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June 20, 1986 - Image 32

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-06-20

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How Orthodox Groups
Are Supported In Israel

ince there is no separa-
tion of religion and state
in Israel, all recognized
religious groups — Jews,
Christians, Moslems and
Druse — receive state
support for essential services. Orthodox
Jews make up about 20 to 25 percent of
the Jewish population.
The basic services include the relig-
ious education provided as part of the
state school system; and full support for
the network of ultra-Orthodox primary
schools and yeshivas that refuse to as-
sociate with the official state system
(since the latter is "tainted" with
Zionism). The ultra-Orthodox schools
thus do not commemorate Independ-
ence Day. There is also a state-sup-
ported network of local religious coun-
cils and rabbinical functionaries that
covers practically the entire country,
which provides services such as kashrut
inspection and funds for mikvehs (ritual
baths) and synagogues.
In addition, there is a rabbinical court
system that parallels the civil legal sys-
tem. At the apex of the rabbinical struc-
ture stands the Chief Rabbinate. During
the last 15 years, the country's official
rabbinical structure has taken on an in-
creasingly right-wing religious hue,
which reflects the growing power and
militance of the ultra-Orthodox sector
in general. State-appointed rabbis at all
levels, whose salaries are paid by the
tax-payers, regard it as part of their role
to combat any and all manifestations of
Reform and Conservative Judaism. The
latter, of course, are not recognized as
legitimate religious alternatives, and do
not get the state support which the Or-
thodox sector receives.
The religious political parties repre-
sented in the Knesset — which today
have 13 out of 120 seats in the parlia-
ment — receive liberal state support for
their political activities, as do all parties.
These benefits reflect a broad agree-
ment in Israel that the state should sup-
port basic religious services for its
citizens, even if they do not share the
Zionist values of the majority. Other
types of benefits for Orthodox parties
and groups, however, have aroused much
controversy and not a few court battles
and scandals.
The ministries of education, religious
affairs, labor and social affairs, housing,



Where Do All Our Dollars Go?

Xi, Friday, June 20, 1986

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

interior (which administers local govern-
ment) are used as channels for direct
allocations to hundreds of religious
groups that are budgeted in addition to
regular ministry programs. These funds
are usually secured as part of govern-
ment coalition agreements, whereby the
religious parties trade their parliamen-
tary support to the ruling party in re-
turn for various benefits. Many of these
allocations are deliberately placed under
innocuous budget categories to hide
their true purpose. Religious institu-
tions have also been the main recipients
of funds dispensed by the Justice Min-
istry from bequests left to the state.
Since the Likud came to power in
1977, the power of the ultra-Orthodox
parties has greatly increased, due in
part to the fact that leaders of Agudat
Israel have held the influential post of
chairman of the Knesset Finance Com-
mittee during this time.
One of the most controversial types of
benefits concerns government grants to
ultra-Orthodox yeshivas for young sing-
le men or for married men, the latter
known as kollelim. Per capita grants
that run into tens of millions of dollars
are paid to these yeshivas, which ag-
gressively preach against the "corrup-
ting" influence of military service. Scan-
dals periodically erupt concerning ye-
shivas that inflate their rosters in order
to qualify for larger grants.
Draft exemptions and deferments are
provided automatically for yeshiva
students. The kollelim have in effect
become means of avoiding army service
for some students who prolong their
studies until they reach the age where
they serve less than the three years re-
quired for 18-year-olds. (Young men from
religious Zionist backgrounds, however,
take a patriotic stance towards military
service, and do not look for ways to
avoid it.)
The Joint Distribution Committee
provides about $1.6 million annually to
support yeshivas in Israel, a long-
standing practice.
The Jewish Agency and WZO are also
major sources of funds and patronage
for religious Zionist groups which are
members of these bodies. But they also
support anti-Zionist institutions of the
ultra-Orthodox sector, which shuns
membership in these bodies.

ea,

by the WZO to build and run programs at
just two Orthodox institutions in Jeru-
salem, the Beit Midrash Letorah and
Machon Gold. We don't get anything ap-
proaching what the Orthodox get for our
educational programs in the Agency or
WZO."
"I don't accept the artificial distinction
between the Agency and WZO," he con-
tinued. "The funds come from basically the
same source and the same political con-
siderations influence the distribution of
money in both bodies. For example, the
Agency allocates money to the political
movements of the WZO through what is
called the 'constructive funds,' to carry out
projects in Israel. Now some of the groups
that get money from these funds opposed
the grant to our hostel. Why?"
Bernice Tannenbaum, the chairman of
the American Section of the WZO Ex-
ecutive and a leader of the World Con-
federation of United Zionists, said at the
Board of Governors meeting that. approv-
ing the grant for the Reform hostel would
"open a Pandora's box. A wide variety of
organizations will come to see the Jewish
Agency as a milking cow." But the Con-
federation that she represents received $1
million from the Agency's "constructive
funds" to build a new Jerusalem head-
quarters.
"It's a very nice building," noted Hirsch,
Jut the Confederation facility won't be
serving the thousands of Diaspora youth
that we will bring to our hostel and educa-
tional center."
Hirsch conceded that the Agency has
been more forthcoming with other requests
from the Reform movement. For example,
he cited the funds provided by the Depart-
ment of Rural Settlement — "probably
over $10 million by now" — for the move-
ment's new mitzpeh in the Galilee and its
two kibbutzim in the Negev, the first of
which was established in 1977. "Here we
have no complaints. We have been fairly
treated and have in fact received extra help
in developing our settlements."
But he was critical of the allottment of
shlichim: "We have three in the U.S., two
in South Africa, two half positions in
Australia and one-and-a-half positions in
England. We want more shlichim in all
these countries, but since they are allo-
cated on a political basis, we get less than
we deserve. The imbalance in the U.S. is
particularly serious." These positions cost
the WZO several hundred thousand dollars
a year.
The WZO also provides grants to various
Reform educational programs in Israel and
the Diaspora, through its departments and
the Jewish education funds operated joint-
ly with the Agency, that also add up to
several hundred thousand dollars a year.
But most of these grants were made for a

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