Emmanuel girls will study together – for three more days

Girls to come together at Beit Ya’acov school for lectures by spiritual leaders from all streams, encouraging “solidarity and love for the Jewish people.”

By DAN IZENBERG, JONAH MANDEL
June 28, 2010 04:35
Haredi girls.

haredi girls 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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The High Court of Justice on Sunday released from jail 35 fathers of girls enrolled in Emmanuel’s Beit Ya’acov primary school after accepting a proposal by Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the Rebbe of Slonim temporarily suspended the contempt of court action that had led to the fathers’ incarceration.

According to the agreement, all the girls studying in the four elementary schools in Emmanuel would come together at the Beit Ya’acov school that was the subject of the petition, for three days of lectures by spiritual leaders from all streams, encouraging “solidarity and love for the Jewish people.”

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The agreement pointedly made clear that the Sephardi and Ashkenazi girls would be in the same study halls. Attorney Mordechai Green, who represented the hassidic parents, said that the plan was already being implemented.

“We welcome the initiative of the leaders of the generation to try and spread peace, brotherhood and friendship among all the quarrelling parties,” Justice Edmond Levy wrote in his decision, at the end of a two-hour hearing.

“We are sure that with worthy efforts and the cooperation of the state and local elements involved in the matter and, above all, the Education Ministry, it will be possible to find a solution to the question which arose in all its severity in the petition before us.”

Sunday’s court session was originally scheduled to hear a joint request by the petitioners and the parents of the hassidic track to release the fathers, who went to jail on June 17, and give the sides time to negotiate a settlement that would satisfy the court.



But Green informed the panel of three justices headed by Levy that at the last minute, Yosef and the Slonim Rebbe had reached the agreement.

Following the ruling, dozens of exuberant Slonim hassidim greeted the freed Emmanuel fathers with song and dancing outside the court, where security forces allowed a brief celebration before taking the men back to Ma’asiyahu Prison for their official release.

Special attention was given to the Sephardi fathers, whose presence supported the parents’ claim that the division was on religious and not ethnic grounds. The fathers also stopped off at Yosef’s Jerusalem home, to thank him for his involvement in the agreement.

“The 10 days spent in prison will be remembered as a milestone in the annals of haredi Judaism in the state [of Israel], when the stance regarding the superiority of the Torah lifestyle of the haredi populace was crystallized,” Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism), who was active in the affair, said in a statement. Celebrations were also held in Bnei Brak, attended by the released fathers.

The original petition was submitted by Yoav Laloum and the non-profit organization Noar Kahalacha in July 2008. The petitioners charged that the mostly hassidic parents had established, without permission from the Education Ministry, a separate school within the confines of the recognized Beit Yaakov school.

Only those girls who adhered to the strict and Ashkenazi-oriented regulations of the new school were admitted. As a result, the overwhelming number of students in the new school were Ashkenazi.

The parents of the breakaway school, which called itself Beit Ya’acov Hahassidi, built a wall inside the building to separate their daughters from the remaining girls and provided a separate entrance, a separate teachers’ room, a separate playground and separate school uniforms for their girls.

On August 16, 2009, the court accepted Laloum’s petition, and ordered all elements of discrimination in the school to be removed.

When the Independent Education Center (Hinuch Atzma’i) obeyed the order and removed the partitions, the parents responded by withdrawing their daughters from the school and establishing an ad-hoc, unauthorized school. The petitioners then asked the court to declare the Independent Educational Center, which is responsible for all Agudat Yisrael schools, in contempt of court.

Over the school year, the hassidic-track parents continued to refuse to merge their daughters with the mainstream girls, arguing that the religious customs and way of life of the primarily Slonim parents differed from those of the other families and that their demand for separation had nothing to do with ethnic discrimination.

The court found the parents in contempt of court and ordered them jailed. During a hearing two weeks ago to find a way out before the ruling was implemented, the Ashkenazi parents refused the court’s suggestion that their daughters return to the school for the last few days of the year.

Sunday’s agreement, for which Yosef and the Slonim Rebbe took credit, was actually the work of Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and several haredi activists. One of them, Moshe Weiss, said Neeman went over the document word by word.

Overnight, Shas Party leader Eli Yishai made some changes in the agreement, which was then signed by Yosef and the Slonim Rebbe. According to the agreement, the uniting of the two tracks will end on Wednesday, the last day of school.

The hassidic parents’ lawyer, Green, said that during the summer months, the parties would continue to meet to seek a permanent solution which would satisfy the court.

It is likely, however, that the dispute will end with the establishment of a separate, private Ashkenazi school elsewhere in Emmanuel.

Under the agreement signed by Yosef and the Slonim Rebbe, “the petitioners agree (to the extent that their consent is required) that the [hassidic] parents and teachers may establish a separate school as an institution which receives 50 percent state funding. The school regulations will be determined by the heads of the institution at their own discretion.”

Haredi schools belonging to the unofficial but recognized stream, such as those affiliated with the Independent Educational Center, receive all of their funding from the state. Schools such as the one mooted in the agreement, which are not official and are therefore not bound by all Education Ministry regulations, receive 55 percent funding.

Attorney Aviad Hacohen, who represented the petitioners, said he had nothing against the establishment of a separate school for the hassidic girls and that what mattered to him was that there  be no discrimination at the Beit Ya’acov school.

“The parents now understood that in Israel, you cannot discriminate against a person based on their ethnic origin,” he added.

Green expressed his satisfaction that the court found a creative way for the parents to fulfill its order, without forcing them to act against their faith.

“They should have done this a long time ago,” he said of the High Court of Justice.

According to the court’s decision, the hassidic parents will report back to the court by August 25 to present their proposal for a permanent arrangement in keeping with the court’s ruling against any elements of discrimination at the Beit Ya’acov school.

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