Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Shevat 5765 - January 12, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Budget Discrimination Against Chareidim in Beit Shemesh Continues

By Betzalel Kahn

Degel HaTorah representatives on the Beit Shemesh City Council were demonstrably absent from a council meeting to discuss the city's 2005 budget, claiming that the meeting was illegal and the budget submitted for approval was tainted by severe discrimination against the city's chareidi community.

Beit Shemesh Mayor Danny Vaknin has been waging a prolonged battle against the chareidi public, notably through discriminatory allocation of school facilities. For example a solution has yet to be found for the students of Bais Yaakov HaRamah after gedolei Yisroel instructed the school's officials not to vacate the facility currently in use due to concerns it would have a detrimental effect on the character of the neighborhood. In addition, dozens of students at Ramat Beit Shemesh Seminary were left with no classroom at all and the municipality has done nothing to solve the problem. Numerous other chareidi institutions also lack adequate facilities.

In the area of budget allocation as well the city has discriminated against the chareidi sector for years. This year 55 percent of the city's school-age children are enrolled in chareidi institutions, yet at NIS 30 million the general education system budget (not including teachers' salaries) is 12 times the budget for chareidi schools.

The general education budget in Beit Shemesh includes funding for computers, safety, janitors, educational initiatives, various assessment tests and numerous other endeavors. In contrast the NIS 2.5 million budget for the chareidi education system is designated only for safety, insurance, transportation, electricity, water and other bare essentials. The municipality cancelled all city funding for chareidi kindergartens (gan chova), phone budgets at other kindergartens was cut and educational institutions housed in portable structures and rented apartments do not receive a single shekel from the city.

As a result, while enrollment in the chareidi education system rose by hundreds of students this year the budget was cut by NIS 300,000 shekels (12 percent). The city later agreed to restore the original amount of NIS 2.8 million in funding, but Degel HaTorah city councilmen say this still constitutes a budget cut in real terms and not equal funding.

Furthermore, as part of the city's recovery program the Mayor had all of the municipality's chareidi staff workers dismissed, effectively closing the Department for Chareidi Education and the Department of Youth and Social Activities. Meanwhile the property tax (arnona) was raised and tax discounts for kollel families were reduced. In combination, these various forms of budget discrimination have resulted in financial difficulties for large families and chareidi educational institutions.

At a routine city council meeting two weeks ago, Degel HaTorah Councilmen Rabbi Moshe Montag and Rabbi Eliezer Greenbaum made a motion to place on the agenda the issue of the dismissal of the chareidi workers and the disparate allocations of school facilities. Before the meeting, all of the United Torah Jewry councilmen reached an agreement to support the motion, but for unexplained reasons the Agudas Yisroel representative, alone among the chareidi representatives, did not. Several days later they found out that the Agudas Yisroel representative had secretly reached a surprising agreement with Mayor Danny Vaknin without the rest of the party's knowledge or consent.

The next day Rabbi Greenbaum arrived at the plenum hall to announce the meeting was illegal since his colleague, Rabbi Montag, had not received adequate notice of the meeting as required by law and therefore it must be reconvened ten days later. The two also demanded an orderly meeting of the Finance Committee be held in accordance with the law and not just minutes before the city council meeting. A court suit may be filed regarding this matter.


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