In a ruling of legal and social significance, the Israeli Supreme Court decided today in an extended panel of seven justices that the budgetary clause fixed in the Annual Budget Law, by force of which a minimum stipend is guaranteed to full time Yeshiva students, cannot be included in future budgetary legislation, beginning with the 2011 fiscal year.
The court ruled that the budgetary clause disproportionately harms the principle of equality and stands against the requirement as outlined in a long list of rulings by the High Court to evenly distribute state funds.
The main ruling was given by the President of the Court Dorit Beinisch, joined together by Ayala Prokchya, Asher Grunis, Mirian Na’or, Salim Jobran, and Esther Hayot. Justice Edmond Levy, in a dissenting opinion, held that the appeal should be rejected.
In the ruling, President Beinisch held that at the root of the budgetary clause lies an economic end, whose purpose is to provide economic assistance to full time Yeshiva students, even if such assistance is provided to encourage Torah study. Due to this economic end, it was ruled that there is no room to distinguish between Yeshiva students and students learning in other institutions.
“Torah study is a Biblical imperative”
Along with the ruling according to which the clause affecting the funding of Yeshiva students can no longer be included in future budgetary laws, the court noted that in general, a legislator may support a certain population group with unique characteristics, whether directly or indirectly. However, it was ruled that such support may only be enacted through law, with attention being paid to the entirety of existing arrangements in our judicial tradition.
Justice Prokchya, who agreed with Beinisch, added that the clause distinguishing between Yeshiva students and other students in Israel’s educational institutions in the matter of guaranteed funds is “one instance” of a wider, more general question regarding the solution to the dilemma between the obligation of a multicultural society to respect the unique character of different population sectors, and the foundational principle requiring that all citizens accept the fundamental values of the regime upon themselves and to carry the burden of responsibility and obligations of every citizen.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Edmond Levy ruled that Torah study is a Biblical imperative and that the Knesset and government believed there was room to fund it through placing the responsibility for supporting Torah learners on the public. Justice Levy also noted that the distinction between university students and Yeshiva students is based on relevant differences, and that even if he believed the budgetary clause infringed on the principle of equality, in his opinion the harm is proportional.