Sunday, December 8, 2013

GoogleFight: Taglìt-Birthright versus Mir Yeshiva...GO!

Using the premise of Birthright bringing non-Orthodox Jews to Israel, and claiming that it is funded by the State of Israel (25% of it is) Chaim Levinson cries crocodile tears over the fact that Birthright participants’ pitiable ultra-Orthodox counterparts, who come to study full time at Mir Yeshiva, get “only” two thirds the stipend that their fellow Israeli-born students get. I assume that this is based on the fact that the Israeli students have no other source of funding, i.e, their parents, whereas the authors’ New Jersey cousins presumably come from a more comfortable background.

But where Levinson is being willfully obtuse is in ignoring the premise of Birthright, which is to connect weakly identified young Diaspora Jews with their Judaism. Therefore comparing it to the Mir Yeshiva is – not to be too obvious about it – apples and oranges. Assuming that both Birthright and Mir Yeshiva are worthy institutions, arguing that they should get equal funding a la Title IX is absurd: Each does widely differing work, aimed at widely differing demographics. Should Mir students receive the equivalent of the yearly upkeep of an IDF soldier? Or should they have to pay the same tuition as Israeli university students? If the latter, should they also have had to serve in the IDF in order to qualify for state funding?

I’m not wild about either Mir or Birthright; nor am I wild about my taxes going to fund either. But I regard Mir as an elite, private institution that should get little or no state funding; while I regard Birthright as a flawed attempt to counter assimmilation, but one whose architects I can’t fault for trying. Yet conflating the two to “prove” that Mir should get equal funding seems strawmanlike, if not downright devious. Would that we didn’t need Birthright: I’d love to see that money going to worthy Israeli causes, but Mir is not one of them.

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