Vote on Unpopular Yeshiva Bill Delayed After Exposé

75% of Jewish Israelis favor cutting yeshiva funding

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is expected to delay its vote Sunday on the preliminary reading of a bill allocating income allowances to full-time yeshiva students by two to three weeks, after Haaretz and TheMarker exposed the proposal on Friday.

Yeshiva students' income graph, Knesset information center, October 24, 2010
Knesset Information Center

In June the High Court of Justice banned such payments, ruling that they discriminated between yeshiva students and college students, and ordered they be halted as of 2011.

The bill is also extraordinarily unpopular, according to a Smith Institute survey, which found 75 percent of Israeli Jews favor reducing funding for yeshivas so that ultra-Orthodox men will have to work. The sample included 800 respondents, an unusually large number.

The bill was intended to skirt the High Court’s ruling. It was sponsored by Knesset Finance Committee chair Moshe Gafni, and has the support of his party United Torah Judaism as well as Shas.

Gafni’s associates said over the weekend that while the MK would not object to postponing the preliminary vote, UTJ and Shas will vote against the 2011-2012 budget and withdraw from the coalition if the bill does not pass by the end of the year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs the support of these two parties in order to pass the budget.

The vote on the yeshiva bill is expected to be delayed until after the budget passes its first reading. The vote on the latter bill is set for tomorrow and Tuesday.

The total cost of the yeshiva bill is estimated at NIS 130 million a year. It would give about NIS 1,000 a month to full-time yeshiva students who have three or more children and do not own a car.

While Netanyahu’s cabinet is expected to support the bill, some government officials are concerned that it will raise widespread public criticism and cause other coalition parties to demand money for their own sectors of support.

PM accused of forgoing morals

The proposal drew additional criticism over the weekend. MK Yohanan Plesner ‏(Kadima‏) said this once again proved that the Netanyahu government was willing to forgo morals and equality to maintain its seats, while his partymate MK Nahman Shai said he would submit a nearly identical bill that replaced the term “yeshiva student” with “college student.”

Rabbi Uri Regev, the head of Hiddush, an organization advocating freedom of religion in Israel, said the income allowances for yeshiva students should be used to teach this sector workforce skills.

The Smith Institute survey, which was conducted for Hiddush, found that people who want to reduce government payments to yeshivas and to large families include 92% of those who consider themselves secular, 96 percent of immigrants, 82 percent of people who consider themselves traditional and 54 percent of religious people.

The total percentage − 75 percent − is up from 68 percent reported after the last survey, conducted six months ago.

In terms of political affiliation, 86 percent of Likud voters and 95 percent of Yisrael Beiteinu voters want to reduce payments.