State Tuition Aid for Rabbinical Students Is A Matter of Fairness

Letters

Published April 27, 2011, issue of May 06, 2011.
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Regarding your April 15 editorial “A Cynical Giveaway,” what is cynical is the editorial’s tone and substance. The New York State Legislature’s decision to finally make state tuition assistance available to students in undergraduate rabbinical colleges, on a par with other undergraduate colleges, is more than long overdue; it is an expression of elemental equity.

If a humanities student studying Renaissance-era French literature is entitled to state aid in pursuing his dream course of study, can it reasonably be argued (let alone in a newspaper ostensibly committed to the Jewish vision) that a counterpart whose dream-study is the Talmud and its commentaries — and whose academic scholarship is surely no less rigorous — is of lesser merit?

The federal government has long recognized that accredited rabbinical colleges are legitimate institutions of higher learning and that needy students who receive Pell Grants and other forms of federal higher education assistance are entitled to direct such assistance to those colleges. Other states, like New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland, also make state assistance available to students in rabbinical colleges. New York, home to the largest concentration of rabbinical colleges, has every reason to do so as well.

What seems to stick in the Forward’s craw, though, is not reason but something less pretty: its discomfort with traditional yeshivas, with their “built-in gender bias”; and with the Haredi community, with its “arc[s] of bearded men.”

Some facts, to counter some slander: Students of similarly structured and accredited Reform or Conservative or Reconstructionist or Humanist programs would be no less eligible than their male, even bearded, yeshiva counterparts. And women’s seminaries, if they offer programs that satisfy the Tuition Assistance Program rules, would be entitled to state tuition assistance as well.

Perhaps most disappointing about your editorial is what it does not say. Holler and scream about New York following the lead of the federal government and other states if you feel you must, but at least acknowledge the essential role rabbinical colleges play in promoting Jewish literacy, Jewish scholarship and Jewish continuity. If New York can recognize the legitimacy of higher Jewish education, one would have hoped that the Forward would recognize its urgency.

RABBI DAVID ZWIEBEL
Executive Vice President
Agudath Israel of America
New York, N.Y.


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