Public funding for religious institutions of higher learning reached new heights on Sunday, when the coalition approved an additional 48 million shekels ($12.4 million) for yeshivas.
With the injection of cash, the government’s funding of yeshivas broke the previous record, set just half a year ago, with a total of 1.17 billion shekels ($302 million) spent annually supporting the religious institutions.
The new level of funding represents a significant increase over the past few years. The previous all-time record was set this June, when government funding for yeshivas passed 1.119 billion shekels ($290 million). In real money terms, the increase was even greater, as the past six months have had an average inflation rate of negative 0.5%.
Before June, government spending for yeshivas peaked in 2011, with 1.032 billion shekels ($270 million).
But following cuts during Yair Lapid’s (Yesh Atid) term as Finance Minister, the budget for yeshivas fell to just 564 million shekels ($146 million) in 2014.
By the beginning of 2016, however, that figure had grown 74%, to 984 million shekels ($254 million). With the addition 48 million shekels ($12.4 million) allocated on Sunday, the total increase in the yeshiva budget from 2014 to 2016 stands at 107%, or more than double the level two years ago.
Much of the increase over the past two years stems from haredi coalition demands to increase funding for foreign yeshiva students studying in Israeli institutions.
While in the past such students received just 60% of the funding native Israeli students received, non-citizen yeshiva students now get 95% of the amount provided for Israelis. Many of these students, especially in the Religious Zionist sector, remain or return later to make their homes in Israel.
During Lapid’s term as Finance Minister from 2013 to 2014, a new requirement obligating foreign yeshiva students to participate in a special Education Ministry program in order to receive funding drastically reduced the number of students on the government rolls. Upon the new government’s formation, that requirement was dropped, and the number of students receiving funding has risen.
Separate from the budget allocated for yeshivas are the monthly stipends given to married yeshiva students. If approved, the stipends will add another 100 million shekels to the yeshiva budget, bringing the total to 1.27 billion shekels ($330) per year.
Torah study in Israel has blossomed, with the country having the largest number of yeshiva students in any country in the world, more than were in all of Europe before the Holocaust.