MKs Gafni, Rosenthal in Finance Committee
MKs Gafni, Rosenthal in Finance Committee Israel news photo: Flash 90

Tension between hareidi and religious Zionist MKs seemed to reach an all-time high Tuesday, with the issue of funding for foreign students at Israeli yeshivot (religious academies) discussed at the Knesset's Finance Committee. The committee has proposed the allowance, amounting to several hundred shekels per student, be axed. 

Amid other angry remarks by hareidi MKs, Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) warned Bayit Yehudi's (Jewish Home) MK Nissan Slomiansky, the head of the committee, that ending the budget would "sever ties between haredim and national religious with one sharp cut."

In the discussions, MK Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) appealed to Slomiansky, "I turn to you as head of the committee, who is able to stop this terrible decree that will slash the budget of foreign students."  The state is committing an unforgivable crime, Litzman said, "there is no value to these extensions in the budget that you are so proud of. Look what is befalling the world of Torah! You are cutting off flesh from the yeshivot for foreign students."

He continued his impassioned plea: "This is daylight robbery, and I call upon all members of the committee to vehemently oppose the passing of this budget, and for this decree to be cancelled. What message is this giving, that we are telling the whole world not to come and learn Torah in Israel."  

He quoted a verse from scripture, "From Zion shall the Torah go forth," and added, "Now [Yesh Atid head] Yair Lapid and [Bayit Yehudi head] Naftali Bennett are telling everyone not come here to study Torah, and are closing the doors of the yeshivot to foreign students."

"Overseas students contribute to immigration"(aliyah) he told the committee, "I personally came to Israel only because I learned here in yeshiva. l, as well  as all my family, and tens of thousands of Jewish families, moved here to Israel after spending time studying here in yeshiva."

MK Gafni turned to the chairman of the committee and said "The gap between us is now like between Hareidi Jews and secular Jews. For the first time, in history, you are coming and taking money from yeshivot and giving it to the 'settlements'. Don't let this happen," he said, adding that "with one sharp cut  you will sever the relationship between the hareidi and religious Zionist communities."

The same sentiment was reflected by MK Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism) in an interview with radio Kol Hai, who said, "the Bayit Yehudi party is in a state of deficit regarding the issue of the budget for yeshivot. They promised not to harm the Torah world, and here now we are hearing about another decree, to cut the budget for yeshiva students from overseas. This cannot happen, that such a party like this can be elected to government. The Finance Minister forces their hand, time and time again, it is about time they took their hand away and started standing up to their promises," he charged.

Hareidi newspaper Kikar Hashabbat, described the planned cut as "a death blow to yeshivot that have been catering to students from abroad, the majority of whom are American."