Orthodox Jewish sect's female driver ban condemned by Nicky Morgan

The education secretary has condemned an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect’s decisionto ban women from driving, saying the edict was “completely unacceptable in modern Britain”.
Nicky Morgan, who is also the minister for women and equalities, spoke as the Department for Education launched an investigation into the order issued by the Belz sect, which runs two schools in Stamford Hill, north London. A letter to parents said that, from later this year, children driven to school by women would be turned away.
Parents in the area defended the ban on Friday, saying it was part of the choice they made when they agreed to live within the Belz community. Women rejected the characterisation that they were oppressed, and the schools wrote to Morgan, saying the notice had been misrepresented.
The group runs Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass, a boys’ primary school, and Beis Malka, a primary school for girls. Both have been rated good by Ofsted.
The schools had said that, from August, any child driven to school by their mother would be turned away at the school gates. The letter said the ban was based on the recommendations of Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, the Belzer spiritual leader in Israel.
It said that if a mother has no other choice but to drive her child to school – such as a medical reason – she should “submit a request to the special committee to this effect and the committee shall consider her request”.
Morgan condemned the edict, which was first reported by the Jewish Chronicle. In a statement provided to the Guardian, she said: “This is completely unacceptable in modern Britain. If schools do not actively promote the principle of respect for other people they are breaching the independent school standards. Where we are made aware of such breaches we will investigate and take any necessary action to address the situation.”
Education secretary Nicky Morgan condemned the ban.
 Education secretary Nicky Morgan condemned the ban. Photograph: REX Shutterstock
The Department for Education later confirmed that an investigation was under way.
Outside the schools on Friday, the Guardian found parents were broadly supportive of the decree. Jacob – not his real name – who said he had sons at one of the schools, said he and his wife had actively chosen to be part of the Belz sect because of its strict regulations. “My mother drives, my mother-in-law drives, if my wife wanted to drive, she could drive tomorrow, we could take our children to another school. We’d have a discussion about it, as in any marriage.
“It’s not forbidden in Jewish law. But this is our tradition, this is our choice to be a little more pious. So my wife doesn’t want to drive. This isn’t Saudi Arabia, no one’s going to be punished, or whipped or whatever, or even ostracised.”
Jacob insisted the group did not want to impose its rules on others. “We’re not saying ‘all the women of Londonshouldn’t drive’, that would be ridiculous. We’re saying, let us get on living our lives how we want to live it – stop saying that we are oppressed.”
Another Stamford Hill man, who said he was part of the Belz community, said: “I agree with the policy of women not driving. Hasidic women have never driven cars. No one is unhappy. Not one of my friends would let his wife drive.”
Many women in the community expressed the same view. Outside the Beis Malka school, as schoolgirls left early on Friday to get home in time for the sabbath to start, several women drove large people-carriers close to the school, but parked some distance away.
One woman, who was walking to collect her daughter, said the letter had not bothered her. “I walk everywhere, I don’t need to drive. I have five children: I would need to drive a very big car, and that’s not an option for me. There’s maybe a few occasions where it would have been more convenient to have a car, but I can’t think of many. Everything we need is here in Stamford Hill.”
Another Belz woman said: “I don’t drive, because I want to be part of this community.”
She said the ban did not apply universally. “There’s no ban on driving in other parts of the Jewish community. I can choose to educate my children in a different schools, there are over 20 to choose from in Stamford Hill. But I believe that if you join a private school you have to abide by their rules.”
Pupils leave Beis Malka school in north London.
 Pupils leave Beis Malka school in north London. Photograph: Teri Pengilley for the Guardian
Another Stamford Hill mother, who gave her name as Judith, said not only was she happy with the ban, but had rejected the offer of dispensation from rabbis who said she would be permitted to drive because she was divorced and had a disabled child. “I choose to be part of this community, it’s my choice,” she said. “Family purity is exceptionally important to us, there’s no bigger priority for us than raising a pure Jewish family.”
In a letter to Morgan on Friday, the school said it regretted the language used in its original decree. “We accept that the choice of words was unfortunate and if a negative impression was created by our letter then we unreservedly apologise for that,” it said.
Ahron Klein, chief executive of the schools, said the Belz community was guided by “religious principles and strong traditional values” and that it was concerned by the erosion of these values, “caused by the proliferation of technology and the declining standards of visual and printed media”.
He wrote: “We are proud of what we stand for and we do not feel the need to excuse ourselves for our deeply held beliefs and staunchly maintained way of life. It has withstood the test of time and is not prone to the vagaries of passing fads.”
But he said “the issue of women driving cars became conflated with broader issues which we intended to address” and that those women who chose to drove would be “respected within our community”. It was unclear whether that meant that women could continue to drive their children to school.
Hackney council, which covers Stamford Hill, said it was “continuing to work with the Department of Education”, and confirmed that the Stamford Hill schools in question are independent.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews distanced itself from the decree, saying the letter was from a marginal and unaffiliated group.
A former member of another ultra-Orthodox sect said on Friday that she faced pressure from her family when she decided that she wanted to drive. The woman told Radio 4 that her husband was “very disturbed with the idea” as it was “unheard of in my immediate community, family and friends. None of the women drove.”
The woman, who left the community just over two years ago when her marriage ended, said: “This is a very insular community with very little contact with the outside world. It’s actually incredible how that works: how you can have a world that exists within a world.”

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/29/nicky-morgan-orthodox-jewish-women-driver-ban-belz-london


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