Tuesday, May 26, 2020

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I applaud Gershon Distenfeld for his thoughtful advocacy for yeshiva day school tuition affordability. (“A Viral Opportunity: Response, Resolution and Revolution,” May 7, 2020) Indeed, making yeshiva day schools affordable should be a communal priority, and achieving it requires reconsidering today’s normative yeshiva day school model, as Mr. Distenfeld suggests.

But if we’re having the conversation, let’s put everything on the table and seek a comprehensive solution. And if a communal subsidy is the route we want to take, I would respectfully submit that a fundamental part of the discussion needs to be about what exactly our community is subsidizing. We need to ask—what is a “Jewish” education? Talmud and Chumash certainly. But what about the suite of secular studies classes that are entirely redundant of those our community already pays for which are offered in our local public schools? Does the fact that secular studies are taught in the same private school building where Jewish studies are also taught make them “Jewish” and require our community to subsidize them (again, on top of what it already pays for in taxes)?

That, in my mind, is the fundamental dysfunction in the yeshiva day school model. We have made an outstanding (and expensive) secular studies program in a private school setting (i.e. without non-Jewish kids) synonymous with a “Jewish” education; and have given parents who are perfectly content with utilizing what is already available to them locally for free no other viable option for educating their children in a Jewish setting. Ironically, what makes a “Jewish” education so expensive has nothing to do with Jewish studies at all.

All of the solutions proposed—Yeshivat He’Atid, communal funding, etc.—are “band aids.” They commendably alleviate the effects of the core problem, perhaps more creatively and dramatically than other solutions proposed in the past. But none actually take aim at the core problem, and it’s time we did.

Yigal M. Gross