Rabbi Ovadiah (left), Slonimer Rebbe
Rabbi Ovadiah (left), Slonimer Rebbe Israel news photo: Flash 90

Thirty-four hareidi-religious fathers were released from Ma'asiyahu low-security jail Sunday after ten days' incarceration, just before the court was about to send 22 of their wives to jail also. The release was made possible by a compromise struck between Sephardic spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and the Slonimer Rebbe, who leads an Ashkenazi Hassidic dynasty.  

The High Court punished the parents, who belong to the Slonimer dynasty, for allegedly refusing to send their daughters to a school in Emanuel  because of disdain for Sephardic students there.

The parents' representatives said that they had not objected to the fact that the other girls were Sephardic, but rather to their relatively low level in Torah studies.

The fathers celebrated their freedom Sunday with joyous song and dance outside the jail.

The compromise reached by the two leading sages calls for the girls to study together at the school for the three days that remain in the current school year. During this time, the girls will attend gatherings and lectures from educators of various streams, in which the themes of unity and love of Israel will be stressed.

Girls from the Chabad school in Emanuel will also attend the study days. Among the Hassidic dynasties, Chabad is considered the most open to Sephardic Jews.

The days will serve as a prelude for talks in which the sides will reach an agreement over arrangements at the disputed school.

The agreement between the top rabbis was brokered by Shas Chairman Eli Yishai.

Attorney Aviad Visouly, who represented several jailed fathers, said the compromise was “a victory for the rabbis over the High Court.” The court, he noted, backed down from its earlier insistence that the parents sign a commitment to send their daughters to the school. By accepting the compromise between the rabbis, the attorney said, the court essentially admitted that the rabbis  were sovereign to decide the matter, not the court.

Some commentators in Israel's media claimed that the entire Emanuel school scandal was inflated by parties interested in making Hareidi Jews look bad. The High Court itself has only one Sephardic judge out of 14 judges, they noted, while 30% of the supposedly all-Ashkenazi class in Emanuel were in fact Sephardic.