High Court: Income guarantees to kollel students unlawful

Beinisch determines law does not allow for a distinction between kollel students and students enrolled at other institutions; Porush slams move.

dorit beinisch 311 Ariel Jerozolimski (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
dorit beinisch 311 Ariel Jerozolimski
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The High Court of Justice on Monday ruled that a clause in the national budget enabling kollel students to receive minimum income-guarantee payments was neither legal nor constitutional, as no other student groups were eligible for such funds.
Accordingly, the court determined that the provision establishing the benefit, known as Guaranteed Income, which has been implemented since 1982, was unlawful and could not be included in the 2011 budget.
In her detailed and exhaustive decision spanning over 50 pages, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, backed by five other justices and opposed by one, determined that the law did not allow for a distinction between kollel students and students enrolled at other institutions. The time allotted by the court for the ruling’s implementation, Beinisch added, was also meant to enable kollel students time to find alternative sources of income.
It was 10 years ago that student union groups and activists, led by late Jerusalem councilman Ornan Yekutiely, filed the petition against the provision, which began in the early 1980s. By 2009, the provision allowed for NIS 121 million of the Education Ministry budget to be divided among some 10,000 full-time kollel students, who have at least three children apiece and low incomes.
Justice Edmond Levy, the sole voice in favor of rejecting the petition, wrote, “The question whether the livelihood of Torah scholars should be cast upon the public is not a new one. But it is important to note that the people in Israel, through their elected bodies – the Knesset and government – thought that the answer should be affirmative.”
Levy continued, “This is a principled decision that stems from the recognition that studying Torah is essential to the people of Israel, and I don’t think the court should change that, especially since very modest sums are allocated to that end, meant to enable a humble lifestyle and nothing beyond.”
Interior Minister Eli Yishai said his Shas party would propose a new bill to provide minimum income security benefits for kollel students.
Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) slammedthe decision, declaring in a statement that the “imbecilic attempt toharm the [basic livelihood] of Torah scholars is base. The High Courtjustices refuse to understand that it is through the merit of Torahscholars that we have a right to exist in the Land of Israel... Thosewho act to uproot the uniqueness of the Jewish people will facecrushing failure.”
Porush also refuted the claim of favoritism, “since no student isprevented from studying under similar conditions to those of Torahscholars, and getting a scholarship.”
Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, however, hailed the decision, calling it “animportant step toward ensuring real civil equality in Israel isachieved.”
Rabbi Uri Regev, CEO of the religious freedom advocacy group Hiddush,called the ruling a correction of historic “injustice anddiscrimination” that bears important tidings to the Israeli economy, as“these payments were one of the primary factors enabling haredi men toavoid partaking in the labor market.”
Regev also called the court’s decision “a glorious monument to thepetitioner, the late deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Ornan Yekutiely, one ofthe greatest warriors for freedom of religion.”
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel, called theruling “an important message to all of those who are troubled by theongoing growth of the culture of poverty, as well as the economic,civil and security inequality in Israel.”
He stressed that it was the state’s duty to act immediately tomainstream the haredi populace and incorporate the core-curriculumsubjects in their schools.
Ronen Shnidman contributed to this report.