July 18, 2024
Close this search box.
Close this search box.
July 18, 2024
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Is Yeshiva Tuition Subject to Maaser?

With the rising cost of everything, including school tuition, some people may be wondering if the cost of tuition can be considered for maaser, giving one tenth of our income to charity. If so, are there differences between boys’ yeshivos and girls’ schools? And finally, are there differences within different boys schools as well?

Before we begin this subject, let’s briefly provide a general and necessary overview of the laws of maaser.


Three-Way Debate

There is a three-way debate as to the nature of maaser. Some authorities understand maaser as a full-fledged biblical obligation (Chasam Sofer’s reading of the Maharil, responsa YD 232). Others understand it as a rabbinic obligation (TaZ on YD 331:136), while others understand it as a mere minhag, or custom (Responsa Maharam MiRottenberg #74; Bach YD 331). Believe it or not, most authorities rule like the third opinion, but nonetheless, it is a very important matter, dating back to Avrohom Avinu, that should not be neglected.

The Chofetz Chaim writes (Ahavas Chesed Vol. II 20) that those who give maaser have a remarkable advantage over those who merely give charity, in that Hashem Himself becomes a partner in their business.


Who Should Maaser Be Given To?

There are four levels of giving maaser to the poor, which are not so well-known:

Ideally, maaser should be given to poor people who are related to the giver (see Shach YD 251:17).

The second level is to give it to poor people who toil in the study of Torah (Ahavas Chesed Vol. II Chapter 19).

The third level is to give it to the poor of one’s own community (ibid).

The fourth level is to give it to poor people in general (ibid).

The Ramah writes (YD 249:1) that maaser should NOT be given for general dvar mitzvah purposes, but should specifically be directed to the poor. There are three explanations for this Ramah.

Since the money belongs to the poor, if one uses it for other purposes it is as if one is stealing from the poor (simple reading of Maharil cited in Chsam Sofer YD 231).

Since one is accustomed to give his maaser funds to the poor, it is as if one had specifically designated it so at the outset (Responsa Chsam Sofer YD 231).

One may not pay for one’s general obligations through tzedaka money—even if they are mitzvah obligations (Be’er HaGola).

According to the Chasam Sofer (explanation two in the Ramah), if one were to make a condition when he first starts paying maaser that he be allowed to spend it upon any other mitzvah, then it would in fact be permitted to give it to other charitable matters other than support of the poor. There is also the view of the Drisha (YD 249:1 cited by both the Shach and TaZ) that one may give maaser toward other mitzvos if the other mitzvah would not be performed were it not for the funds being given now.


Back to Tuition

So now let’s plug all this into our question regarding yeshiva tuitions. As we have seen, any parental obligation cannot be paid for by maaser money. This is not just the ruling of the Chofetz Chaim (Ahavas Chesed Vol. II 19:2), but is also cited by the Eliyah Rabba (OC 156:2).


Obligation of Father to Teach Torah

There is a Torah obligation for a father to teach his son Torah, or to hire someone else to do so (YD SIman 245 based upon Kiddushin 29a). The obligation is to teach Chumash and Gemara, unless one does not have the resources to do so, in which case the obligation is limited to Chumash. Rav Vosner zt”l (Shaivet HaLevi Vol. VIII #133) writes that a boy’s yeshiva tuition cannot be deducted from maaser because of the obligation to teach him Torah sheba’al peh as well; i.e. Gemara. Paying for the secular education of one’s own child is, in a sense, tzedaka to one’s own children, because, at first glance, it is not part of the halachic obligations of the father.

All this seems to imply that the costs of providing for the secular education of our children should be subject to maaser, while the limudei kodesh portion of yeshiva tuition would not be. So depending upon the yeshiva, it would seem that 35% to 45% of tuition would be allowed to be paid from one’s own maaser funds.


Rav Moshe Feinstein’s View

The problem with this is that Rav Moshe Feinstein writes (IM YD Vol. II #113) that nowadays, since the law forces a person to provide their children with a secular education, and doing so in a public school forum would seriously endanger their commitment to Judaism, yeshiva tuition has now become obligatory. This is therefore considered a full parental obligation. The repercussions of Rav Moshe’s ruling are that no tuition is deductible from maaser—whether for boys or for girls. The Sefer Ahavas Tzedaka (page 140) concludes that Rav Feinstein’s view is even according to the poskim who allow maaser funds to go toward other mitzvah use—even if a condition is made (as the Chasam Sofer suggests). As an aside, although some have suggested that a single mother can fully deduct the tuition she pays from maaser since she may not be obligated in Talmud Torah of her children according to some authorities—the problem that Rav Feinstein raises applies also to single mothers and would thus be equally problematic for them.


New Suggestion

This author would humbly suggest that the tuition can still be partially paid from maaser funds for the following reason. There are a number of yeshivos that allow students to come just for the limudei kodesh section of study and to go home for the limudei chol section. It is theoretically possible to do a home study course for limudei chol, using an accredited home school study program. The cost of such a program, where real teachers grade papers, is some $1500 per year.

Since this is certainly a theoretically viable option for numerous children, this author would like to suggest the following formula for what portion of one’s yeshiva tuition can be deducted from maaser. Of course, each person should consult with one’s own rav or posek, but the formula is as follows:

Total sum of secular teacher’s salary, plus principal’s salary, divided by the number of students in school, divided by the number of students in the class. Subtract from this number the sum of $1500. Add to this the cost of rent of a classroom for half a day, the cost of utilities for half a day and the afternoon secretarial staff cost, also divided by the number of the students in the school. This amount is the portion of one’s tuition that may be deducted from maaser funds.

For example, say a certain yeshiva high school’s tuition is $14,000 per year. After meeting with the tuition committee, an arrangement was made that a family may pay $10,000 per year. The yeshiva high school pays $8,000 per period for five periods and the limudei chol principal gets paid $80,000 per year. The class has 20 boys and there are 160 boys in the school. The school pays rent in the sum of $20,000 per classroom per year. Power, water, gas and garbage amount to $40,000 per year for the afternoons.

Thus the cost of the teacher is $2,000 per child. The shared cost of the principal is $500 per child; The secretary cost is $200 per child; Utilities are $250 per child; Rent is $1000 per child. Incidental expenses may be $50 per child. The total is $4000. Subtract from this figure the $1500 cost of homeschooling. Approximately $2500 of the tuition may be paid from maaser funds.

It could very well be that one should not only check with one’s rav or posek, but also the school’s accountant.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman


Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles