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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Blaming Bad Finances on the Girls

I found this comment on imamother which underscores my feeling that the attack against seminary for girls is not actually financial in nature, but is really an attack against Torah education for women.

That said, my DH is acquainted with someone in our community who offers free credit counseling and debt consolidation through a local gemach. He spends up to 20 hours per week helping families figure a way out of credit card debt. Now, I imagined all this credit card debt was a result of everyone running amok at the mall, but DH's friend related something surprising (to me, anyway!). He said that the majority of unmanageable consumer debt owed by families with whom he worked was based on two areas of expenditure: (1) Seminary in Israel for post-high school girls; and (2) Chassunah expenses.

I don't appreciate intellectual dishonesty and this is a prime example.

Never mind that the Orthodox parents have been financing 12 + year of private schooling for both boys and girls. Never mind that a good percentage of young people, especially men (!), don't enter the workplace until their mid-20s with a kid or two behind them. Never mind that long term savings, esp. retirement, is discouraged in favor of and it's-not-a-luxury-any-longer camp. Never mind that many enjoy plenty of luxuries on a regular basis from matching boutique children's clothing to new jewelry in honor of every occasion under the sun to designer strollers. Never mind that a cleaning lady is a regular feature in a a good half of frum households. Never mind over inflated household expenses from store bought prepared food products to flowers. Never mind school pizza lunches.

Nope, the reason for the credit card debt isn't years upon years of over-spending. The reason for the unmanageable debt is those pesky girls going to seminary!

When it is time to get serious about a communal debt problem that menfolk will be addressed and blamed together with the womenfolk.

33 comments:

Mark said...

I thought for sure it should have read:

"Blaming Bad Finances on the Girls Skirt Length"

After all, everyone knows that anything bad that happens in the world is due to the lack of a proper level of tznius!

Dave in DC said...

There is a difference between the reasons given - blaming it on a continuing educational expense which should already been in the annual operational family budget is facile and likely the puerile attack on women's learning that SL identifies. A wedding is a one time, unpredictable (although not unforeseeable), enormous expense that could necessitate debt financing, much like a large medical, auto or property repair expense. The difference of course is that the wedding can be economized.... not that we do.

AztecQueen2000 said...

Really. What about families where the children are well under eighteen? They're not getting married or going to seminary. Who can we blame their debt on?

Anonymous said...

On a more positive note, its a start. Maybe if the year in Israel for girls starts getting viewed as a luxury for girls, then the year or more in Israel will be be viewed as a luxury for boys. Then maybe camps and big weddings will no longer be viewed as necessities.

Dave said...

There is no excuse for debt financing of a wedding.

Spend what you can afford, but borrowing is insane.

Miami Al said...

Generally, those that wind up in credit counseling can point to one or two things that broke the bank and sent them into a debt spiral. It's usually a medical emergency, etc., not post-secondary education or a wedding, but whatever it is, it is.

This isn't "real" -- neither of those two explanations are sudden and unexpected events... even a wedding, you know when you have a daughter that she will get married some day, between age 18 and 35, it's not clockwork like a Bar Mitzvah, but it's not overly shocking.

However, plenty of families think that they are responsible because they keep their revolving debt levels constant, they aren't getting ahead or saving for problems, but they are constant. Given enough income, they aren't wiped out by car repair, it's something like this that's a decent size.

However, responsible finances has a cushion with savings on a monthly basis, retirement savings, plus general household savings, so these "big expenses" are covered from savings.

Seminary in Israel is pricey, but if you know you are doing it, saving for it over 13 years makes it doable. Can't save because you are spending every dime on private school tuition? Why is it the seminary year and not the over-spending on K-12 that is the problem?

rosie said...

The problem is that while a poor college student can attend community college and live at home with his parents, a seminary girl must leave home and then the sem has 24/7 sway over her thought processes. She comes back totally unrealistic about life and what type of boy that she should marry. Marrying a working boy means that she has been a traitor to Hashem, the Torah, and those who educated her.

Anonymous said...

Seminary is overpriced and a waste of money, and I wouldn't necessarily say the same thing about cleaning help. It's a matter of priorities.

While some may characterize seminary as "women's learning", it is largely on the honor system; there is little testing and the grades are meaningless anyway. Most of the girls are not busy "shteiging" or the feminine equivalent. There is, however, a lot of emphasis on hashkafa and the importance of supporting a man in kollel. Maybe that's the economic downside of seminary - convincing women to marry men who choose not to work.

I agree with other commenters that IF you consider seminary a necessity, you can find a way to save for it rather than financing it on credit cards (or taking student loans from YU/Stern or Touro).

Creativemommyto3 said...

Seminary might be overpriced but it can be very helpful in establishing the hashkafa of the girl and enabling her to think of what she wants her life to be like. The seminaries should have classes on frugality and money management etc.. especially if they are encouraging the girls to live the kollel life. Seminary is overpriced largely because of the standards that the seminaries have to fulfill due to the demand. My cousin is a secretary in a sem and she was told by the menahel that eventhough X is the right thing to do (like keeping an inspiring teacher eventhough the work given by the teacher is rigorous)they can't do it because they have to "keep the customer happy"..When I went to sem close to 14 years ago we lived on Israeli mattresses and were only given one main meal. We had to pay for breakfast and dinner. I had 100 dollars of spending money from my own savings to spend each month. I had to be smart. I couldn't go to the kotel/restaurants as much as I wanted. I had to budget.. Those type of lessons are hard to learn when you are sitting in your mommy's kitchen being fed all three meals and no expenses at all. Somehow the girls are ex pected to magically know how to budget and money manage just from living at home.. The notion that seminary is a luxury is only based on the fact that these seminaries must cater to spoiled American standards.

tesyaa said...

Seminary might be overpriced but it can be very helpful in establishing the hashkafa of the girl and enabling her to think of what she wants her life to be like.

Why should one year in an artificial environment (living in a dormitory in a foreign country, away from parental influences) be more important to determining a girl's future hashkafa than 18 years spent at home and 15 years in a school environment chosen by her parents? Are we saying that parents and high school teachers aren't good role models?

The notion that seminary is a luxury is only based on the fact that these seminaries must cater to spoiled American standards.

This may be true, but that is the model we are discussing.

Anonymous said...

I sent all three daughters to Seminary in Israel. I thought it was great and I would do it again- they all got a lot out of it.
However, the year at seminary came out of their allocated college money. So they knew they were spending part of their own college fund and would have less later on.
There are definitely issues with spending when the girls are in Israel. One daughter had roommates who wanted to buy top of the line garbage pails etc and redecorate the room and expected everyone to chip in ( don't laugh!). Another daughter wanted to stay with her friends in a hotel during Succoth( yes that happens too!) Then there was eating out, going away every shabbos( for which you need a gift) and shopping for clothes. And let me not forget the cell phone and calls home to the USA! Yes, expenses and expectations add up fast!
It was an extremely valuable year, but you do have to discuss projected expenses and budgeting BEFORE the girl goes to Israel.
One last thing- My husband and I made it very clear that that "you" do not get engaged the year you are in Israel- because that is fantasyland, when you are being supported by your parents. And when "you" do get married, you are on your own financially, we do not help. My two married daughters both married men who have real jobs and my third will no doubt look for that as well.

Creativemommyto3 said...

Not that the parents or teachers are a bad influence but it gives the girl a chance to think on her own and build on what their parents have already taught them and live the Torah life because of their own thought and not just because it's routine that they grew up with. There is something about being on your own that is very healthy for a young girl. Also, living and seeing how people live in Israel is a learning experience as well. Seeing people who are happy with less, happy living in smaller quarters etc etc.. That's not to say that everybody in Israel is like that.. but still the the whole experience of being in Israel is a true growing experience that a girl staying at home with her parents til her chuppa is unable to attain. In fact going to Israel for the year might teach these girls that living with "less" might actually be "more".

Dave said...

Do the seminaries really count as a chance for a girl to "think on her own"? That sounds more like an argument in favor of going away to College...

Creativemommyto3 said...

Dave, Think on her own in relation to her frumkeit. There is also the maamar chazal that states "Avira D'eretz Yisrael Machkim Amo" The air of Israel makes one smart.. Honestly, it's not the seminary year that breaks the bank it's the school tuition until that point.. where the schools charge an enormous amount of money per child. I just read an article in Horizons from a couple years back where the principal of a well known school goes into how if people would hold yeshiva tuition a priority then they would be super duper frugal and borrow etc etc.. Except it's not the education that is being paid for but a state of the art building with a gym , with a computer room .. etc etc.. sooo many extras that might enhance education .. If you have parents who are strapped for cash you do things within what is reasonably affordable. The principal intimated that people should borrow or take gifts from family etc etc.. That's not the answer. The answer is to do things within what is reasonable for a family to afford.

Dave said...

But she isn't thinking "on her own in relation to her frumkeit" (or at least, that is my understanding based on discussions online, being neither frum nor female, I haven't gone).

Isn't she in a 24/7 school (or 24/6 if she goes to stay with people for Shabbos) with a specific hashkafa that it is imbueing?

Creativemommyto3 said...

Actually yes because she is choosing the direction she wants by choosing seminary X. The seminary I went to was not the type to say that you must do X , Y or Z .. They let you do things (within the realm of halacha of course)at my own pace.. no forcing me to marry a boy in kollel etc.. just to value Torah and put it at the center of my life.. Maybe I was just lucky. I am still close to the menahel to this day.

Anonymous said...

Women are often treated as second class citizens in the frum world.

Sad but true.

[ I says this as someone who is frum].

AztecQueen2000 said...

I think we need to have a clear definition here.
Higher education: Necessity
Sending children (of either gender) to a foreign country so that they can sit in an ungraded, non-credit-transferrable school just because "everyone else does it" or "they will grow so much from it" (they're 18, and old enough to grow from their own decisions wherever they are): Luxury

Miami Al said...

At it's core you have a debate as to what "Torah life" entails. Is Torah life the learning process, or is it the application of Torah law in every day life. There is nibbling on the details, but that's the core dispute between the RW and LW...

Is a year in Israel on the parent's time "immersed in Torah" a time to truly reflect upon Hashkafa and decide on one's life, or is it a one year fairytale break from life with ZERO responsibilities -- high schoolers have homework, tests, and possibly chores, a sample of real life, even if artificial...

The LW sees this as fantasyland, a fun experience, but with dangerous repurcussions if seen as an opportunity to make life decisions since reality will always seem worse.

The RW sees this as ideal, and the "real life" concerns as a necessary evil to be dealt with in this world... The RWMO takes this necessary evil as somewhat of an obligation, one they hope is less necessary for their children, the Chareidi right looks at this as a true evil, best avoided if possible.

There are lots of handwringing terms, screaming "Torah" in various ashkenazi dialects, but at the core, the question is: is the IDEAL learning all day without worldly concerns in a modern day Jewish monastary, or is the IDEAL working hard to support your family imbued with Torah values...

In practice, the RW is NOT monastic, as you see with the crass materialism, and the LW is not as idealistic with their work/Torah combo, generally bitter about both, but as a core ideological world view, that's my take on it.

So if you think that being a Torah Jew means getting up, making it to Minyan, going to work to support your family, coming home, learning in the morning or at night, then this is a travesty.

If you think that the ideal Torah Jew would cut back on their lifestyle to learn beyond what is necessary to put bread and water on the table, then this is an ideal and the best time for people to decide their life, while they are in a "pure Torah environment."

The rest is commentary...

tesyaa said...

Miami Al, I don't think anyone, not LWMO or Conservative or Reform, is saying that seminary or another type of "gap year" in Israel is a "travesty" for a Jewish teenager, if the family can afford it.

Anonymous said...

I don't know which seminaries you're talking about Miami Al, but when I went to seminary in EY fourteen years ago, I had homework, model lessons to prepare and tests to study for. That year was most certainly not a walk in the park nor a break from reality.

My sister is currently in seminary, also in EY, she too has homework and tests, a few more trips than I had perhaps, but by no means is the program a year long trip fest...(Both are Chabad seminaries incidentally).

Max Power said...

I assume that blaming seminaries and not Yeshivot would be because Yeshivot, for the most part, have the resources to give scholarships, while the Seminaries, which don't have the same alumni support system, don't give nearly as many scholarships.

Dave said...

I assume that blaming the seminaries and not Yeshivot would be because the Yeshivot are local, and casting blame there would cause problems for the finanical advisor in his local community.

But that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Dave: Not necessarily so. Many boys do a year or two in yeshiva in Israel after high school.

A Fan said...

I noticed something interesting. Both are to blame for overspending, but it seems the women overspend more on an item-by-item basis- a custom sheital, a year in seminary, a big wedding- while the men have a systemic problem- aversion to higher education and a real career path, late work-force entry and fewer, less lucrative career options. The women's issues are a lot easier to fix- wear only tichels or synthetic sheitals, scale back the weddings, go to a local seminary or not at all- but ultimately, more cut-backs are not going to save the community's money problems. Austerity is a good idea, but it is finite and what happens when you cut back on all there is and you still haven't balanced the books? Only systemic and structural changes can really work in the long term.

Anonymous said...

Actually depending where you go to college, you may very well get college credit for your year in Israel-Stern,Touro,and at least some CUNY divisions ( Queens, Brooklyn and I don't know about the rest...) I heard give college credit for certain seminaries in Israel. One of my kids got 30 college credits. And yes, she took tests and received grades. Educationally, the year is not a joke at all, just devoid of secular classes. So depending on what you are paying for college, if the school accepts "Israel " credits, the year in Israel may not be as expensive as you might think. But you have to ask before you send your child to Israel so you can make an informed decision, if this is an issue to you.

A Fan said...

Anon 3:34- good point. I went to Cornell, but they gave me 12 elective credits for what I studied in Israel. I actually corresponded with an academic adviser while I was in Israel, and she looked over the list of courses I was taking and told me which ones they would be willing to give credit for. Not surprisingly, Building a Jewish Home and Hashkafah were not considered for credit; however, Midrash ("Exegesis" for them) and Yishayahu ("Studies in Isaiah" for them) were granted credit, as those are subjects which are often studied as serious academic disciplines. My seminary didn't give exams, but the teachers of the courses Cornell was giving credit for had me write term papers that they could grade, thus allowing the credits to transfer.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Sem is expensive, has a fleeting value, is overrated educationally, and teaches a false reality, especially about $$$. Why do they want thir fees up front, in cash, USA Dollars, and no reductions? These "for-profit" operations are a drain on our families.

Mike S. said...

Last anonymous: So why send your daughters? That's like blaming luxury car dealers for charging for their cars. If all yu wanted was something to get you to work, you should have shopped better.

I sent my three oldest to Israel for a year each. I am particularly proud that two of my children have made aliyah. Between college credit in the US for the one who came back, and the lower cost of college tuition in Israel for the two who made aliyah, I was quite satisfied. Both in terms of what they learned and in terms of finances.

Those who complain that they paid a lot for little value with seminary should either learn to shop better or learn to say "no."

ora said...

Maybe the people with cleaning help and top-of-the-line strollers aren't the same ones turning to a gemach for debt help. Maybe it's just me but I tend to associate expensive strollers with young couples with rich parents who, while they might not be financially responsible, aren't usually in debt.

As for blaming sem - it does seem kind of random (why not blame the 12 years of school that made saving for sem impossible?).

But as Miami Al said, most people think they're OK as long as they're getting by, even if they aren't saving for upcoming events. It's kind of like people talking about how financially hard Pesach is. We all know when Pesach is going to be, so if there's not enough money in Nissan it really means there wasn't enough in Cheshvan-Adar... but people tend not to think like that.

So I think it's not davka that women are being blamed, but that the last major expense that pushed the family over the edge is being blamed.

Ariella said...

Yes, after paying tuition for 15 plus years (most kids enter school at 3 -- and some even at 2 --in the frum community), the year in seminary is only a somewhat higher tuition bill for that year. Really the solution is simple: don't push the girls to marry so young; rather encourage them to put it off for a few years. hat would allow them to work to help pay down the debt their parents accrued and to contribute to their wedding expenses. Ah, but that is heretical b/c a girl who is not engaged by 19 is already considered to be heading toward old maid status.

AztecQueen2000 said...

It just goes back to the statement "you can't have everything." Outside the Orthodox world, 15 years of private schooling, expensive summer camps, a house and car in one of the highest-priced cities in America, high-end silver, hairstyles and strollers, overpriced weddings, and a year of study abroad are considered luxuries. If you can afford them, fine. If not, you make do like everyone else.
Moreover, if we want to get into "tzinus," how is a life composed of consumer spending considered in any way "modest?"

Miami Al said...

AztecQueen2000,

Those are ALL luxuries. Most Orthodox Jews live an extremely luxurious lifestyle. They have no appreciation of that. That is really sad.