Mothers of our students who have begun driving cars

So are Haredi Jews in London jealous of their Muslim counterparts in Saudi Arabia?

Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Belz sect in north London wrote to parents saying “no child will be allowed to learn in our school” if their mother drives.

Women driving “goes against the laws of modesty within our society”, it said.

What’s so immodest about driving? I drive when I have access to a car, and I think I do it pretty damn modestly. I’ll admit it does enable me to get from point A to point B more quickly than other forms of movement, but what’s immodest about that? Unless “modesty” means being boxed up all the time. Are women of the Belz sect in north London forbidden to leave the house?

If they are, isn’t that a crime? Isn’t it a crime to confine people by force?

The letter, which was signed from the “spiritual management” of Belz institutions, said: “There has been an increase in incidences of mothers of our students who have begun driving cars, something that goes against the laws of modesty within our society.”

This had led to “a lot of exasperation among other parents”, it said.

The group’s leader in Israel, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, had advised that “if a woman is driving a car, she cannot send her children to be educated in Belz institutions”, it said.

Well that doesn’t sound like much of a loss, does it. Presumably her daughters would be learning that they have to hide themselves for the sake of “modesty,” while their sons would be learning that they don’t.

The Jewish Chronicle, which first reported the story, said that while many Hasidic women do not drive, this is thought to be the first formal declaration against the practice in the UK.

Dina Brawer, UK Ambassador of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said the rule was “stupid and impractical” and could not work.

Responding to the letter, Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan, 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.”

Good. I apologize for saying it of a Tory minister, but I think that’s appropriate. Ordering women not to drive is grotesque.


  1. Lady Mondegreen says

    This is a Hasidic sect, so the women are likely the ones working to support their families, while the men study the Torah.

    So, work your ass off, lady, but no driving for you. Taking advantage of that convenience would be immodest.*

    * I guess “immodest” in this context means “acts like she’s a free human being, the slut.”

  2. drken says

    Oy, it seems that the ultra-orthodox are getting worse. Or at least some of them are. I went to hebrew school (conservative, not orthodox) and have dealt with more than a few orthodox in my time (including my grad school advisor, who accepted evolution, BTW) this is literally the first time I’ve heard that women aren’t supposed to drive (except on Shabbos). It’s like the Haredi men refusing to sit next to women on planes. This never used to happen and most ultra-orthodox rabbis agree that as long as you’re not trying to get a sexual thrill out of it, there’s no reason you can’t sit next to a woman who’s not your wife. But there seems to be this strain of Haredi men trying to see just how religious they can be and how much they can get other people to accommodate them. It’s a disturbing trend.

  3. rietpluim says

    So what’s next? Walking is immodest? Showing up in public is immodest? Leaving the kitchen is immodest? Having a monthly period is immodest? Going to the bathroom or sleeping at night is immodest?

  4. Seeker2 says

    Driving a car means having a bit of freedom, not being tied to the house (or however far you can walk while toting 5 kids under the age of 5 with you). Being able to get outside the house means observant (meaning being able to look around, not religiously observant) women will see there’s a whole big world out there, and that there are women who are not beaten-down workmules. Why, some women even ride bicycles and wear pants!

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    Seems to me that for many definitions of “modest”, wrapping oneself up in a car would be more so than exposing oneself to the presence of hundreds of strangers while walking or taking public transport.

  6. theobromine says

    @rietpluim: Menstruation isn’t just immodest, it’s outright unclean. For example, here are some restrictions on a married couple during the time of niddah (while the woman is menstruating and for about 7 days after).

    * They cannot touch (even indirectly using an intermediate object).
    * They cannot handle an object at the same time.
    * They cannot sit together on an object that moves (a swing etc..).
    * They cannot eat from the same plate.
    * They cannot serve food to each other.
    * They must sleep in separate beds.
    * They may not engage in flirtatious behavior.

    Note that the only reason these rules are only stated for a married couple is that an Orthodox Jewish man is never ever to touch or sit beside a woman to whom he is not married, so her menstrual status is a moot point. Which actually makes me wonder why they don’t *encourage* Orthodox women to drive cars – seems like a very effective way to isolate their cooties so men don’t need to worry about bumping into them while walking on a crowded street, or passing them too closely at the entrance to the school.

  7. says

    The mothers can drive cars? I thought they didn’t let women out of the house unless accompanied by an adult male relative. Or maybe that’s next, since they admire Sadist Arabia that much.

  8. quixote says

    I know I’m repeating myself, but the same thing keeps running through my head every time I see stuff like this. What would people say, what would the government do if this weird bigoted enslaving crap was tried on any other group, any group smaller than half the human species?

    Seriously. Imagine the reaction.

    It’s more than grotesque. It’s criminal.

    And the other thing I can’t understand: Why — why, why, why, why, why — are there any women and normal men hanging about in these groups at all? Why?

  9. luzclara says

    At the risk of expecting the impossible, how exactly is driving a car immodest? The driver can be completely covered up, can even have shaded windows. She doesn’t have to get out of the car to unload the kids at the school – she can just press the automatic unlock button and let the oldest child open the door and shepherd the young scholars into the school. I realize it’s deluded to think there is a line of logic at work here, but . . . what is the reasoning? Also, is it immodest to get someone else to drive your kids to school? I assume Dad is too busy studying to bother with icky domestic chores. Also, what the hell kind of education could a school offer if it bans mothers from driving their kids to school? I want to know whether they are learning to read English and write w/standard spelling.
    Also this must be a newish interpretation of the rules from D-g – cars haven’t been around as long as Biblical history has.

  10. says

    luzclara (#9) –

    At the risk of expecting the impossible, how exactly is driving a car immodest?

    Well, they do have to photoshop women out of pictures, which precludes them from having a legally valid driver’s license….

  11. ezraresnick says

    Note that in a letter to the UK Education Secretary, the Belz school’s chief executive wrote:

    we have seen it necessary to issue guidelines which are restricted to our community and guided by the Torah and by the teachings of the Rebbes of Belz. We do not impose these guidelines on anyone who has not chosen to adhere to the mores of our community of his or her own free will.

    That claim is disingenuous with regards to the community’s women — who know that their children will be expelled from school and their families ostracized if they choose to disobey any of the “guidelines” handed down from the rabbis — but it’s downright false with regards to those who are most vulnerable: the children, who are being indoctrinated and denied the right to make informed choices about their lives.

    I’ve written more about this here.

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