Treasury to cut yeshiva student funding by 30%

Move will save the state NIS 340 million a year; sparks fly at Knesset meeting

An ultra-Orthodox man enters the army recruiting office in Jerusalem (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An ultra-Orthodox man enters the army recruiting office in Jerusalem (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s yeshivas are set to see a 30 percent cut to their funding, saving the state NIS 340 million a year (some $93 million), sources in the new ministerial committee tasked with drafting mandatory service legislation, said Monday.

According to a report in Maariv, Finance Minister Yair Lapid approved the funding cut, which will take the budget earmarked for Orthodox institutions of higher learning down to NIS 700 million, from the current NIS 1.04 billion.

The formation of the ministerial committee — headed by Minister of Science, Technology, and Space Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) — was agreed upon in coalition talks between Likud-Beytenu, Yesh Atid, and Jewish Home. It aims to advance a fairer distribution of the national burden by drafting new legislation to be approved by the Knesset within months.

The dearth of ultra-Orthodox men serving in the IDF alongside the general population has long been a source of tension in secular-religious relations within Israeli society. The committee will also look for ways to integrate Israeli Arabs into the IDF.

In February 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the Tal Law, which had granted sweeping exemptions from military or national service to ultra-Orthodox Israelis, was unconstitutional.

The 30% funding cut is planned to be achieved by lowering the age that Yeshiva students are entitled to payments from the state from 28 to 22. The funding is linked to deferment of military service, and the cut will be achieved by lowering the age that yeshiva students are granted a full release from service — the reasoning being that, if the yeshiva students are released outright, they will no longer enjoy deferred status, or its funding. The move is set to take effect in August.

“Instead of having to deal with all the ultra-Orthodox men between the age of 18 to 28, the army will only have to deal with 18 to 22-year-olds,” the committee source told Maariv.

On Monday, Lapid fired an opening shot at the ultra-Orthodox parties during a Knesset session Monday, by placing blame for Israel’s current deficit on them, sparking angry exchanges.

After ultra-Orthodox MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) warned that planned deficit-reducing budget cuts would cause a lot of hardship for average Israelis, Lapid noted bitterly that the last government, in which UTJ controlled the Knesset finance committee, created the deficit in the first place.

“I understand that you’re going through difficult times,” Lapid said. “It’s your government that created that deficit — were you not a partner to it? Were you on Mars? As would any government, we now need to solve the deficit that you have created — and you were not exactly the cheapest friends ever,” he added, referencing so-called government handouts to the ultra-Orthodox community.

After UTJ’s Israel Eichler criticized the government’s intentions to cut child allowance programs, Lapid said that the government should not have to bear the burden of raising children.

“Bringing a child into this world is a great responsibility,” Lapid retorted. “And you need not have children and then assume others will support them; you should assume it is your duty to support your children.”

Michal Shmulovich contributed to this report

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