The British leaders of a major Jewish orthodox community have declared that women should not be allowed to drive. They have warned that, from August, children whose mother’s drive them to a community school will face expulsion.
In a letter sent out last week, rabbis from the Belz community, described as a “sect” by the Jewish Chronicle, said that women being allowed to drive goes against “the traditional rules of modesty in our camp”, and that it was against the norms of Chasidic orthodoxy.
According to the letter, which was signed by leaders from Belz educational establishments with the endorsement of rabbis, there have been increased incidents of “mothers of pupils who have started to drive,” leading to “great resentment among parents of pupils of our institutions”.
As the ruling became public knowledge, members of the local Belz’s women’s organisation Neshei Belz issued a statement attesting that they felt “extremely privileged and valued to be part of a community where the highest standards of refinement, morality and dignity are respected.
“We believe that driving a vehicle is a high pressured activity where our values may be compromised by exposure to selfishness, road-rage, bad language and other inappropriate behaviour.”
A Stamford Hill rabbi said that it had “always been regarded in Chasidic circles as not the done thing for a lady to drive”.
Nonetheless, this is the first time that British Jews have issued a formal declaration banning women drivers. It has prompted comparisons to Saudi Arabia, a conservative Muslim nation with incredibly restrictive rules for women.
Dina Brawer, UK Ambassador of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said that “the instinct behind such a draconian ban is one of power and control, of men over women. In this sense it is no different from the driving ban on women in Saudi Arabia. That it masquerades as a halachic imperative is shameful and disturbing.”
Although some Chasidic communities discourage women from driving, yet others have no such prohibition. One local women opined that the policy “disables women. The more kids they have, the more they need to drive.” But she believed that some women would quietly ignore the policy, saying “They say one thing, they do another.”
The Belz, one of the more prominent Chasidic sects, are normally considered relatively moderate compared to some of the conservative groups. Both of their main schools have gained “good” ratings from Ofsted.
Last year Inspectors at Machzikei Hadass school noted that there was a “very effective British values policy, and display throughout the school demonstrates the high priority that the school puts into this important area”.