The Emmanuel School Issue – Some Thoughts

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R' Ovadia Yosef - Why Wage Wars?

R' Ovadia Yosef: "Why Wage Wars?"


Recently there was a lot of press about a certain school in Emmanuel, and that a big issue on discrimination there was that it wasn’t allowing Sephardi girls in it’s strictly Charedi Ashkenazi grounds for ethnic reasons. The parents even took their own girls out of that school and started their own school. In an country where the government funds all Yeshivot, this was deemed illegal and that the parents send their girls back to the school they were at before. To add this issue, the school forbade any Sephardi girl from entering the school. This prompted various petitions from Sephardi parents on their girls not being permitted into the school. And, in a country built on secular values, where religious values are not only eschewed, but completely misunderstood, this further perpetuates a Chillul Hashem. To add to that, Rav Ovadia Yosef Shlit”a allegedly said that Sephardi students shouldn’t study in an Ashkenazi Yeshiva, since an Ashkenazi mind will not know Torah. I attempt right now to dispel both myths in one shot.

Some Facts About the School in Emmanuel

First off, the girls school in question that’s located in Emmanuel currently boasts 30% Sephardim. In a recent article in the Jewish Press, it states that the major issue was indeed religious rather than ethnic, as the question was, who owned TV sets at home and who didn’t. As the quality of TV shows has morally deteriorated over the years, some parents and institutions protective of their children have decided to eschew Television from their midst, as this would interfere with religious studies and perhaps even Yiras Shamayim. Ashkenazi Haredim have historically favored this route, where Sephardim have for the most part been less stringent. This Yeshiva’s policy, being that it’s an Ashkenazi Haredi institution, was historically against owning a TV set in house. Now, the crux of the issue was that the Sephardi girls who were owned Television sets were inviting their Ashkenazi classmates into their homes for dinner, study sessions, or just to have fun. Inevitably, plenty of the girls were becoming exposed to the “box with pictures,” as I once heard a TV humorously described as. As a result, many of the parents of Ashkenazi girls took their children out of the school due to them being exposed to TV, which invariably was due to the influence of the Sephardi girls. When the Israeli government came in, they jailed any parent that didn’t abide by the order to send their kids back to that school for 2 weeks. The Yeshiva in turn forbade any person that owned a TV from entering the school, which is a surprising, yet common, phenomenon in Israeli Haredi schools. This is something that the media will never state since, in my opinion, it’s an issue that it simply can’t relate with, since their entire market is of TV viewers in the first place.

The Israeli secular media will never understand it since the concept of no TV is so foreign to them. Therefore, many will laugh at people whom they don’t understand. For example, here’s Latma TV’s “The The Tribal Update” recent parody of this issue, where one can see the correspondents smirking the whole time:

What Rav Ovadia Yosef REALLY Said

Now, as for Rav Ovadia Yosef, when he said what he said, he was responding to what was happening in Emmanuel. During his weekly conclusion of Shabbat sermon, Rav Ovadia Yosef’s stated his reasoning was that “There are Sephardi schools in Emmanuel, 140 students, and the Sephardim went and petitioned with the High Court about their daughters not being admitted into an Ashkenazi school. Let them go to a Sephardi one! Why the wars?” He further stated that the Halacha states that each group should attend their own institutions when possible. To quote,

“A Sephardi man must enroll his sons into a Sephardi Talmud Torah school to begin with … There are various practices, we have our own tradition, why change it? Do the girls who studied with the Ashkenazim know our own practices?! A student who goes there will have an Ashkenazi brain, won’t know the Torah!”

Reading Rav Ovadia Yosef’s statements in this context, the picture becomes clearer. He’s stating that Sephardi people should follow a Sephardi Mesorah, which Ashkenazi institutions typically don’t teach. “They won’t learn what we teach elsewhere. We have good cantors teaching the Bible’s accents, and they don’t know our accents,” he said. Yet, he’s not knocking the Ashkenazi learning model at all. The rabbi  in fact stressed that he is grateful for the Ashkenazi education model, which has yielded Torah greats of all affiliations at a time when there were no Sephardi establishments. “We would have been lost had it not been for the independent Torah education.”

Further, the Rabbi has further noted there were more Sephardi yeshiva students than Ashkenazi ones and many Sephardi yeshiva heads, and added, “Why change and introduce a High Court trial involving the seculars? … Why wage wars and go to the High Court and its judges? It’s a matter of Torah. There are rabbis and courts…If there are claims, one should approach a rabbinic court.”

Yet, while R’ Ovadia Yosef has admitted that to a certain degree there is discrimination in Ashkenazi Yeshivas, keeping a quota of 20%-30% Sephardim, he’s stated that this is merely the situation at large. One Jew isn’t inferior to another Jew, and certainly, one’s Torah isn’t inferior to another’s. To suggest such implies insecurity. In the end of the day, today, following Mesorah, such as cantillation notes, etc. is about as important as following to Torah, and that’s what R’ Ovadia Yosef was saying.

Again the Emmanuel school issue was about stringent religious practices in light of a culture rapidly deteriorating due to the junk that TV now has today, not ethnicity. Torah values never have been, and never will be, based on the color of ones skin or where the person was born.