Regev Responds

Upwards of 40,000 Jerusalem children enrolled in illegal schools!

Haredi leadership's responses to Hiddush Supreme Court petition

The Israeli ultra-Orthodox media’s reaction to Hiddush’s petition to the Israeli Supreme Court on the matter of the State’s failure to ensure that upwards of 40,000 children in Jerusalem receive educations at legal, state recognized schools was predictably full of vitriol.

Photo Credit: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv ( Credit: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv (

The reactions characterized these illegal school’s unacceptable educational practices (described in the affidavit attached to Hiddush's Supreme Court petition) as similar to what is practiced in mainstream, licensed, and state funded ultra-Orthodox schools. They concluded that Hiddush’s petition may pose a future threat to mainstream ultra-Orthodox education as well.

Looking over the many reactions of ultra-Orthodox politicians in both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic ultra-Orthodox parties, one can see a common thread that attributes hatred, evil, and hypocrisy to the petitioners. None of them acknowledge that there are any problems whatsoever with the large scale operation of schools that run in direct and overt violation of Israeli law. Clearly, as Hiddush has repeatedly indicated in the past, they do not consider the law to be relevant, let alone as having any binding power.

Similarly, another common thread in the reactions was the emphasis on the fact that the schools referred to in the petition neither ask for, nor receive state funding. Clearly this is a distinction that the law rejects. The principle of mandatory education in licensed schools is not limited to those who seek state funding. It is based on the State's responsibility for the very basic well-being of its children, as well as the need to provide, at minimum, a licensing process aimed at ensuring their safety, appropriate facilities, and the adequacy of their teaching staff.

The blanket rejection was expressed, for instance, in the comments of the out-going Chair of the Knesset Education Committee - Shas MK Ya'akov Margi - who described the petition as representing persecution and blind hatred. He stated, alluding to the "hypocrisy" on the part of the petitioners: "It's important for me to know whether Hiddush has included in its petition the more than 100 illegal schools operating without licenses in East Jerusalem."

This is interesting on two accounts. In addition to the fact that Hiddush's petition does allude to this phenomenon in East Jerusalem, the MK Margi has clearly never seen his role as upholding Israeli education laws with regard to either his own ultra-Orthodox constituency, or with regard to Israel’s large Arab population. This is a very disturbing implied admission of the unacceptable abuse of responsibility that Margi and his colleagues exhibit in performing their parliamentary functions. This is not, we maintain, a legitimate exercise of democracy, but rather: its abuse.

Looking over the many reactions of ultra-Orthodox politicians in both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic ultra-Orthodox parties, one can see a common thread that attributes hatred, evil, and hypocrisy to the petitioners.

Other ultra-Orthodox responses include such statements as MK Uri Maklev (UTJ): "... on the one hand, they tell us not to interfere with what goes on in Tel Aviv; but they, on the other hand, repeatedly interfere in our educational institutions, which request neither recognition, nor money... It's all lies and deceit."

MK Michael Malchieli (Shas): "The fruits of the raging incitement in recent times against the ultra-Orthodox public... are spraying dirt; lies; and fancy, based on distortion of the facts, and they are blowing a marginal phenomenon up to monstrous proportions."

MK Moshe Abitbul (Shas): "These schools date back to pre-state days, and in a democracy and liberty they should be respected. It's the State's luck that they do not ask for classrooms and buildings because that would lead to budgetary collapse."

Ultra-Orthodox members of the Jerusalem City Council have responded in a similar vein, stressing the fact that these schools do no request public funding. One council member added: "We continue along the path that the Jewish people has pursued throughout the generations, knowing how to educate its children without intervention of official institutions, resulting in students coming out 'educated', which cannot be said for the licensed and supervised educational institutions of the secular public."

Another City Council member went as far as invoking the principles of education, as expressed in the Geneva convention, quoting from it, as to the respect for autonomous education. This was yet another example of the cynical, selective approach characteristic of ultra-Orthodox spokespeople, who cherry-pick principles they deem as helpful to their cause, while rejecting any elements of international law that demand religious freedom for all, the right to family and marriage, gender equality, etc.

Hiddush has pointed this out in the legal and public battles of European and international ultra-Orthodox leaders in protest of emerging European laws curtailing kosher slaughter and religious circumcision practices, when the main counter argument pursued is religious freedom. In those instances, we stressed the fact that these very spokespeople recognize only one side of religious freedom – theirs! – and are at the forefront of denying religious freedom in Israel to religious non-Orthodox religious Jews, as well as freedom from religion to secular Jews.

Take Action!