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The other Israeli conflict: with itself

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose influence is growing, defied a recent ruling of the secular Supreme Court. A domestic Israeli conflict is brewing over the Ultra-Orthodox, whose men refrain from military service and generally choose state-subsidized study over employment.

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Recent tensions

In the past year, the ultra-Orthodox have brought thousands into the streets to protest the opening of Jerusalem parking lots on the Sabbath. Israel's high court has ruled that welfare assistance for yeshiva students is discriminatory. And in May, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai accused the ultra-Orthodox school system of promoting ignorance among students.

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But the case against Emmanuel's Beit Yakov girls school touched a raw nerve. In 2007, parents prevailed upon administrators to essentially split the school, setting up a divider in the hallways and a fence on the playground, separating Hasidic Jews – a subset of the Haredim – from the rest.

But the division also fell largely along ethnic lines. The court ruled that the school was perpetuating decades-old discrimination against Sephardic Jews – those of Middle Eastern origin.

Kyrbus's act of civil disobedience was based on a belief that Jewish law takes precedence over the secular government.

"The courts are secular and plainly do not follow the Torah," he says. "We have no problem with the laws: we pay taxes and follow traffic rules. But if a judge says, 'Don't listen to the Torah or the rabbis, there is no way we can comply."

For more than a week, the minimum-security prison where the parents were being held became a pilgrimage site for ultra-Orthodox. By day, in 95 degree F. heat, they listened to Haredi political leaders speak of government tyranny; by night, they listened to rabbis preach.

Haredim emerging into mainstream Israel

David Landau, former editor of the liberal Haaretz newspaper and author of a book on the ultra-Orthodox community, says the tensions are a result of Haredim's emergence into the mainstream.

"The court failed completely to understand the sensitivity of the issue," he says. "[The ultra-Orthodox] feel like the Jesuits. They've got to inculcate their young people at a young age with their values to inure them to the world they are going to encounter."

Menachem Moses, a Haredi member of parliament, confirms that concern.

"In Bolshevik Russia, they used to do this," says Mr. Moses, who threatened to add his weight to a no-confidence vote. "In the days of Stalin, if you don't know, they would take parents to Siberia, and leave the kids in schools to reeducate them."

Back in Emmanuel, as Krybus gets a congratulatory handshake from a neighbor, he says his community is ready to sacrifice all for their principles. "The state is only 70 years old, but the Torah is 2,000 years old," he says. "We are ready for everything."