Expensive Being Jewish

We had a discussion on my FB page today about the cost of educating our children in private religious schools. I was complaining that even though I already spend so much on tuition, I have had TWO requests from the same child for extra money for two different field trips within the next week. My point was that I wished they would fold these costs into the already exorbitant tuition and that way it wouldn’t always be so painful to reach into the wallet.

I know, it’s my choice to send them to these schools, and to pay the fees. That isn’t the point under discussion here. One of my friends made the following statement, after reading that one person pays $25K per year for her son’s education,  and I wanted to hear your opinions.

Forgive me for saying this, but do you ever get the feeling that people potentially get priced out of being religious? I can imagine that many get lost bc how the heck can you pay that? That’s worse than some college’s tuition.

The discussion continued on to the price of kosher meat and in fact, I wonder, for those who have gone off the derech – was cost a factor? Pesach is one of the most expensive holidays – I remember Pesachs where I spent $2,000 on food and matzah – for EIGHT DAYS!!  A Lulav and Etrog can set you back a good few hundred dollars on Sukkot, and tefillin? A good set is a couple of grand. And that’s just for starters…

I love being Jewish, I love celebrating my religion and having the religious freedom to do so, I just wish it wasn’t so prohibitively expensive. Is there any way to cap education costs? To reduce the cost of kosher food?

(I know my brother will leave a comment saying move to Israel, make aliyah – that might solve the issue for me, but not for everyone else still living in Chutz LaAretz.)

Weigh in, folks.

 

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53 Comments

  1. I can’t fathom how people pay tens of thousands in tuition. I’ve started longing for the “good old days” when there were public schools filled with Jews. I would like to think that cost would not drive someone off the derech, but it will make them juggle priorities, and day school may have to be one of the sacrifices. Or ever owning a house. Or eating.

    I can also see that these endless expenses create of life of constant stress and little joy.

    • HSaboMilner says:

      I went to a public school in Wales. There were lots of Jews in the same school – and we went to cheder on Wednesdays and Sundays. It worked fine. But these days Public School is said with a sneer….

      • Orit Daly says:

        I am an observant Conservative Jew whose kids go to public school in a suburb of New York where a third of the kids are Jewish. We just have to change the attitude of those that sneer. I went to a public high school as did my two sisters and we all married nice Jewish boys and are raising our children Jewish. We need to change the “sneer” at public school into a real possibility. Why do we need to self-segregate our children. I would argue that it is even the cause of increased anti-semitism as fewer non-Jews come in contact with our community.

  2. It’s not expensive to be Reform… ;)

  3. batya from NJ says:

    It’s definitely a huge financial sacrifice to choose to live an observant Orthodox lifestyle but it is nonetheless very important to me & my husband, both of whom grew up Orthodox & attending Yeshivas. Of course, it would be wonderful if the cost of Orthodox Jewish living in the US would go down but I doubt it’s going to happen anytime soon. Every decision we make in life has pros & cons & yes, we would probably be able to afford many more materialistic things if we were to put our kids in PSs but that is just not an option for us nor something we would ever want to consider.

    • HSaboMilner says:

      But what do people do who cannot even afford to send one child to Jewish Day School? Even with breaks? Should the community step in and subsidize, or will they shun those parents if they decide to send their child(ren) to public school? There are no easy answers.

      • batya from NJ says:

        Hadassah, all parents who pay full tuition are already subsidizing those who are receiving financial aid. There are NO easy answers that is for sure but certainly no one should be shunned for making the decisions that they need to make for their families (e.g sending their child to PS for financial or other reasons) & no one has a right to judge anyone else either.

        • HSaboMilner says:

          But Batya, you know they do. Send a child to PS because he/she has issues not able to be addressed in Day School and it affects “shidduch chances”. Such stuff doesn’t bother me, but it does bother some, and they will keep their kids in a frum school that doesn’t service their child in order not to ruin their or a sibling’s shidduch chances. (that’s just an example)

          • batya from NJ says:

            The big problem for Orthodox parents to send to PS is that there is a much greater chance for the child to leave the fold & reject his Orthodoxy in the PS environment. Plenty of kids go “off the derech” while attending the finest Chassidish, Yeshivish, & Modern Orthodox Yeshivos & the chances of that happening in the PS environment is that much greater & therefore VERY problematic for Orthodox parents who want their children to continue in the Othodox tradition in which they have raised their kids.

  4. shorty says:

    What is frustrating about the cost of education for private religious schools, here, is that the Catholic school board is publicly funded. That’s right. Tax dollars go to support those schools. But there is no tax benefit for sending your child to a private school. Some Jewish schools have made some kind of arrangement so that tuition becomes a donation, and people who pay the full amount (ie no scholarships) will get a pretty nice charitable tax receipt.

  5. CarolineEr says:

    Here are a few notes from our family of two (no children yet): We live in a particular (and pricy) neighborhood so that we are near our preferred shul. We eat meat only 1-2 times a week, including Shabbat, so that we can afford to have it then, and we potluck with friends for many Shabbat and Yom Tov meals. I went to day school for most of elementary school and then had eight years of public school. My husband went only to public school. We are committed to sending our future children to day school (and only partially due to becoming observant), but we cannot fathom how we will pay for it. “God will provide” is not an answer that settles my mind.

    We’ve shopped strategically so that we can give out beautiful mishloach manot next week–but not to every single friend/couple/family we know. Just to some–to fulfill the mitzvah and then a few more. As much as I would love to give something to nearly everyone in shul, that’s not realistic for us–and I’m not going to go into debt to do it.

    So we do what we can with what we have (and we know we are blessed and lucky to have far more than many others), and we’re not worried about keeping up with the Steins.

    • HSaboMilner says:

      I hate the “G-d will provide” line – you have to do your hishtadlut, your “due diligence” too, right? One cannot just expect for it all to fall into place!

      • Mark says:

        Most people who say it don’t really believe it. If they did believe it, they wouldn’t be running to shadchanim for their kids, they would just wait for God to provide.

        Unless they mean god as in Father-in-law :-)

        • CarolineEr says:

          To be clear, I don’t think that God will provide the tuition payments! We will do the best that we can do… It may mean not having the largest house, not splurging on vacations, and not having some stuff that others might consider de rigueur. I am okay with that.

  6. Mark says:

    My point was that I wished they would fold these costs into the already exorbitant tuition and that way it wouldn’t always be so painful to reach into the wallet.

    They can’t “roll it into tuition” because then all the people receiving tuition assistance will pay nothing toward these kinds of things (because their total tuition is calculated based on what they can afford). Doing it this way, most of those people also contribute toward the expense of these kinds of trips, etc. In fact, if they rolled it into tuition, and 50% of the students receive tuition assistance, then you would pay exactly twice as much as you are paying now for those trips.

    The discussion continued on to the price of kosher meat and in fact, I wonder, for those who have gone off the derech – was cost a factor? Pesach is one of the most expensive holidays – I remember Pesachs where I spent $2,000 on food and matzah – for EIGHT DAYS!! A Lulav and Etrog can set you back a good few hundred dollars on Sukkot, and tefillin? A good set is a couple of grand. And that’s just for starters…

    I’m sorry, but these are just insane numbers. In my family for pesach, we spend about as much as 8 regular days with the equivalent of 4 shabbatot among them, plus a little more for the extra things (wine, shmura matza, etc) that are necessary. Sure we buy one or two boxes of shmura matza for the sedarim, but for the rest of the time we eat regular boxed matza from the supermarket that is usually $1/lb or so (and sometimes even get 5 lbs free with a $100 purchase). And for some of the last few years we needed one box of oat matza ($30!!!!) for my brother who doesn’t eat products containing gluten. We do not buy any of the insanely overpriced prepared foods and cakes for pesach. They are overpriced and just not that good, instead we cook and bake everything ourselves. And we don’t insist on having 4 large meat meals in a row for the 2 sets of 2 chag days. It’s okay to have milchigs once in a while on a chag day. We also don’t go nuts with wine, the kids all drink grape juice and most of the women like the sweeter muscato wine, and the men have 1 good red bottle and another 1 or 2 cheaper red bottles.

    Lulav and etrog a few hundred??? That’s crazy. Before every sukkot, my mom goes to Boro Park where there are 20 etrog sellers and buys 4 sets for $20-40 each. They are beautiful and perfectly good sets. The 4 sets are for my dad, for me, and one for each of my BIL’s. The mitzvah is to take arba minim, not to bankrupt yourself!

    Tefillin are quite expensive, but you can still get a good pair from Israel for under $1000. At least it’s more or less a one time expense!

    I find it disgusting that so many people have turned what is a beautiful religion (that people at all levels can enjoy) into a constant orgy of conspicuous consumption with almost every aspect of that consumption turned into a “religious obligation” of some sort (to justify it, of course).

  7. Batya says:

    I don’t know how you guys pay for all that. It may be hard here in Israel, but I doubt if we would have five kids if we lived in America. The cost in Jewish lives is even higher than kosher meat and tuition. Yes, we live in Israel, moved 2 months after the wedding. Best thing we ever did.

  8. Justine says:

    I have to comment: In Australia our day school tuition is not as dear as the equivalent in the States and we don’t pay for university education (at this stage). However, it is still pricey and unaffordable for many people. If I understand you correctly, you aren’t disputing the cost of the tuition, just the extras? I know the feeling… I have three kids in Primary School, pay tens of thousands dollars a year in tuition and then almost every week I get requests for more money – birthday cake fundraising for the PA, mishloach manot donations, music lessons, gold coin days and the list goes on and on and on.

    While we might like to think that this is a Jewish Day School phenomenon, I think that you might find that it is a Private School issue – I know that here, Jewish Day Schools fall under the category of Private Schooling and all of these types of schools tend to be structured in the same way when it comes to billing. Perhaps they think it sounds more affordable to say that the upfront cost is $14,000 per child, rather than breaking it down at $14,000 for tuition, $300 for PA activities, $1000 for incursions, $500 for excursions, music etc…??

  9. jay says:

    good idea
    move to Israel
    we’d love to have you all here!

  10. Amanda Elkohen says:

    So, here’s one more reason to consider sending kids to regular school for the “legal requirements” (English, Math, History) and teaching them at home or with private tutor for Limudei Kodesh: http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2012/02/rav-shwadron-yeshivos-are-hashchasa.html
    Also, you’re paying far too much for tefillin. this is the MOST expensive normal guy from Israel (a set from a kabbalist might cost you more) and his most mehudar pair are $1800. Basic kosher (not even l’chatchilah) are just under $600.
    http://www.hasofer.com/page.pl?p=gassot

  11. charlene says:

    Move to places where they have free tuition or smaller communites — the problem is mainly in the big areas – small jewish communities are still more affordable — Also, talk to the editors of Mishpocha, Joy of Kosher and Bitayavon – the cuts of meat they use in recipes, their tablescapes etc only make those without the $$$ to feel worse — like they arent keeping up with the Goldbergs…..

    • Mark says:

      Move to places where they have free tuition or smaller communities

      Which smaller communities are you referring to?

      Most of the smaller communities that I am aware of have tuition levels that are just as high and even higher than the levels where Hadassah lives. And kosher food is more expensive in smaller communities due to the extra distribution costs and less competition.

      • HSaboMilner says:

        smaller communities are more expensive, no?

        • Mark says:

          Yes, they are more expensive. We’ve discussed this ad nauseum on the tuition discussion blogs.

          • HSaboMilner says:

            Although the Montreal community is a lot smaller than Monsey but tuition is very low compared with here.

          • batya from NJ says:

            The Canadian government subsidizes the schools (especially the Francophone schools). Here there is separation of Church & State & the government does not pitch in for private schooling.

          • batya from NJ says:

            Or maybe it’s Quebec that subsidizes (not Canada), I’m not 100% sure but someone does..

          • HSaboMilner says:

            I know some of the schools in Quebec were at risk of losing their funding because they refused to teach about other world religions.

          • Mark says:

            Oy, I mean within the USA!!!! There are even smaller communities in Israel with much MUCH lower tuition. And there are schools in the UK with far lower tuition. And probably other countries as well. It all depends on how much financial support the state gives.

          • charlene says:

            http://www.yesmilwaukee.org/ is a charter school — scholarships are available and it is only 90 minutes from chicago – i am surprised more people from chicago dont move there just for the option

  12. moshe says:

    When the only kosher meat available to me came from Rubashkin and I saw how the animals were mistreated, under rabbinic supervision, I understood the fraud of hechsher and I now eat meat of my choice with no hechsher. No lightening bolts have hit me, just as none ever hit those inMonsey who ate treif chickens that were foisted on them from a store under rabbinic supervision

    • lady lock and load says:

      During the pre/war, pre/holocaust my mother remembers that my grandmother wanted to give the children non kosher meat, as it was hard to her to see her kids so hungry and she had an opportunity to get non kosher meat. My grandfather said no, and they went without meat till after the war, which was quite a few years.
      If you get turned off by Rubashken meat you can have other brands of kosher meat delivered to all parts of the country. That is if you can afford it.
      I would rather not eat meat at all for the rest of my life then eat non kosher.

    • Mark says:

      moshe – No lightening bolts have hit me

      I don’t think that’s how it works in our religion. Our reward/punishment is not always apparent in this world.

    • HSaboMilner says:

      the chicken thing was awful – but labeling all hechsherim as fraud takes it too far.

  13. Skylar says:

    I know it drives away many potentially good orthodox conversion candidates, especially single mothers, young adults/professionals, and people who were just scared away by sticker shock before evaluating what could justify those kinds of costs. Most of those people end up converting anyway in liberal congregations.

    Batei din further cause a problem for converts by now requiring a vow in the mikvah to send all kids to 13 years of yeshiva-style orthodox day school. Assuming they keep that vow, it rules out potential cost-effective options that may become realistic in the future like charter schools and home-schooling/home-schooling co-ops. (It’s also used as a weapon by crazy rabbis against families with special needs kids who can’t flourish in the available schools, but that’s a different issue.)

    • HSaboMilner says:

      This is the first I am hearing about converts having to promise IN THE MIKVAH to educate their children in an Ortho Jewish Day School. That doesn’t sit right with me at all.

      • Skylar says:

        Many of the batei din (not mine) put it in a written document that is included as part of the conversion papers. It’s standard practice to vow it in the mikvah along with all of the Thirteen Principles. Did Moshe not write the dayschool one? I guess I missed that lesson :P

        But yeah, the issue is very interesting and has been around a while. There are only two possibilities: A) It never comes up again, whether the parents do it or not, or B) It’s used as a weapon against converts, usually ones with special needs children whose day school can’t handle them. Get a nutso rabbi, and he says, “If you pull your kid out of the school, you are showing that you don’t take seriously the vows you made in the mikvah, and that means you probably didn’t take them seriously then either, therefore, I’m not going to recognize your conversion as valid anymore, and your children are no longer Jewish.” I’ve heard of that happening to four families. Two stuck it out, two tried to move. My particular interest is how this will change over time since it’s “yeshiva-style orthodox day school” specifically. I can imagine people saying, “Oh, the school is co-ed? It’s not really orthodox,” and then starting the conversion questioning there. It’s simply a weapon for bullies to wield against converts, and there’s no need for it when we already have the mitzvah of chinuch. And this vow could be in conflict with that mitzvah, but at least a few rabbis have already shown they prefer to be “machmir” on conversions rather than chinuch.

  14. RubyV says:

    Like Skylar, I also know many converts who have run into the same day school issue. At the moment, I am very glad that I did not have an orthodox conversion for this reason – my child could not go to day school for health reasons (unable to manage a contact and inhaled dairy allergy). PUblic school provides her with a 1:1 under section 504, which private schools do not have to abide by. We tried to work things out with the day school (and I’m not even getting into the cost issue – that was a massive problem as well, since our budget was already bare bones) but for many children with health needs, public school is the better choice. Even in Conservative shuls, we’ve gotten looks down people’s noses for not sending her to day school.

    But yes, the Orthodox Day School Vow IN THE MIKVEH is a real issue for converts. We get crapped on enough – getting penalized for doing what is best for our families shouldn’t add to that pile.

  15. Justine says:

    Home schooling? I have to laugh with your boys! I think I would kill myself to have to bear that burden! I love the fact that my kids are learning to respect a wide range of different adults and to learn from them all and the social aspect of school is so important.

  16. Baila says:

    Late to the discussion, but still adding my two shekel. DO NOT MOVE TO ISRAEL BECAUSE OF HIGH TUITION IN THE STATES. Personally, I don’t think that is reason enough to make the move. Yes, tuition is cheaper here, but salaries are lower and other items are more cost expensive (don’t even ask about the price of gas, GAH!!!) Come because you feel you belong here.

    That being said, I hated being nickeled and dimed in the states for all kinds of trips and other things after paying the astronomical tuitions. Once thing about school here is that all trips, shabbatonim and extra activities are FREE, or included in the tuition. My kids go on several overnights, quite a few shabbatonim and I never am bothered for a red nickel for those events.

  17. Leah says:

    The school I went to (Bais Yaakov of Baltimore) is in the range of $9-11,000 I am pretty sure- and you can get financial aid. I think a lot of people end up paying somewhere around $4/5,000/yr. And this includes High School!

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