Jerusalem – For the first time since the Emanuel affair exploded, Rav Yaakov Yosef speaks about the storm that he caused. On Friday, [before the parents were released from jail] he gave an exclusive interview to Radio Kol Chai and presented his complete view.
The following are the salient points of the interview:
Why did you need to do this?
“Personally, I didn’t need it. I love my quiet life, my serenity. I have a good family. I learn with 1,000 colleagues during the week, in kollels and with baalei batim. I live in an earthly Gan Eden. No one is happier than me.
“But the gemora tells us in Gittin 56 ‘Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed.’ There was a crime. You can complain against the guilty party ‘Why should the Jewish people have to suffer because of you?’ But the gemora explains that it happened because the rabbonim kept silent….
“We may not keep silent. An evil was done here. They humiliated families, and innocent and kosher Jewish girls. They made them an object of derision. Terrible things. Some rabbonim, not just me, me and another 33 rabbis, took a position against this. We planned what to do and how to respond.
Rav Yaakov Yosef explains how the event evolved: “It began with building a fence, separating the classes. How did I find out about it? I have a friend, a generous Jew who owns a plaster factory. They turned to him and asked him to donate the fence. He asked them why they need a fence. They explained why, and he asked them, ‘An Ashkenazic teacher’s lounge and one for Sephardim? Why do they need a fence between these two rooms? These teachers learned together in the same seminary. What, do some of the teachers dress immodestly?’
“He told them, ‘I’m not the same kind of chassid as you, I’m a Ruzhiner chassid. We go according to the Baal Shem Tov who founded chassidus to draw people close to their Father in heaven. And you’re planning to go and build fences?’
“He refused to contribute, and he came to me and told me the story.”
Rav Yosef says that in the beginning, he didn’t believe what his ears heard. “It sounds like it was made up. Who would dare to do such things in our times — in 2008? We’re enlightened people. We finished the golus. Who would dare?
“Then we heard that they turned to a Yemenite Jew, a contractor, to set up the fence during chol hamoed! They told him that it was an obligation, a mitzvah to do it!
“The segregation came after that. The day after the fence was set up, the Ashkenazic girls turned their back on the Sephardi girls. Since then, it’s all history.”
The Slonimer chassidim claim that there was no discrimination on the basis of ethnicity.
It’s not true. It’s a lie. It is ethnical. We are completely convinced. The people who live there told us the true story that all this happened on the basis of ethnicity.
So why don’t those people speak up?
“They are very humble people. They are indigent, but very modest and humble. They have no ties to the media, they sit and toil in Torah study. Avreichim with wonderful families. How can a person stand and shout to the opposite side of the fence, ‘There are mechalelei Shabbos here.’ Who gave people the right to come and speak derogatorily about the Jewish people? How can such a thing be?
“We made many suggestions to Slonim, until unfortunately we got to the situation that we’re in today.”
Can it be that Slonim didn’t know that they were avreichim? Their chassidus usually is mekorev. The rebbe is a holy may, far from such things.
“Apparently in these things, the Satan didn’t suffice with sending an emissary but decided to attend to things himself. We asked several times to speak with the Slonimer rebbe. They arranged a meeting for us, but each time, it was cancelled at the last moment. Apparently, they were afraid that if we would meet with the rebbe and explain certain things to him, maybe the rebbe would open his eyes and would realize who are those surrounding him, and apparently, they’re very afraid of that.”
They claim that the ones who cancelled the meetings was your side.
“Chas v’sholom. We’re running after them for three years. I have no personal interest in this affair. I don’t want to be chief rabbi in Emanuel, or open a kolel. I have no money involved here.
“Does Yoav Lalum have a personal interest to have things in Emanuel go in a certain way? No. But the moment that Torah prohibitions are being violated, when they come and denigrate a complete public, we are forbidden to keep silent in the face of this wrong.
“Where are all those rabbis that signed? Three years they were silent. How come now they’re speaking up? Let them maintain their silence.”
How did they arrive at the decision to turn to the Supreme Court? Rav Yaakov Yosef says that for 3 years, he has tried to establish a national Beis Din that would navigate the affair quietly. Such a beis din would rule and be a supreme authority above the elementary and high school principals, but Chinuch Atzmai firmly opposed it.
Rav Yaakov Yosef calls the principal involved in the affair “mirsha’at” (evildoer). Chinuch Atzmai not only didn’t disassociate itself from her but also backed her and her conduct.
“We have a recording of more than 40 minutes in which the principal lambasted an unfortunate mother,” says Rav Yosef. “Chinuch Atzmai continues to give her backing? The Bais Din would have solved this. Chinuch Atzmai acted stupidly. This entire business has cost them more than a million shekels. What do they need it for? Appoint a Beis Din, be honest people. Do what the halacha says to do.”
Perhaps you asked for certain conditions that they couldn’t agree to?
“Not at all. The Torah says, ‘Make a hearing between your brothers.’ If a person wants a judgment in money matters, you have to hear both sides.
“I am forbidden to rule without hearing both sides. It’s a Torah prohibition. And no one turned to Yoav to hear him, or me. Not even one.
“Who says that what is written in a newspaper is correct? I am forbidden to judge the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in the U.S. Maybe it’s all lies.
“Those 33 rabbis heard both sides. They told Yoav, ‘According to Torah and halacha, you can go ahead to the secular courts.’
Is it true that several Avos Beis Din permitted going to the court?
“That’s correct. But I’ll leave their names confidential so what happened to me won’t happen to them. There are Ashkenazic rabbis among them, who feel awful about the terrible situation.
“Unfortunately, we are being intimidated. I’m the first who was burnt in this. That’s why I left an announcement about my withdrawal on the Kol Israel telephone. We are dealing with people who act as if they were from the underground world.
But why is there a gap between all gedolei yisroel who signed against, and you? And you insist you’re right.
“It’s a maaseh Satan. That’s the only way to explain it. Why didn’t all the great rabbis turn to us? Why didn’t they invite Yoav and speak with him?
“They do things, give their signatures, without hearing us. How can it be? Either the signatures are false and their secretaries forged them, or the yetzer hora himself was involved in it.
“All the time we offered compromises and this was even publicized in the media. Why didn’t the gedolim respond then? When they asked Rav Grossman last week, he tried to reach a compromise, and we were happy to accept it. He told us that he didn’t know there was a wall.
“We would be happy to accept any compromise whatsoever, but not a compromise that would come at the expense of the girls who had been maligned. It’s a crime. If we would have remained silent, the separation would have continued throughout the country. We did it to prevent that from happening.
What does the rav think about Judge Edmond Levy’s statement that “this verdict doesn’t need a rabbi’s confirmation”?
“I think he got carried away. The atmosphere in the court was angry and furious, and that’s why he said these words. This problem of discrimination is a form of mental illness. Since when do you send a mentally ill person to prison? Why send them to prison? We’re speaking about their rabbis too, who should have fulfilled what the Torah says, ‘make a hearing between your brothers.’
“No Jew is above the Torah laws, including this command which is a d’oraysoh. Therefore, we are speaking with all those involved with the other party in this matter. We call out to them, Rabosai, we are all children of one man. We are in an existential danger. That Persian goy wants to destroy us. And instead we are occupied with this.
“It’s a mental malady that needs a cure. I still don’t know which psychologists know how to properly cure this illness.
How did the rav respond to his father’s words on last week motzei Shabbos, that one may not go to courts?
“I felt very uncomfortable that Father didn’t explain all. Many times, we give a permit to turn to the courts. Sixteen years ago, we had a case: the daughter of a deserving family registered for a school here. The principal, Neuman, didn’t want to accept her.
“We tried everything, but weren’t successful. In the end we went, as a last resort, to Father. Father said, “Go to the Supreme Court.” How can it be? How can we go to the Supreme Court?
“Well, what else could we do? A person who does everything that the Torah tells him to do, but in the end sees that he can only be saved — even if it only involves ten shekels — by the Supreme Court, that’s where he’ll go.
“I am very pained that they went to prison, but it’s too bad that their leaders told them this nonsense. Not to let their daughters sit with Sephardi girls for a few days and instead to go to prison?
“There’s a limit to all stupidity and irrationality. The other side also has talmidei chachomim. Some of the parents who were supposed to go to prison, signed and didn’t go to prison. I wouldn’t send anyone to prison. It’s not a criminal offense, it’s mental illness.”
But why did you turn to the Supreme Court l’chatchila? If the Ashkenazim don’t want the Sephardim, let them learn in their own institution.
“Because of this Supreme Court case, fair arrangements will be made throughout the country. I am not against founding a thousand Talmud Torahs and I would bless such a venture. But for the moment, they don’t exist. There are right now hundreds of schools and Talmud Torahs throughout the country, that are the only solution.
“In the past decade, the religious and chareidi education has expanded. But look at the baalei tshuva. We are experiencing an immense momentum. Two million shomrei Shabbos, 2 million chilonim. And in the middle — one million mesorti’im (traditional Jews). I agree, build them a thousand Talmudei Torah — but I’m only looking for a solution now.”
What could end the conflict?
“We notified the Beis Din that we’re interested in a Zabla and we hope that this will happen soon. Not only to give a verdict, but also to listen to them.
“We received a letter from the Beis Din that they have to unite both classes. We respect the Beis Din, I am a personal friend of Rav Levine for dozens of years. But what happened? We asked for Zabla, because it’s a shorter process.
“The Beis Din adopted it. But one of the dayanim libelled Yoav as if he violated the Beis Din order, which had never happened.
“That dayan said, ‘Rav Yaakov Yosef was here and he signed for arbitration.’ When did he see me? In a dream? I wasn’t there and I didn’t sign.
“A dayan in Israel lies and tells the media, ‘Yaakov Yosef was here and signed on arbitration.’ That man has a son who unfortunately is now in prison. That’s why the Beis Din finds it difficult to deliberate on the matter.”
People say that Rav Yaakov Yosef is truly a holy man but maybe Yoav Lalum is misleading him.
“I know Yoav Lalum for many years. He is a ben Torah, and a G-d-fearing person. This whole matter has only given him tribulations. He is today the most threatened person around. He is at the head of the police list of people who need protection.
“Should I keep silent? Should I abandon my friend Yoav Lalum? You can’t maneuver me right or left. You won’t find my signature where it shouldn’t be.”
It happened in the past that you were once accused of being a Meshichist.
“That happened before the rebbe passed away. At the time, many Jewish sages believed that he could be the Moshiach.”
In your opinion, what does your father Rav Ovadya Yosef think about this affair?
“My father feels the pain of discrimination. He speaks generally against going to the Supreme Court, and so do we. But when there is no choice, of course Father thinks one should too.