It might be typical of a good legal compromise that both sides consider it their victory. Sunday’s agreement, according to which all the girls from the Beit Ya’acov school in Emmanuel will spend the next three days in joint reconciliatory study, is being trumpeted as an achievement and victory not only by Slonim Hassidim who were released from prison, but also by Yoav Laloum and his Noar Kahalach NGO.
But does this victory come at the expense of Israel’s legal system, after the court seemingly readjusted its ruling to accomodate an agreement reached by the leading rabbis?
“On this day, it has become clear to all that the ruling authority in the State of Israel belongs to the leading rabbis,” freshly released Slonim hassid Yitzhak Weinberg announced late Sunday morning from atop the low wall surrounding Justice Simon Agranat Square, where fellow hassidim and supporters were celebrating the court ruling in song and dance.
“Only [Shas spiritual leader] Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and [Slonim Rebbe] Rabbi Shmuel Barazovsky,” the forces behind the agreement approved by the court, “will determine what is Torah, what is morality, what is justice,” Weinberg added, and then headed off to the bus that would take him and fellow inmates to Ma’asiyahu Prison for their official release.
Joy over the ruling was not limited to that side of the struggle. After years of a heated, precedent-setting struggle, including growing threats that recently necessitated security measures, Laloum could smile in relief as he strode out of the courthouse, satisfied with the success of his petition.
“Yes, I’m relieved,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “I’m relieved because the girls are back at school together, and because the dignity of the Sephardi girls who were humiliated has been restored. Think of how a seven-year-old girl, who had been separated from her Ashkenazi friends, must have felt all this time.”
Asked how he perceives the brief and rather informal concept of joint study as agreed upon by the sides and reminiscent of a similar idea floated by former Shas leader Aryeh Deri a few weeks ago, Laloum’s smile broadened.
“That was my idea,” he said. “But I really don’t mind; let others take the credit for it, as long as it works.”
Indeed, many figures are trying to take the credit for the deal mediated by Yossi Deitsch, a Slonimer hassid and deputy mayor of Jerusalem, who – along with Rabbi Moshe Barazovsky, head of the Slonim yeshiva and son of the Admor – represented the Slonim Admor, with Interior Minister Eli Yishai mediating for Yosef on the other side. Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, attorney Ram Caspi and Deri are some of the names involved.
But what matters to the sides is that the affair that put the haredim on the defensive in the wake of claims of racism will be fading from the public stage – but not without engendering interesting developments that should be followed.
No school in Israel will now dare to create any unlawful internal changes or divisions that could end up leaving a group feeling discriminated against. This has also been cemented in the agreement forged by Yosef and Barazovsky, and obviously needed to be stated. The Ashkenazi haredi leadership is now bent on proving to Israeli society in word and deed that they are not racists, as the mass demonstration a week and a half ago sought to show.
On Sunday, Yishai used the microphones thrust at him just outside the courtroom to promote Shas’s mixed message of the importance of Jewish unity on the one hand, while encouraging Sephardi separatism on the other, calling on his constituency to subscribe to “the glorious Sephardi [educational] tradition.”
David Ben-Gurion’s “melting-pot” ideal may be inappropriate to religious traditions, but Shas’s existence and isolationistic message is a result of Sephardim being treated like second-class Jews in the Ashkenazi-haredi political and educational systems.
But racism is worse in secular Israel, Yishai recently charged. Just how many Sephardi supreme justices, or Tel Aviv University professors are there anyway, he asked, echoing the United Torah Judaism politicians. A racially unbalanced framework like the court should not deem others faulty. And regardless, Torah-abiding people should keep away from the courts if they value their afterlife, said Rabbi Ovadia Yosef recently, quoting from Maimonides.
So if Yosef and Barazovsky, as representatives of divine Torah in contrast to the temporal rule, were the force that brought peace between the sides and “forced” the court to release the fathers, does that amount to a defeat of the High Court of Justice and what it stands for?
Not quite. While the Slonim Hassidim and other parents, some of them Sephardim, won many points for their proud adherence to their religious beliefs against the court’s ruling, the Independent Educational System, UTJ politicians, senior rabbis and the haredi street would have never spoken out so clearly against racial discrimination without that same court.
Attesting to this are the many attempts by Laloum’s side, led by spiritual mentor Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef, to deal with the feelings of discrimination among Sephardim enrolled at Ashkenazi institutions in an internal haredi dialogue. Only after failing again and again to reach understandings with the Independent Educational Center’s ear, or to win an audience with the Slonim Rebbe and agree upon a rabbinical court, did Ya’acov Yosef instruct Laloum to file the petition.
And judging only by the chronology of the events unravelling, only when the Slonim Hassidim and their supporters internalized the court’s full intention to reluctantly imprison the nine mothers did the redeeming agreement materialize. The state accepted the resolution “since it qualifies as the parents’ acceptance of the court’s ruling, and the enforcement measurements [i.e. imprisonment] achieved their purpose.”
This court had encouraged the sides to reach understandings outside its
confines, and allotted time for that again and again. It did not want
to intervene in the haredi educational system, but was forced to do so
in the absence of a clear voice from the Education Ministry.
The justice system is too often forced to rule on volatile matters it
would rather not, be it releasing terrorists, opening highways for
Palestinian traffic or enforcing the validity of conversions nullified
by the Chief Rabbinate; issues in which lawmakers, and not
law-enforcers, should have the final say.
When such a topic finally does land at the court’s doorstep, it has no
choice but to eventually rule. Despite the disgraceful notion of
imprisoning mothers, it seems that the court reluctantly proved to be
the necessary enforcer that helped push the sides to an agreement,
which surely should not be held against it.