Court postpones arrest of mothers

Emmanuel sentence moved to Sunday; haredi masses hail jailed fathers.

haredi riot 311 (photo credit: Mark Neyman\GPO)
haredi riot 311
(photo credit: Mark Neyman\GPO)
The High Court of Justice on Friday morning postponed the implementation of arrest warrants to Sunday for 22 mothers from Emmanuel who did not show up for their incarceration.
After a day which brought weeks of tensions between Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community and the state to a climax, 35 fathers of students at the Emmanuel Beit Ya’acov girls school began two-week jail terms for contempt of court over discriminatory practices at the school, and their hassidic community hailed them as heroes for “choosing Torah” over the secular court system.
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Over 100,000 haredim in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak had gathered under the glaring sun earlier Thursday in a powerful show of support for the Emmanuel parents, and to voice their protest over what they perceived as the High Court’s intervention in their educational values and show of disrespect for their rabbis.
A demonstration of such magnitude had not been witnessed for years, and underlined the renewed rift between the haredi community and the institutions of state over the nation’s orientation.
Just after 7 p.m., two buses carrying the 35 men arrived at Jerusalem’s Russian Compound police headquarters, from where they were transported to Ma’asiyahu Prison near Ramle to begin serving their sentences. But 22 mothers and four more fathers whom the court had also sent to jail failed to present themselves and were said to have gone into hiding.
On Thursday night, police said they were searching for the no-shows and would bring them to jail as soon as they were located.
The court ruled to incarcerate the parents after they consistently refused to return their daughters to the state-funded Emmanuel school, which had been segregated on racial grounds. Barriers physically separating most Sephardi children from the rest of the students were ordered removed by the court, but the parents then failed to return their children.
The parents have remained firm in their insistence that the separation was not racially based, but was a function of halachic stringency. A small number of Sephardi girls had been allowed to study with the Ashkenazi girls, and three Sephardi fathers were among those jailed.
"Prisoners sanctifying the name of heaven"
Beginning just after noon on Thursday, Jerusalem police began closing off a series of the capital’s thoroughfares in anticipation of the large crowd set to turn out for the demonstration. Yermiyahu, Bar-Ilan, and Shmuel Hanavi streets were completely closed to traffic, along with Golda Meir Boulevard, Rehov Hativat Harel, Sderot Eshkol, and Shivtei Yisrael and Hanevi’im streets. Public transportation was also widely affected by the road closings, and scores of traffic police were deployed throughout the city to redirect the flow of vehicles.
A line of Slonim Hassidim and a few Sephardic fathers stood on the truck that served as a makeshift stage on Rehov Yermiyahu and from which the speeches and prayers were delivered. Garbed in their Shabbat finest, the hassidim were adorned with streimels. The men sported red sashes diagonally across their chests declaring them to be “prisoners sanctifying the name of heaven,” and fake plastic handcuffs on one wrist to add to the dramatic effect.
Visibly moved by the immense support and admiration of the tens of thousands present, the men bore themselves with pride and confidence, yet a fluttering of distraction and concern clouded their eyes every so often.
The organizers and speakers at the rally repeatedly refuted the court’s claim of racism in the segregated Emmanuel school and among the haredi populace at large.
“Who can claim we discriminate against Sepharadim, when we study their great commentaries?” demanded senior Lithuanian Rabbi Yosef Efrati.
The leaders of the rally also led the protesters in songs from the Sephardic liturgy tradition, though the vast majority of the attendants were Ashkenazi men, both hassidic and Lithuanian. Sephardic supporters were sparse, but one of three Sephardi fathers en route to prison addressed the audience on behalf of the parents.
“I’m going to prison with my head held high,” Rephael Elmaliah told the masses. “We will do as our rabbis tell us, and they will take care of the education of our children we are leaving behind.”
Rabbi Eyal Lugasi, a haredi teacher of Sephardic descent from Kiryat Sefer, was at the rally with his teenage students.
“I’m here to protest the High Court of Justice’s disrespect toward the generation’s greatest rabbinical sages and leaders,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
“What happened beforehand does not interest me,” he said in reference to the ethnic segregation against the Sephardic girls at the Emmanuel school, which set the affair in motion.
A non-violent demonstration
The rally was an important opportunity for the mainstream haredi populace to differentiate itself from the smaller haredi segments, usually under the auspices of the Eda Haredit, whose demonstrations bear the potential to escalate into violent confrontations with security forces and can involve vandalism. Such was the recent case around the excavations of ancient bones in Ashkelon and Jaffa, where clashes with security forces that spread to Jerusalem left casualties and damage to public property. Last year, violent demonstrations in the capital accompanied the arrest of a haredi woman who had been starving her child, as well as the opening of the Intel production plant and the Karta parking lot on Shabbat.
“I call on each and every one here to heed our rabbis’ orders and not disrupt the order in any way,” the spokesman told the masses from the central stage. “If anyone sees someone doing something violent – stop him at once.”
The organizers of the demonstration, as well as its participants, also made sure to hush the occasional boos when such entities as “the court” and “the petitioner” were mentioned.
Throughout the day’s events, not a single act of violence was reported by police. Magen David Adom and Hatzalah units positioned along the march’s route reported scattered incidents of heatstroke and other medical calls, mostly among the crowd’s elderly participants.
Not all factors in involved in the affair showed the same statesmanlike attitude, however.
“To take women, mothers and small children, to leave their families and be arrested – I think something of the sort hasn’t happened in any civilized country since the war in Germany ended,” Slonim Admor Rabbi Shmuel Barazovsky told his hassidim on Wednesday night, before giving each parent facing jail time $500. It was also assumed that on his orders, the women eluded the police and went into hiding, rather than go to prison – although Slonim sources said on Thursday night that there had been no coordination between the sect and the mothers.
Several months ago, the court had ruled that the physical separations in the Beit Ya’acov – built to accommodate the more stringent track that the Slonim parents had initiated in 2007 and in which some 70 girls studied – was illegal.
But once the barriers were removed, the parents refused to return their daughters to the school unless the rest of the pupils’ parents agreed to a very stringent code of conduct and attire, an initiative that didn’t succeed.
On Tuesday, the Emmanuel parents told the High Court that their rabbis’ orders took precedence over the those of the court. Later that day, the panel of three justices decided to send the parents to prison for refusing to send their daughters back to the school. Last-minute attempts to reach a compromise that would prevent the imprisonment of parents of young children didn’t bear fruit, although in some cases only a single parent was ordered jailed.
"We don't have to destroy ourselves from within"
At a meeting with President Shimon Peres earlier in the day, Deputy Education Minister Rabbi Meir Porush burst into tears of anguish and frustration at the growing rift and hostility between different segments of the haredi population and between the haredi and secular communities.
Israel Prize laureate and Migdal Ha’emek Rabbi Itzhak David Grossman, who accompanied Porush, said that Israel had more external enemies than it needed, and “we don’t have to destroy ourselves from within.”
Porush and Grossman told Peres that they believed that if given two days to talk to the parents, they could come up with some kind of solution that would be acceptable to all concerned.
Peres made it clear in his conversation with Porush and Grossman, that as much as he sympathized with the plight of children who would be temporarily deprived of both parents, the law was the law, and the ruling must be respected and upheld.
“All citizens of Israel must respect the rulings of the High Court of Justice,” said Peres.
As the Emmanuel fathers arrived at the Russian Compound on Thursday evening, the streets again filled with men clad in black coats, and the daughters of the parents sentenced to jail time could be seen in the crowd. Some were crying and visibly distraught amid the commotion.
The men were escorted to the police station’s front gates by thousands of dancing haredim, some of whom carried the fathers on their shoulders, singing joyously as they took the men to jail.
Shas: Caught in a delicate situation
Meanwhile, the Shas Council of Torah Sages met on Thursday night at the home of the party’s mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and released a statement afterward opposing discrimination in Emmanuel – but also criticizing the intervention of the High Court of Justice.
Shas in general and its mentor in particular have been caught in a delicate situation in the Emmanuel scandal. The party cannot be seen as going against Jewish law and top rabbis, but Shas formed to fight against discrimination, and the initiator of the Emmanuel court case was Yosef’s son, Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef.
The one Shas MK who has fiercely defended the Sephardi girls of Emmanuel is controversial MK Haim Amsalem.
“We need to get out of our inferiority complex and be proud of being Sephardim,” Amsalem told reporters on Thursday.
Amsalem has repeatedly criticized Ovadia Yosef’s rulings, most recentlywhen he suggested that converts who served in the IDF should be allowedeasier conversions and should not be forced to adopt an Orthodoxlifestyle.
The Council of Torah Sages considered expelling Amsalem from theKnesset in Thursday night’s meeting, but did not reach a finalconclusion. The matter will be discussed again in an upcoming meetingof the rabbis.
“The mandate in the Knesset that Amsalem received belongs to Shas, andif he defies the rabbi, he might be asked to give it back,” a Shasofficial said.
The next name on the Shas list is Ethiopian rabbi and former MK Mazor Bayana.
Greer Fay Cashman, Gil Hoffman and staff contributed to this report.