Israel - Knesset to Limit Charedi Yeshiva Student Funds to 5 Years
Israel - The government is expected to vote Sunday on a proposal to limit the number of years yeshiva students will be eligible to receive support from the State and give needy university students a financial grant.
The vote will take place following recommendations submitted by an inter-ministerial committee headed by Eyal Gabai, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, which was appointed as a result of public pressure.
According to the proposal, which does not require the Knesset’s approval, yeshiva students will receive full funding only on the first four years of their studies. On the fifth year, which will be considered a year of training, they will be given a grant of 75%.
At the same time, the number of yeshiva students entitled to unlimited full-time advanced Talmud studies (“kollel”) will be limited to a small number of “diligent students”.
But a Ynet inquiry revealed that any yeshiva student aged 29 and up will continue receiving an unlimited pension. The count for the rest will only begin on the day the decision is made, meaning that the first yeshiva students will stop getting a pension in 2015.
The assurance of income support for yeshiva students in the State Budget will increase from NIS 110 million ($30 million) to 127 million ($35 million). As the proposal does not require the Knesset’s approval, it may be changed by the next government.
The Prime Minister’s Office added that needy university students would receive an increment of NIS 50 million (about $14 million) as part of an aid fund. However, a university student meeting the criteria will receive up to NIS 3,000 ($833) a year compared to NIS 12,000 ($3,332) given to a yeshiva student.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the committee’s recommendations are aimed at encouraging the ultra-Orthodox sector’s integration in the labor market and aid different studying populations in a balanced and equal manner.
Financial support for yeshiva students, totaling NIS 127 million (about $35 million) a year, will be granted in two tracks. In the first track, the yeshiva student will receive a full pension of up to NIS 1,040 ($289) a year. On the fifth year, the student will have to study only part of the time get a part-time job, and will therefore be entitled to only 75% of the initial sum for his Torah studies.
The second track, which includes a reduced pension, is intended for a small group of “diligent students” who plan to devote their life to studying Torah. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, this group includes about 2,000 people who will receive a total of NIS 20 million ($5 million).
Shahar Ilan, vice president of the Hiddush association for religious freedom and equality, said in response that “this is a decision written on ice. The yeshiva students’ seniority count starts anew, meaning that all yeshiva students will receive their allowances for another five year.
“This is another government spin. The government keeps on presenting achievements but is actually fooling us and insulting its citizens’ intelligence.”
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer slammed the plan. “This is not the way to integrate haredim in the labor market,” he said. “The decision which will be submitted to the government will basically perpetuate the lack of haredi integration in the labor market and the poverty and unemployment in their sector.
“There will be no progress in the next five years, and no conditions of professional training for receiving the allowance. Twenty-nine-year-old yeshiva students will be exempt from work forever – we are talking about more than 90% of the yeshiva students included in the plan.”
Knesset Member Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) said in response to the proposal, “This is another media bluff by the Netanyahu government. On the one hand they are increasing the yeshiva students’ budget, and on the other hand presenting the proposal to the students and ex-soldiers as an unprecedented revolution.”
Itzik Shmuli, chairman of the National Student Union, said that “the students’ stubborn struggle has led to good results, and we believe these recommendations will cause more solidarity in the Israeli society. However, we expect the recommendations to become part of a Knesset legislation in order to ensure their implementation in the future.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that “the settlement is aimed at balancing between two main principles – human sensitivity and a desire not to perpetuate poverty. We are talking about an extremely poor population and we cannot harm their level of income all at once.
“On the other hand, we must not encourage the current situation. The new arrangement will motivate the population of yeshiva students to go out to work and improve their economic situation, as well as show some sensitivity towards thousands of poor families and solve the problem in a gradual manner.”
Currently, some 11,000 out of 70,000 kollel students receive the aid funds according to a number of criteria, which will also be implemented according to the new decision – they are married with at least three children, their total family income does not exceed NIS 1,200 ($333) a month, and they do not own a car.
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