Orthonomics — Losing Our Best and Brightest

The issue of Orthonomics, like the weather, is much discussed but not much acted upon. Perhaps it is too complicated to tackle.

How do Orthodox Jews do it? How can we expect others to live this lifestyle? With Americans on unemployment and in foreclosure in record amounts, how in the world do average people pay $10-20,000 per child for private Day School schooling? If we promote nice-sized families, how can we afford it? And summer camp . . . and bar mitzvahs. And kosher meat and cheese. Moreover, virtually every “Orthodox community” is more expensive to live in than are the exurban communities in the sticks. Because of supply and demand, there is inordinate demand for real estate within walking distance of the epicenter shuls, jacking prices further. And families with 3 and 4 children, not to mention 5 and 6, cannot fit comfortably into 2- or even 3-bedroom homes. So the food is high, and the home property is high, and the schooling is high.

In order to manage, it would seem everyone Orthodox needs to earn significantly more than the median income. That itself poses a conundrum – how can everyone be above the median? The answer is that it seems the Orthodox need to be above median, and the others in society therefore comprise below median. But does that make sense? Is that the m’tzi’ut?

It seems from impressionistic observation that non-observant Jews are financially more successful, making more money, than do Orthodox per capita. So, that adds to the conundrum. Are all the Jews that high-earning?

But not everyone sells diamonds or practices private medicine. Some people are employees in middle management, or lower. How do they do it? They get scholarships, and that helps. They get reduced shul dues. But the mortgage is not reduced for shomrei mitzvot, nor the meat or cheese.

Orthonomics is a legitimate concern. By failing to address it, we also bring upon ourselves a second shame, less closely analyzed. Given the economic demands, many of our best and brightest opt out of rabbonus. That leaves the yeshivot in the control of faculty from a different oilam, an oilam where people do not get graduate degrees in medicine, law, or the arts. Those with graduate degrees avoid chinuch, so chinuch becomes populated by those who have less appreciation for our hashkafah – and that leads to concerns of other kinds.

Nor will government tuition grants/vouchers for yeshivot solve the problem, even if adopted and permitted by the Supreme Court. Just wait and see. Those who think vouchers will bring down tuition are mistaken. Inasmuch as tuition does not cover the full cost of the education anyway, vouchers will be employed by yeshivot not as offsets to reduce tuition but as supplements to augment full tuition and fill the gap. Thus, I anticipate that tuition will remain relatively the same.

If hard times breed crime, it is understandable that this situation imposes a strong yetzer hara’ inducement. Not everyone is rich, even though my teen son comes home with forms from his yeshiva high school asking me for $80 for a one-day ski trip among his classmates, his friends all seem to have cars by their junior or senior years, and they all seem to travel the globe during the summer.

Something does not add up.