(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sources in United Torah Judaism said on Sunday that they do not understand why Shas is "rushing to sign" a coalition agreement with the Likud before it became clear whether Labor will begin negotiations with the Likud on forming a national unity government.
"Everything is likely to change after Tuesday," a UTJ source said, referring to the day that Labor's central committee is slated to decide whether the party will remain in the opposition or attempt to join the governing coalition being formed by Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu.
The source added that Shas was pressuring UTJ to reach a compromise with the Likud as quickly as possible.
"As far as we are concerned there is no reason to compromise on yeshiva budgets. We still are demanding NIS 1,080 a month for every married yeshiva student and NIS 600 for single students," the UTJ source said.
Meanwhile, Shas MK Ya'acov Margi told Radio Kol Chai on Sunday night that his party was on the verge of signing a coalition agreement with the Likud.
"We will sign in the next few hours," said Margi, who is a candidate to be the next religious services minister.
Margi said that according to the agreement materializing, Shas, which has 11 MKs, would receive a deputy ministry in the Prime Minister's Office or in the Finance Ministry, or both, along with the Construction and Housing, Interior and Religious Services portfolios.
UTJ, in contrast, is expected to come away with much less. The party, which has five MKs, is to receive the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee and a deputy minister position.
"We don't understand Shas's greed," the UTJ source said. "How are we going to represent haredi interests?"
Additional demands are being made by Shas and the UTJ; a Finance Ministry source said on Sunday night that a compromise was reached between the Likud and Shas according to which the annual child allotment budget would be increased by NIS 1.4 billion over three years, NIS 466 million a year until 2011.
In part due to a disagreement over child allotments, Shas refused to sign a coalition agreement with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni in the fall. As a result, Livni failed to put together a government coalition and early elections were called.
At the time, Shas was offered a NIS 1b. addition to child allotments. But the money would have been given exclusively to large families. According to the present agreement, more money is being offered but it will be spread out more equally among smaller and larger families.
In the first stage that begins in July, families with four or more children will receive an additional NIS 93 a month.
One year later, families with three children will receive the same NIS 93, and in 2011, families with two children will receive it. Presently, the child allotment budget is about NIS 5b. annually.
The Likud and Shas also reportedly reached a compromise on yeshiva budgets. The haredi parties' original demand was to increase the yeshiva budget to NIS 1b. annually, or NIS 1,080 a month for each married yeshiva student and NIS 600 for single men. At present, married men receive NIS 720 and the annual budget is NIS 740m.
Shas sources said that a compromise was reached according to which the 2009 budget will be split into two separate periods. In the first period the stipend will remain at the present level of NIS 720, while in the second half of the year it will rise to NIS 840. There will be an additional rise in 2010 to between NIS 900 and NIS 1,000 per month.
For the first time the yeshiva budget will be anchored in legislation. Haredi politicians have wondered if anchoring the budget in legislation served their political interests. By making the yeshiva budget an integral part of the education budget and not an ad hoc deal that has to be renegotiated every year, the haredi politicians may be shooting themselves in the foot by making themselves superfluous.
Prof. Yaakov Neeman, who is expected to be appointed the next Justice Minister, met on Sunday with Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The two spoke about anchoring in legislation broader jurisdiction for the rabbinical courts and appointing additional rabbinical court judges. Both moves could be facilitated by Neeman as justice minister.
Recent Supreme Court decisions have ruled that rabbinical courts judges (dayanim) are not allowed to serve as litigators, nor can they rule in monetary matters. There is concern that similar legal logic might prevent the rabbinic courts from ruling on conversion issues.
A senior source in the rabbinical court system said Sunday that dayanim continue to convert, litigate and adjudicate on monetary matters despite the Supreme Court decisions.
Shas and the Likud reached a compromise according to which Israelis who are not defined as Jewish according to Orthodox halachic standards and who also are not Christian or Muslim will be able to marry by entering into civil unions.
Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Rabbi Yosef support this change. In contrast, Ashkenazi rabbis are opposed, arguing it is a slippery slope that could lead to civil marriages between Jews and non-Jews.
However, since Shas is supporting the move, the Ashkenazi rabbis are willing to ignore the issue. The same holds true for proposed reforms in the conversion process that would make it easier for a larger number of rabbis to be involved in conversions.