Immanuel Parents: In Israel Today, It's the Rabbis Who Decide - Not the Courts

As judges release parents jailed in West Bank school segregation row, Shas spiritual leader says 'Only unity will save us.'

The High Court on Sunday released fathers jailed for violating a court order to integrate an ethnically segregated girls' seminary in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel, prompting claims within the Haredi community of a victory over the state's secular institutions.

Ultra-Orthodox men celebrate the compromise reached in West Bank school segregation row
Emil Salman

"It seems that in the country today, decisions are made by the Gedolei Yisrael [Israel's foremost Haredi rabbis] and no one else," said one of the fathers following his release on Sunday.

The decision followed a compromise deal struck on Sunday morning between Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the Slonim Rabbi, religious leader of the Ashkenazi families who had refused to send their daughters to the mixed-ethnicity school.

"Only unity will save us," said Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef after the deal was reched. "All of us, Sephardis, Ashkenazim, we are all sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God forbid that one of us should harm the other."

Both the state prosecutor and Noar Kahalakha, a nonprofit organization which first petitioned the High Court against the segregation, on Sunday accepted the agreement, saying it fulfilled the obligation to abide by the court order.

The deal calls for Ashkenazi and Sephardi girls enrolled at the Beit Yaakov school to spend the next three days - the last three days of the school year - attending lectures on unity.

Parents had earlier asked the court to allow them to seek arbitration from Rabbi David Yosef, son of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and Rabbi Yaakov Cohen, an Ashkenazi Haredi rabbinic pleader and is considered an expert in conflict resolution.

Fathers of Beit Yaakov students spent more than a week in prison for contempt of court after violating an order to reintegrate the school, where girls of European and non-European ethnicity were separated.

Ashkenazi parents deny that classes were designed to separate children according to background, saying the 'Hasidic' track was reserved for children from more observant families.

Justice Edmond Levy said the fathers had been jailed for "contravening an order of this court, and their actions to thwart it".

"The duty to obey the ruling is fundamental, and as such cannot be dependent on any arbitration process," he said.

Levy said that before the jailed parents could be released, he would require acceptance in writing of the ruling to unify the Hasidic and the general tracks in the school, and a commitment from parents to send their daughters to the unified track.