The Yeshiva Day School System — Costs and Considerations

June 24, 2016

Source: Times of Israel


There are many ways to view yeshiva day schools. The Orthodox community generally views them with pride, as a substantial communal achievement — and rightfully so. In less than a century, a community of largely impoverished refugees, decimated by the Holocaust, came to a foreign country and established schools that rival that country’s most elite and established schools. Almost every yeshiva day school produces graduates who attend the finest colleges and graduate schools, and their students regularly win national literary, advocacy, math and science competitions. And the sweeping success of these schools has also been religious — there are more Jewish religious studies students in America today than at any time in its history.


And yet, this achievement has come at a cost, and that cost continues to be extraordinary and multifaceted. The most obvious cost is financial: it costs an extraordinary amount of money to send a child to yeshiva day school and for our community to sustain such independent schools. But there are also other, associated costs which may be less obvious than the monetary costs, but which are no less profound.


This piece, the product of discussions with colleagues, friends, family and community members, discusses the yeshiva day school model and its associated costs, in the hope of helping the Orthodox community consider an increasingly burning question — is it worth it?

Personally, I believe that an honest consideration of the totality of yeshiva day schools’ costs — both financial and non-financial — leads to the conclusion that the current model is unsustainable and must change. Here, I share what I see as the costs and, in a following piece, I will propose a change to the Yeshiva day school model that addresses those costs.

None of this is easy to say. I am a product of the yeshiva day school system. My parents and others in my community devoted substantial time and financial resources to sustaining it. They did so with admirable intentions and sacrifice, and they have much to be proud of. But that system, which perhaps made sense in my generation, has become a monster that is devouring our community’s resources and eroding its character.

Investment breeds attachment. It is hard to move away from a system that we worked so hard to build and in which we invested so much to sustain. But investments cannot take on their own lives. It is both irrational and dangerous to prop up a system that we know is flawed and destructive simply to justify our prior investments in that system.

Change is also difficult. Inertia is an incredibly powerful force. We have this system and these schools that, with all of their flaws, we know and understand, and which offer a predictable result. Why expend the time, energy and cost — and take the risk — of crafting an alternative that may not succeed? This piece demonstrates why that way of thinking is flawed, and why taking comfort in the familiar is a communal trap.

Personally, the urgency of our community breaking free of this system is very real. I am the father of children who are nearing yeshiva day school age, and if we fail to get our communal act together soon and address the system’s costs, I and my peers will soon bear the costs of that failure.

Read the entire article in The Times of Israel.

Updated: Jul. 19, 2016