A High Court of Justice panel headed by Supreme Court President Asher Grunis issued a conditional injunction on Tuesday preventing the state from paying benefit packages to 54,000 ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.
The injunction obligates the state to explain why the benefits were not suspended after the Tal Law, which enabled the deferment of mandatory military service, expired in August. The state will also need to explain why the criteria for receiving benefits packages were changed to include those who received them in the past, as well as new yeshiva students.
The injunction came after a petition was submitted by the pro-religious freedom and democracy organization Hiddush, the Israeli Forum for Citizen Equal Rights and Obligations, Israel Hofshit (A Free Israel) and former MK Ronnie Barizon of the now defunct Shinui party. The petition argued that since the haredi students are no longer exempt from military service, any benefit packages they receive from the state after evading their mandatory service should be illegal.
According to an example given by Hiddush, as of January 2013, the state was paying a net monthly fee of 4,800 shekels ($1,200) to any 28-year-old yeshiva student with three or four children whose wife either did not work or received an undeclared salary. For a yeshiva student of this age with a working wife, the state paid 4,100 shekels ($1,098) monthly.
Additionally, the housing assistance stipend for 2013, virtually non-existent in previous assistance packages, will stand between 1,200 shekels ($321) and 1,700 shekels ($455) on average for a family purchasing a home through government tenders tailored for haredi towns and neighborhoods.
The main reason behind this substantial increase is that over the past year the Housing and Construction Ministry has marketed tens of thousands of apartments in haredi cities or neighborhoods, in which benefit packages worth between 150,000 shekels ($40,000) and 200,000 shekels ($53,000) were offered, which equals the housing stipend at an average of 1,500 shekels ($401) per month for 10 years.
Another element of the benefits package for yeshiva students is negative income tax, which is beneficial for families in which the wife is employed.
Amid an election season in which the public outcry for greater equality in sharing the national service burden has reached increasingly demanding pitches, the figures are sure to further frustrate Israelis already burdened by heavy income taxes, soaring apartment prices and mandatory military and reserve duty.
Supreme Court Justice Miriam Maor explained the court's decision: "The question is not whether the yeshiva students can study Torah or not, it is whether they should be given support to do so. If the military deferment is done according to the law then there is nothing to prevent giving benefits packages. But if the deferment is not kosher then no benefit package should be given."
Hiddush President Rabbi Uri Regev called on the court to "set an immediate date to hold discussions because the state transfers 30 million shekels ($8 million) each month to yeshivas against the law, and there is no way that these gigantic sums will ever be returned."