Gov’t must explain continued kollel payments

High Court of Justice demands government explain why it continues to pay income support allotments for kollel students.

Kollel Policemen 311 (photo credit: Courtesy Traffic Police)
Kollel Policemen 311
(photo credit: Courtesy Traffic Police)
The High Court of Justice on Wednesday demanded that the government explain within 90 days why it continues to pay income support allotments to married men studying full time in institutes for full-time, advanced study of the Talmud and rabbinic literature (kollels).
In June 2010, the High Court ruled that the government could not continue providing allotments only to ultra-Orthodox students, while other students, such as those studying at university, do not receive similar income support. The court said that the practice was illegal and discriminatory.
To address the ruling, the government in December 2010 drew up new terms for the allotment of income support for kollel students, limiting the period for receiving the money to five years for kollel students under the age of 29. This accounted for only 10 percent of all kollel students. The new plan also provided an extra NIS 50 million for university students in need of financial support.
At the High Court hearing on Wednesday for the petition against the income support allowances, Justice Miriam Naor asked the state’s representative, “How can we not issue an injunction? The situation as it was and as it is now, will continue into the future, and this will not bring about equality.”
The petition was filed in January by the National Students Union, Hiddush – For Religious Freedom and Equality, the Masorti (Conservative) Movement, the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, the religious-Zionist Neemanei Torah VeAvodah NGO and several other organizations.
Since December 2010, approximately 10,000 kollel students have continued to receive the allotments of NIS 1,040 a month.
Students eligible for this stipend are those who are married with three or more children and whose total monthly income is less than NIS 1,200. Approximately 70,000 kollel students also receive NIS 920 a month study allotments from the state.
Following Wednesday’s High Court ruling, Rabbi Shlomo Brilant, chairman of the Union of Yeshivot, defended the allotment system.
“A married kollel student with children gets in total roughly NIS 3,000, including the income allowances and kollel contributions,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “Do you think that living in such circumstances on NIS 3,000 is pleasant? It’s not, so why do they do this? Because they sacrifice their lives for the sake of studying Torah. Someone who takes up this lifestyle does not do it for the love of money but for the love of Judaism. I don’t think people who dedicate their lives and sacrifice themselves for studying Torah should be punished in this way,” Brilant said.
“I am certain that the Supreme Court will not allow this inequality to persist,” said Ofri Raviv, vice chairman of the National Students Union. “This is a struggle for Zionism that is also part of the social [equality] protests and another stage in the strengthening of the State of Israel.”
A senior ultra-Orthodox political adviser argued in response to the ruling that the criteria for receiving the income support allotments are anyway extremely tough “and have been so for more than 50 years.
“We’re talking about the most poverty stricken sections of the haredi sector,” he said. “Furthermore, just as the state pays and contributes toward secular culture, haredim also demand financial support for the study of Torah in the Jewish state.”
Shahar Ilan, vice president of Hiddush, welcomed the decision, saying that a series of government studies established that the income support allotments directly damage the state’s efforts to get kollel students into the workforce.
“This allotment causes severe damage to economy, because thousands of people will never go to the work. This costs the economy billions,” Ilan said.