Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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6 Kislev 5766 - December 7, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











After Betzedek Court Campaign, Government Inspections of Yeshivas Now Much Fairer
Netanyahu's regulations were so biased that even the High Court agreed they had to be changed.

by Betzalel Kahn

Following a nisi order issued by High Court President Judge Aharon Barak in a petition filed by the Betzedek organization, the Finance and Education Ministries were forced to make a significant number of changes in their inspections at yeshivas, making them fairer and moderating the sanctions imposed if irregularities are found. The discrimination against Torah institutions has also been remedied.

Two years ago then-Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu released criteria and regulations for inspections at state- supported Torah institutions. These criteria focused primarily on the holy yeshivas and kollelim, whose level of support is directly based on enrollment numbers. The new criteria delivered a hard blow to Torah institutions, leaving some unable to run smoothly. According to the operating assumption of the new regulations, institutes were guilty of deceit until proving themselves innocent.

If a certain percentage of students was absent during the inspection, the yeshiva would lose its funding immediately, pending a complete, open-ended assessment. If too many students—even different students—were absent during the follow-up inspection as well, the level of support would be reduced accordingly. Furthermore, if a certain student was found absent during both inspections, the funding for him would be deducted retroactively for the twelve months preceding the first inspection and the yeshiva would have to pay a fine of double the amount deducted (i.e. the equivalent of another 24 months) to the ministry providing the funding.

This policy made no allowances for special circumstances justifying the absence of the bochur or avreich, such as illness, family gatherings, deaths in the family, and the like. The difficulty in meeting commitments to pay avreichim or maggidei shiurim for whom funding had been discontinued brought many yeshivas and kollelim to the brink of financial collapse.

Netanyahu also determined that if the overall number of absences at both inspections exceeded the permitted number, in addition to all of the above fines and sanctions, the yeshiva or kollel would receive no funding for a period of two years.

The findings of the inspection could only be challenged after the punishments had been imposed, and only before a joint appeals committee representing the Finance Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the ministry providing the funding. This committee was very hard to reach and even harder to persuade. The long, expensive proceedings imposed meant further financial damage for the yeshiva or kollel seeking to explain the reason for a student's absence.

In carrying out these already difficult regulations, the Education Ministry's Yeshiva Department would send inspectors at unreasonable times of day and on inappropriate dates. In many instances the inspectors refused to share their findings with the yeshiva at the time of the inspection or show them a copy of the last report entered into the TEAM system (the computer system used to track yeshiva data). When the Yeshiva Department of the Education Ministry suddenly stopped sending funding months after the inspection, the data would be provided to the yeshiva on then, and the rosh yeshiva would have to start investigating why the students in question were absent at the time of the inspection many months previously and then could he turn to the appeals committee.

Numerous yeshivas brought the matter to the attention of Betzedek, a legal defense organization founded by Agudath Israel of America. According to a preliminary assessment, the legal channels available for addressing the problem did not appear very promising, for the judges would be liable to interpret any petition to the High Court as an attempt to use the Court to defend institutions allegedly trying to extract funds from the state through deceitful means. As such it was hard to imagine that the court would help moderate punishments meted out to yeshivas and kollelim.

Betzedek Director Attorney Rabbi Mordechai Green presented his concerns and recommendations to gedolei Torah, but they decided he should try to petition the High Court nonetheless.

In the petition Betzedek pointed out the genuine financial crisis many Torah institutions faced or were liable to face, and how an upright institution could easily have its reputation stained unjustifiably. He also detailed various legal problems the criteria created, and charged that they violated the institutions' rights and stood in total opposition to basic principles of justice.

The petition also claimed that it is illegal to impose fines based only on criteria published by a ministry rather than an explicit law passed by the Knesset. Betzedek also argued that yeshivas were discriminated against compared to other institutions, where the repercussions for unfavorable inspections were far less severe. The disparity was so extreme, Betzedek charged, that the criteria should be done away with completely.

During a High Court hearing, the attorney for the state audaciously tried to portray the yeshiva world as a sector rife with false reporting, presenting figures showing large numbers of institutions "caught" with incorrect reports. In his presentation, the state's attorney repeatedly stressed that the funding the yeshivas receive is essentially charity which the State is not obligated to provide and therefore the State is free to halt these funds or reduce them based on the slightest suspicion of fraud.

Attorney Green argued that the criteria are distorted and discriminatory and that it was the ordinances set for inspectors which created an artificially high number of yeshivas with discrepancies between the number of students reported and the number of students found present. Betzedek also totally rejected the claim that the funds are charity, saying that from the moment the State funds a certain sector it is obligated to support others as well, for otherwise the principle of equality is destroyed and the concept of criteria loses its meaning.

The presiding court, headed by High Court President Aharon Barak, upheld the petition and one year ago issued a nisi order requiring the State to reply to the claims lodged by Betzedek and to present reasons why the Court should not annul the criteria that the Finance Minister had set. At that point the State began to gradually rectify the distortions and it notified the High Court of the changes made. Later out- of-court talks were held between Betzedek and the relevant government ministries, which remained bound by the nisi order.

Following the petition and the remarks issued by the judges during the hearing, the Finance Minister was forced to introduce a number of significant changes in the criteria, the timetables and the percentage of students expected to be present. In response to claims of discrimination, the Finance Minister set criteria that apply equally to all funded institutions.

The State's attorney asked to have the case dropped, but Betzedek did not consider the changes sufficient and insisted that the hearings continue in order to introduce additional changes to the inspection and penalty system. Due to Betzedek's unyielding stance, the Education Minister made extensive further changes in the criteria in accordance with Betzedek's objections: the vacation periods were adjusted to match the bein hazmanim periods, special regulations were set for foreign students, and more.

After that the State's attorney again asked to have the case dropped and but Betzedek again pointed out serious distortions in the regulations that remained relating to inspections and their results. For example, Betzedek demanded that it be made mandatory to provide the yeshiva administration with a copy of the findings immediately at the end of the inspection in order to allow it to respond and correct mistakes immediately rather than months later. Betzedek also claimed there was no orderly procedure to document sick leaves or attending family occasions, and similar justified absences, or to document collective absence (e.g. to attend special shiurim, funerals or other important events) and, most of all, that every little question entailed an appearance before the interministerial appeals committee.

As the date nears for the State to submit its response to the nisi order, the Yeshiva Department, based on orders from the Education Minister, set proper work regulations that take Betzedek's claims into account. Now any yeshiva that faces charges of irregularities can present its objections directly to the inspector's accountant or to the Education Ministry's Funding Committee, and the Appeals Committee will only be involved in cases where institutes could not remedy the situation through the Funding Committee.

Using the new system, which has been tested in the field during the past two months, the number of yeshivas at which irregularities were found has dropped sharply.

At this stage, following consultations, Betzedek has decided that the petition has secured the maximal changes it can effect through the High Court, although some unjustified directives still remain. As such a detailed announcement was sent to the High Court explaining the changes that have been made as a result of the petition. Therefore the Court is being asked to require the State to pay Betzedek for the legal expenses incurred.

High Court Deputy President Judge Mishael Cheshin upheld Betzedek's request and ordered the court recorder to make a decision regarding the amount the State will have to pay.

Betzedek continues to keep track of the implementation of the new guidelines and their effects on the yeshiva world, while the yeshivas continue to notify Betzedek whenever the new guidelines are not followed properly.


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