Haredi schoolgirls
Haredi schoolgirls Photo by Itzik Ben Malki
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Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's harsh remarks against turning to "the secular courts" have evidently had an impact: The conflict over the segregation of Ashkenazi and Sephardi students at the Beit Yaakov girls school in Immanuel may now be resolved within the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox ) community.

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, the spiritual mentor of the petitioner in the case, Yoav Lalum, is known for his independence. But even he could not withstand the ferocious volley unleased by his father, the unquestioned leader of Israel's Sephardi community.

At his regular weekly class on Saturday night, the elder Yosef said that anyone who petitions the High Court of Justice "raises his hand against the Torah of Moses" and "has no place in the world to come."

Aside from the family drama, and the surprising fact that Ovadia Yosef opted to side with the Ashkenazi Haredim, the move has prompted a turnabout in the conflict in Immanuel, though it may yet prove temporary.

First, Yaakov Yosef announced that he was backing away from the case. And yesterday, Yoav Lalum signed an agreement to have the case arbitrated by a rabbinical court - which ostensibly turns the issue back into an internal Haredi dispute.

Nevertheless, it currently looks as if the change might be short-lived. First, it was not clear yesterday whether Lalum would indeed withdraw his High Court petition before today's arbitration hearing.

Though he promised to do so, he conditioned it on the other parties to the case signing off on a court order to integrate the school's Sephardi and Ashkenazi tracks next year. Such a signature would not be enforceable, but Lalum nevertheless insisted - and neither his Haredi opponents nor the rabbinical court seem likely to agree.

Second, the group that filed suit against him in the rabbinical court consists solely of Slonim Hasidim from Immanuel - who constitute a plurality of the school's parents, but not a majority. The other Ashkenazi families belong to other Hasidic sects; there are also about a dozen Sephardi families.

Third, even if Lalum withdraws his petition, that does not mean the High Court will cease the contempt of court proceedings. A senior jurist said that such an eventuality would be rare, and might even be unprecedented.