The 2011-2012 state budget bill passed its first reading in the Knesset this week. One article in the bill, "the yeshiva students law," is particularly outrageous. Under it, the state will allocate NIS 111 million a year to stipends for married, full-time yeshiva students. The line item circumvents a June ruling by the High Court of Justice, according to which these stipends must be halted on the grounds of inequality: They are given to yeshiva students, while university and college students get nothing.
MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism ), chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, found a way to detour around the High Court ruling. The bill he submitted stipulates that in order to qualify for a state higher-education stipend, one must have at least three children, no other income and no car. This takes discrimination to a new level. While university students are compelled to pay full tuition fees, yeshiva students do not pay tuition because the state allocates about NIS 1 billion a year to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas. In addition, yeshiva students receive state stipends, while most university students must get help from their parents or even work in order to support themselves. The absurd thing is that if the yeshiva students commit the crime of working, they are ineligible for the stipends. In this way, Shas and United Torah Judaism consecrate the value of not working.
A large proportion of the university students serve in the army reserves, which makes their studies and examinations more difficult. It is also clear that virtually no students in their early 20s have three children. Particularly infuriating is the government's distorted position, according to which those who study Talmud should be supported but those who study medicine, engineering, economics, social work, computer science or law deserve no stipend; the latter do not contribute to society and to the economy. Only those studying Talmud do.
Facing public criticism, the prime minister appointed a committee to study the issue, which is scheduled to submit its recommendations within two weeks. But the politicians of United Torah Judaism and Shas are not waiting. They have already threatened to vote against the budget if the stipends to yeshiva students are not codified in law by the end of the year. We can only hope that this time Benjamin Netanyahu will withstand the pressure and not permit the yeshiva students law to pass.
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