MAILBAG: Should a Yeshiva or Bais Yaakov Be a Private Business?


With the subject of teacher salaries at the forefront of the communal conversation, I am wondering if there is a basic flaw in our system that should be addressed. Specifically, I wonder why the majority of people opening our schools and running them are not bnei torah who are looking to be marbitz torah but are rather baalei batim.

Think about it for a moment: the deans and administrators of schools ultimately have the last word in every decision that goes into chinuch. Do you want someone who is a lifelong ben torah to be making those decisions or a baalebus?

Who is calling the shots in schools and who paskens the shaalos? I have a hard time believing that it’s the dean’s moreh derech – what does he know about running a school, right?

Why have we become so complacent at the idea of a baalebus deciding what the chinuch of our children looks like? It’s beyond my comprehension.

Furthermore, many parents don’t know anything about the people who are in charge of the schools. They know nothing of their hashkafos, they know nothing about whether they are ehrliche yidden, they know nothing about how the school’s revenue is accounted for.

Would you allow food into your house on Pesach about which you know nothing about? Would you eat a food whose hechsher you never heard of? Then why would we send the most impressionable people in our society – our young children – to be guided by people that we know literally nothing about? Isn’t it ludicrous?

Last but not least, many of the school owners are quite wealthy. Why is it acceptable that the cleaning ladies that dust their mansions are making more money than our children’s teachers – and sometimes their rebbeim too? Why would we want to send our children to a school whose owners apparently care more about ensuring that their home (or homes) are meticulously kept than ensuring that the people giving their hearts and souls to our children’s chinuch are well compensated?

You want to know the answer to all of the above? It’s quite simple. We do all that because we’ve been told to toe the line. Follow orders, left, right, left, right. Don’t forget you’re a sheep in a pen. And if you want to get your crumbs, you better follow along.

Name withheld, Lakewood, NJ

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN.


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  1. As I was reading this editorial I had a sense that this was being written by someone living in Lakewood or “in town”.

    I live in a large out of town (outside Lakewood and Brooklyn) community with multiple boys’ and girls’ schools and all our schools are “community-owned” rather than owned and operated by an individual. Each school has a Vaad HaChinuch which includes Rabbonim, Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbeim who are very familiar with chinuch issues and pasken shailos brought to them by the schools’ hanhala and principals in order to establish Daas Torah based guidelines to issues that come up over the course of the year. The composition of each school’s Vaad HaChinuch is prominently displayed upon the school’s stationery so that anyone considering sending to a particular school is aware who is making the crucial chinuch decisions for that school.

    In addition, nobody is making any money off of “out of town” schools as they are essentially money losing propositions whose only goal is to educate the children of the community in a way that is not too burdensome upon the parents. However, creative ideas have been implemented in order to ensure that teachers and rabbeim are being paid on time, although the adequacy of their salaries is still an issue being discussed and debated.

    My suggestion to the author of this editorial would be to look around at communities outside Lakewood at the various chinuch systems in place and measure the pros and cons of our system compared to the system you are familiar with in Lakewood. I am sure there are some benefits to the Lakewood system as well, and by listing and rating each aspect of the two types of chinuch institutions you may be able to make some improvements in the system you are used to.

  2. I am having a very difficult time with school owners being painted as the bad guys. I myself was involved in opening a new school a few years ago. It was totally and completely klal work. No money lining anyone’s pocket whatsoever. I do know quite a few wealthier school owners but my impression was always that they had good investments or money from before they opened the schools. The people who own the schools are tzaddikim in my opinion! Sure It would be a huge burden off everyone’s heads if there was communal responsibility for opening schools and private ppl didn’t have to step up to the plate and make sure there are enough schools for our kids! (Which was another heavy topic many times over the last bunch of years) They filled a need! I agree 100% that our teachers need to be paid more. But bashing the school owners, making them seem like the bad guys is in my opinion a crime. We as a community ALL need to figure this out and step up to the plate together.

    And no I am not a school owner coming to defend school owners. Our school closed down and I am thrilled to be out of that scene.

  3. Halakha allows unlimited competition between schools and teachers. Lakewood should be a perfect place for such competition.

    Start more schools the way you think is right. It does not have to be a full school, start just one class. R Yaakov Kamenetsky and others in Lita would go to the melamed’s house who was teaching one year. This would increase competition between schools. Have separate offices for Jewish and general education, so that parents can select how much they want of each of them.

  4. A school requires someone to run it, hence ownership. You would rather this person know shas and poskim, even if he doesn’t know basic arithmetic or how to pay a bill, but the success at harbotzas hatorah of such a school is unlikely.

    On the other hand, a person with an MBA, good at economics, management of employees and budgets etc has a far better chances at running a successful mossad.

    The schools provide a vital service to the community. Historically, the Rosh HaKahal of a kehillah was not the biggest lamdan and masmid. Rather, he was good at management, hishtadlus, askonus etc. If the kehilla would choose a Rosh Hakahal that was a tremendous masmid, you could imagine how little would be accomplished by him in servicing the community.

    To get into the “business” of opening a school, one must obviously have a dedication to harbotzas hatorah, for if it is just to fill a bank account, it is easier to open an Amazon business or sell socks from the corner store. However, even with a dedication to chinuch ha’bonin u’bonos, to be a successful mossad chinuch, it needs to be run like a business.

    A school brings in tuitions and donations and grants etc. Depending on the size of the school, revenues totalling in the millions is not absurd. This revenue must be disbursed to hundreds of employees and vendors (school staff – teachers, office, fundraisers, cleaners, cooks, repairmen, suppliers etc etc etc).

    Anyone running a multi-million corporation is entitled to an executive salary, subject to his or her skills and abilities. That is what the owners would earn if they were running a for-profit organization.

    Sure, we would love the concept that the local grocery store is owned and operated by the Godol Hador. Except, when we go shopping at that store, we would likely get “shopping bags” filled with chidushei Torah. and it is unlikely that we would find the grocery item we need on the shelf.

    Let the lomdim remain in learning – shteiging at the shtender is where they belong, and let the balei batim that know business use their skills for keddusha, by running mosdos.

  5. Very well made point. To be honest I no longer have children in school as my youngest is 20 however this issue has bothered me for years. Here in Brooklyn it seems it is the Bais Yaakovs only that are privately owned in Lakewood from what I understand it is most schools. From the acceptance policies to tuition to treating teachers it is one big mess. I speak with some authority as I had kids in the school system for over 20 years and my wife has been teaching for 30 years. It is a big mess that will never ever change because Klal Yisroel is no longer run by gedolim it is run by people who are referred to as askanim (a whole nother conversation) Until the gedolim can stand up and make their own decisions nothing will change.



  7. Which Yeshivos is this diatribe talking about? Virtually all of the ehrliche Yeshivos I know people send their children to are run by Bnei Torah and Daas Torah, NOT by baalei batim.

    Name, specifically, which schools this article is talking about; otherwise this is all a bunch of hot air.

  8. When these schools collect for “THE BUILDING FUND”, no parent may use the Simcha room without charge (he paid for it, didn’t he?).
    Then they sell the property and they keep the entire money, and a Bais Din in Lakewood agreed, they called “additional tuition”, a rip-off, kinda.

  9. Part of the problem is that the baalebatim are the ones who have the time and resources to open the schools. Bnei Torah, whether in kollel or as rabbeim, maggidei shiur etc have neither the time or resources to be able to open schools. We don’t have the time because outside sedarim and shiurim, lessons etc we are busy tutoring to make ends meet – or we’re looking after our families whilst our wives are working (and receiving peanuts for their work), again so that we can make ends meet. And why are we finding so difficult to make ends meet? Because the people running the schools often do not provide salaries that we can live on…..and so the cycle continues…..The people paying the salaries need to come down to earth and see the cost of basic living

  10. So go open a school. Who’s stopping you?
    How do you know that people don’t ask shailos. Why shouldn’t people that work like crazy to open and run a school make some money.
    I’m involved in opening a school now and let me tell you it’s not easy.
    If it would be so simple there would not be all the issues of not having enough schools

  11. I believe the idea of privately held mosdos is unique to Lakewood and girl’s seminaries in Israel (I could be wrong). In most communities schools were created as a communal need and therefore the community sees it as a communal institution and supports it as such. In Lakewood the system grew so fast and there were so many other communal institutions the community as a whole could not handle supporting everything. My impression is that any of the ballei battim who stepped in did so out of a need not necessarily to make a quick buck. The anonymous writer can’t have it both ways. Either there will not be enough seats in the classroom for your kid or allow an individual to open a school and deal with it as he sees fit. Make up your mind.
    Seminaries in Israel are a different story. My impression is that these are opened for the sole purpose of making money.
    Either way, the writer is not offering answers. He is just kvetching. That does not help anyone. It does not sound like he/she is offering to start a fundraising campaign to attract dedicated and quality moros and Rabbeim. I don’t understand the purpose of people whining and saying “yes we have a problem. SOMEONE should do something about it (as long is its not me)”

  12. This letter smacks of kefias tov in the extreme and should be sanctioned. While I am not here to offer a blanket defense of school owners, a letter with this kind of nasty tone should have no place in a frum blog.

  13. all schools should be private and be guided by a curriculum of standards, teachers should be paid and the rest of what is above is jealousy___education is never free…if your talking of tuition then this needs to be standardized

  14. Dear anonymous letter writer,
    You say you are from Lakewood, I am extremely familiar with the Lakewood School landscape I’m living in Lakewood for over 30 years and involved in many community matters.

    Out of the over 70 elementary schools in Lakewood I am only aware of three schools that are not run by Bnei Tora the rest are all run by Bnei Tora. So there is no merit to what you are saying unless you happen to send to those schools in which case the question would be on you why are YOU sending to such a school.

    Regarding the schools being private, the fact of the matter is that schools in Lakewood which are privately owned are charging less than half the tuition compared to the community owned schools outside of Lakewood. So the argument of Lakewood School owners “enriching” themselves is moot. If they are enriching themselves why is tuition in Lakewood’s Privately owned schools half the price of community owned schools.

    Just recently at the beginning of the school year we’re all busy complaining but there’s not enough space for all the children in school we need new schools. Some individuals graciously stepped up to the plate sacrificed their personal lives and interests to accept upon themselves the responsibility of running a school. AND NOW YOU COME TO BASH THEM?! Teachers are entitled to fare & respectable compensation for their work, but so are Roshe Moisdos, owning a school is a 24 hour, 365 day a year job to cover the payroll of our teachers. There’s no nights off, no Sundays off and no summers off. They need to be compensated properly otherwise no one will be working to cover any part of our teachers payroll. We can’t forget or bash the people that keep our Moisdos running every single day.

  15. By far the most despicable and disgusting letter to date. This is the reason why this ‘crisis’ should not be on a public forum. It leads to bumbling fools like this one to write such shameful and appalling lies about the owners and administrators of the schools. People who btw, just like the teachers are moser nefesh day in and day out for their respective schools. Yes, they are being paid better than teachers. No they are not making salaries worthy of what they do. You go on and accuse them of not being Bnei Torah. By and large almost every Rosh Hamosad and administrator is a Ben Torah. If they weren’t they would go to the business world and make 3 to 5 times their salaries. Because if you have the ‘platzes’ to run a school you have the shoulders to run a business which would be far more profitable. The comparisons made in this letter are beyond abhorrent. Most, if not all, of the Roshei Mosdos with money, are not from their salaries that they collect. It is from their parents or shver. The very same person who supports them in the beginning to help the school get off the ground. You should be ashamed of what you wrote. You have much teshuva to do. Causinf untold sinah toward the very people who sweat to keep your children ehrliche Yidden. It is good you withheld your name because you are worthy of public mockery. Before you klap al cheit on Yom Kippur, don’t forget to publicly ask mechila from all Roshei Mosdos and Administrators. Because if you dont, G-d doesnt forgive bein adam lchaveiro until you seek forgivness first.

  16. The problem is far more fundamental. If we examine the subject, there is a lot more that is not following the guidance of Chazal. And before reading further, the issues I raise here are not all fixable.

    1. The מלמד דרדקי referenced in Divrei Chazal has morphed into a fantasy. The בית הספר that is mentioned in Gemora and Medrash was not a classroom of 25-30 talmidim. This approach to chinuch that is the basis for today’s classrooms is modeled off of the public schools. The role of the rebbe/teacher is far more concentrated on crowd control and classroom management than on the actual teaching. Individual relationships are unable to be the norm in chinuch. We have ditched the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech of חנוך לנער על פי דרכו, assuming that this is accomplished by referring a struggling talmid for tutoring or therapy.

    2. Our obsession with discipline has many negative outcomes. We have permitted too many instances of misbehavior by kids to become the focus. Our curriculum that should be all about teaching of values and basic skills has deteriorated into exacting compliance and control. Today’s adults are far less likely to remember knowledge they gained in first grade, but more apt to recall who got punished and how. Lifelong relationships with a rebbe from yeshiva days are seldom encountered.

    3. Our yeshiva system has become mobile. Aside from having the rebbe experience for a single year, only to move to another one the following year, we often observe the moving of yeshivos. Perhaps these moves are not annual, but they occur several times before a bochur gets married. Mobility has its disadvantages. It diminishes the ability to absorb a derech halimud, it prevents individual relationships, and the frequent need to be accepted in another yeshiva fosters a spirit of competitiveness that is not exactly קנאת סופרים.

    4. Yeshivos are busy with their reputations. Peruse the list of rules of any yeshiva, boys or girls. Now tally how many of the specific rules are based primarily on the image the school seeks to develop. Some of these include dress codes and various issurim for talmidim and their parents/homes. Listen to the accolades that are showered by speakers at fund raising events about the greatness of that particular yeshiva, how it is a public service and accomplishes so much for the entire Klal.

    5. We would like to refer to chinuch as a profession. A career in this field should require the preparation with intensive training so that the array of needed skills are obtained and mastered. An ideal might even involve some means of credentialing, where the entry level mechanech completes the training with an exam or evaluation in which the proficiency is demonstrated. But is this happening? Some say it is occurring with seminaries for girls. But is really? And what about mechanchim for boys? If the faculties in our yeshivos and schools are seeking wages that can play a noticeable role in sustaining a family (which should be the case), shouldn’t the applicants document their proficiency before getting hired?

    None of these issues are easy to resolve. The trend is against them. There is a culture to change, and specifics cover very little distance to accomplish that.

    I don’t care if a yeshiva is a private business. I implore anyone in this field to make sure the yeshiva is designed to assist Klal Yisroel, not the administration, not the Roshei Yeshiva, not the faculty of rebbes and teachers, and not the reputation of the yeshiva.

  17. The author has a point.
    Girls school’s are a money making business, how come boy schools have this issue on a much lower scale? Tuition is pretty much the same, where is all the tuition money going to? Why make a 25 million dollar campaign? Let whoever is making that money pay for it, to me it makes no sense, I can be wrong but please someone help me out here.

  18. What disgusting language this author uses. The word balebus is used in such a denigrating way.
    That is typical Lakewood terminology. It stinks from ga’avah. No decent ben Torah would talk that way. As if a balebus is not a ben Torah, maybe a greater yorei Shomayim, and frummer than your “ben Torah”.
    A bit of derech eretz would help.
    For shame.

  19. This is the most foolish article I have read in a long time.
    One simple question for all the geniuses who think they know more…….

    When the money runs out, and that happens every month, who should be the one to personally guarantee the payments continue? There is not a single school out there that is in the black, so they have to constantly borrow money. So if there is no “owner” who will be responsible to make sure there is money when needed?

    Who will lose sleep over it?

    Who will be the one you scream at when the teachers are not paid on time?

    People are so foolish, it boggles the mind.

  20. TB12, You don’t have a Lakewood dictionary?!

    You need to learn the terms and what they mean!

    Definition of a “Ben Torah”: someone that Toroso OOmnoso (he is undefiled by worldly matters of job or workforce), usually supported by wife or father-in-law, the world exists in his zchus and he is entitled to kovod, money, and admission of his holy children to any school of his choice because the mother works full-time and the father learns full-time and the children are raised by Spanish women wearing crosses;

    Definition of a “ballebus”: someone that has a job or is in the workforce, he has an oomnos, even if he is kovaya itim as expected, his life is no longer al taharas hakodesh, he deserted the army of bnei Torah to pursue his own selfish interests like making parnasa for his family and similar despicable endeavours; his children are not allowed to mingle with the holy children of a Ben Torah, therefore, his children’s admission to schools is restricted; this person should not even be living in Ir Hakodesh, unless he gives huge amounts to BMG.

  21. Rebbitzen Goldenetc. There is no need for bashing Lakewood people here as you do. Not one person in Lakewood would agree with your “definitions”

  22. Putting aside for the idiocy of your either a ben torah or a baal habana, schools shouldn’t be owned by either. They should be owned by the community. Decisions should be made by parent who sit on their boards and with rabbinic guidance. Have a nice day.

  23. > They should be owned by the community.

    This is a (failed) public school model. Traditional Jewish model is to allow unlimited competition between teachers to lower the prices and benefit families (in other areas, kahal may limit competition to preserve businessmen livelihood). I am sure there might be cases where community needs to be in charge, but we should move to the ideal as much as possible.

  24. Often a new yeshiva is founded by an industrious Rav and even if legally set up as a non-profit, is practically a small business and if the Rav wants to feed his family, he needs to show a profit. Most Orthodox Jews in America have large families are are middle class at best, and no frum institution will ever have the rich endowment that is typical of most private schools. If a yeshiva was run like a business, it would need to set prices to maximize income, which would result is pricing too high for many potential customers the product. In Jewish tradition, that is unacceptable. While some, and I suggest they are not correct halachically, schools pay adequate wages and refuse to admit students whose parents can’t afford the tuition, we should get used to idea that our schools will always be paying poorly, and that become a Torah scholar is not something you do in order to get rich.

  25. I totally disagree with this article:
    First of all Tens of Thousands of Talmidim and Talmidus attend those Jewish schools which this article refers to.
    B”H there are Thousands of Melamdim,Roshei Yeshivas, Minhalim,Teachers,Minhalis ,Bus drivers who attend to those kids for the last 70 years since after World one when Yidden resettled to all Jewish communities.
    All those Mosdos have produced Thousands of Yidishe families ,Rabunim, Dyunim, Roshei Yeshivas,Melandem and Balei Batim.
    It really does not make a major difference who runs all those Mosdos Hatorah because the Proof is in the Pudding. Where did those Klal Yisroel study when they grew up? In the Mosdos Hatorah which are run by the people who run them. Yes some are run by Community leaders (mostly is small towns) and the rest are run by Minhalim who work with Mesires Nefesh to ensure that our children have a Erliche Chinich,Comfortable Class Rooms and Transportation .Are they getting a salary? Of course some make 7 figure salaries and some struggle to feed their families. The bottom line is that 99.99 percent of Klal Yisroel has a Yeshiva,School,Seminary,Cheder to educate their children.
    Now talking abour Salaries for Rebbes,Teachers being underpaid is a complete different issue .
    Most families work very hard to make ends meet and most struggle to pay their Tuition and live on a budget. Many families have Husband and Wife work full time just to pay their tuition.
    Therefore Mosdos Hatorah can only charge parents based on what they claim they can afford. The Mosdos rely on Fund Raising,Government assistance and other campaigns.
    As long the Mosdos can NOT raise enough money to budget their yearly expenses , Melamdim and Teachers will not get paid their fair salary. The world has to shake up and get all Rabunim,Roshei Yeshivas,Community leaders wake up and make an Asifa how to correct this ongoing problem for so many years.
    I remember my Rebbe collecting all left over Bread and Milk from the Lunch room and put in his brief case to take home for his family. Those days are History and every single person who is in Chinich Habunim and Habunos deserves to earn a decent salary , not to worry how he will pay his Rent and expenses.

  26. ahavatyisroel, my comment had no bashing chas v’sholom, (maybe you feel bashed – but that is more of a you problem), and as a wife of a ben Torah, I wrote the definitions with true pride.

    Let’s review each point, and please tell me what exactly you disagree with and consider “bashing”:

    A “Ben Torah” is –

    Toroso Oomnoso, that is is esek (la’asok b’divrei Torosecha);

    As a result, his learning is supported by his wife and/or father-in-law, that is their zchus (Bais Yaakov teaches the girls that this is a tremendous tachlis for them);

    The world exists in his zchus – bishvili nivra ha’olom;

    As a result, he is entitled to kovod, money – he is a lomed Torah, as a living sefer Torah he deserves more kovod than a sefer Torah, and all wealth exists only due to his learning;

    And admission of his holy children to any school of his choice – as is the minhag in Lakewood, “nar hoyeesee gam zakanti v’lo ra’eesee tzaddik nezav, v’zaro mevakesh lechem” his children do not need to seek lechem (chinuch) because they are accepted anywhere he chooses.

    Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu – that I am married to a ben Torah, u’ma no’im goraleinu – that my lot is to support his learning, u’ma yafa yeru’sha’shaynu – that my children get into all schools, morasha kehilas yaakov.

  27. Az es shtinkt, es shtinkt foon kop (when it smells, it smells from the head). The smell in Lakewood, all of it, comes from the head.

    The problems with schools rejecting kids, the banning of some concerts but not others, the otd kids, the deteriorating sholom basis and escalating divorces, the Din Toras, the machlokes , the crisis after crisis…it all traces back because the head smells.

    The head that stated that certain yidden are not part of klal yisroel (re: asifa) – that head smells. And that is the stench that pollutes the city.

    Don’t blame the feet. The smell is coming from the head. V’ten l’chochom v’yechkam od.

  28. Rebetzingoldenetc. Never mind the fact that your husband is obligated to be mefarnes you. It’s written on your Kesubah. However, leaving that to the side, the picture you have painted is denigrating to those of us who work, yet spend every moment where we are not engaged in work or tending to our families learning. I’m not simply referring to night seder. I’m referring to learning on the bus after Shacharis on my way to work, on my way to my afternoon job and on my way home at the end of the day after which I tend to my family, eat supper and go to night seder. Thank G-d there are no Spanish women wearing crosses taking care of my kids. I could not allow that. I sense that you must be Litvish, because only Litvaks look down on men who actually fulfill their kesubah. I find it shameful that a person who provides an honest living for his family is considered inferior and therefore shouldn’t have access to the school of his choice. I could elaborate more, but that would be bittul zman and bittul Torah. Have a nice day. If everything you say is true, I am grateful that I don’t live in Lakewood.

  29. Owners of yeshivos and girls schools should earn a fair yearly salary. Thereafter tzedaka funds should not enrich them personally in real estate ownership of large property and building. The way to avoid it is if large donations to support the mosdos purchase a non-profit share of the real estate value, so that if it is ever sold, the investment gets returned; and the donator could re-donate it. Such a system would also make it easier to raise funds; wherein the tzedaka won’t be enriching the owners. Makes sense?

  30. As is happening regularly the use of such titles, besides being theft from public charity even were one to do a sufficient job
    for family or for one’s own private Enterprise is trademark infringement of the Jewish people obviously

  31. Rebbitzen Goldenpickanicerscreenname,
    move past being a teenager already.
    Nowadays the 9–5ER
    often are
    less of a baal habos than the ones with a shteller

  32. Aside from my earlier comment about this article, upon reading it again, I realize that the writer is coming with a demand of entitlement.

    The writer is saying, how dare you “ousider” ballabus’es be masig gvul (encrouch) on an industry that belongs to me (or my husband)?!

    The “ben torah” eventually needs to get a job, and what better job than running a school. Problem is, they are being run by ballabus’im. WHat a chutzpah that they are doing a job that I am entitled to?!

    That’s what this is all about.

    It certainly isn’t about better run schools, as I wrote earlier in my previous comment on the article.

  33. This is what happens when anyone who wants can write a letter to be publicized by YWN. YWN, a slightly higher bar for what is considered publishable would be nice.

  34. It is Time for the Truth, you wrote “Nowadays the 9–5ER often are less of a baal habos than the ones with a shteller”

    That very fact that they are “9 to 5” means they are are a Baal habos. You see, a Ben Torah’s day isn’t 9 to 5, but rather “morning seder”, “afternoon seder”, “night seder”.

    You see, a Ben Torah runs on a different clock. He lives in a different world – olim hatorah (not olim haza), and lives in kedusha (not the reshus Harabim of the Baal habos which is b’chezkas tuma).