Jewish Ideas Daily has been succeeded and re-launched as Mosaic. Read more...

The Moral Costs of Jewish Day School

There is a lot of hand-wringing these days about whether the rising costs of Jewish day schools are sustainable.  The discussion has been about money: How can we get more?  How can we spend less?  These questions miss the point: The largest costs of high day school tuition are not financial but moral, and the key to solving the financial dilemma is to address the moral problem.

What are the moral costs?  Imagine that someone proposes a new Jewish practice that would have these consequences:

a. Parents take second jobs, or work longer hours, that deprive them of almost all weekday contact with their children and leave them too exhausted to make Shabbat meaningful.

b. Almost half of households are transformed, for years, from community contributors to charity recipients.

c. Children aspiring to intellectual, creative, or service work, such as teaching (especially Torah) or other helping professions, are told that these are not options because they will not produce enough money to sustain a committed Jewish lifestyle.

d. For economic reasons, families choose to have fewer children.

We would consider such a practice stunningly irresponsible.  Yet these are real-life consequences of current day school tuition, even as the community seems committed to making day school education a requirement of serious Jewish child-rearing.  How can we live with these consequences?

Furthermore,  parents receiving day school financial aid have no guarantee, and often no idea, of how they will be affected by tuition hikes or whether the school will take account of a job loss, a new baby, a car's breakdown—or, on the other hand, a gift from a parent or extra income from a second job.  They cannot make future plans; they are chronically dependent on other people's decisions.  They are deprived of economic dignity.  Indeed, financial aid applications require families to state their expenses in often-humiliating detail.  They know a committee will sit in judgment of their priorities.  A family that eats pasta all month so it can go to a movie risks an aid cut because it spends on entertainment.  A family that uses an inheritance to visit yet-unseen relatives in Israel risks a cut because it can afford travel. 

The price of poverty is often loss of privacy.  This is an evil, which we should minimize.  But the current system maximizes intrusions on privacy by forcing people who make five times the median income to apply for charity.  Because the maximum tuition is unaffordable even for many families earning over $200,000 per year, they are forced into a financial aid system that  requires complete financial disclosure.

The system also undermines the schools' Jewish effectiveness.  If our children lack Jewish passion, doesn't that bespeak parental exhaustion?  If they are materialistic, isn't this related to their being told that their career paths are limited because they are poor?  When they show signs of being "at risk," doesn't this reflect lessened parental involvement?  How can children internalize the core Jewish value of human dignity and the spiritual value of financial independence when their schools make them dependent?

Should we therefore undo our commitment—admittedly unprecedented in Jewish history, and inconceivable in a less wealthy community—to broad-based day school education?  This is not necessary.  We can address the moral issues and, in doing so, the financial issues as well. 

The Solomon Schechter School of Greater Boston has proposed a version of a model with great potential.  In very simplified form, here is how it might work:  Tuition is set as either a fixed percentage of income—say, 15 percent, with small adjustments for the number of children in the school—or a relatively high set amount per student, which high-income families can use if they wish to pay a lower percentage of their income.  Families unable to pay even the 15 percent could, as now, apply for financial aid.

This model corrects many of the current system's moral deficiencies:

  • It makes the tuition-setting process transparent and predictable.
  • It moves many middle-class families off the rolls of those receiving financial aid.
  • It defines day school education as a public good to be communally supported instead of an individual good, privately purchased.
  • It makes clear that the rich, even when they pay the maximum tuition, are assessed a lower percentage of their income than the middle class.

There are, of course, gaps and imperfections.  The new system does not (yet) address families with children in multiple schools or questions of what costs should and should not be included in tuition.  It also excludes, consciously, family assets.  Yes, this exclusion could allow families to "cheat" by hiding their true financial capacity; but counting all assets would provide a disincentive to saving—and, equally important, would have critical implications for privacy and dignity.

No system is without drawbacks, but the proposed system's moral advantages are significant.

Still, let's be practical: The model will and should be required to pass the budget test.  It should provide our schools with revenues at least equal to those of the present system.  In fact, the new model would meet or exceed the test, if only because the percentage of income required as tuition can be set so as to produce approximately the revenues that schools receive now. 

But the new system would have further budget advantages.  Under the current system, schools operate under deeply flawed ideas about their revenues and their communities' financial capacities.  They have arbitrary "financial aid budgets" for what they consider tuition "subsidies"; they turn down students when these budgets are "spent" and they can no longer "afford" to take students paying less than full tuition.  In fact, however, any student who pays a significant portion of gross family income will be contributing significantly more than the marginal cost of his or her education.  In rejecting such students, schools forego revenues and profits.  Moreover, notes Dan Perla of the AviChai Foundation, if a school sets tuition as a percentage of income during a recession, when costs rise faster than wages, it will realize rising revenues from the same percentage of income when times improve.

In addition, it is wholly reasonable to expect that the new system would change behavior.  Families who do not consider day school under the current system, because of uncertainties or privacy concerns, may well consider it when they know how tuition payments will relate to their income and are required to submit only the first page of their income tax returns.  Families with many children will be more likely to send them to day schools; indeed, such families may grow larger over time.  Wealthier and even middle-class families, who will no longer see their tuition payments as subsidizing their neighbors, may be more likely to donate.  Families without children in the schools may also be more willing to donate if day school costs are presented as a communal obligation, not a commodity for purchase.

This new model requires elaboration and customization, but it can redirect the community's conversation and efforts toward a model of day school financing that is both financially and morally sustainable.

Rabbi Aryeh Klapper is Dean of the Center for Modern Torah Leadership, the intellectual catalyst of Modern Orthodoxy's "Taking Responsibility for Torah," and teaches Rabbinic Literature at Gann Academy, a pluralistic Jewish high school in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Many of his lectures and articles can be found at the Center's website,

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Anon on May 14, 2012 at 12:32 am (Reply)
According to a recent study at the University of California, Berkeley, wealthy people are more likely to engage in cheating and other sorts of unethical activity than those who are poorer. Rabbi Klapper's proposed model makes it easier for the wealthy, those with trust funds, hideable income from non-wages-based sources, etc., to pay less for school. Rabbi Klapper claims this may change behavior and make the wealthy more likely to donate, but there is no reason to believe this will occur. Those who donate because they believe in the school, believe in tikkun olam, or otherwise believe it's the right thing to do will do so either way. Those who donate because they want to be the big macher with their name on things will donate either way. If wealthier and middle-class families have a problem with part of tuition going towards subsidizing others, the appropriate response is education about Jewish ethics and the importance of helping those in need.
David Aharon Lindsay on May 14, 2012 at 6:50 am (Reply)
Notwithstanding the high cost of jewish education,
a) The rule of tithing, Ma'aser Kesafim, could be applied per family whether you have 1 child or 5 or more children in the school system. b) It could be given to one central system. c) Out-of-town yeshivas could be curtailed. Why send your children to Israel when you can get a yeshiva education in a local institution? The dormitory idea shaould also be scrapped as an unneccssary expense, and parents should see their children home every night after classes are finshed. d) Going to out-of-town institutions does not guarantee the success of the education system. e) Building competing schools within the city is part of the overall cost of tuition fees. Do we need 10 different day schools to cover all the different minhagim [customs] taught to our children? If you live in a city where there are large pockets of Jews espousing a different derech, maybe you need a 3 or 4 buildings. How about home schooling as an alternative, with some of the mothers and fathers who are knowledgeable in Jewish traditions teaching Chumash and basic Jewish law to 5 or 10 boys in a rotating teacher arrangement?
David Aharon Lindzon on May 14, 2012 at 7:19 am (Reply)
Before we consider the instituional cost of separate competing school systems, which is one major factor in the affordability of a Jewish day school system, we must ask the various groups in the community to build a single umbrella school, which has within it a section for teaching groups of one type some things about the unique path of their tradition. Davening at various times could work, for each division would use the common area for tefillah. Once in while they would meet to daven as whole group.
Keith Brooks on May 14, 2012 at 9:40 am (Reply)
Tithing is borrowed from the Christian schools, which borrowed the idea from the Torah. One problem, will the people go for it and respect it? In an age where some people technically earn nothing because of tax shelters disguised as trusts, how would you define it? Why would people react better to this thought? There must be more tied to it than purely a percentage.
Michael on May 14, 2012 at 10:36 am (Reply)
Good ideas. But the community needs to take more responsibility if accessibility is really going to be affected sufficiently to ensure Jewish continuity.
AlMollitor on May 14, 2012 at 11:22 am (Reply)
Is it significant that no mention is made of controlling rising tuition rates?
alan S. on May 14, 2012 at 11:40 am (Reply)
This is an interesting concept. It doesn't solve the problem that, no matter what the system, we are still putting significant money into our children's education at the expense of other charities and more time with the children. We are currently paying 81,000 non-tax-deductible dollars for our 3 children to attend day school. We could send them to public school and have around $130,000 (because of the tax effect) to give to the charity of our choice instead. This has had a real effect on our charitable giving, which used to be much higher than it is now. Also, much of the 81,000 is being spent on education our children could receive for free. Oly a small part is on Jewish education that they cannot receive for free.
David Fisher on May 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm (Reply)
The US Supreme Court decreed that segregation by race is inherently inequal. Part of education is learning to live in a society where there are differences in background. Is segregation by religion any better or any more moral than segregation by race? I had a Jewish education in cheder in addition to my public school education. My public school education is precious to me. So is my Jewishness. I see no need for Jewish science, mathematics, or other secular subjects taught in a Jewish day School.
Andrew on May 14, 2012 at 1:53 pm (Reply)
As a former day school administrator, I applaud the effort to reframe day school tuition because I agree that the moral cost of day school is indeed very high. Ultimately, this plan is just a more dignified way of getting the wealthier members of the school community to pay more so that others can pay less. The greatest challenge is attracting "full pay families." They are the families with the most options. They usually live in communities with the best public schools, and they can afford to send their children to any private school. Families that require financial aid often face worse public educational options and are likely to get less financial assistance (and so face a higher tuition bill) at the non-Jewish schools. So, Jewish day schools have lower percentages of full-pay families than their non-Jewish counterparts. They have to raise more money from the community at large and are unable to raise money for the kind of endowment that gives schools long-term stability. Gann does better than most in this regard, but it is the exception that proves the rule. Do you think you can really raise the price for the wealthiest families (whose choice of a Jewish school is already exceptional) without losing them and exacerbating the problem?
Andria Weil on May 14, 2012 at 2:00 pm (Reply)
As the current President of SSDS of Greater Boston, I know this is a community challenge. But short of a community solution, SSDSGB decided to take this on by thinking about the impact our cost has on a family. I appreciate the way in which Rabbi Klapper has explained SSDS of Greater Boston's new family tuition program. Jewish day school is a good that is worth paying for, because it is not about "Jewish science" but about having an education that is imbued with values. We can buy many things for our children, but community and a values-based education are not so easily purchased. Moreover, the future of a strong Jewish community is inherently linked to the quality and depth of our children's Jewish education. There is a limit to how much of a family's budget it is reasonable to assume should be dedicated to day school. Such an education does cost something--and, like our public school counterparts, we are struggling to contain rising costs; I have yet to find a way to bend the cost curve. This was our best take on how one school can cover its costs and ensure that day school does not become a product only for those who can afford it. There is more work to be done. The program does have an asset test: Maximum liquid assets are $300,000, excluding home equity and retirement assets. In setting this amount, we are trying to balance savings for college and a rainy day fund but are also to capture trust funds, etc.
Reb Yid on May 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm (Reply)
The idea of tuition's being a fixed percentage of income is probably ideal. However, in practice, although applying for tuition assistance does entail giving up one's privacy, there is one inherent benefit: that frequently, in the course of determining a student's eligibility, unrecognized resources can be uncovered--for example, a cash-only business or wealthy grandparents. These would be unknown if all one had to do was to send in a copy of last year's 1040 with a check made out for 15% of the bottom line. The implication at the end of the article is even better, although not necessarily easier to implement: that supporting Jewish education is a communal responsiblity. As much was stated in Jewish Action last summer. ut, again, how do you implement that?
Robin Benveneste on May 14, 2012 at 2:35 pm (Reply)
Aapparently, in some commenters' religion, the Supreme Court is more important than the Torah or Jewish tradition. They are welcome to live their lives by that institution's ever-shifting standards but should not try to impose their religious views on others. As for the comments about "jewish science," which would be more appropriate in an anti-Semitic article about psychiatry, the goal of Jewish day schools is to preserve Judaism, not to preach some sort of Jewish version of the three R's. If you think the average kid will remain Jewish in a public school setting, you are stuck in the 1930s and are badly fooling yourself.

Loren Sykes on May 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm (Reply)
I am a parent who will have two children in Jewish high school and one child in Jewish elementary school with a combined gross cost, tuition only, of over $60,000, not including activities, transportation, etc. Without significant financial aid, we would not be able to send our children at all. At the same time, I serve as the director of a Jewish overnight camp where the board and our constituent congregations, Federations and other sources contribute significantly to scholarships that ultimately become the revenue allowing us to run our program and impact individuals and communities. What is missing here, at least in detail, is the question of how schools will be able to cover their expenses and maintain their excellence. Many schools already compensate their teachers at lower levels than their secular counterparts. Programs cost real money; and, while people seem more willing to support individual programs, they are less willing to support the general fund that keeps the lights on, the mortgage paid, and the building functional so that the individual programs can have a home and a constituency. I agree with many of the authors points but would ask that he elaborate on the revenue/expense model that would make this viable for not only the families but the schools. Rav Todot for this challenge approach.
Israel fathers rights advocacy council on May 14, 2012 at 3:04 pm (Reply)
Missing is the ultimate moral cost: Shomrei mitzvot b'nei Torah and their families turning their backs completely on any connection with the mainstream community because it has priced mainstream observance out of financial reach. For a divorced father with child support entering a second marriage and family, there is no discussion of remaining within the mainstream community. For the single mother, there generally is no discussion of remaining within the mainstream community financially. Today, that represents nearly 35% of the community.
Tina Kasimer on May 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm (Reply)
The high rate of increase of tuition is often offset by ever-increasing financial aid. Over time, the only people who can send their kids to day school are either wealthy or willing to ask for charity. The great middle is left out completely. If less financial aid were offered and tuition were lowered, more people would be able to afford Jewish school.

I do think there is value in secular learning in a Jewish environment. "Doing" Jewish is not reserved for services or afternoon Hebrew school. It provides a context for everything.
Charles on May 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm (Reply)
The suggested solution is great for families and communities--it's transparent and confidential, welcoming and strict--but is incomplete. The article admits as much when it suggests that the plan still has to pass the "budget test." Here in Pittsburgh, one of our day schools uses adjusted gross income to limit tuition burdens on families; it also deals with substantial financial challenges every year. As with any solution around affordability, family needs and limitations have to be balanced against the ability of the school to offer quality education and the ability and will of the community to support one or more day schools. Ultimately, the school, its families, and the broader community must be open and willing to work together to find solutions that fit their respective strengths and challenges. Only when affordability is treated as a communal problem can we begin to find sustainable solutions.
Janet on May 14, 2012 at 3:54 pm (Reply)
Rabbi Klapper articulates the problem very well. After-school schools---one is starting next year in D.C. (, and there are others---can also address this issue while allowing children all the benefits of public school, which has more benefits than just being free.
nelsonsamuel on May 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm (Reply)
Two of my four children, both Orthodox, live in Israel. One went to a private high school, the other to a regular public school. The one who went to a private high school has 10 children; the other has 3. The one who went to the public school system makes more money than the other. He was better equipped to making a good living, Religious training is fine, but you don't make a good living unless you get the tools to do so. I have yet to see a good education in a parochial school system.
hana on May 14, 2012 at 4:09 pm (Reply)
And not a word about vouchers?
Addess on May 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm (Reply)
An excellent article that clearly identifies how financial stress can affect the spiritual life of a community. Now we need to focus on why tuition is out of control and what we can do to reduce costs. One problem I have observed (as a day school parent and teacher) is that many modern day schools try to "be all things to all customers" in order to attract students; this inevitably leads to skyrocketing costs. In addition to providing a solid education in Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash, we also feel compelled to provide courses in Hebrew language, Holocaust studies, Jewish history, synagogue skills,and Zionism. These courses require additional specialized teachers and materials, which are expensive. On the secular side, a regular curriculum of basic math, science, history, and English is inadequate. We feel compelled to provide as many AP courses as possible, and electives in psychology--and Shakespeare, if requested. In the school my children attend, one or two students who wanted to take Chinese, and were accomodated. As anyone who has run a business knows, the largest cost to that business is usually labor, and in many of our schools the cost of labor is unbelievably high. Most of our day schools are overstaffed with teachers and administrators simply because we are trying to provide all services to all students, an impossible task.
Yehoshua Friedman on May 14, 2012 at 7:00 pm (Reply)
Jews send children to Jewish day schools because they want their children to learn Torah and Jewish content and to be in a Jewish learning environment. For many, though not all, one serious potential solution is aliya. Making less money or having a plane-commuting parent can still mean you come out ahead economically without the tuition crunch; and, if you want a Jewish environment, you get a Jewish street as well--no December Dilemma, no Easter bunnies. Every Jewish parent should at least ask the question and do the research.
Allison on May 14, 2012 at 8:47 pm (Reply)
We send our children to the fantastic JDS of the Lehigh Valley. We live in a beautiful and warm community with several shuls, a JCC, and very good colleges and universities. We are an hour from Philadelphia and two hours from New York City, and have low property taxes. We are 20 minutes from nationally recognized ski resorts, great hiking and other outdoor activities, shopping, and it's just minutes to main highways. Come check us out. (I don't work for the school; I just love where we live and feel very lucky.)
Tina Kasimer on May 14, 2012 at 9:32 pm (Reply)
Vouchers would be wonderful, and a huge part of a robust solution. This whole conversation has been quite neglectful in not bringing it up.
Ze'ev on May 15, 2012 at 6:53 am (Reply)
This is the moral cost of not living in Israel, where Jewish school is free and you can live like a free man in your homeland. Solution: Quit ignoring half the Torah and get on over here.
Danny Cohen on May 15, 2012 at 8:47 am (Reply)
While an important article, the example Rabbi Klapper cites and his endorsement of it miss a crucial consideration, the same one missed in public policy. The relevant criterion should be wealth, not income. Income provides a skewed sense of people's financial realities, as it takes into account neither assets nor debt. If a family has serious debt, whether from medical expenses, the parents' own tuition debt, house payments or what have you, these are serious financial burdens not factored into this equation, just as having an estate, investments, or whatever other assets are actually the bulk of much wealth, to which even six-figure salaries pale in comparison. A much more equitable, wealthier, and resilient system will be based on wealth rather than income.
Dan Ab on May 15, 2012 at 10:51 am (Reply)
While the plan at SSDC Boston that Rabbi Klapper discusses here is nice on paper and will be a great asset to this one school, it's unclear how broadly the solution will work. There is some additional information about this school's program at: They are offering this stability and discount to middle income families, but they define "middle income" as those making $200K-$400K. Two-thirds of the school is populated by families making $200K or more, so they are able to provide financial support families making less. If you're involved with a day school where families making $175K are low income, this is an option to consider. I also take strong exception to the justification of day schools based on their being the best source of Jewish values. We communally send children to day schools to gain knowledge they can't get elsewhere. Jewish values come from our homes, communities, synagogues, summer camps, and all types of Jewish education environments. Our supplemental schools embraced teaching Jewish values above all else in the decades of their greatest decline. If a day school is unable to justify itself on the knowledge gained by students and tries to claim the sole mantle for Jewish values, it, too, is plotting its path to irrelevance.
JJ Gross on May 15, 2012 at 11:08 am (Reply)
Even more offensive is the fact that scholarship committees are often comprised of wealthy, secretive individuals who have no clue about what it is like to struggle to make ends meet. What's more, struggling parents are not given any guidelines as to what sort of aid they may be entitled to based on their family size, income, and assets. Hence, many parents do not even apply, because flying in the dark and made to feel like beggars.
Andria Weil on May 15, 2012 at 12:17 pm (Reply)
I want to make one more clarifying point about the transferability of the program SSDSGB has created. The income ranges cited above were selected because it was a market we could readily see existed in Boston and was a market not adequately adressed by traditional financial aid approaches. This approach is best tailored by looking at your own school's population and where tuition and incomes for multiple children don't meet up. This tuition plan is not like traditional financial aid - it is a tailored tuition approach that generally helps families when they have multiple children in the school - something multi-child discounts generally do a poor job of. We don't define middle income as $200k- $400k and most in the country would not - that was the definition assigned by others. And we have families who make less than $200k participating in this program - because they like the features of less intrusion and predictability - however those who make less are eligible for greater levels of financial aid if they go through a more traditional financial aid approach. Boston will be different than the southeast or midwest likely. This is a way to eliminate the guesswork for families and therein lies the value of the program - not the income ranges identified.
angry anonymous parent on May 15, 2012 at 12:29 pm (Reply)
I decided to comment having put 3 kids through yeshiva from kindergarten through high school & beyond. During that time I have had financial ups & downs, mostly downs. when I "had", I supported the schools by paying full tuition & giving scholarships, but when my business went bust I didn't, I was no longer considered an "A" list parent even though I still paid full tuition(somehow). My priorities were straight, I could've opted for a nicer lifestyle but I guesstimate putting my 3 kids through school cost almost $1/2 million. When my second son finished 8th grade, he actually had no place to go and with no support from the school he wound up in a specialized program which unfortunately did nothing for him and he subsequently had to go to public school & to this day I still bear the guilt of a system that failed him and as history has a tendancy to repeat itself he is having difficulty placing a child with special needs in a yeshiva due to costs & location. As the basis of the article refers to "moral" costs, our yeshivas do not appear to feel morally obligated to teach all children unless you have the bucks to pay or can be a "poster child" of how well this child turned out by going to that school. Children have to fit a certain mold. Been to enough interviews to figure that out. Isn't that another side of this coin? All boils down to money. If you have, you can speak up & more times than not get what you want done. If you don't, you have to keep your mouth shut or be ignored because of how the school is doing you the biggest favor by allowing your children to attend. Who cares if you might jeopardize a Yiddish Neshama. Yeshivas have become a business, sadly, which have to work with balance sheets. When quality teachers are fired or subjects removed from a curriculum because funds are not available, something is so seriously wrong and it's so far gone that who knows if it can ever be fixed. In essence Yeshiva's with a parent body that pay full tuition and then some will continue to thrive. I have said my piece. If others out there have similar stories, good luck. We are our own worst enemy.
    remom on December 3, 2012 at 9:04 am (Reply)
    I'm so saddened to hear your story but thank you for sharing with such clarity and honesty. I too have experienced somewhat similar events. We've finally, after many years of Jewish Day School taken our children out and placed them in top public schools (required moving to a top tier public school district) and walking five miles round trip to shul every shabbat. I've seen what you describe happen - and unfortunately, it happens often and with out any shame or discomfort on the part of the parent/board and school/administration. Its all about power and money and a complete antithesis to true Torah values. People are unwilling to discuss this aspect of the problem - which by the way, infects the children in the classroom. Students whose parents are on the board get "special" treatment and those that are not of A tier families are sort of left as an afterthought. I was stunned by this - and we were full paying parents and yet even so, my kids felt this although had difficulty articulating it. They are both enjoying and thriving in their public schools and have many friends at our shul - although shul parents are constantly asserting how wonderful it is to send their kids to a jewish day school, and are constantly reminding us that scholarships are available, etc... again, no real interest in engaging in a conversation about why we've made the choice we have but rather assuming it's all about the money. On another note, I just want to add that the professionalism and level of standards/expectations of both academics and behavior at the public school far outperform those at the Jewish Day Schools that my children attended (and these too were considered top tier Jewish Day Schools). The teachers they currently have are true master teachers, with insight into teaching their subjects.... no quick fix curricula here, just good old fashioned hard work involving a myriad of skills and lots of synthesis - very little of which my children experienced in the Jewish day school world. Why is this? How come parents aren't vocal about quality of education, especially given the cost not only to their pocketbooks but also to their families home life/time with children given that it generally requires two incomes to support?
manny saltiel on May 15, 2012 at 3:46 pm (Reply)
Sounds like another former of redistribution to me. From each according to his ability to each according to his need. Isn't this what is being advocated in the article? I don't have any great ideas of my own... The best one I have heard is that all shuls in any given community must charge an annual education fee in addition to the annual membership fee. In this way, those whose children are grown and those without children in the school system (yet) also pay in? Why? Because the next generation of Jews is everyone's responsibility.
Jerry Blaz on May 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm (Reply)
I believe that the Jewish Day school is both good and bad. The bad is the financing aspect. I recall an Israeli family who came to the US with two children who spoke only Hebrew. When they arrived, their low economic resources were never in doubt; they applied to a JDS for scholarships but were refused. As a result, the children grew up only attempting to "ape" their American-born classmates, which did not leave much room for learning Jewish values among peers. Years later, in a happenstance conversation, one of the parents happened to talk to someone "active" in the maintenance of that JDS. His response was, "If you would have come to me, I would have gotten your two children in on scholarships."

My feeling is that a child needing financial assistance to be Jewish should not need "clout," only a genuine need, which they certainly had.

Today, there are several Hebrew charter schools that have been organized around the country. Charter schools get their funding from public sources. This may offer a partial solution if someone can figure out how to integrate the secular Hebrew curriculum of the charter school with an additional dose of "ex-curricular" religious education in what would have to be in other locations, perhaps on the pattern of the older after-school religious schools which generally were synagogue-affiliated and were a much smaller financial burden for Jews who can't afford often multiple tuitions to a JDS.
Mordechai on May 15, 2012 at 7:39 pm (Reply)
I'm not sure who Nelson is kidding saying public schools are better than private schools. Its no surprise that for all of the democratic party's love of public school Obama wouldn't consider letting his children go to one. Ditto for Clinton who would never have hurt his children by giving them a second rate public school education.

Robin needs to understand that wealthy grandparents have no affect on a parents ability to pay. I know the Rabbinic cartel believes that not only should parents bankrupt themselves to pay sky high tuition so principals can be paid 200K+ a year but so should grandparents.

Who says the wealthy grandparents are willing to give the money or fill out your form. The grandparents did their job raising their children. The schools need to learn to keep their expenses in the budget the parents can afford.
Allison on May 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm (Reply)
Maybe more people should attend the annual "Emerging Communities" convention in NYC and consider moving to a JDS in one of these communities. I can guarantee you that many of the communities represented at this convention offer a much better cost of daily living that can offset the complications of JDS tuition rates.
Sara on May 15, 2012 at 11:36 pm (Reply)
I live in Australia and cannot comment on the American Jewish school system but the concerns raised in the article and comments that follow are exactly the same as here. Every year it seems the Jewish schools put their fees up by 5-6% but people's wages are not rising to the same extent. Both my husband and I work full-time in middle-class professions - he is a high school teacher. We struggle to afford the school fees, $16,000 for my daughter in Year 6 and $21,000 for my son in Year 10 and can only afford to keep them there because my daughter got a grant and some of my son's fees are subsidized. Every year we have to apply for financial assistance. At first I was very appreciative of the assistance offered and willing to go through the humiliating process for the sake of my children's Jewish education. I felt very strongly that it was important for our children to learn Hebrew and Jewish religion/values and history. We keep a kosher home are regular shul goers, and observe every shabbat and festival. My husband is on the board of our synagogue and we are active in the community. We used to be shomray shabbat but as we could not afford the cost of a house in the area near the shul and schools fees made the hard decision to move away. Now we are facing another hard decision whether to keep our children in the Jewish school and continue to sacrifice the quality of our lives or not. Currently my husband does tutoring every night after school to try and make ends meet. As I work full-time I often don't get home until 7pm so our children are by themselves for up to two hours every day after school. Our evenings are rushed as I try and help her with her homework while cooking dinner. My husband will pop in to eat something and then rush out to another tutoring job or a board meeting. We have no time together as a family except on shabbat. Thank G-d for shabbat!
Anyway, as I was saying at first I was very grateful for the assistance offered that enabled our children to receive a Jewish education and I felt it was worth every sacrifice we have to make. But over time I have began to feel less grateful and more resentful. As we are a dual income family our combined income is considered pretty good (it is over $100,000 grand a year after tax) but we work hard for it! Because of this we don't qualify for as much assistance for schools fees as others on lower incomes do. Which is fair enough perhaps, but I am a bit resentful of people in the community who don't work full-time but receive virtually free education for their children. I am also resentful of those who own their own business who appear able to downplay their actual income in order to get a subsidy while driving around in brand new cars because they claim their car is a business expense. I feel the middle group of parents on fixed salaries like us are getting squeezed out of Jewish schools as it is only the rich (who have no problems paying the fees) and the poor (who get heavily subsidized)who can keep their children there. Last year we did not hear back from the school until December about the level of assistance they could offer us which made if very hard to plan ahead. The amount we were expected to pay was $350 more a month than what we had been paying the previous year but my husband and I are not earning anymore. Where does this money come from? We are afraid that if there is the same hike in fees next year then our children will have to leave. We have begun preparing our children. My son is resentful he only has two more years left of high school and would really like to stay there with his friends - he even starting crying and saying he would never forgive us if we take him out. My daughter who is younger seems to be more mature and philosophical about it - she starts high school next year so it could be a fresh start for her (the high school and primary school at the Jewish school are on separate campuses). My husband and I often fight about money due to the stress of trying to pay school fees and I wonder at what effect that is having on our children. Our children think we are poor (though we are not - just comparatively so relative to some of their school friends who go skiing in Aspen from Australia!!). My son has picked up some disturbing habits from his privileged school friends - sense of entitlement/unrealistic expectations and so on which makes us question the values the school is installing in them and whether we are really getting value for money - it would be nice if there were more middle-class 'normal' children at the school but they have all been priced out or are unprepared to humiliate themselves by applying for subsidy. We cannot afford holidays and have only done so in the past because my family has contributed. If we do go overseas (I'm from New Zealand) we have to show in our application for financial assistance how we afforded that. We spent nearly $5000 on a new engine for our car last year but had no emergency fund to draw on as the school 'takes' all our 'discretionary' cash. We are getting further and further into debt on our credit card. I can't even afford to get my hair cut at the moment. The increasing cost of providing a Jewish education for their children is not sustainable for normal middle class families and it is very sad.
Jeremy on May 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm (Reply)
All comments to this article are informative perspectives. My thought is, whoever is going to cheat the system will continue to do so regardless of protocols in place. One way to help curtail the issue is to have only ONE day school/yeshiva that handles each grade within a Community. The cost savings in infrastructure (staff, administration, facilities) and the common goal of fundraising to support one institution will be tremendously helpful. To start pointing fingers that a school is not frum enough or too frum is ridiculous. Have various tracks that meet a family's comfort level. After all if you are really can you justify middle class kids that are leaving the system due to financial you think you can have a more frum environment. What is that teaching? Oy Vey if that is what frumkite is turning into.! Time to put the big macher egos aside and work together for Klal Yisroel.
Lance on May 16, 2012 at 1:28 pm (Reply)
I found this article to be quite interesting and worth further consideration. A few years ago, I was the executive director of a small Jewish Federation and we spent a great deal of time considering how to make Jewish day school expenses managable for those families without significant means. Our Federation decided that the first line of our allocations would be directed to supporting families in need for Jewish education before any other of the important causes our Federation supported were considered.

I wish to add that to create well rounded, passionate, committed Jewish children and young adults we have to consider not only day school, but also jewish camping, participation in activities at the JCC, Jewish youth groups, etc. We have to look at the big picture of the cost of raising Jewish children. Jewish day school is vitally important and the most important investment we can make for the next generation. However, there are other critical programs in the world of informal Jewish education that are prohibitive in terms of costs as well. We need to have an integrated process to help families participate in a variety of crucial educational experiences that is respectful and protects the family's dignity.
SJSBlog on May 17, 2012 at 12:31 am (Reply)
In reply to David Aharon Lindsay on May 14, 2012 06:50 am:

Thank you for mentioning home-schooling in your comment. In fact, many Jewish families are embracing this option as a valid path for Jewish education and family success. Just a few weeks ago I attended and spoke at the 4th Annual Torah Home Education Conference in Baltimore, MD. We had well over 100 parents in attendance. It was a very successful and empowering gathering for all involved. For those who are ready to throw tomatoes: I completely understand that home education is not a solution for the community at large. But many families are finding dignity, success, and happiness on this path while producing Jewishly and otherwise successful children.

You can read more about the conference here:
Rufus McSlobber on May 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm (Reply)
The Rabbi’s opening points are worthwhile, but the solution is not workable. Most families with 100k gross in income and two children are not realistically going to pay $30k after taxes (15%, presumably per child) to send their children to Jewish day school. 15% gross per family for an unlimited number of children is not financially practical.
The issue at hand is how to enable every child whose parents want to send the child to Jewish day school to do so. A significant part of the problem is that cost-conscious, professional managers who are experienced in business are not running these schools. They are being run by Jewish educators.
Why it is necessary to have several admissions people at a school with 200 students is hard to understand. Why it is necessary to have a large staff that doesn’t teach is also difficult to understand. A head of school AND a principal? Unless the head of school is a significant fundraiser and brings in at least 4 times her salary and overhead that would not otherwise be obtained, there is just no justification for the position. The community has to decide whether it’s more important to pay rabbis and others who are otherwise unemployable, or to manage costs.
The out-of-the-box solution is to send the child to public school for 9 months of the year, and in the summer to send the child to a program in Israel designed for American students who attend public school. This requires that at least one parent go to Israel. If one parent is not working, and the other parent is a high wage earner, this is a more cost effective solution than Jewish day school. It does mean that the working parent is away from her children for an extended period of time, which is obviously not desirable.
The situation for so many is very sad, and just as the Rabbi said, often requires families to make sacrifices that just aren’t reasonable.
SSDSGB Parent on May 23, 2012 at 11:28 pm (Reply)
There are too many comments to read them all. As a parent at SSDSGB affected (positively) by the new tuition support policy, I'll weigh in.

1. Regardless of whether some of the posters of comments agree, we find value in having our children receive the education at SSDSGB. We live in Newton, MA, where the school is located. There is an excellent public school system in Newton - which we could access for no additional cost (beyond the taxes we already pay).

2. Our income, in prior years, was too high to qualify for much financial aid, and the process of applying required providing a large amount of information about our finances. We had never been asked about such things as whether we chose to go the movies, or on a trip, etc.

3. The tuition cap equal to 15 % of our combined salaries was very welcome, we still pay a substantial tuition. We think of this as a measure of our interest in providing a Jewish education to our children. But we also need to think of their secular lives, and the future cost of college tuition, and our hope for their future financial freedom.

This idea/issue is relevant in all communities, I think.

Rufus McSlobber on May 28, 2012 at 7:41 pm (Reply)
To: SSDSGB Parent

Are you indicating that at SSDSGB a family with 4 children and 100k in income pays ~15k?

parent of 5 on June 1, 2012 at 10:28 am (Reply)
Our synagogue dues structure is based on a percentage of income. Trust me - it doesnt work. People with less pay less, people with more pay what they want.

Another point - dont think the crushing cost of Jewish Day Schools does not make people think twice about having (more) kids.
nelsonsamuel on June 2, 2012 at 1:55 am (Reply)
I have read most of the comments made on this subject. My final words of wisdom on this matter are as follows:
Es ist schwere tzu zine a Yid. No, it isn't difficult to be a Jew. It is only costly. Tevia said, "If I were a rich man" Well, it is seems that is what you have to be. That is why most Jews are secular. They don't go to schul except for a Bnai Mitzvah. They are not members of Congregations. It cost to much money to belong. They don't keep kosher because it is too expensive. Beside where can you get a Kosher filet mignon in the U.S. Well, be an atheist, they don't worry about religion. And yes, HaShem will let them into heaven.
Jay A Friedman on August 9, 2012 at 6:18 am (Reply)
I was not able to read all the comments but I was amazed and gratified to see that they were so numerous. Permit me to propose a not so novel suggestion that might solve your tuition problems as well as a major part of your health costs. It also assures that you and your children will live a completely Jewish life (according to your own personal beliefs and practices.) True, there is an element of fear coupled with respect when your son and daughter reach the age of 18 and leave the house for an alternative life style but you can be assured that -- wherever they are -- they are constantly confronted with their responsibilities as Jews -- part of our nation and part of our faith.

The proposed solution???


Move to Israel
Y. Ben-David on August 13, 2012 at 9:55 am (Reply)
There is a simple solution that increasing numbers of Jews in Western countries are availing themselves of......make aliyah. While religious education and college education are not free, they are significanlty cheaper than in the US and other Western countries and the religious education is far superior. Think about it.
NorthJerseyJew on September 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm (Reply)
My daughter is starting a Jewish Day school for kindergarten this year, but we are pretty much agreed even as the school-year starts that it will not be sustainable to keep our daughter, and in a few years, our son in day school through high school and be able to save enough for both college and graduate school. In today's work-force, graduate school is even more important, and we cannot plan/depend on either child achieving special scholarships, etc. (My sister-in-law's 4 year dental program cost 70k per year + living expenses.) We do not want to leave our kids, or ourselves, with heavy debts. And I disagree with those who argue that the choice of # of kids to have is unaffected by economics of education - conversations within my community confirm that the decision is impacted by economics. The Catholic school in our area costs much less than any Jewish day school in the area. How can they keep tuition so low? Can we learn anything from them?
MiddleMiddleClass on October 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm (Reply)
We are a middle class, professional, Jewishly active family with only one child under 18. Despite making around 100K, the high cost of living the greater Boston area means that we live month to month. A few years ago, we experienced a short but financially devastating period of unemployment. In that short time, we borrowed 10K from my parents in order to pay my mortgage and our health insurance, only one of which could be covered by unemployment. I took a job with a lower income simply in order to start working again. We put things on credit cards that we never would have before. We sold our house at a loss and started renting.

I would love to send my child to a JDS, and I could, in theory, put the 13K we currently spend on daycare (mind you,this is not full time daycare in Boston) toward JDS tuition. But that choice for me would mean never returning to the middle class, much less the upper middle class level that the American Jewish community requires for full participation.

It would mean never saving for college. It would mean not having an emergency fund, thus putting us in danger again when the normal economic setbacks of life come up. It would mean not visiting Israel, not taking vacations, not seeing family very often. It would mean not being able to pay full membership in a shul, not giving very much to tsedakah, not going to Jewish summer camp (except perhaps on scholarship). It would mean continuing to rent indefinitely.

I have many friends who chose JDS in Boston and many of them receive scholarships that make it affordable for them. They are all having wonderful experiences -- and the schools have been very respectful, very generous. My guess is that we would also receive a scholarship, given our situation.

But all of the people I know -- every single one -- also have significant financial resources in their extended family.

Someone else helped them pay for daycare, someone else will pay for vacations, someone gave them a large downpayment 10 years ago, which keeps their monthly housing cost low. Someone has already paid for their graduate school and there is a significant gift towards college tuition waiting in the wings. When their parents pass away (may they all live to 120), it will completely transform their economic situation. Not so for me. I am actually middle class.

These friends of mine not wealthy but neither are they are as poor as they seem on paper. Many of them work in social services or teaching. My income exceeds theirs. But they work in low-paid fields because their families could afford to spend 100K on a graduate degree that nets them 50K a year. And they stay in lower-paid professions because their lives are subsidized in many subtle ways by their families. Their lower income is actually a sign of privilege.

My friends make sacrifices for JDS, but their sacrifices are organic vs. regular and overseas vacation vs. camping. They are not dental care vs. none. They own houses. They are not in significant debt. They can afford for one person to stay home or to have a more flexible schedule. No matter how little they make on paper, they will not go below a certain limit of middle class life. Someone will pay for dental care. Someone will make sure their car is safe.

My income is my only asset. Unless I use it wisely, I will remain in debt and I will pass on liabilities to my child instead of assets. That is what it means to be middle class instead of upper middle class. The margin is very thin. You need to use any extra income you do have very carefully. You need to leverage everything you have to try to produce more and better for your kids.

I know that I am not the only Jew in America who went to college on a scholarship, not the only one who did not receive a downpayment at my wedding, not the only one who supports my family fully on my income -- but it sure feels like it most of the time. I don't know where the Jews like me are, but they are not generally members of the active Jewish community. The active Jewish community is full of Jews with far more assets than we have -- whether those are visible assets held by the family or invisible assets held at the parent or grandparent level.

There is no easy answer. Inequality is part of life - it is not the fault of the more wealthy members of our community that their grandfather did amazingly well in America and mine did not. I am humbled and proud of how generous most American Jews are and how well they support our communal institutions and how hard people try to equalize opportunity. I feel that most American Jews manage their wealth correctly -- they enjoy it and they also give generously to those who have less. G-d willing, I too will someday contribute rather than simply paying my own way, as I do now.

I definitely feel that income-based tuition is more fair than scholarships, despite the hidden assets many people have. It gives me a feeling of being an equal contributor. I would feel much more confident about JDS under that rubric. It would enable me to accurately calculate trade-offs. It would allow me to take a vacation without guilt, as long as I report my income appropriately. I think it is a good step forward. As for JDS vs. Hebrew school -- I don't think you can compare. Every family must choose the best path for their children but I don't think we can question whether more JDS produces more committed Jews. It does.

But we do need to raise the question of whether JDS is a financially responsible choice. I am not convinced that it is correct behavior for someone like myself -- someone who is in debt, who has no college savings for their child. Maybe people like myself should use public schools for a few years, until we are able to both pay our tuition and remain middle class under our own steam.
    Aryeh Klapper on January 7, 2013 at 3:45 am (Reply)
    Thank you for this powerful narrative. I would welcome your contacting me offline so that I can make sure I fully understand it.
H. Friedman on October 21, 2012 at 11:13 pm (Reply)
As a concerned Jew who has lived in the South for the past 34 years, I am very concerned that the Jewish Day School experience is not open to all. We have wrestled with the same issues in Birmingham, Alabama, that are discussed above. Our day school is committed to providing a Jewish education to all Jewish children who apply. We do have the same problems with the intrusive nature of scholarship applications. While Jewish education is a financial hardship, I think that the entire Jewish community must be educated to realize the importance of a Day School education on the future of Judiasm in America. It is my understanding that intermarriage is significantly lower amongst Day School graduates. It is also important that we educate as large a group of non-rabbinic Jews as possible to create a critical mass to maintain Jewish culture in the United States.
We should all work to underwrite Jewish Day School education for all, regardless of income or financial status. This should be the number one charitable choice for every Jew. We need every Jewish child to be educated and to be given a love for his/her religion, it's past, present, societal value and future.
In Birmingham, my hope is, and the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School's goal (speaking as a former Board member) is to have a large enough endowment so as to eliminate the cost of tuition for all children. May we see this achieved in the future.
Dad With a Lad on November 6, 2012 at 1:15 pm (Reply)
I would like to propose an amendment to the Solomon Schechter revenue model: We'll use the model, more or less, to determine how much revenue a school can anticipate, and then the school tries to provide the best education it can with that amount of money. Think about that for a minute.

Instead of forcing parents into a position of uncertainty, guilt, shame and a lifetime of financial denial, the school will provide an education based on what parents are able to pay, even if that means the school operates only part-time.

If the school wants to provide an education that costs more than the amount of money parents are willing to pay, then it must raise the shortfall some other way. After all, if Jewish day school is such a priority that parents feel pressured by the Jewish community to send their kids there, shouldn't the community shoulder part of the financial burden?

If it really is that important for Jewish children to attend Jewish schools -- and I believe it is -- then it is incumbent on the Jewish community to provide Jewish schools that parents can afford. If we as a community can only afford so much, then we need to be creative so as to live within our budget.
Jerry on April 22, 2013 at 5:44 am (Reply)
I am flummoxed at the lack of creative solutions. Each response seems to be premised upon the idea that money is at the core of the Jewish education problem. Universal Jewish education has been around since the time of the Mishnah. Parents are required to provide that education. What we have created is the situation where more than one salary is necessary to send children to day school. It is clear that if one parent quit work, they could home-school their children at an overall lower cost to the family unit. The advantage of having a parent around - instead of absent - would make more secure children. Shul activities would make up for the loss of social contact in school.

Moreover, as the comment bout cheaper Catholic schools shows, money is wasted in the Jewish education system. The competition of public school for Catholic School children is more compelling for the Catholics, since they can move more easily between systems. Ergo, cheaper tuition.

Here are a few suggestions, not necessarily related to each other.

1) Provide central funding for all schools, rather than separate tuitions for different schools. A consequence of such a system is that a parent with teaching skills can trade tuition for 6-hour 5-day teaching positions for all of their children no matter how many children or how many schools they attend. This is how it works for the Rabbis who get tuition almost gratis for pitifully low salaries. Many Rabbis then go out to work at something after their school hours are finished. Tuition-providing positions do not have to be limited to classroom hours, but may include administration, maintenance, and fund-raising. With such a system, taxes (in the US) would be lower for the family. No "government cut" means less work for more value.

2) One school that could not get a top-drawer Chumash teacher for their very bright and motivated students hired someone in Israel on a per-semester basis (i.e., lower cost) who gives the class over Skype. The advantage of having Israel provide teachers stems from the state's provision of all major education expenses for training those teachers.

3) Aliyah was mentioned above as a real alternative. My friend's daughter is moving to Israel with her six boy to avoid impoverishing tuition costs, despite two incomes, each well above $100,000. Another advantage to Aliyah is that children raise themselves in Israel because of the culture that permits more positive interactions between children and adults and tolerates more negative interactions between people as an expected part of daily life.

4) True home schooling for younger children. Home schooling has many advantages, though it is more pressured for an unprepared parent. One systemic advantage for home schooling is that it provides competition for the Yeshivahs that does not now exist. How many $20,000 tuitions can a school lose before it gets with the business of efficiency? When the day-school "business" becomes less profitable, things will change. When my family lived in Israel, my daughter in the first grade was the 45th child in her class. She claims that she did not learn anything, but her accomplishments speak of a different real-world outcome than she perceived.
Daniel on May 9, 2013 at 7:57 am (Reply)
I am from the Palm Springs area. As someone that has supported Jewish education
for the last 10 years , the issue seems to be the same every summer. Will the school be
around in the fall ? Will the funding be there for the school from
the Federation to keep the school running? This year the issue has become, will we have
enough kids to even warrant a school. Does the Jewish community
in the Palm Springs area want a school.
Our tuition rates are among the lowest in the country. At 8,750/ year
they are competive even with Catholic schools.. Yet we are not
able to attract enough students. We have great teachers, an added value
Curriculum , an excellent administrator and only 30 kids committed for next fall.
My observation is that among the Jewish population, which in our local
community is made up of mostly mixed marriages(only one parent is Jewish),
that Jewish education and values is not that important. Rather, integration
into the general population with a little Sunday school at the local temple is
the course of action for most local Jews.
Attracting students now is of great importance. Our curriculum is changing. We hope
to be a STEM school next year( if there is one)with greater emphasis on science, math and
the arts and a little less on Judaic studies.The bottom line is
that the needs of our community have changed. A truly sad state of affairs for
the Jewish community in the Palm Springs area. Is Jewish education doomed? Are
the Jewish people living in Diaspora doomed. Today, 46 % of American Jews are intermarrying.
What will it be in 10 years. 60%, 75%. Is American Jewry doomed? Will your grandchildren
be Jewish? Do American Jews care?

Comments are closed for this article.

Like us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Pin us on Pintrest!

Jewish Review of Books

Inheriting Abraham