Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Shevat 5762 - January 16, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Ministry to Monitor Foreign Yeshiva Students
by Yated Ne'eman Staff and M. Plaut

The Ministry of Religious Affairs recently agreed on new procedures intended to verify that all students reported as studying are actually attending yeshiva. More than NIS 120 million in state funds is allocated annually to yeshivos for students from abroad studying in Israel.

Students will be required to register at a post office three times a year.

According to ministry figures, more than 18,000 students with foreign passports studied in Israeli yeshivas last year. The yeshivos are said to receive up to around NIS 10,000 per month for each student, amounting to more than NIS 120 million a year.

The number of foreign yeshiva students has increased in the last two years despite the outbreak of the Intifadah in October 2000. At the start of 2000, there were fewer than 16,000 yeshiva students from abroad. That number increased to 17,000 in 2001 and now stands at more than 18,000, according to Religious Affairs Ministry officials.

A chareidi observer said that the government should applaud the evidence of yeshiva loyalty to the Israeli community rather than assuming that the rise is the result of fraud. In the past, all monitoring has shown that the yeshiva figures are substantially accurate, though government officials often refuse to believe the results.

Chareidi spokesmen have never protected or apologized for those who defraud the government. They call for them to be caught and punished, especially since such activities -- if they take place -- stain the entire chareidi community.

On the other hand they have objected to putting unusual burdens on the law-abiding Torah community that are not applied in other areas, under the assumption that there is widespread abuse. There is no reason to believe that this is true and, on the contrary, all efforts to uncover such abuse have so far found nothing significant, that should lead even a skeptic to believe that there are no unusual abuses in the Torah community.

A Religious Affairs Ministry spokesman said that a basic correlation of data had been carried out. He said that in addition to coordinating data with the border police, the ministry is acting to prevent double reporting of yeshiva students by means of random checks carried out by a new supervisory department.

The ministry and the postal services have recently reached an agreement according to which foreign yeshiva students would register at post offices three times a year.

The Finance Ministry and Justice Ministry have also proposed a new system of sanctions that would be applied against yeshivas that report "fictitious" numbers of Israeli students to receive additional government funding.

The treasury has long claimed that the number of yeshiva students funded by the Religious Affairs Ministry is inflated. This number totaled approximately 221,000 at the end of 2001, which includes all religious students from the age of 16 on up, both males and females. Secular critics often do not distinguish between the different school systems, sometimes lumping men and women together and sometimes referring only to the men.

A number of attempts have been made in recent years to curb the phenomenon of false reporting, but these have always found the numbers to be substantially honest.

The new proposal does not explicitly mention yeshivas -- it refers to "public institutions that have violated the conditions for receiving support" -- but officials at the Religious Affairs Ministry understand that it is mainly aimed at yeshivas.

The proposal sets automatic sanctions if more than 15 percent of the reported students are not present during an inspection of the institution, providing that funding will be immediately suspended until an investigation is completed.

Inspections have been carried out in Torah institutions for several years though they have found no special discrepancies. Last year the Treasury made a splash in the press saying that 20-30 percent of the students in many yeshivas were not present at inspections, but it later turned out that most of these were small kollelim of 10-15 students or less, where two or three were missing. The total amounts of problems were trivial when set against the overall numbers, indicating that there may have been problems at those individual institutions but no pattern of widespread abuse.

No inspections are carried out in similar institutions that receive much more money from the government, both in absolute and in relative terms, like universities and trade schools. Therefore it is difficult to put anything found into perspective.

The Religious Affairs Ministry has called the proposed measures "draconian," arguing that "their sole purpose is to strike a blow at yeshivas." Some yeshivas have already begun to prepare a legal strategy for dealing with the proposed measures.


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