student protest yeshiva- Moti Milrod
Students protesting in Tel Aviv against yeshiva income supplements in November. Photo by Moti Milrod
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The cabinet is expected to approve today a five-year limit on income supplement payments to most ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.

The proposal, whose effects will be felt only in five years, was recommended by a committee headed by Eyal Gabbai, director general of the Prime Minister's Office. It will not need Knesset approval.

The cabinet will also be asked to approve the Gabbai committee's recommendation that another further allocation be set aside for university students in need.

In a related matter, the cabinet is scheduled to discuss a proposal that would allow ultra-Orthodox men to complete a year of national service instead of army service.

According to the Gabbai committee recommendations, yeshiva students will be eligible for income supplements for a period limited to five years. Exceptions will be made for the top 20% of students and for yeshiva students who currently are older than 29; they will be able to receive payments as long as they like, as is the current situation.

The change will go into effect in 2011. However, because it gives current yeshiva students five years of eligibility, the results will be felt only in 2016.

Currently about 11,000 of the 70,000 men in Haredi yeshivas receive income supplements. In order to be eligible, a yeshiva student must have at least three children, and he and his wife must have a combined monthly income of no more than NIS 1,200.

Knesset sources say the Haredi parties are likely to campaign against the Gabbai committee recommendations but only in a few years, when the five-year deadline approaches.

"This arrangement is designed to balance between two principles," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "The first principle is sensitivity. This is a very poor community of thousands of families with small children, and you cannot chop its income in one blow. The other principle, which I support with full force, is that poverty cannot be perpetuated. We cannot encourage the existing situation to continue. The new arrangement will encourage married yeshiva students to go out and work and improve their financial well-being, while being sensitive for thousands of poor families. The solution will be gradual."

The Gabbai committee was appointed after the High Court of Justice ruled in 2010 that income supplements to Haredi yeshiva students were discriminatory and that the government had to stop paying them starting in January 2011. The court ruled that they were discriminatory because they were not granted equally to all students.

The committee recommended that married yeshiva students receive supplements of NIS 1,040 a month for four years. During the fifth year, they would study half-time, receive 75% of that sum - NIS 780 a month - and be allowed to work half-time, earn up to NIS 2,700 a month and own a car. This would not affect yeshiva students who are currently older than 29 or who are ranked among the top 2,000 students who choose Torah as their "profession."

The government will set aside NIS 127 million annually to fund the new arrangement. This sum is fixed, so that if the number of yeshiva students increases, the per capital supplement will drop. However, if the number of students drops, supplements will not be increased, and the leftover money will be returned to the state coffers.

The Education Ministry and the Finance Ministry are responsible for coming up with a mechanism for overseeing income supplements.

At the same time, the committee recommended increasing the amount of funding made available to needy university students by NIS 50 million a year, starting in 2011. It proposed both increasing the number of students eligible for financial assistance and increasing the amount of assistance to each student. The recommendation follows widespread student protests over plans to circumvent the court and reinstate yeshiva student stipends.

The committee noted that it was difficult to compare the economic well-being of yeshiva students and university students, since these are two distinct populations.

Although the government does budget NIS 450 million a year to fund scholarships for university students from poor families, those who do not receive government assistance are less likely to receive other forms of funding than yeshiva students are, the committee noted in its recommendations.