The leaders of an Orthodox Jewish sect in north London have reportedly declared that women should not be allowed to drive in a letter sent out to the community.
Rabbis from the Belz Hasidic sect in Stamford Hill have said women driving cars contravenes “the traditional rules of modesty in our camp” and the conventions of hasidic institutions, according to a report by the Jewish Chronicle.
The letter, which was signed by Belz educational leaders and endorsed by rabbis, also said women could be banned from their schools if their mothers drove them from August onwards.
It cited increasing numbers of “mothers of pupils who have started to drive” which it said had led to “great resentment among parents of pupils of our institutions”.
Stamford Hill’s residents are predominately Hasidic Jewish and only New York is believed to have a larger community of Hasidic Jews outside of Israel.
Dina Brawer, UK Ambassador of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said the instructions within the letter had no scriptural foundation and could prove debilitating for Jewish women.
“It is part of a bigger conversation about extremism,” she told The Independent. “In some groups within the Orthodox community, there is a tendency to pull to the right. Some of my extended family would sometimes pick up on some practices that seem to me to be a bit extreme.
“Then I am a fully observant Orthodox woman and I know people further to the left think what I do is a bit intense, but the difference here lies in the fact that this has nothing to do with Jewish law; there is no foundation for it and I found it most disturbing that it is basically saying children whose mothers are driving will not be allowed to continue their education.”
She said the letter represented a “strong reaction” to changes in society and within other sections of Orthodoxy where groups might be seen to be relaxing standards.
“Telling women they can’t drive isn’t modest, it’s alienating,” she added. “I don’t see any difference between this and the ban on driving in Saudi Arabia. It fetishes women by saying ‘we can’t see women and we can’t look at women’ and I think that is completely against Jewish values and the Bible’s values.
“Judaism puts an emphasis on modesty, but it is equally for men and women, and when you only look at women as sexual objects that is also alienating.”