Sunday, June 27, 2010

The End of an International Nightmare

Ynet reports that a compromise seems to have been worked out in the matter of ethnic prejudice in the Israeli town of Emmanuel. Parents that had been jailed for failing to comply with a court order have been released. Apparently all sides agree and the agonizing international debate on this issue is over.

I can’t leave this without commenting on the Charedi response which in my view mistakenly mis-characterized this event as an attack against Torah rather than an attempt to eliminate prejudice.

A court decision that should have signaled an end to prejudice snowballed in to a frenzied attack against the Israeli government accusing them of interfering with Torah education. Mass rallies by hundreds of thousands of Charedi Jews followed suit. They protested what they were told was an attack against Torah. That battling ethnic prejudice was the court’s motive was not even a consideration.

The most insulting comment was made against Edmund Levi (pictured) - the religious judge on that court who responded to rabbinic criticism by saying something to the effect these rabbis had no sway on the court’s decisions.

The Charedi rabbis immediately interpreted that to mean that this judge believed that Torah law is superseded by secular law. Their reaction was swift and then they went on the attack. Surprisingly Sephardi Gadol Rav Yosef actually went so far as saying that the religious Sephardi lawyer who brought the lawsuit in the first place would lose his portion in Olam HaBa for this.

These rabbinic leaders saw only one thing. An attack against Torah. Ethnic prejudice was completely dismissed as the motive. Charedi protesters went to the streets to show their solidarity with Daas Torah on this issue - most of whom probably didn’t bother checking the facts for themselves. The Gedolei HaDor said ‘jump’, they saluted and said how high?

But this was never a religious issue. It was all about underlying ethnic prejudice:

From an article in the Jerusalem Post:

“Two-and-a-half years ago [Religious Services Minister] Yaakov Margi toured Emmanuel, and was shocked at what he saw in the school. Following that, we had an extensive meeting and decided to found a Sephardi school, so that those girls wouldn’t feel discriminated against, despite the deficits the school has, due to the small size of the public it serves.

Shocked at what he saw in the school! Need I say more?

I am very disappointed with the Charedi rabbinic establishment’s accusations against Judge Levi. I doubt that a Frum judge would believe in any way that secular law supersedes Halacha. He probably meant that this was a secular matter dealing with a social issue and that he had the backing of the state.

He believed that the rabbis interpretation of events was based on an error of judgment without them having all the facts of the case that were brought before the court. They made judgments without being there - basing them on testimony from one side. But there were no curriculum issues at all. Judge Levi and his colleagues reviewed the facts of the case and ruled there was ethnic prejudice involved. The Charedi rabbis were in error about this being anti religious. That explains his response.

This is a win for integration. According to the agreement the parents must finish off their school year in the original school they cannot start a separate school with no separation fence. This has the endorsement of Rav Yosef. Had these parents done this in the first place they wouldn't have been jailed:

"The spirit of Judge Edmond Levy's decision from Friday made us understand that the judges want the verdict to be followed to the full. It was then decided to reach an agreement. The honorable Rabbi Ovadia Yosef sees it as a solution to a social problem.

What the Slonimer Chasidim in Emmanuel do during the summer months to prevent anything like this from ever happening again remains to be seen. In my view the way to end it is with complete integration on every level up to and including intermarrying. Ashkenazi children have to be re-educated about Sephardim and pejoratives like 'Shechorim' or 'Frank' has to not only be eliminated but children severely reprimanded if they use those terms.

Many will continue to cite the presence of the 27% Sephardim in that school as proof that there was no prejudice. How can you have Sephardim in the school and accuse it of ethnic prejudice? But they ignore the prejudice that exited within the walls of the school between the students and the wall of separation that they had. And the ridiculous rules they had to follow – giving up an important part of their heritage – the Sephardi pronunciation of Hebrew prayer both in the school and in the home.

Why did those parents become in essence Slonimer Chasidim (albeit 2nd class ones)? That is beyond the scope of this post. But let me suggest one possibility. The desire for social acceptance for one’s children can be a powerful motivator.

I’m glad this international nightmare is over. I only hope this ends the prejudice as well.