Tens of thousands of fervently Orthodox Jews gathered in Jerusalem to protest a Supreme Court order to integrate Ashkenazi and Sephardic girls in a West Bank school.
Thousands more rallied Thursday in B’nei Brak, near Tel Aviv, which is comprised mostly of fervently Orthodox Jews.
The rally in Jerusalem is also meant to escort to jail to begin a two-week jail sentence the 43 sets of haredi Ashkenazi parents from Emanuel who did not inform the court in writing by Wednesday that they would abide by the desegregation order. The parents are to enter jail late Thursday afternoon.
Crowd estimates ranged as high as 60,000 in Jerusalem and 50,000 in B’nei Brak, though police put the numbers at 30,000 and 20,000 respectively. Haredi authorities had ordered yeshivas closed on Thursday in order for the students to participate.
The protesters held signs reading “We choose Torah,” “High Court against the people” and “God will rule for all eternity,” as well as “Flotilla terrorists free! Students’ parents to jail.”
More than 10,000 policemen and Border Guard officers were deployed throughout the country to prevent violence, according to reports.
The entrance of the parents to jail was delayed throughout the day Thursday, as groups and individuals attempted to mediate between the parents and the court. Parents also requested to serve their sentences on different weeks so that one parent could take care of the children at home.
The jail sentences were ordered after parents failed to desegregate a girls school in Emanuel in which the Slonim Chasidim parents kept their daughters separate, going so far as to have separate entrances and a dividing wall through the school’s courtyard.
After the courts ordered the school to remove the separation, the Chasidic parents kept their children home from school. The case has gone through months of court hearings, rulings and mediation, culminating in the court’s ultimatum late Tuesday afternoon. The court says that the parents have racist reasons for segregating the children; but the parents say the differences are in religious observance.