Drastic fall in yeshiva students getting state support

Haredi sources say 6.5% drop is the result of ‘draconian’ new checking policies; currently 121,500 students receiving state stipends.

Yeshiva 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yeshiva 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A recent dramatic decrease in the number of haredi men enrolled in yeshivot is getting contradictory explanations from differing parties.
As of today, there are approximately 8,500 less yeshiva and kollel students receiving state stipends than there were at the end of 2010, a 6.5 percent drop that brings the number down from 130,000 to 121,500. These numbers were revealed by Ynet on Thursday, and confirmed by the Education Ministry. The state is expected to save approximately NIS 70 million, which it would have otherwise spent on the yeshiva students.
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The drop is the result of heads of institutions requesting that the ministry remove students from their lists, and is a result of the ministry’s recently tightened inspections. Last November, police arrested a number of managers from the Matmidim yeshivot on the suspicion that they were part of a scam producing fraudulent identity cards to create the appearance of greater numbers of students in their institutions.
Yeshivot and kollels recognized by the Education Ministry receive financial support on a per capita basis. Inspectors are regularly conducting surprise visits to yeshivot to ensure that those enrolled are indeed real and present.
Rabbi Uri Regev, the head of Hiddush: For Religious Freedom and Equality, said that the numbers prove “that contrary to what heads of the yeshivot are claiming, the state’s supervision over yeshivot and kollels is not tight enough.”
“There are suspicions of widespread fraud that must be eradicated,” a statement read. “Instead of fortifying the world of Judaism, dozens of yeshivot [that have been proven to be scamming the state] are causing a desecration.”
Regev also called upon the haredi MKs and heads of yeshivot who “launched an attack against the Education Ministry’s supervision mechanism to publicly apologize and unequivocally condemn fictive registrations, lest the public think they condone stealing from public funds.”
Senior Ashkenazi adjudicator Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv had in fact spoke out in the most harsh terms against the possibility that haredi educational institutions defrauded the state of dozens of millions of shekels. “If the story turns out to be true, the thieves should be considered pursuers [literally din rodef, a harsh term from halachic tradition],” he was cited as saying shortly after police raided the institutions and made arrests.
Head of the Knesset Finance Committee Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) refused to comment on the numbers, and said he’d do so only when similar data was released regarding universities and state-supported culture institutions. Gafni had on Wednesday approached Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar to protest the conduct of the Education Ministry and the inspectors after heads of yeshivot received a letter warning them that funds they had received might be recalled if the High Court of Justice rules against the continued funding of the institutions.
While the numbers of students removed from the ministry’s lists is not being challenged, sources within the haredi world, however, are charging that the decrease is a result of the fear of being fined, in the wake of the “draconian” inspections.
A rabbi who wished to remain unnamed said that many heads of yeshivot approach the ministry and ask that their institution be removed from the lists for the fear that an inspection will unjustly cause great financial damage and that that is not worth the risk.
“As head of a yeshiva for dropout youth, my father underwent a few inspections in the past months, and passed them all. But if one of the youths happens to be out of the yeshiva at the time, my father could face a fine equal to three years of state support. It’s just not worth it,” the rabbi said.

“Such inspections do not exist in any other system receiving state support,” he continued. “Why can’t the Finance Ministry, which is behind hiring the inspectors, use private investigators the same way the National Insurance Institute does?” “There will always be inaccuracies in the margins of such a large group of institutions receiving funding,” the rabbi said of the yeshivot in which the registries did not match the reality. “But the state is now spending millions of shekels on the investigators, who cannot supply an accurate picture of what is happening in the yeshivot. The whole mechanism has become too lucrative to stop at this point.”
A spokesman for the Education Ministry could not say how many of those removed from the supported lists were entire yeshivot, and how many secluded individuals.