Though Funding Tight, Married Yeshiva Students Study on

Plummeting donations due to financial crisis in U.S., planned cutbacks in yeshiva budgets leave students in dire straits.

Shaul has been studying in a Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem's Ramat Eshkol neighborhood since his marriage five years ago. Today, with three children, he and his wife manage on between NIS 5,000 and NIS 6,000 a month, consisting of his relatively high stipend as a yeshiva student (NIS 3,000) and his wife's teacher's wages.

"Our situation is good. We try to make do with what we have but we are satisfied. We don't feel we're short of anything," he says.

In recent months an acute financial crisis has struck the married students' yeshivas. Only a small part of the crisis, which is being widely covered by the ultra-Orthodox media, has been caused by the government's 25 percent planned cutbacks in the yeshivas' budgets.

As most of the yeshivas depend on wealthy Jews' contributions, mainly from North America, the downturn in the U.S. economy has curtailed the yeshivas' ability to support their students. In addition, the stipends in Israel are paid in dollars, a devaluating currency, while the number of students and yeshivas has been rising in recent years.

Many yeshivas have cut back their expenses and many of the foreign students who study in Israeli yeshivas have had to return home.

"We're not counting on state funds," says Shaul. "The main part of the money comes from American Jews' contributions. When they can they give abundantly, but today not everyone can afford to donate. It creates great pressure on the yeshivas for married students and raises grave concerns."

The monthly stipends in the married students' yeshivas range from NIS 1,000 to NIS 4,500, depending on each yeshiva's connections overseas. The state contributes some NIS 700 toward each monthly stipend.

"The stipend's amount is not the main consideration in choosing a yeshiva," says Shaul. "Each student looks for a place whose teaching standards and atmosphere suit him."

Most married students stop religious studies at some point to study a profession or work, although some ultra-Orthodox men continue studying part-time even while working.

"I'll continue studying in the next few years. Some people continue studying even at the age of 70. I'm likely to do so too," he says.