Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Adar I 5763 - February 12, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Kiryat Sefer: A Town Full of Life -- and Looking to the Future
An interview with Rabbi Yaakov Gutterman, head of Modiin Illit Local Council

by M. Chevroni

He first entered public life two years ago with much fanfare. He was successful in uniting all the groups in Modiin Illit into one list, and was elected as head of the local council. Two years later last fall, about halfway through his term in office, we went to visit Rabbi Yaakov Gutterman, head of the Modiin Illit local council, and asked him to tell us what had changed over the last two years in the town, more commonly known as Kiryat Sefer. "Not Kiryat Sefer but Modiin Illit," Rabbi Gutterman corrects us.

How does a man from Bnei Brak achieve the highest position in Modiin Illit?

This might sound artificial, but the truth is that the gedolim sent me. It is also true that I did not want this job. The moro de'asra, Rav Meir Kessler, asked me to accept the position after he consulted with HaRav Eliashiv shlita and HaRav Steinman shlita, who decided that I should take this mission upon myself.

[Rabbi Gutterman has become a resident of Modiin.]

A Settlement on Private Land

What did you find when you arrived two years ago?

I found a settlement which had expanded at an unprecedented pace, housing a very large number of bnei Torah. On the other hand, I encountered a considerable number of problems, part of which stemmed from the unusual status of Modiin Illit.

How is Modiin Illit different from other similar settlements?

There is a very basic difference. This town was built by private entrepreneurs on land which they had purchased privately. A group of avreichim located a beautiful spot in the center of the country and, in light of the genuine and chronic housing shortage of the chareidi public, they turned to HaRav Shach, ztvk"l, and presented him with the idea of buying the land in this area and establishing a housing development there that would offer a solution to the housing problems of the young couples of the chareidi community.

HaRav Shach expressed interest in the idea. He wanted further details of the exact location of the proposed land, and had someone examine in the highest government echelons the Israeli plans with regard to this area in case of peace with the Palestinians. He eventually gave his blessings to the project and the land was purchased.

Whom was the land purchased from?

The land was bought from its Arab owners, and thus a town was established on private land. This is a totally unique case in Israel.

Is there a problem with this unique situation?

Yes, there is quite a severe problem deriving from this situation. The fact that the State was not involved in the establishment of this settlement via the Housing Ministry, deprived Modiin Illit of important professional and financial support which is given to every other settlement. This fact is most noticeable in the lack of a master plan, which has had significant practical ramifications.

Could you be more specific?

When there is an initiative to establish a new settlement -- and the entrepreneur (yozeim) is usually the Housing Ministry -- master plans are drawn up and published. In other words, the area is defined and allocations are made for different areas, such as public areas to meet the various requirements of the proposed residents of this city. A master plan is drawn up for education, as well as a master plan for infrastructure, including the drainage system, and also a master plan for transportation. Every relevant government department submits a master plan covering its area of responsibility and expertise.

In Modiin Illit the building contractors took care of the development on a private basis. Whatever was done, was done with a lot of dedication and talent, but the development of a city of this kind really calls for immense resources which private entrepreneurs do not have.

Were these factors not taken into account in the first place?

Neither the entrepreneurs nor anyone else foresaw how successful the development would be. Modiin Illit is an unprecedented success story in terms of the speed with which it was populated. Today it has 22,000 residents. It is not possible to keep up with such a pace of development without government investment.

A Master Plan for Infrastructure

"Today" says Rabbi Gutterman, "the city is in place boruch Hashem, and its inhabitant are perhaps unaware of the consequences of the lack of a master plan. However, anyone who has to manage the town knows that those matters that the State usually attends to, were not taken care of."

Such as?

There are many areas. Let us take the sewage issue as a primary example. No one took care of making sure that Modiin Illit is connected to the national sewage network. The private individual in his home is unaware of the problem, but it exists. The town, it must be remembered, is constantly developing and expanding, and the number of its inhabitants is on the increase all the time.

Several months ago the government agreed to allocate NIS 90 million for the establishment of a sewage system which is appropriate for a town of the size of Modiin Illit. This is a huge project on which our people are working full steam ahead. Today we are at the stage of finishing the implementation plan before giving out the tender. The town will become connected to the Ayalon line that runs through the Lod-Ramle area.

This budget often comes out of the local resident's pockets as in other local authorities, such as Yerushalayim for example, where development and sewage levies are imposed on the taxpayers. The residents of Modiin Illit were thus saved at least $2000 each by the government allocation. The Chairman of the Interior and Environment Committee, UTJ MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, who has supported our town all along since it was established, as well as the chairman of the finance committee UTJ MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, both contributed to the success of this project.

And in the meantime?

In the meantime, as an interim measure, the Higher Planning Commission has authorized the establishment of a small temporary processing plant near the town, to absorb the drainage coming from the town. This did not exist until now.

And yet the sewage is still flowing?

Yes that's right. Until now the old neighborhoods were connected to the old processing plants established by the entrepreneurs. The newer section of the town, such as the South hill, will be connected in the near future to an independent sewage processing facility. This was made possible thanks to the budget, which was allocated to our town.

When I came to the town I was given a reception that forced me to become fully conversant with the issues without any delay. The district engineer, the head of planning and the Higher Planning Council, instructed me not to issue any permits and not to allow any construction in the town until the sewage issue was sorted out. If not, the situation could cause environmental hazards and even the contamination of ground water. This was an unequivocal order.

With the solution of this issue all the construction plans of the town were approved -- retroactively. In other words, until the sewage problem was sorted out, the town was for all intents and purposes paralyzed, and the construction of public and educational institutions was frozen.

It was a similar story with the water. Because of the amazing speed of the population growth in the town, and because the state was not involved in the process, the town did not have the water reserves necessary for a developing settlement such as Modiin Illit.

What is the solution then?

We are working on it. We have already received a permit from Mekorot and the Director of Water in the Interior Ministry to establish sophisticated water reservoirs that will meet the needs of a city of our size. One water reservoir already exists and will be expanded so that it will hold 15,000 cubic meters instead of 5000 cubic meters. A second pool will be upgraded to a capacity of 5000 cubes. Altogether 20,000 cubic meters of water will be made available as reserves to the town.

In addition, our local Town Planning Council also approved a local Zoning Plan according to which a large water reservoir is to be set up on the outskirts of the Brachfeld neighborhood. This water will also provide a solution in an emergency for the neighboring town Modiin.

A New Class Every Week

You have also spoken about a master plan for education.

This year the Education Ministry allocated funds to Modiin Illit -- in one go -- for the construction of 170 new classes. On the South Hill 112 classes will be constructed and the remaining classes will be in the older neighborhoods.

Where will the 112 classes be located?

All these classes make up one big complex. During this school year we have already opened 17 new classrooms and have dedicated a new building containing 24 classes in which no less than 10 educational institutions find their home. Each institution has separate classes with separate entrances. Everything is divided in such a way as to make the various educational institutions feel comfortable.

I should point out that at the dedication ceremony of the Bais Yaakov school in the Brachfeld neighborhood, which took place at the beginning of the school year, the guest of honor was deputy Education Minister UTJ MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz, who had organized the allocation of the funds for the construction of the school, and in his speech he expressed his admiration for the number of institutions housed in this one building.

[Rabbi Gutterman says that in Modiin Illit you could open a new class every Sunday. During an average week the town is blessed with an additional 30 residents, newly-born additions to this town which is richly blessed with children.]

For this school year (5763) we were successful in getting the authorities to apply the Compulsory Free Education For Children Act to children aged three years old and up instead of five years old, as is the case in the rest of the country. This meant significant reductions for each parent, starting at NIS 650 a month.

We have a wide variety of communities in the town. Each cheder naturally wants to educate according to its own outlook. We have a kindergarten network for the various networks and Bais Yaakov schools and we also have various chadorim and educational institutions for the chanichei hayeshivos. This town is wonderfully multifaceted.

One gets the feeling that Modiin Illit is, for the most part, composed of graduates of the Litvish yeshivos.

The town is made up, for the most part of, bnei Torah. Talmidim of the Roshei Hayeshivos in Eretz Yisroel as well as from various Chassidic groups. The Karliner Chassidim were the first ones to arrive here as pioneers and they developed their own institutions. Lately they have been joined by members of other Chassidic groups, amongst them Vishnitz. This is a multifaceted, elite town.

Top Priority

You say this is an elite town, but it also a poor town.

Rabbi Gutterman sighs. "Once every six years the Central Bureau of Statistics makes a survey in which it determines the socioeconomic ranking for each section of the country based on parameters set by the Bureau. The Local Council here was set up in 1996 and the last survey was conducted in 1995. In the absence of a ranking for the town, the government decided to allocate funds to our town based on an intermediate ranking of five points, on a scale of 1 to 10. The wealthiest settlements are awarded ten points and the poorest 1 point. A grade of five indicates a well- established settlement along the lines of the nearby settlements of Modiin and Shoham.

This does not make any sense. How can you compare a town such as Modiin to a settlement like Modiin Illit from the economic point of view?

It is indeed absurd and has a great effect on the town's resources and budget. A settlement with the economic standard of Modiin and Shoham is considered not to be in need of great assistance, which certainly is not the case with us.

Of course this ranking was not granted to us with our consent and we invested a lot of effort into obtaining a new ranking more in line with reality. Today, we have indeed been given a new ranking of 2. This is really at the very bottom of the scale.

So you also agree that the town is poor. How do its residents manage to subsist?

At the moment the town's biggest asset is its geographical location -- between Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak. Anyone leaving the settlement to go to work can get to Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak very quickly.

This is of course no solution. In the past we made an effort to bring hi-tech companies into the town. One large company even managed to train a large group of women to work in its plant. The company began to work for two days and -- went into liquidation. The intifadah brought ruin on to one of the investing companies and on this program as well as on several others.

Still, we have not given up. We have invested considerable effort into bringing sources of employment into the town. Following a lot of effort we received approval for classification as a priority A area from the Trade and Industry Ministry for the purposes of the Encouragement of Capital Investments Act. This means that this is the only location in the center of the country with a grade A priority classification. Anyone investing in a priority A area receives large refunds from the government, thereby making his investment worthwhile. Celcom, for example, set up a plant two kilometers away from us in Modiin, and is not getting any refunds. There can be no doubt that a priority A area has many advantages. This is an opportunity for businessmen to consider transferring their businesses to our area. This area has also been classified as a priority A area for tourist purposes.

It sounds like you managed to get around a lot of red tape in government quarters.

Our problem was to get through to the Housing Ministry, and this was not due to a lack of will on their part. On the contrary, Deputy Minister MK Rabbi Meir Porush is a great supporter of the settlement, but in normal circumstances the Housing Ministry and the Israel Lands Authority (Minhal Mekarkaei Yisrael) market land for construction. With the funds they receive, they develop the place and that way the money goes back to the settlement itself. But if the marketing was not done by the Housing Ministry it also does not have any funds in its possession and therefore no resources with which to fund the settlement. Therefore, there is no one to develop public areas.

And you as a local council cannot be expected to do this?

"Where should the income for this come from?" asks Rabbi Gutterman.

Our council is unique in this respect too. This is the only council which exists without any income. With the low local taxes (arnona) collected by us we are unable to build even one wall. For example, in any other town in Eretz Yisroel the Betterment Levy (hetel hashbacha) constitutes a source of income for any municipality in Israel; whenever a contractor wants to build and improve the value of his land, he has to pay a betterment levy. Here no such levy is charged at all.

Why is that really so?

Because according to the law we belong to Judea and Samaria, where Jordanian Law applies in the town planning area and thus no betterment levy is due. In addition, no bylaw exists as in other local authorities with respect to public building fees. According to these laws a contractor pays the municipality for each apartment he builds, an average of at least two thousand dollars for a three-room apartment in a building. These funds are used for the construction of public institutions.

But you are in the center of the country.

We are situated very close to the green line but inside Judea and Samaria.

Can't you enact this law too?

We started the initial process, but it was not authorized because the State Attorney's office is examining the legality of this law, which at the moment only applies to settlements in Judea and Samaria.

Settlements of our size in Judea and Samaria have found a solution to the Betterment Levy issue, which does not exist in our settlement. They have created an alternative Betterment Levy mechanism, within the framework of which a local council can receive financing in the region of 10 to 15 percent for the development of public settlements from the Housing Ministry.

In the case of our town, due to its status as a settlement on privately owned land, there is no such alternative arrangement of any kind. Our settlement does not have even one independent shekel to its name.

How do you manage to subsist under such circumstances?

Government ministries do try to help us out. Without government financing the situation would be very difficult. Not long ago Interior Minister Eli Yishai visited our town. He understood our difficulties and what we were complaining about, and he promised to set up a special joint committee made up of representatives from the Interior, Finance, Transport and Housing Ministries to solve the problem of a town built on privately owned land, which prevents our receiving financial assistance from the government.

What about businesses?

"There is potential here," promises Rabbi Gutterman. "We have a consumers. About half a year ago a branch of the Poalei Aguda Bank was even opened here, the only one in the whole of Judea and Samaria. The opening of the bank was accompanied with much apprehension, but the bank has enjoyed unprecedented success.

When a bank of this kind opens in a town it provides employment for residents, doesn't it?

Certainly. All the bank's employees are religious and we make sure that such places employ local residents.

Rabbi Gutterman reminds us that there are other places of employment in addition to the bank. "We have several commercial centers. One is in Kiryat Sefer and it consists, amongst other shops, of a branch of Birkat Rachel, a clinic and other stores. The other one is in Brachfeld, with a Shefa Mehadrin branch and other stores. On the southern hill a commercial center is also going to be constructed.

There is no shortage of customers. The networks compete with each other for a place in the commercial centers of the town. The Bar-Kol chain, for example, has three branches in three different locations in the town. We also have a recognized Hyperpharm network, which sells drugs as well as pharmacies. The Kupot Cholim also have large branches -- with good service. They are open until 11 p.m.

Generally speaking, anyone choosing to live in Modiin Illit will not lack anything. Most services exist in the town. Recently a Population Registry Office was even opened here, which issues identity cards and passports so that people will no longer have to travel to Yerushalayim.

The Torah Town

And what about your spiritual world?

"This is a town of bnei Torah and we are the third Torah center in Israel after Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak. The Kosel Hamizrach of the Yeshiva world today is in Modiin Illit. There are many yeshivos in our town. The Beis Abba institution headed by Rav Dov Freund includes a kollel of 450 avreichim and a yeshiva of 250 bochurim. The Knesses Hagedola Yeshiva is headed by Rav Hillel Zaks, and 250 bochurim learn there (the Yeshiva building is in the process of being constructed).

The Mir Yeshiva set up a branch in Brachfeld and 350 bochurim learn there as well as 100 avreichim in a kollel which opened this year. The Knesses Yitzchok Yeshiva from Chadera headed by HaRav Yehoshua Ehrenberg opened a branch of 100 bochurim. The Nefesh HaChaim Yeshiva is headed by Rav Yosef Schreiber and there is also the Yeshiva headed by Rav Shmuel Nader. The town also houses the Zecher Yitzchok Yeshiva headed by Rav Yaakov Diamant, which is doing very special work, and of course yeshivos ketanos and dozens of other large kollelim in which thousands of avreichim learn.

Is the town's population stable? Are there no fluctuations?

Population motion in our town is only positive. The rate of population growth is unprecedented: 18 percent annually according to the findings of the Central Bureau of Statistics in 2001. This is something very unusual.

A visitor to the town gets the impression that this is a very young town.

This is a correct impression. Around two thirds of the residents are between 0 to 40.

Private Public Transport

In a new town such as this there are not many private vehicles. How do people travel from here to Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak?

There is public transport. Transportation was one of the problems over here. The problem has still not been sorted out one hundred percent but there is no doubt that a great improvement can be felt, especially after the Transport Ministry privatized the public transport system which allowed a transport company to begin running here and replace Egged to meet the load of the town, most of whose residents use public transportation. This of course took place after a tender was held by the Transport Ministry.

"The result was that the Superbus Company which won the tender, runs the transport today to and from Modiin Illit. The difference is felt first and foremost in our pockets. Egged used to charge NIS 15.30 for a journey to Bnei Brak or Yerushalayim. In the tender the company offered a price of NIS 11.20. We did not agree to this price and demanded that a ticket should cost no more than NIS 9.20.

How did you reach this specific figure?

It was very simple. If they pay NIS 9.20 for a ticket in the neighboring town of Modiin then that should also be our price. We insisted on this despite the company's claim that it won the tender based on its price. This includes also a Chofshi Chodshi card to Yerushalayim at the cost of NIS 354, which also includes the Egged bus routes within Yerushalayim. The Egged chofshi chodshi card, by way of comparison, used to cost NIS 523.

Furthermore the Superbus Company runs two internal routes within the town. The price of a ticket, which it offered in the tender, was NIS 3.50. We demanded that such a ticket cost no more than NIS 3.00. It was clear to us that every half shekel was significant to a resident of Modiin Illit. The company accepted this demand and even today after the last rise in prices throughout the country, the prices remain stable, at least so far.

"A Housing Committee is in place which supervises transport and it is involved in all matters concerned with improving the service to the residents," says Rabbi Gutterman. "The Committee supervises the implementation of timetables and the requirements of transport users."

A United Town

We have talked about Brachfeld and Kiryat Sefer. One gets the sense, somehow, that these are two separate settlements.

This town of the future, Modiin Illit, is composed today, to a great extent, of neighborhoods, which are not completely joined. All the neighborhoods of Modiin Illit and another neighborhood, Ganei Modiin, which was detached from the Chashmonaim settlement in 1996, make up the town of Modiin Illit. It is true that there is not complete physical contiguity between these neighborhoods, but the distance between them is not great. Kiryat Sefer and Brachfeld are not more that quarter of an hour's walking distance apart. In the future, two new neighborhoods will be set up, im yirtzeh Hashem, Ne'ot Hapisga containing thousands of housing units, and Matisyahu Mizrach, which includes the Kiryat Melech neighborhood, in which thousands of housing units will also be set up.

The overall plan of the town talks about 150,000 residents who are to populate it in the future iy"H.

But there is no continuity between the neighborhoods?

That is true but there will be continuity in the future iy"H.

And what about the security situation in the town, which is on the Green Line?

When I first arrived here, the intifadah broke out and we therefore made great efforts and asked the security people to transfer the barrier, which used to be in the entrance of the town, two kilometers away from the town northwards. Furthermore, all the roads surrounding the settlement where Palestinian vehicles would travel were no longer allowed to be used by them. All this improved the security situation of the settlement. These changes allowed for the settlement's expansion and the establishment of additional neighborhoods, and with the approval of the Defense Minister and Prime Minister it was decided to include the whole settlement to the west of the future separation [partition] fence which is to pass next to the settlement.


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