May 13, 2024
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Yeshiva Tuition: The Scholarship Committees Should Be Disbanded

Dvorah Vaynman’s two heart-wrenching articles on applying for scholarships and financial aid at her local yeshiva bothered me greatly. I was disappointed with the responses by some of the writers. The pain and embarrassment she went through is what she was writing about. The present scholarship-application system embarrasses the applicants so much that they will not apply again for a scholarship. We are taught that if one embarrasses a person it is like destroying a world. Doesn’t anyone care about Ms. Vaynman’s embarrassment? One writer offered his services as a financial planner. She was not looking for a financial planner. She wanted to be treated with compassion and respect. Another writer wrote about how hard her husband worked for hours on the scholarship committee behind closed doors. Where are her husband’s comments?

Lay leaders should not be on scholarship committees. Why should someone of means be best qualified to serve on a scholarship committee? Is it because he donated money to the school? Why does that make them qualified to understand the needs of the applicant? They have no training or skills in this area. One would never put them on admissions committees or hopefully on education committees. Yeshivas should follow the college and university model and hire professionals to administer their financial aid and scholarships. An advisory committee for scholarships and financial aid should be established consisting only of people who received scholarships and financial aid. This would allow for an application process that is respectful, private and not embarrassing. To require excessive financial details because of fear for a small number of cheating parents is wrong. You do not humiliate everyone because you are afraid of a few cheats.

Despite a number of articles to the contrary, yeshiva scholarships are tzedaka, charity. The person who distributes charity is called a “gabbai tzedaka.” He is required to be a special person who knows how to quietly and without embarrassment disburse the tzedaka. This person is not the person of means. He collects the tzedaka and distributes it. Each yeshiva should designate a staff member or hire one person to be properly trained to serve this need.

Parents should be allowed to apply and hopefully be accepted at more than one day school. They then should be able to apply for financial aid at each school. If they receive a better financial aid award at a certain school, they should accept that school and then be allowed to withdraw from the other school. They should be able to receive their registration fee back if they are withdrawing for financial reasons. Competition exists for enrolling students. Let’s use scholarships and financial aid like colleges and universities do to recruit and enroll students.

We encourage and are proud when our children pursue careers in Jewish education. But how are they to afford day school tuition? Schools should adopt the tuition exchange scholarship program that many colleges and universities join, which offer scholarships to children of faculty and staff in member institutions. This professional courtesy should be extended beyond one’s own school to offer scholarships and similar tuition reduction to parents who teach and work at other yeshivas and Jewish day schools. Prizmah, Center for Jewish Day Schools should look into it to see how to fund it.

How much scholarship should be awarded? The award should not be limited to how much money the school has raised in its scholarship fund, but should be based on the need of each family. Unmet need should be funded by the school through loans or future donations, not by the family.

This past Shabbos we read Parshat “Re’eh. In it says:

“Aser Taser et kol tevuatcha,” “You shall tithe, you shall tithe all the wheat you are sowing.”

Why is “Aser,” repeated? Three other times we also repeated phrases of giving with respect to the poor man, your brother, and your slave.

According to the Kli Yakar, the reason for the double expression for giving is that the act of giving is really two-fold. One part is the giving with the hand, the money or the scholarship. The second part is giving with the mouth, is saying something nice when you give. Kli Yakar states: “In order that he should not give with his hand, while his feels bad that he is giving.”

We should learn from the Kli Yakar and give scholarships in a respectful manner that does not embarrass or humiliate applicants. We should use or hire financial-aid professionals to administer the scholarship programs.


Ira Jaskoll is the Jewish chaplain at Fairleigh Dickinson University and faculty advisor of the two Hillel chapters. He teaches at Lander College for Men/Touro College and University System, FDU Yeshiva Program, Stillman School of Business Seton Hall University, and Willumstad School of Business Adelphi University.

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