There is no doubt that mountains of potato latkes will be consumed this week, thanks to the terrific work of Yaakov Litzman, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee. Once again, this terrific man has worked wonders.
This celebratory item appeared in the ultra-Orthodox newspaper "Hamodia" this past weekend, Shabbat Parashat Vayeshev (December 23 to us goyim):
"Every yeshiva student will receive a Chanukah bonus this week… financed by a special finance ministry dispensation of NIS 41 million (USD 8.9 million)… every married student will receive NIS 600 (USD 130); single men will receive NIS 330 (USD 71)."
That's a lot of money. Not too many employers are so generous with their holiday bonuses.
Even for Rosh Hashana and/or Pesach you'd be hard-pressed to find an employer so charitable with holiday bonuses. But here we are, for Chanukah of all times, and places filled with people wasting their time are giving each and every time waster between 300 and 600 shekels.
This just goes to show how effective a weapon the Torah is, and how good time-wasting is for a person.
Truth be told, it's not really accurate to call this windfall "Hanukkah gelt." Much more appropriate would be the phrase "strangulation gelt." After all, it's only due to Litzman's strong hands, softly patting the finance minister's throat that the yeshiva guys are getting this money.
Of course, there is no reason to get too upset about this latest performance. After 50-odd years of bilking the public purse, it is hard to get upset about one more show of ham-fisted pressure. But there are several points that bear mentioning.
First of all, why, exactly, do single yeshiva bachurim (students) need NIS 330 shekels? At least the married guys who have wives and children (one for each year they've been married) to provide for. No question, a few extra shekels will help out.
But the single guys? Guys who spend their days bent over ancient parchments and debate the meaning of life? Most of their expenses are covered by the yeshiva. Latkes and jelly donuts he can get at home. Gambling games like dreidel are prohibited. They've got no kids to feed. So what do they need a holiday bonus for?
Secondly, why Hanukkah? Are oil and candles any more expensive than, say, the four species or a sukka needed for the Sukkot holiday? Or than a fish head and rams tail (or the opposite) for Rosh Hashana superstitions? To say nothing of the high cost of burning leavened products before Pesach, or making cheesecake for Shavuot.
Comparatively, Hanukkah is a reasonably cheap holiday. So much so, that almost without a choice they accustomed themselves to the practice of gambling, so the Jews would at least feel something out of pocket. So why?
But of course, these questions are silly. Since Israel was established, only one rule rules the spiritual world of Orthodox politicians bidden to financing their communities: "Always take."
Have they no shame?
If a finance minister would offer a New Year's Eve grant, a Ramadan grant, a grant to celebrate the Year of the Monkey, "Hamodia" would happily tell its readers all about it.
But there is one question, not at all silly, that we must ask: How can these people not be ashamed? Half the population must crawl under the poverty line to light their menorahs. A third of Israel's children have no access to decent education, health care or nutrition.
Thousands of Israeli poor forego medicines for just one more slice of bread, while these yeshiva saints, whose only livelihood comes from public money, who pay no tax whatsoever to contribute to the national good, who create nothing except dime-a-dozen, unfounded theories and complaints, need more?
The public support they already get isn't enough?
Apparently it never occurred to them to say, "No thanks Mr. Finance Minister Why don't you give the money to soup kitchens, to sick elderly people, to battered women's shelters… we'll make due with what we've already received."
No. It never occurred to them.
B. Michael is a columnist with Israel’s leading news source Yedioth Ahronoth