Mothers to go to jail in school race case

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 24, 2010
More than  100,000 Charedim accompanied the fathers of the girls in the mainly Ashkenazi  “Chassidic stream” to jail last week, in a mass protest in Jerusalem

More than 100,000 Charedim accompanied the fathers of the girls in the mainly Ashkenazi “Chassidic stream” to jail last week, in a mass protest in Jerusalem

The crisis surrounding the segregated Beit Yaakov school in Emanuel seems set to continue with a new Supreme Court ruling ordering that the mothers of some of the pupils be sent to prison.

Thirty five fathers of girls at the strictly Orthodox school were jailed last Thursday for two weeks for contempt of court, after they refused to allow their daughters in the mainly Ashkenazi "Chasidic stream" to study with girls in the mainly Sephardi "general stream".

The Supreme Court had determined that this was racial discrimination, while the parents claim that the division was due to differences in religious practice and educational standards, not anti-Sephardi bigotry.

Around 100,000 members of the strictly Orthodox community accompanied the men to jail in a mass demonstration against what they see as the court's intervention in their education system.

On Tuesday, the court ruled that next week, following the release of the 35 fathers, nine of the mothers would be jailed for two weeks as well. Twenty two mothers originally received arrest warrants but did not turn up at the police station in Jerusalem last Thursday, at the order of their rabbi, the Slonim Rebbe, Shmuel Berzovsky. The court agreed to an additional hearing on Tuesday, at which the judges decided to exempt 13 of the mothers due to reports from the social services that their presence was necessary for their children.

The court does not want the Ashkenazi parents to set up their own school

The other nine mothers, and two fathers who also did not turn up last week, will be arrested when the first group of fathers is released.

All the parents were given the alternative of signing a document agreeing to desegregation but none of them agreed to sign. A source in the West Bank town of Emanuel said that the Slonim Rebbe had allowed the mothers to sign if they felt they could not bear going to prison and leaving their children, but none of them "were prepared to sign a piece of paper saying that the court has precedence over the Torah". The Charedi leadership is already planning a second giant demonstration to accompany the mothers.

But even after their two weeks in prison, the end of the crisis is not in sight.

The parents planned to set up a new private school in Emanuel that will educate their daughters separately and will be up and running by the beginning of the new school year in September, but both the Supreme Court and the Education Ministry are opposed to such an outcome.

The judges made it clear on Tuesday that they would continue looking for measures that would enforce its ruling to desegregate the school.

Yoav Lalom, who heads the organisation that originally petitioned to the Supreme Court against the Emanuel school a year and a half ago, said in court that he would that prefer other measures were found instead of sending the parents to prison again.

An attempt to reach a compromise between the two sides on Sunday in the Rabbinical court in Jerusalem failed when the details were leaked to the press.

Last updated: 3:33pm, June 24 2010