A collective abandonment of authentic Jewish values seems to have overtaken the haredi community.

Nothing else can explain the phenomenon of tens of thousands of religious zealots, dressed in black hats and coats, congregating under the glaring midday sun to fight for the right to discriminate against their fellow Jews.

A group of haredi families in Emmanuel has for months contemptuously refused to abide by a High Court ruling that reflects what the US Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education ruled back in 1954: segregation is unjust. Emmanuel’s Ashkenazi families, most of them members of the Slonim Hassidic movement, have refused to integrate their elementary school girls with a group of Sephardi peers. They insist, instead, on maintaining a quota of “quality” Sephardi girls that makes up about a quarter of the total school body, while separating the rest. At the same time, they insist on receiving full funding from the State of Israel for their segregated educational enterprise.

Walls inside the school and on the playground that once separated the “Ashkenazi” and “Sephardi” sections were taken down under court order. As a result, the Ashkenazi families, in violation of the mandatory education law, have refused to send their children to school. Attempts to reach a compromise were rebutted by order of Rabbi Aharon Barazovsky, the leader of the Slonim Hassidim. Families were fined for being held in contempt of court, to no effect. Finally, the judges lost patience and ordered the mothers and fathers to sit in prison for the remaining two weeks of the school year.

One can argue that it was unwise for the court to imprison the recalcitrant mothers and fathers, even for such a short spell. True, they will receive special prison conditions, including separate cells, but they are not criminals in any conventional sense. They are guilty of holding the opinion – widespread in the haredi community – that Sephardim are culturally inferior to Ashkenazim. Even some Sephardim share this opinion, which explains why many – including prominent Shas MKs – choose to send their children to Ashkenazi schools, while at the same time fighting to ensure that a strong Ashkenazi majority is maintained.

MEANWHILE, DURING Thursday’s mass demonstrations, which drew over 100,000 in Jerusalem and in Bnei Brak, haredi leaders, in a convoluted perception of history, compared the High Court’s decision to incidents of repression perpetrated by the Greeks, the Romans, Tzarist Russia and even Nazi Germany.

Rabbi Yosef Efrati, a protégé of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the most important living halachic authority for Ashkenazi haredim, likened the High Court’s attempt to bring together students of diverse backgrounds to idolaters striving to coerce Jews to bow down to a statue.

No, Rabbi Efrati, agreeing to learn with fellow Jews who come from a different cultural background as a condition for receiving state funds is not idolatry – it is acting like a mentsch. Even if Slonim Hassidim did not enjoy the Zionist state’s largesse, they should have accepted elementary school girls different from themselves – even those with a lower level of religious observance – as an expression of their care for fellow Jews. This is the way of Chabad and religious Zionists, among others.

To call such an arrangement idolatry is a distortion of Judaism. To compare it to the situation in Tzarist Russia reveals a total lack of appreciation for the Jewish state’s role in helping haredi Judaism rebuild itself after the Holocaust. Thanks to the security provided by the IDF, the generous funds made available by successive governments, and the exemption enjoyed by young haredi men from the obligation to serve in the IDF, there are today more devout Jews dedicating themselves to the full-time study of Torah than ever before in history. And they have the privilege of doing so in the Land of Israel thanks to the secular Zionists whose initiative broke nearly 2,000 years of humiliating exile.

Nor does the haredi community seem to appreciate Israel’s democracy. Despite the short notice, police fastidiously guarded the haredi community’s right to protest the High Court’s ruling. Haredi leaders were free to publicly criticize the court and the state. If one day the haredim become the majority in Israel, would they treat minority groups so fairly? Ask the Sephardi girls who were walled out in Emmanuel.

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