One of the ways Haredi yeshivas attract students is by promising them that not only will they not have to pay tuition fees, but also the yeshiva will take care of all their needs and even give them pocket money. To do this, Agudat Yisrael and Shas contrived convoluted and creative ways to finance these establishments and make them prosper.
Until the mid 1990s, the only government support that yeshivas received was through the Religious Affairs Ministry. Starting in 1995, however, they have managed to mobilize the Education Ministry as well, which has been forwarding tens of millions of shekels to yeshivas, thereby securing them two sources of income.
This sweet deal came to an end when two years ago, the Finance Ministry appointed its own accountant, Moti Maroz, to monitor the Education Ministry. Until then, the ministry had hired its own accountants. Since the appointment of Maroz, one affair has led to the next. Until recently, Maroz received full backing from the former accountant general, Nir Gilad, who resigned two months ago, to tackle this politically sensitive realm.
Maroz discovered that over several years, the Education Ministry had issued permits to dozens of "schools" in the Haredi sector. Needless to say, these institutions were nowhere near schools, they were full-fledged yeshivas that taught Gemara, but also had a Hebrew teacher or two on their payroll as their fig leaf. While the ministry's requirement is that 75 percent of the curriculum be dedicated to general studies, these institutions provided none at all - not to mention marginal subjects such as English, mathematics or history.
This way, the school-cum-yeshiva was budgeted by the Education Ministry as a school, and by the Religious Affairs Ministry as a yeshiva. To date, yeshivas receive NIS 50 million a year from the Education Ministry and NIS 240 million from the Religious Affairs Ministry. This is how they can afford scholarships (which are tax free) and food and board for yeshiva students, and maintain fat administrations for each institution - after all, graduates need to make a living somehow, too. Consequently, permits for Haredi schools have become a valuable hard currency.
Attorney Gilad Barnea petitioned the High Court of Justice about the overlapping budgets, and six months ago Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein barred Religious Affairs Ministry from supporting yeshivas. The NIS 240 million budget that was freed was to be used to boost Judaic studies in the secular and national-religious sectors.
A committee chaired by Deputy Education Minister Zvi Hendel was put in charge. Surprisingly or not, the panel decided, in line with Hendel's world view, to transfer the bulk of the budget to national-religious schools with a small amount going to secular schools. Once again, the non-religious sector got the short end of the stick. In Israel, as everyone knows, it is the minority that has the say.
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