Daily Israel Report

Religious Girls' Seminaries Face Closure

More than 50% budget cut threatens activities of tens of seminaries across Israel. Seminary directors meet Head of Finance Committee.
By Adam Ross and Ari Soffer
First Publish: 10/10/2013, 5:10 PM

Union of Seminaries at the Knesset
Union of Seminaries at the Knesset
Union of Seminaries

A more than 50% squeeze on the budget for religious Zionist girls seminaries has threatened tens of institutions with closure, according to a spokesperson for a union representing them.

Tzahi Dickstein, CEO of the Union for seminaries Teaching Judaism and Land of Israel Studies, said that this year's annual budget is facing a significant deficit. Whereas a full budget requires around NIS 15 million, this year's budget stands at less than half, at 7 million.

Under the jurisdiction of the Torah Culture Desk at the Ministry of Education, three decades of educational activities, studies and tours around the country organised by the seminaries now look to be in serious danger of being axed.

A letter has been sent by the seminaries union to Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) MKs, pleading for help.  

"A cut of more than 50% to budgets threatens [seminaries] ability to provide the quality educational activities they have been delivering for many years," the Union wrote.

Bayit Yehudi MK Nissan Slomiansky - who is also head of the Finance Committee - replied to the letter saying he would do "whatever he could" to help. This week, Slomiansky met with Dickstein and tens of seminary directors from all over the country in his office. During the meeting the directors spoke about the crisis and the ramifications of the budget cut.

MK Shuli Mualem (Bayit Yehudi), who also joined the meeting, said: "It is a great honor for the Bayit Yehudi party to have such a great undertaking and obligation, to help the seminaries to develop and grow."

Yeshivas also reeling from cuts

The impact of the national budget on hareidi and religious zionist yeshivas (religious academies for men) has been in and out of the headlines since the current government took office in March.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) has been tasked with tackling Israel's growing deficit, but his critics say he is unfairly targeting religious institutions as part of a campaign against the religious Jewish community.

The squeeze on yeshivas has provoked bitter exchanges with the government and especially members of the Finance Committee. Following pressure from opponents of the cuts, NIS 65 million was restored to the yeshiva budget.

Meanwhile a proposed funding cut for Jewish students from overseas who learn in Israeli yeshivas may lead to a showdown within government itself.

MKs Zevulun Kalfa (Bayit Yehudi) and Eliezer Stern (Hatnua), both members of the Finance Committee, have threatened to vote down budget transfers if the budget for overseas students is not restored. The cut is opposed by both religious and secular MKs who say the government should not be cutting funding to a group from which a large proportion will likely stay in Israel as full citizens.

The budget cut in question will slash the funding for yeshivas with overseas students by a total of 12.5 million shekels per year. It is expected to affect yeshivas from across the religious spectrum.