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Opinion: Letters
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Funding Jewish education

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Gershon Distenfeld’s provocative proposal ( “Putting our money where our mouths are,” October 25) for creating a “new central body” to “centralize the financial aid process and ensure consistency among our schools” raises serious antitrust concerns that must be confronted before the schools give it any further consideration.

As part of this proposal, Mr. Distenfeld directs “all yeshiva day schools [to] announce that within the next three years, they will reduce tuition to the average cost per student and get out of the scholarship business entirely.” There is precedent concerning the propriety of and conditions circumscribing schools coordinating their financial assistance policies and decision-making that directly address Mr. Distenfeld’s proposal, calling into question his desire that all our schools agree not to provide financial assistance scholarships.

In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the antitrust division of the United States Department of Justice sued the eight Ivy League schools and M.I.T., alleging that joint financial aid practices among these institutions violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act, which proscribes coordinated action or agreements in restraint of trade. Sherman Act violations are not only felonies but any civil damages can be tripled. Agreements among horizontal competitors that affect price are the most sensitive and scrutinized the most closely.

While the Ivy League schools settled with the DOJ by entering into consent decrees, M.I.T. decided to litigate, arguing primarily that it was exempt from the antitrust laws as a not-for-profit educational institution. Ultimately, the case reached the Third Circuit Court of Appeals — the federal region that includes New Jersey. That court determined that there is no automatic not-for-profit exception under the antitrust laws and specifically held that coordinated efforts by schools as to financial aid is subject to the antitrust laws because “financial assistance to students is part and parcel of the process of setting tuition and thus a commercial transaction.” Eventually, M.I.T. also settled with the DOJ and agreed to adhere to specific “standards of conduct.”

The DOJ “standards of conduct,” as well as a “temporary exemption” Congress accorded in 2001 to “institutions of higher education” in Section 568 of the “Improving America’s Schools Act” demonstrated the circumstances by which to construct any valid coordinated financial assistance endeavors. For example, the Section 568 temporary exemption allowed schools to agree to “common principles of analysis for determining the need of such students for financial aid.” But the statute also provided that any such agreement cannot “restrict financial aid officers of such institutions in their exercising independent professional judgment with respect to individual applicants for such financial aid.” Likewise, pursuant to the Section 568 temporary exemption, the schools could agree to use a common application but any joint form they conceived could not restrict the individual institutions from asking for more data.

Moreover, the Section 568 temporary exemption allowed schools to agree to exchange individual information about assets, income, and expenses, but only if the exchange were to be carefully executed through an “independent third party,” limiting each school’s opportunity to retrieve information to one occurrence per individual student. In general, an independent third party or “joint venture” meant to shield constituent entities from antitrust strictures would have to be constructed in a way that the entity operated as a genuinely independent economic actor that has taken measures to prevent it from being used as a vehicle for sharing individualized prospective pricing and cost information. Indeed, Section 568 made explicitly clear that the temporary exemption did not apply to an agreement among schools “with respect to the amount or terms of any prospective financial aid award to a specific individual,” meaning that such individualized financial aid decisions could not be made on a coordinated basis under the antitrust laws.

Of course, maintaining quality Jewish schools accessible to all should be a paramount priority for the Jewish community — perhaps even the most paramount. As Mr. Distenfeld suggests, there probably should be more en0hanced community-wide efforts to raise funds from everybody, including those who do not send or have children in the schools. We might even go a step further and advocate for mandatory contributions to our schools through synagogue dues or JCC membership, as was historically common in European Jewish communities.

But recognizing that school funding is a communal obligation — and a very critical one at that — is something very different than demanding that all schools unconditionally abide by one central entity’s determinations about individualized financial aid and scholarship determinations. Such restrictions could amount to anti-competitive price fixing, the very essence of what the antitrust laws are designed to protect, and it is only a matter of time before price collaboration will extend to setting uniform teacher salaries and imposing across-the-board cost restrictions affecting curriculum and services. Those measures most certainly would erode the quality of our schools.

While our schools should never be viewed as competitive enterprises in the mode of profit-maximizing businesses, and while we should develop and strengthen joint community endeavors such as NNJKIDS to assist all of the schools through difficult economic times and the funding crisis, it is important that we do so responsibly and act in way that is carefully consistent with the law and with the desire to maintain the quality education that our schools continue to provide.

 

Daniel D. Edelman

Teaneck

(Daniel Edelman is an attorney who practices law in New York City.)

 
 

Laughing to the bank

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In response to Dr. Gross’ letter concerning the Xmas tree in his bank, I would like to offer an alternative viewpoint.

Christmas is the engine that drives the U.S. retail economy. Christmas provides the livelihood, and fortunes that in turn support countless shuls, yeshivas, and charities of all types in the United States and in Israel.

It has never been the Jewish way to have large, bright, ostentatious symbols of our religion. In contrast to homes wrapped in lights, and reindeer on the lawn, large decorated trees in Macy’s and the mall, we have our little menorah in our warm living room.

We know what we have and we don’t have to compete with advertisements. So, when I’m in the bank and see the lit tree, I’m a little annoyed, but inside I’m grateful, and laughing all the way out of the bank.

 

James Hain
Teaneck
 
 

Identifying ‘identity’

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Bernard Beck’s opinion piece gives several false impressions (“Defining a true Jew,” October 18). Firstly, it leads a reader to believe that rabbinic Judaism didn’t define the religion’s parameters until the Common Era. The fact is that rabbis were always in charge; they just has different titles. Prior to the use of the term rabbi, we had judges, prophets, the Great Assembly, and the five pairs quoted at the beginning of Ethics of the Fathers. Maimonides, in his introduction to his Mishneh Torah, traces an unbroken line of 40 generations of Ba’alay Mesorah, essentially chief rabbis, covering approximately 1,800 years from Moses through Rav Ashi (the redactor of the Talmud Bavli), each one giving s’michah to the next.

Secondly, the article seems to indicate that Jewish identity based on the religion of the mother is a relatively new concept. In fact, this fundamental principle goes back to the Torah itself, in Deuteronomy chapter 7. Furthermore, strict standards for Jewish identity can be found as long ago as Ezra the Scribe (Number 22 on Maimonides’ list) at the beginning of the Second Temple Period in the 4th century B.C.E. He understood that clarity of definition was critical to Jewish survival.

Assuming that Mr. Beck’s population figures covering the Common Era are accurate, the steep drop at the beginning, which was maintained for many centuries, can easily be attributed to the continuous genocides, forced conversions, and other forms of persecution taking place during that period. Similarly, the subsequent rapid expansion can be explained by greater acceptance of Jews in the United States, and in many countries in Europe, rather than because of pronouncements by the Ba’al Shem Tov or Rabbi Geiger.

Given how many of the “facts” in the article are subject to question, it is reasonable to seriously question its conclusions.

 

Gary M. Rosenberg
Englewood
 
 

Forget the free stuff

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As a Democrat, I respect Ari Fleischer’s point of view (“It’s Ari’s party,” October 11). He represents a part of the Republican Party that virtually no longer exists.

However, I cannot understand Rabbi Pruzansky, particularly his asking “How do you compete against the free stuff?” Not only does this show his lack of compassion — it also shows his lack of understanding of those who are in true need of “free stuff.” Obviously Rabbi Pruzansky has never been to a job fair.

If he were to go to one, he would find people desperately seeking employment. Yes, these people are receiving unemployment benefits — they paid into the fund for it — and in some cases food stamps. I guarantee that every one them would give up all the “free stuff” for one of those jobs at the fair.

Yes, there are people who game the system. We all know that. This has been going on since the first free loaf of bread was given out. We do not need Rabbi Pruzansky to point it out.

Rabbi Pruzansky, please visit one these job fairs, and, by the way, stop by a Veterans hospital. Maybe this will temper your view on going to war with Iran.

 

Warren Katz
Palisades Park
 
 

J Street means inclusion

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I read with pride — because he is the spiritual leader of the congregation I belong to —Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky’s comments on the results of the recent Pew survey on Jewish identity (“Local rabbis talk about the Pew survey,” October 11). His message of inclusion is one which more Jewish leaders need to hear.

Rabbi Pitkowsky’s comments on progressive Jewish organizations like J Street and the New Israel Fund were particularly welcome. The Pew survey found that J Street’s message of a two-state solution to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians resonates with a large majority of American Jews, particularly younger ones. The fact that young American Jews feel free to voice criticism over Israeli policies with respect to the Palestinians should not be regarded as an abandonment of Jewish identity but a positive engagement with the Jewish future. The American Jewish establishment should no more seek to stifle this engagement than it should feel it necessary to squelch criticism of our own government or Israelis’ criticisms of theirs.

J Street members, and I am one, love Israel. We want to see a secure, prosperous, and peaceful future for Israel, within borders in which a large Jewish majority can carry Jewish culture, values, and history into the future.

Far from ostracizing organizations like J Street, mainstream Jewish organizations ought to embrace it, for two reasons: First, because it represents the views of the majority of our people in this country, and second, because J Street and other progressive Jewish organizations can provide the necessary framework to keep younger American Jews within the Jewish communal fold.

 

Peter Buxbaum
Cliffside Park
 
 

Character assassination

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We are writing to express our frustration and disappointment at the unfair and inflammatory way in which the media and elements of the community have reported and reacted to the issues involving Akiva Roth.

In the Standard’s October 18 article, the headline, “Sex Offender Voluntarily Barred from Englewood Shuls,” implies a legal characterization of a Megan’s Law violator, which Akiva is not. His conviction of “lewdness” was never — and is not — a Megan’s Law violation, and therefore Akiva Roth never was required to register as a sex offender. As such, community protections required by Megan’s Law are inapplicable. With exaggerated reporting and innuendo, the press effectively has made of him a Megan’s Law violator. And now, 17 years after the courts adjudicated his case, segments of the Jewish community have appointed themselves judge and jury, to retry him and impose their own “punishments,” which never were required by law.

This unfair and extreme approach on the part of a community that supposedly embraces the concept of teshuva has led to unwarranted character assassination and a sense of suspicion and fear relating to his communal service and dedication to the synagogues in Englewood and to the greater Jewish community. It is our sense that due process has not taken place. We expect more from our Jewish institutions. At the very least, Akiva should be given an opportunity to clarify information, to reiterate the fact that he understands the problematic nature of his behavior 18 years ago, to explain his activities and involvement with youth in his communities, and to discuss ways in which he might be able to return to these communities, of which he has been an integral part.

Notwithstanding the inappropriateness of “double jeopardy” in this matter, but recognizing community concerns, Akiva has voluntarily agreed to Rabbi Goldin’s suggestion that he meet with an outside professional forensic psychologist specializing in this particular area, even though he had done so many years ago. Akiva’s willingness to cooperate, and his statement that no improper behavior has occurred since his conviction, lead us to believe that now is the time for compassion and understanding for an individual who has been so unfairly maligned.

May reason and fairness prevail in this matter and may we restore our reputation as a safe, caring, and forgiving community.

 

Merce and Richard Andron, Englewood

Adam and Ofra Backenroth, Teaneck

Jules Gutin, Teaneck

Sydell and Enrique Levy, Englewood

Ami Kinsberg, Englewood

Jack Nelson, Cliffside Park

Toby and Maurice Reifman, Englewood

Menorah Rotenberg, Teaneck

Jeffrey Rubenstein, Englewood

Phyllis Hofman Waldmann, Jerusalem

 
 

Political Spin-Meistering

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“It’s Ari’s party,” (October 11), reported on a gathering of Jewish Republicans in Teaneck. Ari Fleischman, the quintessential Republican Jew, addressed the faithful. He was quoted as saying that “not even a majority of Democrats” support Israel.

Say what? A recent Gallup poll tracked support for Israel. Since 2008, Democratic support for Israel has increased. Over the last three years, a majority of Democrats do indeed favor Israel over the Palestinians. Fleischer should do some fact-checking before he makes this kind of statement again. Otherwise, it is just the same old political spin from a past master of the art.

What’s more, Fleischer and the Republican Jewish coalition privately must be apoplectic over the hijacking of the GOP by the Tea Party. Rand Paul and his ilk are no friends of Israel. They favor a return to isolationism, which would deliver the Middle East into the willing arms of Russia and China. Without a continued American presence in the region — something championed by every U.S. President since Harry S. Truman — Israel’s security would be at greater risk than at any time since independence.

No American Jew can or should be able to feel at home in the new Republican Tea Party. Fleischer may not like Democrats, but an examination of the facts reveals that the Democratic Party is now a more hospitable place for Jewish Americans. You can’t spin the facts any other way.

When and if the GOP regains its senses and pulls back from the extremism of its Tea Party, that might change. Ask Eric Cantor when — or if — that will happen.

 

Eric Weis
Wayne
 
 

Pew naivete

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There was, unfortunately, considerable sociological naivete in the Jewish Standard’s reporting and comments on the recent Pew Research Center report on American Jews. In his October 4 essay, “Observations on Orthodox Jews in the Pew,” Rabbi Alan Brill uncritically accepts the statistical data without seriously questioning the statistical and sociological validity of the study as regards both demographic and religious behavior.

Does it really make sense to accept the Pew finding that 15 percent of charedi Jews attend non-Jewish services several times a year? Is it realistic to find chasidic Jews in churches and mosques several times a year? Do 24 percent of charedi Jews really handle money on Shabbat?

The critical issue here is the matter of obtaining a valid sample — the people who were interviewed and who responded to the questions. Charedi Jews are known for their reticence about cooperating with journalists and survey researchers particularly if the interviewers are not Yiddish speakers and unknown to the community. Consequently, the number of Orthodox and charedi Jews interviewed and counted is deeply problematic, and no conclusions about these Jews can be made at this time. Brill’s conclusions, drawn from the study, consequently are deeply flawed.

 

Charles Selengut Ph.D.
Teaneck
 
 
 
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