Rabbi Ariel's letter
Rabbi Ariel's letterNo credit

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the former Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, has published his initial response to the saga of the girl masquerading as a boy in a state-religious school in Givat Shmuel, news of which was broken in the B'Sheva magazine (affiliated with the Hebrew-language version of Israel National News) two weeks ago.

In Rabbi Ariel's letter, it is clear that, contrary to what the Education Ministry has been claiming, he is opposed to the girl remaining in the class.

"This situation of a girl dressed up as a boy, in boys' clothes, is impossible and has no place in halachah [Jewish law]," Rabbi Ariel wrote. "A boy is a boy and a girl is a girl. Since this case relates to a young girl [in third grade], the situation must be handled with great sensitivity. There is no question of continuing to allow this girl to be incorporated into a class together with other boys," he concluded.

The class is a mixed class; state-religious schools only separate boys from girls from fourth grade onward.

A previous report on Channel 12 News had alleged that the decision made by the local inspector of state-religious schools, to allow the girl to pass herself off as a boy in class, was taken following a consultation with Rabbi Ariel, who is considered one of the foremost poskim (decisors of Jewish law) in the Religious-Zionist community. The girl is apparently undergoing what is sometimes referred to as a "gender reassignment process."

The Education Ministry itself claimed that, "The policies and decisions on this issue were made by the state-religious system together with professionals along with central figures in Religious Zionism, including Rabbi Yaakov Ariel."

The school concerned, Moreshet Neriya, has apparently been accommodating the girl for the past few years, and it was only by chance that parents discovered the fact at the end of the last academic year. Parents of the other children were horrified at the revelation and even more so when they learned that the school's staff and the Education Ministry had known of the deception and concealed it from the parents.

Devora (not her real name), one of the school's teachers, told Israel National News of the dilemma she found herself in, adding that the heads of the state-religious system were attempting to hush up the story.

"I am considering resigning," she said. "I found out about this just a few days before school started this year, at the same time as the parents did."

While the state-religious school network's administration and Education Ministry knew that the girl was masquerading as a boy from first grade onward, only a limited number of teachers at Moreshet Neriya were informed. "Somehow, one of the parents found out that one of the 'boys' was really a girl," Devora added. "The parent then approached Ronny Sassover (Chief Executive Officer of the 'Meirim' social welfare organization), and told her what was going on."

Devora noted that almost all the school's teachers are in agreement that the deception effectively destroys the state-religious system from within, as there is no way that the system can continue to exist if it is run in such a manner. "If the system has no red lines, then parents should be scared at the thought of sending their children to learn in its schools."

In recent days, the school's principal has been holding discussions with the teachers as well as with the heads of the network, with the aim of ensuring that all the teachers continue in their jobs and that the saga should not infect the school's atmosphere. However, the storm it has aroused has not been quick to abate.

"Right now, it's not a pleasant situation," Devora said. "Parents tried not to send their children into school, but that didn't last and now they are sending them. The girl concerned walks around by herself during recess, totally isolated, with everyone whispering about her. All the students know, or almost all of them, at any rate, and the children in other classes are worried that maybe there are more such cases that they don't know about."

Meanwhile, the mother of the unfortunate girl is insisting that her daughter continue to learn in Moreshet Neriya, as a boy. "The other parents are doing everything they can to get the girl to leave, starting with a protest and ending with attempts to persuade her. The administration has made frequent visits to the school to try and resolve the situation, and they have been attempting to convince the parents to transfer their daughter to another school."

Devora also revealed that the school's administration and the heads of the network asked the teachers to refer to the girl using masculine pronouns. "Teachers aren't sleeping easy at night. We feel deceived. The school deceived us when they hid the truth from us."

According to Devora, the school's principal has been ordered by the network's administration to silence all talk of the story. "There are teachers who say that she was actually threatened that she would be sued for infringement of privacy if the story was talked about and discussed."

Yossi Brudny, the Mayor of Givat Shmuel and head of the Jewish Home faction that is running for the Knesset within the Zionist Spirit party, headed by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, has made a visit to the school to talk to the teachers. "He came to encourage us, but he said that nothing could be done and that we had to follow orders and obey instructions. One of the teachers responded, 'You didn't give me the choice of staying or leaving - you knew about this all along, and we didn't.' Brudny started shouting that nothing can be done, as the girl can't be thrown out and even though it's now clear that the state-religious system has no red lines, we just have to accept the fact, follow orders, and continue to teach as if nothing's happened."

Devora added that, "I've heard that there are parents who are trying to transfer their children to other schools, but the municipality is making problems and won't let them, because they know that if they do, the girl will be left in a class of one, because there's not a single boy in the class who wants to use the facilities with a girl there."

The question now, apparently, is what will happen next year, in fourth grade, when classes are divided according to gender. "This girl is walking around wearing a kippah and tzitzit, flouting the laws of the Torah as well as the school's regulations. How can we have such a child in our school? It's like a kid coming into class and saying, 'I'm eating pork during the snack recess.' Doesn't the state-religious system have any red lines?"

Apparently not, as the system's heads continue to make frequent visits to the school, almost every day according to Devora, "in an attempt to 'educate' the teachers and convince them not to act according to their conscience. The justification they give us is that they consulted with an 'important rabbi' and that they're no less religious than we are, and we have to toe the line.

"The teachers feel helpless and frustrated and don't know how to deal with this," Devora added. "There's such tension in the staff room whenever the topic is raised. No one knows what's going to happen next."

The Education Ministry issued a statement in response to the story, saying: "The head of the state-religious system, Mrs. Shosh Nagar, is handling the situation professionally and with sensitivity ever since the matter of this student [using the male term] came to her attention a month ago. The policies and decisions on this matter were made by the state-religious system together with professional advisers and central figures of Jewish law in the Religious-Zionist movement, including Rabbi Yaakov Ariel. The state-religious system's administration and board are taking advice on these matters, and decisions are also being made in accordance with professionals from the Psychological Counseling Service. Due to privacy concerns, the Education Ministry is unable to relate any further to such issues."