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Heads of Orthodox educational institutions are concerned that a cabinet decision incorporated in the 2008 state budget, which will do away with funding for Jewish students from overseas, will destabilize dozens of institutions and deal a serious blow to immigration.
Haredi yeshivot such as Mir, Ponevitz and Belz, and modern Orthodox institutions such as Nishmat and Orot Jerusalem stand to lose NIS 232 per month for each unmarried non-Israeli student and NIS 420 for each one who is married. The total cut is expected to total NIS 20 million annually.
A total of 12,837 foreign students, both men and women, study in Torah institutions.
Two years ago, there were 24,000 students from abroad enrolled in Torah institutions. However, a 40 percent cut in government funding last year resulted in a sharp decrease in enrollment.
A fund-raiser for Israeli Torah institutions who preferred to remain anonymous said cutting state funding for Jewish students from abroad might lead to the financial collapse of several schools.
"The decision makes no sense whatsoever," said the fund-raiser. "These young men and women come to Israel for at least a year. They spend money here, they contribute to the economy. And a large percentage end up staying.
"Apparently this government does not want to encourage aliya," he said.
A Finance Ministry representative said, "Heads of Torah institutions cannot expect Israeli taxpayers to finance the education of people who are not even Israeli citizens.
"This is not to say the Treasury opposes in principle encouraging aliya. But the Jewish Agency or the Absorption Ministry should be devoting resources to this goal. Meanwhile, the Torah education budget is designated for supporting citizens' education."
For US Orthodox youth, spending a year at an Israeli educational institute before college has become a rite of passage. Some of these students end up settling in Israel, others go back with a stronger connection to the Jewish state.
MK Ya'acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), whose party is in the opposition, attacked Shas, which is a member of the government coalition, for allowing the government to cut funding to Torah institutions.
A Shas source said the party would fight for every clause and sub-clause that hurts the "Torah world and the holy yeshivot of Israel."
In response to Litzman's comments, sources in Shas said that after Shas's hard work in previous years, UTJ now "rested comfortably on its laurels," while allowing the Torah world to languish.