Early last week the Treasury Ministry deposited the yeshiva
allocations for January and February--a total of NIS 152
million ($31 million)--following strong pressure by MKs Rabbi
Moshe Gafni and Rabbi Yaakov Litzman.
Finance Ministry Budget Commissioner Uri Yogev promised UTJ
MKs he would transfer the budget funds over three weeks ago,
but failed to carry out his pledge until last Sunday.
The amount transferred to yeshivas and other Torah
institutions reflected a 3 percent cut, following previous
cuts totaling 8.5 percent, causing strong resentment among
institution managers and United Torah Jewry MKs. The Treasury
Ministry initiated the move with no advance notice and in
violation of previous agreements between the Finance Minister
and UTJ MKs. Rabbi Gafni spoke out against Yogev on Sunday,
saying UTJ would not exercise further restraint in the matter
of yeshiva budget cuts.
Rabbi Gafni claims that since August 2002 the state has been
applying a new policy of cutting allocations earmarked for
Torah institutions. "The budget is given according to the
number of talmidim, including salaries for the
rabbonim, teachers, workers and others, and the budget cut
was made in contrast to wage payments in all [other]
government ministries, in which no decision was made to cut
wages," Rabbi Gafni wrote to Yogev. "The difficult economic
state in Israel and the lack of donations from abroad has
delivered a major blow to the budgets of Torah institutions
and their upkeep, and your new policy of cutting allocations
poses a threat to their financial viability.
"I demand an end to this distorted policy," Rabbi Gafni
continued. "As long as there has been no decision to cut
wages for workers, teachers, lecturers, etc., the amount
allocated to Torah institutions cannot be cut."
He also claims the 7 percent reduction at the beginning of
the 2003 budget year, in addition to an unjustified one-time
cut in December, cannot be ignored in light of the 3 percent
cut in the January-February budget. "This cut is intolerable
and has turned into a policy of making the Torah world the
first to be affected, ahead of all other sectors. As you can
imagine, we will not show further restraint."
The 2003 yeshiva budget was reduced by another NIS 80 ($17
million) without consulting with or even notifying the
Ministry of Religious Affairs in advance. The cut was
executed by the Treasury Ministry based on mistaken estimates
that 10,000 talmidim had left the country. In a letter
sent to Yogev, Religious Affairs Ministry Director-General
Attorney Moshe Shimoni claims that according to an agreement
made with Finance Minister Silvan Shalom, it was decided to
check the number of talmidim from abroad during the
month of January, pledging budget funds would be provided for
every talmid from abroad who signed a written
"An up-to-date examination of the figures in the computer
system indicates our ministry should pay for at least 19,970
talmidim, and to this figure must be added the fact
that several hundred declarations are still in the mail, and
many talmidim from abroad have been `transferred' from
reporting according to passport number to reporting according
to national ID number."
Shimoni also maintains the reduction was essentially a
clerical mistake. "Immediate action should be taken to
transfer NIS 80 million to the yeshiva budget, since all of
the talmidim are in the system." He says delaying the
funds affected the monthly finances for January and led to
resentment among yeshiva managers.
The Finance Ministry has yet to respond to these latest