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Monday, May 08, 2006

Religious Racism?

A few months ago, I wrote about a piece in Haaretz that alleged that girls' schools in the Yeshiva community of Lakewood discriminated against prospective students of Sephardi origin by refusing to accept them. Then came the story I posted about here, that Haredi schools in Israel are refusing to accept students whose parents are newly Orthodox.

Now this.

Beit Yaakov schools in Israel have apparently for years, been perfectly comfortable admitting to the policy of barring Sephardi girls entry to their schools after they enroll a certain quota:
School principals admit openly that they reject student's because of their ethnic backgrounds. A legal ruling, the first of its kind, issued by the Jerusalem District Court, has now given legal teeth to a phenomenon we have observed for a long time: "There is a suspicion that registration procedures employ ethic criteria in their admission standards."

The quota system by which schools limit Sephardi registration to just 30 percent of the total student population is both well known and deeply rooted. When a student is accepted to a Beis Yaakov school, the principal is expected to mark down whether the student comes from an Ashkenazi or Sephardi family.

These principals – who come from the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) stream associated with Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, and for whom the principles of democracy are not exactly an area of expertise – see nothing wrong with this openly racist practice. After all, the Beis Yaakov system was originally established to serve the needs of Ashkenazi girls.
Ugh.

I have no problem with the Haredi world's desire to keep the outside world's innovations from infiltrating its way of life. You don't want billboards with pictures of scantily clad women hanging in your streets? I hear that! You don't want your children watching television and movies? Who can't understand that, with the state of programming today. But I draw the line when "innovations" include such ideas as tolerance and acceptance for one's fellow Jew. Racism is never acceptable as an ideology, but it's even more insidious in a situation such as this one, when members of one's own community are discriminated against with the open approval of so-called spiritual leaders.

I think some enlightement is called for in this particular arena. I just hope it comes about soon.

(hattip)

32 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your turn, time for this self-imposed news blackout to end. As you just said yourself, we have a 1st Amendment right - freedom of the press.
http://yeshivaworld.blogspot.com/2006/05/with-heavy-heart.html

12:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which race exactly is being discriminated against?

1:18 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

I consider discriminating against people simply because they are born (or not born) to a certain lineage to be a form of racism.

1:41 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

It's quite sickening, and surprising that it took this long.

What's interesting, and I'm not sure if this is better or worse, is that the Ashkenazi Charedim argue that the Sephardim are often a little too "modernishe" because of the way they are raised and that it has a negative effect on their own girls. To some extent, this is true - the Sephardim tend not to get as caught up in some of the 'frum' shtuyot the Ashkenazim do, and therefore are somewhat different. Without getting into whether they're nuts or not about what's important, those differences could theoretically be a reason to not want them to be in the same school; but that should be based on the standards, not on race.

2:44 AM  
Blogger MDmom said...

it's very disturbing, yet you'd be amazed how ingrained this discrimination is in israeli society. the subject reached to the upper echelons in our most recent elections, with one candidate's mizrachi background becoming a serious talking point over his qualifications.
and the thing is, regarding whether or not children from sephardi or mizrachi homes not being "good enough," or whatever, i have seen since living here that there is such a level of spirituality to be found in the religious practice of a sephardi jew (and not only among datiim) that would be unusual in an ashkenaz. they just seem to feel it so honestly and deeply. it's something that i think ashkenazi jews can learn and benefit from -- religion does not have to be uptight and stoic.

4:43 AM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

I imagine "enlightenment" is the last thing you'll see from the paralell universe that is 'chareidism' anytime soon.

7:54 AM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

I am not justifying the behavior you mention here. Discrimination on any level is never a good thing. However, I am one who has spent a lot of time in both "ashkenazic" and "sephardic" settings (camps, yeshivas, shuls, etc) and there are certainly differences between these groups.

While I think that it's important for our kids to learn about differences in people, customs, etc, it does make it harder on the mechanchim to offer a curriculum and a way to deliver content to both of these groups at the same time.

8:38 AM  
Blogger MDmom said...

of course there are differences, must, but to outright deny a certain group? or put ridiculously low quota numbers on them? your reasoning would make better sense if the school were to open separate classes for ashkenazim and mizrachim, or offer separate courses for part of the school day which would be geared towards each particular group's minhagim, but the way it stands now, it's simply outright discrimination.

8:52 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...


While I think that it's important for our kids to learn about differences in people, customs, etc, it does make it harder on the mechanchim to offer a curriculum and a way to deliver content to both of these groups at the same time.


That would hole true if they kept the schools separate entirely. But that isn't the case. They accept students of Sephardi origin - but limit them to quotas.

8:55 AM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

mdmom, you and I are on the same page. My belief has always been that a yeshiva exists to serve its community -- by supporting torah. If the community involved demands a large population of torah-observing Jews and if that student body requires different curriculums, then it's the school's job to create separate classes or programs to absorb that element.

You are correct in that the right way to go about this would be to create classes for these students and hire mechanchim who can teach on the same level.

But that is totally idealistic. Remember that there are certain minhagim that would be cause for extremely large rifts in a single school organization -- especially so with girls.

8:59 AM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

They accept students of Sephardi origin - but limit them to quotas

I can only imagine that they do this because they are being forced to do so (much like universities are forced to accept certain percentages of minorities, etc.)

9:03 AM  
Anonymous jdub said...

I don't disagree that different minhagim can cause educational difficulties. Yet, aren't those also "teaching moments"?

Not that they'd teach shulchan arukh inside to girls, but wouldn't this be a wonderful opportunity to show kids that the reason they do things differently can, in many instances, be traced to the difference between R. Yosef Karo and the ReMA?

Wouldn't that be a great way to show that within Orthodoxy there is tremendous diversity, yet we're all Orthodox? Or even, within Chareidut, there is still room for different opinions, even if it's just the difference between the Mechaber and the ReMA? Or maybe that's the problem.

9:08 AM  
Blogger MDmom said...

not so sure about the idealism part. i teach in an elemantary school with a large english-speaking immigrant population. the english classes offered were esl and not appropriate for the native english speaker. so what to do? at the time of day on the schedule when a class has english, the native speakers go to english appropriate for them and the hebrew speakers learn esl. it can be done. and if a school needs to have two completely separate tracks at a bais (beit?) yaakov level in order to satisfy the community at large's needs, then a way needs to be found to do that too.

9:11 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

These quotas aren't even about the complications of teaching different minhagim, as they accept at least some students of Sephardi origin. They obviously, though, keep the number low enough that they probably don't feel the need to address the minority group's minhagim at all.

9:13 AM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

Yuck. Well, this news is not new, but it always touches a raw nerve nevertheless.

9:13 AM  
Blogger MDmom said...

jdub -- that's exactly how we learned shulchan aruch in my high school, back in the day. granted, the school is an MO high school, but we came out knowledgable about more than just our little circle of traditions.

9:14 AM  
Blogger MDmom said...

momof4 -- the sad fact of the matter is, there is discrimination here in israel against mizrachim. it's not just in the religious population either. only just recently, the mainstream radio stations have begun to play music by artists of mizrachi background (it was hard to find, if not nearly impossible beforehand) and in many interviews with such artists they have said that they were ashamed or felt marginalized by their heritage. as i mentioned before, a top level politician's background (and i'm not talking about skeletons, just his country of birth) made people question his appropriateness for office (there were other objections too, but his ethnicity was one of them) and i could go on. it's a sad part of israeli society as a whole, that is now starting to be addressed. it seems that the only time it's really convenient to be mizrachi over here is on pesach!

9:22 AM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

I can't even believe people are suggesting that there are two sides to this. This is wrong on so many levels ofr many of the reasons expressed in prior comments, and certainly against halacha. The notion that there should even be separate classes is wrongheaded as well. Unless there are language differences, there is no reason why sefardi girls cannot be placed in the same classes as ashkenzi girls. They may have different minhagim? Big deal. Chasidim and litvaks have different minhagim as well and arent segragated. Teachers can manage to teach all the minhagim. And if students learn that there is more than one way to be a Jew, great.

9:49 AM  
Blogger MDmom said...

you're right but you've gotta start small. there is just a very glimmer of the concept of "politically correct" here in israel (a place where a restuarant called "the yellow chinese" openly advertises weekly on the front page of the paper with nary a peep from it's readers). so if a school is going to reverse it's discrimnatory policy, it will certainly not be with 100% integration. add to that that we are talking about a private school, which services a segment of the population that does not take to change easily or even willingly, you've got to start small. this is not a problem in only one sector -- this is a society-wide problem. and yes, it is very wrong.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Lakewood Venter said...

ugh! is right! A downright dirty shame! A chilul Hashem!

10:17 AM  
Blogger Soccer Dad said...

Just out of curiosity, do Shas schools accept Ashkenazi girls without limits?

12:25 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

mdmom, if it were just an issue of politically correctness, I might just dimsiss this as another instance of the traditional world of charedim clashing with modern values. But it's not about that -- its about a violation of halacha. Yeshiva admissions policies are governed by halachic norms, and it would seem that not admitting a jew for no other reason than ethnic bakground would violate those norms. At the very least, as the practice causes pain to the students and their parents, it violates "lo sonu," (Vayikra 25) as well as other prohibitions in the Torah.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had this discussion with my sfardi israeli brother in law,He says there are plenty of good sfardi Bais Yacov's.The sfardim that want to send to askenazi scools want the ashkenazi experince they are very happy with fact that there is quota once they get in.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

'I can't even believe people are suggesting that there are two sides to this.'

Agree.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This whole discussion is ridiculous. Would you really want your kid to go to school with a bunch of sfardim?! They're just a bunch of backwards, lower class hoodlums and hicks who can't even pronounce hebrew the right way. I want my children to have good midos and that isn't going to happen if they're mixed in with those loud, wild, undignified sfardim. I can't believe you have a problem with this.

4:18 PM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

I assume anon's 4:18PM rant was tongue in cheek.

7:20 PM  
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7:28 PM  
Blogger MDmom said...

krum -- you're right, it isn't just a matter of political correctness. what i was trying to convey, (though was not really coming thru in the written word here) is that discrimination is so deeply ingrained in society here that it has even embedded itself within groups we would think to be immune (although, try suggesting to certain hareidi groups in the states that they integrate their schools -- they'd probably beat the living daylights out of each other). and whose yeshiva admissions policies are you referring to? american ones? are they really that different? it is something that is really hard for an american to understand, though probably not an african american, that it will take a long time, if ever for this to be resolved. it is something that as an american born and raised jew living in israel i struggle with -- i am often shocked at the outright and casual discrimination and bias i see and hear in the media, advertising and elsewhere. so if the situation with the girls' school is to be addressed it will be with baby steps. it would be great if we all lived in an "uncle moishie world," but we don't and the israeli society is different, and younger and evolving even with regards to the orthodox, halachic norms notwithstanding. so it has to be through baby steps. the schools would have to have separate parts of the day if the mizrachi population grew -- it could not be 100%. for example, how would the girls daven? otherwise who would decide which eida gets chosen over the other? (and who would even want to get involved in that?) it's complicated, and messy. what bothered me more was that according to the linked article, shas wouldn't even help it's own girls on the matter because it wasn't politically prudent at the time (which i think comes down to another form of discimination, also deeply ingrained here, unfortunately). so the girls lose and the whole thing is very upsetting.

3:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 4:18

Nice irony- "midos"? We're not in Europe anymore. Proper Israeli Hebrew is "middot".

12:26 PM  
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12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one of the real g'dolei Israel, kirng or prophets, would recognize Charedi "Judaism" since theyu have invented their religion in galuth. We're in Israel now!!! The rabbis or teachers (yimah sh'mam) who have authorized this discrimination should be cut off Israel.

3:32 PM  

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