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'Yeshiva students forbidden from campaigning'
By JEREMY SHARON
01/14/2013
Shas tells haredim to leave studies for campaigning; Religious pluralism lobbying group: Real test will be in the enforcement.
 
Director for Religious Institutions at the Ministry of Education Amos Tzayada sent a letter to deans and administrators of state-funded yeshivot on Sunday forbidding their students from political campaigning during study hours.

“Studies must continue as usual during the election period and students must be present at the institute [of study] for all hours,” Tzayada said.

In recent weeks, several senior haredi rabbis have called on full-time yeshiva students to campaign for the haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism.

In a recent speech, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef called on yeshiva students to leave their studies and knock on doors for the party’s electoral campaign.

“I call on all married students to go out and strengthen the [Shas] movement,” Yosef said.

“Get up from Torah study and go out to influence [events]; everyone needs to vote and campaign for Shas... Go from house to house to garner support for those who preserve the Torah, so that, God willing, we will have many [Knesset] seats.”

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Full-time yeshiva students receive government grants of NIS 828 a month, as well as other government subsidies and benefits, but are obliged to be present at their yeshivot during study hours and are prohibited from working during that time as well.

On Friday, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, spiritual leader of the Ashkenazi haredi world, also issued a call to deans of yeshivot instructing them to tell their students that “everyone was obligated to vote and work for United Torah Judaism.”

Hiddush, a lobbying group, sent a letter to Tzayada last week, calling on him to prevent yeshiva students from engaging in political campaigning during study hours, since such activity constitutes an infringement of the terms of their agreements with the state in return for state grants and exemption from military service.

Hiddush director and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev welcomed Tzayada’s letter but said that the real test was in enforcement of the instructions. Regev called on the Education Ministry and the Ministry of Finance to increase inspection of yeshivot during the run-up to the election, as well as to perform surprise inspections, in order to prevent “the mass enlistment of yeshiva students to the election campaign.”

According to Hiddush, a married full-time yeshiva student aged 28 with 3-4 children receives NIS 4,800 a month in state benefits if his wife does not work, and NIS 4,100 if she does.

Up to NIS 1,700 of this sum comes in the form of subsidized housing, which in practice is available only for members of the haredi community living in haredi cities such as Betar Illit, the organization says.

Other discounts, such as for municipal taxes, are granted to full-time yeshiva students automatically, whereas other citizens have to prove they are working, looking for work or unable to work in order to get such benefits.
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