Some 100,000 state religious high-school pupils got an extension to their Hanukka vacation on Sunday when the State Religious Education Forum declared a nationwide strike in protest over continuing budget cuts to state religious institutions. "For the first time in history, the state religious secondary education system went on strike," Elhanan Glatt, executive director of the Bnei Akiva yeshivot and ulpanot (girls' high schools) and chairman of the forum, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. The forum, an umbrella organization uniting the yeshivot, ulpanot and movements of the state religious educational system, was protesting the expected NIS 47 million in cuts in 2007, which follow cuts of some NIS 130m. over the past five years. According to forum leaders, these cuts amount to some 60 percent of the overall budget. "The state religious education system gives six to 10 weekly hours of instruction in Judaic studies, while remaining committed to the [state-mandated] core curriculum," explained AMIT school network head and forum member Amnon Eldar. The problem, he said, began with the closing of the Religious Affairs Ministry. "The ministry financed this system historically, and as soon as it was closed down [in 2004], we lost these funds," he said. "Now we can't maintain those six to 10 hours. "The cuts to the religious educational system is draconian, and will destroy the state religious stream," said Knesset Education Committee chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) on Sunday. "We won't accept it." Melchior decided to convene a special committee meeting on Monday to discuss the cuts, and has called for an additional NIS 180m. to be guaranteed in the base budget. The Education Ministry issued a response noting only that "the funds for the yeshivot that were transferred from the Religious Affairs Ministry in the 5764 school year amounted to NIS 160m. From the 5764 to the 5766 school years [2003-2006], this budget was augmented by funds from coalition agreements. This funding was stopped in 5766. "It is inconceivable that the funding for the religious educational system will be dependent on the generosity of coalition agreements," Melchior said of the ministry response. "We demand that the government start relating to this not as a political budget, but as an equal education budget, like every other education budget, said Glatt.