Preaching to the Converted: Israel Paying for Jewish Outreach Groups in Religious Settlements

Education Ministry stipulates that groups of young families, students promoting Jewish values must operate in areas that have diverse populations across religious spectrum to receive funding.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Students praying at the Shavei Hevron yeshiva in Kiryat Arba in 2011.
Students praying at the Shavei Hevron yeshiva in Kiryat Arba in 2011.Credit: Michal Fattal
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Israel is paying hundreds of thousands of shekels to a Kiryat Arba yeshiva to run a Torah group, even though the city does not meet funding criteria, Education Ministry documents reveal.

Torah groups involve a small number of families dedicated to spreading religious values in their local communities. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted last week that such groups consist of "young families that could live a spoiled life in the center of the country, but decided to make a difference and live with their brothers in the south, north and anywhere they can lend a hand."

The Education Ministry documents paint a different story.

Education Ministry criteria permit the establishment of a Torah center in any "heterogeneous neighborhood, such as religious, traditional and secular." However, Kiryat Arba has almost no secular Jews; based on school statistics, over 95 percent of the population is religious. The settlement has one secular primary school (though eighth grade), which has 65 students. In contrast, 1,241 students learn in Kiryat Arba's six religious primary schools, and another 192 students learn in the local Talmud Torah School.

The Southern Judea Torah center, established in 2011 around the Shavei Hevron yeshiva, contains 22 families of graduates and students of the yeshiva living in adjacent Kiryat Arba. The director of the Shavei Hevron yeshiva, Gilad Matanah, is a member of the Tekuma Party central committee and chairman of Kiryat Arba's religious council. Matanah is a major recruiter for Habayit Hayehudi, who recruited hundreds of yeshiva students and graduates to the party. They support MK Nissan Slomiansky.

Israel doled out 180,000 shekels ($45,000) to operating the center last year, as well as 252,000 shekels in 2013 and 350,000 shekels in 2012. The sums declined in line with cuts made by Finance Minister Yair Lapid to the yeshiva budget line. The center does not mention in its financial reports that it receives funding with such a status. Because the yeshiva is in Hebron and the Torah Center needs a building for its activities, the yeshiva rents part of a Talmud Torah facility in Kiryat Arba, which happens to belongs to Shavei Hevron.

Most of the center's activities are geared toward religious Jews, according to its website. The center runs an evening yeshiva for boys and another for girls. Students in the center also tutor children in Gemara studies as well as host them in their private homes, where they are supposed to discuss principles of Jewish identity and Zionist "in the spirt of the Torah."

There is only one activity for secular Jews. Held in the local school, it involves discussing ethical and Zionist principles with the students that are in line with the spirit of the Torah