Mayer Fertig, over at the Jewish Star has an article about families that are either considering or have already enrolled their children in public school due to the costs involved with a yeshiva education. For years some of these families have scrimped and saved and foregone certain pleasures for the ideal of sending their kids to a yeshiva. And now, with the current economic climate, it seems that some are just no longer able to do so.
After years of talk about a tuition crisis, many families that scrimped and sacrificed to send children to yeshiva in the past have hit a financial wall.
“Many children will end up in public school as a result of all this,” said Rabbi Shneur Wolowik, director of Chabad of the Five Towns. He says he is inundated with calls for help from parents who simply have run out of options.
“Parents have to choose between having a home foreclosed on or having a Jewish education. It’s a very tough decision,” he acknowledged.
An email he received this week from a woman in the Five Towns outlined her situation: “They have two children, she’s pregnant with a third, they’ve all but canceled the babysitter, have two old cars and a very simple home. She said it’s either tuition or their home and they can’t be homeless. She did the numbers with me and, unfortunately, she’s right.”
The children are now registered in public school.
It must be very disheartening to have to make the choice between a yeshiva education and paying the mortgage.
However, as a consumer of yeshiva education for many years (both as a student and then as a parent), I sometimes wonder if sending our kids to a yeshiva (in it's current incarnation) is really worth it.
I think we have to ask ourselves -- what are we getting for our money when we pay tuition? Most people would answer in one or more of the following categories:
1. Secular education
2. Judaic education (including the positive influence of rabbeim)
3. Removal from the public school environment and/or immersion in the yeshiva environment.
That being said, I think we have to evaluate how well the yeshivos accomplish these tasks.
I think we can agree that in most cases, a secular education in a yeshiva will not equal an academic education in public school. Yes, I am well aware that there are a few academically superior yeshivos out there and I'm also aware that there are a number of public schools that are not offering the education level they should. But pound-for-pound, I'd have to venture that the average level of secular learning in a yeshiva is lower than in a public school.
Keep in mind, however, that that's not necessarily a bad thing. While some parents will choose a yeshiva based on it's secular academic program, the reality is that of the three reasons to send to yeshiva that I mentioned above, this one comes into play the least. That is because a yeshiva, by it's nature cannot offer in a three or four hour period what a public school offers in a six or eight hour period. But that's fine -- the main focus of a yeshiva (IMHO anyway) should be on Judaic studies anyway; which brings us to our second reason.
We send our kids to yeshiva to receive a Torah education. That is certainly an admirable goal and a valid reason. No matter what our kids do in life -- whether they learn in kollel, become doctors, lawyers, santitation workers or whatever -- we want them to be Shomrei Torah U'Mitzvos and, to do that, you have to have some level of Jewish education.
However, I feel that, for a long time, many yeshivos have been missing the goal here too. Yeshivos compete with each other to see who can be the "frummest" or learn the most dafim of gemara in a year. But in reality, this only benefits the elite few that can really take advantage of it. For example, when I was in 7th grade, we learned the first perek of Kiddushin -- 40 pages of gemara over the course of the year. However, for those of us (like myself) who really were not up to that extra learning, the whole year was largely a waste. Maybe one kid in the class was really capable of maintaining the pace and *really* understanding it. The rest of us simply went along as best we could. Did the yeshiva really accomplish the task of teaching me to learn gemara that year? No -- and it affected me throughout the rest of my elementary and high school years. And while this happened quite a while ago, I'm fairly certain that it still happens today. Ask yourself this question: of the twelfth graders who graduated from yeshivos this past June, how many really know how to learn gemara? My guess is the minority - perhaps the vast minority. If that's the case, perhaps less time should be spent in high school on rishonim and more time on basic gemara.
The third reason that most people send their kids to yeshiva is because they don't want them in a public school environment (or, perhaps because they specifically want them in a yeshiva environment). Is a yeshiva really environment better than a public school environment? Well, I suppose it does have it's advanteges:
1. Violent crime in yeshivos is virtually nonexistent. While crime in the public schools is certainly down, it's not as low as in yeshivos.
2. The chances of your son/daughter meeting and being attracted to someone who is not Jewish is virtually nonexistant in a yeshiva setting.
3. There is likely to be little peer pressure to eat nonkosher foods or do things on Shabbos that are otherwise prohibited.
But beyond that, yeshivos are not the "holy and safe havens" that they are often made out to be. We've all seen that child molestors can operate in the yeshiva system for years -- in public schools, they wouldn't have contact with kids after the first allegation. Drugs are available in our schools. If you send your kids to school to shield them from the influences of television or movies, you are bound for failure. Even sexual innocence can no longer be guaranteed in yeshivos. A few years ago, a classmate of mine informed me that when we were in high school together, there was a dirty magazine or two hidden in the dorm bathroom -- something that I was not aware of at the time -- and this was in a *very* right-wing yeshiva. I'm sure the same thing happens today (except that today it's no longer magazines -- the medium may have changed, but not the message). Heck, one kid (not mine) told me that in his class, kids have been known to experiment sexually with each other!
So, while I suppose there are some advantages to keeping a kid in a yeshiva environment (as deliniated above), it's not quite the panacea that people expect it to be.
All this being said, I sometimes wonder if a yeshiva is really worth all the money that is spent on it.
(NB: Yes, my kids are enrolled in yeshiva for next year.)