Rabbi Amar: Can't compromise in Ethiopian students affair
Chief Sephardic Rabbi tells Education Minister he can't halachicly approve proposal to integrate Ethiopian students in secular Petah Tikva schools with supervised religious curriculum. Parents protest in city as Education Ministry looks for alternative solution to enrolling 109 students day before school year starts
Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar told Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar on Monday that from a halachic perspective he cannot authorize the plan to integrate Ethiopian immigrants into the public education institutions in Petah Tikva.
Sa'ar proposed integrating the Ethiopian students in all state schools in the city, including secular schools, while placing them in a special framework belonging to the state-religious stream, that will enable rabbinical supervision of their curriculum, including extra classes in Jewish studies.
While the exact halachic reason was not disclosed, Amar's refusal is believed to stem from the conversion procedure Ethiopian children undergo, which stipulates that they must attend religious schools only.
The core requirement for conversion – observing mitzvahs – dose not apply to children under the age of 12 and 13, for girls and boys respectively. In such cases, the rabbinical courts are allowed "conversion discretion," meaning it is up to the religious judges to decide whether or not a candidate will undergo conversion.
According to a source familiar with the particulars of the process, attending a school "which educates it pupils on Judaism and to observe the Torah and mitzvahs" is a must.
Following the rabbi's response, the Education Ministry announced it is looking for alternative solutions to settle the affair, and enable the integration of 109 children that have yet to be enrolled in any of the city's schools, just hours before the school year begins.
The ministry said a decision will be made in the matter during the day. Meanwhile, the Petah Tikva parents committee has threatened to strike against the city's schools if a solution is not found.
Sa'ar's proposed compromise came after the Parent-Teacher Association in Petah Tikva rejected Mayor Yitzhak Ohaion's offer, which was reached on Sunday with the school directors and states that the immigrant students will be entered into regular classes, without admission tests, in all of the city's educational establishments, according to their place of residence.
According to the compromise, each student will get a personally-tailored advancement program which will be funded by the Education Ministry and is aimed at minimizing learning gaps within classes.
Sunday night, Sa'ar ordered the Education Ministry to cut off government funding for the three Petah Tikva private religious schools which refused to enroll Ethiopian students.
In response the schools said they were considering petition to the High Court of Justice against the decision.
Meanwhile, Monday moring some 100 pupils and their parents blocked traffic in Petah Tikva in protest against the refusal of private religious schools to accept Ethiopian students.
Police on the spot did not take action to prevent the traffic disturbances. The protesters carryied signs emblazoned with slogans such as "Enough with racism" and "Enough with discrimination."
Elad Rubinstein and Kobi Nahshoni contributed to this report