly concerned with having their kids socialize with other Orthodox kids, rather than the Judaic studies element of yeshiva. If that's the case, public school (with a "critical mass", of course) seems a quicker and more viable answer than charter schools.

JS said...

Two points:

1) This conference is laughable if it dismisses tuition as "not the only contributing factor." If you live in Teaneck, your tuition bill is likely to be around $60k if you have 4 kids in grade school. Spending $500 on Pesach instead of $1,500 through smart use of coupons and cutting back on new clothes, etc. isn't going to make a lick of a difference at the end of the day. Similarly, one-time expenses like a lavish bar mitzvah are negligible. By the time your kid hits bar/bat mitzvah age (figure 7th grade), you've already spent 8 years of tuition, which will run you around $95k per kid. So, you do a large kiddush and a luncheon for friends/family at $8k instead of a big party at $15k? Long-term, who cares? You still have 1 more year of grade school at $15k and 4 years of high school at $22k for a grand total of $103k per kid (not to mention at least 1 year in Israel). So, you're talking about at least $200k per kid for yeshiva tuition on the one hand versus maybe saving $7k on a bar mitzvah and maybe $2k per year by cutting other expenses. Whoop de doo. Meanwhile you're still broke, you still didn't save for retirement adequately, and you never saved for your kids' college education and to top it all off you deprived yourself the whole time. This conference is a distraction in my opinion to shift the focus away from the real problems. It's almost insulting that the conference is going to focus on coupon cutting and not buying a $100 new outfit for a kid for yom tov. Even if every person in Teaneck stopped the bar/bat mitzvahs entirely, stopped buying new clothes for yom tov/shabbat, stopped having weddings altogether, stopped giving gifts for weddings, etc. There'd still be a financial crisis.

2) Al, this is why transparency from the schools would help. If they actually openly explained the scholarship process it could help fix the economic incentives problem. Right now, no one knows what the heck they do or what they're looking for and the information that is out there is basically a textbook on how to scam the system.

Miami Al said...


But you are missing Tesyaa's point. As long as the rule is every Jewish kid gets a Jewish education regardless of ability (or willingness) to pay, you have this problem.

Hypothetical family earns $150k/year. Tuition committee determines that they can pay $30k/year, instead of $45k for their 3 children.

The family gets invited to a Pesach vacation this year, so no cost for Pesach... but they spend their Pesach money on gifts, etc., and the Pesach check bounces. At the end of the year, they paid $27k.

Do you require that last $3k before enrolling next year?

If the scholarship committee decided that they didn't NEED to SUVs and they should downsize to a Minivan when the least was up (saving $200/mo on payments and $100/mo on gas/insurance), so the scholarship commitee decided that they could pay $33k, how does that help?

The family is still paying $27k. Tweaking the "scholarship system" to charge them $33k instead of $30k doesn't help. ALL it does is cause the school to be $6k in the red instead of $3k, because the people in charge don't put an adequate bad debt expense line in the budget.

Now, if the scholarship committee said: you owe us $3k, sell your Silver Menorah and gold Jewelry to come up with the $3k, and downside your SUV to come up with $33k, would that help?

If the family says no, you're STILL re-enrolling them.

That's why I say "beyond willingness to pay." The family COULD pay $30k, $33k, or $35k, but they are only willing to pay $30k.

Tweaking the formula doesn't help. You NEED to accept less than 100% enrollment. Even accepting 98%, 95%, etc., will make a BIG difference, because you get the biggest abusers out of the system.

But as long as you are going to give them a Jewish education regardless of how many checks bounce, fixing "scholarship abuse" is a red herring.

Abba's Rantings said...


"Glad to see the OU addressing the issue"

what issue? bar mitzvas and shabbos clothing? as i said above and JS said, these issues are distractions from the one issue that really matters.


"the information that is out there is basically a textbook on how to scam the system."

one friend of mine is opposed to transparency for various reasons, including the possibility that transparency will give people more knowlege about how the system works and how to abuse it.

Avi said...

Tuition is the biggest expense line, but it is not the only issue. The prevalence of MO to live in the highest cost housing (and in some cases, housing/tax) areas is a big factor, and affluent lifestyles *is* a problem. You're all focused on the 25 - 40% of families who are on scholarship, but if the 60% - 75% who aren't on scholarship don't cut back on housing and lifestyle expenses, they'll soon need scholarships, too, and the money simple isn't there for that. The notion that spending "just" $8K on a bar mitzvah celebration is somehow depriving yourself is ludicrous.

JS said...


I see your point and it's spot on assuming that's what's going on (and I believe it is). I'm not sure if yeshivas ever turn away parents for non-payment. More likely, there's a promise to pay in the future should such funds become available (which they never do). The basic policy is don't punish the kids for the sins of the parents (even though, ironically, this is clearly a Torah value). But, like Abba said, if the schools opened up on policies like these (and scholarships) it might just welcome more abuse.

The real problem is that tuition payments are so large and all-consuming that it's not even possible for the non-high-earning to plan for. So, even if you aren't trying to scam the system, it comes across as doing exactly that. Imagine a couple with an income of $75k who has a 1 year old. There is simply no way they can afford tuition when that kid is ready for kindergarten in 4 years. As is, it's a struggle to swing day care and rent (figure $3k/month in teaneck). You're likely going to have another kid in the next 4 years and that's going to add more day care expenses. You need at least one car since both parents work and have different schedules plus you need to pick up and drop off at day care. Your apartment is also getting a bit too cozy so you need to look for a house.

So, what are you going to do? Stay in the small apartment, make do with one small car, and try to save whatever you can for tuition? Why bother? Whatever small amount you can save in 4 years is going to be consumed in year 1 of yeshiva tuition. You might as well get the car and the house. At least this way you have something to show for yourself and didn't just throw the money away. You're going to be on scholarship anyways and are going to be struggling. Even if you have no desire to scam anyone, you effectively have. Granted the yeshiva likely only lost out a few thousand, but it's a systemic problem that just breeds bad decision making and unethical behavior in people and engenders bad feelings in the community.

tesyaa said...

I think what Avi is saying (in a subtle way) is "live out of town since the NY area is very expensive". But we see out of towners commenting on this blog who are homeschooling since the cost of tuition is prohibitive. It's tuition, not just bar mitzvahs. You don't make a bar mitzvah each year for 15 years for each of your kids.

JS said...


Let me clarify on that "just $8k" on a bar mitzvah comment I made. The $8k came about because there is no way in hell this conference is going to tell people to cut down on expenses to the point of putting out a shtickele herring and some ritz crackers for a bar mitzvah kiddush. They're going to tell people to have a nice kiddush and maybe a luncheon instead of an affair in a catering hall. So, you're talking about $5k-$8k instead of $15k-$20k. To me, this is common sense for those that are struggling (if not to be more austere), but apparently you need a conference for the obvious. This is what's wrong with these conferences, they ignore the glaring problems and then don't even fix the small problems adequately. They're not going to tell people to have a small affair in their backyard for a wedding with the "cake and punch" that has been mentioned on this blog - they're going to tell people to do $50/person catering instead of $75/person and a 5 piece band instead of an 8 piece orchestra. It's laughable.

As for expensive taxes and houses, it's not as big an issue as you may think. First, you're not going to convince a whole group of people already settled in an area to pick up and move. Second, people in the NYC area are spoiled. If you don't have 10 restaurants in a 5 mile radius you're living in the sticks. Once you get to "well, we don't have a mikvah yet, but we're currently raising funds" you can just forget it. If your taxes are $15k instead of $7k and your mortgage is an extra $500/month due to inflated house prices, it's $14k (actually less due to tax breaks if you're not subject to AMT) - about one kid's tuition. Nothing to sneeze at, but not exactly a game changer. Besides, how much of that $14k do you think the families will spend on tuition instead of various luxuries?

Abba's Rantings said...


ditto to tesyaa. there are some notable exceptions, but in general tuition is expensive across the country. and in some cases it is more expensive than the NY metro area. this seems to make sense, as with the exception of cheaper real estate, the other elements of a school's budget are not that different across the country. it has been claimed over and over that staffing is the largest part of the budget. you think teachers get paid 50% less in yehuptisville? moreoever, smaller communities can't benefit from economy of scale. people in teaneck complain about 5 admins for 500 students. try 1 admin for 50 students in yehupitsville.

and ditto to JS. "Nothing to sneeze at, but not exactly a game changer." we visisted a friend in a NY suburb for shabbat. his tuition bill is $95k. you think if he can cut his (relatively modest) housing costs by 10k this is going to make a difference for him? or in 3 years when the gap between his housing and tuition expenses grows even larger (and at which point that 10k savings will be completely washed out)?

Anonymous said...

give incentive to earn.

Publish scholarship amounts and those paying for them.

Call it the "Rich ploni award, given to poor ploni for 6K".

Just watch scholarships drop.

Abba's Rantings said...

another missing comment?


ditto to tesyaa. day schools are expensive across the country. although there are some notable exceptions, there isn't really a correlation (as one would naturally expect) between tuition and the local cost of living. the school's real estate may be cheaper in yehupitsville, but are the teachers--its been claimed that staffing is the biggest part of the budget--getting paid 50% less. and remember there may not be an economy of scale in yehupitsville. teaneck parents complain about 5 admins for 500 students. try 1 admin for 50 students. (i know it's just anecdotal, but i have a friend in atlanta who pays nothing for her mortgage but is still struggling with tuition.)

and ditto to JS: there is really no reason someone with a $95k tuition bill should care to lower his housing costs by a few grand. (especially since that few grand will be irrlevent when tuition goes up again the following year.)

Dave said...

I don't expect the OU to endorse leaving Day Schools until the system collapses.

Similarly, I don't expect Congress to take steps to deal with the deficit (which would require an increase in taxes, decreases in programs, and cuts in both Social Security/Medicare and Military Spending) until there is no other option.

Ezzie said...

I'm curious if they'll just talk or if there will be data to support the various statements.

Until people are forced to look at how bad this is, people will still only partially address the core issues.

Miami Al said...


Agreed. BUT, if the OU wanted to save the system, they would express a need for affordable Day School education for all, with an emphasis on affordability, NOT scholarships.

The Modern Orthodox schools have focused affordability on scholarship availability, copying the secular college model. The problem is, families deal with college for 4 years/child, making it a short term issue... a 4 - 10 year cycle where their finances are crimped, there is a before and after.

With the Day School model, you're talking a 18-24 year cycle, basically the bulk of someone's working years, where you are governed by the bizarro world of tuition assistance.

If the goal was affordable for as many people as possibly, that's VERY different from available for all, regardless of affordability.

The OUs unwillingness to take a mature, adult stand MAY be similar to Congress, but the net impact will be a total collapse of Day School education instead of a course correction.

Just like social security issue could be resolved by reducing the increases by 0.5% or whatever, this could be massively improved by fixing the bad incentives, but the cost would be tossing students whose families simply will not sacrifice for Jewish education.

Chavi Beck said...

JS said: Besides, how much of that $14k do you think the families will spend on tuition instead of various luxuries?

I think we can all agree that those who live out of town tend to waste less money keeping up with the Joneses, perhaps because the Jones standard of the sticks is less ridiculous than the NY version.

tesyaa said...

Out of town life is much cheaper and simpler, as Chavi implies, yet in most cases salaries are also somewhat lower; and we've seen that there's not a huge difference in tuition in most cases. If NY area Jews were to hypothetically downsize their lifestyles and keep their current salaries, the savings would be (let's say) around $14,000. I don't know if you can assume the same net savings if the family moved out of town.

Anonymous said...

I for one do think the bat mitvah extravaganzas, weddings, clothes and excess clothes/food for yom tov do add up. If all of those were cut to modest amounts ( i.e $1000 for a bar mitzvah kiddush; the backyard wedding for $5-10k), etc. for a family of 3-4 kids those savings could add up to k-12 tuition for one child. The problem is no one values day school enough to make those cuts, the communal pressures to keep up with the Goldbergs (if not for yourself, so as not to deprive your child) and the sometimes perverse scholarship incentives. So, I dissent. Excess spending of all types do matter. One thousand here and 10 thousand there does add up.

Anonymous said...

I like Al's comparison the the social security system. Part of the fix for social security is raising the retirement age for healthy people [of course its eaiser to expect an officer worker to work until 70 than a brick layer or a coal miner, but that's a different issue). The analog for tuition is to cut back the number of years in private school. If everyone used public school from k-3 (or home schooled at those ages) that alone would cut the tuition burden by almost 25%.

tesyaa said...

The problem is no one values day school enough to make those cuts

I agree - I've said it before and I'll say it again: no one wants to live like their bubbies and zaydies. Whether this is right or wrong is not the issue; it's the reality. Professional working couples are not going to go back to living in three room apartments, no air conditioning, and driving a single, old car. People want to live like Americans in the 21st century. This may be wrong - but if this is how the community wants to live, and is willing to accept alternatives like public school plus supplementary Judaics, then THAT will be the future of the frum community.

I'm not passing judgment on people who want 21st century amenities. But it would make sense for them to admit that they don't prioritize tuition and to get on board with creating chinuch alternatives.

No amount of lecturing will change the way people behave.

JS said...

"those savings could add up to k-12 tuition for one child."

How do you figure? K-8 in Teaneck averages around $14k/year and 9-12 averages around $22k/year. That's about $215k. How exactly does cutting down on bar mitzvahs and weddings and yom tov and shabbat expenses get you to saving $215k? I'd also note that a bar/bat mitzvah doesn't come till 7th grade roughly, so you have about 6-7 years of tuition before that point and a wedding doesn't come till a few years after the tuition is paid, most likely. So, the bar mitzvah comes in the middle and the wedding comes long after so saving for it doesn't help you pay tuition.

As for the other expenses you could cut down on? Say you drive a jalopy (cut $250/month lease), only one car, live in a smaller house with less taxes (cut $500/month after tax savings), only hand me downs and cheap clothes (save $500/family member), meat once a week and cut coupons (save $1,000 per year), etc. What do you think that adds up to? For a family of 6 (4 kids), maybe you saved $13k a year, MAYBE. It's a big maybe because with some of these options you're likely increasing costs in other areas (e.g., driving a jalopy may lead to increased mechanic costs). So, you barely saved a single kid's grade school tuition and in exchange you're pretty much miserable.

Miami Al said...

Anon, "The problem is no one values day school enough to make those cuts,"

That's what the people running the schools think, we don't really know, but that would be easy to figure out.

Unpaid bill, go before the A/R committee and convince them to let your kid back in... if the expenses were unavoidable (car maintenace), fine, but your grocery bill went up, go to public school...

Do people value day school enough to live that way, I have no idea, I suspect some do.

Do people value day school tuition enough? Absolutely not, except the insane.

If your "tuition bill" is $60k, you get the SAME day school education whether you pay $15k, $30k, or $60k.

So why on earth would you deprive your children for the privilege of paying $30k instead of $15k? Or extensive cuts, and move from $30k -> $60k.

Option 1: Live like an upper Middle Class American, pay $15k for 4 children, go before the scholarship committee and tell them that is what you can afford.

Option 2: Live like a poor American of two generations ago, pay $30k for 4 children, go before the scholarship committee in rags and tell them that this is what you can afford.

Seriously, who would choose Option 2? That's insane.

And in the perverse wealth worshipping Modern Orthodox world, family choosing Option 2 is probably denied and pushed to a RW school, while families choosing Option 1 are "normal."

So there is no incentive to make the cuts. Would people make it?

I think so, I think that a lot of families would make extensive sacrifices to keep their children in day school. However, some percentage would say, forget it, and put their children in public school.

Is your goal 100% day school? Then you have this bankrupting system.

Is your goal, day school for those that can afford it or willing to sacrifice everything for their children's Jewish neshama?

Well, that would be a MUCH more affordable education, but you might drop to 70% or 80% day school enrollment... some would drop to RW schools, others public schooling.

So bemoaning "people don't value day school" is bullocks, people DO value it. They just prefer to live nicely and pay a discount for it, instead of living poorly to pay full price.

I don't think that is a lack of values, I think that is PERFECTLY reasonable.

Anonymous said...

JS: The math isn't that hard - cut out $10K/kid for bar/bat mitzvahs = 40K add cutting 30k/wedding gets you another 120K, then cut a few of the following to get to the remaining 50K over 18 years: a) make sure the family's second car is always a used tercel or hyundai; b) cut out summer camp for 4 kids for 5 years; c) get a smaller house; d) cut the clothes, food and gadget budget by $3000/year.

JS said...

I can sort of get how cutting bar/bat mitzvah expenses would help since money saved in 7th grade could be used for grades 8-12, but how does saving on a wedding help exactly? The wedding occurs after the tuition is already spent. If you didn't have the money when tuition needed to be paid, saving money later doesn't make the money appear retroactively. Best case (and this isn't a good idea as far as I'm concerned), is you borrow against the house with a HELOC and then pay it back later with "savings" from the wedding.

I'd also note that spending less money doesn't directly translate into savings unless you actually had that money to spend in the first place. Saying you're gonna save $30k on a wedding is meaningless if you don't actually have $30k of spendable cash on hand in the first place.

Also, cutting out summer camp isn't really realistic for 2 working parents since the kids need to be taken care of somehow. Granted you don't need fancy sleepaway camps, but they do need something.

In the end, it comes down to what I was saying above and what Al put a nice exclamation point on: sure you can live way below your means, but in the end you're just handing over the difference in cost to the yeshiva given the way the tuition/scholarship system works. So, sure, you scrimp and save and give your kids less than all their peers and you curse at your old cars that keep falling apart, the house and appliances which are run down, etc. but in the end all you did was hand over more money to the yeshiva when you likely could have gotten the same service for less money and lived a whole lot better.

Avi said...

I never said tuition is lower "OOT" and I definitely wasn't referring (just) to the NY area; MO Jews have picked some of the highest cost suburbs in nearly every metro area they settle in. If the cost of tuition is identical but the cost of housing and taxes is lower, you should come out ahead, no? Ergo, our propensity to choose Beverly Hills and La Jolla and Brookline and Englewood is a problem that is worthy of addressing when you're doing a symposium on the high cost of Jewish living.

Anonymous said...

Avi, Boro Park and Kew Gardens Hills are more expensive than the neighborhoods you mention (and you get less for your money there).

Miami Al said...


Modern Orthodox Jews show up where Secular/Reform Jews live, because they need all the amenities of upper middle class lives, access to hospitals for lawyers, access to commuting to major business centers for finance and legal types, etc...

So MO Doctors and MO Lawyers go, move in near their Reform Doctors and Reform Lawyers.

Wealthy secular Jews use public schools nearly exclusively (in contrast, wealthy Catholics heavily use Catholic schools, and wealthy Protestants use of private schools is heavily regional and denominational -- not so much in NYC, more so in southern states).

Good public schools drive up property values and taxes to pay for good public schools.

So Net Net, MO Jewish enclaves are amongst the most expensive, and in districts where the public schools are academically superior to the Day Schools.

None of this is a conspiracy, just the natural outcome of things. Wealthy MO Doctors aren't going to move into a blue collar town and setup shop, and the middle income MO Jews, the ones killed by these economics, they go where ever the wealthy MO Jews go, because the wealthy MO Jews can build a mikvah, Shul, and school, the middle income MO Jews cannot.

The devastating side of our communal economics is that even the upper middle class "chumps" are heavily dependent on tzeddakah of wealthy Jews to maintain their lifestyle, which forces tremendous "keeping up with the Jones" on everyone.

A $500,000 house is a reach for a family on $150,000/year in income since it is more than 3x their family income. Add a larger than "average" family size, private schooling, and high tax areas like NY/NJ, and it's a recipe for disaster.

The family with 4 children in private school earning $150k-$200k needs to be in a neighborhood where housing costs $250k-$300k, with lower property taxes.

Anyone in the OU raising money to build OU Shuls in $250k neighborhoods?

Abba's Rantings said...


"sure you can live way below your means, but in the end you're just handing over the difference in cost to the yeshiva given the way the tuition/scholarship system works"

for a similar reason i don't understand the suggestion that people should send their kids to public school for a few years in order to save $. if i have a younger kid in public school and an older school in yeshivah, you think the yeshivah is going to "reward" me for being fiscally prudent, or are they going to say that i can afford to pay full tuition because my younger kid is in public school (and also i must have savings because my older kid had previously been in public school as well)
so if the yeshivah is going to get my $ no matter what, why should i have to make my kids suffer in public school, risk them going off the derech, etc.?


"If the cost of tuition is identical but the cost of housing and taxes is lower, you should come out ahead, no?"

the point was the tuition is such a big factor you still may not come out ahead (especially when factoring in lower salaries)


"Boro Park and Kew Gardens Hills are more expensive than the neighborhoods you mention"

isn't that crazy?

Anonymous said...

Who wants to report on a non-event? The OU is all talk and no action - They will meet in Teaneck and suggest people move to less expensive places like Nashville or Huntsville. And then write about it in their magazine. Meanwhile they will never cut the NYC umbilical cord. Leadership means leading, not talking.

Avi said...

Miami Al -

Not sure I agree with the reform comment, but the wealth effect on shuls/mikvaot/middle class is well put. Perhaps what the OU ought to be doing is funding (or finding funds for) infrastructure: a shul, mikvah, eruv, and pizza store (yes, I'm serious) in a modest cost area near employment hubs.


"the point was the tuition is such a big factor you still may not come out ahead (especially when factoring in lower salaries)"

I take your point on the lower salaries, but the math can still make sense. No question, tuition is the key cost driver. But housing is a significant factor. Addressing housing while keeping tuition the same won't help those who are completely under water today, but it help marginal cases and prevents more from going under in the first place. Perfect is the enemy of the good. Next you're going to say that if we can't get tuition down by 50%, we shouldn't get it down by 15% because it won't solve the problem. It won't. But it would help!

Miami Al said...

Abba's Ranting...

"for a similar reason i don't understand the suggestion that people should send their kids to public school for a few years in order to save $"

The assumption is that by avoiding a few years of overpriced schooling, you can build an extensive college fund. If instead of 13 years of private schooling + gap year (so 14 years), you are paying for 8 years (Bergen County middle schools starts in 5th grade), which is more doable. Also, if your private schooling covers 8 years, the family of four probably has 3 kids in Yeshiva, not 4, and all the chumps able to pay full tuition but are sinking can probably handle 3 without drowning.

So, have you saved up to pay for YU? Apparently, YU's funded study concluded that 26% of Yeshiva graduates that go to a secular college go OTD.

I'd love to see the statistics on whether a child is more likely to go OTD from K-4 in a Public School or from 4 years at a State University.

That's MY argument for younger grades in a public school.

ProfK said...

If a boomer can chime in, yes, tuition is a major problem financially for all but those in the very top percent of earners. Yes, cutting on what some think of as "smaller" one-time expenses such as bar mitzvahs and weddings will add back useable money but not enough to solve the problem. But the real problem is fast arriving and that the OU flyer does not say it will address.

When you are using up all available cash to pay for schooling then saving for your older years is not being done. No, someone retired cannot live on social security payments and government programs alone. Is the assumption that the community will provide the necessary services not yet in place in anywhere near the amount needed? Not going to happen when all available monies are being funneled towards the schools.

When the number of older people equals the number of students in yeshivas where will the money come from to fund programs and services for both? The answer is that it won't be there. To maintain the yeshiva system as it is now would mean that zero funds are available for providing the necessary services for the older people. Are we seriously saying that we are willing to sacrifice an entire generation on the altar of expensive yeshivas for one of the younger generations?

Money isn't fungible. You think the middle class is feeling a pinch now? Just wait. People who have children in yeshivas and who have parents growing older are going to find themselves in an impossible situation in short order. When yeshivas discourage saving for retirement because that money MUST go for tuition for yeshivas today, they are basically condemning parents to a bleak future.

Any discussion of the yeshiva tuition problem that does not take into consideration all the needs of a community for all of its members is a fruitless discussion.

Abba's Ratings said...


i (unfortunately) don't have a clue as to how college funds work. can they be raided for yeshivah tuition purposes (with or without a fine)?


people like you coming here and talking about retirement are part of the problem. you think you're better than your great great grandafather in the shetl? how old was he when he retired? did you even ask a shaila before you submitted thought of retiring yourself?

Abba's Rantings said...

cross out submitted

JS said...


I think the point of the suggestion of a few years of public school and then yeshiva is more for those who could actually swing, or almost swing, full tuition. If you can't pay full tuition regardless, then yes, there's no point in public school. But, if you don't qualify for scholarships of any sort, then this may be the only realistic way for many to have their cake and eat it too - have yeshiva for the majority of education, pay for college, and save for retirement. If you use public school for each kid for say 4 years (K-3), you're saving about $60k per kid. Use some of that for retirement and some for college savings and with compounding you're likely okay. Yes, in 4th grade the yeshiva will ask for full tuition, but they would ask you for that anyways. If you're on the edge of affordability, this makes sense since your alternative is full tuition anyways with no savings that can compound.


Yep. Retirement is the next crisis. Kind of surprised there hasn't been a push to work for local/state/federal government which still offer pensions, have very reasonable hours, and good benefits.

Miami Al said...

Abba's Ranting,

"i (unfortunately) don't have a clue as to how college funds work. can they be raided for yeshivah tuition purposes (with or without a fine)?"

Well, if the goal is just college, some states (like mine), offer a prepaid fund. You prepay at current rates, and get college covered. The money is transferable to a non state University, but it's up to the legislature how this works, in flush years they tend to be pushing toward transferring the "rack rate" as payment for tuition elsewhere, but if things stay lean, I'm not sure what they will do.

A 529 Plan, a college savings plan, can be used for college/graduate studies only, not private schooling. If you take out the contributions, I believe it is fine, but if you take out the earnings, you pay taxes + penalties if it isn't for a qualified expense.

i.e. If you put $60k in the account and it grows to $80k, the first $60k in withdrawals should be tax free (not sure about penalties though), but the $20k of profit is taxable if you don't use it for a qualified expense.

Leora said...

JS, those government jobs used to be a good idea but it's iffy now. The President is cutting thousands of federal jobs and states and cities across the country have already done so and will do so. I got let go a year ago. Yes I get to keep my pension but it won't be added to anymore and I can't touch it for years. Just hoping the government doesn't cut the amount before I can collect it. The health benefits have run out already. Only lucky for us that the last kid is in the last year of high school so tuition stops being an issue after this year. And we don't send our kids for a year or two in Israel.

aaron from L.A. said...

...maybe Hashem's way of prodding us to consider Israel..We've been praying for it for 2,000 years.Maybe it's time to put up or shut up.

Anonymous said...

ProfK: As a fellow boomer (and someone who already lost her parents after several years of ill health) I agree with you entirely. For many people, working past 65-70 will not be an option due to disability or age discrimination. Then, once serious old age and disability sets in, many resources are needed. To keep someone with serious cognitive or physical disabilities at home with proper care can be very expensive, particularly if you do it legally -- i.e. pay with-holding, fica, state taxes, etc. -- think well over 50K per year. If you need 24 hour reliable coverage and have to go through an agency, its more like 120K/year. That does not include expenses like adding stair lifts, ramps, special showers, and the heat and tax bills your parents can no longer afford. If a nursing home is needed, Medicare only pays the first 90 days. Medicaid requires you to spend almost all your assets before you become eligible and it is getting harder and harder to hide or transfer assets to become eligible for Medicaid as the look back period for transfers is getting longer and longer, so you can't just put your house in your kid's name. I think the elder crisis is going to hit hard.

Miami Al said...


The elderly should fend for themselves. Our ancient religious is about accommodating the young. That's why the Devarim list honoring your son and your daughter as commandments, NOT honoring your parents and grandparents. Judaism is all about the youth with no regard for the prior generation, who should be left to die out once they are no longer producing or supporting children.

End of sarcastic rant...

DAG said...

A family told me that they had a lot of extra cash in their account-so they remodeled their house.

They said had they not done so, they would have had to surrender that money when their children go to the high school (which is more expensive) in a few years. Why not spend that money on themselves?

Anonymous said...

I have always paid full tuition. We NEVER go on vacation, never eat out, no gifts of any kind to anyone (not for birthday, chanuka, anniv, etc)my wife and I only go out once a year-to the school fundraiser, and only then b/c the school gives us a free babysitter.

Our car is 11 years old. I have spent nearly 200K in rent since I am married but can't afford a down payment. I have never asked for a tuition discount...

And then the Director of the school died and his incompetent son took over. The school had to hire ANOTHER person b/c this guy can't do his job. He gets paid to do nothing. Complete waste of money.

I approached the Development Director and volunteered to create and run a social media campaign to enhance their major fundraiser. They turned me down...I can only speculate as to why.

I think it is fair given all of that to ask for a scholarship-thoughts?

JS said...

This is the straw the broke the camel's back? An overpaid administrator and the fact that they don't want your help?

Good luck trying to get a scholarship, but it seems to me you've already shown yourself to be a cash cow who is willing to sacrifice unnaturally for tuition. I'm betting the yeshiva will call your bluff on needing a scholarship and won't care about your old car or perpetual renting, etc.

Maybe you can make a legitimate purchasing decision that ends up "impoverishing" you by getting a new car lease or finding a house with no/little down payment. Good luck.

Meir said...

First, day school tuition is not overpriced. It gives double the education of a public school for about the same cost. If parents would be willing to put up with larger classes, and would agree to the elimination of some of the expensive frills and extracurricular activities, the price would come down.

Second, no day school is making a profit, and in almost no school does even full tuition cover the actual cost. That's why fund-raising is an ongoing effort. Those who are on scholarship should be cognizant (and appreciative) of the fact that the are the recipients of charity. Every dollar that they cannot pay in tuition because of a luxury is a dollar paid for by the charity they have been granted.

We are all required to give tzedaka. If every day school graduate would give 1% of his earnings annually to the school(s) s/he attended through high school (that is, 1/10 of the 10% one should give to charity), it would enable all schools to cut tuition sharply. In addition, in wealthy communities, if shuls were built modestly and the monies now spent on magnficent edifices for the shul were instead used as an endowment fund for the local schools, there wouldn't be the need for the high rates now charged. Individually and as a community, we have not shown that we have the same respect for Jewish education that are European forbears had, where paying the melamed was Priority One.

Chaim said...

I don't know Meir. It may not be a "profit" on the books, but 6 figure salaries for otherwise non-employable, non-professional administrators (and often a number of their relatives) counts as profit.

Public Schools have oversight. The community has a right to know how they spend their money. How many Yeshivas do that Meir?

Do you really believe that Yeshivas offer 2x the education offered at Public Schools? Have you ever seen the full list of what is offered at Public Schools? Have you ever spent any time IN a Public School?

When you claim that yeshivas do so for roughly the same price, you are forgetting that Public Schools are required by law to follow numerous expensive mandates that don’t apply to Yeshivas.

In addition, the organizational cost of the public school system, which usually includes off-site professional management 9often mandated by law as well), factors into the price per student. The actual per pupil cost at the school site level subtracting the mandates is quite a bit LOWER than Yeshiva tuition.

Orthonomics said...

Meir-Every place I have lived the public schools offer an extensive amount of programming making it ridiculous to throw out the "dual curriculum" argument. The cost of Judaics is most certain overshadowed by some of the items in my list below. What we don't have are economies or scale, resource sharing, and a wide tax base.

1. higher compensation/benefits packages to teachers
2. extensive sports programming including paid coaches, facilities, athletic directors, equipment, busing to and from games
3. extensive vocational programming(auto shop, drafting, construction, sometimes specialized institutes such as cooking, hospitality)
4. arts programming (jazz band, concert bands, marching bands, orchestras, drama programs, choral programming)
5. extensive special education services and therapies
6. night school for adults, etc
7. bussing
8. alternative education programming and institutes (schools with on sight daycare, schools for children with records, truancy issues, year round schools, specialized programs in the sciences or arts and music)

Chaim said...


In the NY area, specialty services are provided to the Yeshivas for free. OT, PT, SEITS, bussing etc. Yeshivas (in NY) pay nothing for those services.

Those are all on budget at the Public School.

Public Schools can not turn away students who have severe emotional and/or physical disabilities. Yeshivas can be selective and choose students based on whatever criteria they prefer.

Regarding compensation, let's not forget that Public School teachers are (almost always) much better trained than Yeshiva teacher and Rebbeim. They are also Unionized

There is a pay scale, required step increases, continued professional development requirements, etc.

Abba's Rantings said...


1) you clearly have no idea what goes on in a public school if you think it provides half as much as a dual curriculum day school. aside from the extracurriculars that SL pointed out, i would note that even the primary curriculum offers much more than you think. e.g., public schools where i live have serious and time-intensive science and social studies programs already in first grade, something that even the best MO schools can't match. (this is not a critique of day schools, as the there are only so many hours in a day and something has to go if you want limude kodesh.)
also, whether you call it single or dual curriculum, it really doesn't matter. when you factor in all the extra vacations days and all the half day, some day schools actually provide fewer (!) hours per year than local public schools (where i live)

2) "If every day school graduate would give 1% of his earnings annually to the school"

many day school grads are already giving a lot more than 1% (tuition). besides, why should someone give $ to any charity that isn't transparent or there otherwise is suspicion isn't run properly?

3) "we have not shown that we have the same respect for Jewish education that are European forbears had"

the vast majority of our forebearers had, at most, a few years of heder or a melamed for a few hours a day. you think full-day schools for k-12(at the minumim) would have been sustainable in europe?

4) "in wealthy communities . . ."

while i agree that too much $ is wasted on shuls and other things, let's not presume to tell the wealthy how to spend their money. i'm sure they already support you more than you will admit. why don't you work harder, become wealthy and spend your money as you see fit? and if i were to tell a rich person where to send his $, i think there are more deserving causes (right now i would say the homeless in the haifa area)

Anonymous said...

I am hoping that one of these expensive day schools will employ my young family member as a teacher! I am lurking here, and hope our Lakewood young couple with someday have parnossah - in one of your schools! There is income redistribution going on here - from modern Orthodox earners to yeshivish Lakewood learners.

tesyaa said...

Anonymous: the more expensive schools generally require teachers to have college degrees, including limudai kodesh teachers. I know there are degree mills, but not all schools recognize them. If a school can choose between teachers with real degrees and those without, why choose those without?

Many expensive modern high schools require masters' degrees from their teachers.

Anonymous said...

Tesyaa, my family member has the best limudei kodesh degree you can get. He/she was born into the right family and has a degree in yichus. I cannot say more. The family member is a lovely young man/young woman and I wish them well. Mazel and family ties have a lot to do with success, especially in the yeshiva world.

tesyaa said...

Anon, what is the "best limudei kodesh degree you can get" and what does that have to do with my comment? I am talking about university degrees.

Anonymous said...

A degree in yichus is far better than a university degree in the frum velt.

tesyaa said...

I'm sorry. This discussion is making no sense. How does a degree in yichus translate into a job in an expensive modern day school?

I have to go - have a nice Shabbos.

Anonymous said...

The cost of being Jewish is a huge factor among those Jews who are thinking about becoming more observant. I live in the midwest and am Concervadox. If I adopted an MO lifestyle and sent my kids to the local Yeshiva, my family's cost would go up by literally $25000. This cost would be at the expense of my retirement fund and my kids college education fund. I think that the cost factor also plays a big role among Jews who are unaffiliated, as my sister-in-law cannot afford the $3000 dues required to join the least expensive conservative synagogue in our area.

Zach Kessin said...

Why is it that an entire community of Orthodox Jews, who follow the Torah which tells us what we can or can not have can not understand one basic idea.... You can not always get everything you want I mean come on most 8 year olds can grasp that one.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with showing that we are successful? I think that this puts us in a positive light when it comes to the goyim and non-observant Jews. If they see that we can afford the finer things in life, it reflects well on a Torah observant lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:34: It all depends on how you define "successful" and what you use that success for. Fancy buildings, living in expensive towns and private schools are not necessarily things that send a possitive message.

Anonymous said...

I think that a lot of goyim admire us because of the perception that we have money or are good at making money. This is associated with the perception that our Torah centered lifestyle is associated with postive values that are worth copying. It gives us a postive image that we project to the larger world. In other words there is nothing wrong with having a bid house or an expensive car as it lets others know what can come from having postive Torah based values.

rosie said...

On the one hand, the Avos were wealthy and powerful but on the other hand the advice in Pirkei Avos is that increasing possessions does not increase happiness; rather it increases worry.
There is nothing "wrong" with anything that is obtained legally. Houses and cars are neutral possessions. What matters is what the person does with it.
Personally I would not want to make choices based on what my non-Jewish or non-frum neighbors think. I would like to be the type that doesn't make choices based on what my frum neighbors think but I am working on that.
To me, if a car is road worthy, what is to be gained by buying a Volvo, Mercedes, or Lamborghini? To we need status symbols to gain the admiration of the goyim? The Volvo does have some added safety features that are truly worthwhile but I hope that those will soon be standard on every car sold in America.
A big house attracts lots of tzedukah collectors who might feel that someone who lives like that can afford a decent sized donation. If someone is not willing to pony up when it comes to giving in the community, they might want to rethink the large house. To me, an in-ground pool is a hazard unless it is always being monitored. It is an attractive nuisance that is not worth the cost.

Anonymous said...

5:56 - I really doubt that non-jews admire jews because of money or big houses or big cars or that those who admire those things attribute them to orthodox observance since it is very easy to look around and see all sorts of non or minimally religious people with wealth and material goods. Also, showy material goods tend to breed envy, not admiration. In this day and age, big new houses/home additions and big cars also signal to some, a lack of concern about the environment and the proper use of scarce resources. What Americans do admire is hard work, self-sufficiency, honesty, giving back to your community and country and initiative.

Anonymous said...

5:56 Forgot to add, that I acknowledge that there are large groups of Christian Americans who do admire religious Jews for their faith, but I don't think that admiration has anything to do with the perceived or actual wealth of some groups of Jews. It's probably more about their own religious views and theology. I do think that U.S. Jews are admired for their educational and intellectual acheivements, but that is secular educational and intellectual achievments. Non-Jews probably know next to nothing about Jewish religious educational and intellectual achievements of U.S. Jews.

conservative scifi said...

Anon 9:36

If your sister-in-law really can't afford the dues at the conservative congregation, I would be utterly shocked if they would not give her a "variance". I am active in a large mainline conservative synagogue and we certainly have a large number of members who are on "variance" (ie reduced dues). For some, they simply lack the income necessary. Others have expenses with elderly parents. If your sister-in-law would confidentially ask the Rabbi or Executive Director if she could join, and proffer what she could reasonably and legitimately afford (whether that is $400 or $2000), I strongly suspect that they would accept her membership. We have one member who told me his dues were $50 (and given his employment situation, that seems high to me, but he was okay with it).

I would expect that virtually every other synagogue, whether conservative, orthodox or reform, would do the same.

(Though if she is driving up in her brand new E-class Mercedes from her million dollar house after her three week trip to Kenya, it might be more difficult).

tesyaa said...

I concur with Anonymous 7:33/8:05, and I'd add that it's a "Yeshiva World" view of Americans that they are always thinking about frum Jews. With the exception of a few right-wing Christians, most Americans never think about frum Jews in their lives, and they certainly don't think that Torah values are a ticket to wealth and success. They have no idea what "Torah values" are.

I was reading elsewhere that Judaism is a religion that doesn't look down on other religions, instead, it devalues and utterly dismisses them. It breeds narcissism - not pretty - to imagine that non-Jews are constantly thinking about frum Jews, whether for good or for bad. The only ones constantly thinking about frum Jews are OURSELVES.

Miami Al said...


Jews are less than 2% of America, but an influential 2%. Frum Jews are less than 10% of that, 0.2%, and a relatively non-influential 0.2% at that.

The only people that think about Frum Jews are Frum Jews and their neighbors, the latter of which think poorly of Frum Jews because they generally have lots of negative experiences with poorly behaved ones.

The only Orthodox affiliated Jews of significance in America: Joe Lieberman (Orthodox affiliated, traditional and observant), Eric Cantor (Orthodox affiliated), Rahm Emmanuel (Orthodox affiliated), and Bernard Madoff (loosely Orthodox affiliated, including Palm Beach Synagogue and Yeshiva University).

Anyone think of any others?

Not one of them is "Frum" as the term is understood here.

On the celebrity side you have Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Matisyahu, neither of whom are A-list celebrities and calling them B-list would be generous.

Anonymous said...

My sister-in-law was told that she had to pay a $3000 dues fee after she applied for financial assistance, the dues are nornally $3600. The process, according to her, was humiliating. Her husband makes a middle class income of around $60,000 but this amount is much less than the average for other members of the shul. The cost of housing in our area did her in, but the members of the finance committee are all big shots who just couldn't understand how she couldn't pay full dues if her husband had a job. Her husband got upset by the whole process and pulled the kids from the school's Hebew school program which cost another $3000.

Anonymous said...

$60,000 in which city? $3000 dues is awfully high for a $60,000 income. Exorbitant, in fact. I'm sorry about this, for the children are being deprived of a Jewish education. I hope they find another synagogue.

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