Sunday, April 18, 2010

Democracy? Not in Klal

There's a lot of discussion going on online about the situation in two Bais Yaakov schools in Israel. In a nutshell, there is discrimination going on 1)against sefardim enrolling in one of the schools and 2)against a particular sefardi young girl whom a school refuses to register.

There have been numerous accusations of racism against the schools for discriminating on the basis of the ashkenazi/sefardi differences. Some are up in arms that any school that claims to be "frum" could be discriminatory in such a way. The Israeli Court is now firmly in the middle of the ruckus, having levied fines against a third party based on the school problem.

Let me put in my two cents worth--why does anyone think that yeshivas are bastions of democracy, standing with open arms to welcome everyone and anyone? The two schools in Israel are not showcasing a new phenomenon. If democracy were the guiding principle for school enrollment there would be no call for the pre-admission interviews and investigation that happen before ANY child is admitted to a yeshiva. The schools in the NYC area have for years been refusing entry to some students who apply, some of those refusals based on level and type of religious observance, some of it based on home practices/conditions and some of it based on psychological/educational/social reasons.

Many yeshivas seem to view themselves as homogeneous entities, ones where all the students enrolled are exemplars of whatever philosophy/hashkafa/bent the school was established to advance. They are like factories with production lines: all "items" coming off those production lines need to be identical. The more to the right a yeshiva is, the more this statement is seen as true. Nor, as I mentioned, is the divide strictly one of hashkafah. Let a family have a "problem," or what a yeshiva sees as a problem, and they may deny admission to a child coming from that family. Let a child need educational help/accommodation or special services and that child, too, will be looking for a different school. The attitude seems to be NIMBY--not in my backyard.

Long after the public school system had in place special ed services and resource rooms and on-site providers for students with learning/physical disabilities, the yeshiva system was still hiding its head in the sand. It was first those yeshivas in the middle or more to the left which began offering special services. And even there it wasn't across the board, and still isn't. Children who need extra services may well find themselves being rejected by yeshivas that are applied to.

There's many a parent who has been told: "You/your child will be more comfortable in a different yeshiva," which is yeshiva speak for "We don't want you/your child in our yeshiva." It matters not at all that YOU have chosen a particular yeshiva for your child; what matters is if that yeshiva chooses your child to be one of its own.

So yes, I think what is going on in Israel is a shandah. But the "ideology" that is feeding the problem is hardly limited to those two schools nor to Israel. We've got it right here in the US. If you are looking for democracy in action, don't look at the yeshiva system: you won't find it there.


tesyaa said...

People should seek a school that can meet their child's needs. American yeshivas that reject children with extra needs may be hurting feelings, but they're doing the kids a favor if they can't meet the kid's needs. (It's more of a shandah when they take the kid and then can't meet the needs, or demand that the desperate parents pay extra for a shadow.) What's going on in Israel, though, is a racism situation that I don't think we Americans who came of age after the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and 1970s can understand.

Tuvi said...

Tesyaa, the problem in Israel can't be called racism. Ashkenazim and sefardim are not two different races. They stem from geographically different areas originally and they have some basic religious practice differences. If anything it is these different religious practices that are what is dividing the two groups. So what you have are religious wars going on in Israel, not racial wars.

I look at your statement that the yeshivas can't meet the needs of all kids in a different way. There may be a few cases where they really would not be able to meet the needs of a few kids. But for the most part they don't want to meet those needs, not that they can't or couldn't do so. They don't want to bother and they don't want the name out in public that they accept kids who are "different".

Lion of Zion said...


you understate the bet shemesh case. the school refused to register that one girl, but it had earlier turned way a group of sephardi girls. (they subsequently enrolled elsewhere.)

also, calling chinuch atzmai a third party is like saying that the topeka board of ed was a third party. (example not chosen by coincidence)


race is a subjective socio-political construct and i don't think it's unwaranted to call this situation racism, but in any case, it's semantics. what's the difference if this is religious or racial discrimination?

"they don't want the name out in public that they accept kids who are "different"."

i agree.
but there is also a financial consideration. good programs that cater to kids with special needs are *very* expensive. schools that in general can't make ends meet are loathe to undertake an additional financial "burden." (although in a least one school that will take special needs kids, some of the costs are passed on the parents of the kids)

Uri said...

what's the difference if this is religious or racial discrimination?

The difference Lion is who gets prime responsibility for having to take care of the problem. If it's racial then the state has the obligation to handle it because such discrimination is illegal on a racial basis according to secular law. If it's religious then the gedolei yisroel need to handle it.

And sorry but race is not a socio political idea. There are those who apply socio political ideas to those of certain races but race itself is determined genetically/biologically.

Lion of Zion said...


biologically (taxonomically) we are all homeo sapiens sapiens. feel free to further genetically subdivide that into "races," but on what scientific grounds do you neatly lump ashkenazim and sephardim together into one genetic "race"?

ifaiu there really is no such thing as well-defined genetically-differentiated "races." different people(s) share some genes (or common gene mutations) and differ in others. so saying what degree of common/divirgent genes divides us into races is subjective or arbitrary, and yes, subject to artificial social constructs.

but i don't really care if you prove me wrong. again, it's semantics. who cares if its religious or racial discrimination? i don't understand your distinction. as long as chinuch atzmai gets government money it should not discriminate, on either ground. if chinuch atzmai or the gedolim don't want the government interfering in the admissions process in haredi schools, then they should feel free to decline government subvention. and

"If it's religious then the gedolei yisroel need to handle it."

so far they've handled it by circling wagons.