Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Av 5764 - August 5, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











New Criteria for Yeshiva and Kollel Funding Approved
by Betzalel Kahn

The Education Minister signed a series of new criteria for funding Torah institutes, including a 24 percent increase in the budget for yeshivas, bringing it up to NIS 39 million ($7.4 million) per month. Education Ministry officials said funding for the past two months will be transferred this week. Current funding had been withheld as long as the new criteria were not approved.

The new criteria contain several central changes as a result of pressure by the chareidi parties in the Knesset, despite attempts to block the changes during the long weeks they were being drafted. The greatest challenges were posed by Justice Ministry officials, including Attorney Amnon De-Hartoch.

During this process chareidi MKs applied pressure to introduce several central changes, some of them "damage control," in order to allow Torah institutions to continue receiving regular funding after delays of several months.

One of the changes made in the new criteria, which was even approved by a government decision, was the timetable for reporting on enrollment. As originally proposed, enrollment figures could only be submitted twice a year, which has now been doubled to four reporting dates.

Since the yeshivas are supposed to report a student's leaving immediately, if there are only two yearly opportunities to add students, it means that the education of transferring students would not be funded at any institution for up to six months. This applies to thousands of students who get married every year in addition to many more who transfer for other reasons. Thus, the addition of two more reporting dates has significant budgetary consequences. The original proposal of only two reporting dates was a bureaucratic attempt to impose a cut in funds on yeshivas that was not authorized by the Knesset or the Cabinet. That this was the original intent was clear after this consequence was pointed out by chareidi politicians and the bureaucrats refused to budge until massive pressure was applied.

Nevertheless there are still numerous criteria that present obstacles to receiving regular funding, such as the 40 percent reduction in the allocation for foreign students and students over the age of 22 studying on the basis of a military deferment.

The new criteria, most of which were drafted by De-Hartoch, require students at yeshivos gedolos to study at least 45 hours per week between Sunday and Friday and even delineate the hours of study: between 8:00 am and 9:00 p.m., and between 8:00 am and 2:00 p.m. on Fridays, although "there is no obligation to hold studies more than five days per week." The criteria also state, "Study hours may include Tefillat Minchah and Arvit, but not Tefillat Shacharit."

Similar regulations also apply to kollelim. Avreichim are required to study no less than 45 hours per week with the exception of avreichim who performed military duty, who must study a minimum of 35 hours per week. A kollel must have a minimum of 15 members. A half-day kollel is defined as a program with a minimum of four and a half consecutive hours per day, during the morning or afternoon hours, and an avreich is eligible for stipend money only if he studies at another half-day kollel for at least four hours. Yeshiva and kollel students over the age of 65 are ineligible for support.

The criteria further state that an extension of a kollel must number at least 10 students, but may not exceed 40 percent of the number of students studying at the institution submitting the request. This institution must be in operation for at least five years and supported by the State for at least two years. As originally proposed the requirement was that all the learning take place at only one institution, which would have imposed an onerous burden on kollel fellows who generally do not learn that much at their primary kollel, but only reach that number of hours when adding in night kollelim which are generally closer to their homes.

MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, who took part in many of the meetings with Education and Justice Ministry officials along with other MKs, says no other sector in the country is forced to comply with such stringent, hair-splitting criteria and irrational regulations. "These cuts are unbearable and all of it is part of aims to harm the Torah world," he said. "The chareidi and religious representation agreed with the Education Minister's moves on the issue of criteria only after the fact as a means of damage control, but primarily in order to avoid delaying the transfer of regular funding, which has been withheld at length due to the lack of the new criteria."

According to Ha'aretz, a decade ago the yeshivas' budget stood at about NIS 1 billion and supported 220,000 students, while the Education Ministry's budget for yeshivas now stands at NIS 544 million and the number of students has dropped to NIS 105,000.

The allocation per advanced yeshiva student reached a high of NIS 590 ($131) per month in early 2002, has dropped by nearly 40 percent to NIS 361 ($80). Foreign passport holders who are not Israeli citizens get just 60 percent of this sum, NIS 215 ($48) per month.

The budget for kollel students (married men) reached a high of NIS 736 ($163) per month in early 2002 and is now less than NIS 400 ($90). Clearly this was not more than a small fraction of a kollel student's monthly budget, even at its height.

One of the stated purposes of the changes in the rules is to make it harder to report fictitious students. No respectable institution ever did so or justified doing so. Moreover, for years the government authorities have instituted a series of measures designed to expose the fraud: the auditing of the yeshivas' books by accountants; various reporting and verification measures and the transfer of handling these allocations to the Education Ministry. So far no significant amounts of fraud have been uncovered.


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