Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Israel Thursday against a court order to desegregate a religious school and force Jewish girls of European and Middle Eastern descent to study together.
Demonstrations were held in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, a Tel Aviv suburb with a large population of religious Jews, before some 80 Ashkenazi parents, Jews of European origin, were to report to jail for defying the Supreme Court ruling. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox minority has long been at odds with the Jewish state’s highest judicial authority over edicts which some devout Jews say interfere with their religious lifestyle.
The Ashkenazi parents resisting their daughters’ integration with Sephardi, or Middle Eastern, students at a girls’ religious school in the Jewish settlement of Immanuel in the occupied West Bank, deny the court’s allegations of racism. They say the two communities have different religious traditions and they do not want their children influenced by Sephardi practices.
Clothed in traditional heavy black garb, ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews held open-air prayers during the protests as police deployed in force, fearing possible violence.
“We have chosen the Torah,” one banner read, alluding to the community’s belief that the law of God is supreme.