VIDEO – A Belgian court in the city of Antwerp has forced a Jewish Orthodox school for girls, affiliated with the Belz Hasidic dynasty, to admit the two sons of a radical anti-Zionist haredi man, local and Jewish media worldwide report.
The ruling ends a long saga in which the city's different Jewish schools refused to accept the sons of Moshe Aryeh Friedman, although most educational institutions in Belgium – including the Jewish Orthodox ones – are subsidized by the Flemish Ministry of Education and therefore subjected to the laws of the state.
According to reports in different media outlets, led by the Gazet van Antwerpen newspaper, the Belgian judge ordered the "Bnos Yerushalayim" school to admit Friedman's two sons – seven-year-old Yosef and 11-year-old Yaakov – within five days, or pay a fine of thousands of euro per child for each day they are not allowed to study in the school.
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Friedman said in an interview to Belgian television network ATV that the refusal to let his sons study in the girls' school was "an act of revenge by the local Jewish community due to my opinions and connections with world leaders.
'If there are two boys there, others will likely follow.' Moshe Aryeh Friedman
He added that he had no choice but to register his sons into "Bnos Yerushalayim" because he wanted them to go to a Jewish school. "My children have nothing to do with my political opinions," he added.
Following the ruling, Friedman was the target of ads posted in the city's synagogues last weekend, "and everyone condemned his act because it could lead to a destruction of all schools in the city," haredi journalist Chaim Shaulson wrote in his "In the World of Haredim" blog.
Who is taking revenge on who?
The affair began in late 2011, when Friedman and his wife immigrated from New York to Antwerp, but found it difficult to find a yeshiva to take in their sons due to what he refers to as "revenge" on the part of some members of the Jewish community.
When he realized what was going on, Friedman said, he had no choice but to appeal the court based on a recent decision prohibiting discrimination against children according to their gender.
The court ruled that as most Jewish schools are considered public and are subsidized by the Flemish government, the school councils must obey the rules – including mixed education.
The school claimed that Orthodox Judaism requires separation between boys and girls within educational institutions, and that there are no male students or male teachers in the school – not to mention separate bathrooms. However, these claims were rejected by the court.
"Bnos Yerushalayim" principal told the Gazet in response that the school would likely appeal a higher court in light of the decision. The haredi community is accusing Friedman of attempting to extort money from the school in response to pulling his sons' registration.
Friedman interviewed by Belgian TV
Blogger Chaim Shaulson raised the assumption that Friedman had hoped the Belz institutions would admit his sons to the Talmud Torah school, but that the Hasidic sect decided to teach him a lesson and admit them into the girls' school.
"There is no doubt that the boys will feel discomfort and will not want to be there, especially as the girls have been educated to stay away from boys and not talk to them. They will be lonely and will eventually leave."
However, the row sparked on the Belgian haredi street points to a certain distress.
In favor of mixed education
Meanwhile, it appears that Friedman, who is used to rows, is satisfied with the decision, "first of all so that our children are able to study in whichever school we choose," he said, "but also because it puts an end to discrimination.
"Separate schools for boys and girls are illegal. And why won't they allow mixed education till the age of 13?"
Asked whether it didn't bother him, as a haredi man, that his sons were to study in a school with 500 girls, Friedman added: "They are smart boys… And if there are two boys there, other boys will likely follow in their footsteps."
Friedman and his wife Leah have seven children. According to media reports, his three daughters – aged 13, 15 and 17 – are not studying either, after their father tried to register them into local Jewish school "Yavne," which refused to admit them.
The court is expected to issue an interim decision on this case as well.