Ministerial panel to review bill giving yeshiva students stipends
Controversial legislation would circumvent High Court ruling.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will discuss on Sunday a controversial bill requiring the state to pay yeshiva students a monthly allowance. This is contrary to a recent High Court of Justice ruling which bans allocations that discriminate between ultra-Orthodox and other students. Because of such discrimination, the court in June revoked the clause in the Economics Arrangements Law allocating payments to yeshiva students.
The bill sponsored by MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism ), which bypasses the High Court's ruling, says the state must allocate at least NIS 150 million a year to yeshiva students. The ultra-Orthodox parties UTJ and Shas are expected to support the bill and may pressure the other coalition partners to vote for it.
The bill distinguishes openly between college students and yeshiva students. "Naturally there are many differences between a married yeshiva student who chooses to devote his time to Torah studies as a way of life, and students who study for a certain, temporary period. According to figures provided by the Knesset's Finance Committee, [regular] students benefit from considerable support based on other arrangements. Therefore this proposal sets a unique arrangement for yeshiva students only," read the explanatory notes accompanying the bill.
The High Court ruled explicitly four months ago that distinguishing between yeshiva students and regular students is wrong and discriminatory. The court's ruling was in response to a petition filed by Jerusalem councillor Ornan Yekutieli, who has since passed away. Yekutieli's petition protested the discrimination involved in paying monthly allowances to ultra-Orthodox students while depriving other students of such income.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch ruled that "there is no place to distinguish between yeshiva students and students in the various academic institutions."
Justice Ayala Procaccia, who joined the verdict, said the matter was part of "a broader issue regarding the dilemma between a multi-cultural society's obligation to respect various communities' unique character, and the fundamental principle obliging all citizens to accept the government's basic values and bear the responsibilities and duties that every person does."
Justice Edmond Levy wrote in a minority opinion that "studying Torah is an edict the Knesset and government thought should be financed by the public."
Following the High Court's ruling, Gafni held debates on the issue in the Knesset's Finance Committee. He obtained figures from the Defense Ministry and Finance Ministry, showing the state supports students to the extent of some NIS 450 million, while yeshiva students are apportioned only NIS 121 million.
Gafni's bill says each ultra-Orthodox students applying for the stipend must prove he studies throughout the month according to rules to be determined by the education minister. He must prove that he has at least three children, no other income and does not own a car. The sum of the allocation will be determined by the annual State Budget Law.
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