elyashiv - Olivier Fitoussi - June 20 2011
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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The independent Hinuch Atzmai ultra-Orthodox education system may be on another collision course with the Education Ministry after Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Elyashiv instructed the principals of Haredi schools not to cooperate with the ministry in placing girls in the independent schools.

The opposition of the rabbi, who heads the Lithuanian stream of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, comes after the school principals had already agreed to cooperate with the ministry on the issue. The issue of placing girls in Haredi schools came to a head last year after the Noar Kahalakha organization petitioned the court to challenge the practice of an Ashkenazi girls school in the settlement of Immanuel excluding Sephardi applicants.

Principals from several ultra-Orthodox post-elementary schools for girls visited Elyashiv, who is considered a leading interpreter of Jewish religious law, at his home in Jerusalem yesterday for urgent consultations over the Education Ministry's intention to set up placement committees for female students.

The project was the initiative of Education Ministry Director General Shimshon Shoshani. It would involve the committees in the placement of about 400 girls who have not yet been assigned a school for the 2011-2012 school year. Most of the girls have sought admission to prestigious Ashkenazi post-elementary school seminaries.

Noar Kahalakha contends many of them were refused admission because of their Sephardi, or Middle Eastern and North African, backgrounds.

Prestigious institutions such as "Haseminar Hayashan" in Jerusalem, it is alleged, maintain a quota on girls of Sephardi background of 30 percent of the school's rolls.

Shoshani sent letters yesterday to officials in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Modi'in Ilit and Betar Ilit, all of which have large ultra-Orthodox populations, demanding that each town establish a committee for girls who have not yet been assigned to a school, bearing in mind prior allegations of discrimination.

The Education Ministry director general instructed each committee to include two rabbis, one Ashkenazi and the other Sephardi, as well as a ministry supervisor. The committees were instructed to complete their work by the end of this month.

After the meeting yesterday at Elyashiv's home, aide Haim Cohen quoted the rabbi as saying that the ministry directive should be opposed as strenuously as possible and that the ministry would not decide which schools the girls would attend.

Elyashiv also reportedly instructed Knesset members from the United Torah Judaism party, which is aligned with Ashkenazi Haredim, to scuttle the Education Ministry initiative.

Unlike other schools in the country for which municipal authorities handle registration, in the independent Haredi schools, admission is processed by the schools themselves, which presents a problem primarily at the Ashkenazi girls seminaries, where demand is high and the number of available slots is limited.

The schools handle the admission process without outside oversight, and the details regarding the decision-making are kept behind closed doors.

Every year, as a result, some girls are not placed in school, with most claiming they were victims of discrimination based on their ethnic backgrounds. Some parents insist on keeping their daughters at home until they are admitted to the institution to which they applied.

Several years ago, Elyashiv convened a rabbinical committee of three close associates that was to deal with cases of girls who were not placed in school, but also maintain the Ashkenazi presence at the schools at a minimum of 70 percent. At yesterday's meeting, Elyashiv reportedly told the principals the placement process should not be turned over to outside authorities.

The principals, however, had already consented to work with the ministry on the placement process. In a letter sent to the ministry last week, they agreed to adopt uniform and transparent admissions criteria and expressed their "opposition to all [forms of] discrimination, including discrimination based on community background."

The principals' consent followed months of contacts with Deputy Education Minister Menachem Eliezer Moses of United Torah Judaism following a report by the State Comptroller stating that the ministry had not done enough to prevent discrimination in Haredi schools.

It also followed contacts between the ministry and Noar Kahalakha seeking to have the ministry enforce transparent criteria and oversight in the admission process. The group has threatened to file another petition with the High Court of Justice on the issue.