An estimated 15,000 people attended a mass demonstration in Bnei Brak on Thursday afternoon protesting the High Court’s decision to jail parents from Emmanuel who refused to send their daughters to school with girls of Sephardi origin.
When three of the fathers arrived, they were received as heroes. Wearing their Shabbat finest and the fur shtreimel, traditionally reserved for special occasions, the fathers were carried on the shoulders of the crowd, surrounded by thousands of dancing and cheering supporters.
“An important point was put to the test this week. Who will guide the education of our children – the courts or our obedience and discipline to the words of the generation’s revered rabbis? Today, we choose, in front of the whole community and the world, to ‘do as they will tell you,’” said Rabbi Eliyahu Biton, one of the fathers who was headed to prison.
“We left 250 children behind in Emmanuel, and we go with a full and joyous heart to accept what was imposed on us, because we proudly take upon ourselves the commandment of ‘according to the judgment that they will tell thee, you shall do.’”
The demonstrators meanwhile expressed their anger and contempt for the High Court decision, carrying banners with epithets against the court and playing derisive songs.
“The Court in Israel abuses the children, shows contempt for their values and revokes their rights,” went one song. “We are all with the residents of Emmanuel. We will not desecrate the word of heaven. We will go to prison and sing praise,” went another. Both were played continually during the protest and have become the informal anthem of the cause.
The banners bore slogans such as “Fascist courts,” “Between Torah and the High Court of Justice, the Torah decides,” and “Yes to the Torah, no to the High Court!”
One of the speakers at the demonstration, leading haredi authority Rabbi Shmuel Wozner, said, “Up until now, we believed that a chasm divides us. Today we realize that it’s much more than that. It is as the Gemara says that the hatred harbored by one who does not keep the commandments for those who do is greater than the gentile’s hatred of the Jew.”
“The aim of the demonstration is to express our concern for the future generations and, with all due respect to the High Court, we are troubled that it dared, for the first time in 63 years, to touch upon a matter it never has before – saying that the rabbis are subordinate to the court,” said Rabbi Zaltzman, a spokesman for the Slonim community and the demonstration’s organizer.
“For thousands of years the Jewish people have stood proud against these types of decisions. We didn’t falter in the face of the Spanish expulsion. We didn’t falter in the face of many, many decrees, and we won’t falter now,” he added.
Protesters brushed aside questions about discrimination in haredi
schools, claiming that the state itself was discriminatory. “[High
Court Judge] Edmond Levy is the only religious man and the only
Sephardi man in the court. We [haredi Jews] make up 20 percent of the
population, yet we have no representation in the courts. The state is
racist and discriminatory, not us,” said a protester from Bnei Brak.
“How can they say that we discriminate? There are Sephardi girls at the
school in Emmanuel and there are Sephardi students in many of our
schools. If we were racist, we wouldn’t let them go to school with our
kids at all,” said a demonstrator from Netanya.
Zaltzman said that the Slonim community was planning to hold
demonstrations in New York City, London, Strasbourg and Antwerp next
“We are a persecuted minority in Israel and we want international
intervention,” he said. “We want an international investigation on our
lack of representation in the High Court.”