“I see all these Sephardi names!”

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I am amazed. Larry Derfner has written many articles about Charedim — usually reflecting his left-wing opinions, in religion as in politics. Four years ago I wrote a twopart essay on “Fisking Larry Derfner,” responding to what Jonathan Rosenblum called “a particularly nasty attack on the charedi community.” R’ Yonason averred that Derfner “would hardly be classified as an inveterate chareidi-baiter,” but he was not particularly friendly.

So I certainly did not expect to discover, under his byline, an article which is not merely favorable, but practically glowing in its praise, while addressing a topic which has exacerbated the secular-religious polarization in Israel. In discussing the fathers from Emanuel who were jailed, Derfner endorses the Charedi narrative of a struggle for religious liberty, rejects the ethnic bias charge as “a misperception fed by the mainstream media,” calls the result a victory for the Haredim, and describes the experience of the fathers themselves in moving words — moving, to the point of tears.

What follows are highlights, but I recommend reading the full article.

Chaim Krimalovski, one of the “Emmanuel prisoners,” recalls: “The most revered rabbis were coming up to me, sobbing, saying how they wished they could take my place in prison, how they envied me the privilege of performing such a great sanctification of G-d’s word. You know the expression ‘floating on air’? I was floating a mile above the ground.” “The Supreme Court has learned that sticking its hands into haredi education is like sticking its hands into fire.”

To the Haredim, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s population, the fight in Emmanuel was over religious freedom, the right to educate their children as they see fit and the authority of their rabbis over that of Supreme Court justices. To Israelis at large, it was a fight to maintain Ashkenazi dominance – a misperception fed by the mainstream media – and to enforce the haredi minority’s tyranny over the state.

[Krimalovski’s] story illustrates how fervent, uncompromising and mobilized this sector is – especially when it feels threatened. His story also illustrates what a victory the haredim just won, and how they’ve been strengthened by it.

Presiding Justice Edmond Levy said he “shuddered to think” that the men would obey their rabbis instead of the court. “That settled it for us, when he said he ‘shuddered to think’ we would obey our rabbis. Does he think we won’t? Does he expect us to reject our spiritual leaders? Nobody – no Muslim, no Christian and no Jew – will abandon his spiritual leaders and his religious faith because a judge tells him to,” he says.

“Everyone was there – the admor of Vizhnitz, who’s about 90; Rabbi Levkowitz, who’s 93 or 94; Rabbi Vozhner, who’s 92 or 93; Rabbi Elyashiv, who turned 100 before Pessah. They all wanted to bless us, even the rabbis from Natorei Karta,” he says. “The very strict national religious rabbis, Rabbi Lior, Rabbi Dudkevitch, they were there, too. Everyone. The Supreme Court united the community like no one’s done in decades.”

Two men whose names had mistakenly been left off the service’s list of inmates fought unsuccessfully to get on. One man on the list, a kashrut inspector who’d been working in Hong Kong and the Philippines, had flown back at 6 a.m. for this “privilege.”

The admor of Slonim boarded the bus to talk to the men individually. “He told us to look after one another, to keep each other’s spirits up,” says Krimalovski. “One of the men has six daughters and he asked the admor to bless him for a son, and the admor told him, ‘You’re asking me to bless you? Today the gates of heaven are open to you, whatever you request, it will be granted. Ask G-d for a son – I will just say amen.’”

The atmosphere inside the bus was like “what you feel in synagogue when they close the ark of the Torah at the end of Yom Kippur. A mixture of trembling and joy.”

When the men got off the bus at Ma’asiyahu, a prison official read off the list of names. “He starts reading: ‘Elmaliah… Biton… Beit Ya’acov…Baruch…’ then he stops and says, ‘They told me we were getting a group of Ashkenazim and I see all these Sephardi names.’

“We all started laughing. One of the fathers said, ‘In two minutes you’ve figured out what the Supreme Court hasn’t figured out in two years.’”

The guards treated them very well. “They didn’t address us as ‘prisoners,’ but as ‘people.’ Once one of the guards called to us, ‘Tzadikim, after me.’” Shabbat dinner was supposed to end at 10 p.m., but at their first Shabbat dinner, as the hour to end it approached, the prison guard, a Druse, told them, “I don’t have the heart – take another half hour.”

At their second, final Shabbat dinner, the singing and dancing was unusually spirited, and another guard, wearing a white kippa, stood to the side, weeping. “We asked him, ‘Haven’t you seen anything like this in prison?’ He said, ‘I haven’t seen anything like this in my whole life.’”

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10 Responses

  1. L. Oberstein says:

    In response to the gentleman above who still believes the Emanuel fiasco was an unmitigated victory for the chareidim, I would like to share what I just saw in Hamodia. To quote: “Defense Ministry Plans Increase in Random Inspections of Yeshivos and Kollelim”. There are 60,000 men who are deferring their army service because Torah is their full time profession. Due to pressure from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Defense will no longer blindly accept a statememt of the Vaad Hayeshivos that all 60,000 are full time learners. They will hire mashgichim to inspect the yeshivos and kollelim for those who are not there full time.
    Is this another example of the majority losing patience with a group that defies it at will. Does the gentleman really think that there will be no adverse reaction to the rally and the defiance of the court, that the world will go on as before? As we enter Tisha B Av we need to figure out a way to keep the state of Israel from coming apart from internal division. At some point, if there is a real split and Shas loses its fear of the Ashkenazi Torah leaders and is lead by a more agressive leadership, the whole coalition situation could make Yahadut Hatorah irrelevant and then the money spigot would be cut back. The whole Olom Hatorah is living on nisim .

  2. Shaya says:

    “Aside from considering the result in Emmanuel an unconditional victory, they believe they acted appropriately throughout even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.”

    Reminds me of the advice to Richard Nixon in how to win the Vietnam war. Let’s just declare that we won, and leave. While terrible anti-charedi bias surfaced, and Larry Derfner’s article was a breath of fresh air to prove that point, the whole story should be a wake-up call to the charedi world from a number of directions, both internal and external. While I have no doubt there are charedim who don’t agree with R. Oberstein, I believe that in general their default attitude is that all is well in the chardi world and we can do no wrong. And THAT is the REAL problem.

    If THIS was “unconditional victory” I shudder to see what failure looks like. A reality check is in order.

  3. koillel nick says:

    Most Haredim here, in Jerusalem, view the whole affair as a failure for the haredim. The court is now involved in haredi schools, and its gonna burn Haredi schools when ‘core curriculum’ fight gets heated up. The same deal could have been signed earlier, without a showdown with the court. Even the rally, in hindsight made little sense. When living in gallus, we shouldn’t announce that we are refusing to follow the law. Most Orthodox Jews agree that if there was no way out, listening to rabbis would take precedence over listening to a court, but no responsible leader says it out. Not in USA, and it shouldn’t be said in Israel.
    I must agree with E Fink and L Oberstien. Living in Har Nof, The center of Sephardic Haredi Land, there is a unanimous opinion among Sephardi young men – “kollel avreichim” that they have to be more aggressive. I have not met one, who didn’t back Yoav Lalum and Noar Kehalacha.
    E Fink wrote
    “Just because a minority is complicit to racial bias does not mean that no racial bias exists.” Without mentioning specific names, those sephardic names mentioned in the article, are of prestigious families. Two of them, are sons of chashuv dayyanim in the Rabbinate. The racism is frustrating common Sephardim, not those who have the clout. Thats why they are angry at Shas party. The askanim get their kids in because they have the clout, and in turn are not worrying about the masses.

  4. Joe Hill says:

    “Now that the dust has settled, here are a few facts that seem to be universally accepted by all chareidim with whom I communicate . The whole situation in Emanuel was mishandled by everyone on both sides”

    R. Oberstein, I’m not sure which chareidim you communicate with, but none of the many chareidim I communicate with many times throughout each and every day share that view. Aside from considering the result in Emmanuel an unconditional victory, they believe they acted appropriately throughout even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

  5. L. Oberstein says:

    My dear Reb Yaakov, as always you are partically right but at least this time I have to agree with the comment “Just because a minority is complicit to racial bias does not mean that no racial bias exists.”
    Now that the dust has settled, here are a few facts that seem to be universally accepted by all chareidim with whom I communicate . The whole situation in Emanuel was mishandled by everyone on both sides and exaserbated by lack of trust and differening agendas on all sides. There should never have been a wall in the school, that looks horrible and makes the girls feel that they are cut off from the others as if there is something wrong with them. There has to be a better way.
    The law suit was brought by a group in the Shas community that is angry about the discrimination that does exist and everyone knows that it does. They took an approach that was not approved by the leader himself,Rav ovadia, and it may have fit into the phrase “the building of the youth is destruction”. On the other hand, it may have awakened the sleeping giant of the Sephardi majority that will now become more agressive in demanding what they believe is their Jewish right9and which most orthodox Jews the world over also feel is their Jewish right).
    The demonstration was effective and its peacefulness a good thing but it may have ramifications that will lead to cutting off the spigot that finances chareidi life in Israel. It could become a “bechia ledoros” if it leads to the overwhelming majority of the taxpayers of the State to just not want to take it any more.
    As far as the little school or schools in the hick town of Emanuel, they are just the test case of a situation that might just be starting to boil. Wait and see.
    In response to your main point, it is beside the point. This issue is not whether a few Sephardim can attend a chassidic school, it is whether the State of Israel should be financing self segregating schools for each of the multitude of streams within Israeli orthodoxy. Demanding a chassidic public school in Emanuel may just be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

  6. another Nathan says:

    You might get in trouble for chilul Supreme Court.

    Jerusalem Post
    ” Police to investigate haredi site
    By JONAH ANDEL
    07/15/2010 19:14

    Website suspected of contempt for calling Emmanuel judge anti-haredi.”

  7. E. Fink says:

    Just because a minority is complicit to racial bias does not mean that no racial bias exists.

  8. Yosh says:

    While I agree that the fathers did the right thing by standing up to the court and going to jail; this whole thing makes me a little sad and this idea that this episode is some massive kiddush Hashem leaves me uneasy.

    At the end of the day, this dispute started when shtarker parents in the community felt that even though a number of Sephardi Baal Teshuva parents wanted to educate their children in a frum environment… their families were not acceptable and their daughters needed to be kept completely separate.

    Even if you agree with this – I don’t live there and don’t know the facts on the ground – it’s at BEST a sad necessity.

    A BT or potential BT in Israel could easily take away the message that the frum community was rallying and joyous over their victory in the fight to keep their kids away from the BTs’ kids. The massive outpouring of triumphalism should at least be tinged with some awareness of this conflict.

  9. Sarah says:

    Yes, I was also impressed – this is the second fair and positive article that Derfner has written about the Emanuel affair. I left him a complimentary comment.

  10. dr. bill says:

    a lesson not learned is normally retaught; note the curriculum issue coming front and center.