Emmanuel school seeks compromise

Girls to return to classes, new “hassidic stream" criteria to be set.

Haredim in court 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Haredim in court 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The parties in the dispute over a haredi girls’ school in Emmanuel failed on Thursday to agree on the details of a compromise whereby 77 pupils who left the school to study in a pirate institution would return to the school where they are registered.
After several hours of talks that ended in deadlock, the court granted the parties another seven days to reach an agreement.
The general outline of the compromise was laid down earlier by justices Edmond Levy, Edna Arbel and Hanan Meltzer. It called for the girls’ immediate return to the school, the acceptance of a hassidic track there, the drafting of a written constitution for that track which would not include any type of ethnic discrimination, and an appeal mechanism for families whose request to join the track was rejected.
Earlier in the morning, the main courtroom of the Supreme Court was packed to overflowing with haredim who came to hear whether the court would rule that the parents who sent their daughters to the pirate school and the teachers who taught them would be regarded as accomplices to contempt of the court.
The tension between Levy and Meltzer in particular, and attorneys for the parents, teachers and the Independent Education Center (Hinuch Atzma’i), was palpable throughout the hearing, which lasted more than two-and-a-half hours.
At the end of it, Levy ordered all of the parties involved – including the representatives of the Education Ministry; the petitioner, a nonprofit organization called Noar Kahalacha; the Emmanuel Local Council; the Independent Education Center; and the parents and teachers from the illegal school – to negotiate an agreement based on the court’s proposal.
The issue at stake is whether the 77 girls who left the school in Emmanuel and began studying in makeshift quarters without permission from the Education Ministry and the Independent Education Center would return to the school they had quit, and under what terms.
The developments that led to last year’s Supreme Court ruling and the petitioner’s contempt-of-court action four months later, began in 2007.
At that time, the Independent Education Center – which belongs to the Ashkenazi Agudat Yisrael organization and operates a system of unofficial, recognized schools that receive 100 percent state funding – established a second track of studies, called the “hassidic track,” within the school.
To join the track, the parents of the pupils had to agree to a set of rules governing conduct during and after school hours. Furthermore, school authorities, together with the parents of those in the separate track, effectively divided the school into two separate physical entities – with separate entrances, separate teachers’ rooms, separate playgrounds and separate uniforms for the girls in each track.
One of the original rules set down by the hassidic track stated that “the prayers and the studies in the school are conducted in the holy tongue (Ashkenazi pronunciation). In order to make it easier for girls who are not accustomed to praying at home with this pronunciation, the parents will ensure that even at home, the students will become accustomed to praying as they do at school.”
According to another rule, “the parents shall act with regard to dress in accordance with the determination of the Rabbinical Committee on Matters of Dress of the Rabbinical Court of Rabbi Wosner,” a reference to Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner of Bnei Brak, who is known to be extremely strict in these matters.
These strictures were removed after harsh criticism from the Education Ministry and the High Court, but other stringent demands remained.
Some of these demands infuriated Levy, who is of Sephardic origin. When he learned that the hassidic track had demanded that Sephardi girls learn to pray like Ashkenazim, he retorted, “Even if they whipped me 100 times, I could not manage to speak with an Ashkenazi accent.”
After being convinced that the physical and social separation of the school into two separate entities was based on ethnic discrimination, the court ordered “the Independent Education Center to remove any indication, both formal and substantive, of the phenomenon of discrimination that exists in the school. We also order the Education Ministry, insofar as it finds that the Independent Education Center does not comply with this order, to take all the legal steps to remedy the situation, including the cancellation of the school’s license and stopping its subsidy.”
Immediately after the ruling, the parents of the hassidic stream withdrew their children from the Beit Ya’acov school and established a pirate school. No effective measures were taken by the Independent Education Center to shut down the illegal school, which operated in a boys’ school also run by the Independent Education Center.
The petitioner, represented by attorney Aviad Hacohen, then filed a contempt-of-court action.
On April 7, the court ruled that the Independent Education Center was in contempt of court and ordered it to pay a fine of NIS 5,000 for each day the illegal school continued to operate. It also ordered the parents and teachers at the school to appear in court and explain why they were not accessories to the contempt of court behavior of the Independent Education Center.
Although attorney Motti Green presented legalistic arguments as to why the parents should not be regarded as contributing to contempt of the court, it was Yitzhak Weinberg, who had sent two daughters to the pirate school, who explained the reasons behind the parents’ actions.
Weinberg told the court that the population of Emmanuel had changed over the past years. Following two terror attacks in the settlement, many families had left and new ones had moved in, many of them newly Orthodox.
“For the past seven or eight years, we have been appealing to the Independent Education Center to enforce the school constitution,” he continued.
“For example, I came home late from synagogue one Friday night and saw a man smoking a cigarette. And he has a daughter in the school. Then, there was a bat mitzva of a girl in the school, and there was mixed dancing at the party.
“I don’t want these girls studying at my daughters’ school. I asked my rabbi, where should I send my children? There is no other appropriate school. The rabbi told me, ‘Get up and leave.’ And we got up and fled.”
Weinberg said the decision to leave had nothing to do with ethnic discrimination.
“We have been done a terrible injustice by the petitioners,” he told the court. “The ethnic question has never concerned us. I don’t mind if my daughters study in a class with 50 Sephardi girls. We suffered two terror attacks in Emmanuel. The terrorists didn’t distinguish between Ashkenazim and Sephardim.”
Weinberg said he had been responsible for accepting applicants to the hassidic stream and that no one had been turned down because of her ethnic background.
“But we will not accept anyone whose family smokes on Shabbat,” he said.
He also said the hassidic stream would not accept families who had televisions at home.
“I raise my child in cotton batting,” said Weinberg. “We don’t take a single step without consulting our rabbis. They determine what is just.”
Weinberg proposed that the children of the hassidic track return to the Beit Ya’acov school but be allowed to study their own curriculum. Levy appeared to favor the idea in general, on condition that the rules of the hassidic track were in writing and void of any ethnic discrimination.
Hacohen told The Jerusalem Post afterwards that the two sides had still not agreed on two points. The petitioners were demanding that there must be only one school and that the two tracks should not be completely separate.
Furthermore, the school constitution must be based on the moderate criteria characteristic of the other schools in the Independent Education Center system, and not the stringent measures the parents of the hassidic stream want to introduce in Emmanuel.