The Guardian also reports on the Haredi school in north London that bans children whose mothers drive them to school.
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”.
That “no other choice” is a bit opaque. It seems to consider the need of parents to be able to schedule their activities and divide the household labor in accordance with their own schedules and convenience to be a mere frivolity. Driving a kid to school isn’t a recreational activity or a hobby (although it can provide a rare few minutes of quiet time to talk). It isn’t optional, it isn’t a fun extra. Even leaving aside the gross sexism, it’s bizarre that a school would think it’s entitled to micromanage parents’ activities in this way…but then that’s the point of belonging to an ultra sect, I suppose – if there weren’t a lot of stupid fiddly intrusive rules and forbiddings, it would just be average and boring.
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.”
Wait. Stop right there.
No. Not “in any marriage.” It’s not just normal and routine to “have a discussion” about ordinary activities. It’s not the case that “in any marriage” wives have to check with their husbands before they do something as humdrum as driving a car. “In any marriage” a wife doesn’t have to discuss with her husband whether or not she can brush her teeth or drink coffee or wear jeans or go to the library or read a book or open a window. In healthy marriages spouses don’t see themselves as having an automatic veto over each other’s neutral actions – that’s not a normal or reasonable way to think about a fellow adult, even one you live with. If you itch to veto your spouse’s activities you have the wrong spouse, or shouldn’t have a spouse at all.
“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.”
But their children won’t be allowed into the school. That is both punishment and ostracism.
Jacob insisted the group did not want to impose its rules on others. “We’re not saying ‘all the women of London shouldn’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.”
He’s not a very clear thinker, is he. Who is the “we” in this story? The school certainly is not saying “let us get on living our lives how we want to live it.” It’s saying if you do this thing that we forbid we will ban your child from our school. The school is telling the parents not to live their lives how they want to in this particular instance. People do have such a funny habit of translating even the most obvious commands into something that sounds liberal and rightsy. “Let us get on taking orders from a Rabbi in Israel about how we can transport our children to school! It’s our precious human right to be told not to drive!”
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.”
So…that’s no one is unhappy? Or no man is unhappy? The two are not the same.
Also – in the real world, husbands don’t actually have the power to forbid their wives to drive. Marriage is a relationship between two adults; permission for ordinary activities doesn’t come into it.
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.”
“Purity” – one of the most dangerous words in the language.