N.Y. Rabbinical Students To Get State Aid

Rabbinical students in New York will be getting state tuition aid, thanks to an aggressive lobbying campaign by Orthodox Jewish groups.

Although the New York state budget plan calls for a 10 percent cut in aid to public colleges and universities, it will now include an $18 million appropriation for Orthodox Jewish seminary students.

The funding measure, buried in an 800-page state budget, will affect about 5,000 students attending 50 ultra-conservative rabbinical schools in the state. Previously, these students had not been eligible for funding under New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).

New York Jewish Week reported that the allocation appears to have been part of a larger effort by political forces in the state to woo members of the influential conservative Jewish community.

Sen. Carl Kruger, a Brooklyn Democrat, was just indicted over charges that he accepted bribes and will likely step down, leaving a seat open. Republicans are eager to fill that seat, and need Orthodox support to win.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos represents a district that includes several areas of Nassau County where many Orthodox live. City Hall News reported that Schmuel Lefkowitz, a top lobbyist for Agudath Israel, met with Skelos to discuss aid for rabbinical students and agreed to support a Republican candidate if there is a special election to replace Kruger.

Lefkowitz, however, denied the charge.

“No one mentioned Kruger,” he told New York Jewish Week. “It’s absolutely untrue.”

Last year, New York Democrats used the funding issue to woo the Orthodox. They slipped the rabbinical school aid into the budget, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. David Paterson in a dispute over other issues.

Current Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the aid package for rabbinical students.