Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It’s About the Money

I recently ran a poll on my other blog EvE II about what my readers think is the most important issue affecting Orthodox Judaism in our day. There were 129 respondents.

First the standard disclaimer: This poll was not scientific. I realize that it is not necessarily representative of all of Orthodox Jewry. For one thing the number of respondents is less than a tenth of my readership. And my readership is heavily weighted toward right wing modern Orthodox and moderate Charedim (as per my last poll results). Nonetheless I somehow think that it more or less reflects Orthodox thinking - even if not in the exact proportion that the poll indicated. Here are the categories - in alphabetical order - and the breakdown:

Agunos 0%
Cheating the government 9%
Kids at risk 6%
Poverty 10%
Sex abuse 10%
Shiduchim 1%
The slide to the right 26%
Tuitions 36%

Here is my homegrown analysis.

Considering the fact that every other category has either devastating effects on the family or is responsible for major Chilul HaShem, it was a bit surprising that tuition costs were the number one concern. 36% of those who responded indicated that tuition is the biggest problem facing Orthodoxy in our day.

I suppose that most people realize that most of the other problems on the list are more devastating to those individuals personally affected by them. But I guess when you get hit in the pocket book that is what you feel the most. I also realize that tuition obligations are back breaking to most families. Very few of us pay full tuition. And tuition costs hit everyone (i.e. - those with children). That is perhaps why this category received the greatest number of votes.

$100,000 sounds like a pretty good income. But is it? A typical family like that with say 5 children at a cost of $10,000 (minimally) per child will have a tuition bill $50,000. How many people make $100, 000 per year? And yet - is it even a consideration that such a family pay half of their pre-tax income for tuition? Of course it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean they don’t pay anything. Families like these are asked to pay as much of that $50,000 as they can. That means sacrificing a lot.

Most families make less than six figure incomes and more than a few have more than 5 children. They are squeezed the most. I guess I shouldn’t wonder why parents seem to be focusing on this issue. Financial pressures can break down a family. Squeezing parents like this does not help.

To the average tuition paying parent this is what seems to be on their daily plate. How are they going to be able to afford to pay tuition? How will they be able to live a half way decent middle class lifestyle without maximizing debt – even at $100,000 per year?

And yet from the school’s perspective – how can they ask for less? The teachers deserve to be paid. By not maximizing tuition schools run the risk of falling short in their payroll - especially in this economy where fund raising efforts are being negatively affected.

Of course I have been through all this before. The cost of Jewish education is definitely a major problem for our time - a fact that I have never disputed. And one that seems to defy solution. It’s just that some of these other problems seem to be a so much more serious in the over-all scheme of things.

Is not sex abuse a bigger issue?

Or the poverty that is rampant in the more Charedi sectors – especially among the Avreichim in Israel?

What about Shiduchim? How many young women – and even some young men - are there that are single, desperately trying to get married, and getting older with every passing moment? That population seems to be growing by leaps and bounds in all segments of Orthodoxy.

What about the slide to the right? Doesn’t that affect us all? Taken to its ultimate conclusion, doesn’t living in a world full of isolationism, ignorance, and Chumra scare anyone? On the other hand this category got the second highest number of votes at 26%. But that is still a full 10 points lower than the concern over the cost of Jewish education.

What about the rampant disregard for the laws of the land that result in cheating the government? Is the huge Chilul HaShem resulting form that a cause for great concern? Does that not increase anti-Semitism in the world? That affects all of us.

What about Agunos? OK, I realize that as a percentage of the population they are very small. But what does it matter how small the numbers are when it God forbid happens to you? Can anyone imagine what it is like to be an Agunah? Never being able to marry again? This category received no votes at all!

Last but obviously not least what about the Kids at risk phenomenon? This category does not have small numbers. I’m sure that everyone knows at least one family that has a child who is at risk of going off the Derech – or worse. The numbers are so huge that they have evolved into an entire community of their own. One that some experts say is here to stay. Is that not a bigger problem for Orthodoxy than tuition costs?

Please do not misunderstand. The high cost of Jewish education is definitely an important one. One which I have addressed many times in the past. But I just didn’t realize it was the number one concern on most people’s minds.

I guess I was wrong. And I guess the question now is - what do we do about it?

Notice: I will shortly (hopefully) have a new poll at my other blog and will notify when it is up.