yeshiva study .
The budget for yeshiva stipends grew Sunday for the third time in the last 12 months, hitting an alltime high of more than NIS 1.2 billion, after the cabinet approved over NIS 50 million in additional funds.
These funds are used for the monthly stipends received by married and single yeshiva students. As of 2015 there were 108,000 full-time yeshiva students, both single and married, who received these monthly stipends from the state for their religious studies.
According to statistics provided by the Hiddush religious pluralism organization, the budget for yeshiva stipends at the beginning of 2016 was NIS 984m., but it had increased to NIS 1.17b. by year-end due to stipulations of the coalition agreements signed by United Torah Judaism and Shas with the Likud.
Hiddush director Rabbi Uri Regev accused the rest of the coalition parties of having abandoned their responsibility to rein in the financial demands of the haredi parties and for harming the goal of integrating haredi men into the workforce.
“In return for buying votes, the haredi parties are preparing their [coalition] partners to do severe harm to the state economy and its future as well as the principle of equality and social solidarity,” he said.
Regev said budget cuts also have been made of late to fire and emergency services, as well as for recently released soldiers and local municipal authorities.
“Leaders of the state declare their fealty to the needs of the state and society from every platform and that they represent the will of the people,” he said, “but raise their hands to dramatic increases of the yeshiva budget, which strikes a mortal blow against the national interest of integrating haredim into the workforce, a slap in the face to their voters and to the majority of the public, which wants a reduction in the yeshiva budget which comes from taxpayer money.”
The yeshiva budgets were cut by half under the last government at the behest of Yesh Atid and its chairman MK Yair Lapid, but have now been restored and surpassed their 2013 highs.
Senior UTJ leader and Finance Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni insisted, however, that because the number of full-time yeshiva students is growing, the budget for their stipends must increase, as well.
“No one ever complained that the budget of the Education Ministry has reached record levels or that the state budget has reached record levels,” Gafni said in an interview on Israel Radio’s Reshet Moreshet.
“The state budget increases every year, I support this process because it increases the services the state provides and increases the salaries of workers,” he said. “Either people want Israel to be a Jewish state that will encourage Torah study and a Torah education, or if not, it won’t be a Jewish state.”
Although the budget has increased significantly in the last two years, there were significant decreases in the number of full-time yeshiva students between 2012 and 2014, coming down from a high of 112,000 in 2012 to a low of 95,000 before recovering to 108,000 by 2015.
Among the reasons for the decrease is that some 20,000 haredi men were given military-service exemptions under the terms of the Haredi Conscription Law approved by the last government to encourage ultra-Orthodox men to integrate into the workforce. Severe cuts to the yeshiva budgets by the government at the time also reduced the financial viability of remaining in yeshiva.
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