Arthur Aaron comments that “Yeshiva tuitions are overwhelming and out of control” (Feb. 6). In the same edition of the Standard, you note that the proposed Hebrew immersion program in the Englewood Public School system would cost $14,000 for non-Englewood residents. Given that it is a single curriculum (albeit with enhanced Hebrew-language elements), one would expect that Englewood would charge a significantly higher tuition for a dual-curriculum program on a par with what our local day schools already provide. One could argue that our yeshivot are providing a top-tier education at a very reasonable price, and certainly much lower than the cost of delivering public education. This doesn’t even take into consideration that our yeshivot provide millions of dollars each year in financial aid.
Rather than attack the day schools on tuition costs (which seems to be a community pastime), perhaps the answer is to follow a public education model and “tax” the broader Jewish community to provide financial support. Our day schools are as much as, if not more than, a community service as our synagogues, mikvaot, community centers, and other institutions. It is time that the broader community take responsibility for ensuring the primacy of Jewish education on our terms, not those dictated by the government. Superfunds on a par with what other communities are attempting are one solution (though this would take significant effort and time). In the near term, at a minimum, we should revisit our priorities in how we allocate charitable contributions both within and beyond our community. Certainly, there is an imperative that the majority of our charitable giving go to local institutions, with day schools high on the list.
One also wonders if we need to take a hard look at our personal priorities and values. Many of our parents and grandparents came to this country with little, lived through very difficult economic times, and didn’t have a financial safety net. Yet they taught us the primacy of Jewish education even if this meant working two jobs, living in humble homes, and forgoing many of the luxuries we take for granted. (Did they even know about winter and Passover trips to Florida and summer camp with costs that are nearly as high as day-school tuition?)
It is inconceivable that yeshivot will ever be cost-competitive with publicly subsidized education. Our aspirations should, however, be to provide the best education possible that promotes our community ideals and ensures Jewish continuity at the best possible cost. As one of many who have been closely involved with the budget of one local yeshiva, I am intimately aware of how closely the professional and lay leadership sweat over each expense, debate what services we do and don’t provide, and agonize over tuition decisions. While day schools may be an easy target for criticism regarding tuition costs, by most objective standards, they are achieving their mission and continue to push to improve in terms of both efficiency and effectiveness.