Ask the Rov: Can a school or yeshiva bar entry to a student due to lack of funds?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah
Min hatorah, the father is obligated to teach his son Torah, and if he can’t, he must hire a teacher.1 Toward the end of bayis sheini, the kohen gadol Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla ordained that schools be established in every town for children as young as six or seven. Chazal say that if not for him, the Torah would have been completely forgotten.2
Besides mandating for Torah to be taught in a school setting, rishonim understand that it also put the responsibility of paying the teachers on the community. Some rishonim place the burden on the community members, who are taxed according to their financial ability, whether they have children in school or not.3 Others place the primary obligation on the parents, with the community required to cover the deficit.4
The Alter Rebbe maintains that the original takana was for teachers to be paid from communal funds, but notes that the present custom is for parents who can afford to pay their own child’s tuition, and the community must pay for those who cannot afford it.5
However, the obligatory takana only applies to the cost of the actual Torah learning — not to food, transportation, or extracurricular programming — and only until the age of Bar Mitzvah. Similarly, although contemporary poskim obligate parents to educate their daughters in Torah, and our Rebbeim have underscored its importance,6 still, this takana was only for talmud Torah of boys. Yet, as the continuity of am Yisroel depends on girls’ education, whoever can should donate to this worthy cause.7
At the same time, parents must live up to their obligation to provide chinuch for their children, and make tuition a priority over many other expenses. They must be honest with themselves and with the school as to what they can afford to pay and make every effort to follow through. Moreover, Chazal teach that money spent on chinuch is added to a person’s allocated parnassa.8 The Rebbe explained that the money for chinuch is a deposit from Hashem, and when parents invest whatever is needed to give the best true chinuch, Hashem will provide their needs.9
Today, with the demise of the ‘kahal’ which handled all community matters and collected taxes, it is questionable whether a community school can be forced to carry the burden, particularly when there is more than one school. It is further complicated when parents can afford the cost but do not wish to pay it, and the question is whether they must treat the child like an orphan and absorb the costs.10
From their side, schools and supporters should do as much as they can to lower costs, and the zechus for doing so is extremely great. The Rebbe requested of schools to give free tuition to ten percent of the student body, and promised a special bracha to those who give more.11
Due to the complexity of the matter, it is critical that every school leave the authority for such decisions to a rov who can weigh the factors and give a psak.
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From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash