London's Belz Hasidic Sect Drops Its Formal Ban On Moms Driving Kids To School

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  A woman pushes a pram in the Stamford Hill area of north London on January 12, 2011 in London,
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12: A woman pushes a pram in the Stamford Hill area of north London on January 12, 2011 in London, England. The residents of Stamford Hill are predominately Hasidic Jewish and only New York has a larger community of Hasidic Jews outside Israel. The area contains approximately 50 synagogues and many shops cater specifically for the needs of Orthodox Jews. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect in London has backtracked on plans to ban moms from driving their kids to school, after news about the proposal sparked backlash in the country.

Leaders of the Belz sect originally planned to turn away children whose mothers drove them to two Jewish primary schools in Stamford Hills, a predominantly Hasidic Jewish neighborhood in north London. They were acting on recommendations about “laws of modesty” for women from their spiritual leader Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach in Israel, The Guardian reports-- and found support from Neshei Belz, the sect’s local women’s organization.

Ahron Klein, chief executive of the schools, confirmed to The Guardian that the formal ban had been dropped. “The headteacher sent out the letter on behalf of the spiritual heads of the community, who had not taken into account the implications of such a policy,” he said in a statement.

“The school believes that women have a choice about whether they want to drive or not, and our policy is to accept all children who are members of our community, which we have been doing for the last 40 years,” he continued.

Members of Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance were glad to hear that the children of women drivers will be welcomed at Belz schools. But Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, the organization's executive director, said that some Haredi women who may want to drive may still be bound by social pressures to stay at home.

"Generally, the bans are not written or even spoken. They are known and commonplace," Weiss-Greenberg told the Huffington Post in an email. "While the ban on the Belz women in Stamford Hill has been officially lifted, it is quite possible that mothers will not be driving their children to shul out of the fear of being ostracized."

News about the ban sparked inquiries from the U.K.’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, as well as a strong condemnation from the education secretary, Nicky Morgan.

Others in the Jewish community also sought to separate themselves from Belz. Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, chief rabbi of the U.K.'s Orthodox Jews, chimed in to say that the sect’s view of women was “objectionable” and “at odds with Jewish values.”



Orthodox Jews