Ultra-Orthodox propose bill to increase yeshiva stipends for more students
Hiddush trumpets the alarm
Hiddush causes proposed bill to increase stipends for non-working yeshiva students to be widely covered by the media. Ultra-Orthodox parties demand to include many more yeshiva students, and provide them with much more funding.
Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students studying Torah, courtesy: Wikipedia
Just last week, Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill pushed by senior ultra-Orthodox MKs from both United Torah Judaism and Shas, mandating that married full-time yeshiva students with at least one child be provided with “income assurance” payments. Ever on alert, Hiddush unearthed and immediately brought this event to the public’s attention and pointed to its unacceptable consequences. We caused the matter to be widely covered by the Israeli media.
“Income assurance” payments aim at providing income relief mainly to individuals and households who are unable to work but are willing to work. In the past, the ultra-Orthodox politicians were able to twist the government’s arm, and add yeshiva students to the list of those eligible for “income assurance” even though they refuse to seek work because they prefer to spend their years in the yeshiva and live off public coffers. The Supreme Court has already ruled twice that including yeshiva students in the category of those eligible for “income assurance” by virtue of their study in a yeshiva is illegal and discriminatory. Hiddush has been at the forefront of these legal efforts to stem the tide via legal battle. Now that the government once again depends on the votes of the ultra-Orthodox parties, PM Netanyahu acquiesced to their demand to once again activate this added support for yeshiva students, except that now they demand to include many more yeshiva students, and provide them with much more funding.
In an attempt to legitimize this move and circumvent the Supreme Court’s past rulings, the current proposal claims to be offering similar benefits to university students. It is proposed that the National Insurance Institute will pay students in university and other academic institutions of higher learning including yeshivas, provided the student has at least one child. However, Hiddush argues that although making such payments available to students in higher education creates the appearance of equality, in reality almost no non-ultra-Orthodox students qualify for the income benefit, since most are single (and even if married, do not have children until later in life). What Hiddush stressed is that not only is this demand, if accepted, going to increase payments to yeshiva students from a level of app. 100M NIS (when it was declared illegal by the Supreme Court) to app. 260M, but that it will seriously harm Israel’s economy by further discouraging Haredi men from entering the workforce, against all economic logic and against the government’s stated goals.
Although making such payments available to students in higher education creates the appearance of equality, in reality almost no non-ultra-Orthodox students qualify for the income benefit, since most are single (and even if married, do not have children until later in life).
This is just one of the many benefits the ultra-Orthodox parties extorted from Netanyahu’s government, which are tremendously damaging to Israel and to the Haredi community itself. In fact, the Shoresh Institute for Socioeconomic Research, founded and directed by Prof. Dan Ben David, just published its 2015 Handbook on Israel’s Society and Economy, pointing to Israel’s bleak economic prognosis.
The Shoresh Handbook tells of “two Israel’s.” “One part of the population is literally cutting-edge while there is another part of the population that is not receiving either the tools or conditions to work in a modern, global, competitive economy.” The report finds that “today, more than half of the sizeable and rapidly growing Haredi male population has no formal education beyond eighth grade. Contrary to the prevailing conventional wisdom in Israel, this group of Haredi men is not only large, it has actually increased over the past decade,” and “even this… education… tends to be very partial, with no study of science or English and very low levels of math.” This is deeply troubling; particularly in light of the fact that the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics projects that 27% of Israel’s population will be comprised of ultra-Orthodox Jews by 2059, compared to only 10% in 2009.
United Torah Judaism’s Chair of the powerful Knesset Finance Committee, Rabbi Moshe Gafni, was reappointed to his position by the Prime Minister following the coalition negotiations, and evidently his priorities are very different than all of Israel’s senior economists. On October 6, the head of the Treasury’s budget division reported to the Finance Committee that the Israel’s policy-makers ought to be concerned about education in Israeli ultra-Orthodox society, as the rapidly growing population is largely unfit for the labor market and will drag down the economy. He referred to the Central Bureau of Statistics projections that by the year 2050 half of Israel’s population will be made up of ultra-Orthodox and Arabs, which should cause great concern to Israel’s policy makers, since in both sectors a high percentage is not participating in the work force. The Committee Chair, Rabbi Gafni, lashed out at him saying: “If you have come… to suggest that Haredim and Arabs… are going to take over the country, then there is a problem with how the [Finance Ministry] is carrying out its mission to ensure growth and prosperity.” He continued, shifting the onus from the ultra-Orthodox, by saying that the State wants the Haredi public to “either become secular or become beggars.”
Clearly, since MK Gafni and his colleagues cannot counter such damning economic projections with reasoned arguments, they choose instead to harass and intimidate the messengers...