Who’s to Judge?


tuition“What’s he worth?” How many times has this question passed your mind when speaking to someone? Have you ever asked this question to someone point blank?

Well, there are certainly people out there who are interested in knowing about your worth. For example, the government is interested when trying to determine your taxes or Medicaid eligibility. Fundraisers for charitable institutions would love to know how much they can ‘hit’ you for. Oh, and yeshiva administrators are dying to know how much tuition they can expect from you as well.

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. Parents in our community are now busy completing their registration packets for their children’s upcoming school year. In it, there is sure to be some information about tuition. In fact, this year numerous schools in our community updated their tuition negotiation process. Unlike in the past where parents would meet with the school administrator to have a face to face meeting about the monetary issues, this year parents are being directed to a ‘third party’ online website where the most detailed financial information conceivable needs to be disclosed and the most private financial documents provided (tax documents, credit reports etc.).

I can see why it is in the schools’ interest to implement this new screening system. Firstly, this saves the administrator time since time-consuming meetings with parents are now mostly eliminated. Secondly, as this third party company ‘verifies’ the submitted numbers with tax and credit agencies the numbers are seemingly more truthful. Thirdly, the school can now place the blame squarely on the unnamed ‘third party’ when tuition reductions are declined. No longer can the administrator be called the ‘Rasha’.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is no doubt that yeshivas offer our children an indispensable service and need money to function. There is also no doubt that those who can afford to pay substantial tuition should pay. The point of what follows is the questionable process of judging peoples’ financial situations in general. To be clear, this article is not specifically pointed towards school administrators (although, as this is on peoples’ minds these days, they are being used as an example); rather, it should hopefully be an eye opener to all those who assume they have figured out someone else’s financial situation or “worth”.

A Tale of Three Paupers

Imagine the following scenario:

Three people are waiting outside the school administrator’s office each holding their respective tax returns: Nosson Ha’NebachBoruch Ha’Batlan, and Kalman Ha’Ksil (-names have been changed to protect their true identities). Each enters the office separately and declares poverty. Each of their tax returns shows only $15,000 of income for the past year and they each have four children!

The administrator understandably agrees that they can’t pay much tuition and comes up with some relatively low amount (-which, for these paupers, is still a substantial sum).

Ah, but there’s more to know about these three poor men! Here’s their story:

Nosson Ha’Nebach is a sad case indeed. This man lost his job nearly a year ago and has been searching for a new job ever since. Not a day goes by without him reading the classifieds, sending his resume to employers, and scheduling interviews. Every night he goes to sleep worried about his family’s future. His self-esteem is shattered and he confides his broken feelings in his wife. And, when he’s out of options, there’s always a tehillim nearby. To survive this difficult period, Nosson applied for Medicaid and foodstamps but hopes this assistance will only be needed temporarily.

Boruch Ha’Batlan is a different story altogether. This guy never had a job nor is he interested in one. Having a job would mean needing to get up before 10 am every day! It would mean having more responsibility in life than he is interested in. It would also mean that he would be like those other ‘losers’ who slave away yet live the same way he does. You see, Boruch has it all figured out. He has been living in a ‘Section 8’ apartment for years, has Medicaid, foodstamps, HEAP, and WIC for the family. Oh, he even gets free cell phones and air conditioners every year! On top of it all, he knows he’ll get all sorts of free food before every yom tov (-these magic trucks show up loaded with goodies!-) and that the yeshivas and other institutions will give him all kinds of breaks because he is destitute. Whoever said America is not the land of the free (stuff)!

Kalman Ha’Ksil. Wow, this one is something else. Kalman is just like Boruch. He also gets all of the benefits, including Section 8. But there’s a dark secret. Kalman actually is a very capable and proactive guy. He has a full time job and earns $75,000 a year. In cash. Shh, this is his little secret that he is hiding from the IRS, the school administrator, and from everyone else. No one even knows about the property he recently purchased (with cash – under a relative’s name) and now rents out to tenants. This, while living in his three bedroom Section 8 apartment!

Knowing these backgrounds, please, pray tell me, how would or could a school administrator or some third party software possibly be able to determine each of their circumstances? Aren’t these three individuals three entirely different situations?? While on paper these people are no different, in reality these people are worlds apart.

And this hypothetical situation does not take into account the myriads of other personal circumstances and variables that would need to be taken into account before determining what each person is really “worth”.

So, I ask you, who’s to judge?

The Poor Rich Man

Did I mention that there was a fourth person also waiting in the administrator’s office? Indeed, Gavriel Ha’Gvir is sitting there too holding his tax return that shows $100,000 of income for the year. A six figure salary! The administrator or ‘third party’ takes one look at that number and suggests that he should pay nearly the full tuition.

Little does the administrator or ‘third party’ know of this person’s circumstance:

Gavriel Ha’Gvir actually earns $65,000 per year working 9 am – 5 pm every workday (there is also a 45 minute commute). His wife also works part time and earns $25,000. In addition, Gavriel has a Sunday job, to bring in some extra money for the family’s needs, from which he earns another $10,000. This brings him to the $100,000 total.

Gavriel wishes he can spend Sundays with his kids, but he thanks Hashem every day that he at least has a parnassa in these tough times. This, after having invested thousands of dollars and hundreds of stressful hours over the past three years when he was acquiring marketable skills while studying in an intensive training school.

But wait! Does Gavriel get to keep the $100,000 amount that is listed on his tax return? Oh no! That is the gross amount of his earnings. 7.65% ($7,650) is removed for payroll taxes. Another approximately 35% ($35,000) from the gross is removed for federal and state income taxes. Now he just has $57,350 of net pay.

Being a good Jew, Gavriel gives 10% maser from this net amount ($5,735) to his poor relative (Boruch Ha’Batlan perhaps?) leaving him with $51,615. From this, he must pay for his family’s medical insurance (around $15,000) and, of course, pay rent at around $2,000 per month ($24,000). Now he has $12,615 to spend on food (around $10,000 per year at $175 per week plus yomim tovim) and utilities (phones, electric, and gas around $2,500).

Poor Gavriel Ha’Gvir just has $115 left to spend on everything else (clothes, insurance, transportation etc. etc.)! Did I mention that Gavrielalso has four kids? And that the administrator wants him to pay nearly full tuition. From where, pray tell me, from where?!

Up is Down and Down is Up

Back to our friend Boruch Ha’Batlan, the lazy pauper who only earned $15,000. This guy would not pay any federal or state income tax because he earned so little. In addition, he would get around a $4,000 ‘earned income credit’ and an additional $1,000 for the child tax credit! (This guy loves filing his taxes each year!)

So, his $15,000 of income turned into $20,000 after the tax credits. Plus, he gets free medical insurance (a $15,000 value) and Section 8 (around a $20,000 value) in addition to foodstamps (at $400 per month, a $4,800 value), not to mention the other perks (WIC, HEAP, air conditioners etc). In addition, he sends his child to the Bais Rivka Head Start program (a $5,000 value).

Without lifting a finger or making any attempt to find a job (or to wake up before 10 am), Reb Boruch raked in a value of $65,000, none of which is taxable!!

So who gets the last laugh, Boruch Ha’Batlan or Gavriel Ha’Gvir?

The Point

I don’t believe there are any chiddushim here. We all understand that every person’s situation is entirely unique. And this is precisely the point: By just looking at numbers on paper one can never capture the finer factors that make everyone’s circumstance unique. Some unknown ‘third party’ website cannot possibly discern Nosson’s tears from Boruch’s laziness nor distinguish Kalman’s evasions or Gavriel’s labor.

Perhaps what this takes is face to face, honest meetings between parents and school administrators. The intuitive administrator should be able to gather more understanding from the parent’s face than from the face of tax documents.

And, from their end, parents need to realize and recognize the incredible value of the service our schools are providing our children with and be totally honest about what we can afford to contribute.

The tuition problem has been around for years and will probably not go away anytime soon. Parents will still struggle to pay their tuition and schools will struggle to pay their bills as well. However, when trying to determine peoples’ worth, I ask, “Who’s to judge?”

Don’t judge your fellowman until you are in his place.” (Pirkei Avos 2:4)


Chanoch Ha’Chochom

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  1. First well written, and true.
    maybe the yeshivas are sending to a third party for this reason, they can’t in good faith tell Gavriel Ha’Gvir to pay full tuition, but now they can blame it on a company out of state, and say talk to them.
    and lets assume he’s even left with more money, a hard worker like that isn’t allowed a vacation? some nice things? why does he have to pay every last cent to yeshivas by paying full tuition? that would be an extra $40,000.00 a year!

    The one thing i did disagree with, if someone isn’t paying full tuition, maybe his masser SHOULD be going to his childrens schools, and if he is paying full tuition, he can take the amount over cost and use his masser.

  2. One of the best posts this website has ever posted!

    We live in a world where time no longer matters as long as it is instant, where technology has replaced the heart and where sincerity is for the previous generation.

    Face to face. Heart to heart. Mentch to mentch. This is what wee must get back to. Schools think parents are fooling them and parents think schools are all about money. Chinuch and working together have taken the back seat to the pressures of the all mighty dollar.

    Thank you for posting. Now how do we make it happen?

  3. maybe administrators should visit homes to see how nice & fancy the living arrangements are. also, what kind of facny shmancy cars are being driven. won’t give the “whole” picture but closer to reality…

  4. Your examples are great. One additional (and I am sure controversial) character must be added.

    REBBI Haploiny: he does have a job – the most important job in the world. He does get paid, he does take a 2nd job. He too is overworked. he doesnt make enough to cover his expenses yet he fits under the radar and qualifies for many programs. Klal Yisroel is worried about him so he gets (in many cases)life insurance from the school parents fund, he gets from the wonderful organizations that mobilize before every Yom tov to give food, clothing vouchers, shoes and everything else we all want our rabbeim to have. He gets tips on Chanukah, Purim and at year end and he officially works 9 months a year having 2 months off in the summer and 2 weeks off for each Yom Tov.

    I am happy for him and Rebbi deserves everything but in the end, Rebbi is financially much better off then many of the parents his school administrator is pressuring to pay.

    Nobody is helping the parents. everyone is helping the Rebbi

  5. But we can all work on feeling more respect for Rabbeim.In general, it’s sorely lacking. It won’t solve the crises, but perhaps it will lead those (that are able) to prioritize better.

  6. Yes yes yes. I undress every year in front of the administrator! Every detail down to how many tissues I used (and what brand, of coarse) when I had a cold. Total Busha & in the end, using connections, they throw us a bone of a total of a few hundred dollars off. Thats for 5 tuitions. Whoopee! Yes & they give us nasty comments along the way! and if we Chas vishalom fall behind by a month, – your child can’t take the midterm/final. Go to the office & call your Parents! Very nice! Kill the kid! What great “Chinuch”! And when these “administrators make a Kiddush thats fit to serve a king, we are supposed to keep quiet and be “Dan lcaf zchus”! Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

  7. Brilliant and so true! Every participant in the Chinuch System from parents to school administrators MUST read this. I always knew this but was never able to express it so clearly.

  8. I have been there, on both sides of the negotiating table! I am both a parent who cannot afford to carry our families tuition bills, and in a position of authority in deciding tuition amounts (not the same school!). Many of the author’s points are well taken and most roshei hamosdos try their hardest to factor in all circumstances. I myself once had a parent that earned $250,000 and thought, wow, the chinuch of his child will cost us over 10k and he is asking for a 5 reduction? But upon further research, after taxes, medical expenses, mortgage and basic living expenses for a very large family, he really had almost nothing left. That said though, the suspicious nature of school administration and the attempt to eliminate the human factor is propelled somewhat by the attitude of a portion of the parents. In my experience, MANY parents do not perceive tuition as a true living expense, and view it as tzedokoh, albeit aniyei ircho kodem! I think that we’d all agree that the obligation to be mechanech ones child rests on the parents and the schools are the emissaries to help them meet this obligation. Parents often don’t view it as such, which is a source of frustration for the school. Every school understands a few basic rules. There are some parents in unique situations that truly can’t pay. There are many more, that although they are not the true “rachmonos cases” are still not able to carry the full cost of the chinuch and require reductions, sometimes steep. We all understand that we are responsible to provide the children with a chinuch even as such. Furthermore, as we do fundraise, we have an obligation to the klal. But, we need to meet our obligations as well and that requires a reasonable balance of shared responsibility. Do you know the feeling of having to tell a rebbe (teacher), whose salary is a fraction of what he needs to live, and who makes himself available for the talmidim(os) day and night, physically and emotionally, often at the expense of his own family, that even his meager salary is not available as there is no money? The parents say that they don’t have what to give. But what should the rebbe do? How should the administration feel when they see a parent, whose life style far surpasses that of the rebbe’s, claim that they can’t pay even their steeply reduced tuition as they are maxed out? To what extent must a school sacrifice, and raise even more money to carry an even larger percentage of the expense of being mechanech your child? How many parents stall off the yeshiva over and over, claiming that money will be coming in soon, asking for the schools understanding, only to accumulate an unmanageable bill that once they leave the school they never pay, often placing all other financial responsibilities first? Trust me, I am not judging, I have been on both sides. The elevated expenses of a frum lifestyle, along with greater needs of our generation, make a parnosoh really though. But, unfortunately this has led, at times, to a level of distrust that has the schools asking for details.

  9. #1 is on the right track. Anybody who’s getting tuition assistance should direct their maisser to the school. Also, any parent who’s paying tuition should also be obligated to give a certain percentage to the school. It would even be nice if everyone in the kehillah would give a certain percent to a community chinuch fund, but there might be political problems there portioning out the money.

    The schools are the responsibility of all of us.

  10. While the sentiments underlying the post are true, the facts are not. Its amazing everyone feels that the system is unfair to them and that everyone else is cheating the system.

    Firstly, many yeshivos use the third party to collect the data because they are able to get funding from charitable foundations to help pay the cost of the scholarship – see this one for example http://www.ujafedny.org/day-school-scholarships/.
    Secondly, As comment #7 mentions above, the tuition process is degrading many people would rather submit their information to an anonymous third party and have it evaluated by a computer as opposed to having to “undress” in front of the schools administrator.
    Most importantly, do you have any idea how much time it takes to meet / evaluate a family??? If you have 100 families that need assistance and you spend just a half hour on each one, that is more than a week’s worth of work. And, could you really figure all this out in a half hour???? Many administrators and tuition committees simply don’t have the time so they are forced to rely on outside services.

    The primary concern should be that assistance be given in as respectful a manner as possible, and that the process be consistent and transparent.

    The real issue is that tuition is much too expensive and nothing is being done to reduce it.

  11. Agree- my husband holds 2 jobs and i used to work into the night until i left the job. We don’t get summers off, don’t get tips, work long hours, and after taxes are left with not enough to live- we are considering moving. I am overqualified for many jobs and can’t find work.

  12. My son in law is considered a Gavriel H’Gvir. Works like a dog, along with his wife who kills herself to earn money, and when it comes to tuition breaks, he never can qualify, because after all together they earn $80,000!!!. Big whoop. They don’t have a dime for anything. I help out.
    I hear these stories, and my hair stands up on my head. I vomit. I give them whatever I can, so they can buy clothing for yom tov. They don’t get a penny from the government, and would not even want to take any government help, because it is against their way of living. After all, they grew up in homes where we struggle and work. We never took a dime from anyone. But yes, we get punished for it, by the tuition committee, who has virtually no rachmonos on them, because they earn a “good” living! What a joke!! This article is so true, but it gets my blood boiling.

  13. All in all, an excellent and well-written post. Qick reply to #4: As the Rebbi who has a second job (and a third one on Shabbos, too!)and hasn’t seen a raise in over 8 years, I don’t get summers off – I have to find income to cover July and August’s bills, too. Add in to the mix health isurance premiums that go up each year and the fact that receiving salary on time is ‘optional’ at best and I reject your premise that Rebbeim are the mollycoddled privledged class. We don’t clock in at 9 and out at 2 -0 we have lesson preperation, follow up, dealing with children and their parents’ concerns, as well. Tips at Chanukah and Purim? If they appear – they’re less that the waiter’s tip at a restaurant. Food vouchers?! Gotta love the bizyonos of lining up at a Tomchei Shabbos Food Distribution Center. I do it because I have an obligation to feed my family-even by compromising my dignity. One of my very talented children recently copnfided to my wife that he’d never go into chinuch-it’s just not worth it (His words, not mine.).
    For every nice article in the Yated or Hamodia or werever else, there are dozens of people who believe that the hard working Rebbeim and Moros and Limudei Chol teachers are just milking the system.
    Oh, and by the way, my tuitions went up 20% last year, too.


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