Religious Matters: The court keeps the faith

By JONAH MANDEL
June 24, 2010 21:49

Slonim supporters didn't expect the court to imprison the mothers.

4 minute read.



Massive haredi demonstration

Massive haredi demonstration 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))

The court won’t dare retain its order to imprison the mothers.

The social services are against it; it would cause a huge public outcry and make the justices look even worse than they already do. They’ve already made their point with the fathers,” a very prominent hassid predicted late Tuesday morning, as he stood with the Slonim Hassidim and their supporters in the foyer just outside the cordoned-off doors of the High Court of Justice’s courtroom B.

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Inside the closed chambers, three justices heard the arguments and predicaments of 22 mothers, who requested absolution, and three fathers, all from Emmanuel, who requested furlough or postponement of the two-week prison term the same panel had sentenced them to the week before.

The smiles on the faces of the first mothers exiting the courtroom when the doors finally opened seemed to bear testimony to the court’s decision to free them, but the panel had yet to announce its decision. Their lawyer Mordechai Green spoke of the positive attitude the justices had shown to the parents. He was confident his clients wouldn’t have to see the prison from the inside, in accordance with the recommendations of the welfare services and even the request of plaintiff Yoav Laloum. Laloum had on Friday petitioned the court to release the 35 imprisoned fathers and not bother with the mothers, as the incarceration wasn’t serving its end of causing the parents to return their daughters to the reunited Beit Ya’acov school.

As far as the defendants were concerned, the whole affair stemmed from a secular court’s misunderstanding of haredi mentality, or worse the deliberate persecution of their Torah-centered lifestyle, as evident in other rulings by the same court, such as the recent decision deeming the minimum incomeguarantee payments received uniquely by kollel students unlawful. The Slonim Admor went as far as equating the court’s stance on the Emmanuel parents to the “powers of impurity of the sitra achra [other side, evil force]” in a letter he sent to his hassidim on Wednesday.

We are not racists, the mainstream Ashkenazi haredim reiterated in the mass demonstration last Thursday and in every other opportunity since; the segregation at Beit Ya’acov was on religious, not racial grounds. Testimony to this is not only the fact that 27 percent of the girls in the hassidic track were of Sephardi ancestry, but primarily the outlook of the independent inspector the Education Ministry appointed, attorney Mordechai Bass, who opined to the court that while the separation was against the regulations, its motivation was not racism.

The court took Bass’ outlook into account, as well as Laloum’s claim that the segregation was indeed racial, and focused on the outcome of the division. “While the underlying purpose of the changes [in the Beit Ya’acov school] is in dispute between the sides, nobody can deny the results – separation between most of the students whose families are of Ashkenazi origin, to their peers whose families are of Sephardi origin,” Justice Edmond Levy wrote in the decision from 2009 that ruled away the boundaries within the school.

Politicians from United Torah Judaism are leading their public discourse on the topic with the racial question and the absurdity of locking away parents whose only felony was to listen to their spiritual leaders on a matter concerning the education of their children. Listening to their impassioned voices at Sunday’s heated UTJ faction meeting in the tent outside Ma’asiyahu Prison, where the fathers, some of them Sephardi, are serving their time, one could almost forget that the court sentenced the parents to prison not for racism but rather for contempt of its decision to return the girls to the state-funded school, once the separation was undone.

The average Israeli can identify with the principles of freedom of belief and education, and certainly would not rejoice over the imprisonment of normative parents, even haredi ones, but will not tolerate an affront against the symbol of the rule of law, especially by a group that enjoys legislated state funding.

The court’s Tuesday decision to uphold its imprisonment order on nine of the 22 mothers, who will begin their terms only after their husbands are released, came as a surprise to the Slonim supporters, who had backed and even glorified the parents’ decision to remain defiant in the face of an order that contradicted their beliefs. If they had thought that the legal system would suffice with incarcerating the fathers to avoid the painful scenes of mothers tearfully departing from the small children, the court seems to have indicated to these religious believers that it too will risk unpopular decisions for the ideals it believes in and professes.

It remains to be seen what the court decides in its Sunday hearing on the parents’ ongoing refusal to heed its order. The struggle has crystalized into a head-on collision between two standpoints, and is forcing the Ashkenazi haredi politicians, who adhere primarily to their rabbis but are also a component of the coalition, to become as vocal as they can against the court, without overstepping the limits of the coalition and its support. •


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