Ashkenazi Haredim promise demonstration against taking Sephardic girls into thier schools
By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM–The ultra-Orthodox (or Haredim=God fearing) promised the “Mother of all demonstrations.”
This does not signal the spread of feminism. The expression may have come from Saddam Hussein’s proclamation of the “Mother of all Battles” when the United States invaded Iraq in 1991. The guess is problematic, insofar as the Haredim assert that they do not watch television or pay attention to other secular media, and many of them may not know that Iraq exists. Babylon is something else. It was crucial to Jewish history when its soldiers conquered Jerusalem 2,600 years ago, and again when its rabbis produced the Talmud that remains the heart of Orthodox Judaism.
This Mother of demonstrations derives from a decision of the Supreme Court requiring the jailing for 10 days of Ashkenazi Haredi parents who refused to send their children to school along with Sephardi children. The decision initially caused a demonstration of a hundred or so Haredim in the Supreme Court chamber. They prayed, danced, and cursed the State of Israel and its institutions.
The school in question is supported with government funds, but the parents and their rabbis insist on deciding who can attend. Reports have not indicated if it is one of the numerous ultra-Orthodox schools that also refuse to accept the demands of the Education Ministry to include basic instruction in mathematics, language and science along with sacred texts.
This incident came a day after another Supreme Court decision against the payments made to adult Haredi men who study in religious academies, and about the same time as a Haredi demonstration against a construction project in Jaffa that was going forward despite the discovery of ancient graves. The demonstration in Jaffa was as violent as the Haredim are likely to get. Five policemen and a number of demonstrators required medical treatment.
In preparation for a march by thousands of Haredim who promised to accompany the parents to jail, the police assembled their own thousands, closed the route of the march and adjascent streets to vehicular traffic, and urged Jerusalemites to stay at home. Emergency Medical Services went on high alert.
Lawyers asked the Court to modify its arrest order to include only one parent in each family, so that the second parent could remain home to care for the many children, and to excuse both parents where there is a handicapped child in the family. The group that brought the suit–Religious Jews Against Discrimination–asked the Court to delay its order to jail the parents–which came after months of trying to negotiate a settlement–until after the weekend in order to give more time to arrange a settlement agreeable to all. The parents rejected the delay, and said that they would go to jail as an expression of faith in the God of Israel.
The Haredim are a minority comprising some 10 percent of Israel’s Jews, heavily concentrated in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. Their demonstrations are noisy and disturb traffic, but their violence is seldom life threatening. The police and courts treat them more gently than they treat restive Arabs.
Ultra-Orthodox activists describe judges and the police as Nazis or something else taken from the rich Jewish memory of savage tyrants.
Many Israeli Jews who are not ultra-Orthodox can be swept toward support of them if the police act with excessive force. What that amounts to is not easy to decide when any action provokes loud prayers in behalf of God’s protection, and curses directed at the authorities.
A popular web site asked readers about the decision of the Supreme Court. Of 6,500 respondents, 12 percent chose the response, “Justified. It is not acceptable that the parents violate a court decision against racism;” 88 percent chose the response, “Mistaken. The decision reflects the opposition of the Court to the Haredim.”
Estimates of the numbers involved in the marches range from 50,000 to 150,000 in Jerusalem, and 15,000 in Bnei Brak. Medical personnel treated numerous cases of fainting and dehydration. http://news.walla.co.il/?w=//1687969
It will take some time to sift through the estimates of how many marchers were Sephardim. It is their daughters refused admission to the school run by the Ashkenazi Haredim of Emanual.
Ashkenazi rabbis claim that the judges did not give them a fair hearing, and violate “democracy” despite numerous sittings of lower and higher courts, and postponements that tried unsuccessfully to reach an accommodation. Rabbis said that the Sephardim do not adhere to their standards of observance pertaining to kashrut and modesty of dress. Most refused to detail their claims, but one said that Sephardi girls do not button their dresses right up to the top.
The most prominent justification of their rejection of the court order is an insistence on the right to decide on their own children’s education, and to follow decisions of rabbis who they see as superior to any secular authority.
Secular broadcasters had a field day interviewing leaders in the Sephardi Haredi community. Stuttering, mumbling, or hemming and hawing are the best descriptions of their responses. They did not break ranks with the Ashkenazi Haredim, stood with them on the priority of rabbinic rule, and urged continued efforts at discussion rather than court involvement as the way to deal with the controversy.
The leader of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Party SHAS expressed pride in his movement’s own school system, and urged the government to increase funding for all ultra-Orthodox schools.
Mother of all demonstrations, or the onset of a Long Hot Summer? Payments for adult students at religious academies? Protection of those graves found at the Jaffa construction site? Continued segregation of Ashkenazi and Sephardi pupils in Emanual? The authority of the Supreme Court? Who knows what else will roil this otherwise placid country.
Opps. What about the Gaza blockade and the peace process?
They were last week’s crises. And maybe those of the week after next.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University
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