ULTRA-ORTHODOX STUDENTS study at Jerusalem’s Mir Yeshiva..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A bill granting income support payments to poor fulltime yeshiva students looks set to become law in the next Knesset session, after it was approved in a first reading in the Knesset on Tuesday night.
Such payments have twice been struck down by the High Court of Justice as discriminatory, since in the past similar payments were not made available to needy higher education students.
In November 2015, a government order was issued granting NIS 1,040 per month in income support for needy fulltime yeshiva students who meet certain criteria.
At the same time, and in order to head off opposition from the High Court, the government also increased financial support for needy higher education students, and further stipulated that any future increases in payments to yeshiva students will be matched, and increased by 21 percent for higher education students.
Although the bill approved on Tuesday night seeks to formalize payments to yeshiva students through legislation, the income support to higher education support will not be so enshrined, and will have the force of law only through the government order.
To qualify for the payments, a yeshiva student must study full time for 40 hours a week; have at least three children under the age of 18; not own a property other than the one they live in, not own a car, other than a scooter; and not own a business or own shares in a company.
If a yeshiva student has over NIS 14,400 in income, above his yeshiva stipends, which can amount to as much as NIS 4,000 a month, he will also not be eligible.
A yeshiva student will only be able to receive such payments for a maximum of five years from the date the law is passed by the Knesset.
More than 8,000 yeshiva students will be eligible for the income support payments, while some 4,000 higher education students will receive the payments designated for them by the 2015 government order.
Despite the increased budget available for high education students made available in the 2015 government order, the new legislation has prompted widespread criticism from the opposition and from advocates of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) integration into the workforce.
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg called the proposed law “discriminatory” and “cynical” and designed to circumvent the High Court.
And Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern was equally scathing in his opposition to the bill.
“You prevent them [haredi men] from studying core curriculum topics, you don’t let them go to the army, you do everything you can to ensure that they are unable to work...
and then you come to us and say pay up,” said Stern during the plenum debate on the bill.
Haredi MKs Yisrael Eichler and Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman roundly rejected this criticism.
“There are foreign agents here inciting against the State of Israel the entire year, and they have seized on the haredim as a group against whom it is allowed to incite with this kind of hatred,” said Eichler in response to the criticism.
“The entire idea of telling the public that haredim are benefiting to their cost is anti-Semitism which would not be found today in France or Germany,” he stormed.
Litzman quipped that when MK Tzipi Livni was trying to form a government in 2008 as head of the Kadima party she had agreed to income support payments to yeshiva students at an even higher level than stipulated in the new legislation.
Rabbi Uri Regev said the law would have “destructive consequences” for the economy.
“The Netanyahu government is prepared to help injure the future of the economy and the integration of haredi men into the workforce while capitulating to the extortionate demands of the haredi parties,” Regev said.