(based on the teachings – especially letters – of the Rebbe)
By RABBI SHALOM BER SCHAPIRO
Every Jewish child is entitled to a Jewish education and cannot be turned away from school due to financial or other considerations (such as yichus or behavior).
With the beginning of a new school year – much is being discussed regarding the topic of school admission. I was asked by some people what the Rebbe’s take is on the subject, from his letters. The following thoughts are based on the Rebbe’s letter on the topic of school admission with more letters to come in the future on the general subject of school administrations.
We present this week a letter of the Rebbe – to get a better understanding regarding admission of a child to school.
The Torah obligates every parent to educate his child – ולמדתם אותם את בניכם – and if he for some reason cannot, he hires a teacher. As we clearly see from the story of the Alter Rebbe where he asked a melamed to teach his son – “so that you will help me fulfill my obligation to teach my child and I will help you fulfill your obligation to support your family.”
But what happens when the parent cannot afford to pay the teacher (school)?
In a letter about admission to yeshivah – the Rebbe interestingly refers to the well-known story of Hillel the Elder and the doorkeeper of the Bais Hamedrash. The Rebbe emphasizes that the “real purpose of the story is to bring out a two-pronged lesson, both for those who are in the category of the doorkeeper and those who are in the category of seeking admission to the house of learning.”
The lessons of the story, says the Rebbe:
“To those who are in the position of the doorkeeper, those in charge of admission to a Yeshivah or similar institution – they need to bear in mind that Torah study is a matter of life for a Jewish boy or girl and should seek every possible means to make it available to each and every Jewish boy and girl. Even if there may be a doubt that a particular applicant might be trying to evade payment for tuition, no child should be turned away. Nor should any applicant be made to feel embarrassed in any case of hardship. Unfortunately these principles have not always been fully observed in admissions to some Day Schools and Torah institutions in the present time.
And to those who are in the category of seeking admission to Torah learning – the lesson is that no sacrifice should be too great when it comes to Torah study. Even those who have been learning Torah every days and it is a question of missing just one day (as in the case of Hillel), the same sacrifice should be made not to miss even a single day of Torah study.”
(the above words are the Rebbe’s – underlined emphasis is mine).
The Rebbe’s letters need to be scrutinized and studied carefully, as with all his teachings.
So let us analyze and understand the Rebbe’s words in this letter:
The Rebbe includes both boys and girls – Torah study is a matter of life for both.
The doorkeeper/financial administration of the yeshivah – should seek every possible means so that every boy and girl gets the Torah education. (there are many means by which the doorkeeper can raise funds – imposing tuition on the parents is not the only way. Money can be raised in so many various ways – is the doorkeeper making sufficient effort and exhausted all means of raising funds?)
Even if the parent is suspected of trying to evade paying tuition (the financial administration often points to the parent being able to afford such and such, so why can he not afford tuition?) – even in such a case, no child should be turned away (if the parent is being less than honest in his claims – it is a matter between him and G-d. Regardless – no child should be turned away!)
An applicant to the school should never be made to feel embarrassed in any case of hardship. (sadly, all too often, parents are squeezed and pressured with shocking words of “advice” and are treated poorly and embarrassed when applying for admission… Is this the Rebbe’s way?)
Those seeking admission to Torah learning are encouraged to emulate Hillell (of the story). They should make sacrifices for the sake of Torah learning. And even if one could get a scholarship (which is a public expense) – try to be like Hillel who paid for admission with his hard-earned money.
The order in Torah is also a lesson. The fact that the Rebbe deals first with the doorkeeper and his obligation – shows this to be of primary importance. It is the doorkeeper’s obligation to make sure that all children are admitted to yeshivah. This is a must.
As to Hillel – the one seeking admission to yeshivah – the Rebbe encourages us to emulate Hillel’s ways and do our utmost to pay for admission. However difficult it may be. This however, is not a must as much as a suggestion to act in an exemplary way to the best of our ability. (the Rebbe makes it a point to mention Hillel’s character and extraordinary humility as related in the Talmud – which explains why he went to such length not to accept charity or any special favor. But how many can display such sacrifice? The least we should do is look to Hillel for inspiration – aim for some measure of sacrifice for Torah learning). (Yet – however much we do or don’t succeed in this – in no way can the child be denied admission).
It cannot be overemphasized:
– Schools work for the parents, not the other way around. They are here to serve the parents. Of course parents should pay what they are able to pay for tuition, but they should not be pressured, intimidated or embarrassed by the financial administration. All parents should be treated with the same respect and consideration regardless of their financial status or family lineage. We see in many cases that this is not done.
– NO CHILD CAN BE REFUSED ADMISSION TO LEARN TORAH – GIRL OR BOY – even if tuition was not paid.
– DONORS to our schools generously donate for exactly this purpose – so that no child should be denied what is rightfully his – a Jewish education! Are these donors aware that some of our children are denied entrance to the school because the parents have no money or no yichus? Are they aware of the way some parents are being squeezed and embarrassed by the financial administration for tuition? What would they say if they ch’v were made aware that “selection” and such behavior is taking place?!
– Besides tuition there are other ways to raise money for our schools – they should be utilized to the utmost. One way, which is often overlooked in some institutions – FUNDRAISERS. (we have had amazing fundraisers, very successful fundraisers, who put their heart and soul into this holy mission – raising funds for our schools. (the Rashag, Rabbi Weinberg, Rabbi Teleshevsky, Rabbi Kramer of Montreal and others).
It is well known that even the spiritual administration/הנהלה רוחנית of many Torah institutions exert tremendous effort in fundraising. This they would do especially during the summer break. I heard this from Rabbi M. Tennenbaum מנהל of the Lubavitcher Yeshivah with whom I worked for a number of years. It is these devoted mechanchim who show the way to do it. Members of the administration should not to sit in a comfortable office and squeeze parents for that which they should be bringing in.
Even the Frierdiker Rebbe and the Rebbe himself often exerted effort to bring in funds for our schools.
It is my sincere wish that the schools and parents will take the words of the Rebbe to heart and act appropriately – each fulfilling his duty and obligation to the education of our dear children. This will b’h give much nachas to the Rebbe and to each of us and our children.
In future columns – we will discuss the issue of:
THE SPIRITUAL ADMINISTRATION – הנהלה רוחנית AND FINANCIAL ADMINISTRATION הנהלה גשמית OF THE SCHOOL
Based on the guidelines of the Rebbe as seen primarily in his letters.