By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
They are the true heroes behind our Yeshivos and Day Schools. They work 50, 60, sometimes 80 hours a week to ensure that the teachers, Rabbis, and staff get paid. They are the Yeshiva administrators, whose job it is to seek philanthropists to pay for student scholarships, to keep down expenditures, and to nudge parents for tuition.
Their’s is a thankless task. It is hard work, both in terms of the nature of the job and in terms of the impact upon their social lives. At times, they must refuse raise increase requests of employees. At other times, they have to be very tough on parents who have fallen severely behind on tuition.
But may they avail themselves of the ultimate weapon? Can they actually bar entry? Can they say and act upon the headline of this article, “No tuition — no re-admission?”
CASE IN POINT
Two siblings were in two of our local schools. The father of the older boy told the Yeshiva that he needed a major reduction in tuition or he was pulling the boy out. The Yeshiva told him, “Sorry, we don’t do that.” The boy was yanked out and placed in public school.
That boy’s younger sibling was in another institution. They understood the family’s precarious finances. They were as accommodating as can be.
The final outcome? The older boy married a gentile. The younger sibling studied in Eretz Yisroel and now, after returning to the United States, teaches in a Yeshiva. Hundreds of our local students have been inspired by the latter, and it all could have turned out very differently — just by virtue of the tuition policy of an executive director. This is a true story that has unfolded recently — very recently.
The Gemorah in Sanhedrin (91a) states, “Whomsoever denies halacha from the mouth of a student, it is as if he has robbed him of the inheritance of his fathers, as it states, Morasha kehilas Yaakov — it is an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob. The Gemorah further writes that even the fetuses in the wombs of their mothers curse such a person who denies anyone their Jewish heritage. ”
The Maharal, comparing the Torah to a bride, writes in his Drush Al HaTorah (p.109) that the Torah is engaged not just to select individuals within the nation of Israel — but to all of Israel equally. Thus denying the poor the chance to learn Torah is tantamount to the greatest of sins. Indeed, the Maharal further explains that it belongs more to the poor than to the wealthy, as the Gemorah in Nedarim says (81a), “Take heed of the poor, because through them will come Torah.” His explanation is that the Torah was given in a bare wilderness with no worldly materials — the equivalent of an atmosphere of complete indigence.
Rav Meir Shapira zt”l, the founder of the Daf HaYomi gave a different explanation to the Gemorah in Nedarim of taking heeding of the poor. He explained that it is because the parents, who paid even a minimal tuition, had paid whatever they could pay with dearly earned money. They had given up their hard-earned funds with mesiras nefesh, immense dedication, in order that their children should be able to learn Torah. It is impossible for such Mesiras Nefesh to not yield anything but Torah.
THE RULING IN SHULCHAN ARUCH
The Ramah in Choshain Mishpat (163:3) rules that in a city where there is a Melamed Tinokos — a Rebbe for children, and the father or fathers cannot afford to pay, the obligation rests upon the community to collect funds based upon the wealth of each individual. He rules likewise in regard to the hiring of a Chazan referencing the Shulchan Aruch’s chapter in Orech Chaim (53:23). This ruling of the Ramah is based upon a Rabbeinu Yerucham (Nesiv 29 Vol. III).
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l ruled that this Ramah, which formed the basis of the Cheder payment system in Europe for many centuries throughout the European exile, still applies in today’s age with the modern Yeshiva system (See Mechitzas Rabbeinu page 106). If, however, the father is wealthy enough that he can adequately pay, then the Yeshiva may refuse the child entry until the father does so. Otherwise, however, they may not do so.
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein in Shailos UTeshuvos b’Hilchos Chinuch (responsa #61) rules that it is absolutely forbidden for a Yeshiva to actually refuse admission to a child based upon non-payment. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky ruled the same way (see footnote 106 in Emes L’Yaakov to YD 245:4).
MAY A YESHIVA THREATEN?
In recent years, a system has evolved to ensure that parents settle previous obligations before they can register their child to classes. This system is called the admission card — without which one cannot receive a schedule, be placed on the attendance sheets, and receive books and materials. It is said from Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt”l said that one may threaten not to admit but actually carrying out the threat is not permitted.
What happens if a parent receives such a letter, does not get an admission card, and actually does not register his child as a result? Poskim have ruled that there is an obligation upon the school to follow up with the parent and ensure that things can be worked out. It is forbidden to issue such a threat without ensuring that everyone who received such a letter is contacted.
But what is a school to do when faced with no payments? Most philanthropists are tapped out already on “more exotic Tzedakos” rather than the local Yeshiva. Some communities have worked out a special scholarship fund that each school can go to when the parent has no funds to pay. This is the situation in Chicago, for example. Other communities have not had such innovative developments. As a result, many Jews are lost to their people.
Indeed, in our times, the situation might be significantly worse than the case of the Ramah in Choshain Mishpat. Within the great melting pot that is America, it is highly likely that attending a public school will directly lead to shedding one’s Jewish identity – no matter how strongly affiliated the family is at home. Poskim have ruled that such a move could directly lead to abandonment of Shabbos, Kashrus, Judaism. As in the local case cited abovem it can also lead to intermarriage. It is thus, by far, a greater obligation than that which was discussed in the Shulchan Aruch. By virtue of this latter ruling, the halachos of denying a Yeshiva education applies to both boys and girls.
Within this past week, this author became aware of fifteen such cases of children that were in Yeshivos last year. Four are within our community, and eleven in a community nearby. Clearly, we need to follow the Chicago model.
The situation has entered into a crisis mode. These are children in our communities that are now in public schools by reason of financial hardship of the parents. In out-of-town communities too, the crisis is reaching epic proportion.
The Ramah in Choshain Mishpat continues that even those who no longer need the particular need of the community must still be forced to pay. The Ramah further indicates at the end of paragraph three that those who are older and have no need for a wedding hall or Mikvah must still contribute. We need individuals to step forward in the Yeshivos and schools that they are affiliated with, and form just such scholarship fund. We need our own “No child left behind” program.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman