For the first time in years, the number of Haredi students enrolling full-time in yeshiva study dropped by a whopping 4,400, according to the Ministry of Education.
In the ultra-Orthodox world, young men routinely take on full-time study of religious texts, and after marriage, they continue their education at special yeshiva institutions called kollels, which pay a living stipend to their students. This year, however, the government slashed the funds it makes available to yeshivot, allotting NIS 650 million rather than the previous NIS 1 billion. Further cuts are expected, with the 2014-2015 projected budget providing only NIS 400 million for Haredi educational institutions.
That means that living stipends for students have also shrunk, and according to the Education Ministry, many religious men have opted to start working instead.
MK Dov Lipman, who has been an outspoken advocate for better integration of Haredim into Israeli society, embraced the report, hailing it as a win for both the ultra-Orthodox and the Education Ministry, who have sparred over budget numbers since the formation of the new government earlier this year.
“The young men who are leaving yeshiva and kollel to go to work at this time are those who are not cut out to study day and night for years,” he told The Times Of Israel. “Most are not able to do so. Now they will be able to support their families with dignity while continuing to set aside time daily for Torah study and remaining fervently religious. This is a positive development, since historically this has always been the ‘Jewish way,’ even for the most strictly religious.”
Within the insular ultra-Orthodox world, however, rabbis and administrators have told the media that it is too early in the academic year to draw conclusions about enrollment.
Eli Linker, an ultra-Orthodox father from Jerusalem who has split his time between work and yeshiva for years, says that among his friends who study full-time, no one has considered dropping out. “This is the first time I’ve heard of such a thing,” he said of the news of the decline in students.
And Shlomo Brillante, the director of the organization of yeshiva leaders in Israel, told the daily newspaper Ma’ariv, “you can’t track such a big change in just one month.” The figures the ministry has are from August, 2013.
Haredi Rabbi Schlomo Pappenheim, however, conceded that the numbers might mean something.
“It could be true,” he said, when told of the 4,400-student decline. “Because of the money, because the state has withheld it this year, students are looking elsewhere.”