If you suspected that Rabbi Shai Piron, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party’s education minister, was on a warpath aimed to bring the Haredi yeshiva world down to its knees – you may have been right all along. It is difficult to put a positive spin on the good rabbi and minister’s recent decision regarding the flow of mostly American rabbinic students to Israeli yeshivas – a decision that is likely to simply kill that flow.
A letter sent out yesterday, Sept. 30, from the Dept. of Torah Institution in the ministry of education to yeshiva deans and other heads of religious institutions, under the title: “correction of qualifications for support,” states:
1. Elimination of support for students from abroad starting in 2014. From the time the correction has been finalized until the end of 2013, a reduced stipend will be issued to students from abroad, at 30 percent of what an Israeli student receives, and as of the start of 2014 the support for students from abroad will be stopped.
Over the past 40 years, a large number of yeshivas catering to Americans have sprouted in Israel, creating a strong bond between the Orthodox community in the U.S. and the Jewish state. These included “ba’aley tshuva” yeshivas, like Ohr Sameach and Aish Hatorah, Hesder Yeshivas, as well as yeshivas and seminaries for Orthodox men and women. Many of them depend on American government funding, in addition to money from the Israeli government.
According to Kikar Hashabbat, the cut is a death blow to yeshivas that have been catering to students from abroad, the majority of whom are American.
A yeshiva dean who spoke anonymously to Kikar Hashabbat said that, following the recent budget cuts for yeshivas, which will only get cut further next year, eliminating foreign student supports could cause the collapse of many yeshivas.
“This is not a smart or wise move on the part of the state of Israel,” the anonymous dean said. “You should know that the students who arrive in Israel bring foreign currency and are lavish consumers. Also, donations to religious institutions increase in correlation with the number of foreign students enrolled there. Now all of it will collapse. It will hurt the state, too, but mostly the yeshiva world.”
But Haredi journalist Israel Gelis is not as worried about the ability of yeshivas to survive. He believes they have already found ways of increasing the U.S. government support, since they are considered to be the equivalent of academic institutions.
Incidentally, there has been no reduction, much less elimination, of Israeli government support for foreign students attending local universities.
Sources in the ministry of education are saying the budget cuts were not initiated by them, but were decided in coalition budget negotiations, and Minister Piron had to decide where to apply the cuts imposed on his office. So he was merely in charge while those cuts were being decided.
Gelis anticipates a clash between Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennet and his political adopted brother Yair Lapid over these draconian cuts. Bennett has already objected to forcing Haredim to enlist at age 21 – when the law permitted them originally to wait until age 26.
Yesh Atid is fuming over the hurdle imposed by Jewish Home, since this would mean lower enlistment figures, as well as higher costs for each older recruit.
The theory behind Yesh Atid’s latest assault on the yeshiva world has to do with their desire to “dry up” Orthodox institutions, so that they would have no choice but to comply, send their students to the army and then let them go get jobs. But it’s hard to understand how that bit of complex social engineering would be supported by making it tough for American youths to attend a yeshiva in Israel.
Instead it just seems like petty vindictiveness.