Haredim Jailed in School Discrimination Case Protestors supporting the Haredi fathers. Photo: Haemtza Blog

June 17, 2010

Thirty-five Haredi fathers of girls attending the Beis Yaakov Chasidi School in Emanuel refuse a Supreme Court order to send their daughters to the regular Beis Yaakov School and instead accept two-week jail sentences for contempt of court. Their case is a major cause among Israel’s Haredim and produces claims of judicial overreach.

The case goes back to the founding of the Hasidic girls school in empty space within the existing Beis Yaakov in Emanuel in 2007. At the same time, a school sponsored by the Sephardic Shas movement, Ohel Rachel veLeah, opened in the West Bank settlement, although it had only first grade in 2007-08. The Beis Yaakov Chasidi used barriers to separate its pupils from those in the less observant Beis Yaakov.

An observant Sephardi Jew from another town, Yoav Lalum, without trying to enroll a child in the new Beis Yaakov Chasidi, filed a discrimination case, claiming that the school was created and erected the barriers to separate Ashkenazim from Sephardim. An Education Ministry investigation conducted by an independent lawyer, Mordechai Bass, concluded that 30% of the families in the new school were Sephardim and found no examples of a girl being denied admission because of ethnicity.

Although Lalum had no parents backing his case whose daughters had been rejected from the school, he filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court, which in August 2009 ruled that the school was guilty of ethnic segregation and should be shut down. Opponents of the decision complained that the court allowed plaintiffs who had no legal standing to sue and that the justices ruled without holding a hearing or examining witnesses.

In April 2010, the court expanded the case to cover the parents of the Beis Yaakov Chasidi pupils, who moved to private classes held in private homes. On June 15 the court ordered the parents to enroll their daughters in the original Beis Yaakov and threatened the two-week jail sentence, covering the balance of the school year, if they didn’t comply immediately.

After going to jail, the parents, a mix of Ashkenazim and Sephardim, appeal. They first claim a lack of due process, then say the court doesn’t have jurisdiction to compel actions by private citizens. The men are released after 11 days when Sephardi and Ashkenazi rabbinic authorities reach an agreement to end the educational dispute. Some 100,000 Haredim in Jerusalem celebrate the men’s release, as does a sizable crowd in Bnei Brak.