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Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel take to streets over court ruling

From Izzy Lemberg and Paul Colsey, CNN
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Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest court ruling
  • NEW: Around 100,000 demonstrate
  • Tumult reflects state-religion tensions in Israel
  • Ruling casts light on Ashkenazi, Sephardic tensions
  • Israel
  • Jerusalem
  • Judaism

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Some 100,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews protested Thursday an Israeli Supreme Court decision banning segregation based on ethnic background in a girls' religious elementary school.

Girls of Sephardic origin were being denied permission to share classrooms with the largely Ashkenazi school and were forced into segregated classes.

Sephardic Jews are of North African and Middle East origin, Ashkenazim are Jews of European background. The ultra-Orthodox community in Israel is made up of many sectors reflecting many different traditions.

The demonstrators resent what they feel is the intervention of the Israeli state into religious affairs. The school is Beit Yaakov in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel.

Large demonstrations were held in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv. Police said 100,000 protesters demonstrated in Jerusalem, including 20,000 who joined the gathering from Bnei Brak.

In response to a petition the court ruled that this was a case of discrimination. It ordered the school to integrate all the pupils. But 43 sets of parents who refuse the court order were to be incarcerated for two weeks on charges of contempt of court on Thursday.

The parents of the school girls in question deny that their opposition to integrating Sephardic girls is based on ethnicity, but insist that it is about their religious observance which they believe is stricter than the families of those being refused.

One protester Yehoshua Friedberg, told CNN, "We see this as the right that parents have to allow their children to receive the education they believe in."

The mood among the thousands of demonstrators in their traditional black-clad garb was one of defiance.

A young student proclaimed "we go to jail because the judge told us to do things against the Torah (Bible). Our rabbis and we will go to jail until the end."