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High Court questions paying yeshiva students
By JEREMY SHARON
13/11/2012
There are approximately 54,000 full-time yeshiva students, the overwhelming majority of whom belong to the haredi community.
 
The High Court of Justice sharply questioned the state’s stance on income support payments for married, full-time yeshiva students during a hearing on Thursday into the issue.

In June 2010, the court ruled that these payments were discriminatory since students not attending institutions of religious study are not entitled to them.

Just over 10,000 married, full-time yeshiva students receive the income support payments of NIS 1,040 a month, which is restricted to those who are married, with three or more children and whose total monthly income is less than NIS 1,200.

There are approximately 54,000 full-time yeshiva students in total, the overwhelming majority of whom belong to the haredi community.

These students are entitled to monthly stipends of NIS 828 from the government, separate from any other state benefits they might be entitled to, such as income support.

To address the court’s 2010 ruling, the government drew up new terms for the allotment of income support for married, full-time yeshiva, or Kollel, students in December 2010, limiting the period for receiving the money to five years for students under the age of 29.

Those already above the age of 29, approximately 80 percent of the students receiving the income support benefit, would be able to continue claiming the payments indefinitely.

The government’s new arrangement limited the total fund for full-time yeshiva students’ income support to NIS 120 million, but also provided an extra NIS 50 million for university students in need of financial support.

It further stipulates that the payments will be reduced by 25% in the fifth and final year of a student’s eligibility for them.

Several organizations, including the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the National Student Union, religious-freedom lobbying group Hiddush, and the Masorti Movement, petitioned the High Court of Justice in January 2011, arguing that the government’s new arrangement was essentially the same as the previous one which the court had ruled illegal.

During the hearing, the state attorney argued that the government is investing in several different tools to encourage and assist yeshiva students receiving the payments to integrate into the work force after the five-year period in which they are entitled to the income support.

However, Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor questioned the logic of the state’s arguments, asking “how is the fact that giving a person money brings him closer to integration into the work force? Logic dictates that if you don’t give him money [then] he will have to work.”

IRAC attorney Orli Erez- Lahovsky also argued that in addition to discriminating against non-yeshiva students, the income support allocations also discriminate against other citizens requesting income support, since they are required to demonstrate that they are either working or looking for work, whereas yeshiva students are exempt from such obligations.

Supreme Court President Justice Asher Grunis pointed out to the state attorney that the five-year limit on receiving the income support payments was only applicable to 20% of those currently claiming the benefits.

At the end of the hearing Grunis said that he would consider expanding the panel of judges presiding over the case, and added that this would not require a further hearing nor would it delay a ruling on the matter.

Hiddush Director Uri Regev derided the state’s claims following the hearing that it has reformed the allocation of the income support funds, saying that instead of bringing about social change it was enabling kollel students to remain in yeshiva and not go out to work.

“It’s sad to see the state, which reveals such great fear regarding the issue of drafting haredi yeshiva students into the army, also demonstrating such decisiveness in continuing to support them,” Regev added.

A ruling on the matter is now pending.
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