Volume 55 Number 25
                    Produced: Wed Aug  1  6:48:06 EDT 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Finances and Judaism (4)
         [Joseph Kaplan, Adam J. Steiner, Chana Luntz, Elazar M. Teitz]


From: Joseph Kaplan <penkap@...>
Date: Mon, 30 Jul 2007 22:42:02 -0400
Subject: Finances and Judaism

I am sure Dr. Backon is a good businessman and I wish him much success
in his electronics business.  But I am happy that he is not on the
board, or even worse, the president, of the high school where my
children studied/study.  Do I like paying $18,000 in tuition?  No.  Is
it hard for me financially?  You bet it is.  But do I want all (or most)
of the administrative staff fired?  Absolutely not.  Nuchshleppers?
Who?  The head of the guidance department (who has a PhD in addition to
smicha and who has helped numerous kids in many important ways) and
other guidance counsellors, which my Jewish high school did not have,
and I also went to high school in the 60's.  The Israeli program and
college guidance counsellors, which my high school did not have?  Sure,
let the kids and their parents do it all on their own, with no expert
advise or guidance. The assistant principal who serves as a dean of
students, which my high school did not have?  Throw him out.  Who cares
if the school becomes a dreary, unfriendly, cold and impersonal
place. The assistant principal to supervise the secular studies, which
my high school did not have?  Sure, one principal can supervise dozens
of teachers in many different disciplines. They all play an important
role in the school, and when I compare my high school experience with
that of my kids , there's no doubt in my mind that my kids experience is
far superior and richer than mine was (and I have very fond memories of
high school).  And sure, let's cut salaries too, since the teachers and
administrators are surely overpaid.  Rather, let's go back to the old
days when teachers and administrators were on the low end of the salary
structure like they were when I was in school, working two or three jobs
to make ends meet.  That's a great way to show our kids and our
community how much we value education.  And it's also a great way to get
the best and the brightest to go into education. Can there be cuts in
some schools?  I'm sure there can.  But I'd rather leave that to people
who are experienced in education rather than to doctors who run
electronics businesses.

Joseph Kaplan

From: Adam J. Steiner <ajsteine@...>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 00:07:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Finances and Judaism

I always find it interesting when people complain about the high cost of
Yeshiva education.  Surely, it could be done for cheaper, if only the
parents would demand accountability.  Cut administrators, cut teacher
salaries, cut this, cut that, just get the number down to something
'reasonable'.  What's reasonable?  What's expensive?  *How* can it be
done for cheaper?

My high school had 180 students, 2 principals, 2 secretaries and an
executive director.  That number had increased slightly by the time I
graduated to 3 secretaries and a couple of others people.  Tuition was
still in the 15k range.  Inflation adjusted numbers are fraught with
peril too - how many elementary or high school teachers had graduate
degrees 15-20 years ago?  I'd be shocked if my elementary school
teachers did, and with that degree comes a higher salary.  While the
degree doesn't mean students get a better education, do they?  How
effectively are teacher's utilized?  Can some part timers be fired,
replaced by full time teachers?  Does the curriculum today match the
curriculum of forty years ago?  Are you willing to trade in a lesser
education if it means lower tuition?  If not, tuition isn't expensive.
You just feel the impact more, and part of that could be poor planning.

As Tzvi pointed out, tuition is also high because of subsidies, those
who can afford, pay, while those who don't get a free pass.  Should we
throw those kids out on the street and lower tuition accordingly?  That
would reduce tuition quicker than firing some administrators. Parents
with tuition reduction (in all or in part) have less (or no) incentive
to hold the school accountable.  Why bother?

If you build it, they will come.  Offer a good yeshiva education for
$2,625 (or even $8,000) and I guarantee you'll have your choice of
students, and WADR to Dr. Backon, I'm not sure an online program fits
the bill.  Write up a program, a business plan, let's see the ideas on
paper.  But realize that NYS spent $14,119 per student in 2005, the
national average was $8,701. Utah, at $5,257, spent the least
nationwide.  Is Yeshiva education really out of whack?  How much extra
does a dual curriculum cost?  Compared to public schools, yeshiva
education is a steal.  What parents should be doing is lobbying for
vouchers.  The problem isn't that parents are paying $18k per child per
year, its that they're paying $30-40k under the guise of taxes.  Blaming
the school is easier than advocating for political change.

Adam J. Steiner

From: Chana Luntz <chana@...>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 10:37:25 +0100
Subject: Finances and Judaism

Anonomous writes:
> ...
> If we moved out of walking distance from shul, we could afford a big
> enough house and afford day school tuition.  If we put the kids in
> public school, we could afford to live walking distance from shul.  If
> we did either of these, we could afford to have more children, which
> we would love, seeing as how we are Thank God young and healthy and
> believe in making more little mensches.  :) We have considered making
> aliyah, but neither of our jobs is easily portable, and we also have
> family obligations in the U.S.  As things stand now, we have chosen to
> stay in our little house, and not drive to shul, and keep the kids in
> day school.  But I wonder - how do most people manage it?

Obviously I can't advise you on the life choices you make, and the
situation is very different in England, where the day school tuition is
not nearly so crippling (that is because there are a number of day
schools who are what are called "voluntary aided" - ie where the
government pays for the buildings and secular education, and all you
have to pay for is the limudei kodesh), but I don't think the choice is
necessarily between staying in your house and not driving to shul and
moving and driving to shul on shabbas.  There is a third option, which
is moving out of walking distance of the shul and not going to shul on

If you did that, you might want to do several things to compensate:

A) making a point of going (ie driving) to shul Monday and/or Thursday
morning to hear the torah reading (maybe even taking some or all of the
kids!) - after all, wasn't that precisely why Ezra instituted these
readings on those days, - for those in the villages who couldn't get to
hear the torah on shabbas, but who came into town on market days and
hence could hear the torah then!;

B) budgeting to stay in a hotel over Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur (although
you may well find somebody willing to host you - especially for Yom
Kippur, where there is no need to feed you - and there can be something
surprisingly spiritually uplifting about sleeping on somebody else's
floor on Yom Kippur).

C) Making a point of davening together as a family on shabbas.
Obviously you can't do the parts that need a minyan, but there is quite
a lot, especially from the Friday night service, which you can sing
together and make it feel shabbasdik (obviously this is to the best of
your knowledge and ability, but it is not a huge investment in time to
try and learn the services if you don't know them and good chinuch for
the kids).  [The next step of course is inviting any and every Jew who
turns out to live nearby to your mini services.  You might find that
before you know it, you have at least a Friday night minyan in your
house (you know, the nice big one you have just bought with lots of
space for a minyan!).  Most of the shuls that you know as established
institutions in fact started out that way (I have a relative in fact who
moved to LA after the war, and had the first Orthodox minyan in his
house).  Of course once you do have your minyan, shabbas morning/mincha
gets tricker, as you need to find a sefer torah (expensive) and somebody
to layn, but that's a bridge that only needs crossing if you come to

This option, it seems to me, is a fair bit easier than the home
schooling option - it doesn't require one of you to give up your jobs,
nor does it require a huge additional number of skills that you probably
don't feel equipped to provide.  What it does require is a fair bit more
effort on shabbas keeping the kids amused and making the day feel
shabbasdik.  But there are in fact plus sides to this as well as minus.
By giving up going to shul on shabbas, you are making a very definite
point to the children about the importance and sanctity of shabbas.  And
especially with the day school education, it is not as though they are
not getting a lot of contact with other Jews and with yiddishkeit during
the week (including, almost certainly, tephila in school).

Just my two cents (or pence, given the side of the Atlantic I am on).


From: Elazar M. Teitz <remt@...>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 10:13:57 GMT
Subject: Re: Finances and Judaism

     Rabbi Dr. Josh Backon attacks tuitions in American yeshiva high
schools, saying "This is perverse, this is insane."

     Having been involved in such education since 1958, I believe I have
somewhat more familiarity with the situation than does he. Let me point
to several factors.

     First, the cost of living has not increased by a factor of 3.5 over
the 1960s.  The figure is probably closer to 8 or 10.  Gasoline has gone
from 30 cents a gallon to its current 3 dollars.  Postage has increased
from 5 or 6 cents to its current 41 cents.  I was able to rent a
two-bedroom apartment in 1964 for $147 a month; that same apartment
rents today for well over $1000.  Schools must pay far higher bills for
heat and utilities -- easily 10 times what it was 40 years ago.
Insurance, in our litigous society, is another expense that is far more
than 10 times what it was then.  The maximum a school had to pay for its
share of an employee's social security then was, IIRC, 3% on a maximum
of $4,800 -- $144 a year, and not all employees earned that maximum.
Today, it is 7.65% on the first $60,000+, or more than $4,000.

     Secondly, teachers' salaries are no longer the pathetic amounts
they were then.  While they still leave much to be desired (most schools
give little if anything in fringe benefits which are taken for granted
in the business world and in the public school system), they are still a
far cry from the days when it was said about yeshiva salaries that "if
you pay peanuts, you get monkeys."  Unfortunately, I suspect that this
positive change did not come about because the lay leadership of the
schools realized that teachers' idealism could not feed their families.
In large measure, it was a result of the increase in the number of
schools, which engendered competition for teachers -- and competition
led to higher salaries.

     Third, the services offered in the schools are much greater. In the
60s which Dr. Backon recalls, most yeshiva high schools did not have
guidance counsellors, did not offer serious college guidance, did not
even know the concept of resource room, did not have AP courses; on the
elementary level, there were many schools which did not offer special
classes for music and art, physical education was primarily running
around in the gym or playground, without specifically trained teachers,
lower grades had only the teacher in charge, with no aides. Also, in
those days it was not unusual in some schools to have 30 and 35 students
in a class, with no provision for differing levels of ability -- it was
essentially sink or swim.  Sports programs used to consist of a
basketball team, period. Today, there is a broad program, including
baseball, volleyball, floor hockey and swimming, affording the
opportunity to participate to a greater percentage of the student body,
rather than to 10 or 15 individuals.  All of these upgrades are costly.

     Fourth, there were many tasks in the 60s which were done by
volunteer effort, which meant the mothers.  Today, with the two- income
household a necessity for economic survival, those tasks require paid

     Are there too many administrators? Possibly. But consider a school
of 400 students with a principal and two assistants (Jewish and general
studies).  If the two assistants earn, say, $75,000 each, eliminating
both positions would save $150,000.  That amounts to less than $400 per
student -- far from the percentage of reduction Dr.  Backon thinks it
would allow.

     I agree that tuitions are obscene; the school with which I am
associated has always tried to keep expenses and tuitions as low as
possible.  But our experience has been that donations are increasingly
hard to come by.  As a result, schools have had to append a building
fund fee.  In the aftermath of 9/11, security has had to be upgraded (or
better, added, since most schools did not see the need for guards,
security cameras, etc. before that date).  How much of an expense did
Dr. Backon's school have for computers and computer instruction? Zero,
of course, since personal computers were still twenty years away.
Today, no school can survive, nor would it be doing its job of preparing
its students for society, without a computer lab, teachers, and a
technical professional.

     The real problem is that the Jewish community does not consider
education its first priority.  If it did, it would see to it that Jewish
education would be community-sponsored, not placing the burden almost
exclusively on the parents.  However, there is a name for that
occurrence: it's called Mashiach's times.

     BTW, how much does college education cost, and by how much have
higher education tuitions increased between the 60s and today?  I think
one will find that in comparison, yeshiva tuition, despite its
unbelievably high levels, is still a bargain.  And somehow, those who
complain loudest about yeshiva tuitions are suddenly silent when it
comes to college bills.

     There _is_ one area in which parents are gouged, with little
justification.  Baruch Hashem, most of America's yeshiva HS graduates
spend at least one year in Israel, at yeshivas and seminaries, before
undertaking higher secular education.  The costs in Israel are far
lower, yet the tuitions are the same as the high school costs in America
(not counting the travel, and for the girls, not counting the food,
which their schools, for the most part, do not supply).  Not only that:
unlike the American schools, need-based scholarships are almost
non-existent at those Israeli schools catering to the American post-high
school student. (In our schools, as an example, the amount of
scholarship money given is almost 20% of full tuition).  _That_ is the
true scandal in Jewish educational costs.



End of Volume 55 Issue 25