Punishing American Learning in Israel

Besides the legal changes affecting the funding for the Yeshivos, the Religion Ministry under Bennet has a few tricks up its sleeve that we don’t even know about. I just spoke with a Rosh Yeshiva in Israel whom I know personally to confirm details of this, and who insisted that his name not be used, so he had no reason to exaggerate.

Like college after the end of exams, students from abroad will often exit during the last few days of a yeshiva zman, especially at the end of the winter before Pesach. It is quite routine that if a zman ends on Monday, for example, students will be permitted to fly back home on Saturday night or Sunday.

The inspectors from the Religion Ministry are essentially hired accountants, who come to visit a yeshiva and see how many students they have. But they do not have control over their schedules. An inspector who had visited a yeshiva several times previously, and knew that it was functioning and flourishing, was deliberately instructed to come visit the yeshiva on Sunday, immediately prior to the “official” end of zman but once all the students had been let go. And by taking a tally at that time, he was forced to report that the Yeshiva had a tiny fraction of the students that it claimed, had lied to the government, and not only should not receive money but should be forced to pay money back to the ministry that it had taken illegally.

All of which, of course, the inspector knew to be false, and he was honestly quite apologetic about it to the Rosh Yeshiva.

The Rosh Yeshiva sounded content and happy as he always is, but the Yeshiva was facing very significant debts before this happened. This is how you ruin an institution which brings hundreds of young men to spend lots of money in Israel — with lies and fraud. It’s how you murder a person via government fiat. Believe what you will, but this is the truth. This is what now runs the government of Israel.

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22 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    So what then is the strategy to elect a more sympathetic government capable of running Israel properly? Wouldn’t that include some effort at friendly outreach and persuasion?

  2. Daniel Rubin says:

    “…who insisted that his name not be used, so he had no reason to exaggerate.” I think the same premise could run the other way, but I’m prepared to take this at face value.

    If the yeshiva had only a tiny fraction of its student body in attendance by the end of the zman, then presumably it’s an American-student-dominated yeshiva. My next presumption (and it’s only that) is that those students pay tuition, and that (presumably) this type of yeshiva does not depend on government funds quite as desperately as a typical Israeli yeshiva.

    I’d be interested to know if this same type of thing goes on at Israeli yeshivas — and if it does, what reason there would be for only a tiny fraction of students to be in attendance at the end of the zman.

    Aside from all that, we don’t know from this anecdote whether this is the government’s general practice or just something that happened at one yeshiva because of scheduling or whatever. But I’m prepared to admit that it would be a little naive to assume that that’s the entire explanation.

  3. Jonathan Taylor says:

    I’m sorry, but to my understanding, the government isn’t SUPPOSED to pay for chutznik students. That’s why they pay their own way through high tuition that none of the Israeli students pay.

    [They do, but foreign exchange students in every country are a robust source of income for the host country’s economy. It is quite normal for the government to help. The US does it too.

    And besides, it’s irrelevant. We’re talking about money that was promised, allocated, and then given, and then taken back on a lie. –YM]

  4. Joe Hill says:

    Typical rishus by the Israeli government.

  5. Yisroel H says:

    The game used to be to open negotiations: You claim your store only makes $50K a year. We send in a tax inspector at lunchtime, times that business by 40 and decide you make 500K a year. You want to pay 2K, we ask for 25K, we settle for 4 or 5K.
    This has been a common trick for decades. I think the Rosh Yeshiva flew the white flag too quickly.
    The only case that I know of where such a thing “stuck” was one where the inspector took a personal dislike to the Rosh Kollel.

    [He knows of another institution that tried to fight it, and wasted many additional thousands on legal fees that went nowhere. –YM]

  6. Jonathan Taylor says:

    It’s completely relevant. If you agree with my initial statement–that the gov’t isn’t supposed to pay for chutznik students–than the promise, allocation and giving is funds that , by law were not SUPPOSED to go to the Yeshiva in question. Which is the lie you’re protesting? That students not entitled to gov’t funding were claimed by the institution as if they were?

    [You have made a mistake. The government pays for exchange students, which is different than the payments for resident students. The funds were most definitely supposed to go to the Yeshiva and everything was above board. –YM]

  7. dr. bill says:

    Yeshivot like Gush or KBY charge X and receive Y from the Israeli government. X is very significantly larger than Y. that ratio is an important factor. I know that ratio for various yeshivot only anecdotally; it is rather revealing. without that ratio for the yeshivah in question, the story is not complete.

  8. Josh Kahn says:

    That’s obviously a horrible thing in every sense, but the tone of this article is extremely inappropriate.

    Take another look at that closing few sentences:

    “. . . lies and fraud. It’s how you murder a person via government fiat. . . . This is what now runs the government of Israel.”

    First, the use of the term “lies and fraud”; second, the hyperbolic use of the word “murder”; third, generalizing both terms to the entire government of Israel. That combination is pretty caustic, it directly implies the whole government is a bunch of crooks, and indirectly implies they’re worse than that. I don’t think that’s appropriate. At best, it makes us, and the Torah we represent, look small.

    Is it likely that mid-level bureaucrat ordered this out of misplaced ideological zeal / spite? That strikes me as more likely than this being a general policy. Even if the worst of everything possible were true, is name calling the most effective way to fight it?

    [It’s fine if you wish to use dishonestly mild language mipnei darchei shalom, but there is no obligation to do so. The inspector himself felt like a pawn, used by someone with a hostile agenda. This was fraudulent use of government power and did horrible damage to an institution whose entire budget was set out dependent upon funds which were capriciously removed. Could it have killed the RY? Yes. I am not saying the whole government is a bunch of crooks. A bunch of crooks are not as deliberately hostile to institutions of Torah learning. –YM]

  9. cvmay says:

    Most institutions of higher learning whether religious or secular have a ‘school calendar’ which notes when winter break, spring break, ben hazamanim begins and ends. Talmidim at a yeshiva whether they are chutzniks or residents should abide by the Yeshiva/School’s calendar and consequences enacted if there are those that leave early or return late.

    [That’s not the topic; the students all left with permission. The government deliberately waited until they left to come in and claim that because the “official” end date is Rosh Chodesh, the students who left a day early, with permission, did not exist. Orwell’s 1984 brought to life. –YM]

  10. yehonatan alibert says:

    I won’t say that some inspectors have an agenda against charedim. But by blaming the wole government is a bit pushing too far. Frauds exist on both sides, the ecample of bachurim registered in few different yeshivot, each of those receiving money for the same student. Or the story of an aid of a charedi member of the knesset, who on the same time was.working for this MK and receiving a stipend as a kollelman, without being there during every sedarim.
    So fraud are on both sides, but the inspectors, or the one who sent him,didn’t do any fraud, a bit too much xealous maybe with an agenda, but not fraud.

  11. Josh Kahn says:

    B’H we will not experience a true government of “crooks and worse.” We are surrounded by nations who truly would steal from us – at best. Hyperbole confusing hostility and small-time venality with real oppression shows a lack of historical perspective and hakaras hatov that our fellow Jews pick up on.

    Israel’s government is obviously not a Torah institution, but it is far, far better than what we have been routinely subjected to. We need to keep some perspective here. Failing to do so justifiably feeds the resentment of our less fortunate brothers and sisters, and creates more of the behavior in question.

  12. Eli Julian says:

    I was witness to the following scene at Yeshivas Toras Moshe around ten years ago. The inspectors of the Misrad haDatot showed up at the yeshiva on the 3rd of Av. Most Yeshivos end on the 7th of Av, yet as Rabbi Menken reports most American yeshiva students are chomping at the bit already starting and the 17th of Tamuz to get home. In any event, the inspectors were obviously there with the evil intention of doing what they did to the yeshiva in Rabbi Menken’s report above. Rabbi Meisleman, the Rosh Hayeshiva, did not allow them in the building and demanded that they check with the Misrad Hadatot what date they had registered as the closing date of the yeshiva. After consultation they discovered that the date registered was the 27th of Tamuz. In other words, and honest Rosh Yeshiva who is only interested in getting money is legally his, and knows that they will be leaving by the end of Tamuz, DOES NOT TAKE MONEY FROM THE GOVERNMENT FOR THE TIME THAT HIS STUDENTS WILL NOT BE THERE!!! Any other policy is simply like skimping on taxes here and there. Mutar? I think not.

    People will probably counter that it is not fair that there presumably are no similar audits of secular institutions of learning, so why the double standard. The answer is that we are benei Torah, and HKB”H holds us to that higher standard. If you are not ready to hold by HKB”H dikduk bechut hasaara maybe you should not be running a yeshiva.

    Just for the record, my story shows that this isn’t the evil conniving invention of that hater of Torah Naphtali Bennet, but has been a practice in place for many years.

  13. Surie Ackerman says:

    “It is quite routine that if a zman ends on Monday,” etc. Well, these are not routine times. If the Torah world feels itself under threat, or “at war,” then let it act that way and not give any opening for “the enemy” to exploit.

    And if every smidgen of Torah learning is so important, then indeed, boys should NOT be allowed to leave before the end of the zman. I’m not justifying the “gotcha” tactic, but under current circumstances there should have been nothing for the inspector to find.

  14. Yaakov Menken says:

    I find the double standard at work in many of these comments appalling. Eli Julian is simply incorrect that stories like this were common ten years ago, and most yeshivos do not close on the 27th of Tamuz.

    The double standard is this. The average elite university offers 24 to 26 weeks of classes per year with two exam periods, which means to say the entire academic year is slightly over six months in length, padded with enough break weeks and study periods to go from September to May. These weeks provide plenty of free time for sports, theater, the school newspaper and other extra-curricular activities; academic studies rarely consume over 8 hours per day. And, of course, no one comes looking for you if you miss lectures, as long as you do well on exams.

    The winter zman, by contrast, is five or six months (depending upon whether there’s an Adar II) with a weekend off for Chanukah. The summer zman is (officially) slightly over three months in length, and Elul zman over one month, and to learn the typical three sedarim (requiring much more personal effort than sitting in class) is ten hours per day. Extracurricular activities include eating, sleeping, perhaps a bit of light reading, and occasional visits to a makolet and/or dry cleaner.

    It is hard to find a more ignorant description of a yeshiva gedolah in Israel than “a post graduate year of fun for boys,” as submitted by someone without the bravery (or decency) to put his name behind his disrespect. But even without that, to presume to dictate how yeshivas should operate, without any familiarity with (or respect for) the level of study currently required, is entirely inappropriate. If Surie Ackerman has actually lived in Israel, she knows that there’s no such thing as a “routine” time. I was there during Gulf War I and Intifada II, and providing students with some time off to not go crazy is also a Torah value. Almost every student continued some level of study during beyn hazmanim (again, this is true of America as well) just at a lower level of intensity.

    The official closing date is the date the Rebbeim are no longer there to help students who remain, it is not the date until which students are expected to be there. This is not about Israel, either, as Yeshivos in America do the same. I’m not aware of any yeshiva in the US, Israel or elsewhere that expects all students to stay until Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Funding is allocated (a vastly inferior amount to that allocated per foreign exchange student in Israeli universities) with conventional expectations. To pretend that their absence on that day meant they simply didn’t exist was a deliberate tactic to deny funding to a Torah institution that was (and is) bringing a great deal of income to Israel.

  15. eLamdan says:

    I do not think you understand the pros and cons of anonymity at all. If someone is reporting a fact or occurrence it is better that they use their real name so that they are forced to stand behind their report. On the other hand, if someone is reporting their opinion on a matter it is better that they do not use their real name so the opinion is evaluated on its own merits not on the person’s standing or position. If the report of the Rosh HaYeshiva wants to be taken more seriously he should provide his name and as many details as possible. If the Rosh HaYeshiva does not use his real name he has more reason to exaggerate, not less!

    [I’m regretting that I didn’t put this in full context. The story came up not as yet another example of this government’s incredible level of animosity, but in the context of the urgent funding needs of the yeshiva. By using his name he’d be able to garner more sympathy for his institution — and the worse the offense the greater the sympathy. So no, not using his name means he has less reason to exaggerate. He wasn’t telling the story to bash the government, which is exactly why it’s so troubling.

    Anonymous comments have been debated repeatedly, and this is one of the few I’ve let through in this discussion. That’s because anonymity doesn’t permit simply “reporting their opinion” which, for most of us, is hardly enhanced because of our names. On the contrary, using our names requires not only claiming credit, but accepting blame: that we stand behind our opinion, our critique of anyone else’s actions and opinions, and our choice of language (snarkiness, anyone?). I described the government’s behavior in this case in very harsh terms. It would not have been at all appropriate to do so behind the shield of anonymity. The fact that it has become common on the Internet for people to do precisely that does not change whether it’s appropriate. –YM]

  16. Simon says:

    Firstly, I must say that with all due respect to Rabbi Menken, this practice has been happening for at least the past few years, before Bennet came into power. It happened in a yeshiva where I was studying. One time the inspectors saw reason, the other time we scraped by. Whilst it is unfair that they are doing this, it has to be said that there are yeshivot which play the system, so in effect, they are ‘playing’ us. Also, a yeshiva where the norm is to leave early, should register that they are leaving early, with the appropriate loss of recompense. An institution which doesn’t do that, is technically against the law.
    Finally, there is no reason why a serious yeshiva bochur will not stay till Rosh Chodesh Nissan. At least that is how it is where I learn.

    [Simon, I’m letting through the comment due to tenor, but urge you to use your last name, even with some extra spaces so that it’s not part of your professional Google record. As for your point, playing stereotypes is against the law. You are perhaps right that it is a technical violation at most (I don’t know) but does not justify claiming the students were never present. If you are not in the US or Israel it may be that all students stay until Rosh Chodesh inclusive, but even the best schools in Israel and the US choose an appropriate date prior to Rosh Chodesh, e.g. Thursday or Sunday. It was the Rosh Yeshiva who told everyone on what day they were permitted to go, and everyone followed the rules. –YM]

  17. Daniel Rubin says:

    To whom it may concern,

    My name is Daniel Rubin and I’m a talmid of Rabbi Adlerstein who has posted on Cross-Currents. ( Advice for the Job Forlorn) It appears that there is someone else with the identical name. Can you please differentiate between the two of us so no one ascribes unknown comments to me!

    ThNK YOU

  18. Eli Julian says:

    It happened in Tomo in the story I mentioned above. It happened to Bais Yisrael the following year and they lost funding. It happened to my kollel (not Tomo) a few years after. It may indeed be that these were isolated incidents, or more probably not. The Ministry apparently knows that there are plenty of students ostensibly learning in these institutions, for whom they are receiving money, when in reality they are not there for the full time they are registered for.

    I don’t mean to advocate in any way that the yeshivas should close their doors any earlier than the 7th of Av, as Rabbi Menken apparently understood from what I said. Rabbi Meislman continued (at least in my days, I don’t know what goes on today) to give shiur into Av. The only thing I meant was that the time that the yeshiva is registered to be receiving money from the Misrad Hadatot MUST be commensurate with the time that students are actually in the yeshiva. If the Rosh Yeshiva gives his students permission to leave early, that’s certainly his prerogative, but he should be telling the Misrad Hadatot the same thing. Not to do so means taking money that does not belong to you.

    [Or, third option, the school pays both teachers (who must indeed be present) and students until the full end of the Zman, and permits them to leave two days early. Since all students are reimbursed on an annual schedule, I am not at all as confident as you that there would be any difference in funding whatsoever, were the yeshiva to officially close its doors two days earlier. Pell grants in America, similarly, do not change because University A has an academic year one week longer than College B. If I am correct, this has no bearing on the amount of funding granted per-student per-year, and reflects no dishonesty on the part of the yeshiva — it is simply a government machination to assert that students who were in attendance throughout the year, were not.

    The reasons to compare to university students are two: one, yeshivos maintain a much more demanding schedule both per-day and per-year, and second, no one goes to Ben-Gurion University on the last day of the semester, after exams are over, and claims that students who have already left didn’t actually attend. By that standard, no college in America has more than 5% of its reported students, and I doubt Israel is any different. But like so much of the hypocrisy, this is reserved for yeshivos only. –YM]

  19. Eli Julian says:

    “Or, third option, the school pays both teachers (who must indeed be present) and students until the full end of the Zman, and permits them to leave two days early.”

    What I said contains no objection to these words. What I do object to is using this as an excuse for taking money from the government that the government regulations state are not due to the yeshiva. The government money is most certainly not the yeshivos’s sole source of funding, and there are plenty of yeshivos that exist that don’t take ANY funding from the government. No one is objecting to the yeshivos staying open and paying the teachers til the end of the zman, nor allowing students to leave early. But don’t take money from the government for the time that the students won’t be there. That’s all.

    “yeshivos maintain a much more demanding schedule both per-day and per-year”

    Yeshivos are elitist institutions, colleges are not. Anyone who cannot hold up to the demanding and grueling schedule of a yeshiva does not belong there. It’s only as a result of this new age, modern invention that there is no acceptable profession aside from full time Torah study that has locked the many thousands of boys inside the Batei Midrashim so that they are itching to leave even before zman is over. If we would leave the yeshivas to take in only the elite we might find that this phenomenon will cease to exist. In any event, there can be no comparison between yeshivas and colleges, the institutions by their very nature, as you point out based on the very essential differences in scheduling, are intended to service two very very different populations, one that can withstand the rigors of full time torah study and one the can’t. As the old yeshivishe adaption of the adage goes, if you can’t take the hasmada, get out of the beis medrash.

    [You’re still not following your own argument. As it happens, this is a yeshiva for elite American students, and I was comparing it to an elite American university. This has nothing to do with “itching to leave” but a well-established norm. These are boys who go home to the US and promptly set up chavrusas to learn four hours a day during their vacation. Yet you asserted the opposite, a falsehood, with no evidence. And again you assert, again without evidence of any kind, that the funding for yeshivos is per day, unlike any similar program for any other type of student, and that therefore the yeshivos were being paid for days the students were not there. You summon up all of these falsehoods and conjectures, why? In a desperate effort to justify the government claiming the students had never been there for the entire year… which the inspector himself knew to be false. Do not try to answer for the government’s lie, and do not lay claim to your own falsehoods to help them. It does not become you. –YM]

  20. Akiva Cohen says:

    I honestly don’t understand the complaint.

    If the law for reimbursement requires that the student be there through the closing date, or whenever the inspector shows up, then the Yeshiva should cease giving permission for the students to leave before the closing date. If the law does not require that, then the yeshiva will have records establishing that the students were there and the periods for which they were there, and can use those records to show entitlement to reimbursement.

    Why is that hard?

    [There is no legal requirement that the students must be there until the closing date to get funding, or there would have been no problem. Obviously the yeshiva would not have let them go a day early were that the case. But the government does not accept records, for they offer no proof the students existed anywhere but on paper. Instead, the government did inspections the day before the official closing in order to take a ridiculous “tally” of those present — which it then claimed were all the students who had been there the entire time. It was totally bogus, and deliberately so. Why is that hard? –YM]

  21. Cvmay says:

    Rabbi Menken, this post is similar to finding a needle in a haystack. There’s plenty of accurate & honest examples of Charedi discrimination (or settler, or one parent, or immigrant, or RZ) shown by the government. This post opens a pamdoras’s box of questions without through answers.

  22. Steve Brizel says:

    R Menken wrote in part:

    “It is hard to find a more ignorant description of a yeshiva gedolah in Israel than “a post graduate year of fun for boys,” as submitted by someone without the bravery (or decency) to put his name behind his disrespect”

    IMO, the quoted attitude masks a great deal of ignorance of what bachurim and avreichim do while they are in yeshiva and kollel. I know of young men who have slept on the floors of apartments and learned on stairwells , and whose conduct demonstrates what Lapid, Bennett and Piron simply don’t get-breaking your head over a Blatt Gemara is part of the process of becoming a Ben Torah and a Talmid Chahcham deserves as much if not more respect in the Land of Israel than some of the more questionnable majors that one can specialize in the universities of Israel of the US. The lack of appreciation of that fact IMO borders on a lack of appreciation of what it means to learn Torah-whether in a Charedi yeshiva or a hesder yeshiva.

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