High Court: Explain Payments to Draft-Age Yeshivah Students

YERUSHALAYIM -

The High Court yesterday issued a directive to the government instructing it to explain within 45 days why funding for tens of thousands of yeshivah students should not be suspended following the expiration of the Tal Law. The directive was given in response to an appeal submitted by Chiddush for Freedom of Religion and Equality, Free Israel, the Forum for Equal Sharing of the Burden and former MK Ronny Brizon.

Half a year ago, an appeal was filed to suspend all payments to some 54,000 yeshivah students who can no longer defer their army services since the expiration of the Tal Law. The appeal claimed that according to the allocationcriteria for yeshivos, only those who have an exemption from the army, or who received deferments under the Tal Law, can continue to receive financial support from the Education Ministry. Since the law has expired, there are no longer legal grounds for continuing to transfer support funds to yeshivah and kollel students.

In September, the government announced that it had decided to amend the criteria for Torah institutions to enable continued support for everyone, as long as he has not been actually drafted for mandatory service. In other words, despite the fact that draft notices have been sent to bachurim and avreichim, as long as the time to report for duty has not been reached, they can continue to receive funding.

The government announced that Torah institutions will not be entitled to receive support for anyone who has been called up for duty and did not report. The deputy attorney general, Mike Blass, wrote at the time to the appellants that the objective of the stipends is “to ease things for yeshivah students who have families” and “the amendment does not significantly alter the existing situation.”

Attorney Yuval Roitman of the State Prosecution Office said on Tuesday at the hearing that “as long as a person has not been specifically called up to serve, he can continue learning. The minute the court will decide that it needs to draft the entire population in another week, then he will have to report. In this case, our position is that as long as there is no mandatory call-up for a person, and this is a question that needs a decision, then he can continue to sit and learn.”

Regarding the stipends, Attorney Roitman said that “as long as a student has not received a draft order, whether it is the result of a court decision or not, we have to continue to give him the support because he has not violated any significant, existing law.”

Following the amendment, an amended appeal was filed with the High Court, claiming that the clear intention of the new criteria is to leave the status quo. “And that is despite the fact that the legal reality has changed significantly — in light of the expiration of the Tal Law that defers service.”

The appellants claim that the Education Ministry and the Attorney General “have sewn with large, coarse stitches a repair to the criteria that has one goal — the continued payments to those same entities, in the same amounts, with no changes — to prevent the suspension of payments — a situation which would have aroused a public and political hue and cry.”

The appellants claim that it is unclear how to check who has been called to serve, and that is for a reason — because since the Tal Law expired, any Israeli who turns 18 and does not have an exemption from the army must serve.

The appellants further claim that the new criteria discriminate “because they do not offer equal and fair opportunity for the general public to compete for support funds.” They added that the “respondents, and especially the Education Minister and Attorney General, have violated their obligation as public servants and have trampled on the principle of equality.”

As a result, the High Court further ruled that the state must respond within 45 days why the amendment that it made in September to criteria for support funds for Torah institutions should not be cancelled, and why it should not determine that the recommendation of the Attorney General regarding the amendment was illegal, and therefore null.

The High Court stated that the appeal will be adjudicated before an expanded court, and the judges will be selected by Court President Asher Grunis. At the same time, additional appeals regarding the yeshivah draft submitted after the Tal Law expired will be discussed as well.