July 25, 2024
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July 25, 2024
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A Respectful Disagreement With the Beth Din of America About a Tuition Dispute

The Beth Din of America recently released a decision concerning payment for a son’s shana bet (second year) of Torah learning in an Israeli yeshiva (https://bethdin.org/the-case-of-unpaid-yeshiva-tuition/). As we shall set forth, I think the beit din erred in its decision.


The Dispute as Presented by The Beth Din of America

I. The Facts

A father enrolled his son to attend yeshiva in Israel for shanna aleph. The yeshiva gave the father a form-contract for the year with a sticker price of $24,000 but immediately granted him a 50% discount for a total tuition amount of $12,000. The father signed the agreement, the son attended yeshiva for the year, and the father paid the $12,000.

Following shana aleph, the son wanted to return to the yeshiva for shanna bet. The yeshiva sent the father a form-contract with a sticker price of $22,000 but granted him a $2,000 scholarship. The father refused to sign the contract. Instead, he informed the yeshiva that he will not pay $20,000 for shana bet and that they’ll have to work out better financial aid. The yeshiva acknowledged this, and replied that they would follow up. The yeshiva made several attempts to follow up, but they never got through to the father.

The son attended the yeshiva for the entire shana bet, but the father did not make any payments. Several months after the conclusion of shana bet, the yeshiva brought the father to a din torah to recover the unpaid tuition.

II. The Claims

The yeshiva claimed that it was entitled to $22,000 for shana bet—the full amount stated on its form-contract. It argued that the father is not entitled to the $2,000 scholarship because he failed to sign the agreement. Therefore, he should be liable for the full tuition amount of the yeshiva’s sticker price.

The father claimed that he does not owe the yeshiva anything for shana bet. He argued that because he never signed the tuition contract, he never accepted liability towards the yeshiva. Therefore, he should not have to pay the yeshiva a penny.


The Beth Din of America’s Resolution

The beit din applied the following ruling from the Pitchei Choshen (Sekhirut 8:3-4; the Pitchei Choshen is an authoritative modern-day compendium of Torah monetary law): “If a worker says I want such and such an amount in compensation and the employer responds ‘we’ll work out a price between us,’ it is as if they came to no agreement on price.”

In the absence of an agreement, the beit din applied the following ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 333:8). The case involves a chazzan who was hired for one year and was rehired for a second year by a new board. However, they did not set terms of compensation for the second year. The Shulchan Aruch (citing the Rivash) rules that in the absence of an agreement, the chazzan should be paid for his second year on the same terms as the first year.

The Beth Din of America similarly ruled that since the father and the yeshiva had not set terms for shana beit’s payment, the default should be the same terms as shana alef. Therefore, the beit din ruled that the father must pay $12,000.

The beit din formulated their ruling as follows: Although the yeshiva had attempted to extract a higher tuition amount from the father for shana bet ($20,000 compared to $12,000 for shana aleph), the father had rejected the yeshiva’s offer, and the negotiations dropped off with the understanding that the parties would have to work out financial aid. The yeshiva accepted the son and gave him a full year of shana bet education without finalizing a tuition agreement secured by the father’s signature. It would have been fully within the yeshiva’s rights to refuse the son admission until the father signed the agreement. So notwithstanding the yeshiva’s desire to secure a higher tuition payment, it failed to do so. Since the parties entered into an agreement for shana bet without agreeing on a tuition price, the dayanim held—per Rivash’s rule—that the tuition amount should be the same as that which these very parties agreed to one year earlier, for shana aleph.


My Respectful Disagreement

The Beth Din of America views the situation as if no price was set. However, I suggest that this is not the case. I think the yeshiva has a standard fee for which a parent can potentially obtain a reduction if the yeshiva grants it to a scholarship. In the absence of the father’s arranging for a scholarship, the default is the standard fee set forth by the yeshiva. In this case, the father did not secure a fee reduction and, therefore, must pay the full price of $22,000. High school Israel advisors have confirmed the accuracy of this understanding.


Conclusion: What Do You Think?

The Beth Din of America’s very well-written presentation of the case makes for a beautiful Torah learning experience by exploring several core topics within Jewish monetary law. I highly recommend carefully reading and considering the decision. Undoubtedly, it is a thought-provoking discussion that makes for an exciting learning experience.

Rabbi Jachter serves as the rav of Congregation Shaarei Orah, rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a get administrator with the Beth Din of Elizabeth. Rabbi Jachter’s 18 books may be purchased at Amazon and Judaica House.

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