| Money Talks |

The Seminary Conundrum 

Can you afford to send your daughter to seminary — and can she afford not to go? 
The conversation continues: Exclusive bytes from the Kosher Money podcast with Rabbi Zecharya Greenwald  & Mrs. Ahuvah Heyman

Every year, thousands of girls head to seminary in Eretz Yisrael. And there are astronomical costs associated with this year — costs that girls and their families sometimes have to prepare for years in advance.

Kosher Money sat down with Rabbi Zecharya Greenwald, who owns and runs Me’ohr Bais Yaakov seminary in Eretz Yisrael, and Mrs. Ahuva Heyman, a parent and director of Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore, to get a handle on what some see as an unaffordable trend. Why does seminary cost so much? And is it worth the price parents pay?

Rabbi Zecharya Greenwald 

Rabbi Greenwald’s involvement in chinuch started more than 35 years ago, when he ran an Israeli yeshivah. At a certain point, though, the project became financially unsustainable. “I was traveling to fundraise more than I was in the yeshivah,” Rabbi Greenwald remembers.

Around the time he decided to close the school, Rabbi Refson from Neve approached Rabbi Greenwald with an idea. “Open another seminary.”

“Why?” he asked.

“There’s always room for another good school,” said Rabbi Refson.

Twenty four years later, Rabbi Greenwald is still running Me’ohr Bais Yaakov, a seminary for girls, based out of Yerushalayim.

Mrs. Ahuvah Heyman 

Mrs. Heyman is the director of Bnos Yisroel in Baltimore, and a mother of ten — five girls and five boys (in that order). “I’ve been in chinuch ever since I grew up,” she says. She was raised in a home where both parents were mechanchim, working to educate the next generation of Jewish children.

When she first moved to Baltimore, she actually worked in a law firm. Then her girls grew older and she realized she wanted to sync her working schedule with their school one. Mrs. Heyman approached Bnos Yisroel for a job and started working there a few months later. At the time, the school had 90 students. Today, she’s the director — and the school has an enrollment of close to 600 students.

In her role as both a parent and educator, Mrs. Heyman has strong opinions about what seminary should involve, who should go, and what every girl should know before.

Q & A: Rabbi Zecharya Greenwald

What is the cost of seminary?
We need to differentiate between seminary costs and living costs. If a girl stays in the States, she’ll still be spending money. There will be living costs parents will have to absorb, whether or not she goes to seminary. Girls will have cell phones whether they’re in seminary or not. Girls in America go out to eat the same way girls in Eretz Yisrael do. The parents simply feel it more when the girl is away.

Then there are costs that parents don’t have because of seminary. For example, when a girl is at home, she’s using the car, which means insurance and gas.

I would calculate actual seminary costs as the tuition, travel, and insurance because girls who are at home will be on a family plan. In Eretz Yisrael it’s a separate policy. Some people throw numbers like $40,000 but they’re including living costs not unique to having a daughter in seminary. Actual seminary fees are as such:

  • Tuition: $25,000 - $30,000
  • Flights: $1,500
  • Insurance: $800

I believe that some of the schools whose tuition is in the highest bracket could charge less. But again, it’s the market that drives the cost. Some seminaries can charge that because people are willing to pay.

Can you break down the actual costs of running a seminary versus the income?

There’s no “versus the income.” Tuition is the only income. One hundred percent of the budget has to be covered by tuition because there are no donations.

During Covid, a few seminaries were talking about giving parents a refund for the last few weeks. We still had to pay things like rent and salaries, but we could take off for things like tiyulim and food. Most seminaries agreed that set costs were about 75 percent of their budget.

Beyond that, the exact breakdown is going to be very different. There are schools with younger teachers. Then there are schools with a more senior staff, which means the teachers have been teaching for decades and everyone would love for them to work in their schools. Obviously, their salaries are not going to be the same as a 27-year-old teacher who’s very talented and can give a nice class. So every school has its breakdown — I don’t think I can give you a uniform set of numbers.

Why do seminaries cost more than yeshivos?

Every single high school and yeshivah raises money. They raise money for buildings; they raise money for expenses. They have dinners; they have building funds, and they have a board of directors. Seminaries are initiatives of individuals who take on the extraordinary expense and extraordinary risk, and basically dedicate their life to something they can’t raise a penny for because people consider seminary to be “extra.” A community has to support its schools, but no one has to go to seminary. If you went to seminary and you recognize the influence it’s had on your life’s trajectory, you can understand its worth.

In the podcast, you mention that parents need to decide if it’s worthwhile for them. How do parents determine that?

You need to ask yourself: Why are you sending your daughter to seminary? Is it because you think she’ll grow? Or so you can put it on her shidduch résumé? Why this seminary — because it’s the right fit, or because it’s what’s “in”? These are big questions that need to be addressed honestly.

Now, what makes a school a better school? That more people perceive it as a better place? Marketing tells us that some people think that a cup of Coca Cola costs more to produce than a cup of Mayim Chayim. It doesn’t. It’s the same sugar, the same chemicals. But the market will guide you to believe that certain things are better. In reality though, the better school is the school that’s better for your child.

I don’t feel that I can tell someone else how to evaluate their children’s education. Personally, I deeply believe seminary isn’t a luxury and it’s something that adds tremendous value to a girl’s life. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t do what I do. I would make a living another way. I think high schools push for it because they see it’s necessary. They know seminary provides something they can’t give.

Back to the question, how do parents make this decision? Well, how do they make a decision about camp, weddings, or support after marriage? These are decisions parents need to make on their own. I can’t tell them what to decide.

There’s no question in my mind that another year of learning just Torah — without the required limudei chol of high school — is valuable. I believe in the full immersion experience of being in the dormitory, of girls being away from home, and away from the malls, their cars and familiar surroundings. Together with the opportunities Eretz Yisrael offers, it’s definitely a win-win situation. At the same time, there are many things in our lives that are important, and we always have to prioritize.

What I will say is that we’re never allowed to do things irresponsibly. You’re never allowed to take a loan you can’t pay out, so if you can’t afford seminary, you need to decide if it’s something you’re going to go into debt for or ask family to help with. That’s for parents to decide and it’s a very personal cheshbon.

What advice would you give to young families who are working out how to manage their finances and budget for upcoming expenses like seminary?

Young families will need to figure out where they stand. There has to be some level of self-acceptance of knowing “this is my place. This is what I can afford. Somebody else has more money and can afford a big house. I can’t, so I’m not allowed to buy one.” We’re not allowed to make weddings we can’t afford or send our kids to schools or camps we can’t afford. There’s no such thing as saying, “I have no choice.” If there is something that you feel is important, then start saving.

Do you have practical saving advice?

When I was younger, I lived on a very tight budget, so one of the things that I taught myself was to leave the house with only cash, no checks, and no credit card. I knew how much money I had to spend, and I knew that when it was finished, I wouldn’t have anymore. Even in today’s digital world, that kind of approach is beneficial. Limit what’s available to spend.

You mentioned that you encourage Shanah Beis because “what could once be done in one year now needs two.” What does that mean?

Education is becoming more difficult. Our entire society has become more superficial. It takes longer to give meaning and connection and girls are less ready than ever to get married. I strongly disagree with the push to get boys to go out earlier — I think it’s wrong, both educationally and psychologically. In my experience, boys are hardly ready to get married so young, and girls aren’t either. If there were to be an initiative, it should be that girls should only date two years after high school, after they get their degrees.

You mentioned that there are years you end in the red. How do you manage that?

I don’t run the school as a tzedakah. It’s a place where people pay tuition and the tuition is supposed to pay the costs. Despite that, I do what I believe needs to be done for the girls and sometimes that’s costly. I don’t think anyone should ever go into debt without a plan. You have to ask yourself, “What will happen if…” and prepare. There’s a halachah that you’re not allowed to take out a loan you don’t know how to pay. I know people who opened seminaries and then sold their houses to pay off their debts when it didn’t work out. You may not like that, but it’s a plan. You always need to know how you can repay debt.

An excerpt from Rabbi Greenwald’s application letter:
While coming to Eretz Yisrael has a great deal of potential for growth in all areas of life, there are also potential dangers of the same magnitude. You should know yourself well and consider carefully if this year will be best spent at home or away from home…. Surely you are aware of the cost of seminary education and the expenses of travel, etc. We believe it is your responsibility not to put pressure on your parents if the cost is beyond their means. Many wonderful students attend the local seminaries and do very well.

Q & A: Mrs. Ahuvah Heyman

As a mother and school director, how do you see seminary affecting families?

We need to change the dialogue here so that we can allow people to do what works for their families without feeling bad. And that has to start way earlier. Educating your children about money cannot start when they’re in 12th grade and want to go to seminary. They need to understand from much earlier that there are needs and there are wants. And sometimes we blur the two.

For example, seminary is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Is it a need? Only for very few people, mainly people with complicated home situations who must get away. For most people, it’s a want.

If you’re first going to sit your daughter down in 12th grade and tell her that it’s not going to happen, it will be very hard for her to understand.

How did you approach seminary with your own girls?

We had the same discussion for every girl: Tatty and Mommy will cover the tuition. It’s something that we think is important, and we will work very hard to make that happen. It might even include us taking on additional responsibilities. That’s our piece. You will cover all other costs associated with going to seminary — plane tickets, phone plan, spending money, and insurance.

We weren’t mean and we didn’t withhold the opportunity, but we also didn’t give them a credit card.

Our girls worked hard to make seminary happen. Not only did it enable them to take seminary more seriously, but it also enabled them to understand that money is something to take seriously.

Do you think seminary is a core chinuch requirement?

The critical piece is for a girl to go off on her own, to learn how to be independent, and to make decisions. Do I think that needs to happen in seminary? I actually think sending a girl to seminary can give a very mixed message.

“We need to send you off somewhere at a $40,000 expense to learn how to be someone who works very hard to support a husband with very little money.”

It’s a very confusing message. I’ve seen parents send their children off with open credit cards. You don’t like the school food? Go eat somewhere else. But then don’t expect your child to turn around and be prepared for a complicated life.

I look at the unprecedented number of quick divorces and wonder — how much of that comes from young people not having the grit to deal with situations that are not perfect? If everything is handed to them, and they’re not prepared to be grown-ups, what do we expect?

What are the key things you wish other parents knew about seminary?

Start early. Whether it’s about money or something else, these discussions cannot start when your kids are old. They have to start when your kids are young.

What are the conversations you have with your own kids, and how have your financial views changed over the years?

They haven’t changed that much over the years. I was raised to be super-careful about money, and I’ve tried to do that in a balanced way. My husband was raised in a wonderful home where money was not an issue, even if it was an issue. So we have a very good arrangement. He doesn’t ask me about money, and I don’t tell him about the money, and he lets me take care of all of it, which is interesting because he’s actually trained as an accountant.

This is the first thing I tell girls: One of the primary shalom bayis issues in every marriage involves finances. And the reason is very simple. You come from different places, get married, and suddenly you’re supposed to be on the same page about a topic that’s super-emotional. If you’re able to have these conversations with your children, and they grow up with the mindset that it’s okay to discuss delicate topics, then even if they marry someone dissimilar to them, they’re going to be able to have these conversations and to come to an agreement. And it’s so important — because marriages break up over money.

Every single decision is a discussion and a choice. Somebody might want a lifestyle that their spouse is completely unused to and unsupportive of, and it can cause a lot of problems. The sooner you’re able to have these discussions in a rational, nonemotional manner, the better off you’re going to be. When you have a framework and a tool kit for difficult conversations, it will help you with other difficult things as well.

If people didn’t have these finance-focused conversations from the start, conversations like this will be a shock to their kids. If someone never discussed it with their kids before, do you think it’s not going to work?

Let’s go way back. When your daughter is eight or ten or 12 and she starts babysitting, what framework do you set up for that money? In our house, it was ten percent maaser, ten percent spending, and the rest you put away. I have girls who otherwise would have no money left to spend for anything. I have girls who put away every penny. It’s a personality, but that conversation needs to start when they’re little.

My kids now make fun of me that the boys are being raised in a different family. Boys don’t have the same opportunities as girls do to raise money. They’re not out babysitting every night. It’s not the same as girls, but it’s the same discussion. You earn money, you put it away. My son in Eretz Yisrael pays for 80 percent of his spending.

I think it’s very important for parents to recognize the difference between boys and girls, between seminary and college. I will tell you that when my girls came back from seminary, we did the exact same thing for college. I said, Tatty and I are paying for a bachelor’s degree. We think it’s important. Beyond that, you can take out a student loan. Some girls took it out and they have a loan, and some girls paid it off with the money they had put aside from working.

Do you ever have girls come into your office with tears streaming down their faces because they’re sad they can’t go to seminary?

Interestingly, not very often. Most girls know when their parents can’t afford it and they’ll pretend not to be interested and protect their parents. There are one to two girls each year who can’t afford it but would benefit, and for those I think it’s the school’s responsibility to take achrayus and make a few phone calls to see if they can make it happen.

Would you say a family should go into debt to make seminary work?

There’s so much more to this, which starts with “when is it a surprise that girls want to go to seminary?” The answer is “rarely ever.” Girls talk about this in eighth grade. Like anything else in life, you need to start way back when. When this happens, how will we do it? And yeah, sometimes it’s going to involve a little bit of debt, but if you’re coming in with zero, I don’t think it’s sustainable. That’s where you have the conversation with your daughter that we love you, but it’s not going to work for us, so let’s discuss alternatives.

In the podcast, you mentioned that one of your daughters chose not to go to seminary. Do you find that her levels of maturity or independence were negatively affected?

The opposite. I found that she grew up faster because she made decisions that were good decisions, and they involved really thinking things through and working toward a specific goal. She also got married quickly and she made a decision with her husband to move away from her parents and his parents during year one, so they could start off independently and then come back.


Right on the Money

insights for life

Ball’s in Your Court: I can’t take responsibility for the decisions parents make. I charge what’s necessary to be able to run the school from year to year.
Value judgment: If seminary is important, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll give up on it. It boils down to a question of priorities — how much value does this year have for you?
Not just another year: Seminary is not another year of high school. You can’t compare high school to seminary — where kids choose to go. You combine the child’s desire to learn on their own with the special atmosphere Eretz Yisrael has, and you have a transformative year. It helps them counter the very serious nisyonos in the world out there that contradict the values we raise our children with.
Misplaced blame: Yes, I believe seminary has value. You have to decide how much that value is worth to you. You can’t be angry at seminary principals because you’re going into debt. I refuse to blame the seminaries for people making decisions they can’t afford. That’s like blaming cars for forcing people to pay for them. If you can’t afford a car, you buy second-hand or take the train.

Seminary is a big expense, but so is all higher education.

Eighty percent of girls get credits and save on a semester of college.

Seminary is not JUST about education. The kedushah of Eretz Yisrael brings something intangible to the table.

Supply and demand: I hate to call it a market, but seminaries are a market. Like any market, there’s supply and demand. Once things become accepted, then there’s a social pressure and more demand. Seminaries with high demand don’t have to give as big a discount.
Want or need: Saying girls don’t need seminary is like saying boys don’t need beis medrash. High school does not prepare girls for the next stages of life in the outside world. Seminary should.

I’m happy to say that at least 20 percent of the parents in my school say that they got more than they paid for.

(By the way, last year we spent an extra $65,000 just on paper goods because of a new tax.)

Don’t visit your daughter while she’s in seminary. The $4,000 you’ll spend on the visit is not a seminary expense. It’s a spoiled child expense. And it’s not good for your daughter. It distracts her and makes her homesick all over again. If you do come, don’t take all her friends out for supper. You’re creating pressure that when another parent comes, they’ll need to take out your daughter because you took out theirs. It’s a cost that has nothing to do with necessity and everything to do with keeping up with other people’s expectations.
Comfort zone: Money is one of the most uncomfortable things to discuss unless we have a lot of it.
Home-schooled: It’s your job to be the parent and teach your kids about finances.
Struggle session: I taught financial literacy and said, “Raise your hand if you have more than $5,000 in savings in the bank.” There were two girls in my class who did. That’s on us — the parents. If you’ve handed them everything, don’t be surprised if they struggle after seminary. And I don’t mean financially. They WILL struggle emotionally.
Rich irony: It’s so ironic that we’re telling our daughters that seminary will prepare them for marriage, yet we’re not having the conversations about what’s involved in doing that, including financial responsibility and making decisions that are sometimes painful.


‘Money Talks’ is produced in conjunction with Living Smarter Jewish (LSJ) and Living Lchaim.

LSJ initiatives include free personal finance coaching, education geared toward young couples, referrals to financial planners, curriculum development for high schools and young adults, and video education library. 

To request help, please email: info@livingsmarterjewish.org

Living Lchaim is a podcast network dedicated to producing shows that enhance the lives of Orthodox Jews across the world. The Kosher Money podcast, created in partnership with LSJ, hosts lively dialogue around frum financial realities, facilitating awareness and educated decision-making.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 948)

Oops! We could not locate your form.