(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved on Sunday a bill proposed by senior haredi MKs from both United Torah Judaism and Shas, as well as MK Miki Zohar of Likud, which mandates providing qualifying full-time yeshiva students with income support payments.
The bill proposes providing income support payments to individuals and households whose income does not reach a certain level. Until now, the payments have been granted only to people who are working, looking for work or unable to work.
The new law would allow full-time, long-term yeshiva students to claim NIS 2,600 a month, even if they are not working or looking for work.
The National Insurance Institute would pay students in university and other academic institutions of higher learning including yeshivas, provided the student has at least one child.
Opponents of income support to full-time yeshiva students argue that although making such payments available to students in higher education creates the appearance of equality, in practice almost no non-haredi (ultra-Orthodox) students will qualify for the income benefit.
Hiddush, a religious freedom advocacy organization, argues such payments reduce the incentive of men in the haredi community to leave yeshiva and earn their own income, thereby increasing their dependence on the state.
“This decision does harm to the economy and sticks a knife in the back in the future of the economy and a betrayal of social responsibility,” said Rabbi and attorney Uri Regev, director of Hiddush.
“In the shadow of an intifada and budget negotiations, Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and Finance Minister [Moshe] Kahlon are conducting a general fire sale of the budget and the parties of the opposition are simply ignoring it,” he continued.
“These funds will leave yeshiva students in full-time study instead of going out to find work,” Regev added, noting that the High Court of Justice has previously struck down such payments, instituted in prior years by government order, as grossly discriminatory against non-haredi students.
Approving such payments through legislation would make it harder for the High Court to invalidate them.
Hiddush believes the current bill is being used by the haredi parties as a bargaining chip, to restore government payments at their previous levels of NIS 1,000 a month for couples with three or more children.
The bill will pass to the Knesset for its first reading.