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
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
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
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
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
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