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The Cost Of A Jewish Education
Tue, 10/29/2013 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Rabbi David Wolpe
Rabbi David Wolpe

When The New Yorker was first launched in 1935 and for a long time after, money was very tight. Once when the first editor, Harold Ross, asked Dorothy Parker why she had not written a promised piece, she answered, “Well, someone else was using the pencil.”

We often forget the creative constraints imposed upon our ancestors by simple poverty. Talmudic scholars created commentaries despite living in cities in which an entire set of the Talmud could not be found. Writing in drafty or sweltering rooms, they provided foundations for the tradition that flourishes to this day. The Talmudic giant Hillel was unable to pay the pittance required for the study hall and as a result the fee was abolished.

We are fortunate to have tremendous resources and yet, with the vast wealth of the Jewish community, many do not have a Jewish education because of the cost. Our ancestors, who taught and studied with scraps of paper and stubs of candles, would be stunned to see how many Jews do not learn, given the potential of our community. If we could wed the resolve of generations past to the good fortune of the present, then instead of lamenting our losses, we would be celebrating our triumphs.

Rabbi David Wolpe  is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe.

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Money is not the answer. Of course, can help, but without the the underlying beliefs and values to create proper motivation it will not make a difference. Rabbi Wolpe's logic is like saying crime is the result of poverty. Of course this does not explain poor people who do not steal and rich people who do. Rabbi Wolpe even begs the question: What motivated scholars and ordinary people to labor in the love of learning and teaching Torah in the most horrendous poverty and lack of simple resources? Apparently lack of money was not the a hindrance. They were motivated by faith, not cultura ties or ideology, they believed and that belief the spark behind the great compendium of Jewish knowledge. That was true then, and it is true today. How many tens of millions of dollars have been thrown at virtually anything called Jewish education over the last century in America with positive lasting results coming only from very select group of teachers, who had and have the capacity to motivate their students under any and all circumstances.

I would love to send my children to day school.

The examples in this piece highlight the importance of making best use of the resources one has. We don't wait to have two pencils to hire two writers. We don't cease study until we have an entire Talmud accessible to our fingertips. So much of the Jewish education funding pieces focus on how to raise more money for day schools. While acknowledging that day schools can provide extremely high levels of Jewish education and are definitely worth communal funding, there is also a paralysis that if communal education funding doesn't go to day schools, it is wasted.

This view ignores the vastly greater number of kids (and adults) getting educated elsewhere. They are educated in places where the benefit/cost ratio for education improvements is much higher. I hope Rabbi Wolpe's piece also inspires people to think about how our communal wealth can also benefit Jewish education outside the day school world.