Monday, December 26, 2005

Israeli Government gives Channuka Gelt to Yeshiva Students

From Haaretz:

Knesset Finance Committee Chair Yaakov Litzman (Agudath Israel) obtained an expensive Hanukkah gift for yeshiva students yesterday - but the state will pick up the NIS 44 million tab.

The gift consists of a one-time state grant of NIS 330 for every unmarried yeshiva student and NIS 600 for every married yeshiva student, to be distributed over the next few days. The money will be on top of the normal monthly stipend received by yeshiva students - NIS 720 for married men and NIS 400 for single men.

The NIS 44 million in grants is on top of the extra NIS 290 million for ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) educational institutions that Litzman's party was promised in exchange for joining the coalition at the start of the year.

Litzman vigorously defended the Hanukkah grant yesterday. "I worked to increase support for yeshiva students in light of budget cuts of the last few years, including cuts in child allowances," he said. "I'm happy that the Finance Ministry met me halfway and understood the distress of the Haredi public. I hope that this sum will make things a little easier for families. The money will be distributed according to the Education Ministry's criteria."

Haredi MK Moshe Gafni (Degel Hatorah) also defended the grants. "These are surplus funds from the yeshiva budget that were unutilized," he said. "When there's a surplus in the yeshiva budget, they increase the per-student allocation to institutions."

But MK Ronnie Brizon (Shinui) was outraged. "With regard to Litzman, the Haredim and the cooperation they receive from the treasury, things have gone beyond shame and beyond swinishness. It seems that all the dams have been burst, and the Haredim only have to demand something in order for [the government] to bow to their whims and disburse public funds like hot potato pancakes on Hanukkah. This is merely a frightening omen of what is liable to happen in the 17th [i.e. next] Knesset: The public will be exposed to the unbridled money lust of those people, who contribute almost nothing to society, but receive almost everything from it."

Although the grants are an achievement that could theoretically help Litzman's chances of obtaining a top slot on his party's next Knesset slate, he currently is not planning to run for reelection, and thus far has steadily refused appeals including one from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, to change his mind. However, many MKs believe that his rabbinic patron, the Gur Rebbe, Rabbi Yakov Alter, ultimately will order Litzman to run for reelection and serve in the next Knesset.