Shas calls it discrimination against Sephardi girls, while others say Ashkenazi students are suffering just as much. Either way, some 200 Jerusalem ninth grade girls will not be registered for school when the new academic year opens on Sunday. And many of their agemates will have nowhere to go as well.
The 200 girls were rejected by haredi Beit Ya'acov high schools, but not just because of bad grades.
Some were blackballed because their mothers drive a car or do other things that are not completely acceptable in the ultra-Orthodox world. Others were rejected because they have too many secular relatives. Still others were rejected because they are daughters of parents who are new to haredi Judaism.
"Being Sephardi doesn't help either," said Hezi Shnelson, who served as adviser on haredi affairs to MK Limor Livnat when she was education minister. "But both Ashkenazi and Sephardi girls are being rejected."
The girls' plight is at the forefront of haredi media attention, especially since Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the preeminent haredi halachic authority, ordered that Beit Ya'acov to postpone the start of the school year for ninth graders until the rejected girls find a place in the classroom.
A severe shortage of classrooms in the elite Ashkenazi Beit Ya'acov high schools of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak is nothing new. However, the problem has worsened, in part due to natural growth.
Shnelson said the Education Ministry was also to blame.
"When I was in the ministry, Livnat and I did everything we could to help solve the problem created by the shortage," said Shnelson. "Now no one in the ministry is dealing with it."
Rabbi Aryeh Dvir has been named by Elyashiv to help the girls find a place in an elite high school.
"I don't know who to blame for the shortage," said Dvir. "You could say it is the Jerusalem municipality or the Education Ministry for not allocating the land and budget for new haredi high schools."
MK Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism), a former deputy education minister, said the ministry discriminated against haredi high schools, which do not belong to the state school system because they refuse to teach the state curriculum. "When a new neighborhood is planned, a high school is part of the building plan. The same is not true for haredi neighborhoods," he said.
Dvir said he had met with the principals of all of the prestigious high schools to try to convince them to enlarge their class sizes. "In most high schools, classes have ballooned to between 45 and 47 students," said Dvir. "This cannot be a long term solution to the problem."
Dvir denied claims that Sephardi girls were being discriminated by elite Ashkenazi high schools. He said that between 150 and 180 girls had been rejected and estimated that about half were Ashkenazi.
However, Shas newspaper Yom Le'Yom accused the high schools of rejecting students for being Sephardi. "Racism must be denounced everywhere," read the main headline of the latest edition. "The names and pictures of the racists will be published," promised the paper's editor, Yitzhak Kakon.
The leading Ashkenazi high schools are usually referred to by the names of their principals. The four most popular high schools are headed by Yehiel Mendelbaum, Binyamin Sharansky, Yeshayahu Lieberman and Eliezer Rov.
The plight of the girls is particularly harsh since they feel they have no other options.
"Attending less elite high schools ruins their chances of finding a good shiduch (match)," said one source. "So they prefer staying home for a year to compromising on their standards."