Students petition continued payment of kollel stipends

Religious freedom groups, students call on High Court to demand that gov't prevents Education Ministry from supporting kollel students.

Yeshiva Stipends Protest 311 (photo credit: courtesy of the National Union of Israeli Students)
Yeshiva Stipends Protest 311
(photo credit: courtesy of the National Union of Israeli Students)
Five weeks after the government approved the continued payment of stipends to kollel students for a newly limited five years, seven religious advocacy, public advocacy and student groups filed a petition on Sunday to the High Court of Justice demanding that it prevent the Education Ministry from continuing to pay allowances to unemployed kollel students.
The National Union of Israel Student, Hiddush – For Religious Freedom and Equality, Masorti (Conservative) movement and Reform movement spearheaded the petition that claimed that the recent government decision is a “foolish and unacceptable attempt to circumvent the High Court of Justice ruling.” In June, the court ruled that the government could not continue paying stipends solely to haredim who study full-time, while others – such as university students – are ineligible for similar stipends, and determined that these payments must end as of 2011.
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The court on Sunday afternoon rejected the petitioners demand to issue an interim order halting the payments, and gave the state 30 days to respond.
Under the plan approved in December, however, kollel students under the age of 29 with three children, whose income doesn’t exceed NIS 1,200 and who do not own a car, will receive a stipend of NIS 1,040 a month for four years. In the fifth year – the so-called “integration” year – the student will receive 75 percent of that amount and be allowed to study half-time, and work half-time. After that, he will be expected to enter the workforce. Another NIS 20 million will be set aside for some 2,000 yeshiva students – expected to be the most astute at their studies – who will be allowed to continue studying past the five-year period.
“The new arrangement is almost completely identical to the arrangement that was disqualified by the court,” the petitioners charged on Sunday, saying that it should be immediately called off.
Since the 1980s, the state had entitled a modest stipend to kollel students whose wives were also unemployed and have at least three children, and matched additional stipulations such as not owning a car or leaving the country. The old arrangement, which was applicable in the year 2010 to some 13,000 households at an approximate cost of NIS 135m., did not limit the number of years a haredi kollel student could receive the stipend.
Chairman of the National Student Union Itzik Shmuli said that “the government miserably failed the ethic and legal test, and we are therefore petitioning the court, to force it to once again to tell the state its opinion on the tricky scheme it pulled off at the expense of the public. The kollel student arrangement is wrong and discriminatory, and we will continue to struggle against it in the public and legal realms.”
Hiddush director Rabbi Uri Regev said that “instead of forming a policy that corresponds to the fundamental values of democracy, the government is forcing the public to once again turn to the court for help.”
Head of the Reform Movement Rabbi Gilad Kariv called the government’s decision to continue the payments “moral, social, governmental and economic bankruptcy.
The Israeli government and the haredi politicos are ensnaring thousands of families in poverty traps... we hope the court will draw a red line against the continued discrimination, and indicate to the government and haredi parties that this celebration at the expense of the public has reached its end.”