Costs of Orthodox Jewish Life Survey

Many times in the past on this blog, we’ve discussed the extremely high costs of Orthodox Jewish life, from kosher food to tuition. A good friend of this blog, Ezzie of SerandEz, has set out to determine just what it costs singles, couples, and families to live in different Orthodox communities. To that end, he has created a survey to determine just how much it is that people spend, and it has been quite the eye-opener for many.

Please take the survey, read the introduction to understand just what it’s for, and help build a better economic future for the Jewish community. Then send it along to all your family and friends so they can do the same.

29 comments on “Costs of Orthodox Jewish Life Survey

  1. Charnie, I have seen synthetic wigs in use. In any case, the amount to spend on wigs vs. other needs is a personal economic as well as aesthetic decision. To some people on tight budgets, alternative ways of spending the money have more appeal.

  2. Just one dumb question – why is not eating gebrochts supposed to be a money saver?

    Most pre-packaged gebrochts items I’ve come across are high priced as all other packaged and sold for Passover foods. Why not just advocate eating ‘real’ foods – vegetables, eggs, fruits, chicken and/or meat (not cheap, but yom tov-dik). Potatoes, sweet potatos, turnips, carrots, cabbage, etc. are all easily accessible (and starchy) and not gebrochts.

    The main draw I see to gebrochts for most people is the high priced “Passover noodles”, Passover desserts, etc.

  3. Bob, with all due respect, the very inexpensive wigs don’t look anywhere near as good in person as they do in these photos. For those of us who work in the non-Jewish environment, it makes life a little more pleasant to wear a sheitel as opposed to a hat, snood, tichel or any other head covering. We stand out in enough ways already (such as not joining coworkers for lunch, dressing differently, avoiding a lot of office shmoozing).

    However, a human hair out of the box can be had for well under $1,000. When I was single I used to pay (and this was over 22 years ago) about $65 a month for hairstyling and color, which would be about $780 per year anyway, and I know that those prices have gone up.

    Even if I weren’t working in an office, I’d probably still go with the wig, because I’m possibly the only woman on earth who finds a well-fitted wig more comfortable then a hat.

  4. Way to go, Nathan!

    No rabbi teaches that a wig is as kosher as a scarf and many paskened that it’s assur. Now that would be a great start, beruchnius ubegashmius.

  5. Wigs became popular with Orthodox married women in the 1920s and they were opposed by Rabbis. Even today, there are Rabbis who teach that a $10 scarf is Halachically preferable to a $2,500 wig.

  6. Reminds me the one about the sinking ship where everyone threw first thing their taleisim overboard. Why don’t we start with secular expenses like cars, furniture, extravagant simchas etc.?

    BTW it’s “vort”, meaning “word”, i.e. promise – the promise chassan-kallah give each other to marry each other.

  7. Continuing on this same thought, the one thing you mention, Nathan, that could make a dent in our expenses is eliminating a D’vort, because that has become endemic with the “keeping up with the Goldsteins” attitude that has sunk many into debt, even before the current financial crisis. Once we can cease making D’vorts, we can reexamine why we need to do everything that our neighbors do, regardless of whether or not it is necessary and/or affordable from the cars we drive, to the houses we remodel, to vacations, etc.

  8. Nathan,
    Full disclosure: no one in my home uses a chicken for kapparot, wears Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, buys a chicken for kapparot, or attends a Friday night minyan where kiddush is made (incidentally, I one purpose of this minhag was economic in nature as few could afford their own kiddush). We also eat gebrocks on Pesach an (!) will eat some tyes of kitniyot. And, we only buy one arba minim.

    And, most of the Orthodox community also does not use a chicken for kapparot, wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, or avoid gebrochts.

    We have major economic problems in the Orthodox community from chronic underemployment to the recent layoffs of many members of the community that were earning enviable salaries, to lack of savings both personal and communal, to high debt loads. We need to cut pennies, we need to cut dollars, we need to cut thousands of dollars.

    But, cutting a second day of Yom Tov simply isn’t possible and deflects from real expenses that could be cut and controlled. And I think in this worsening economy, whether people/organizations like it or not, they will have to face the music and start cutting things that can actually be cut.

  9. Nathan,

    The post was about economics, does the kiddush issue even approach making a dent in that regard?

    And not to belabor the point, maybe too late for that, but kiddush bemakom seudah is a derabbanon, kiddush Friday night is, according to almost everyone, a deorisa. Some poskim even favor this minhag since kiddush is meant to be made as close to the entrance of shabbos as possible. Your position of brocha levatala is taken by many such as Tosafos, Shiltei HaGibborim, and Rav Hai Gaon while the Rashba, the Ran, Rabbeinu Yona and Rav Natronai Gaon provide support, for different reasons, for maintaining the minhag.

    Suffice to say, the debate is not a new one and likely not one that will be affected by the few pennies it might save.

  10. Nathan,

    Not sure what you’re getting at. Your points are very obviously unrelated to economics. Perhaps you might wish to write a post related to your particular agenda, where it will get the focus you wish for without detracting from the important theme of this one- economics.

    Orthonomics- great points about wedding extras, early preschool when not needed, and pricey gifts.

  11. Dear David Linn,

    According to Halachah, Kiddush should be made in the same place where the meal will be eaten, Kiddush BeMakom Seudah.

    Since no meals are eaten in the synagogue Shabbat nights, there is no reason to have Kiddush there.

    Furthermore, reciting a Borei Pri HaGafen and then NOT drinking the wine is a Brachah LeBatalah, or certainly looks like one (Morris Ayin).

    I am not tryng to compromise Halachah; I only oppose minhagim that oppose Halachah and/or obvious logic.

    It is ironic that I have been accused of opposing Halachah, when the minhagim that I criticized are themselves in opposition to Halachah!


  12. Tzvi,

    That is the kind of mentality — refusal to compromise on any grounds — that has saved Yiddishkeit from the onslaught of Haskala, Reform, and Conservatism, and which will save it from the new pseudo-Orthodoxy.

    And THAT is the kind of mentality — acceptance of compromise on almost any grounds — that has caused the mess secular and Modern Judaism is in.

  13. Nathan,

    If someone as great as Rabbi Yaakov Emden did not have the ability to abolish a minhag, do you really think that there is someone alive today that has the ability to do so?

    Cherry-picking sources and quotes from Rabbonim (and I am not doubting your sources or the weight of these Rabbonim) doesn’t support your point. You are clearly knowledgable but, I ask you, if you put your skills and efforts into researching sources and Rabbonim who disagree with all of the positions you have taken, wouldn’t that list be equally impressive and, likely more lengthy and weighty?

    Your list of ideas seems to be aimed at any rabbinic institution or minhag. This seems to go deeper than economics for you. For example, your idea about making kiddush in shul on Friday night. Let’s say that one in three shuls is making kiddush in shul Friday night. Let’s say the average bottle of wine used for making kiddush in shul is seven dollars. Let’s say the average shul that is making kiddush friday night has 100 members. I would assume that you get eight kiddush cups from a bottle. That means that by refraining from making kiddush in shul Friday night will save that shul aproximately $49 per year. That translates into less than fifty cents per member and less than twenty cents per year per person when including those shuls that don’t make kiddush friday night. Is this a change that’s going to help address the economic issues we are facing?

  14. Nathan raises many legitimate ideas, especially with such chumros and hidurim as Gebrochts, slaughtering chickens for Kaparos and R Tam Tefilin, etc. One can argue , as does the Kesef Mishneh in Hilcos Mamrim, that YT Sheni, being a rabbinic ordinance, as opposedto a minhag, requires greater halachic power to change in any way than a Torah law.However, not everything that is not required by halacha is a luxury. In previous generations, women were educated at home. Since the dawn of the 20th Century, women have been givem a formal Torah and secular education. IMO, camp and seminary fill in the gaps that are all too often missed at home, school and one’s community of origin. The latest Commentator has an excellent interview with a veteran educator which underscores why for MO young men and women, the year in Israel is an essential part of their realizing the depth and profundity of Torah, as opposed to it being merely another course of study.

  15. Orthonomics, I am NOT advocating the dismantling of Halachah, G_d forbid!

    Many of the minhagim I mentioned were opposed by great Rabbis, but the Sefer Pele Yoetz teaches that Jews are more loyal to the customs of their ancestors than they are to the Aseret HaDibot [Ten Commandments].

    Three of the greatest Rishonim: Rambam, Rif and Tur opposed the minhag of kaparot, slaughtering chickens before Yom Kippur. Yet this minhag persists 1,000 years later.

    Will you accuse Rambam, Rif and Tur of dismantling Halachah?

    According to Halachah, a Jew who moves to a new city is permitted to change his minhagim, and Baalei Teshuvah may also change their minhagim.

    The Teshuvas Besamim Rosh (attributed by some to Rosh) Siman 348 wrote very strongly against the practice of prohibiting kitnoyot on Passover. He said there is no known source that any Beth Din issued a decree prohibiting kitnoyot on Passover, and the custom was started by Karaites [apikuris Jews] who did not know the difference between bread made from grain and bread made from kitniyot.

    Rabbi Yaakov Emden [Morr UKetzia, Siman 453] quoted his father, the Chacham Tzvi as stating that if he would abolish the custom, if only he had the authority to do so. Rabbi Rabbi Yaakov Emden himself concludes his writing on this topic by stating that he wants a share in the reward of the person who succeeds in abolishing the practice of prohibiting kitnoyot on Passover.

  16. Tzvi,

    With all due respect, it would be beyond a compromise for me, as a major impetus of becoming frum was to keep my kids away from the type of nonsense that takes place in the public school system (re: morals and values.) I grew up in a family of (public) educators and heard these stories all the time. I would hope we can first talk about solutions within the current framework before we get to unpalatable compromises that could effect the neshamas of our children.

  17. Nathan is more right than wrong. Wrong in that we might not be able to halachically justify the abandoning of minhagim, but very righht in that we need to recalibrate our value system, and even small changes like eliminating kiddush on Friday night, if halachically permitted, would be one of the small maasim ketanim that might effect greater and more meaningful change.

    Albany Jew, $700 is a start. Your comment is meant as a joke, but you conflate the transgression of halacha (eating treif chicken) with the legitimate choice of sending to public school (and supplementing with tutoring or the father’s own chinuch). That is the kind of mentality — refusal to compromise on any grounds — that has caused the mess we’re all in.

  18. Nathan,

    I did the calculation and your ideas have saved me about 700 bucks per year. Now if I could get away with the treif chicken (about .99/lb) and send my kids to public school, I really would be on a roll!

  19. You should include the product we get for the price, for example, the quality of the local schools. I, for one, live in one of the most expensive Jewish neighborhoods (not luxurious, but highly desirable, driving up real estate), and I gladly work very hard to afford it b/c the chinuch here is uncomparable.

    Nathan, you seem to be proficient in Jewish history. Have you forgotten that eliminating Yom Tov Sheini shal Galuyot was one of the first steps of Reform?

  20. Nathan-I agree with your assessment to some extent. But I’m still baffled, why would you suggest dismanteling halacha and strong minhag before suggest dismanteling the real extras?

  21. About ten years ago, the members of the Moetzes Gedolei Torah established guidelines to reduce the cost of getting married. Among them was the elimination of the VORT ceremony. So far I as know, NOBODY abandoned the vort ceremony. It seems we are not interested in reducing our cost of living, even when wey have legitimate permission to do so.

    Last but not least, the vort ceremony was originally designed to allow the bride and groom to see each other FOR THE FIRST TIME, because they had a system of arranged marriages where the wishes of parents and matchmakers were more important than wishes of the people getting married. Considering that the original purpose of the vort ceremony vanished about 200 years ago, we should we not need official Rabbinical permission to eliminate it, just common sense.

  22. Nathan-I have to say your list leaves me completely baffled. With the exception of your proposal to eliminate seminary, you don’t seem to touch upon a single large expense, i.e. tuition, the “need” for overnight camps and even day camps and early pre-school for those not needing daycare, weddings and other pricy smachot, the growing list of engagement “gifts,” wardrobe expenses from pricy and multiple sheitels, to streimels, to the need some have for “European” clothing and matching/coordinating outfits for children even on a daily basis.

    You also don’t touch on the issues of late entrance into the workplace (although you do seem ready to throw the post-high school girl directly into the workforce), lack of preperation for entrance into the workplace due to lack of basic skills, dependence on government and even tzedakah that keeps many families from trying to better their income(s), and a developing attitude of entitlement.

    Not one of these large expenses are codified in halacha or accepted minhagim as are kitniyot for example, and each one of these common expenses are far more fiscally straining that the cost of a cup of wine/grape juice at shul on a Friday night.

    So, I’m baffled.

  23. Legitimate Takkanos, Gezeros, Halachic rulings in general, Minhagim, etc., kept for centuries or more can’t be waved away on cost grounds— especially when the rationale for elimination is based on incomplete knowledge, and anyway we have no current authority qualified to make a change.

  24. How to reduce the costs of Orthodox Jewish life:

    [1] ONE ARBA MINIM PER FAMILY. Back in Europe, there was ONE Arba Minim for each synagogue, and each synagogue contained many families. I am not suggesting that we go back to that standard (except for the smallest congregations), but ONE Arba Minim per family would be reasonable. This means that a family with a father and nine sons purchases ONE Arba Minim, not ten.

    [2] NO CHAMETZ ON PESACH. In addition to the Biblical prohibition against chametz, we have added three more: [1] no rice [2] no kitniyot [3] no gebruchts.

    A careful examination of Halachic sources will reveal that these three additional prohibitions are totally unnecessary, but that is beyond the scope of this message.

    The relevant point is that non-rice non- kitniyot non-gebruchts Passover foods might be replaced by less expensive foods that contain those ingredients. Also relevant is that according to the Law of Supply And Demand, increasing the number of Passover foods would tend to drive the prices lower.

    [3] SPEED DATING could potentially save money by preventing expensive first dates with people whose inappropriateness is so obvious that you could see it in 30 seconds.

    [4] RABBEINU TAM TEFILLIN. Are NOT required by Halachah and they are very expensive. Forget about them.

    [5] HER YEAR IN ISRAEL. American girls studying for a year in Israel, is NOT required by Halachah. Instead they should either get married or go to work or both.

    [6] FRIDAY NIGHT KIDDUSH IN SHUL. This custom was started because many centuries ago, we used to eat Shabbat night dinner in the synagogue. We no longer eat Shabbat night dinner in the synagogue, yet this custom persists, even though prominent authorities spoke against it. Save money on wine by eliminating this custom.

    [7] AN EXPENSIVE NON-HOLIDAY. Every year, Orthodox Jews who live outside the Land of Israel add six (6) days of Yom Tov to their calendars.

    This fictional non-holiday is called: Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot, and it was created because over 1000 years ago, we did not know which day Yom Tov was with certainty. In our times, the uncertainty does not exist, and there is no logical reason for this holiday.

    A Halachic debate about the necessity of Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot is beyond the scope of this message. The relevant point is that Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot is VERY expensive holiday, because

    [A] It means missing an entire week of work every year, which reduces our earnings.

    [B] Six more days of Yom Tov every year means more money spent on food.

    [C] We leave electric lights and other appliances running constantly on Yom Tov.

    [D] Kosher restaurants would find it easier to compete if they could open those days.

  25. Devra – While it is US centered, I encourage people from Israel to fill it out as well, and a number of people have. It obviously is a very different comparison, but it is certainly one that is important to make. Obviously, the very different tax system and universal health care alone skew the numbers greatly, and cost/style of living are very different, but that’s true even within the US. If you’re in Israel, please, don’t hesitate to fill it out.

  26. I took a quick look – seems to be very US-centered. It would be interested to compare and contrast with life in Israel. Some people might even say that it’s an obligation…

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