Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Transparency in American Orthodox Jewish Institutions

As I've noted elsewhere, one of this year's RCA resolutions promoted Insitutional Transparency for the Jewish community.

I spoke about the issue in shul two weeks ago, connecting it with the Institutional Transparency of sending the meraglim to scout out Israel (derashah here).

In the wake of that speech, a congregant of mine inquired about a major Orthodox Jewish organization that does not publish its financial records. I passed along the question to one of the organization's leaders, and he replied that they are very fiscally responsible, reviewing and auditing their records, but they do not plan to publish anything.

Note that some organizations are legally exempt from transparency - here are the IRS exemptions for religious organizations:
1. A church, an interchurch organization of local units of a church, a convention or association of churches, or an integrated auxiliary of a church as described in Regulations
section 1.6033-2(h) (such as a men’s or women’s organization, religious school, mission society, or youth group).
2. A church-affiliated organization that is exclusively engaged in managing funds or maintaining retirement programs and is described in Rev. Proc. 96-10, 1996-1 C.B. 577.
3. A school below college level affiliated with a church or operated by a religious order described in Regulations section 1.6033-2(g)(1)(vii).
4. A mission society sponsored by, or affiliated with, one or more churches or church denominations, if more than half of the society’s activities are conducted in, or directed at, persons in foreign countries.
5. An exclusively religious activity of any religious order described in Rev. Proc. 91-20, 1991-1 C.B. 524.
(For more information, see the IRS pdf here.)

Nonetheless, I believe that financial transparency of tzedakah-receiving organizations is important in halachah, separate from financial responsibility:
Responsibility means we are careful with how we spend tzedakah money.
Transparency means we let our donors know how we spend their tzedakah money.

There are many sources in our masorah recommending transparency; see Midrash Tanchuma Pekudei 4 and Rama Yoreh Deah 257:2 for a couple of examples.

So I began to look at Orthodox Jewish institutions, to see how many file Form 990 with the IRS, publicizing their records. The results are encouraging; most of them do publish their records.

Here are some early findings, courtesy of Guidestar; more to follow, Gd-willing. The organization titles below link to their most recent publicly available filings, which are generally 2007.

Agudath Israel of America

Agudath Israel of America Foundation

AMIT Women

AOJS (Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists)

Bnei Akiva of the US and Canada

Chabad Lubavitch National Campus Foundation

Chabad Lubavitch Torah Educational Services



Emunah Women of America

JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminists of America)

Merkos l’Inyonei Chinuch (But why nothing since 1998?)

National Council of Young Israel's Yisrael haTzair supporting National Council efforts in Israel


RIETS (Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary)

RZA (Religious Zionists of America)

Star K Supervision

Touro College

Touro University

Yeshiva Chovevei Torah

Yeshiva University

ZOA (Zionist Organization of America)

National Council of Young Israel


(Note that they are both legally exempt under Item 1 above.)

More to follow, when I have a few minutes to follow up on more organizations.


  1. Very interesting stuff you can find on 990s. It changed my tzedaka tendencies as well - maybe I'm wrong, but a yeshiva that pays its rosh yeshiva $36k (like Philly) probably needs my money more than one that pays $119k (BMG).

  2. "most of them do publish their records"

    but notice how the vast majority of day schools take advantage of the exemptions

    YI: can you please tell me what relevance this org has for jewish life in the 21st century and why it deserves contributions (even if would be transparent)

    OU: considering the overlap between OU and RCA, can we expect that the OU will soon be filing a 990?

  3. Michael-
    I love 990s, but remember the GIGO rule. I'm not sure what Philly is including in its calculation of compensation.

    Young Israel - I'm no expert on them, sorry.
    OU - The overlap is in the membership, not the governance or mission/function. One will not influence the other.

  4. How about the day schools? I know someone who has a very tough teaching job. (homeroom teacher for two classes, one morning and one afternoon) When she first got the job she was so grateful that she didn't question the salary. Afterwards she discovered that she makes much less than anyone else. There is no official pay scale.

  5. "The overlap is in the membership, not the governance or mission/function. One will not influence the other."

    why can't one influence the other? if all the rca members involved in the OU followed through on the resolution and insisted that the OU change it's policy, how could it refuse?
    which brings me back to something i didn't understand a little while ago regarding the purpose of RCA resolutions.

  6. Muse-
    I think they likely do post the 990s, but you won't find information on salaries past (a) the highest few salaries, and (b) an aggregate number paid for salaries.
    I don't plan on posting high schools, because there are far too many for me to collect.

    I think they probably could, but I don't see this becoming a cause celebre.