Protest in Bnei Brak
Protest in Bnei BrakYoni Kempinski

The "mother of all protests" has passed without violence. Over 100,000 members of the hareidi-religious streamed through Jerusalem streets, accompanying the 43 fathers of daughters to prison. The men of all ages wore Sabbath clothes and a red banner reading "Prisoner for the Sanctification of G-d's Name," and they were accompanied by singing and dancing

The parents chose to sit in jail rather than adhere to a Supreme Court ruling that they say impinges on their basic right to educate their children in the religious school of their choice. 

It was later revealed, however, that about half the mothers, and four of the fathers, did not show up to begin their two-week prison sentences. Some of the parents arrived at the prisons with babies. The top police and prison service brass are meeting to discuss how to deal with these developments.

Though the Supreme Court based its ruling forcing school integration in the Shomron town of Emanuel on the principle of opposition to racist segregation, many say that the separation is not rooted in ethnic differences at all. Rather, they say, the Slonim Hassidim wish to continue the religious traditions of their fathers and rabbis, and educate their children in a school that adheres to particularly stringent religious standards. 

They say that among their number are 27% Sephardim - proof that they do not discriminate against them.

A similar rally in Bnei Brak, with tens of thousands of people, also went over peacefully; the police made sure to remain a respectable distance away, so as not to cause friction or provocations.

However, the extreme declaration made there shows how seriously the religious public is taking the situation: "Even if we have to sit for a week or two weeks, or a year or two years, and even if gas chambers are readied for us - we will say Yes to the Torah and No to the Supreme Court!"

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, of the hareidi United Torah Judaism party, took part in the protest in Bnei Brak, and from there traveled to the Russian Compound in Jerusalem to greet the parents on their way into jail. He said, "These people did nothing wrong, they did not rape and they did not steal, and there is no reason they should have to sit in prison... The Supreme Court took an educational issue and turned it into one of racism... I have regard for the Supreme Court, and I adhered to its rulings on health issues, but if it would require me to do something against Halakhah [Jewish Law], I would resign and not follow it."

The protests were held in intense heat; many people were treated for dehydration, and four were sent to hospitals.

A critical question is who will care for the children in the families while both parents are in prison. The option of only one parent sitting in prison at a time has apparently been dropped, except in families with special-needs children. The Welfare Ministry has appointed its Deputy Director, Menachem Wagshall, to head the special task force of social workers who will attempt to take control of the situation. Two senior supervisors from the Ministry have been in Emanuel since yesterday, helping the local welfare department. Forty social workers around the country are on stand-by in case they are needed, while others have been assigned to make sure that each and every family has a solution.