New York – Agudath Israel executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel has asked Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael B. Oren for a face-to-face meeting to discuss the situation in Emmanuel.
Israel’s High Court ruled that a school created in that town by parents seeking to maintain their religious standards was discriminatory against Sephardi Jews, and eventually held the parents in contempt of court for not sending their daughters to the original Emmnuel Beis Yaakov. Dozens of parents were jailed by the court and a massive throng of supporters accompanied them as they marched to the jail on Thursday to turn themselves in.
Rabbi Zwiebel wrote Ambassador Oren that while “Agudath Israel of America rarely involves itself in internal Israeli affairs, “the Emmanuel situation “compels us to insist that some sanity be brought to bear here.”
After reviewing the facts of the case, Rabbi Zwiebel quoted from the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah statement protesting “mightily the wrong that has been done” to the jailed parents.
“There are few if any things more important to a haredi Jew than the education of his or her child,” he wrote further. “It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the haredi community (along with other champions of individual conscience) in Israel and around the world have been understandably distressed, if not horrified, at the sight of parents interested only the welfare of their children being held in prison for refusing to act against that interest.
“This needn’t – this shouldn’t! – have happened…The High Court’s portrayal of parental concerns about the educational needs of their children as mere cover for a pernicious ill will toward Sephardim insults not only good people but truth. The school the parents established did not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity. More than a quarter of its students were Sephardi girls! Little wonder that footage of the parents being taken to prison showed a number of them who were clearly of Sephardi heritage.
“More generally, as an attorney with considerable experience with constitutional and judicial matters in this country, I can assure you that were a court, even the highest in the land, to arrogate to declare a religious matter a secular one in order to bring it under its jurisdiction, the expressions of outrage would be many and loud – and rightly so. That is especially so with respect to any effort by the government to force parents to send their children to a particular school.”
The Agudath Israel leader referenced a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1925, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, that struck down an Oregon statute requiring all schoolchildren to attend public school.
In its unanimous ruling, Rabbi Zwiebel noted, the Court focused on parental rights: “The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”
Requesting that the Ambassador convey to the relevant members of Israel’s government that “Agudath Israel of America stands firmly behind the jailed parents’ right to have their children educated according to their religious beliefs,” Rabbi Zwiebel added another excerpt from the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah statement – that “we join wholeheartedly, along with hundreds of thousands of Jews around the globe, in [the] pain [of the jailed parents]. May their hands be strengthened and fortunate are they for bearing the honor of Hashem and the Jewish religious tradition on their shoulders at this time.” And he requested that the Ambassador “grant us the opportunity to discuss this issue face-to-face as soon as humanly possible.”