Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Iyar 5763 - May 7, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Severe Blow to Yeshiva, Kollel and Religious Services Budgets
by Eliezer Rauchberger

The new, 462-page economic plan contains hundreds of laws that reduce the national budget by a total of NIS 11 billion ($2.4 billion). The first half of the budget slashing received Knesset Finance Committee approval early last week (which is all it needed to take effect) and two days later the second half (which required Knesset action) passed a first reading in the Knesset.

The Finance Committee cut NIS 210 million ($46 million) from the yeshiva budget, delivering a severe blow to the yeshivas and kollelim. Another NIS 50 ($11 million) was sliced away from the Ministry of Religious Affairs' budget for religious services and other areas.

The Knesset voted in favor of the second part of the plan, which eliminates the maternity grant ("ma'anak leidah") except for the first child and equalizes child support payments ("kitzvaot yeladim") for all of the first ten children. If the plan receives Knesset approval in second and third readings the equalization will be implemented in four phases, starting after the plan receives approval and ending in January 2006.

Another paragraph would amend the law providing military deferments for talmidei yeshivos for whom Torasam umnasam. According to the proposed amendment every yeshiva student who receives a deferment for at least four years and is 23 or older would be eligible to work after his set study times. The proposed amendment is ostensibly designed "to allow him to increase his income without relying on support from the state budget."

MK Rabbi Ravitz said this paragraph proves more than any other that all aspects of the plan affecting the chareidi sector are based on ideological rather than economic motives aimed at altering the chareidi way of life and lowering the value attached to Torah study and Torah scholars.

The plan also contains a paragraph that places a cap on the number of deputy mayors at local authorities. According to the proposal, local authorities with fewer than 10,000 residents would receive no funding for a deputy mayor. In cities with 10,000-50,000 residents, only one deputy mayor would be allowed. In cities with 50,000-100,000 residents, two deputy mayors would be allowed. And in cities with over 100,000 residents, a maximum of three deputy mayors would be allowed. If approved in second and third readings the amendment would rescind the special law that allowed the appointment of eight deputy mayors in Jerusalem, permitting only three such appointments after the upcoming municipal elections on 3 Sivan. The deputy mayors are the only salaried positions on the city councils, aside from the mayors.

The economic plan requires the merger of local authorities based on a list appended to the plan; wage reductions in the public sector; layoffs in the public sector; municipal tax increases; reforms in the Electric Company and the electricity industry and the cancellation of the Electric Company monopoly; increased tariffs for water; unfreezing various laws such as the Housing Loans Law; reforms in the domestic Bezeq services market and the addition of other providers; reform in the Broadcasting Authority and granting licenses for broadcasting stations; accelerating income tax reforms; imposing a tax on foreign workers; changes regarding pensions; reductions in all Bituach Leumi allotments; and more.

During the Knesset plenum, United Torah Jewry MKs lodged harsh criticism against various aspects of the economic plan. MK Rabbi Yisroel Eichler said, "The leftists in power have tried in the past, over the course of many years, to impose `progress' in the form communism and socialism, which have collapsed. Today the rightists in power want to impose capitalism. Both of them want to stop the Jewish way of life handed down from generation to generation. And we say to this government and to the wealthy magnates who dictate their path: you will not succeed in forcing our children to abandon the religion of their forefathers . . . [And] even if you starve large families we will not stop filling the country with Jewish children and, be'ezras Hashem, we will make up for the one million children who perished and were killed in the Holocaust . . . "

He also argued that ceasing government support for the 18,000 talmidei yeshivos from abroad--despite the fact that they bring a considerable amount of money into the economy and in many cases stay in Israel permanently--gives the impression that the government is trying to effect an anti- Jewish revolution in the guise of an economic revolution.

MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni said he was not addressing the smug Shinui Party or the Mafdal, which is only interested in gaining seats, but rather Likud members who are divided in their opinions. He reminded them of the NIS 800 million ($177 million) budget cut in housing grants for eligible young couples and warned that this decree would not harm rich people from Kfar Shmaryahu but the poor and residents in development towns, i.e. Likud voters. "A bank executive who earns NIS 150,000 ($33,000) per month will not have to pay for health insurance or insurance fees [Bituach Leumi payments] while a housewife will. They are deducting from child support payments and giving money to the bank executive who earns NIS 150,000. We are standing before a social civil war. This plan will not benefit anyone, will not bring growth, will not create jobs, will not accomplish anything. Instead the country will descend toward a gaping pit."

Rabbi Gafni also challenged the 30 percent cut in the yeshiva budget compared to the 2 percent cut in the higher education budget. "Why? Can someone explain this to me?" he demanded. "The salary and benefits of one university professor or department head could keep a yeshiva running for a whole year. You will not be forgiven for this vote. You will not be able to hide behind the back of Sharon, who has betrayed all of the ideologies he preached for years when we were with him."

MK Rabbi Meir Porush called the government spineless and without values. The government proclaims it wants to fight against Hamas, he said, but meanwhile it is robbing ["chomeset"] bread out of the mouths of the poor and small children. "How are they to blame for the fact that politics here is so dirty and seeks to strike a blow because the chareidi sector is involved?"

He also criticized the plan for showing skewed priorities in budget cutting. "Why does the Finance Ministry Comptroller need five assistants? And why does the Finance Ministry Budget Director need another five assistants? And why does the Attorney General need five deputies? And what is the purpose of maintaining the President's Office, which is not an executive institution, at a time when we need money for children and poor people so they have bread to eat?"


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