The Knesset Finance Committee has forced the Finance Ministry to include researchers at non-academic Torah study institutes on a bill that would make academic scholarships tax-exempt. The bill was given the green light for its second and third readings Wednesday morning, after MKs Uri Ariel (National Union) and committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), succeeded in including non-academic Torah researchers in the bill.

Ariel said he had refused to go along with an earlier proposal to exempt the research institutes from taxes, as it was suggested this be accomplished without formal legislation. "Aside from the technical problems with that suggestion, I see [the exemption] as an important official recognition of the importance of Torah literature and its bequest to future generations through research institutes," Ariel said.

Under the bill's definition, a Torah study institute will be considered a public institution formally entitled to financing by either the education or culture ministry, and which conducts research in the area of Torah studies. According to the Culture and Sports Ministry, there are about 100 such institutions in Israel involved in religious work, the publishing of old manuscripts and the application of Halakhic principals to daily life in the areas of technology, medicine and others.

The process of legislating the bill began during the last government and even passed the first reading, but was eventually buried. Now, after extended negotiations between the Finance Ministry, student and academia representatives, and the bill's initiators - MKs Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu) and Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) - the parties have agreed that researchers and students will not be barred from working altogether, but will be required to invest most of their time in completing studies and research in order to qualify.