JERUSALEM (JTA) – Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered in Jerusalem to protest a Supreme Court order to integrate Ashkenazi and Sephardi girls in a West Bank school, after which dozens of haredi parents entered prison.
Thousands more rallied Thursday in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, which is comprised mostly of haredim.
The rally in Jerusalem escorted to jail some of 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 began entering a prison in Jerusalem late Thursday afternoon to serve two-week sentences. Four fathers and 22 mothers did not show up at the jail by Thursday night; As police worked to locate them, the court decided to delay the imprisonment of the women and meet Friday to respond to an appeal by the women’s attorneys.
Combined crowd estimates in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak ranged as high as 150,000, although police put the numbers at 30,000 and 20,000, respectively. Haredi authorities had ordered yeshivas closed 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.