In challenge to Gur Hasidim, Ashkenazi Haredi leaders holding rare education summit
Rabbinic leaders of the Ashkenazi Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community will hold a rare summit in Jerusalem today to discuss the fate of the community's Hinuch Atzma'i school system.
The conference, the first in 29 years, is an open challenge to the Gur Hasidim, the largest Hasidic sect in Israel and one of the many sects within the broader Ashkenazi Haredi community.
Gur yesterday tried to get the summit postponed, but failed. The community's leader, the admor, is therefore expected to stay home, though he may send a representative.
The battle for control of Hinuch Atzma'i - which is extremely influential and controls vast budgets - began in January 2008, when longtime executive director Meir Luria died suddenly, sparking an inheritance battle. However, the battle was not just personal: Rather, Gur was fighting to maintain its power against a coalition of smaller Hasidic sects plus the non-Hasidic "Lithuanians." The United Torah Judaism Knesset faction is composed of the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah party, along with the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael.
The coalition was led by veteran MK Meir Porush, who was then also running for mayor of Jerusalem. The Hasidic Porush had secured Degel Hatorah's backing for his mayoral bid via a secret deal in which he promised to restructure Hinuch Atzma'i's management such that Gur would lose its primacy and be reduced to a "proportionate share" based on its size.
That caused an internal Haredi rift which, inter alia, resulted in the Haredim losing the mayoralty: Porush was defeated by Nir Barkat after Gur withheld its support to retaliate for his deal with Degel Hatorah. It also prompted the opening of another Haredi daily, Hamevaser, representing the smaller Hasidic sects, on top of the veteran Hasidic daily Hamodia and the Lithuanian Yated Ne'eman. Finally it led UTJ to appoint MK Moshe Gafni (Degel Hatorah) as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee instead of MK Yaakov Litzman, the Gur Hasid who held this post in three previous Knessets.
Today's summit is expected to approve the establishment of a new nonprofit organization to run Hinuch Atzma'i, in place of the organization that Gur founded decades ago. When this idea was first broached in late 2008, Gur, in an unusual move, sued in civil court to halt the new group's registration. But Gur would have trouble taking similar action against a move approved by the rabbinic heavyweights attending today's conference - who represent not only Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael's Israel branch, but also Agudat Yisrael's American branch.