Sephardim Jailed for Bias Against Sephardim

Thank you to Shira Schmidt for doing the heavy lifting with her extended write-up about the more than 200,000 (police estimates, others exceeded 300,000) who demonstrated yesterday against Israel’s Supreme Court and its latest anti-religious outrage.

But the bizarre nature of the claim of racist or ethnic bias is more succinctly found in the headline to this piece, which is perfectly accurate. While I do not have the list of exactly who went to jail, the following families were all among the 43 in contempt of this contemptible charade: Elmaliach (Moroccan), Beit Yaakov (Persian), Meirav (Egyptian), Naimi & Naimi (Iraqi), Biton (Moroccan, the Rosh Kollel), Tubul (Moroccan-Kurdistani), Levi (Yemenite), Klein-Hallali (Hungarian-Iraqi), Baruch, Avraham (Yemenite), Lang and Vagshal. Berber is part Persian.

Even those unfamiliar with spoken Hebrew can watch the brief words of HaRav Biton shown at Arutz-7, Israel National News, which conclude: “I am Yemenite, yes. You see, they are imprisoning a Yemenite for racism! Do you understand?” — And he points his hand towards his temple in the classic international gesture for insanity.

HaAretz can lie to their readers, claiming that “the parents of Ashkenazi (European) descent at the all girls’ school have refused to let their daughters study with classmates of Middle Easten and North African descent, known as Sephardim.” The judge can insist that this is true as well. This has all the credibility of the pronouncements of Yosef Stalin. The new Bais Yaakov is, or was, a Chassidic school. If anything, 30% Sephardim in a Chassidic school is extraordinarily high.

My source in Emanuel also sent me a moving letter to the court from Amos Meirav, the father of Egyptian descent now listed as in contempt for refusing to send his daughter back to the main school. He retells how his daughter Chanah was subjected to emotional and even physical bullying at the hands of her former classmates for dressing and conducting herself in an overly-religious fashion, and what the Bais Yaakov HaChasidi meant for her. The court now insists that she be sent back to the domain of the bullies, or that he be sent to jail, which is no surprise — that Israel’s secularist population is in favor of removing religion via the emotional and physical abuse of children, especially Sephardim, is well-known.

Tal Benschar’s comment about this is required reading:

It is one thing to order a school to stop discriminating (set aside whether that charge is real or cooked up.) It is quite another to order parents, individually, and on pain of contempt and jail, to send their young children to a particular school which they believe would be inimical to their education. We went through integration in America in the 1950s and 60s. There were many Court orders on the subject. But it never occurred to any American judge that he or she had jurisdiction to order individual parents to send to a particular school (in fact, many white parents sent their children to private schools to avoid integration).

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29 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Judges in Israel need to accept that there is actually a rule of law that limits their powers.

  2. another Nathan says:

    I understand differently now why the Gemara refers to Jews as “sonay Yisrael.”

  3. Tal S. Benschar says:

    One silver lining I hope will come out of this tragedy (which we are starting to see with respect to the Flotilla event) is that many will learn not to trust the media. Sooner or later, the truth comes out. Nobody likes to feel duped. I pray that there are some secular Israelis who, when they learn that the Supreme Court and the media have been feeding them a pack of lies, will wonder what other lies about the Charedim/Religious/Orthodox they have been fed.

  4. Tal S. Benschar says:

    Bob Miller: “Judges in Israel need to accept that there is actually a rule of law that limits their powers.”

    That is precisely the problem. The Judges view themselves as the law.

  5. Josh Waxman says:

    My problem with this 30% figure is that it is the magic number of 30%. There is an unspoken quota at many schools to allow no more than 30% Sefardim in. Thus, from a Haaretz article elsewhere, from August 5, 2003:

    “In Jerusalem, three of the movement’s seminaries employ a quota system – Haseminar Hayashan, the oldest, whose principal is Benyamin Scharansky; Haseminar Hehadash, under Rabbi Yeshayahu Lieberman, where in addition to the regular syllabus, secular subjects like architectural drawing and computer studies are taught; and Darkei Rachel, under Rabbi Yehezkel Mendelssohn.

    An ACRI investigation found that these three schools, to retain their exclusivity, take pains to see that no more than 30 percent of the incoming class are of Mizrahi origin because they are considered “inferior” candidates. Scores of girls seeking admission, most of them outstanding students, are left out, while less academically able Ashkenazi students are accepted. “

    There are not 33% Sefardim in this chassidic track. There are not 25% Sefardim. Rather, there is precisely the magic number of the quota, 30%. And then you will use this to show that the school is not discriminating against Sefardim?!

    kol tuv,

  6. Complicated Jew says:

    Just because this isn’t typical Ashkenazi/Sephardi bias doesn’t meant there is no bias at all. The Askenazim are the minority in Emanual yet they insist that the Sephardim adopt their practices like ha’avorah (dialect) and their Chumros on Tznius. This is not new. There is no reason why Sephardim should wear black fedoras (instead of their own traditional garb) which is essentially a fashion descendant of pre-war Eastern European yeshivas. Of course there is no coercion here, but Sephardim are subtly made to feel like second class citizens. And this even more pervasive in the non-Chariedi world. It makes no difference whether it’s Kashrus standards or University scholarship, Askenazim have always made Sefardim feel that their traditions and learning are inferior.

  7. Yaakov Menken says:


    You appear to have missed that this 30% refers not only to the number of families, but to the number of Sephardi families who are going to jail rather than send their daughters to the other school. What does this tell a rational person? Read the comments of Amos Meirav, or Rav Eliyahu Biton, and you start to get the idea. Jerusalem 2003 — especially as quoted by the same HaAretz that continues to pretend people like Meirav and Rav Biton do not exist — is irrelevant here. For a Chassidic school, who would expect even 20% to be other than Chassidim of European origin?

    Complicated… it’s not that this is atypical, it’s that here bias has nothing to do with it. Anyone willing to comply with the school’s religious standards is welcome to come. On the other hand, I don’t wear a shtreimel and don’t believe that makes me a “second class citizen.” Obviously, Chassidim feel it is preferable for girls to have totally closed shirts, long stockings, and no iPods. If your daughters don’t do that and you feel that makes you second class, change your practices or change your self-esteem — don’t tell others to abandon their religion.

    Thank you, however, for pointing out that the non-Chareidi world is certainly no better, and usually worse, than what you find among charedim.

  8. Tal Benschar says:

    “The Askenazim are the minority in Emanual yet they insist that the Sephardim adopt their practices like ha’avorah (dialect) and their Chumros on Tznius.”

    This statement is highly misleading. The “insisting” is not for the entire community, it’s for one school founded and run by Slonimer Chasidim. There are two Beis Yaakov’s in Emanuel — a regular Beis Yaakox, and a Chassidic one. Not surprisingly, the Chassidic one insists that its pupils act — Chassidic. What is wrong with one school devoted to the practices and customs of one group? If the Sephardim want, they can have a school with Sephardic customs. (Isn’t that what Shas schools are?) Or they can send to the generic Beis Yaakov.

    The same applies to “Chumros on Tznius.” No one in Emmanuel is stoning anyone for wearing too-short dresses or skirts. The Chassidim want a school where their standards apply so they can educate their daughters in their standards. They accept anyone who adheres to their standards. Why is it “discrimination” to found a school where one’s own standards are adhered to?

  9. L. Oberstein says:

    My son who has never gone to a hafgana (demonstration) in his 11 years in the Mir, not once, called me on Friday to tell me that he had attended the one on Thursday and that it was a massive Kiddush Hashem. He was exhilerated and spiritually uplifted. He said that he went because this time his Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel told everyone to go. My son is totally unaware of anything political and all he knows is that one has to stand up for Daas Torah over secular courts whatever that means. He didn’t so much care about the issue as the fact that the people around him were peaceful and spiritual and that the prayers were full of passion, the Shema Yisroel, etc. He said that he wasn’t sure what I thought about it but he wanted me to know what actually went on.

    Now, I hope that a solution is found because putting these parents in jail is stupid and counter productive. The issue here is much deeper and has to do with the kulturkampf in Israel. At a time when secular zionism is under siege, non zionist orthodoxy is growing in numbers and confidence. This particular demonstration was the exception in that it was very peaceful and was more a prayer meeting than a political rally. We did he same thing in Balimore to keep the JCC closed on Shabbos and they repected us but still opened the JCC on Shabbos and life has gone on. I do not think the chareidim will cease the struggle. it is a war for survival in their minds and a religious struggle. The only way out in the long run is a peace conference between the chareidim and the zionists to see if some rules can be worked out so that chareidim will not see the State as their enemy and will become integrated into society. It is needed by all sides. The contrast between secular Israelis and the people who gathered on Thursday is so great that it is a miracle that they can have one state.

    My son didn’t change my mind but reality dictates that we all learn to live and let live.

  10. mb says:

    Whatever term used, racism, elitism, etc. under the guise of religious freedom, in this case seems to negate the most important verse in Torah. Love the stranger, that is, those that are different from you. Anybody can love those that are the same.
    I have a hard time believing that Hashem is pleased with this.

  11. shloi says:

    I believe that the Emmanuel issue is not about ethnic segregation but about levels of religiosity. The Slonimer should have the right to establish their own school.
    But let’s not forget that the segregation problem is a real one. I myself know good Sefardi families whose daughters/sons were not accepted in the seminaries or yeshivos.
    The Slonimer are actually paying the price for years of inaction. The charedi world, confronted in the past by the judicial system always opposed external intervention claiming instead that they would deal with this inside. Committees were half-heartedly established a few years ago within the charedi community in order to deal with the situation in Beis Yaakov seminaries, but nothing helped.
    No wonder that somebody like Lalum would lose patience and end up petitioning the Bagats. If you push things under the carpet they will come back to you.
    The other point that disturbs me is the dramatization and the hype around the whole thing. We are not dealing with ikarey hadat, but about the stringent practices of a specific community, even by charedi standards. Is it really the time to demonize the Israeli society when we are all confronted by outside enemies? We are all in the same boat. I am not Zionist but we need to preserve our State here even if it is not living up to our spiritual expectations. I believe that the Torah world would never have flourished like today without the State.

  12. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    Rather, there is precisely the magic number of the quota, 30%. And then you will use this to show that the school is not discriminating against Sefardim?!

    If this is to be the gauge for discrimination, then Edmond Levi, he of the exactly 7.1428% Sephardi membership in the Supreme Court (and it has never exceeded nor fallen from this number – it is either this or 0%, historically) need not go so far afield as Emanuel in search of it. He need not walk out of his own building.

  13. YM says:

    Complicated Jew, this is really simple. If someone wants to send their kids to the Chassidic school, they need to comply with the schools rules, even if those rules go against what they think should be the rule. Rav Shteinman a few weeks ago said that kids in the same community should go to school together, but the Slonim Chassidim are not bound to follow his opinion. I am curious as to who filed the lawsuit here and who paid for it?

  14. Ori says:

    L. Oberstein: The only way out in the long run is a peace conference between the chareidim and the zionists to see if some rules can be worked out so that chareidim will not see the State as their enemy and will become integrated into society.

    Ori: I fear there are mutually contradictory non-negotiables, which would make any “peace settlement” a temporary compromise, renounced by one side as soon as it thinks itself strong enough to do so safely. What level of Halachic violation would be acceptable to people whose primary guide to life is Halacha? That is, at what point would Orthodox Jews say “that they follow this part is enough. Even though we could force them to do more, we won’t”?

  15. dovid says:

    I was in Emanuel a couple of weeks ago and spent a few hours meeting with people there. What I found is that tensions between the Ashkenazim and Sefardim in Emanuel has a long and unfortunate history. These tensions and conflicts have been going on for years. What seems to have happened is that the court case (whether you agree with it or not) has opened all the wounds. Basically, the two sides brought the negotiating table all the hard feelings of many years of tensions, which prevented them from working together with reach a workable solution. How sad.

  16. dr. bill says:

    if a black person were to let every white person enter his restaurant but would require any black to first answer some questions before deciding whether to allow the black person in the restaurant. would that black person be guilty of discrimination?

    regardless of how you view the facts, much of the rhetoric about sepahardim going to jail is entirely irrelevant.

    these are serious issues and deserve more reasoned debate. remember, the leading judge and the attorney general are orthodox jews and if you wish to accuse them of chareidi bias, just do so explicitly.

    there are a number of issues of much greater import, stipends for yeshiva students, compliance with a core curriculum in elementary schools and HS, military service, etc. that are now on the adgenda. The next election will see major party candidates vowing to only form a government free of anyone espousing chareidi views on the above issues.

    The rancor and posturing on an issue like this will have major consequence.

    If gedolim are sheltered from alternative opinions on fish worms, do you really think they are getting an accurate picture of reality on these issues?

    At the very least, keep the debate to the fundamental issues without demonizing the state and/or its officials; assume they have a point of view that you can disagree with maintaining focus on issues not personalities.

  17. Tal Benschar says:

    Further to my comments quoted by Rabbi Menken, the following was reported in a further news story:

    They also criticized various public officials who spoke against the court on the case and ordered the attorney general to investigate whether some of them had committed crimes in doing so.

    Justices Edmund Levy, Edna Arbel, and Hanan Meltzer referred the attorney general to article 255 of the Israeli Penal Law, which deals with contempt of the court.

    The law sentences anyone who writes or says something about a judge with the intention of harming his status or undermining his judgment to three years in prison. However, the law qualifies this by saying that “honest and courteous criticism” of a judge on a matter of public concern is not an infraction.

    This is a Court that is out of control. U.S. Supreme Court opinions are routinely criticized in the harshest terms. If the Justices even requested (let alone ordered!) the Attorney General to initiate a criminal investigation against their critics, the uproar would be deafening.

  18. L. Oberstein says:

    עש”ק, ו’ תמוז תש”ע. לרגלי העלילה הנוראה מאת בית משפט חילוני על אחינו היקרים החרדים לדבר ה’ בעיר עמנואל בארה”ק, שהובלו לבית סוהר על שמוסרים את נפשם למען חינוך בנותיהם בדרך מסורת קדשנו, הננו מוחים בכל עוז על העול והפשע שנעשה להם, ועל הזדון המעוות לכפות עליהם אופי של חינוך נגד אורח חייהם ודעת רבותיהם. הדעה הכוזבת שמשפט חילוני יש לו תוקף למעלה מדעת התורה הנשמעת מפי נושאי דגלה, היא סילוף האמונה וחתירה תחת פינת היסוד שזאת התורה לא תהא מוחלפת, ורק היא הקובעת בחייו של היהודי, ואינה נתונה תחת שום שלטון ומשפט זולת חוקי התורה לבד.הננו משתתפים בכל לב בצערם של האסירים, יחד עם רבבות אלפי ישראל די בכל אתר ואתר. תחזקנה ידיהם ואשרי חלקם שנושאים על גבם כבוד שמים וכבוד ישראל סבא בעת כזאת. ויהי רצון שיתקדש שם שמים בימינו וימלא כבודו את כל הארץ. מועצת גדולי התורה בארה”ב

    This is what the American Moetzes has to say about Emanuel. I guess the battle lines are drawn and I have no doubt that the chassidim will win in the end. This is because when you have two groups and one refuses to compromise and the other is trying to be reasonable, the extremists win. I learned that long ago in a lecture on mental health. In a nutshell it is similar in many ways to what Israel has faced for many years in the “peace process”. If two sides just have different views of reality and don’t want to comprehend the other, then the more intolerant will hold out longer.

    That being said, has that helped the Arabs? No, they would have been better off accepting Israel’s right to exist and coming to terms with it. Has it helped the chareidim, in the short term , yes. They multiply in greater numbers, don’t serve in the army or sherut leumi, benefit from a welfare system that is subsidized by the same people they consider sinners, and their numbers are growing. In the long run, maybe not. A system that does not prepare one with the basic skills for life in the 21st century, that enforces rigid standards of unawareness of the skills that are essential to living in the world, forces its adherents into poverty, isolation and alienation.

    The Israeli model is not the only model for orthodox Jewish life.Why can a person in America go to high school, attend college at night, get a degree and earn a living while at the same time living a very orthodox life and , in Israel, this is forbidden.Why is a basic curriculum for elementary schools something to fight over. Why would it be so bad if children knew basic life skills? Why can an American ben torah know so much more than an Israeli one in so many areas and be just as frum, just as much a “fearer of Heaven”.

    In fact, I believe that the isolation of the chareidim and their lack of interaction with the secular is a danger to the existence of the State.If instead of the present war situation, Religious Jews in the workplace interacted with secular Jews and demonstrated that one can be a lover of Torah and a lover of Jews at the same time, like in America. Wouldn’t the positive image of religious Jews influence secular Jews looking for meaning in life instead of what happens now that there is a wide gulf between the two , they are living in separate worlds.

    This issue of the school in one town is just the wedge issue for a larger struggle for what it means to be a Jewish State. The State has come a long way since 1948 when the secular would not have tolerated such behavior as what happened in Emanuel and the chassidim would never have contemplated it in the first place. What you have is a paradigm shift, the secular are losing their confidence and the religious are feeling triumphal.

    I would just like to see Jews get along and learn to live and let live. Israel needs it.

  19. Yaakov Menken says:

    Dr. Bill, if these are indeed serious issues, and I agree that they are, then the debate requires a more intellectually honest analogy than “if a black person were to let every white person enter his restaurant but would require any black to first answer some questions before deciding whether to allow the black person in the restaurant. would that black person be guilty of discrimination?”

    The more accurate comparison is “if a black person were to let every person enter his restaurant, but would require everyone, both black and white, to wear both a shirt as well as pants fully covering the undergarments. Would that black person be guilty of discrimination, because the style of wearing pants showing boxers is disproportionately found among blacks?”

    The answer, of course, is no. The proposed dress code is neutral and reasonable without recourse to racial profiling, and, of course, anyone desiring to enter can pull up his pants.

    Some of my daughter’s friends have iPhones or iPods. My daughter, as if we needed another reason why she was not getting one of these devices, mentioned to me today that the iPhone has an R-Rated Truth or Dare application.

    This daughter just graduated from the 8th Grade from a single-gender, charedi school. B”H she is, at present, pretty much unaware of what such an R-Rated app might involve… but she’s B”H quite intelligent and perceptive as well. Happy Father’s Day, Abba… here’s another reason for early heart failure!

    If someone claims that he or she does not understand why the Slonimers might want their daughters brought up in a “bubble” where every girl wears long sleeves, long stockings, and doesn’t have a TV, Internet, or iPod… then that person may claim to “observe” Jewish law, but has no concept of Kedushah, holiness.

  20. L. Oberstein says:

    Rabbi Menken, as a parent one has two choices. You can isolate your children from any temptation or you can expose them in a way that they develope “anti-bodies”. Both ways are fraught with danger and we lose children in both camps. If one is to live in the world, not in the Amish world, but the world of the English, then we need to let them ride in a car and use a telephone and see that it is possible to still remain chaste. There is a lot of kedusha in the modern orthodox, co-ed religious Zionist world and there is a lot of tumah in those who outwardly look frum but inwardly are not as holy as they look. There is good in both camps.

    [I disagree with none of what Rabbi O has written. But one who fails to recognize that there is an issue to be confronted — that the Slonimers have reasonable and unbiased reasons to desire the isolationist approach — lacks an appreciation of Kedushah. — YM]

  21. Complicated Jew says:

    Of course the Slonimers have a right to decide a curriculum in their own school – if they weren’t getting funding from the govermnment. But they are, and therefore they lose a certain amount of choice. After all, the Sephardi parents contribute (hopefully) with taxes. This is exactly why the Gedolim fought for Chinuch Atzmai so strongly. But it looks very bad when you take from the goverment in one instance, but then denigrate it for everything it does.

  22. Ori says:

    Complicated Jew, you were right initially. The state of Israel is within its rights to determine rules for schools it finances. However, by withdrawing their daughters, the parents stopped using the government’s money. Presumably, instead of having the daughters sit at home idle the whole day, they planned to provide for their education by other means. Once they did that, Baga”tz should have bowed out of the discussion.

  23. Joe Hill says:

    The Slonimers also contribute with taxes. Thus they have a right to school funding, like everyone else in Israel. That right to school funding includes the State not violating their religious principles in the school.

  24. Ori says:

    Joe Hill: The Slonimers also contribute with taxes. Thus they have a right to school funding, like everyone else in Israel.

    Ori: So what restrictions is the Israeli government allowed to require on schools in Israel it funds? Any? Say a bunch of Israelis decided that monotheism was a bad idea and decided to go back to worshiping Ba’al and Ashera, should the Israeli government give them money to help teach that to their kids?

  25. Chaim says:

    There may be a down side to no longer trusting the media…

    I am an American dwelling in Israel and have accepted dual citizenship.
    I have been informed that the local authorities fear noone and nothing except the press, and that the media is the only way to get anything done justly.

    I have also learned that one seems to lose all their international rights when accepting Israeli citizenship on their way to dwelling in our Holy Land.

    For example those who have cars and international handicapped parking placards are given parking tickets when utilizing them… one story of an elderly woman in a leg case who hobbled up the steps of the police station to yell at the police for ticketing her. There are worse cases of this.

    Cross-currents should be a good forum to explore and document our abuses from within.

    Some have said that it is important to protest the graves that Israel wanted to disinter and re-inter to make room for a hospital expansion because doing so would diminish our rights to complain when Jewish graves are desecrated in Europe.

    Some have said that when Israel police arrest innocents, who are not violating any laws, we lose our right to protest when our enemies take our innocent soldiers captive.

    All such cases deserve justice.

  26. YM says:

    Rabbi Oberstein, stop trying to convince Charedim that they should become modern Orthodox. Many folks see MO as a disaster, not as the solution. Complicated Jew, do you accept that as soon as the Charedim are able to assemble an elective majority, they would have a right to decide how all tax dollars are spent, and the opinions of those in the minority can be ignored?

  27. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Menken, we disagree on whose analogy is more relevant. however i agree with you that “the Slonimers might want their daughters brought up in a “bubble” where every girl wears long sleeves, long stockings, and doesn’t have a TV, Internet, or iPod… ” and it is their right, up to some point. However, if their desires run counter to the state’s desires, something a court NOT a rabbi decides, they would, of course, fund their children’s education. You cannot expect a state to fund what it considers harmful to its future. you might wish they thought otherwise, but they do not.

    And what also ought be obvious, the state can STILL mandate all children be taught a core curriculum even in a privately funded “bubble.” the state has every right to judge what its citizens must be equipped for lest they become dependant on charity, something that is not in the state’s interest.

  28. Fred says:

    Why does it even occur to anyone that it is reasonable to ask Separdim
    to give up their Havarah? Hello? Can you imagine a rule saying black people
    could only attend a public school if they agreed to at least try to straighten their
    hair? This is no different. Its insulting and demeaning to the Nth degree. And this
    behavior absolutely defines what intolerance is.

    BTW, I am convinced my Rosh Yeshiva,
    R Ahron Soloveitchik ZL , would have had a cow over this. There is no way he would
    have supported these protests. He would have called it the Chillul HaShem it is.

  29. Michael says:

    Fred, it’s not “giving up their havarah” to ask everyone to practice davening the same way until they get to 6th grade. If you ask a first grader to do things one way in school and another way at home, the child will get confused both ways.

    If you want to lecture anyone about giving up their havarah, it should be the Dati-Leumi crowd that for generations has taught students, including in schools thousands of miles from the Holy Land, to abandon their family’s Mesorah in favor of a dumbed down, least-common-denominator pareve havarah which is faithful to no Jewish tradition — no kamatz or saf of the Ashkenazim, no ayin or het of the Sepharadim, no jimmel or thaf of the Yemenites.

    To a Zionist, only Ben-Yehudah is qualified to make arbitrary decisions about what accent to use? What religion is this, anyway?

    You can think what you want, but even Rav Zalman Melamed spoke in favor of attending the rally.

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