Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Sunday, May 30, 2010


If you read my post "To the Exclusion of All Else", you will see there is a thread of relation between this post and that one.

I personally cannot relate to this constant push for more and more programming for children. Granted I am not yeshivish, but be it Torah or more hours dedicate to in classroom general studies, or additional extracurricular programming, I object to the idea that we need to occupy every moment of the lives of children and teenagers with scheduled programming. Ultimately increased learning of Torah or any other subject or increased performance in music, the arts, or sports has to come from internal motivation. I'm very taken by people who develop a skill and take it to a very high level. For the most part, I don't believe that the development of such a skill is increased because of mandatory scheduled programming. Additionally I worry about the lack of time for families to enjoy quantity time together.

Unfortunately the following excerpt from this week's Yated reinforces a gut feeling I have that there is a mistrust (by some in the education field) of parents and the children themselves. Additionally, I think it naive to believe that children will always make the choices we'd like them to make even if we attempt to occupy their every making moment. In fact, I think such can backfire because they will miss opportunities to discover areas of interest and occupy themselves in their interest, something best done outside of a large group of peers.

These great strides [institution of Sunday programming for boys], however, do not absolve us from seeking further improvement. It has been repeatedly pointed out that, thus far, there has been one group that has, by and large, been excluded from the newer, more spiritual Sunday group. That group is our school-aged girls. It is common knowledge that girls, unlike boys, do not have a mitzvas asei to learn Torah at every spare moment. Therefore, the thinking goes, they do not need school on Sunday. From a pure halachic perspective, that is true. However, the more pressing question arises: What do they do with their time when they are not in school?

School, besides its primary focus of educating girls, also provides a Torah-true atmosphere where girls can interact and grow together spiritually. What about Sunday, when there is no
school? Many a mother will relate how difficult it is to keep their daughters happily occupied in an atmosphere that does not contradict the values that the home and the school seek to inculcate. Boruch Hashem, there are schools that have implemented some form of class on Sundays. The majority, however, still has not.

Many educators have complained that on Sundays, the malls, the main shopping areas and the eateries, as well as questionable venues of entertainment, are disproportionately filled with girls from our best Bais Yaakovs.

Of course, there is a need for shopping, but this steady exposure to questionable places of entertainment or shopping can have a corrosive effect on our daughters, the future mothers of Klal Yisroel.

The Gemara explains that idleness brings to foolishness and immorality. One full weekday of idleness each week can have truly troubling consequences.

Of course, girls deserve some time for themselves and mothers deserve, and should have, their daughters available to help them at times. Still, an entire Sunday is not the solution. If help is the issue, Friday would be a much better choice for a day off. If the issue is the need for time for themselves, perhaps Sunday afternoons could be given off.

Certainly, it is high time that our girls are constructively occupied on Sunday in a spiritually conducive atmosphere that will prepare them for their future roles as the mothers of Klal Yisroel.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Surprised to Find Orthonomics in the Yated

I was very pleasantly surprised to see that my Guest Poster's featured post AREIVIM and Why I Don't Like It was quoted in full in the Reader's Write section of this week's Yated. There was no mention that the content of the letter came from my blog, and I'm certain that is for the better. Since I was pleasantly surprised to see the Guest Post in the Yated, I'm curious as to how it landed in the Reader's Write section. The letter begins like this and is followed by the text of the Guest Post:

In response to Rabbi Binyomin Ginsburg’s column on the importance of buying life insurance
and the coincidental inclusion of a brochure for Areivim in the same issue of the Yated, I would like to share some thoughts written by an actuary, whose job is to analyze risk in insurance, among other things. His remarks are titled, “Areivim and Why I Don’t Like It.” He writes as follows:

I had no idea that in the same edition that Rabbi Ginsburg stressed the importance of life insurance that Areivim included a brochure in the paper copy of the newspaper. Simply wow. Now that the KYA/Areivim/Areivim USA issues have come to the forefront of print and virtual media, I am hopeful that we can finally discuss efficient use of resources, personal finance, and transparency head on.

Meanwhile Rabbi Horowitz has published his recommendation that contributors and members of KYA/Areivim/Areivim USA dissolve their relationship with the organization and he is taking some heat on his webpage and at VIN.

Speaking of transparency, in perhaps the most idiotic comment of the year, a VIN reader correlated Rabbi Horowitz's questioning of Areivim to questioning Moshe Rabbeinu writing: "Doson Veavirom also doubted the credibility of Moshe Rabeinu!" Need little ol' me have to review some basic pashat Torah for the benefit of VIN readers?! Moshe Rabbeinu is an example of the great transparency that one should demonstrate when dealing with communal funds. There was no need to place blind trust in Moshe Rabbainu because he avoided suspicion by keeping a transparent accounting and open pockets. In fact, when collecting funds for the Mishkan Moshe Rabbeinu even told the people when enough was collected. Can you imagine a shul, school, or organization today shutting down their collections mid-year because they have what they need?

Just because a tzedakah manages to put out glossy brochure after glossy brochure does not make it "Moshe Rabbeinu." I don't nitpick every action of the organizations that we donate too. In fact, if I was in charge I might spend money differently. But so long as the organization is reasonably forthcoming and demonstrates basic competency and integrity, I am pleased to be a donor. KYA has not been at all forthcoming and has even lied about endorsements and Board Members. Am Yisrael can and will take care of widows and orphans and I believe we will be able to do so in a more dignified fashion without a middle man such as this.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

To the Exclusion of All Else

Hat Tip: Honestly Frum

There is an article up on ephilanthropy which probably will not be given much of a look in Orthodox circles titled "Day School or Nothing?" The Conservative Jewish author challenges the notion that "there is day school and there's not day school" writing "'no alternative to day school' is problematic because there must be an alternative." He goes on to state "unfortunately, binary decision-making by Jewish leaders and educators in the past two decades meant the 'smart money' and intellectual capital in Jewish education and philanthropy went to Jewish day schools, at the expense of supplementary schools and other alternatives."

This is a thought provoking and important statement and certainly one which the Orthodox community might need to grapple with in the future. I personally don't think we can continue down the road of supporting only one model to the exclusion of others.

But such will probably be. Please see this article at BeyondBT promoting homeschooling. As a supporter of homeschooling, but not an actual homeschooling parent (although I've been accused of such since as I keep my children home far later than is currently trendy!), I personally don't care for the way in which this particular article promoted homeschooling (just an issue of style). But please try to look past such and focus on the comments of Mr. Marvin Schick, who was asked about homeschooling in an interview, as it is in direct relationship to the subject for which I began this article. Mr. Schick is quoted as saying:

“I can understand why parents with limited income who face high tuition bills might pursue that route, but even with the tuition crisis, I doubt that many parents will opt for homeschooling. For one thing, Orthodox families partake of the general societal trend in which both parents work. This alone makes homeschooling difficult.” Asked whether he felt that Avi Chai may take a position on home schooling or even provide support for home schooling families, he replied that Avi Chai is not presently involved in home schooling and that he is certain it will not provide support for home schooling. Nevertheless he does also acknowledge, “ . . . the inability of our schools to accommodate boys who are not good learners or students who are just a bit off the beaten track.”

I have enjoyed Mr. Marvin Schick’s articles on day schools and financial issues for many years now, often finding myself nodding in agreement . I find it sad that he is on record essentially dismissing the possibility of supporting homeschoolers, or other opportunities that might open up such as group schooling or hybrid schooling. Day schools and yeshivot are most certainly a very important component of the fabric of our community, but I worry that they are eating more and more of the communal and family budget to the exclusion of other programming, developed or undeveloped.

I get the feeling that NCSY, Bnei Akiva, Pirkei/Bnot groups are far less supported and popular today. I already know a handful of children from religious families who are enrolled in public school, and while I try to avoid predicting the future, I do believe that number will grow, financing being the primary reason. While many believe that Shomer Shabbat parents will do anything to keep their children in a yeshiva/day school, I do believe we will see more families leaving the confines of the day school. I already know a handful and I know others that talk about it and I'm not certain that it is just talk. I'd personally like to see support for alternatives developed at the leadership level, but I'm not counting on it. I do admire those who have taken a step outside of the box and formed alternative schools such as the Jewish co-op school in Flordia and the Yeshiva Alternative in Los Angeles, as well as homeschoolers, and it would be nice to see leaders leave the black and white world of "day school or not day school" and consider the possibility of supporting (or at least not completely dismissing) some viable alternatives.

Now is probably a good time to give a Yashar Koach to the Lookstein Center on their newest journal looking at the Financial Crisis and the Jewish Day School. It was such a pleasant surprise to see a "Tuition Crisis" edition that contained some debate regarding charter schools, as well as articles on the alternatives mentioned in the paragraph above. Also, as Public Service Announcement: Second Annual Torah Home Education is coming on Sunday, June 13 in Baltimore. The speaker lineup looks impressive and I welcome guest posters as I always do).

As the Conservative Jewish author writes: "We need a more holistic approach to Jewish education, one that doesn’t pit one model against the other, but instead regards Jewish education as a continuum that contains a variety of viable alternatives." I think that sums it up well. I think it is a mistake to dismiss alternatives as "not day school."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Areivim Continued

The issue of Areivim has really taken center stage on Rabbi Horowitz's blog (here too, but I think this will be my last word on the subject) and I think that those of us who care about yashrut, integrity, fiscal accountability and transparency, and about the mitzvah of tzedakah which not wanting to see it degraded owe a debt of gratitude for putting some leg work to investigate the Kol Yisrael Areivim organization.

In continued semi-literate response from Mr. Bochner, an elusive name behind KYA, names of "bored members" are finally named. Rabbi Horowitz has taken the time to contact some of the named Board Members and reports (see the comments) that at least one member claims not to be involved with this organization. In the meantime, the endorsements from the Agudah, NCYI, and the OU have been pulled from the website, although Mr. Bocher continues to name these organizations in his "answers" regarding the organization, its funding, and its structure.

I hope that those who have been falsely named as supporters or Board Members do not allow this issue to die quietly. Such would be an injustice to the Orthodox community as a whole, and the Yeshiva and Chassidish communities in particular, who are being sold a bill of goods as this program is promoted. It is also insulting when people, including leadership, say that the constituency wouldn't buy life insurance anyways. If you have a platform, you have an opportunity to educate. Don't waste it!

The system of endorsements by slapping a picture of a gadol is highly disconcerting to me. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the segulah based, gadol picture advertising is relatively new, as is the 8 page glitz and flash advertisements. I much prefer old and unimproved. Also of concern is that people who simply lack rudimentary education trying to start organizations up for which they haven't the foggiest idea what they are doing. It is amazing that people will let them run wild with millions of dollars in the name of tzedakah. We should remember that the mitzvah of tzedakah is an instruction to invest in the community, not throw your hard earned money in the wind and see which direction it floats in! One would think this an obvious point, but I'm afraid it isn't.

It wasn't too long ago that I reported on the news story of Rav Shteiman's home being robbed of a massive $50,000 of cash alone. The theft was an inside job and should have been prevented through some simple internal control measures. If this could happen, what would make anyone think that the same circle of people has the ability to run an unregulated "life insurance" company?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Guest Post: Chareidim and Working in Israel

Thank you to Jewish Worker (M. Bluke) for allowing me to use his post which responds to some of notion that is thrown about that charedim want to work and that "the man" is holding them back. Post follows:
Chareidim and Working in Israel from the Jewish Worker blog

The Mishpacha newspaper had pages upon pages of articles about Charedim working. The gist of the articles was that Charedim want to work and that the chilonim/government don't want them.

I would like to give my take on this.

One of the more effective claims that the Chiloni politicians and media have made in the past few weeks is why in Brooklyn can Charedim be doctors, lawyers, accountants etc. but not in Bnei Brak. The Charedi representatives only answer has been discrimination.

There is no question that there is discrimination against Charedim but the fact is Charedim can't get jobs for other reasons. Here are some of the differences that I see between Brooklyn and Bnei Brak.

1. In Brooklyn, Charedim go to real Universities whether it is Touro, Brooklyn College, Queens, etc. These are regular accredited universities with decent reputations. In Israel, Charedim will not go to University. They go to to all kinds of special Charedi programs that offer some kind of degree, the equivalent in NY of going to a place like Devry's. Many employers in Israel want a degree from a recognized University which the Charedim don't have.

2. In Brooklyn Charedim are much more open to the world. Guys who learn in the Mir, Chaim Berlin, etc. follow sports and generally know what is going on. Chafetz Chaim Yeshiva in Queens (certainly considered a Charedi Yeshiva), when they built their new building included a beautiful gym, that would never be done in Israel. They see non-Jews in the neighborhood and interact them. They see women dressed not so tzniusly. Therefore when they go to work, they have something in common with their co-workers. They can talk about sports, politics, technology, or whatever. In Israel, Charedim are very very sheltered. If you live in Bnei Brak, Kiryat Sefer, Beitar, many neighborhoods in Yerushalayim, RBS, etc. you basically hardly ever see a non-Charedi person let alone a woman dressed non-tzniusly. There also is no openness to sports or anything else in the general culture. Therefore, it is very hard for a Charedi person to fit in, they have absolutely nothing in common with the other people and have no idea how to interact with them.

3. Jews in America are stereotyped as smart and non-violent. This helps in the job market. Charedim in Israel are thought of as violent (rioting all the time) and ignorant.

4. In Israel, the Charedi parties are constantly pushing for religious coercion, whether it is not selling chometz on Pesach, no public buses on Shabbos, mehadrin buses etc. This causes the general public to worry that the Charedim are trying to take over and create a Taliban like state. In Brooklyn, there are no worries about religious coercion.

The bottom line is that the Charedim want to have their cake and eat it too. On one hand, they want to have the freedom to educate their children however they want, but then when it comes to getting a job, they want their education to be considered. It doesn't work that way. If you want to join the world you need to play by the rules and one of the rules is education.

Friday, May 21, 2010

How Much Is Your Time Worth?

The following question was posed on a known chatboard regarding frugality:

Are frugal living tips worth it if you have the opportunity to earn money instead?

I'd like to address this question because I think there is an underlying, yet mistaken assumptions, regarding the value of time. The hunch I get is that many people who use the argument that their time is worth more, are valuing their time at a certain rate (i.e. their hourly rate). Now, time is a very valuable thing, and we all are going to come to different conclusions about how to best use this scarce resource, but I know of very few people who can successfully make the argument that their time is consistently worth a certain amount per hour.

In halachic works, we often run into the concept of two conflicting mitzvot. Perhaps one has the opportunity to escort a chatan and kallah or bury the deceasedm and the sources are there to help determine which mitzvah takes priority. For the most part, however, we are rarely called upon to dance at the wedding of someone with no family at the same time the chevra kaddisha calls to arrange a team for a taharah. Mostly, we have opportunities which we can prioritize within a reasonable schedule. E.g., in a single day I can both watch a classmate who has no other childcare arrangement on a day that school is unexpectedly delayed and cook a meal through bikur cholim from the comfort of my own kitchen.

Frugality is very similar. Very rarely is the choice between exercising some frugal measures and making your hourly rate. I think it a bit overreaching to assume that if you weren't cleaning bathrooms, that you would be making $150 an hour working on a contract for a client. More often the choice is whether or not you want to be spending your downtime on something you would like to do and something you'd rather not bother with. Now, there are times when such an opportunity arises, in which case it is perfectly fair to compare a day's profit to the additional cost of of takeout versus an average dinner. But rarely does one really make that comparison. For example, my husband is compensated nicely, but when he comes home, he has no other opportunities for paid work as he, like many professionals, are bound by contract not to engage in work for outside employers. So while his work in the office might be worth $X per hour, at home is time cannot be realistically valued at much more than $0 per hour. If I were to ask him to run to the grocery store to pick up a number of staples that are on sale for a savings of say $30 off what we might pay should we have not caught these sale prices, it would be ludicrous for him to argue that a post-tax savings of $30 isn't worth his time because he makes more at work. If he were to put forward such an argument, I'd remind him that he isn't currently at work. (Thankfully, he too has taken some challenging economics courses and doesn't tend to put forward such arguments, rather relying on the more compelling argument that if I were to send him to the store for the sale items that he will still not know what to buy and hence I should rely on the more reliable party in the house).

To get back to the question, I think the answer is "yes". The reasons for frugality will be different for everyone. Sometimes there simply is no other choice, i.e. it is a simply necessity. Lower income frugality/ traditional college student frugality is first and foremost about staying a float, although often there is a function of achieving a larger goal. Our brand of frugality could be defined as "middle income." The savings enjoyed from frugal choice buy some peace of mind, some luxuries, and help us exercise some choice regarding our children's education, and help fund retirement and college savings accounts. I also have friends and acquaintances who have seen some real success and, with the exception of those who are just blowing their money, they too exercise frugal choices. But their frugal choices often don't resemble my frugal choices, but the elements of value and principal do play into their decisions which puts their choices on the spectrum of frugality, albeit upper income frugality.

Besides considering the real value of your time, is to remember that saving money takes practice and requires some technique. When we first got married, I was a complete wreck in the kitchen. My kitchen technique was akin to the person who can't walk and chew gum at the same time. I had no idea how to substitute ingredients. I could not multitask in the kitchen, which made Shabbat preparation an all day job as I put my full concentration into whatever single dish I was making at that moment. Cleaning seemed to take a lot of concentration too. Stocking my kitchen was a laborious task that involved many detailed lists and preparation. But, just like any other endeavor, practice is how you perfect an art or a sport. When I first learned to play piano, it took a lot of concentration to be able to coordinate reading the music, count the timing, and coordinating both hands. Now, when I sit at the piano, I might be rusty, but I can mostly rely on muscle memory and a developed sense of timing. I do think it is well worth it to perfect some frugal techniques because the dividends to pay off continually.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Areivim: Friends Don't Let Friends Purchase Snake Oil

Since the start of my blog, I have commented on the uses of tzedakah money and the advertising techniques. I have always stayed away from naming names as I operate my blog on the premise that it is a forum for intelligent people to discuss ideas, trends, and culture, not specific people, shuls, and schools. Until last week, I had never come out and named an organization by name (I once linked to the website of said organization with a small warning again co-mingling cash in gemachs and buying into programs that aren't fiscally sound).

Last week, I broke with my usual protocol when a very kind and, most importantly, qualified reader volunteered a Guest Post: AREIVIM and Why I Don’t Like It. I feel so strongly about the issue of not only having life insurance, but educating co-religionists regarding its importance and helping needy families purchase life insurance (rather than multi-thousand dollars apparel, wigs, furniture sets, and pricy sheva berachot for chatanim and kallot that have never paid an electric bill of their own), that I'm willing to go out on a limb here and name names. . . . .or shall I say, lack of names!

Rabbi Horowitz composed a letter to the one and only public name behind Areivim, Yoel Bochner. He asked a series of basic questions about the plan, and he received an answer the essentially reads like this: Trust Us. We are endorsed by Askanim and Rabbonim.

I felt perfectly comfortable publishing the guest post without contacting the organization because I am of the believe that anyone selling a financial product should have officers, audited financial statements, and a prospectus. The Areivim website doesn't list contacts and has the chutzpah to ask you to provide your contact information to them in order that they be able to contact you!

After Rabbi Horowitz received answers to direct questions posed to Avreivim, I believe that I have all the evidence I need to say: Friends Don't Let Friends Purchase Snake Oil. Whoever is behind this program (and we still haven't the foggiest idea, although the other Areivim website lists this as a project of Kupat HaIr) doesn't have the common courtesy to release their names (not in the letter to Rabbi Horowitz and not through their website) or post the names of those who are qualified to endorse such a plan (namely a team of actuaries, which Mr. Bochner claims are out there. . . . .now who are they?!?!?!?). Meanwhile, they are running a very slick advertising campaign through the internet, mailings, and local publications and I think that anyone who has turned their credit card number over should think twice and encourage

The lack of transparent finances and legalities is, of prime importance, but I want to point to three other areas of significant concern (I will underline in the reproduced letter below):

1. Mr. Bochner takes the time in his letter to essentially educate against life insurance, rather than use a valuable platform to educate about the importance of life insurance (although he does ask people buy life insurance). The main premise behind the study of economics is the concept of scarcity of resources. Rather than encouraging families to prioritize resources and mobilizing the community to prioritize our resources in helping needy families purchase real life insurance, he promotes his own program's affordability and essentially discourages the purchase of commercial insurance.

2. The organization reserves the right to decide you don't actually need the insurance and responsible people who purchase life insurance will not be eligible for payout from Areivim despite membership. This achieves the exact opposite of creating a situation of dignity, and will also practically ensure that only the most uninsurable folks buy into this plan.

3. The organization encourages widows to spend the money the "big expenses" of tuition and weddings, but allows a Rav to be the arbiter. The idea that a widow(er) should need to answer to a Rav regarding the money they rightfully receive from a "life insurance" plan (no matter how flawed) strikes me as CRUEL.

I am shaking as I write this and I will go so far as to say that the organization that I believe is behind this plan already deals with millions of dollars of tzedakah funds yearly and I think it high time that transparency be demanded. Additionally, it is time to start asking our community leaders to stop re-inventing the wheel and encourage a philosophy of sechel where precious communal money is at stake. This plan makes about as much sense as investing our life savings in becoming Amway salesperson. What news will we wake up to next, that we need a frummer version of penicillin? It is time to check the ego at the door and admit that we might be a brainy people, but Met Life and Northwestern Mutual have know-how.

In the meantime (I have to go to work), can my more connected readers who might get the time of day please contact endorsers and ask them to take a second look. Breaking news: The endorsements from a Rabbi at the OU, the Agudah, and the National Council of Young Israel are no longer appearing on the website. Can someone find out if they pulled their endorsement. And if so, encourage publication of such. OK, I have to run to work. Here is the letter:

Dear Rabbi Horowitz,

We are grateful for your interest and the insightful points you raise, and appreciate the opportunity to respond and dispel some of the misconceptions and confusion surrounding our work.

Your reputation as someone who works tirelessly for progress and change in our community, refusing to accept 'because that's the way it always done' as a reason for stagnation, makes us confident that, if you take the time to study our plan, you will share our vision.

In addition, your touching personal note about your own childhood underscores the importance of what we're doing: sparing other humiliation and inconvenience

It would be cynical and unfair to assume that KYA is 'just another' activist organization when, in a sense, we have entirely rewritten the way things are done.

Not content with mere figurehead rabbinic figures, the rabbanim affiliated with us are involved, investing time, energy and heart in this project, one which has become a priority to them.

The rabbanim in question are representative of all the various streams within yahadus hacharedis, chassidim, litvishe, Sephardim and Ashkenazim.

Please note that the rabbanim to not 'endorse' us, or promise to daven for people who help us- they are us! Every single rov is already a part of- or will be a part of- our work and they are the prime catalysts for our success.

In America, the names of Rav Mechel Steinmetz and Rav Benzion Strasser on signed on to the account, and we have hundreds of other rabbanim in communities across America.

You see, Rabbi Horowitz, the rabbanim are our greatest allies because they know better than anyone else just how broken the old system was, and how workable this one is.

They are the ones that were faced with the bitter daily task of hearing the tales of pain from new almanos, the accounts of orphans in a home bereft of a breadwinner.

There was a time before people grew numb, when it was still possible to appeal to the masses and hope to touch their hearts; unfortunately, as tragedy followed tragedy, people- even in a nation of rachmanim- grew a little less sensitive to the relentless onslaught of tzaros.

The 'keren' system, in which the rabbanim formed special accounts for each needy family, was no longer an effective way to galvanize the people and raise the necessary amounts of money.
Rabbi Horowitz, you- correctly- mention the humiliation of the young orphans that are fully aware of their new status as 'wards of state'.

Imagine the shame of young children who are forced to 'pose' for the pictures that will be emblazoned on the walls and shuls of their hometown? Is there anywhere to run from such pain?

We came into being due to original and creative thinking by the rabbanim and askanim involved in these wrenching situations. You, Rabbi Horowitz, raise valid points about how it ought to have been done, in an ideal world, but these dedicated individuals are working within the parameters of reality, well aware of the limitations of people.

You know the numbers- each head of family commits themselves to three dollars per orphan, in the sad scenario of a parent's death.

Three dollars per member – based on a group of 16,500 people in the group- per yassom equals fifty thousand dollars per child.

A lot of rules and regulations were put in place to assure that the system can work out.

The idea gathered steam, and in America- where, unfortunately, tragedy is no stranger- askanim wanted a similar program. The 'keren' system stopped working here as well, and the embarrassing newspaper campaigns, even those that attempt to maintain the anonymity of the recipient, often cause great collateral damage.

The lay leaders that created the American model felt that fifty thousand dollars per child was insufficient for this country, and changed the numbers- six dollars per child would equal one hundred thousand dollars per child. We were welcomed by the heads of virtually every single communal organization- Agudas Yisroel, Young Israel, Orthodox Union, Chabad and various other communities.

The terms and condition were drafted by a team of accountants and actuaries, working pro bono for a cause that was placed at the forefront of the communal agenda by rabbanim.

Rabbi Horowitz, before we delineate the details, allow us to respond to your overriding concern; why not get people to purchase conventional life insurance?

The question is a good one. Kol Yisroel Areivim is not an insurance policy and we encourage every person who can purchase a standard policy to do so. The more they invest, the more their families stand to receive in the event of tragedy, c'v.

Now, for the numbers. In order for a life insurance policy to really make a difference, it would need to provide a minimum $250,000.00 per child. This is based upon the need for $15,000.00 per year per child.

The maximum return on money, with no risk, is 2.5 per year, which means that the profit on $250,000.00 is $6,250.00 per year. The remainder of the money per child would need to come off the 'keren' for each of the ten years, and thus the 2.5 percent yield will decrease proportionately as well.

This option is an expensive one, and a great many frum families cannot afford the monthly payments in a budget weighed down by mortgage, food, tuition and car payments. Bear in mind that this type of policy is only for ten years and one would need to purchase it at a young age in order to get such a favorable rate.

As the age of a breadwinner increases, and health concerns arise, the price rises as well, and often those who need it most cannot afford it. In addition, so often the payout of several hundred thousand dollars is not nearly enough and then the families must resort to the benevolence of the community regardless.

As mentioned, Kol Yisroel Areivim fills a void not in theory- where everyone should have life insurance- but in practice, where many people do not. In fact, even if the deceased did have life insurance, but with a plan that gives less than one hundred thousand dollars per child, Kol Yisroel Areivim fills the gap.

The rabbanim and lay leaders at our head have drafted regulations that ensure that no individual has excessive power and to maintain accountability and fairness.

• The KYA Policy is open to all members of Klal Yisroel.

• All policies will be reviewed by a board of rabbanim and policy acceptance is contingent upon their approval.

• The rov of the shul where the deceased was a member, of a rov closely associated with the family, will oversee the transfer of funds and ensure that the needs of each individual child are met.

• The account is opened in the name of the surviving parents and the family rov, as well as a family guardian to ensure that the money is used or invested wisely.

• Kol Yisroel Areivim reserves the right to have applicants fill out a medical questionnaire that will determine eligibility. In the event that the questionnaire was filled out incorrectly, KYA reserves the right to terminate the agreement. Funds that were paid out must be refunded.

• Any issues that arise will be dealt with by the rabbinical board of KYA or its authorized arbitrator. Their decisions will be final.

• In the event of a member’s passing, the agreed-upon fees will be collected from the group's members. The funds will then be used to establish a trust for the children of the deceased. In the event that the group is complete ,with 16,500 members, the amount will be one hundred thousand dollars per child. If the group is incomplete, there will be a minimum payment of fifty thousand dollars per child

• The amount collected is $6.00 per orphan, with a maximum total of $288.00 per year.

• If the charge does not go through for a period of ninety days, membership will be terminated.

The money should ideally be allocated for major expenses, such as tuition or marriage, but the rov assigned to the family will be the ultimate arbiter.

Since this fund is meant as an opportunity give tzedaka, in a respectful fashion, to almanos and yesomim, no fund will be established for people that have life insurance in place, or a sufficient sum in cash/assets to render them ineligible of receiving communal assistance.

• Within the organization there is no single individual that has excessive control over the money.

• The office is run by five askanim that do the office and technical work,and each individual case is assigned one overseer from the central office. These people are efficient and knowledgeable and available to discuss any case or answer questions.

Obviously, there are others that wish to copy the success of our model, and it would serve the best interests of the klal if we could unite and join forces. For various reasons, this is not the case, however.

Our appeals are never based upon the drama of painting heartbreaking scenarios and thus using fear and guilt to convince the people. We much prefer to share the facts in an intelligent, clear fashion and respect the ability of people to make intelligent decisions.

Rabbi Horowitz, we are most grateful for your interest and for taking the time to study our plan and its benefits. Your willingness to ask hard questions is testimony to your concern for Klal Yisroel, and thus, it makes you a most fitting partner for our work. It is gratifying that there are people such as yourself that are realistic enough to recognize the potential problems, yet still hopeful enough to encourage positive change.

Yoel Bochner

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Few Things

The current Yated has a plea for families to purchase Life Insurance written by Rabbi Binyomin Ginsburg. He mentions purchasing it as a "segula" not because it is a segula, but because it might incline more people to do the prudent thing. Such is the state of Orthodoxy I imagine. At the end of the article he writes about a free $50,000 life insurance program offered by Mass Mutual for education expenses. I'm hoping a reader will be willing to check out this program and report back. I've never heard of a free life insurance program that provides more than say $3000 to a customer of a bank, e.g. Here is the information:

Finally, I would like to share information with our readers about a program that is free of charge.MassMutual, an insurance company that sells life insurance, has a program called LifeBridge. This is a free life insurance policy designed to help people pay for tuition after the death of a parent, r”l. Under the LifeBridge Free Life Insurance Program, Mass-Mutual will issue a $50,000 life insurance policy to a trust for a period of 10 years and at no cost to the insured. MassMutual pays the premiums. If the person dies within that time period, the $50,000 is
used to cover the educational expenses of the children. The children have 10 years after the death or until age 35 (whichever is later) to use this $50,000 educational

For more information about this program, contact MassMutual directly or feel free to contact Mr. Kahn at 718.436.0022. He will be glad to help in any way he can to have more people protected with life insurance.

In Israel, Rav Shteiman has said it is time to discontinue the vort, and go with a l'chaim following the engagement at the home of the kallah. Perhaps I'm missing some information being only familiar with things in America, but I can't really tell the difference between what people call vorts and l'chaims. Besides my husband and me, I can't think of too many people who have not had an engagement party (my husband will take issue, however, he claims that because our parents met for a meal in which he announced our engagement that we too had a party. . . . .next time one of my kids wants a birthday party with classmates, I will insist that a meal with family is a party :).

I personally am not at all attached to the practice of a vort or l'chaim. I think engagements are best started off slowly, without a bash. It seems extremely logical to me that when cutting expenses, the vort be the first thing on the cutting block. The Simcha Guidelines from about a decade ago also called for only a small l'chaim. I wonder if a decade later, someone else will call for discontinuation or if the financial realities will finally par down on this expense. Time will only tell.

Also of interest is a story in Haaretz as reported by VIN that Badatz has ruled that Chareidim in Israel cannot invest in stocks of Israeli companies. The concerns reported are that Chareidim should not become *partner* in companies that violate Shabbat and engage in inappropriate advertising. I won't even bother to comment that investing does not make on a partner; I actually have my own moral concerns with certain American companies and don't care to invest directly or patronize certain companies. That said, such an announcement is disturbing in combination with the past policies I've reported on. I guess the post He Can't Work, She Can't Work could now, in light of this new pronouncement be titled He Can't Work, She Can't Work, Nor Can They Invest. It seems that each month, we the big fat pocket book, are privy to another report of what Chareidim can't do because it violates religious principal. Worse yet is when leadership complains that Chareidim can't get ahead because of the man. Seriously, it is no wonder that people think about selling a kidney (which is in fact not permissible).

What surprises me most about the Haaretz reports that of the 50,000 Chareidi households, 42% deposit 825 NIS a month in savings plans. According to this exchange rate calculator that is almost $220 a month. There are so many people in America unable to save such amounts monthly. This just seems unbelievable given the unemployment rate and other stats.

Shavout Vacation

A reader of this blog wrote to tell me that in addition to her children's school taking two day off for Shavout, they are taking off the entire day preceding and following Shavout. And, she is outraged. She is the primary breadwinner, leave time is more often than not zapped by illnesses, babysitting is an additional cost that is difficult to bare, and the school schedule simply isn't working.

I've written about school schedules before and have come to see that there is no schedule that will accommodate the needs of all parents, all the time. But it seems to me that an taking the day off before and after Shavout would be a large imposition on parents.

Towards the beginning of the school year, a friend of mine was going through her kids calendar and noted that with the exception of a 3 week cluster, that every week of the school was subject to some sort of day off, minimum, or early dismissal for Shabbat. I'm fortunate enough to be mostly able to work on my own schedule, with the support of my husband, but the more I become aware of the challenges of the calendar, the more I sympathize with the challenges so many families are facing. It seems to me that there are a lot of good dollars being lost to crazy schedules.

Those of us who are home can perform a great chessed for other families who are struggling with school and work schedules by opening our homes for short amounts of time when schools open late/closer early, need a 1/2 hour of supervision while waiting for carpool or a bus, or even taking some kid(s) from a struggling family for the day after Chag. Not everyone is able to extend a two day Yom Tov into a 4 day vacation.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Guest Post: The Age Gap Theory

Ask and a guest poster shall deliver. Thank you again to another guest poster who delivered when readers asked for a dissection of the Age Gap Theory in Shidduchim. The post follows:

The “Age-Gap” Theory and the Shidduch Crisis:

There are a variety of approaches to defining precisely what the shidduch crisis is, and there are those who will claim that there is no crisis. For our purposes, however, I’m going to presume the following definition:

The “shidduch crisis” (SC for short) is the perception within what I will call the “east-coast-right-wing-and-right-center-yeshivish world”, that more young people than ever - especially girls - are having an increasingly difficult time finding a shidduch and that, consequently, there are more older singles - especially girls - lingering “on the market” than ever before.

Over the last few years a number of clever members of the affected community claimed to have identified the root cause of the problem. The problem, they say, is the “age-gap”.

The age gap theory (AGT) goes like this:

1) There is a tendency for boys to start dating at a slightly older age than girls and that consequently they tend to date (and marry) girls that are 2-4years younger than themselves.

2) The frum community’s birth rates have been consistently growing over the years.

3) If a community is consistently growing, then each year it will produce a slightly larger number of young people newly entering shidduch age.

So for example if in 2007 it produced 1000 new 19 year old boys and girls, then in 2010 it might produce, say, 1050 new 19 year old boys and girls Now here comes the clever part: If boys start dating at age 22 and girls at age 19, then in our example above, in 2010 the 1000 boys who turned 19 in 2007, and are now 22, will start dating the 1050 girls who turned 19 in 2010 and are starting to date. (Their 1050 counterpart boys won’t start dating for another 3 years.)

See the problem? 1000 boys, 1050 girls. Thus the AGT claims that the arbitrary tendency for boys to date younger girls dooms a certain number of “excess” girls to simply not have enough boys to date and marry. The problem, according to the theory, is relentless because the trend continues unabated each year with the “girl excess” continuing to grow and is exacerbated by the fact that social norms are such that boys can continue (within limits) to date younger girls each year while the girls are limited to continue to look for boys their own age or older.

And while the proponents of the AGT don’t claim to have any magic solutions, they do claim that at least in theory, if the relative dating ages of boys and girls were leveled, we would see some mitigation of the problem. Indeed, it seems reasonable to assume that if were somehow able to unleash all the boys between the ages of 19 and 21 into the shidduch market that there would have to be some leveling effect for the girls.

Simple, elegant, and…undoubtedly true.

However, in evaluating the adequacy of a proposed explanation for the SC crisis, we need to ask several questions:

1) How exactly does the crisis manifest itself?
2) When did the perception of a crisis first emerge?
3) Does the proposed explanation adequately explain the answers to the above questions?

Let’s look at the first question: I think if you talk to women above the age of 45, i.e. those who did their dating primarily before the mid-80’s, you will find that most will report that when they entered the parsha, shidduchim were mentioned to them fairly regularly and that they dated with a reasonable amount of frequency. While, of course, some remained single at older ages, this was not perceived as a crisis, so much as an inevitable and painful reality that was always present.

Today however, if you talk to young girls entering the parsha (and their parents) I think you will hear that it is not uncommon for a young girl without any obvious impairment to go months without a date. This is important. It is not just that some “left over” girls remain single past 30, or later. The SC manifests itself currently in that even 19, 20, and 21 years old girls – the youngest girls in the parsha - can experience extreme difficulty just getting a date.

As to the second question, we sort of touched on it already. The SC didn’t really get crisis-level attention until approximately 15 to 20 years ago.

Now let’s look at the AGT.

Point 1: Boys have been starting to date later and dating girls 2 - 4 years younger than themselves, as far back as anyone can remember. Not only that, but this tendency exists across all ethnic groups, if not to quite the same extent as within the frum community. (In fact a quick Google search will find you US Census Bureau data on showing that in 2007 the average age of men at first marriage was 27.7 while women were 26.0. And the gap used to be larger.) There is absolutely nothing new about this trend. If anything, with fewer frum boys going to college and waiting to obtain a degree and a job before dating, and with more girls spending a year in EY before even beginning to date, I suspect that the frum age gap is actually smaller on average than it was in decades past. (Just look around at your parents, and aunts and uncles and take a casual survey of their age gaps.) I don’t think we can explain this very recent and extreme phenomenon with a decades, if not centuries, old trend.

Point 2: OK so each year the pool is increased by say, a few percentage points more girls than boys. So what would I expect to happen? I would expect that when the 1000 new boys on the market go out on a date next motzoai shabbos, they will be accompanied by 1000 girls while extra 50 girls don’t have a date. What about the next motzoai shabbos? Or the one after that? I realize that I have simplified the equation, but even after all the adjustments, I would think, if the boys and girls are dating with a reasonable amount of flexibility and open-mindedness and make their way around the shidduch pool evenly, that most girls should have a reasonable number of dates even if the fact that they outnumber the boys means that they remain dateless a little more often than their male counterparts. So for example, if the average boy can have a date every week, then shouldn’t there at least be enough dating going on so that the average girl can have a date every other week? Every third week? Indeed, pre-1985, that is exactly what went on, The age-gap existed then too and it was recognized that boys had it a little easier, but by and large girls had their fair share of dates and so no one perceived a “crisis.”

But this is not what is happening today. Today, even the youngest girls on the market who have virtually no lower-age limitations holding them back,can often go weeks and months without so much as a single date or even a shidduch mentioned. This cannot possibly be explained by the relatively small amount of excess generated by the AGT. A few additional weeks as compared to their male counterparts yes, but four, six, or eight months waiting a date because their dating age cohort is 5 or even 10 percent larger than the boys? That is insulting to the intelligence.

I do believe that the AGT is, in fact, a real phenomenon that is contributing to the problem. But it is downright naive to believe that the stark change in reality experienced by today’s 19 and 20 year old girls as compared with the experience of their own mothers just 20 or 30 years ago can be explained solely by the subtle build up of a demographic trend that has been going on for many decades. I recently attended a workshop on shidduchim where a very-well-respected and widely-known public figure enthusiastically touted the significance of the AGT and how combating it (by making shidduchim of boys and girls closer in age) would solve our the SC. While I did not have the chance to question him personally, I did have a moment to share my skepticism with a noted shadchan also in attendance. After expressing my belief that the significance of the AGT in the shidduch crisis is being exaggerated, she quickly agreed and added “you’re right, but the AGT is politically correct.”

If we want to honestly evaluate the causes for the 10 – 15 year old shidduch crisis, we need to candidly ask what aspects of the shidduch scene are unique to the last 10 – 15 years. There are other factors at work here, that are behavioral rather than demographic, but that is a topic for a different post.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Guest Post: How Would You Feel About this Tuition Gimmick Reduction?

Another Guest Post with thanks to another wonderful reader and contributor. I do believe I will come back to the "life insurance" Areivim issue also. Guest Post follows:

The day school in an out-of-town community has been doing a massive PR campaign to move to the city, spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in advertising. The pitch is 75% off day school tuition, as well as other perks to shuls, camp, and the JCC. The discount is a declining discount over 4 years. The ads are geared toward the “affordability” of the community, highlighting tuition as a big motivator.

Anyone with kids understands that there is a “tuition crisis”. And every year when the tuition bills come, we all wish there were some other options. But generally, they work with what they have, modify where necessary, and continue making do, as best they can.

And then there’s the “housing crisis” of the tri-state area. Yes, housing is expensive. Young families with stable jobs might never dream of owning a home unless they get outside assistance from family. But with this too, people work with what they have, and continue making do, as best they can.

There are several issues with the pitch in these advertisements. First off, the lure of the “tuition crisis” discount attracts people who are otherwise not able/willing to pay tuition. Generally, a family with upwardly-mobile jobs (think attorneys, doctors, finance) doesn’t have the ability to pick up and move to a new city, because their careers are keeping them grounded. (I understand that plenty of people today can work from home, are self-employed, or can telecommute, and I don’t mean to discount those jobs, since I am only referencing generalizations.) So the family without careers tying them to their home are typically the targets of these advertisements. Stereotypically, these are not upwardly-mobile jobs, and are not providing the income-producing potential to pay for full tuition.

The “housing crisis” pitch is generally for younger families with no kids or young kids. Owning a home is the dream, and generally not reality with a young family’s economic situation. The ads and the salespeople highlight cheap housing, so the first step in the process is to look at dream homes. Suddenly, the focus of the move becomes owning the home - not finding a job, not paying their obligations, and without any true thought to the real cost of owning a home.

While you can argue that the short term benefit of “filling up the classrooms” can attract more people to the school and the community, in the long run, you are still likely going to increase the percentage of families on financial aid. While most schools still run at a deficit even with every family paying full tuition, this is only going to hurt the school long term.

Which leads to another issue, the families already living in the community who have sent their children for years to the school and shuls. They are still being asked to pay full tuition, when the newcomer with no stake in the community - and maybe no job yet, because buying the house comes before the job, and mortgage payments come before tuition bills - pays next to nothing. The tuition is increasing, the services are decreasing, but the classrooms are filling. So is all good?

After a quick look at the community, any potential family looking to relocate will realize that the grass isn’t any greener in an out-of-town community. Yes, housing is cheaper. But taxes are still killer. Jobs are still a struggle. And food still costs plenty. And eventually, you will have to pay tuition. So does moving make sense? I hope these families looking to move are thinking about this.

What are your thoughts on this tuition gimmick?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Guest Post: AREIVIM and Why I Don't Like IT

With great thanks to "Old Frum Actuary" who is publishing a response to a heavily advertised plan by the name of Areivim that I believe is a disaster waiting to happen and is nothing more than a poorly conceived tzedakah disguising itself as life insurance. Like my guest poster, I don't care how big names appear as endorsers. The math simply doesn't work and the level of accountability is low, to put it politely. Regular readers know that I don't regularly publish the name of a tzedakah organization when I comment on trends, but I am making an exception because I feel so strongly about the important of life insurance and I believe that anyone who enrolls in this plan is not only buying into something that is simply unsound, but is playing into a trend of form over substance, and ultimately delaying an introduction of substance. Guest post follows:

AREIVIM and Why I Don’t Like It

This is just my opinion so you are more than free to disagree. Of course some numbers to back up any counter claims should be a requirement.

Here is the Areivim plan:
A group of 14,286 (families) enroll by submitting an application and a credit card number. If someone in the group dies, the remaining members will be charged $7 per surviving unmarried child, for a total of $100,000 per child. No more than $28 will be collected per member per month. For example, if someone dies and has 7 children, the first month’s collection will be $400,000 (14,286*$28) and the second month’s collection will be the remaining $300,000. If there are no deaths, there are no charges.

Now for the problems:
With 14,286 people and a maximum charge of $28 a month, the maximum amount that can be collected in one year is 14,286*$28*12 = $4.8 million. This means the maximum number of children that the group can pay for in any year is $4.8m/$100k = 48 per year. Since this arrangement is marketed to the Chasidic and RW communities, I am going to assume that the average family has 6 children. With an average of 6 kids per family, that means the fund can handle no more than no more than 8 deaths per year.

How many deaths can we expect from a group of 14,286 people? The answer of course depends on the age of the cohort. But from the mortality tables I looked at, there is no way that this will work. Remember, that there is no underwriting. Furthermore, the latest mailing states that not only will they give $100,000 per child, they will also give money to a surviving female spouse with 3 or more children. Last, it also appears that they will pay money to the surviving children whether it is the father or mother who pass way. This means that in the cohort of 14,286, there are actually over 28,000 people at risk for dying. Assuming 8 deaths or less from a group of 28,000 is well below any mortality table at any age.

Another question I had was as follows: As more people die the group gets smaller, so that later deaths do not have 14,286 people each chipping in $7 per child. So unless there is a constant flow of new people signing up and paying, by definition the plan fails. And any plan that requires constant new entrants to be able to pay the older ones is not an insurance plan but rather a Ponzi scheme.

Furthermore, credit cards get cancelled or expire. Who is going to track down the large number of uncollectable funds after each death? Isn’t there a cost for collecting money out of credit cards? Who is paying for that?

Yet another issue I have is regarding their rule on what happens to the $100k after collection. According to their brochure, ‘special accounts’ will be set up with the oversight of rabbonim, run by askonim who will distribute the money over time, to and through the wedding. I am pretty sure that Bernie Madoff himself would have passed the “rabbonim oversight” test. If there is any potential for fraud and abuse, this is it. Having a multi-million dollar fund in the hands of an ‘askan’ is a recipe for disaster. And cynics like me will be the first to point it out to anyone who asks.

Last but not least, are the distortions and outright lies in their most recent mailing. The brochure begins by stating that after two years the program is working, so all the naysayers were wrong. First, I am not sure two years would be enough time to prove any such thing. Second, according to my sources inside the organization, they still do not yet have a cohort of 14,286 people, so how can they say this? Third, this statement is completely un-auditable. We have no idea how many people have signed up, how many deaths there were, and whether or not outside collections were used to pay for them.

Later in the brochure they state that as of now 3 out of every 5 people have not yet signed up for Areivim. Using my brilliant analytical skills I determined that they are therefore saying that 2 out of every 5 people have signed up. Do you believe that 40% of Klal Yisroel has signed up for this plan? Let’s put it this way, do you know anyone who has?

The brochure also says that ALL the Gedolim in EY and America have endorsed it. Well, my son’s Rosh Yeshiva put up a sign in his Yeshiva saying that he doesn’t; though perhaps all that proves is that my son’s RY is not a Godol. J My Rov was also asked to endorse and he too refused.

The brochure makes mention that the number of deaths experienced so far is far lower than ‘Al Pi Derech Hatevah’ (expected). This is in fact quite possible even if I can’t audit them. And perhaps that can be their selling point - join Areivim and Hashem will bless you with a lower-than-expected mortality. But I think we are all better served by buying insurance from a reputable insurance company, with an annual financial statement and appropriate reserves, that pays the beneficiaries upon death.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Back by Popular Demand

Numerous posters have asked me to make a post on life insurance. I can't stress the importance of adequate insurance coverage. Life happens and, while life insurance cannot heal the emotional scars of the death of a loved one, it can provide a safety net that will ease the transition and allow the widow/widower to take a step back and not act rashly. I'm reposting my first post on Life Insurance as well as an overview of the basics from a reader and commentor. See below.

Repost of my first post on Life Insurance:

It is always fascinating to see where the discussions contained in the comments section of each post go. The comments from this post, at one point, turned towards a discussion of just how important life insurance is. On top of the pure tragedy of loosing a beloved spouse and parent, are the financial devastation that follows. Bills continue to pile up, and often the other parent is forced into the workforce prematurely and, even then, it is often unlikely that he (or she) will be capable of making up for the lost income.

I can't stress enough how important life insurance is, and not just for the primary breadwinner, but also for a homemaker, whose contributions must also be replaced. And, even a secondary breadwinner should not assume that he or she does need life insurance because that income may not replace the expenses that the family has assumed over the years. For example, a family with an average salaried teacher and a high salaried executive has probably incurred expenses and obligations that cannot be covered by a teacher's salary alone.

The subject of life insurance certainly isn't pleasant to discuss, but with a little practice, the discomfort wanes and the discussion becomes just another routine topic. But, be warned, chances are that if you haven't taken out life insurance and want to discuss the necessity of doing so, the ice will be a bit tough to break in the beginning.

Unfortunately, I know some people that are sorely mistaken in their views regarding both life insurance and health insurance and believe that taking out these policies demonstrates a lack of bitachon. Fortunately, the proper approach as delineated by our gedolim falls on the side of common sense. For more information on the Torah approach, see articles by Dr. Yitzchak Levine and Jonathan Rosenblum that appeared in the Jewish Observer and Mishpacha, respectively.

Fortunately, life insurance is not nearly as expensive as you may have imagined. We pay around $550 a year for combined policies of over $1,000,000. [Since this post we've increased our coverage to a greater amount]. In the case of the death of my husband (chas v'shalom), the money provided would pay off our mortgage, continue to provide a cash flow stream to cover our expenses, and pay for the college education of our children.

In the case of my own death (chas v'shalom), the money provided would pay for all additional expenses that would need to be incurred should we loose my (most valuable) services. Although I believe that my services are worth much more than they would cost on the free market, the point remains, nevertheless, that the services of a homemaker have value and would need to be replaced at some level. Child care, cooking, cleaning, running errands, shopping, etc. have value. So do the administrative and financial services provided by many "modern" homemakers.

In regards to the cash flow stream, one should know that your agent can and will include expenses well beyond "the basics" and ensure that it covers Yeshiva or Day School tuition also. It is a wonder that the admission applications for Yeshivot and Day Schools do not REQUIRE the parents to prove that they are carrying sufficient life insurance to cover these costs in the case of a tragedy, chas v'shalom.The cost of life insurance is certainly a difficult cost to manage if you are paycheck to paycheck. But, this cost is so important that one should find a way to include it in the budget. Having life insurance gives parents choices that they might not otherwise have in the case of a tragedy, choices that could be necessary not just for the financial health, but for the mental health of the surviving family. Choices that allow parents to ease into a new life without completely upsetting an already upset home and family.

Dr. Levine suggests that buying couples their first year of life insurance as a wedding gift. I definitely think that it should be a priority of the community and of parents to make sure that all married couples (especially their own children) are educated about the basics and the importance of life insurance.While I might not have the courage to offer life insurance as a gift to the next chatan and kallah, I admire those who do. Maybe, at the very least, I can muster up the courage to mention the importance of life insurance to young couples I know that are having their first child (or second, or third. . . ). I certainly would not have minded if someone had broached the subject, because until recently, we were not carrying nearly enough life insurance. [Note: this is an old post. We now have plenty of insurance!]

Guest Post on Life Insurance Basics (thank you once again):

There are two types of life insurance – permanent and term. Permanent, as its name implies, provides coverage until you die, as long as you don’t lapse the policy. Term offers coverage for a specified time period. Permanent insurance generally has a cash value that belongs to you even if you lapse the policy, while term provides pure insurance coverage with (usually) no cash value.

A few quick words about permanent insurance. Types of this insurance are Whole Life, Universal Life, and Variable Universal Life. These are basically complicated investment vehicles in addition to providing life insurance. Investment return accumulates tax free until cash value is withdrawn. Most people are better off keeping their insurance and investment needs separate, since permanent insurance doesn’t offer the most competitive investment returns. Certain very high net worth individuals or couples who have insurance needs may benefit from these policies for estate planning purposes. If this is you, you and your financial advisor know who you are.

This discussion will focus on term, which, thanks to competition within the industry, has become quite economical. I’m not going to show sample rates because they vary by age, sex, whether or not you smoke, and your health, but several hundred dollars a year of outlay can buy several hundred thousand dollars of coverage, or much much more.The type of term you can buy today is generally what’s known as level term. Level term lets you buy a fixed amount of coverage for a period, such as 10, 15, or 20 years, paying the same premium each year. The price is calculated to be level even though the cost of insuring you goes up each year (after all, you’re getting older and you might be getting sicker). The flexibility to buy term insurance for periods as short as 5 years or up to 30 years, depending on your personal needs, is one of the great things about level term.

As I said, there is a great deal of competitiveness in the industry and there is not a lot of price difference among the cheapest 10 companies, so don’t feel you have to shop for the absolute lowest rate. You can buy through an independent agent, which means that he/she is not representing any one company and can search for the policy that’s best for you. I don’t recommend buying life from the same company that sells you homeowners’ or car insurance, though it might be convenient. Many times a property insurer will offer a couple of life products just for this reason, but they are not life specialists and therefore don’t have the most competitive rates.

Your agent should also consider the claims paying ability of the company you are choosing. Ratings from A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s are available at sites like In addition to the big names in the insurance business (MetLife, Northwestern Mutual, AIG, ING), here are some companies which may not be household names that are very competitively priced: Banner Life, West Coast Life, Genworth.How much term life insurance do you need? The rule of thumb is 10 times income. For example, if your income is $100,000, you need $1 million in coverage. Consider your family size and tuition costs. There is such a thing as mortgage insurance, which is not worth buying as a separate coverage. Make sure your main policy is enough to cover paying off your mortgage. Even a stay at home parent should have life insurance, because of childcare and other household help that would be needed in the event of a claim.

Not surprisingly, your health will determine how much you pay. Companies offer super low rates to people who are in very good health. Depending on the amount of insurance you buy, you will be underwritten based on your health. (Very small policies aren’t underwritten to a great degree). There can be blood tests and a medical or paramedical exam, and a health history and usually a family history will be taken. If you think you have health issues, discuss with the agent, since some companies underwrite more or less leniently and a knowledgeable agent can take this into account when recommending a policy.

Here are some health issues that you might not realize are big considerations. Have you been diagnosed with depression? Do you have high cholesterol? Even if these problems are controlled with medication, they will count against you, although you may still be able to buy an affordable policy, especially at younger ages. Obesity will also count. These are in addition to obvious sicknesses such as heart problems, history of cancer, etc.

Therefore, it’s good to buy a policy when you’re still young and healthy.

By the way, it’s not a good idea to every lie on an application, even if you think you can get away with it. Besides the fact that it’s totally wrong, if you do ch”v have a claim, especially in the first 2 years (a legal period known as the “contestable period”), your application will be scrutinized.

There is a difference between fraud (actually trying to defraud an insurer) and misrepresentation (knowingly or accidentally fudging the facts). These are actually complicated legal terms, but either way, if you lie you will either get caught before the policy is issued or if there is a claim, it may face legal challenges.Insurance is one of the few things we buy hoping never to use it, but there are unfortunate events, and claims happen every day. If you have a claim, your insurance company will probably offer to put the proceeds in an interest bearing account for you. This is worth considering, even though common sense says that the company is doing this so that they can continue to make money. People don’t usually think straight after experiencing something traumatic like the loss of a spouse, and you may be tempted to use the money unwisely. Tie the money up in an interest bearing account (if you don’t want to leave it with the insurer, you can shop around for a good rate, but something tells me this is not what someone wants to do when they’ve just had a loss), leaving an amount available for living expenses, and at some point get financial advice on how best to use the proceeds to meet your future obligations.

Let’s say you live to the end of the level term period – now what? If you have timed your policy to expire when your dependents no longer need the death benefit – good for you, that is what you should have done. But what if, for example, you had a baby unexpectedly later in life? When the term period runs out, you will probably still be eligible for coverage, but your rates will skyrocket, and go up each year thereafter. If you are still healthy and young enough you may be able to buy a new policy on the open market. If not – let’s say you have health problems that make you uninsurable – you may find it worthwhile to keep the original term policy even at the super high rates. Some policies allow you to convert to a permanent insurance policy from a term policy without further underwriting. It’s more expensive than term, but this may be the way to go if your health does not allow you to buy a new policy.

There is a fairly new type of insurance out there called Return of Premium Term (ROP Term). This pays you back all your premiums if you live to the end of the level period. It’s more expensive than regular term insurance. It appeals to people who feel that they have to get something for their money no matter what. It’s a psychological need some people have. If this is you, you might consider it.

Monday, May 03, 2010

How Would You Feel About Such a Tuition Fee?

Following is a note to me from ProfK regarding a plan that is being discussed in a certain community to raise money for the schools. I have chose to edit out the name of the community until there is an official announcement so that we can concentrate on ideas rather than play into a rumor mill and discuss particular communities. I make an attempt here to discuss ideas rather than people, communities, or rumors.

Like ProfK, I find the idea of a school requiring parents to pay a fee so that a life insurance policy can be taken out for them by the school and with the school named as a beneficiary to be macabre. I have been an advocate of community education regarding the importance of life insurance. I believe parents of dependent children should be adequately insured and I don't think it is too much to ask families to insure themselves instead of expecting the community to pick up the pieces if the tragic happens, as it does. I would not be in opposition to some sort of requirement for parents of school children to carry life insurance as a condition of scholarship, although I'm not sure how this would work in practical terms. However, the idea of having a school, especially a school that is stressed financially, take out life insurance polic(ies) on their parent body almost feels like a death wish. That is just a gut feeling of mine, perhaps rational, perhaps irrational. I guess I'd rather not be viewed as more valuable dead than alive. May we all live and prosper until 120.


My husband came home from shul tonight with an interesting story. A friend of ours has two sons living in [unnamed community] and active in the community. Our friend reported that they are tossing around the idea in [unnamed community] of instituting a life insurance requirement at the local yeshiva. Every parent would be charged an extra $230 of tuition to pay for a one year term life insurance policy on the parents of students in the school. That's the parents, not the grandparents. Apparently from what our friend mentioned there are at least a few deaths each year among the parent body, whether father or mother. The feeling is that the payoff from the insurance policy would at least pay the tuition for those students where a parent had died plus some extra for the school.

To say this is macabre is too mild. Most of the men who heard this at shalosh seudos were astounded at what they saw as an idea in really poor taste. My husband also thought it was in poor taste but went one step further. The proceeds from the insurance policy would go directly to the yeshiva. Who is going to guarantee that they don't mismanage the funds [given the current state of financial management]? Why would parents trust a yeshiva with a closed books policy to manage the insurance payments and the money received?

No end to the out of sight solutions that some people are dreaming up instead of putting their efforts into something practical that might help.


Sunday, May 02, 2010

So What Can We Expect?

I probably should not have started my previous post with my commentary on the very wishful thinking that mass kollel could be preserved if everyone just started driving older cars, living in smaller digs, and cutting back on conspicuous consumption (read: weddings), because my musings really had less to do with kollel and more to do with lowered expectations and how lowered expectations impact character and community. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that the root issues addressed re: supporting young kollel couples are not issues in the modern Orthodox community as well as American society at large! Lowered expectations indicate a loss of character which is certainly not a promising sign as we face the unknown in terms of the economy, national security, and more.

What I really thought to be the crux of the post was this quote (emphasis mine): "In this day and age, it is unrealistic to expect young couples to abstain from eating fleishigs throughout the week and to subsist on a can of sardines or a small piece of chicken on Shabbos. Nor can we expect very large families to be crammed into one-room hovels without heat, like many who learned Torah mitoch hadechak in previous generations (even here in America)."

I've heard enough about what we can't expect and I'd like to start hearing more about what we can expect.