Getting It Right

Here’s a proposal anyone who believes in the value of Jewish education should agree with: the Jewish community should, as a priority, provide free schooling to every Jewish child.

As Miriam Shaviv said, coming up with the money will be an issue — but I disagree with her that the challenge is necessarily insurmountable, or represents “wooly thinking.” If this is being suggested not by charedim, but by Ismar Schorsch of JTS– as it has been by philanthropist Michael Steinhardt (who is hardly a great fan of the Orthodox) — that increases the likelihood that federations and other Jewish foundations will pay serious attention.

If the Reform and Conservative movements were to either stop opposing tuition tax breaks for those offering their children non-public education, or offer to make up the difference for Jewish parents, that would make a huge difference right there. Orthodox parents would not be saddled with unreasonable combinations of tuition and taxes, and more parents overall would choose Jewish day schools.

The benefits are so vast that even if the goal looks unreachable at present, Schorsch deserves only praise for broaching this idea.

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8 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I don’t mean to be perverse, but I suspect more money into Jewish schools would not reduce the price of Jewish education. Instead, more schools, top-heavy with administrative and building costs would be built.

    Someday, someone’s going to figure out an “intelligent design” for chinuch, which would involve buying a campus shared by many schools so that there could be economies of scale and adequate facilities (athletic, auditoriums, etc.). The divisions of charedi, MO, whatever, would function as different “colleges”, each in their own buildings, with as little intersection as Carnegie-Mellon’s arts students (fruits) and its engineering students (veggies).

    The savings on overhead would be enormous.

    Vouchers would work within the “campus”, whereby the different schools get funding proportional to the percentage of their enrollment.

  2. Edvallace says:

    Brother Bob,

    You raise a very interesting and one that I’ve thought about many times.

    Essentially the question is whether it’s better that Jewish children receive a C or R education than none at all? C and R definitely teach things that are not only irrelevant to Jewish practice and thought but actually deny or contradict it in most cases. Perhaps it would be better that children never be mislead into thinking that they received an authentic Jewish education and hope that one day they’ll be inspired to actually research it, than to give them a watered down or false version of Judaism and expect them to wake up and realize that it’s incorrect once they grow older.

    I’ve done an informal and unscientific study of the Baal Teshuvah movement for a number of years trying to discern whether those with a C/R education were more likely or less likely than those without an education at all, to turn toward traditional Judaism. The problem is that there are too many factors to consider and thus my results aren’t compelling but I have found at least an equal number of completely unnafiliated Jews turning toward observance as those who’ve had the C/R upbringing. [I cannot begin to secribe how many kids locally who’ve attended the Hillel Conservative Day school for the full elementary school program are now married to non-Jews. The numbers are staggering.]

    Still in my gut, I can’t help but feel [perhaps incorrectly] that such an education probably will open doors that wouldn’t otherwise be opened. Parents who initially register thier children in one of the C or R schools may come to realize that few if any of the teachers actually reflect their teachings in theri own personal lives and consider switching their children to schools that project a more cnsistent message.

    The scariest thought however, is where will the C and R schools get their educators from? As it is, they can hardly stock their Sunday and after school programs with knowledgable staff. [The Hebrew School near my home employs a non-Jewish college student to teach Jewish Holidays! Their excuse: she’s more passionate than the apathetic Jewish students are]

  3. Brother Bob says:

    I think that you are being disingenuous. If (in this hypothetical future) Conservative and/or Reform Jews either created their own schools or invested heavily in community schools, then the schools would most likely reflect their own ideologies and belief systems. That would mean teaching the Creation & Sinai are only myths, the documentary hypothesis, halakha changes when we want it to, Judaism believes in the right to an abortion, homosexual marriage, etc.

    I suspect that Yaakov Menken and company believe that having Conservative and Reform backing Jewish education would be an extension of much of the status quo (which often means having Convervative students either attending Orthodox Day School or Community Day Schools under Orthodox auspicies and with Orthodox teachers). However, if C. & R. Jewry actually take this seriously, then it may be an entirely different game, altogether.

  4. ksh says:

    “I don’t think tuition should be free because people don’t value what they don’t pay for. Everyone should have to pay tuition but payments should be reasonably related to income and subsidized by the community. No one should get a free ride IMO. The poorest families—who cannot afford any tuition payment at all—should do some kind of service for the school.”

    This seems to contradict the spirit of the halacha, which is that there is no payment for talmud torah, only s’char batala. Are you really saying that without paying tuition, parents don’t value that the teacher could in principle be earning money in some other occupation? I don’t think so – you’re really saying that they don’t value *jewish education* unless they pay for it. The attitude that talmud torah is not fungible for money is proper chinuch.

  5. Toby Katz says:

    If the Reform and Conservative movements were to either stop opposing tuition tax breaks for those offering their children non-public education, or offer to make up the difference for Jewish parents

    They will never stop opposing vouchers or tax breaks for tuition because their greatest fear (irrational as it may be) is that people will pull their kids out of the public schools en masse and — horror of horrors — give their kids a religious education While they probably don’t mind terribly if Jewish kids get a Jewish education, they are scared out of their minds that Christian kids might get a Christian education.

    BTW I don’t know if vouchers would be a good idea because “he who pays the piper calls the tune” — who needs the govt imposing on parochial schools all the rules that destroyed the public schools?

    Tax breaks are a better idea and I hope will be passed one day.

    I don’t think tuition should be free because people don’t value what they don’t pay for. Everyone should have to pay tuition but payments should be reasonably related to income and subsidized by the community. No one should get a free ride IMO. The poorest families — who cannot afford any tuition payment at all — should do some kind of service for the school.

  6. Harry Maryles says:

    I saw that article about Ismar Schrosch. I was both gratified and surprised by it. But as that great patriot and one time Presidential candidate Ross Perot once said, “The devil is in the details”.

    None-the-less this is good news becuase it will increase the impetus for getting people to realize what is needed for Jewish survival, i.e. the idea that Jewish education is the answer to our future. The burdon has to be put on the secular Jewish population. And the Federations are the ones to implement it. If every Jew in America that gives to the Federation were “taxed” a small percentage of their income to be given directly to religious schools distributed on a per capita bases… that would caome very close to solving the financial crisis now facing Jewish education in this country.

  7. Romach says:

    By definition its not free if we need to find money to pay for it. In reality, its arguing for an approach that is more communally based. That has its ups and downs. It’ll force the community to get more involved, but runs the risk of inefficiency. If you don’t “see” how much you’re paying in tuition, you might not wonder why it costs so much, and what else can be done to bring the cost down.

    I’m not sure if Conservative and Reform oppositionis what’s holding back tuition tax breaks, but it would be helpful if the jewish community as a whole (broadly construed) could present a united front.

    But its still an interesting idea. And we need many more interesting ideas when it comes to Jewish education in general and the tuition crisis in particular.

  1. May 15, 2007

    […] In a post entitled “Getting it Right” written in December 2005, I praised then-Chancellor Ismar Schorsch of JTS for proposing in the pages of the Jerusalem Post that “the organized Jewish community in America guarantee a free Jewish education to the children of all members of the Jewish polity.” He wrote, however, that he made this proposal “against the backdrop of a 20-year effort to position Jewish education as the top priority of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Conservative movement.” […]