Avrechim Law

High Court petition: Stop continued payment of stipends to kollel students

The National Union of Israeli Students, Hiddush, Israel Religious Action Center, and other organizations are asking the court to bar continued payment of an allowance that the High Court of Justice struck down half a year ago

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In a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice on Sunday, January 22, 2011, the National Union of Israel Students, Hiddush – For Religious Freedom and Equality, the Reform Movement, and other organizations ask the court to thwart implementation of the government’s decision to continue paying a living stipend to kolel students. Through the Israel Religious Action Center and attorney Gilad Barnea, the petitioners request that the court issue a show-cause order and an order nisi to prevent the Education Ministry from continuing to pay this allowance to kollel students who do not work.

The head of Hiddush – Freedom of Religion for Israel, Rabbi Uri Regev, said regarding the petiton: “It is a pity that the government is incapable of impelementing so basic and simple a principle as ‘equality,’ even after its policy is invalidated by the Supreme Court. Instead of formulating a policy that is in keeping with the basic tenets of democracy, the government is forcing the public once again to turn to the courts for help, in the process damaging the public’s faith in the government.”

The petition states that the government’s decision on the matter of “scholarships and encouraging the integration of kollel yeshiva students into the job market” (which was passed on December 19, 2010) does not meet the requirements of Israeli law, and that “the government’s decision is an imbecilic and invalid attempt to bypass the rulings of the Supreme Court (HCJ 4124/00), whilst brutally trampling the principle of equality and acting on the assumption (not to say knowledge) that in the absence of a show-cause order, the sheer process of deliberating the petition will enable the respondents who wish to establish facts on the ground to carry on with the illegal payment for another considerable length of time, pending a ruling on this petition.”

The petitioners stressed that, “in view of the High Court of Justice verdict, which ordered that payment of stipends to kollel students in the format that was disqualified be suspended starting in 2011, and in view of the fact that the existing arrangement is almost completely identical to the arrangement that was disqualified by the verdict,

the government is forcing the public once again to turn to the courts for help

none of the payment recipients has an inherent right nor grounds for claiming, even under duress, to continue receiving it after the date set down in the verdict.”

Itzik Shmuli, head of the National Union of Israeli Students, said: “The government resoundingly failed the ethical and legal test and so we are petitioning the High Court of Justice, which will have to give the state its opinion one more time on the shady business it pulled at the public’s expense.”

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel, said in response: “The government’s decision to continue paying stipends to kollel students is moral, social, governmental, and economic bankruptcy. The Israeli government and the haredi public’s politicos are ensnaring thousands of families in traps of poverty, while dealing a real blow to Israel’s economic and social strength and discriminating severely against the recipients of the general living stipend, the single mothers and students. We hope that the High Court of Justice will draw a red line against continuing the discrimination and will signal the government and the politicos of the haredi parties that this living it up at the public’s expense has come to an end.”

In June 2010, after a decade of deliberations, the court ruled that the living stipend for kollel students is illegal because it discriminates against other population groups in Israeli society. The court ruled that it would not be included in the state budget starting in 2011. The living stipend for kollel students had been paid since the early 1980s to yeshiva students who have three or more children, do not work, and whose wives do not work.

As soon as the verdict was handed down, the haredi parties began exerting pressure on the government to create legislation that would get around the High Court ruling and enable continued payment of the stipend, which comes to about NIS 1,000 a month. In 2010 allowances were given out to 13,000 kollel students, and cost the state NIS 135 million. At the end of December 2010, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet decided that the stipend would continue for the next five years.

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