Number of yeshiva students plummets
Tightened supervision on yeshivot, kollelim leads to 6.5% drop in number of students in Education Ministry records within two months
Kobi Nahshoni • Ynet
The number of yeshiva students in the Education Ministry records dropped by an unprecedented rate of 6.5% due to the tightened supervision on yeshivot and kollelim and the conditions for receiving financial support from the State, Ynet has learned.
The number of yeshiva and kollel students has been reduced by some 8,500 students since December 2010. The Education Ministry confirmed the details.
Recent years have seen a constant rise in the number of students of Torah institutions funded by the State. This trend stopped for a while during former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's second government (as a result of the Shinui party being in the coalition and the haredi parties in the opposition) – but it was not reversed, as is happening now.
In December 2010, there were some 130,000 students registered in the Education Ministry. Today there are only 121,000.
The main reason for the smaller number of students is that many institutions have removed students who fail to attend classes regularly from their lists for fear that the entire institution would be disqualified.
In addition, there are institutions which have ceded budgetary support due to the tougher conditions, and several others which were disqualified in the latest reviews.
According to professional estimates, the state could save NIS 50 to 70 million ($14 to 19 million) a year as a result of the new figures. The data presented refer to yeshivot comprised of students aged 16-17 study and kollelim (where only married people study) and not to small yeshivot – the haredi "high schools".
It all began with fraud
Supervision on the kollelim was tightened following an affair involving falsified documents and false reports, which was revealed about two months ago in the Khal Edat Yerushalyim institutions.
A memo distributed among yeshiva heads explained that the police have analyzed the working methods of the suspects in the affair, and have decided to enforce procedures order to prevent similar incidents from repeating themselves.
According to the new instructions, during a ministry supervisor's visit to the institution, only the students present will be counted – and additional students will not be allowed to enter during the review.
The students will identify themselves to the supervisors using their original identity card or driver's license rather than photos, and this will be done the presence of a representative of the institution who knows the students and can identify them himself.
A refusal to take part in the inspection may lead to the State's refusal to recognize the institution and to a return of support funds.
Rabbi Uri Regev, director of Hiddush – For Religious Freedom and Equality, said in response: "The fear of inspection has led to the 'deletion' of thousands of students and helped the State to save tens of millions of shekels.
"Increasing inspections initiated by the Treasury and Education Ministry is holy service, and we should hope that they won't be discouraged by political pressures on the part of the haredi parties. Fines are not enough. The State Prosecutor's Office must file indictments against those caught issuing false reports."
The Jerusalem Post's report:
Drastic fall in yeshiva students getting state support
Haredi sources say 6.5% drop is the result of ‘draconian’ new checking policies; currently 121,500 students receiving state stipends.
By JONAH MANDEL • Jerusalem Post
A recent dramatic decrease in the number of haredi men enrolled in yeshivot is getting contradictory explanations from differing parties.
As of today, there are approximately 8,500 less yeshiva and kollel students receiving state stipends than there were at the end of 2010, a 6.5 percent drop that brings the number down from 130,000 to 121,500. These numbers were revealed by Ynet on Thursday, and confirmed by the Education Ministry. The state is expected to save approximately NIS 70 million, which it would have otherwise spent on the yeshiva students.
The drop is the result of heads of institutions requesting that the ministry remove students from their lists, and is a result of the ministry’s recently tightened inspections. Last November, police arrested a number of managers from the Matmidim yeshivot on the suspicion that they were part of a scam producing fraudulent identity cards to create the appearance of greater numbers of students in their institutions.
Yeshivot and kollels recognized by the Education Ministry receive financial support on a per capita basis. Inspectors are regularly conducting surprise visits to yeshivot to ensure that those enrolled are indeed real and present.
Rabbi Uri Regev, the head of Hiddush: For Religious Freedom and Equality, said that the numbers prove “that contrary to what heads of the yeshivot are claiming, the state’s supervision over yeshivot and kollels is not tight enough.”
“There are suspicions of widespread fraud that must be eradicated,” a statement read. “Instead of fortifying the world of Judaism, dozens of yeshivot [that have been proven to be scamming the state] are causing a desecration.”
Regev also called upon the haredi MKs and heads of yeshivot who “launched an attack against the Education Ministry’s supervision mechanism to publicly apologize and unequivocally condemn fictive registrations, lest the public think they condone stealing from public funds.”
Senior Ashkenazi adjudicator Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv had in fact spoke out in the most harsh terms against the possibility that haredi educational institutions defrauded the state of dozens of millions of shekels. “If the story turns out to be true, the thieves should be considered pursuers [literally din rodef, a harsh term from halachic tradition],” he was cited as saying shortly after police raided the institutions and made arrests.
Head of the Knesset Finance Committee Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) refused to comment on the numbers, and said he’d do so only when similar data was released regarding universities and state-supported culture institutions. Gafni had on Wednesday approached Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar to protest the conduct of the Education Ministry and the inspectors after heads of yeshivot received a letter warning them that funds they had received might be recalled if the High Court of Justice rules against the continued funding of the institutions.
While the numbers of students removed from the ministry’s lists is not being challenged, sources within the haredi world, however, are charging that the decrease is a result of the fear of being fined, in the wake of the “draconian” inspections.
A rabbi who wished to remain unnamed said that many heads of yeshivot approach the ministry and ask that their institution be removed from the lists for the fear that an inspection will unjustly cause great financial damage and that that is not worth the risk.
“As head of a yeshiva for dropout youth, my father underwent a few inspections in the past months, and passed them all. But if one of the youths happens to be out of the yeshiva at the time, my father could face a fine equal to three years of state support. It’s just not worth it,” the rabbi said.
“Such inspections do not exist in any other system receiving state support,” he continued. “Why can’t the Finance Ministry, which is behind hiring the inspectors, use private investigators the same way the National Insurance Institute does?” “There will always be inaccuracies in the margins of such a large group of institutions receiving funding,” the rabbi said of the yeshivot in which the registries did not match the reality. “But the state is now spending millions of shekels on the investigators, who cannot supply an accurate picture of what is happening in the yeshivot. The whole mechanism has become too lucrative to stop at this point.”
A spokesman for the Education Ministry could not say how many of those removed from the supported lists were entire yeshivot, and how many secluded individuals.