When Rabbi Jonathan Snowbell was taking undergraduate and graduate classes at Yeshiva University, he never dreamed the State of Israel would find his YU degrees unacceptable.
The problem: the Ministry of Finance changed the criteria in 2003 of what it requires to pay Israeli teachers a higher salary for their college and graduate degrees.
"I was told my degrees are legitimate except for salary evaluation purposes," said Rabbi Snowbell, 30, a high school teacher in Jerusalem who has lived in Israel since 1998.
"The Ministry of Education says to go back and complete another 37 1/2 credits: which is something I’m not going to do now," said Rabbi Snowbell, who is married and the father of two. "They’re just slamming the door in my face to get a solution here."
Rabbi Snowbell said he earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from YU in 1998 and completed his master’s degree in Jewish education there in 2004 by taking summer courses both here and in Israel. He also studied for seven years at a yeshiva in Israel and became an ordained rabbi. "I have been teaching in different places [in Israel] and didn’t need my degrees until this year when I began teaching at a boys’ high school in Jerusalem," Rabbi Snowbell said. "I gave my degrees to the Department of Education for evaluation and after six months they rejected them."
Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, said he learned of this situation only recently after believing that this issue had been resolved a year ago. He said the problem stems from the fact that the Finance Ministry sets criteria for people who want a government-paid job.
In the case of Rabbi Snowbell, the ministry discounted a 13th year of high school he completed in Canada for which Yeshiva gave him credit. But Joel said the ministry has no business conducting such a review of a student’s transcript.
"That is outrageous," Joel said. "This student is a holder of a BA from Yeshiva University that was properly conferred based on the criteria of our American accrediting authority. The only business of Israel is to ask whether he can produce a bona fide American bachelor’s degree. … If this was happening in any other country, I would be crying anti-Semitism. It’s maddening."
The high school where Rabbi Snowbell has been teaching is "now being punished," the rabbi said, because it is being reimbursed as though he was simply a high school graduate. He said he did not know the difference in salary but that it is "a significant amount."
Joel testified before the Knesset’s education committee this week, spoke to Education Minister Yuli Tamir and said he has been assured that the situation would be corrected within a month. He noted that the degrees of students from other premier universities in Europe had been similarly discounted.
"On the one hand Israel is saying we want everybody to make aliyah and build the state, and on the other hand it is actively discouraging people from thinking that way by engaging in outrageous minutia," Joel said. "We all spend such energies encouraging people to make aliyah, we can’t have the State of Israel fighting us."