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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Statement of Integrity, join the movement

A reader pointed out that the Ottawa Torah Institute and Machon Sarah have posted a Statement of Integrity on their webpage. The school is asking other schools to join them. This is a wonderful start to combating a near disease. Read on and encourage your school to join a movement to clarify issues of yashrut.

To our great sadness, recent criminal convictions and ongoing prosecutions of individuals associating with or representing various Orthodox Jewish institutions (fortunately, none of them in Ottawa) have raised questions regarding core Torah values and beliefs. So that there should be no confusion, we feel we therefore have no choice but to make our views public and to formally distance ourselves from any such behaviour.

It is the position of the Ottawa Torah Institute that theft, fraud, money laundering, the abuse of government social programs or any similar crimes (including, Heaven forbid, crimes of violence) are plainly forbidden by Torah law no matter who stands to gain or who the victim may be.

We believe that Jews should have an especially deep sense of gratitude to the governments of the Western world - our own Canadian government in particular - for having provided us with a safe, prosperous and truly free home without parallel in all the centuries of our people's exile. We also share a very keen interest in preserving and enhancing the rule of law. Being the proud and grateful beneficiaries of our nation's just laws and their fair enforcement, it is unfathomable to us how anyone similarly blessed could spurn them.

We invite other like-minded Torah institutions to similarly make their beliefs known.Let us know if you do join in.

Read this particularly appropriate article, written decades ago by Rabbi Shimon Schwab of the Breuer's kehilla of Washington Heights, New York.

34 comments:

Abba's Rantings said...

If you know of a child in the northern NJ area whose parents are choosing between dental care for the child and tuition, please email me at abbasrantings@gmail.com for a referral to a pediatric dentist who can work it out reasonably with the parents.

Anon1 said...

1. It's fine for an organization to distance itself from misbehavior by others, but what can be done in our free-for-all society to restrain the others?

2. If, at this late stage, the misbehavior can still be called "unfathomable", that is a problem in itself. We need to understand it in order to combat it.

3. Who exactly is impressed by declarations like this?

Miami Al said...

Stating it is a start.

Acting on it would be impressive.

JS said...

"2. If, at this late stage, the misbehavior can still be called "unfathomable", that is a problem in itself. We need to understand it in order to combat it."

Obviously people do it because they need/want money. The Orthodox-specific angle is that we've created a religion that requires tremendous amounts of money just to get by, let alone be comfortable. We also place tremendous worth on someone being a "macher." When you tell someone, you need $60k after-tax to pay for your 4 kids in this MO yeshiva, there's going to be some financial funny business since that number is just out of reach for the vast majority of the community. For some the funny business is not working as hard as they could or taking on an extra job or simply staying at home - pushing the boundaries of what is allowed but perhaps not doing their share. For others it may be fudging finances to get a larger scholarship or accepting large gifts or vacations or spending down assets to avoid having to hand them over to the yeshivas. And, finally, you get those people engaging in outright criminal behavior.

We're only paying attention to the last category because it's public and it's embarrassing for all of us. But, the other categories are problematic as well. If we don't pay attention to them (or to the root causes behind all these financial games - crimes or not), we're not really taking this issue seriously.

How can you say you take fraud or theft seriously when you have minor forms of it going on every time the tuition bill goes out? How can you say you take it seriously when communal institutions demand more money than they average person in the community even makes let alone has available after other expenditures? How can you say you take it seriously when those who spend big are applauded and respected and those who are more frugal are viewed as nebech cases?

harry-er than them all said...

@Anon1- its a free for all society even in the jewish community and while we are responsible for one another, do you really want community leaders to enforce adherence? There is and should be limits to public power, but it has its downsides in that we cannot police everyone. Unless of course you are saying that more oversight and redtape is the answer

Frayda said...

Beautiful.

Dave said...

When you tell someone, you need $60k after-tax to pay for your 4 kids in this MO yeshiva, there's going to be some financial funny business since that number is just out of reach for the vast majority of the community.

Well, that's because the first question at the final din is "Did you send your children to a communally approved Day School?"

Anon1 said...

Harry-er asked, "do you really want community leaders to enforce adherence?"

There are already intense pressures for social conformity within many of our communities. Instead of pressure to shield or at least ignore criminals, we need pressure to straighten them out.

miriamp said...

Well, I think it's about time that someone came straight out and said this.

Maybe publicly stating that honesty and actually following the laws of the country is important will trickle down to the "average" Orthodox Jew -- if it is publicly considered unacceptable by Orthodox organizations for anyone to engage in shady dealings, the dealings will hopefully happen less often.

The tuition crisis is a separate issue -- even if it is the piece of "expensive" orthodox life that is the tipping point for many people. And I'm tired of hearing that one parent staying at home qualifies as "financial funny business." Sometimes it is the saner and more *frugal* choice. But that isn't the issue under discussion, and it is one that's been beaten into the ground.

Anonymous said...

miriamp, while being a SAHM doesn't qualify as "funny business", if everyone had a ton of kids, and the wife didn't work, and the husband wasn't a hedge fund manager, how would any institution stay afloat at all?

JS said...

"And I'm tired of hearing that one parent staying at home qualifies as 'financial funny business.' Sometimes it is the saner and more *frugal* choice."

Perhaps for some this is true. But, sometimes, I think it's putting the cart before the horse. For many it's only the saner and more frugal choice because the parent never got proper education, experience, or job training to earn enough money to make it worthwhile. Of course it's the more frugal choice when you can only make $10k a year after taxes and your childcare costs are $12k. But, shouldn't we be wondering why a person who benefited from 13 years of private school and university is only capable of making $10k? I'm not trying to spark a war on this, but for many people it's the frugal choice because they've set themselves up in such a way that working is not a net gain.

I'd also note that in today's day and age, it's nearly impossible to get by on a single salary. Surely there are certain circumstances that require a parent to be at home, but oftentimes a stay at home spouse is really a luxury. And, when that luxury is supported by the community, it's problematic. Similarly problematic is taking communal funds when one simply doesn't feel like working a second job.

More often that not, the calculus that goes into sanity and frugality is that after childcare costs, whatever is left would have to go to the yeshiva. So, it's not "worth" it. Why work hard and be miserable when it's all going to the yeshiva anyways? The blame for this is certainly shared by the yeshivas which impose a 100% tax an any extra earned income. But, it's still not a very noble attitude - to want to be supported by the community because paying more is inconvenient and a pain.

It's a tragedy of the commons situation where everyone maximizes personal benefit to the detriment of the community.

To bring this all back to the point of the post, it's the obscene amounts of money "required" to be Orthodox that is at the root of financial dishonesty. A shade of this is the accepting communal funds without seeking any way to minimize the funds accepted.

Anon1 said...

Much lip service is given to the importance of Jewish family life, but the reality of both parents working outside the home undercuts that. Both quality and quantity time are compromised for the alleged greater good. How did we manage to make our community obligations so expensive as to make this happen?

Anonymous said...

Did you actually read what Rav Schwab wrote? Did you feel the outrage he expressed? One does not want rabbis to "enforce adherence" - but to inspire adherence. I find Rav Schwab's words inspiring, and especially, his outrage is that of someone who is actually shocked at the behavior he has learned of, who is innocent rather than knowing. Most of those who post here are a cynical bunch and your lack of outrage perfectly reflects your level of cynicism.

Anon1 said...

Anonymous June 28, 2011 3:20 PM:

Did you really read our comments or did you have a prepackaged rant?

Mr. Cohen said...

Babylonian Talmud, tractate Taanit, page 7B:
Rabbi Ami taught: Rains are withheld only because of the sin of theft.

Babylonian Talmud, tractate, Sotah, page 12A:
Rabbi Elazar taught: The righteous love their money more than they love their bodies, because their hands never touched theft.
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tesyaa said...

Much lip service is given to the importance of Jewish family life, but the reality of both parents working outside the home undercuts that. Both quality and quantity time are compromised for the alleged greater good. How did we manage to make our community obligations so expensive as to make this happen?

For argument's sake, let's say that kosher meat is 25% more expensive than nonkosher and that the average religious family spends $800 more on meat per year than a nonreligious family.

Let's say that our religious holiday costs are $1000 higher than those of a nonreligious family (debatable considering how much non-Jews spend on Christmas gifts, but whatever).

Let's say that a sheitel costs $1500 + $500 in maintenance per year, and a non-frum woman spends only $500 on hairstyling per year (again debatable, a single highlighting treatment might cost $125, but again, whatever).

Let's say that kosher meat and holiday costs and sheitels are halachic obligations - basically true, although you could be a vegetarian, and wear a scarf, but OK :)

Now, day school is not a halachic requirement, and does it costs $800 more than a non-Jew's school choice? Does it cost $1,000 more? Does it cost $1,500 more? Of course not. Most non-Jews send their kids to public school, so it costs on the order of $10,000 PER CHILD per year more than a non-religious family.

It's school that is the difference. It's not that private education is expensive. ALL education is expensive. It's just that we don't take advantage of a huge government education subsidy.

Anonymous said...

I read most of them, and now I am reading them again. As a group you sorely lack leadership, you lack anyone to inspire you to be religious - I'm not saying you should be. All you do is criticize others as the dishonest ones. You are the pure, you are the put upon. Your characters simply do not impress me. Your words are your own indictment. Your disparagement of others is evidence of your lack of character, you incessantly condemn others, this blog is full of sinas chinam. Sephardi Lady, I think you should reconsider whether you are accomplishing something positive for the community with this blog or allowing a lot of dissatisfied people, who will never be satisfied because others will always have more, a forum in which to display their least attractive qualities.

Bob Miller said...

???

Anonymous said...

I'm the Anonymous above. The solution to the Jewish day school problem is obvious and staring you in the face - but it is untenable to you. It is to send your children to public school and take advantage of the NCSY programs for Jewish content. Why can't a husband say openly and courteously to his wife, "I am working too hard. It is causing me undue misery and stress. I want to go skiing, I want to play golf, yes, I admit it! Jewish day shool tuition makes it impossible for us to have a vacation to Israel, to enjoy the leisure that we need to recharge ourselves. I propose that I withdraw from paying tuition, and you (either in your job or taking on a job) pay for what you value, which is day school. I value our marriage, and I want our children to have two parents. I just can't continue this way. You may spell out the situation to the Tuition Committee and maybe they will give you a break, maybe not. But that is my decision. There are many families where the husband is not religious and the wife is. They stay together and compromise. I am religious - but I can't take the stress that day school tuition is causing me. If we do make the mutual decision for public school, it will enable us to have another child and add to the Jewish people."

Why can't anyone say this to their wives openly?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Sephardi Lady - the above 7:12 comment is exactly what I am talking about. You should delete it, it is unseemly and inappropriate. I am sorry I inadvertently generated such a low class response.

Orthonomics said...

WATCH YOU LANGUAGE ANON or I will turn on moderation which I have yet to turn on.

I will delete the comment, but I'm really not thrilled to wake up to this. I'm trying to work my hours to pay this tuition bill.

tesyaa said...

If a man, a breadwinner, makes a statement like that described by Anon 4:12 and refuses to pay tuition, what recourse does his wife, who may earn only a small amount, have? Her salary can't cover tuition, and if schools are not sympathetic to dental needs, they are probably not sympathetic to a man who wants to go skiing and play golf.

This is likely to lead to marriage breakup. Most spouses in a good marriage won't risk it, even if they are truly fed up with paying tuition.

The Bald Guy said...

Tesyaa-
A good comment, but you're forgetting the extra housing costs of living in an orthodox Jewish area - there's quite a hefty premium there...

Anonymous said...

It seems some commentators are forgetting that the public school/talmud torah route was tried in the 20's & 30's into the 40's. It is these same people (my grandparents included)or at least the ones that still remained observant after going through that system that sacrificed everything to send their kids to get a full time yeshiva education. There is someting wrong with the model the current system is working on, but you don't through out the system, the model needs to be changed somehow.

Avi said...

I disagree. The pressure to fund yeshiva tuition is not the reason we have fraud in our community. We have fraud in our community because instead of a culture of self reliance and the strictest adherence to halacha in choshen mishpat and dina d'malchusa dina we have a culture of taking advantage of whatever breaks we can get away with.

Miami Al said...

Anon 11:07,

Because there have been no societal changes since WWII in American public schools.

In the 20s, 30s, and 40s, the "Public Schools" were state funded Protestant Schools, complete with morning prayers and Catholics ran their own schools and Jews assimilated, when America valued assimilation into the Melting Pot.

In 2011, schools are strictly secular, no religion whatsoever, and America values diversity.

In the 1920s-1940s, all your classmates were Protestants, and you were an oddball.

In 2011, your classmates include Protestants, Catholics, Evangelicals, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs, being a non-Christian isn't weird, it's typical.

The world has changed.

tesyaa said...

Bald Guy, not sure what you're saying, but a tuition committee is likely to be more sympathetic to a divorcee whose ex-husband won't cough up yeshiva tuition than to a married woman whose husband earns enough but won't pay.

Sure there are extra housing costs, but anyone who knows anyone who's been divorced knows that divorce is a financial disaster, anyway, for a middle class couple.

If the wife wants yeshiva but the husband won't pay, how can she get it? More likely by getting divorced and appealing to the committee than by staying married.

tesyaa said...

Bottom line, in response to Anon 4:27 about why husbands don't make these statements, is that this is a marital matter that doesn't really have to do with tuition, yeshiva, or public school. If a husband and wife differ greatly on any important matter, they have to work it out, or decide to split up.

This question has little to do with the frum world and everything to do with marital dynamics.

Anonymous said...

My father went to Central High with Catholics and Protestants and never felt like an oddball. He is comfortable dealing with all types of people and has his whole life because he had to as a boy. My father is very religious, by the way. In the 60's it was common for modern orthodox kids to go to public school and they remained observant for the most part. The problem with public school today is the quality of education - that's why nonreligious Jews live in Great Neck and Roslyn and pay property taxes for top notch public schools.

Anonymous said...

"The problem with public school today is the quality of education - that's why nonreligious Jews live in Great Neck and Roslyn and pay property taxes for top notch public schools."


But you only pay for your house once, and you only pay your property taxes once per year, whether you have zero kids, one kid or ten kids.

Mike S. said...

Anonymous: I went to public school in the 1960's. The overwhelming majority of the Orthodox and Conservadox kids who went with me are not observant today. Granted, there are many differences from then until now, who knows what would happen today. One difference compared with your father is that I was in an area where we were a tiny minority in the school--perhaps a couple dozen out of 1000+ in high school. I certainly advise a family thinking of going that route to get together with other families to make sure your kids have at least some peer group.


I am not so sure the idea of near universal day school is unsustainable with the level of philanthropy currently available. What is unsustainable is coupling universal day school with no limits to family size, plus early marriages, plus a disdain for work, plus a demand for an upper middle class life style, plus leeriness about the type of education that is generally necessary (and no, I haven't forgotten that you can sometimes get ahead without advanced education.) Yes, universal day school is very expensive, and it demands sacrifices. Both material sacrifices and sacrifices of other Jewish values, like large families and full-time learning. But I am convinced it is needed if we are to raise another generation of religious kids. And I have put my money where my mouth is, to the tune of over 1/2 million in day school tuition so far. And, all though I have occasional complaints bout details I don't regret it.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points made, Mike S. I also went to public school briefly in the 60's, and the kids who were from irreligious homes grew up to be irreligious,naturally. I was talking about the minority of modern orthodox kids who went to public school in high school after going to day school through 6th grade - they remained religious. I think the home has a lot to do with it.

I respect your obvious idealism about day school.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the statement above, what would probably also be appropriate if to include some provision of financial transparency that would have some checks and balances built in. If a school is fundraising as a community institution, it should live up to a standard of accountability that is consistent with that term.