Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Nissan 5761 - April 18, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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High Court Halts Yeshiva Students' Tax Breaks
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The High Court ruled just before Pesach that the Jerusalem Municipality must stop giving yeshiva students who receive welfare payments from the Religious Affairs Ministry an automatic 70 percent discount on their municipal property taxes (arnona). The petition was submitted by city councilman Ornan Yekutieli and the militant anti religious Am Hofshi group.

The Court also ruled the municipality must either include the child welfare payments of families with four or more children in calculating their income, or omit the child welfare payments to families of three or fewer children. Until now, in assessing the income of families to determine whether or not they are eligible for a discount on the basis of low income the city did not include child allowance payments for families with four or more children in their calculations. The court ruled that the deductions to yeshiva students were unfair because they discriminated against other sectors of the population, including secular students in economic circumstances similar to yeshiva students, and because the means test applied to yeshiva students did not take into account their total income.

"The sweeping consideration toward all yeshiva students is unworthy and unfair from every point of view. Each one of those yeshiva students enjoys the municipal services like any other resident. If he wants to benefit from a full waiver or deduction, let him prove his eligibility. The label 'yeshiva student' in its own right is not enough to make him automatically eligible for a deduction in arnona payments," the court wrote in its decision. "Let us take a yeshiva student and a university student," the court continued. "Both are married and do not work (nor do their wives). They do not earn money, and each has three children. Neither is eligible for welfare from the National Insurance Institute.ÉTheir economic situation might be the same, but the yeshiva student will benefit from a deduction in his municipal tax, while the university student will not. Where is the justice in that?"

On the other hand, the universities are much more heavily subsidized and university students generally enjoy more benefits in many areas than yeshiva students. Perhaps the way is now clear to redress these more serious grievances as well.

Regarding the fact that the municipality does not include the child allowance payments for families of four children or more in assessing their income, the court wrote that the city was confusing national and local policies. The encouragement of large families is a matter of state policy. The municipality's concerns are different and therefore should not take the national policy into account in determining the income of families living within its boundaries.

The court ruled that the municipality must determine its arnona assessments for the coming year in accordance with the decision. It also pointed out that there might be other provisions in the arnona deduction regulations which are improper or discriminatory. According to figures provided by Am Hofshi, some 60 percent of charedi families in Jerusalem receive arnona discounts of 80-90 percent. The charedim, who constitute 30 percent of the population of Jerusalem, contribute 9.5 percent of the city's income from arnona according to those figures.

The court did not try to assess whether the chareidim also enjoy 30 percent of the budget. In many areas the municipality provides fewer and a lower level of services to chareidi areas.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai said he would study the opinion, but would do everything in his power, within the law, to ease the plight of the needy as much as possible, including the disabled, families with many children, and yeshiva students.

MK Rabbi Avraham Ravitz (UTJ) said that he was not surprised by the High Court's decision, since "experience teaches that we do not expect to [find satisfaction] in this institution." Rabbi Ravitz added that the court has "never been sympathetic to religious issues," and that from the start the court trend is to be "anti-religious in general and anti- charedi in particular."


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