Leaders of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect in north London recently issued a statement to their community that bans women from driving.
The letter, signed by rabbis from the Belz Hasidic sect in Stamford Hill and sent last week to parents in the community, says that female drivers are a violation of “the traditional rules of modesty in our camp.” It also states that, beginning in August, children driven by their mothers will be barred from attending school, according to The Jewish Chronicle.
The Belz sect operates two schools in Stamford Hill, Machzikei Hadass and Beis Malka, where the ban will be enforced, reports The Independent.
In certain circumstances, if a woman is compelled for medical or other reasons to drive her child to school, she may “submit a request to the special committee to this effect and the committee shall consider her request," the letter states.
It also notes that the ban is based on the recommendations of Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, the sect's spiritual leader in Israel.
Dina Brawer, U.K. ambassador of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, took issue with the ban. "Telling women they can’t drive isn’t modest, it’s alienating," she told The Independent.
A statement issued on behalf of the local Belz's women's organization, Neshei Belz, said the women of the group feel “extremely privileged and valued to be part of a community where the highest standards of refinement, morality and dignity are respected," The Jewish Chronicle reports.
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 behavior.
We do, however, understand that there are many who conduct lifestyles that are different to ours, and we do not, in any way, disrespect them or the decisions they make.
The question of whether women should be allowed to drive is an ongoing debate in various Hasidic communities. The movement often holds women to strict standards of modesty and expects young women in particular to prioritize childbearing over everything else. Frimet Goldberger, an American woman who grew up in New York's Kiryas Joel Hasidic sect, wrote earlier this year about her experiences: She was forbidden from driving and risked being shunned and having her children taken out of school if she did.
Goldberger and her husband decided to leave the community in 2008, and she told her story in a January article for Public Radio International.
Later, while defending her story in a Facebook post, Goldberger wrote: "Of course, the overwhelming majority of women in Kiryas Joel are content with their lifestyles... But there are many women who do wish for greater freedom to come and go as they please. This story is about them, and for them."