Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

30 Tishrei 5766 - November 2, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
A High Court Opinion that Justifies Discrimination and Hungry Children

"He hath disgrac'd me . . . laugh'd at my losses, mock'd at my gains, . . . And what's his reason? I am a chareidi. Hath not a chareidi eyes? Hath not a chareidi hands, organs, . . ., fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons . . ." (William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene I, with "chareidi" replacing "Jew")

As Israeli schools move towards studying a whole day, the government has moved towards feeding the children one hot meal a day. Three years ago, the school nutrition program was implemented on an experimental basis and all the schools of Beitar Illit were included in that program. In January 2005, the Knesset passed a law that said that every student will get "one hot meal a day according to a balanced and varied menu set by the Minister of Health, taking account of the needs of the children and their ages."

Most of the 32 schools of Beitar Illit were dropped from the program, with the exception of nine that are considered State schools. Beitar Illit sued to force the State to feed all the children who study a full day.

Two days before Succos, the High Court, in a long opinion written by Deputy Chief Justice Mishael Cheshin, rejected Beitar Illit's petition. If they want a hot lunch paid for by the government, "let them attend State schools." But if they choose not to avail themselves of the State school system, "let them not complain that they do not get a hot lunch as provided in the law of a daily meal."

MK Yuli Tamir of the Labor party was one of those responsible for the law providing for hot lunches. She was not happy with the High Court ruling, to put it mildly.

"A hot lunch, in the opinion of Justice Mishael Cheshin, is a benefit given by the State to those who choose the State education system. What would Justice Cheshin say . . . if it were an ideological refusal on the part of a few Arab schools . . . Does Justice Cheshin think that a child who is not part of the State system should also be denied other services such as vaccinations? . . .

"From their ruling it is clear that the Justices view a daily hot meal as a conditional service, or a prize given to a child whose parents chose the correct path. The intention behind the government's nutrition program was entirely different. The legislator saw a hot meal as a primary, basic right of every child, without discrimination as to religion, race, culture, or educational stream. The school was just the place in which the meal is given to the child; an instrument that serves the nutrition program, and not the reason for its operation. The need for the nutrition project arose not from a desire to find another way to strengthen the State education system, but from a reading of the sad social conditions that leave more than 600,000 under the poverty line and leaves a significant percentage of these in a state of nutritional stress. Many of these children live in Beitar Illit . . . They deserve food because they are hungry; all other considerations have no significance. Food cannot serve as a punishment or an incentive. Food is a basic, vital need, that a proper State should ensure for every child. . . . It is doubtful if in all of Beitar Illit and similar places there are more than a handful of children whose parents will send them to a State school just for a hot meal. The children will simply remain hungry and be more alienated from the State."

Chief Justice Barak has said that the chareidi public should be grateful to the High Court because it protects its rights as a minority. That is the way it is supposed to be in theory: the majority can use its political power to get what it wants, but the judicial branch of government will watch to make sure that it does not go too far at the expense of the minorities.

When he was asked about filing the court case, MK Rabbi Ravitz said that he thought that it stood a good chance since the discrimination is so blatant. When the decision was announced, he was proven wrong: "The Court has once again shown itself to be a leader in racism in the State of Israel." MK Rabbi Gafni said, "The chareidi child, as far as the High Court is concerned, can just remain hungry."

The ruling of the High Court was really a gratuitous expression of its true feelings for the chareidi community. With support from all across the political spectrum for food for all Israeli children, the Knesset may well take action to explicitly mandate its original intention. The Court did not require discrimination; it only allowed it. But that opinion will stand even after any action, and it will belie all the declarations of sympathy for the chareidi minority.

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