How is it that for several years now there have been no scandals surrounding remarks that Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef has made in his lectures, which are broadcast by satellite radio? One possible explanation is that when Shas was in the opposition, the media was a lot less interested in what the rabbi was saying. A senior Shas official offered an entirely different rationale. Rabbi Yosef, said the official, has decided to tone down his remarks and be much more cautious.

Rabbi Yosef gives two lectures a week that are broadcast over the Shas satellite radio network - one on Saturday night, from a synagogue in Jerusalem's Bukharan neighborhood; and the other during the week, from the Havat Da'at yeshiva headed by his son David Yosef, in the capital's Har Nof neighborhood. The Shas source said that Rabbi Yosef had considered discontinuing the lectures altogether due to their negative repercussions, but his sons persuaded him to continue, just in a more delicate manner.

Now, with Shas back in the coalition, Rabbi Yosef's pronouncements will be followed more closely. His decision to speak more cautiously will also be put to the test. Thus, for example, in the past Yosef has called former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a blind goat, and former prime minister Ehud Barak a blind fox. Yosef has also mentioned other animals (with intact eyesight) in reference to former Knesset member Avraham Burg (a calf) and the Arabs (snakes). Shas sources say that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will not have exclusivity over any blind animals.

Are child allowances being trimmed or equalized? This is a classic question of political semantics or semantic politics. From the perspective of the ultra-Orthodox they are unequivocally being trimmed, if not slashed. Many secular Israelis, however, see the process as one of equalizing. The process, by whichever name, is progressing on two separate tracks.

One track is the reduction of the allowance paid for children born prior to June 2003. Data provided to Haaretz by the National Insurance Institute indicate that the government has saved NIS 11 billion since the cuts began: NIS 1 billion in 2002, NIS 1.7 billion in 2003, NIS 3.1 billion in 2004 and NIS 3.5 billion in 2005. Based on these figures, the savings since the beginning of 2006 amount to at least NIS 1.5 billion. What happened to child allowances during this period? In 2002 the allowance for the fifth child and up was NIS 868 apiece. Today it is NIS 329, a reduction of 62 percent, or almost two thirds. There is no doubt that this is a considerable achievement for the now defunct Shinui party. But what about equality?

In 2002 the allowance for the fifth child was five times that for the first. Today that allowance is still more than double, which means the situation is still far from equal, although it is significantly improved. The part concerning children born through June 2003 was halted under the coalition agreement with Shas. The agreement essentially canceled all the cuts aimed at the allowance between now and 2009, preventing the completion of equalizing the allowances for all children.

More than 400,000 children have been born since June 2003, and all of them receive the same allowance. They account for 17 percent of the 2.35 million children who receive allowances - one in six. According to the NII's figures, NIS 500 million has already been saved due to this clause. This process will be hampered if the coalition agreement is implemented, as it calls for every family with four or more children to receive an additional NIS 450-500. This translates into an allowance of NIS 600-650 for the fourth child. In other words, the fourth child will receive four times as much as the first.

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