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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Guest Post That Dovetails with Rabbi Adlerstein's Much Shared and Talked About Article

An embarrassingly long time ago, I received a guest post that dovetails nicely with Rabbi Adlerstein's much shared and talked about article that ruffled a few feathers: A New, Ugly Wrinkle in the Tuition Crisis.  I should have posted it then, but sometimes blogging takes a 5th place!  After having cut my tuition checks, I'm in a tuition blogging mood.


Obviously yeshiva tuition is the hot button issue of the contemporary orthodox Jewish world and appears to account for the majority of the ink spilled on this blog. Most of what I have read focuses on the consumer of the yeshiva education – the parent (as representing their child) with some additional discussion around alternative yeshiva models and potentially untapped revenue streams to help reduce costs for these consumers. Few pieces have focused on the operations of the yeshivas as they are currently structured. That is quite understandable given that 1) few of us have had a chance to see “beneath the hood” of the yeshiva’s finances to adequately dissect this issue, 2) operating budgets and spending priorities vary widely from yeshiva to yeshiva and 3) the reality is unavoidable that private schools will have high fixed operating costs. That being said, I wanted to bring attention to two very narrow aspects of the tuition crisis that underscore an inequity that is inherent in the current system and leaves many well-intentioned (full paying) parents disillusioned with the current system and in some cases antagonistic towards supporting the yeshivas beyond the mandated fees. These basic imbalances should be addressed as part of developing a comprehensive solution to the current tuition “crisis”.

While most yeshivas position themselves as non-profit organizations providing a social benefit for the local Jewish community, in reality some have devolved into a mechanism of cost shifting from the pockets of the upper middle class to the lower middle class, well connected and in some cases the most irresponsible elements of the community. That is to say that in addition to the social service they provide, there are financial determinations that have serious implications on their constituency but are not necessarily handled in a fair or equitable manner. The following two scenarios highlight this point:

1) Most yeshivas have a policy that allows all active teachers and rebbeim to receive a significant discount on their children's tuition with administrators' children attending at no cost. I believe the stated justification is multi-fold including the need to remain competitive for talent, the desire to provide their employees with a fringe benefit for their service and the fact that many of the faculty (read Rebbeim) would in any event qualify for financial aid. My estimate would be that, for my son’s yeshiva, between 5%-7% of the aggregate tuition due is waived simply as a result of this employee benefit.

However, as we all know, the yeshiva's operating budget is not magically reduced due to the yeshiva's largesse to its faculty. The newly formed fiscal hole must be filled by the hard working middle class parents who struggle to meet their full tuition demands. The operating budget is a zero-sum game - money lost from one area must be made up by money paid from a different area, or in this case, everyone else’s tuition bill. This is akin to the government telling all its employees they don't need to pay income taxes as a benefit for working for the gov't, resulting in everyone else’s tax burden to increase. Any non-profit social institution should not be operating in this fashion. The yeshiva would be well within its right to provide its employees with such a perk if it was a for-profit entity producing copying machines and simply desired to eat into its profit margins by subsidizing its employees purchases but as a social service it should not be functioning this way. When the yeshiva then collects for a dinner, raffle, etc. it reverts to positioning itself as a "tzedaka" whom the parent body should feel a responsibility to support.

Regarding the justifications mentioned for such a practice, they won’t necessarily stand-up to scrutiny. The faculty members who do not have children attending the school do not receive any compensation in exchange for missing this perk yet continue to work in the yeshivas. Apparently, adequate salaries are being paid to these employees even without this benefit. The school day and school year is MUCH shorter than the average privately employee's work year and explains in part why salaries would be lower. There is probably less than 8 months of work in the school year with many teachers/administrators making a second salary during summers and after school hours. I am not suggesting that they are getting wealthy off the school system, but I am suggesting that their compensation and workload may be commensurate, if not better, than some of the parent body working in the for-profit sector.

While many rebbeim would be relieved of the tuition burden given their earning capacity, why should they escape the dreaded financial aid system that determines the fate of all the other working parents? There are certainly some rebbeim who can afford full tuition (money in the family, wife working, etc.), but it's simply not asked of them. At the administrative levels, this benefit is even more curious. There are multiple administrators in our local school who are the second incomes in their rather affluent families but are paying no tuition on as many as 5 kids in the yeshiva system. That translates into an after-tax savings of $60k-$70k in addition to their base compensation – and it’s coming from the pockets of the other parents. Certainly their compensation is somewhat suppressed due to this benefit the yeshiva is giving them but I have a difficult time believing it’s suppressed by what amounts to $100k on a pre-tax basis.

Perhaps an argument can made that the talents of these individuals are so irreplaceable that huge compensation packages must be offered to retain them. In reality though, there is a high level of correlation between attaining these positions and having the same last name as the head principal, rosh yeshiva or sharing some other social relationship with the decision makers. These are not truly “open” positions. Many parents struggling to make ends meet would jump at the opportunity to wipe out their tuition bills with an administrative position at the yeshiva.

2) The financial aid system is undeniably broken. Many of those seeking and receiving financial aid are those with significant amounts of equity in their home. I do not know to what extent the financial aid office considers this very obvious asset class in determining what parents can afford, but I find it strangely ironic that those who purchase a home and are then strapped with monthly payments which they can not afford are recognized as deserving of financial aid while those who have kept their limited savings in the bank and can comfortably afford their lower monthly rental payments are required to subsidize that discretionary decision of their neighbors to purchase. Indeed, there are some people who purchase homes with the recognition that it will result in a tuition reduction allowing them to afford that very home. The incentives have been perverted and it creates an unfortunate spiral whereby those who budget and as a result do not purchase a home are increasingly less likely to purchase as their tuition costs increase annually to subsidize those who do. I understand that the notion of homeownership has been so glorified that it will sound blasphemous to suggest people who can not afford tuition be forced into selling their homes, but anything short of that solution fails to address the perverted incentives young couples face. Alternatively, yeshivas need to provide flexibility in subsidizing tuition of the “renters” so that they too can one day become homeowners. The current arrangement only funnels money from one cohort of individuals to the other and is simply unfair.

To put the issue into perspective, my wife and I (27 years of age, with 3 young children) have a combined household income of close to $150k yet we have chosen not to purchase a home until we have the financial footing to afford all of our responsibilities. We will be paying close to $23k in tuition next year for our oldest boys, in addition to $10k in babysitting for our youngest child. In contrast, there are others with lower income levels who believe home ownership is a birthright, and will be saddling us with further increases next year.

Until these imbalances are addressed, I can’t justify sinking any additional funds into supporting this institution. The economics are pretty black and white. It’s a zero-sum game and unfortunately, too often, the playing field does not appear to be level.

Disillusioned young parent.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

With 3 kids at age 27, you may never be able to afford all your responsibilities, unless you have good reason to believe your income will substantially increase. (For example, if you and your spouse are doctors who will earn significantly more after residency). For other couples with 3 kids at age 27 and little hope of your income increasing, it would be foolish not to buy the house, even if it means taking tuition reductions.

Three kids at 27 really gets one behind the financial eight ball, especially if one is planning to send them all to private school for 13-15 years each, without even thinking about college. And many couples don't have the education and flexibility to earn $150,000. But do we see anyone encouraging frum kids to marry later and delay childbearing? Not a chance.

Critically Observant Jew said...

Agree with anonymous. Plus, some people like myself have a home that is underwater (mortgage-wise) not because of re-financing, but due to property values that have fallen more than 50-60% since it was bought in 2007 or so.

Hence, having a child that will go to school in a year or so, I'm thinking that the better use of my money would be to sink it into the upside-down mortgage so as to take advantage of a possibility of a scholarship rather than to dump money into a broken system.

That is given the fact that I'm not planning to walk away from my home any time soon.

G*3 said...

Perhaps my case isn’t typical, but my mortgage is the same or less than rent on an apartment in the same neighborhood. The hard part was saving enough for a down payment.

Anyway, this sounds like another attempt to scrape together all of the assets someone might possibly have in order to pay tuition, as though sending kids to yeshiva is supersedes all other concerns. Universal yeshiva education is still very new. If it were to disappear in this decade, it would be just a footnote in Jewish history, a curiosity of the second half of the 20th century. Yet it seems the community has convinced itself that it’s a necessity.

Mr. Cohen said...

We should pray that G_d should take away money from unworthy wicked Jews and unworthy wicked Gentiles, and He should instead give the money to Jews who pay yeshivah tuition or donate to yeshivahs.

If 1,000 Jews would make this tefillah, miracles could happen!

Anonymous said...

As the author of this guest post, I would respond that I recognize your concerns re: the viability of raising a large family at such a young age. Fortunately, in my personal circumstance, this has not been financially overwhelming and I'm glad to report that I have since purchased a home, while having a 4th child and maintaining my tuition payments. Nevertheless, I still believe the inequities and imbalances raised in this post remain relevant and require attention irrespective of the child bearing concerns that were raised

galmel said...

This isn't really anything new- it's a rehash of all the same stuff going on at the old Chump blog. Ultimately, if we're going to insist sending everyone to yeshiva, we're going to have to accept a hierarchy of yeshivahs- some with more bells and whistles than others, some will have to make do with larger class sizes etc.
Pretty much everything said about the teachers is flat-out incorrect. My sister teaches at a yeshivah, and no, she does NOT get to send her kids for free. She does get a discount, but it's still more expensive than what she'd be paying for full tuition at a more RW school. The teachers are really no different than any other scholarship family (the VAST majority of whom are still paying more than half price).
Also, the fact is that teachers really don't make that much and never will (unless they go into administration). Even if you want to justify it by saying they only work 9 months out of the year, the fact remains that they only make so much and need to support their families too. And WE need people to be willing to teach our children even though it means making less than they would doing something else. We can't ask everyone to "choose" to go into high paying professions; aside from the fact that it's mathematically impossible for every single MO Jew to make a top 10% income, it's not really a good idea society-wise. We NEED some people to choose to become teachers and Rabbis.
You know what happens when we can't attract young MO talent to teach in our schools? You end up with RW teachers coming in because MO schools pay much better than RW (and on time for that matter), and then you end up with the "shift to the right" that everyone loves to complain about.
There's a lot of bloat in the current system, but teachers are NOT the target unless you want to talk about larger class sizes (which I believe we DO have to be willing to accept as part of the answer). Even cracking down on scholarship abuse is not going to make much of a dent, because believe it or not, it's quite rare. There just aren't that many people who can really afford tuition, which leads to more scholarship, which leads to higher tuition and even fewer families who can afford it. Ultimately, we need to make low cost yeshivahs work (by "we" I mean those who feel public school is not an option). But low cost yeshivahs mean making tough choices about what you are willing to have your kid go without. The idea of a not-economically-egalitarian yeshivah system rubs many people the wrong way, but it is probably the only option. The public schools are not equal, the Catholic schools are not equal. It's a fact of life. The current wishful thinking just does not allow for a sustainable reality.

Anonymous said...

There is way too much variation from one circumstance to the next to universally oppose or agree with the argument in this posting. I will say that I have seen enough cases of nepotism, greed and abuse in the yeshiva system to give the benefit of the doubt to the guest poster regarding his/her local yeshiva. And I know many working layman, with the beenfit of hindsight, who wish they had elected to become school teachers given the generous work schedule and other benefits

Anonymous said...

In addition to what galmel posted regarding teachers making very little, and the nonsense in the original post about it only being a 8-9 month school year etc. Firstly, based on my wife's experiences, along with numerous of her associates experiences [including some in administration positions] Yeshivas tend to skirt around the rules to make teacher's part time employees, when, in fact, the work teacher's do is full time. How many times my wife has to go in to school for faculty days, parent teacher conferences, do report cards in out of school time [aside from all the homework grading tests, making calls to other teachers to plan a joint class/2-3x/wk] etc, as well as not be paid on time...period?
That is all aside from lesson planning, which in itself is a many hour task, depending on how many classes she has to set up...and it is not just a one year thing, and the rest of the years at the same school is the same lesson plan.
I personally think that more people should PRAISE the yeshiva teachers for their hard work for little compensation, and stop nagging on them.
Before my wife was teaching at Yeshiva, I would have thought it is a good thing...but after several years of nonsense at the expense of the Yeshiva, and my wife's experiences are mild compared to friends of hers, our current Yeshiva system is a joke.

Anonymous said...

Disillusioned young parent,

You've gone from 3 children in a rental home to 4 children in a home you purchased and are still comfortable financially pay full tuition with a modest income. Sounds like paying tuition isn't that big a deal.

kweansmom said...

It is a big deal. Not all those kids are in yeshiva yet and the tuitions will rise year to year and with the older grades. I wish the author the best but it may get increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

Anonymous said...

How much is the author saving each month (retirement and general savings)?

Anonymous said...

"Disillusioned Young Parent

You've gone from 3 children in a rental home to 4 children in a home you purchased and are still comfortable financially pay full tuition with a modest income. Sounds like paying tuition isn't that big a deal"

You are correct. I have been fortunate. Recognize that I wrote this posting 2 years ago when I was a hard working/moderately successful professional who was frustrated with the inequities around me. I had friends who were advising me to buy a home in order to avoid tuition payments and encouraging me to apply for assistance. This is the environment and incentives our community has fostered - not me.

"How much is the author saving each month (retirement and general savings)?"

A healthy amount. I am happy to be paying tuition and happy to be a source of subsidy to the rest of the community. Based on Rav Adlerstein's article, I would imagine there are others who are middle-aged and in the situation I was in back at 27 with 3 kids and $150k in household income but feel as though they are being exploited by the system

conservative scifi said...

It's wonderful that the author has, though his and his wife's hard work and effort, reached that top 1% level or so of income in the US. Maybe he'll even put some of his tzedekah money towards the Yeshiva.

The problem is for all the other families, including the rabbis and teachers who get tuition assistance, but can't quite make it with any retirement savings, college savings, and are either just getting by until an illness or accident knocks them down, or are not even getting by right now.

Anonymous said...

"It's wonderful that the author has, though his and his wife's hard work and effort, reached that top 1% level or so of income in the US."

The author is in the top 10% of household incomes. Please see:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/01/15/business/one-percent-map.html

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:26, he implies that he's had another child and bought a house while maintaining his same standard of living otherwise and having healthy savings. It sounds as if his family has increased its income well above $150,000. (More power to him).

Fred said...

I’d like to comment on each of the points in the post.

1) It doesn’t bother me when a Rebbe with seven kids gets a break on tuition. He’s doing avodas hakodesh and how is he supposed to pay tuition when he owns one suit? What irks me is when there’s a couple where the husband is a professional earning a decent salary and the wife gets a part-time job in a school to get tuition breaks. This couple might be able to afford full freight on the husband’s salary, but the wife works in a limited capacity primarily for the tuition benefits.

2) The author’s comment about couples saddling themselves with a large mortgage and then not having money for tuition is bothersome, but unfortunately a product of a system that allows it. The best way a school can deal with this problem is to lay out ground rules well in advance. For example, let it be known that if you owe more than XYZ on your mortgage, don’t expect financial aid. Obviously you can have exceptions for emergencies, but if people know what the rules and expectations are, they tend to live up or down to the rules and expectations. I’m not aware of any school that has such policies – is anyone else aware?

Anonymous said...

A rebbe I know has seven children, his wife works as a receptionist, and all their furniture is second hand. They live in the most modest house on the block, and the rebbe's free time is spent giving bar mitzvah lessons from when school is out til 9:30 p.m. to make ends meet. His Shabbosim in winter are spent trekking through the snow to the bar mitzvah shul. In the summer he works in a day camp. They do much chesed and make do with little. They live simply and idealistically. If any of the writers here saw their standard of living, they would hang their heads in shame.

Anonymous said...

I view the biggest deficiency in all this is the fact that I can’t deduct the portion of my tuition that goes to scholarship. If there was a way to structure the yeshivas to allow this, then that will free up a lot of money. Since the overwhelming majority of full tuition parents are in top tax brackets, they will get the most benefit and will put them on par with the rest of the parents. For example, if tuition is 20K and 9K of that is for scholarships, then that will result in about 4K of tax saving. That’s a 20% savings to the parents without any expense to the school or other children! I know why this is not allowed under IRS, but if there was a way, I would definitely pay the 9K voluntarily for the tax benefit.

Phil said...

Anonymous 4:12PM,

Their dedication to ideals is beautiful but I, for one, don't feel the least bit ashamed.

They made their own career choices and (hopefully) nobody forced them to do so. The wife could have gone to college and gotten a job to support her husband's idealism instead of being limited to a receptionist position.

Phil said...

Anonymous 4:21PM,

A close relative of mine in a large, American orthodox community works as a teacher in one school and sent one of his kids to another. Due to the accepted communal practice, he would have been eligible for a steep tuition discount for this child but decided instead to pay full tuition, asking only for this "scholarship number" so that he could then deduct it from his taxes as a charitable donation.

The school told him they wouldn't disclose that dollar figure because if it ever got out, they'd have a revolution on their hands!

Mr. Cohen said...

How much value do Jewish parents get in exchange for their yeshivah tuition payments?

Check this out:

"Let’s take a step back and see where the average yeshiva high school boy stands upon graduation from high school.
Is he fluent in Hebrew? No.
Can he prepare a Gemara on his own? No.
Does he enjoy studying Gemara? No.
Does he know Tanach? No.
Does he enjoy davening? No.
Does he understand basic Jewish philosophy about God, the purpose of creation, and why we do the things we do? No.
Does he stand head and shoulders above the rest of society in terms of his dedication to acts of loving-kindness and basic human decency? No."

SOURCE: Overhauling Orthodox Education to Make Better Jews by Rabbi Dov Lipman, The Jewish Press, 2012 August 1, page 6

www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/overhauling-orthodox-education-to-make-better-jews/2012/08/01/

Anonymous said...

Phil, Aug. 6, 4:37:

Thank you for your excellent point. The wife did go to college and had a computer job before and in the early years of marriage. I left this out to conceal their identity, but they had a child born with a disability and the wife had to leave the work force and devote much of her time to the needs of this child, who is now independent and not "disabled" due to the parents' and grandparents' devotion and involvement.

When the mother returned to work, her computer skills were out of date. She did as well as she could. Yes, they made their choice, and they are happy and content with their wonderful family. They observe no one with envy, and I never sense the slightest resentment on their part of others with more, for they have so much. Yes, they chose their idealistic lifestyle and to my knowledge have never regretted it.

You have chosen yours, and judging by the posters on this blog, their choices have not given them much contentment.

Anonymous said...

To Anon re the modest Rebbe with 7 children:

One example does not mean that rebbes and other yeshiva employees should not have to go through the same financial aid process as other parents. Someone else can point to examples at the other extreme. I agree that the bashing of rebbes and staff is silly, but it also is silly to give all of them automatic tuition discounts or waivers. There is no reason not to have all parents undergo the same process for receiving financial aid.

Anonymous said...

The appreciation that the local community has displayed to its rebbeim and teachers convinces me that the baalei batim are not dissatisfied with the arrangement.

The school has a ceremony each year honoring individual rebbeim. The well to do (and middle class) parents do not resent that their teachers' children do not pay tuition, for if the teacher is a woman, her sons must pay tuition at the boys' schools, and for a rebbe, his daughters must pay tuition at the girls' school.

This community seems satisfied with their bargain - low cost rebbeim, idealistic and dedicated, but with some of their children getting a "free ride" - at the cost of their parents working at low paying jobs on behalf of the community, devoting themselves to tzarchei tzibur and living a material life that the residents of the Five Towns would view as poverty. Perhaps the rebbeim would view the hashkofos of commenters here as poverty of the spirit.

JS said...

This post is hard to really comment on since the author of the post doesn't seem to feel the same way anymore.

A few thoughts:
1) I've never heard of any teacher or rabbi getting "rich" working for a yeshiva. From what I understand, the salaries are pretty low and the benefits substandard. You could do MUCH better working at a public school (assuming you teach a secular subject). On the other hand, many yeshivas could care less about standards or actual ability to educate. So, it evens out: lower salary, less qualifications needed. The parents don't seem to mind this too much. I have friends and family who are teachers in the public school system and they work very hard. The kids are difficult, parents unhelpful or detrimental, administration incompetent or demanding, and the work is taken home with you. That said, most jobs are difficult and suck at times and many require after hours work. The difference is they get paid less to work those hours. That's part of being a teacher. I'm tired of the "woe is me!" attitude of the teachers and the "you don't work hard!" attitude of the parents. Both sides need to grow up. Also, the tuition breaks have been significantly reduced from what I've heard.

2) There is no fair financial aid system. It's impossible. The only way to fix some of the bad incentives is to widely publicize "We don't give scholarship if you do X." I don't think many people actively try to game the system, I just think it ends up looking that way to an outside observer. Marry young, kids right away, need more space, buy a house, mom goes part-time or SAHM, need new cars, time for yeshiva, no money. It's not a surprising chain of events. It leads to scholarships but it's not really clear what the alternative is that would be acceptable to the community (force people on birth control? force people to stay in apartments?).

3) I'm glad the author can afford tuition. But, your scenario is probably quite rare. The 3 kids by 27, 4 kids by 29 routine almost always spells lifetime scholarship family. I'd just note that a huge increase in salary when you're young doesn't mean that trajectory will continue. It more often than not doesn't. So, I hope you're saving and not counting on continued geometric salary growth.

The only way to stay ahead of the tuition curve is to make a lot of money and live several tens of thousands below your means. So, make $200k, but live like you're making $120k and save like crazy. easier said than done. It can be hard to deny yourself the finer things in life when you work like crazy - I earn $Xk and I live in this small house? Drive this old car? Don't go away for Pesach? Can't fix up my kitchen?

Anonymous said...

"This post is hard to really comment on since the author of the post doesn't seem to feel the same way anymore"

As the author of this blog, I'm not sure where I've suggested that I don't feel this way anymore. My circumstances have changed and I therefore am not bound by the challenges I had been, when I penned this post. That said, I maintain the belief that after the federal government, the Yeshiva system is the largest wealth redistributor in our community and we should confront the difficult questions this raises both in terms of the equitability and accountability of the manner in which it is done.

I did not suggest any Rebbe or Administrator is getting wealthy off this redistribution but I can assure you some middle class families are getting poor from it. Unfortunately, the wealth transfer decisions are often discretionary and/or arbitrary and as a social service to the community, I find it terribly troubling. Forget the personal anecdotes and focus on the key issues raised. There are people in our community who are seeking work at the yeshiva for the sole reason of achieving dramatic tuiton discounts. Many of these positions are not open positions and some of those fortunate to land them could actually pay tuition. Similarly people in our community are buying houses before their children enter the school system on the advice and encouragement of those around them because they know they will not be able to do so and pay full tuition. Don't shoot the messenger. This is the peverse misalignment of incentives that we have created. Yes, many rebbeim are very poor and yes, our religous education has informed us that people of means should help people of needs but reread the post - that was not the focus of the issues raised. It's the misalignment of incentives and the inevitable corruption that breeds

Mr. Cohen said...

http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2012/08/07/yeshiva-day-school-financing-a-case-study/

Anonymous said...

To the person who commented that "the modest Rebbe with 7 children" is "one example", hence an outlier - may I correct your assumption.

This rebbe and his family situation are the norm in the community where the father chooses chinuch as his career. There are many rebbeim who are living at the thin edge. There are exceptions, where the wife's family can help. But as a rule, rebbeim are living in material want, and spiritual wealth. For some reason, many of their grown children choose exactly the same careers - as rebbeim in out of town communities - so somehow, out of idealism has come idealism. Out of cynicism comes cynicism. No, the rebbe I know is not "one example". He is the norm.

JS said...

"As the author of this blog, I'm not sure where I've suggested that I don't feel this way anymore."

You said:
"I am happy to be paying tuition and happy to be a source of subsidy to the rest of the community."

I take this as, well, I was pretty ticked off "when I was a hard working/moderately successful professional who was frustrated with the inequities around me" but now that I'm a far more successful professional pulling in a lot more money, it's not so bad.

The people who are ticked off are those who are "27 with 3 kids and $150k in household income but feel as though they are being exploited by the system."

In other words, money solves all problems.

I don't begrudge you a betterment in your personal situation - far from it, I congratulate you. I'm just explaining why I get the sense you don't REALLY feel this way anymore except in perhaps an abstract way that the system is somehow unfair to others - those who make less than you do.

I'd also note you didn't respond to a single point in my previous comment.

JS said...

The real issue isn't the nepotism behind family members and friends getting choice jobs. The real issue isn't people exploiting loopholes and gray areas to gain a scholarship advantage.

When I pay my tuition to college, I know that those deemed less fortunate may be going there for little or no money. I know that children of professors and sometimes even children of janitorial staff may get to take courses themselves or send their children there for a steep discount or for free. I know that rich donors, those with influence, those who know the right people are able to get their less-than-qualified children into those hallowed academic halls.

I'd posit the real issue with the yeshiva system doing the same thing is that it's being done under cover of religion. The problem is that you are told that you have a religion obligation to subsidize rabbis and other "klei kodesh." That you have a religious obligation to give over your hard-earned money as a form of tzedaka to those who choose to stay at home or work a 9-5 job and request a scholarship. That you should realize all you earn is from Hashem and essentially a matter of the luck of the draw and therefore as an expression of gratitude you should right out those checks to your yeshiva and shul and tzedakas.

THAT'S what's the real issue here and why it bugs you (and others) so much whereas the same game played by a secular college doesn't bug you in the slightest.

Anonymous said...

"In other words, money solves all problems."

Author: I would not say all - but it solves this problem - i.e. the cost shifting out of my pocket into others preventing me from living a financially fulfilled life. Now I view it as charity and move on because I can. Others can't

"I'm just explaining why I get the sense you don't REALLY feel this way anymore except in perhaps an abstract way that the system is somehow unfair to others - those who make less than you do."

It's not abstract at all. Those people to whom the system continues to be unfair are good friends, family members, etc. I still feel the same way just the application to me is not relevant anymore.

"I'd also note you didn't respond to a single point in my previous comment."

When you respond to the points I raised in the post, I'll respond to your counter points. I did not discuss 1) Rebbeim getting wealthy, 2) Fair financial aid systems or 3) Lifestyle choices of 27 year olds having 3 children and affording tuiton. You replied with three unrelated topics that can be reserved for your own blog post. My post focused on the 2 inequities of wealth redistribution in the current system

JS said...

It's not as inequitable as you think.

The teachers get paid pretty poorly. Fringe benefits in the form of tuition reduction is an effective means for compensating these teachers. Paying them more money and expecting them to pay full tuition would be MORE expensive for both the school and the teachers.

The larger issue is simply having far too much staff. If you want to complain about that, you won't get any complaints from me. There are far too many part-time employees who are called full-time and just far too much staff in general. The schools become employment agencies in this regard. They need to cut these unnecessary staff members and get their real/good staff to work harder. Pay the real staff more and cut the staff levels.

As for the poor incentives, you're right. Any system that has certain rules is going to be exploited by those who understand the rules. Some may be exploiting it intentionally, others merely as a side effect of doing what is best for their families. You can't cover every situation in a set of rules so there are bound to be loopholes and gray areas.

The things that bother you (and others) so much are not going to be correctable by any system that is acceptable to the community.

Problem: People have too many kids they can't afford. What are you going to do? Tell people to get on birth control? Tell them to take the kids to public school? Neither is acceptable to an Orthodox community.

Problem: People don't work hard enough and don't earn enough money. Not everyone is meant to be a doctor or lawyer. Jewish workers are already too clustered in a handful of professions - a downturn in medicine and/or law would be devastating to our communities.

Problem: People buy houses too early and become "poor" by doing so. There aren't enough apartments for people to all stay in an apartment. We're not willing to force people to sell their homes.

You can go on and on with this. There's no solution. When there's real fraud you hope it gets dealt with. Otherwise, good luck getting a community to implement rules that would solve these problems. Would you want to live in a place that told you you had too many kids at age 27 given your level of income? That you shouldn't buy a house yet?

Miami Al said...

I think one of the things that these sites, including this one, have done a good job of is pointing out the cost shifting and economic paradigm of American Orthodox Jewish Life.

15 years ago, these same factors were there, but you could pretend that people didn't know that they were there, and write it off as completely accidental and inadvertent. People act as though they are doing the right thing, but don't realize that the result of their decisions is these economic factors.

At this point, it's pretty clear that these are NOT inadvertent examples of collateral damage, these are the value of institutional American Jewish Orthodoxy. When Rabbis insist on seemingly meaningless labor intensive matters for Kashrut, it's not inadvertently running up the costs of the Kosher consumer to be stringent, it's not even creating make-work for friends/families without thoughts to the increased costs on the consumer, it is very obvious that it is wealth redistribution, and it is not seen as a problem.

The cynical working American Jews say, "I'd rather not subsidize Kollel families and 'connected' families so much, but it's the cost of being Frum, and I wish they'd express some gratitude, but I really hate when I watch these families do things that I can't afford because of the subsidies and want them to stop, it's embrassing me in front of my children." -- obviously, that's WAY MORE polite than how it's expressed on Chump's blog and other sites, but that's the sentiment, translate it from the vulgar expressions into polite English.

The subsidized families say, "You guys are richer than me, you should subsidize me more, don't you realize how holy it is for you to subsidize me, Hashem WANTS you to subsidize me. How DARE you ask me to express gratitude, you should express gratitude to me." -- Now, they would NEVER use such vulgar language, it would be a mixture of Yiddish, Yinglish, and Heblish, but ultimately, that attitude is in there.

As far as I can tell, these are two groups of people that share dietary practices and public worship practices, but not values.

Sure, they may share superficial values tied to religiosity, but not real values.

They raise their children differently, interact with their spouses differently, dress differently, and spend their free time differently.

As far as I can tell you have three groups here (and in reality, it's a continuity, there are people that float between groupings through life):

"Klei Kodesh" of all stripes: they work for the community, but see themselves as serving the community, not being served by the community

"Baalbattim" - Jews that see Klei Kodesh as serving the community, feel that teachers/Rabbis are underpaid, and that Jews should be more like Klei Kodesh than they are

"Orthoprax Jews" - These Jews live the lifestyle, pay the bills, but simply do NOT share the values of Klei Kodesh, and therefore resent that more and more of their income goes to supporting Klei Kodesh and their children.

It's a continuum, and Orthodox laymen float between Baalbattim and Orthoprax in their views. If they are closer to the BB group, they are happy, if they are closer to the OP group, they are miserable.

At this point, I think that people closer to the OP group need to realize that it is NOT inadvertent, they do NOT share values with KK/BB Orthodox Jews, and that KK/BB don't need to change, they do. They need to become BB Jews or get out.

JS said...

I'll add: look at my above comment. This only really bugs you because it's packaged in the form of a religious obligation. Think about that and reply, if you'd like.

Also, if there is any wealth redistribution going on (and I don't really think there is, just some pay more and some pay less - the amount you pay isn't enriching those who pay less), you can simply opt out of the system by not sending to that yeshiva or any yeshiva. Again, this is only a problem because it's packaged as a religious obligation.

If people with less cash are getting screwed, they can opt out. If you feel taken advantage of as a full payer (not you, anyone), they can opt out as well.

Again, think about why the EXACT same thing happening at a college doesn't bug you so much or at all.

Mark SoFla said...

JS - I've never heard of any teacher or rabbi getting "rich" working for a yeshiva.

This is true. But the "owners" of the yeshiva sometimes do quite well. Either financially or in the ability to parcel out paying jobs to relatives and friends. "Owners" doesn't usually apply to MO yeshivot, but often does apply to more RW yeshivot.

Did you see this article? http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2012/08/07/yeshiva-day-school-financing-a-case-study/

Mark SoFla said...

Ha, now I go ahead to the next post and see that the answer is ... YES :-)

JS said...

Mark,

Yep. Read it. Wasn't surprised to see the full price is more than just a "little" above the $7k price. Also not even clear to me how $7k is being calculated. More shady math from a yeshiva - what else is new?

By default I suppose I think of the MO yeshivas that I know about. I don't think of the RW ones which have different (more?) types of corruption and nepotism.

gpickholz said...

Tuition in Netanya is free. Same in Modiin, Beer Sheva, Haifa, etc
You will earn 50-65% as much as Stateside.
You do the math. And this is pre university.
Go have two more sabras with the savings.
American Orthodoxy is no longer financially viable save for the most elite 1% of income earners with wealthy fathers in law. As a basic design, the wheels have come off as a function of entitlements, sort of a religious case study equivalent of the bankruptcy of Detroit and the US auto industry.

Mark said...

You will earn 50-65% as much as Stateside.

We see this a lot, and it is only true for certain professions, for many others it is completely untrue.

For those in technical fields it is mostly true, but in many other fields it is not true (not even close in certain cases). A computer programmer, in a modern area of the field, will probably earn about 2/3 of his US wage in Israel. But a modern Orthodox pulpit Rabbi will not (even a modern Orthodox assistant pulpit Rabbi will not). Neither will any Rabbi in the field of education. A surgeon will not earn anywhere NEAR 50% of his/her US wage. An large-firm attorney will likely not earn 50% of his/her US wage, probably closer to 1/3 and that only after passing a bunch of exams to become re-certified as an attorney and perhaps even a period of apprenticeship.

gpickholz said...

An entire 747 of American Olin arrived this morning, with nearly 300 Dati singles who calculated they could not live an MO life in the USA long term.

Miami Al, thank you for a well written definition of the Torah Taliban and the collapse of orthodoxy in America. So much for 70 Panim l'Torah. I profoundly disagree with significant components of the hashkafa and lifestyle of your Klei Kodesh, as do 2 million professional Dati Jews in Israel living fully integrated secular/professional and religious lives, white kippa seruga on our bald spots. Don't ever suggest you own a copyright on the proper derech or definition of halachic observance. I don't want my children taught by a black hat without army service and professional degree, and we teach them that such people are as off the derech as the Reform or Secular: as the Buffalo Bills know all too well, wide right is just as bad as wide left. Gotta kick it cleanly down the middle of the uprights. Am k'sheh oref hu.

Getting back to the seminal article in the JPress, however, this discussion remains focused I expense alone rather than the turgid results of 12 years of chinch in almost all US educational tracks. Therein lies half the problem as well; one not only pays preposterous sums Stateside, but the quality of chinch is simply appalling. It is important to note, with greatest respect, that virtually none of the Rabbinic mentors and educational leaders in the US could secure employment teaching Navi to 7th grade girls in Kfar Sava or Haifa -- they truly are that unqualified. How did the pedagogic caliber deteriorate so significantly in only 2-3 generations? Was it a function of "expansion team dissolution of quality" as the number of schools rose?

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