The Court comes up empty-handed

What could the Israeli Supreme Court have been hoping to achieve by ordering 43 parents from Emmanuel jailed for contempt of court for sending their children to a chassidic school in Bnei Brak, after the Court banned a separate chassidic track within the Bais Yaakov in Emmanuel?

All the Court succeeded in doing was unifying the diverse charedi community by striking directly at the very heard of charedi life – the right of parents to transmit the Torah to the children, according to their convictions. Even a neighbor who regularly stops me to air his criticisms of the charedi community and leadership was gung-ho for last week’s Jerusalem protest rally.

The prayer gathering drew a crowd estimated at 100,000 or more, and was the antithesis of a series of demonstrations involving a few hundred demonstrators, primarily drawn from Meah Shearim, over the past year. The broader charedi community looked on the latter with horror when they turned violent. Last week’s gathering, called by a broad cross-section of rabbinical authorities, was, by contrast, completely peaceful.

Besides unifying the diverse haredi community, a second unintended consequence of the Court’s sentencing of the parents to jail was to reinforce the most conservative elements in the charedi community. A community that feels besieged will draw the wagons tighter. At a time when many in the charedi community seek greater economic integration into the broader Israeli society, the Court unwittingly gave credence to those who suspect the government of seeking to destroy charedi society, and dealt a setback to those who do not believe that relations between the charedi and non-charedi sectors are a zero-sum game.

The Court foolishly chose to enter a power struggle it could not win. For charedim raised on stories of Jews throughout history who gave up their lives rather than betray their beliefs, the relatively minor “martyrdom” of two weeks in jail is little deterrent. By sentencing mothers and fathers of large families to jail, Judge Edmond Levy cast himself in the role of Antiochus trying to force each of Channah’s seven sons to bow down to him.

Sunday’s report that he asked the Attorney-General to launch a criminal investigation of charedi MK’s for their criticism of the Court demonstrates the degree to which he has been maddened by the desire to prevail, no matter how pyrrhic the victory.

The Court’s contempt order was not only strategically counter-productive, but legally dubious. Contempt orders normally apply only to the parties to a case. The parents were not parties to the original suit against the Education Ministry and Chinuch Atzmai. Nor did the Court’s original order direct them to do anything.

So what did the Court gain from its efforts? In less than two weeks, the school year ends and the parents will be freed. And the Court has already indicated that next year the Slonimer chassidim will be allowed to establish their own fully independent school in Emmanuel or bus their children to Bnei Brak. Ironically, the ones most hurt by the Court’s order are the Sephardi girls currently enrolled in the chassidic track. If no chasidic school is established next year in Emmanuel, they may be forced to return to the general Bais Yaakov school, where a number of them have complained of being bullied for acting “too Ashkenazi” – i.e., too observant.

FROM THE BEGINNING, the dispute over the two tracks in the Emmanuel Bais Yaakov – chassidic and general – has been falsely portrayed as a case of blatant ethnic discrimination.

It would not be surprising if there were few Sephardi girls in the chassidic track – there were, after all, few Sephardim in the areas of Eastern Europe from which Slonimer chassidim hail – but, in fact, over a quarter of the girls in the chassidic track are of Sephardi origin.

Advocate Mordechai Bas, who was appointed by the Education Ministry to evaluate the school, found that while the split of the school was administratively improper, “it was not done with the intention of discriminating against students because of their ethnic background.” “No parent who wanted or wants to register their daughters in the new school, and who was or is prepared to meet the conditions for doing so, has been refused,” Bas determined.

One might think that the religious restrictions in the chassidic track are too strict. (My daughter, for instance, would not have been accepted.) In the age of Internet, however, when one student exposed to pornographic material can affect an entire class, the trend in all charedi schools has been towards greater protections.

And one might support a more inclusive approach, such as that of the Klausenberger hassidim in Netanya, whose school system includes a very large percentage of Sephardi girls from the orphanage founded by the late Klausenberger Rebbe. But there are dozens of government-supported chassidic girls schools Jerusalem and Bnei Brak made up primarily of students drawn from one chassidic court or another. (Ironically, when other chassidic groups broke away from the general Jerusalem Bais Yaakov system in 1989, Slonimer Chassidim remained behind with the “Lithuanians” and Sephardim.) The Court has explicitly recognized the right of Bais Yaakov schools to determine criterion of religious conduct. The only thing different in Emmanuel is that the chassidic track shared the same building with the general track.

The Supreme Court did not question the finding that no parent seeking admission to the chassidic track had been turned away. Rather Justice Levy summarily concluded that the under-representation of Sephardim in the Hassidic track demonstrates ipso facto discriminatory intent. By that standard, the Israeli Supreme Court is the most discriminatory institution in Israel.

Justice Levy is the only one of the fourteen permanent members of the current Court of Sephardi origin, a consistent pattern since 1948. Former Court President Aharon Barak once told a group of journalists that it would be impossible to increase Sephardi representation on the Court without diluting its quality. Yet that remark was largely covered up by the media.

After the Court, the most overwhelmingly Ashkenazi institution in Israel is broadcast journalism. Yet the media has been quick to hurl the racism label at Slonimer chassidim. I listened to radio interviews, in which the interviewer simply ignored chassidic parents when they cited the significant number of Sephardim in the chassidic track, and returned, without pause, to badgering them about why they discriminated against Sephardim.

The AP report of last week’s demonstrations reflected the Israeli media in willfully ignoring the undisputed fact that no Sephardi parent had been discriminated against: “Parents of European, or Ashkenazi, descent at a girls’ school in the West Bank settlement of Emmanuel, don’t want their daughters to study with schoolgirls of Mideast and North African descent, known as Sephardim.”

Last Friday’s front-page headline in the Jerusalem Post described to the Hassidic track in Emmanuel as a “segregated” school – a characterization about as accurate as the frequent characterization of Israel as an “apartheid state.” Indeed there are numerous parallels between the recent media treatment of charedim and the world media’s treatment of Israel – something perhaps worth pondering.

Is the charedi community free of all taint of ethnic prejudice? Of course not. There are yeshivos, for instance, where a Sephardi applicant from an impeccable charedi home will need to be better than his Ashkenazi counterpart to be accepted — a point noted critically by numerous charedi commentators last week.

But Emmanuel was not a reflection of that prejudice. And unless one believes that it does not matter that Mohammed Al-Dura was not shot by Israeli bullets because some other Palestinian child might have been, it is an injustice to report the dispute in Emmanuel that way.

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13 Responses

  1. toto says:

    I just love how people leave out certain facts such as there was a wall seperating the playground and lunchroom. The seperation wall is evidence by itself how the parents wanted to discriminate against the Sephardic children in the “chassidic track.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    Can anyone imagine either a law review, federal or state court judge on any level attempting to stifle a legitimate critique of a controversial decision?

  3. Moshe says:

    Tol korah mbein einecha! The existence of anti-sefardi discrimination in wider Israeli society in no way justifies rampant discrimination in the Haredi sector. It was not just a question of numbers in the Emmanuel as is clear from the descision. It also clear from the decision that parents did not want their children exposed to sefardic minhagim and psak. When will right minded chareidim take a principled stand against anti sefardic discrimination?

  4. dovid 2 says:

    Why are we so coy about the “wall separating the playground and lunchroom” that toto brought about? Aren’t the Slonimers teaching their children that anyone whose religious practices are different than theirs are lepers?

  5. Simcha Younger says:

    This case has been compared by many to the way Israel has been treated in world media with regard to the Mavi Marmara.
    I think another prominent case it should be compared to is Rubashkin. (which I have not been following closely)

    The charges that Rubashkin was arrested for were dropped long ago, but the judge and prosecutors obviously cannot let go. They must find something he did wrong, and a much as possible he will have to pay for that something as much as he was expected to pay for the original charges.

    Here I see also many commenters who are desperate not to allow the Slonimer chassidim get a clean pass. Some people have resorted to accusing them of various minor charges, and others insist that any minor expression of self-identity is equivelant to Jim Crow.

    The prosecutors in Rubashkin’s case had a clear need to find him guilty of somehitng, as they caused a great deal of damage to Postville and to Agriprocessors, and it would be quite unseemly to walk away admitting it was all a mistake. I am not sure what compells people to see the negative side of the story in the Emanuel case. Why is it so necessary to see this in terms of racism, when it it so much easier to see it in terms of religion and tradition?

    As to the prevous commentors:
    toto: the wall is evidence that the parents wanted a seperate track. There was nothing about the wall that indicates anything about sepharadim.

    Moshe: What do you mean ‘it was not about numbers’?? that is the problem, not the excuse. The decision did not indicate AT ALL what it was about. Definitely not about numbers, though, as the numbers in no way indicate racism. Nothing about Sephardi minhag and psak is clear from the decision, except that if they wanted to keep them away from Sephardi minhag that would be legal. (The phrase you use [Tol korah mbein einecha!] means that the person you are responding to has the defect he himself accused others of. It would be a most appropiate phrase to use responding , eg, to the court. R’ Rosenblum has not shown any signs of racism, so this phrase is quite out of place.)

    dovid2: The wall teaches the children that people with different religious standards should have differrent religious educational settings. It does not teach them that anyone is a leper. Your comment also clearly acknowledges that it is a religious issue and not a racial issue, and there was no question that seperation for religious reasons is legitimate, so why should we not be coy about the wall?

  6. L. Oberstein says:

    I guess if you go to Law School you learn to emphasize the strengths of your client’s case and avoid mention of the weaknesses. Everyone was wrong here, and no one acted with enough understanding to prevent the blowup. Now , the leaders have to find a way back to a modus vivendi, some kind of solution. I feel sorry for the Sephardim who had to listen to blatant falsehood from Rav Efrati that anyone who studies the Rambam doesn’t discriminate. Is there a shred of truth in that statement, RebYonoson. Isn’t it hard for you to to be on the same side as this man. I knw that a Bais Yaakov in Sanhedria refused to allow girls who could have been your or my grandchildren to sit in the same class with pure blood chareidim. Does Rav Efrati also say that there is no discrimination against Americans and Baalei Teshuva? I would like to believe that the Gedolim truly oppose racism , not just court ordered integration. Is there a sliver of evidence that is the case.
    In Alabama they taught me that the War Between The States was not about slavery but a fight for state’s rights. Sure.

  7. Chaim Fisher says:

    Sigh. When will the supporters of medinat Yisrael finally admit that their idol has feet of clay?

    It should be perfectly obvious by now that the powers that rule in Eretz Yisrael are totally oblivious to what Jewish life is. Even if there was some bias against Sephardim in the Emmanuel situation, parents should still be allowed to choose their children’s education. Surely for the people who introduced the whole concept of education to the world.

    Why we keep blindly supporting our government and its courts I don’t know. This article also falls well short of the mark. This article pretends that the court decision against us was an aberration, worthy of lofty discourse in the salons of Jerusalem.

    Wrong. It was another knife in the heart of Jewish life. It was proof positive that we should have nothing to do with people who are the enemies of our life.

    Maybe we are all lemmings.

    It’s time to stop running into the sea with the government. Stand up against them before its too late!

  8. dovid 2 says:

    “… sit in the same class with pure blood chareidim.”

    L. Oberstein, if you keep the Shulchan Aruch, which I trust you do, you are a pure blood Chareidi in the Bais Din shel Maala. (even if you are a freshly minted guer tzedek or a baal tshuva).

  9. Tziki says:

    Simcha you certainly don’t understand rubishkan case…the first charges were dropped only because they had much more serious charges.

  10. Tal S. Benschar says:

    L. Oberstein:

    Excuse me for being harsh, but have you thought through what you are saying? In America, EVERY yeshiva and day school practices discrmination in that only Jews are admitted. That is at least religious discrimination, and since who is a Jew is usually defined by birth (who is the mother), that is probably racial discrimination as well. (Indeed, a Court in England recently made just such a ruling. Think about that — a court has held that Orthodox Judaism is racist.)

    What keeps the governemnt in America from shutting down every yeshiva and day school in America as discriminatory? The recognized rights of freedom of religion and the parental right to educate one’s children as you see fit, particularly in one’s own religion. You and every other Orthodox Jew in America are benefitting from the very rights you now wish to deny the Slonimer. (And, please, don’t repeat the silliness about the State paying for it. The Supreme Court order foreclosed the option of a privately funded school. That is what caused the uproar.)

    I must also protest your comparison of this situation to the American South. As I said on another thread here, blacks in America were treated poorly (very poorly) because of their racial background, regardless of how they acted. There was no option to “act white” and be accepted in a school (or job or restaurant). That is miles removed from what happened in Emmanuel.

  11. cvmay says:

    What keeps the government in America from shutting down every yeshiva and day school in America as discriminatory?

    Forget ‘DISCRIMINATION’, the main reason that the American government (particularly in New York State, where the majority of Yeshivos/Day Schools are found) does not shut down parochial schools is ECONOMICS. The public school budget (tax role) could not support taking these students into their system, overwhelming & overburdening the entire structure. The bottom line in most situations is the CASH outlay, and far from silliness of any government liability program.

  12. Sarah says:

    Mr. Oberstein, in New York they also taught me that the Civil War was about the right of states to secede from the Union (or not), not about slavery. Hey, maybe “they” were right? Or maybe they weren’t completely lying?

  13. J says:

    “Wrong. It was another knife in the heart of Jewish life. It was proof positive that we should have nothing to do with people who are the enemies of our life.”

    Chaim Fisher, if by “have nothing to do with” you mean stop taking money from these supposed enemies (stop taking money for schools, stop taking welfare and health care and police and fire services beyond what the community’s own tax base can afford), then I completely agree with you.

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