When Is a Woman Studying Torah Worth Less Than a Male Yeshiva Student?

When it comes to marriage registration fees - but one advocacy group is working to change the situation.

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Orthodox women attend a wedding (illustrative).
Orthodox women attend a wedding (illustrative). Credit: Alex Levac

In a push for women’s equality, the Jewish Advocacy Center, ITIM, has asked Israel’s religious affairs ministry to stop granting discounts on marriage registration fees to male yeshiva students while denying them to their female counterparts in women’s religious institutions.

On a visit to a women’s seminary, ITIM director Seth Farber discovered that, while full-time male yeshiva students or those enrolled in pre-army religious studies were eligible for a 40 percent discount when registering for marriage, females who were engaged in full-time religious studies equivalent to the all-male yeshivas were not.The female students “were unhappy about the situation and asked for our help,” said Farber, head of an organization with the stated mission of helping Israelis navigate the religious bureaucracy in Israel.

The substantial discount on the $200 registration fee is granted to certain sectors of the population, among them new immigrants who have been in the country less than two years, soldiers serving in the IDF and some welfare recipients or those with special needs. One category of recipient is university and yeshiva students, but, while university students can be of either gender, the definition of “yeshiva student” is exclusively male.

“Eligibility for the discount is offered to parts of the population whom the state recognizes as being on a limited budget and wants to help them afford some basic citizen’s services like registering for marriage,” ITIM attorney Elad Kaplan wrote in a letter to Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eliyahu Ben-Dahan.

“The seminary students, like the yeshiva students, are committed to full-time study that does not allow for a salaried job, which is why we are surprised that they do not receive the discount.”

The letter goes on to indicate that the discrepancy in the treatment between the students of different genders may violate Israel’s laws requiring equality for men and women under the law. In the spirit of that law, Kaplan asked that women seminary students be offered the discount, suggesting that it was important to encourage the serious pursuit of Torah study by women.

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