In the wake of last month's ruling that yeshiva students should no longer receive income assistance, a group is now demanding they also be denied personal accident coverage subsidies. A religious organization has found the insurance, which is provided to all 1.7 million school children in Israel, is also extended to married yeshiva students up to age 45 for a nominal annual fee of NIS 28 to NIS 35 per year, and has opened up a front against the practice.

The group, Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah, which is identified with the liberal wing of the religious Zionist movement, approached Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud ) and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein last week demanding the insurance coverage for the yeshiva students be stopped immediately. The organization has threatened to petition the High Court of Justice if the state continues to provide the benefit to yeshiva students.

The insurance coverage, which is arranged through the state, but provided by the private Clal Insurance, covers school children 24 hours a day for the entire year, whether they are in Israel or abroad, and includes airborne evacuation and compensation for permanent disability from an accident. On the private market, such insurance would cost hundreds of shekels a year.

Although students at teachers' colleges and unmarried yeshiva students also receive the benefit, Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah is only complaining about the coverage afforded men at kollels, yeshivas for married men.

Nearly 50,000 such married yeshiva students are recognized by the state, though it is unclear how many actually carry the coverage. The organization contends that the rest of the population is being discriminated against in not being allowed to purchase the subsidized coverage.

"The study of Torah cannot, from a religious standpoint, provide a student greater rights than other people, certainly not when [the benefits] are funded by the public, while discriminating against others," read a letter from Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah Executive Director Shmuel Shatach to Sa'ar.

Shatach also claimed in his letter that the parents of the children in the education system are in effect subsidizing the married yeshiva students' coverage without the parents' knowledge, resulting, Shatach contended, in higher premiums than the parents would otherwise pay.

His letter also makes reference to the High Court's June 14 ruling on income assistance payments, which were ruled an impermissible discriminatory preference even though the assistance was limited to yeshiva students below certain income levels.

"The High Court ruled that there was no justification to give a preference to married yeshiva students as opposed to university students," a Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah official said. "We believe is it inappropriate to prefer just married yeshiva students, because working people, too, have the right to be insured against personal accidents. Why can't parents [of children] in the educational system, who pay for the policies in accordance with the state education law, also sign up themselves? Why do the married yeshiva students have a greater connection to this insurance than any other citizen of Israel?"