Home > Ira Sharkansky, Iraq, Israel > Ashkenazi Haredim promise demonstration against taking Sephardic girls into thier schools

Ashkenazi Haredim promise demonstration against taking Sephardic girls into thier schools

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The ultra-Orthodox (or Haredim=God fearing) promised the “Mother of all demonstrations.” 

This does not signal the spread of feminism. The expression may have come  from Saddam Hussein’s proclamation of the “Mother of all Battles” when the United States invaded Iraq in 1991. The guess is problematic, insofar as the Haredim assert that they do not watch television or pay attention to other secular media, and many of them may not know that Iraq exists. Babylon is something else. It was crucial to Jewish history when its soldiers conquered Jerusalem 2,600 years ago, and again when its rabbis produced the Talmud that remains the heart of Orthodox Judaism.
This Mother of demonstrations derives from a decision of the Supreme Court requiring the jailing for 10 days of Ashkenazi Haredi parents who refused to send their children to school along with Sephardi children. The  decision initially caused a demonstration of a hundred or so Haredim in the Supreme Court chamber. They  prayed, danced, and cursed the State of Israel and its institutions. 
The school in question is supported with government funds, but the parents and their rabbis insist on deciding who can attend. Reports have not indicated if it is one of the numerous ultra-Orthodox schools that also refuse to accept the demands of the Education Ministry to include basic instruction in mathematics, language and science along with sacred texts.
This incident came a day after another Supreme Court decision against the payments made to adult Haredi men who study in religious academies, and about the same time as a Haredi demonstration against a construction project in Jaffa that was going forward despite the discovery of ancient graves. The demonstration in Jaffa  was as violent as the Haredim are likely to get. Five policemen and a number of demonstrators required medical treatment.
In preparation for a march by thousands of Haredim who promised to accompany the parents to jail, the police assembled their own thousands, closed the route of the march and adjascent streets to vehicular traffic, and urged Jerusalemites to stay at home. Emergency Medical Services went on high alert. 
Lawyers asked the Court to modify its arrest order to include only one parent in each family, so that the second parent could remain home to care for the many children, and to excuse both parents where there is a handicapped child in the family. The group that brought the suit–Religious Jews Against Discrimination–asked the Court to delay its order to jail the parents–which came after months of trying to negotiate a settlement–until after the weekend in order to give more time to arrange a settlement agreeable to all. The parents rejected the delay, and said that they would go to jail as an expression of faith in the God of Israel.
The Haredim are a minority comprising some 10 percent of Israel’s Jews, heavily concentrated in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. Their demonstrations are noisy and disturb traffic, but their violence is seldom life threatening. The police and courts treat them more gently than they treat restive Arabs. 
Ultra-Orthodox activists describe judges and the police as Nazis or something else taken from the rich Jewish memory of savage tyrants.
Many Israeli Jews who are not ultra-Orthodox can be swept toward support of them if the police act with excessive force. What that amounts to is not easy to decide when any action provokes loud prayers in behalf of God’s protection, and curses directed at the authorities. 
A popular web site asked readers about the decision of the Supreme Court. Of 6,500 respondents, 12 percent chose the response, “Justified. It is not acceptable that the parents violate a court decision against racism;” 88 percent chose the response, “Mistaken. The decision reflects the opposition of the Court to the Haredim.” 
Estimates of the numbers involved in the marches range from 50,000 to 150,000 in Jerusalem, and 15,000 in Bnei Brak. Medical personnel treated numerous cases of fainting and dehydration. http://news.walla.co.il/?w=//1687969 It will take some time to sift through the estimates of how many marchers were Sephardim. It is their daughters refused admission to the school run by the Ashkenazi Haredim of Emanual. 
Ashkenazi rabbis claim that the judges did not give them a fair hearing, and violate “democracy” despite numerous sittings of lower and higher courts, and postponements that tried unsuccessfully to reach an accommodation. Rabbis said that the Sephardim do not adhere to their standards of observance pertaining to kashrut and modesty of dress. Most refused to detail their claims, but one said that Sephardi girls do not button their dresses right up to the top. 
The most prominent justification of their rejection of the court order is an insistence on the right to decide on their own children’s education, and to follow decisions of rabbis who they see as superior to any secular authority.
Secular broadcasters had a field day interviewing leaders in the Sephardi Haredi community. Stuttering, mumbling, or hemming and hawing are the best descriptions of their responses. They did not break ranks with the Ashkenazi Haredim, stood with them on the priority of rabbinic rule, and urged continued efforts at discussion rather than court involvement as the way to deal with the controversy.

The leader of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Party SHAS expressed pride in his movement’s own school system, and urged the government to increase funding for all ultra-Orthodox schools.  

Mother of all demonstrations, or the onset of a Long Hot Summer? Payments for adult students at religious academies? Protection of those graves found at the Jaffa construction site? Continued segregation of Ashkenazi and Sephardi pupils in Emanual? The authority of the Supreme Court? Who knows what else will roil this otherwise placid country.
Opps. What about the Gaza blockade and the peace process?
They were last week’s crises. And maybe those of the week after next.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University
  1. July 13, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Ira Sharkansky re-responds:

    A democracy provides to its people the right to criticize the Supreme Court, or any other institution for having overstepped its boundaries. However, there is no authority higher than the Supreme Court to adjudicate such disputes. The ultra-Orthodox have taken this dispute to the streets, and they have won concessions, but not a re-interpretation of the law. The writer is trying to make a molehill out of a mountain of violation against basic values of equitable use of public resources. I’ll rest with the decision of the Court, rather than debate the points raised.

  2. July 13, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    In this case, however, the Supreme Court has overstepped its boundaries, “contradicting elementary rights including freedom of religion, freedom to educate according to one’s point of view, freedom from incarceration, and other rights protected by the Basic Law: Dignity of Man and his freedom”. The Supreme Court is authorized to issue orders only against government bodies, and not private citizens and therefore the detention of the parents was illegal altogether. “The SC is an administrative forum and does not have the means to investigate the truth. There is no evidence, no revelation of documents, no testimony, no cross examination. All factual conclusions on discrimination made by the SC were based on what it referred to as “the war of announcements and counter-announcements”.”

    “The dangerous precedent set by the SC in jailing parents who were never named in a legal proceeding, without hearing any testimony or weighing evidence, is in gross violation of its own authority and is a blow both to the rule of law and the public’s already diminishing confidence in the legal system as a whole and the High Court in particular.“

    Clause 15 of the Basic Law Judicature delineates the SC’s authority as follows: “To give orders to state authorities, local authorities, its employees and other people fulfilling public positions as per law, to do actions or refrain from doing actions in the fulfillment of their position as per the law, and if they were elected or appointed unlawfully, to desist from activity.”

    Therefore, it is clear the SC has no authority to issue an order against an individual and certainly not to force a citizen to send his child to a particular school. In Emmanuel, chassidic and nonchassidic parents removed their girls from the aforesaid problematic school to evade the “crisis” and enrolled them elsewhere (fulfilling parental duties as per Mandatory Educational laws to enroll children and maintain regular school attendance).

    No’ar Kehalach the petitioners, petitioned against the Education Ministry and Chinuch Atzmai originally (and not against private citizens, which again would have been futile/unauthorized legally to do so).

    The SC Justices E. Levy, C. Meltzer, and E. Arbel ruled that CA was to remove discrimination and if not, the EM was to revoke CA’s licensing and funding. This order is clearly vague and all-inclusive and NOT a specific order or command, such as stated and required by “Clause 6 of the ruling established in Clause 55 of His Majesty’s word in the Palestine Council of 1922, whereby the High Court has the authority to force a person via fine or incarceration to obey to do any action or prohibition against doing any action”. Again the SC can only rule over the EM and CA. So how did the parents get drawn into this?

    “What followed from the ruling to the imprisonment of dozens of parents (who were never party in this petition, and toward whom the court has no authority to direct its rulings) was a tragedy of legal errors and battles for prestige that quickly left the relevant laws by the wayside.”

    Then No’ar Kehalacha sought contempt of court ruling and the SC dragged the parents into the picture, summoning those parents of girls who did not appear for studies in this school after the original ruling against the CA and Emmanuel Local Council. Thus the SC clearly overstepped their authority, since the legislative branch never granted the High Court authority to issue any order to individual citizens. Therefore, the SC cannot enforce compliance of such rulings and is not authorized to imprison an individual for noncompliance of a court order that he never received and which the court had no authority to give him.

    And lastly, the media has once again made a MOUNTAIN out of a molehill. Note the details: The Emmanuel school comprises fewer than 150 girls. Has two tracks, Chassidic and General, with a majority of Ashkenazi girls in the Chassidic track, and more Sephardi girls in the General track. Both tracks have both ethnic groups in each of them. The Ashkenazi majority in medical faculties and in the ranks of the court system (and particularly the Supreme Court) far outweighs that of Emmanuel’s Chassidic track.

    –Culled from the local media and newspapers on this account…

  3. July 13, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Ira Sharkansky replied:

    Aside from assuming that I am a leftist, the respondent is distorting the situation. No less than the Supreme Court described the case as one of ethnic discrimination. Part of the controversy is that residents of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods tend not to accept the Supreme Court as an authoritative body, which this respondent illustrates.

  4. July 13, 2010 at 10:15 am

    The Emanual issue was NOT Sephardi vs Ashkenazi (proven since Sephardic parents were equally jailed, and equally objected to dissenters of the dress code, and levels of religious adherence, etc.).

    The issue was against parents and students (of all ethnicities and origins) who outright don’t respect/follow the dress code/religious rules of the religious school. That some funded outsider came in with the intent to stir up trouble and do some lowly name-calling/prejudice debate is a reflection of perverseness/publicity-seeking on that outsider (and the break-away groups that have clearly funded him to do so, as has been officially confirmed by the media).

    If someone doesn’t want to abide by the rules (dress codes, etc.) of a certain institution then they should enroll their child in any of the numerous other schools/options available in this country that they could be comfortable with. It’s callousness and shortsightedness to set your children and yourselves up for a futile fight/rebellion for no reason.

    Am not offended by “innocent” victims/readers of newspaper-borne leftist media-hype (which is the case 99% of the time, some magnified/grotesque imagery of religious Jews and not the reality).

    In my Israeli neighborhood (soley made up of over 30,000 ultra-Orthodox/haredim) there are dozens of haredi religious schools, where in the “typical Ashkenazi schools” most classes are half-half Sephardim/Ashkenazim (and some classes have more Sephardim than Ashkenazim) and everyone gets along fine. There are plenty of Sephardi teachers and even one of the very best and most popular principals in the top (most academically competitive/religious, etc.) girls’ “typical Ashkenazi” high schools here is Sephardi and well-loved and respected by EVERYONE. In fact, there are many married couples here, half-half ,with one spouse being Sephardi and the other Ashkenazi, living happily ever after.

    Except NONE of the above ever, ever reaches hits the press….

    How come the leftists never talk about their reception and welcome into Moslem schools and Arab villages? Is that because no one ever came out alive after tempting such a feat?

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