It is no secret that it is difficult to raise an Orthodox family and pay the bills. The economic downturn has just exacerbated the situation. One of the blogs that I usually read covers this topic, and this past week Orthonomics had a post about a family that decided to limit themselves to two kids – because of the high cost of Yeshiva tuition in America.
This got me thinking – and I decided to make a comparison between what it means to be “rich and poor” in America and in Israel – as it relates to the Orthodox family. No, I am not an expert, and these thoughts are not “scientific” – but I think I represent the situation fairly.
It is obvious that being very poor is a miserable existence wherever you live, and being extremely rich is a comfortable one. The real question is for those in the middle.
An Orthodox family has a list of “needs” that are somewhat stable, wherever they live. They need to live within walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue and a mikveh, they need to be able to send their children to a Jewish school, and they need to be able to purchase kosher food.
In America, these things are relatively rare (in comparison to the country as a whole). In Israel, they are not (again, compared to the country as a whole). As in everything, the law of supply and demand affects prices. Therefore the cost of living an Orthodox life in America is higher than in Israel.
The houses within walking distance of a synagogue and mikveh in America are usually expensive in the larger cities, as they are in high demand. In the smaller cities the cost may be reasonable – but some smaller cities may not have a Jewish school. Housing in a very small community in America may be cheap – but there may be no synagogue or Jewish school at all. The same is true for kosher food – it is easier to purchase in places with a lot of Jews, and harder to get in a place with fewer Jews.
The largest expense in America for an Orthodox family is tuition. Since the government does not subsidize Jewish schools everyone must pay for private school. Sending your child to a public school is in 99% of the cases not an option.
In Israel, the situation is very different. There are some neighborhoods in Tel-Aviv and Haifa without synagogues, and there are secular kibbutzim and moshavim that do not have services, but in 90% of the country you can find a shul within walking distance – in both expensive and poor neighborhoods. (Since the conservative/reform movement is extremely small here, the vast majority of synagogues are Orthodox). The same is true for mikvaot. Since the traditional community uses the mikveh almost as much as the Orthodox do, you can find mikvaot in 90% of the country – even in places where there is no synagogue. As far as kosher food is concerned – you can find that anywhere. Granted, those with extremely strict levels of kashrut cannot find their hasgachos (kosher supervision) everywhere, but the “average” Orthodox family can shop wherever they want.
Schooling is also very different in Israel. Anywhere you live, you can find what is called a mamlachti dati school (public religious school). In some places your child will need to be bussed some distance – but there is one available from first grade, and there is no tuition. Granted, some families will want to send their child to private religious school, in places where the public one is “not suitable” (an individual choice based on too many factors to discuss here). But even here the tuition is reasonable. Schooling gets more expensive in junior and high school, especially for boys who are sent to dormitory, but again, it does not compare to the costs of tuition in America.
I am not saying that making a living is easy in Israel. Our taxes are very high and some things are very expensive compared to America. What I am saying is that being “lower middle class” in Israel and living an Orthodox lifestyle is an option – and you’ll have plenty of company!!!!