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Paying for Jewish Education


Rabbi Chaim Tabasky

Tammuz 26, 5769
How poor do you have to make yourself to pay for a Jewish education for your children? For example: Can I elect to work shorter hours in order to educate the children myself whilst sending them to a government (state) school instead of a Jewish school, even though I am a Ba’al Teshuvah with not a lot of learning? For example: Does my wife have to go out to get a job in order to pay school fees, or can she look after the younger children and the house? Are we allowed to buy a bigger house? (We would like to move away from some difficult neighbours.) Do we have to move to a smaller house in order to pay for school, even if this would be a squash with more children? (House purchasing tax in our country means that this is not easy to do anyway.) Do we have to move out of the Jewish area and then travel back? What are the parameters of what is required? Any other general points relating to the issue? We are really looking for the general issues to be considered, for actual psak we would obviously ask a Rabbi who knows us and our total fincancial situation. Can you provide sources for further reading?
Although your question was posted many months ago, it is timely and important. There are no cut and dried answers to the questions as you posed them, yet you bring up real human dilemnas that many families face regularly. In the present economic climate the situation is further excacerbated. The obligation to teach one's children, boys and girls, Torah is a central theme in Jewish life and commitment. It is obligitory to provide children with instruction in Torah and halachic living. Not only is there a technical obligation. The commitment to Jewish education manifest by the parents will be one of the central factors in the commitment of the child. Children who see a half hearted commitment to education will draw the conclusions about what is important in life. On the other hand, parents who sacrifice greatly for education but fail to give the children proper care and attention because they are too busy or worried may be losing more than they gain. I would begin by first deciding on the education I want for my children and then ascertaining what I have to do to get it. However, again, the most expensive school (if you have a choice) may call for sacrifices that will in the end be counter productive. I am well aware that many committed and observant Jews did not attend Jewish Day Schools. However, statistically, the best guarentee of Jewish commitment is education. I would urge any parent considering the sacrifices necessary to provide a Torah education to consult with local rabbis and educators and find out what is truly offered and what help the community can give to those needing it. A few years ago I met a man who had four children in an orthodox day school, three of them in high school, and the fees were high. Although an accomplished surgeon and lecturer, he could not afford the outlay. He gave up his medical practice and became a building contractor (he had previous experience) so that he could paty the tuitions. Although he missed the medicine, he was happy with the decision as were his wife and children. I don't believe there was a clear halachic obligation to go that route, but the result, I believe justified the decision. It may be true that he would have helpedmany people as a surgeon, but those people will not be faced with a shortage of surgeons because of his choice. When we say "Talmud Torah k'neged kulam" - Torah Study equals all other values and mitzvot - we are stating a difficult demand. Working towards it fullfillment will always be rewarding. Finally, remember that childrens' education should not be at the expense of the Torah study of the parents. Study yourselves, studywith your children, let them know that this is a high priority in your lives, and you won't be dissappointed.
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