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Israel: Court Rules Against Guaranteed Income for Students at Religious Institutes

(June 16, 2010) On June 14, 2010, Israel's High Court of Justice issued a ruling that ends the payment of a guaranteed income to certain students. The group affected is married men enrolled at advanced religious studies institutes. In 2009, the total funding for the program was NIS121 million (about US$25.8 million), and the payments were given by the Education Ministry to about 10,000 students, each of whom had at least three children. (Israeli High Court Rules to Abolish Religious Students' “Guaranteed Income,” JERUSALEM POST, June 15, 2010, World News Connection online subscription database, Document No. 201006151477.1_84d100961b1be994.)

The decision, which was supported by six of the seven judges, was outlined in a detailed statement by the President of the Court, Dorit Beinisch, and is the result of a petition filed by a group of students and activists ten yeas ago. She based the ruling on a determination that the payments were unconstitutional, since no other students could be recipients of the income. The portion of the budget allotted for these payments, which have been in existence since 1982, was ruled unlawful. Some time will be given to allow the current students involved to find other sources of income before the funding is cut off. (Id.)

Justice Edmond Levy was the only vote to keep the guaranteed income payments. He defended the system, stating:

The question whether the livelihood of Torah scholars should be cast upon the public is not a new one. But it is important to note that the people in Israel, through their elected bodies — the Knesset and government — thought that the answer should be affirmative. This is a principled decision that stems from the recognition that studying Torah is essential to the people of Israel, and I don't think the court should change that, especially since very modest sums are allocated to that end, meant to enable a humble lifestyle and nothing beyond. (Id.)

While the Education Minister criticized the decision and the Interior Minister announced plans to propose a new bill to fund the students, legislator Nitzan Horowitz praised the ruling, saying that it was “an important step toward ensuring real civil equality in Israel is achieved.” (Id.)