Citing modesty concerns, leaders of a north London ultra-Orthodox Jewish community issued a formal directive last week barring women from driving.
In an open letter, a number of Belz rabbis in the Stamford Hill suburb wrote that female drivers defied Hasidic norms as well as “traditional rules of modesty,” the Jewish Chronicle reported Thursday.
The rabbis also said that as of August, children driven to school by their mothers would be expelled.
The new guidelines were endorsed the leaders of the local Belz educational institutions and the Israeli Belz Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, who suggested the expulsion policy as a form of punishment.
The letter explained that “mothers of pupils who have started to drive” prompted the new measures after numerous complaints led to “great resentment among parents of pupils of our institutions.”
While many ultra-Orthodox women belonging to the Belz sect do not drive anyway, the report noted that the Stamford Hill directive is thought to be the first formal declaration against women drivers by a Jewish community in Britain.
Dina Brawer, the UK ambassador of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, compared the new measures to the driving ban on women in Saudi Arabia, and said that “the instinct behind such a draconian ban is one of power and control, of men over women.”
Brawer called it “shameful and disturbing” that the policy was being disguised as a halachic imperative.
One local rabbi told the paper that he supported the policy because it upheld the community’s traditional values. “It’s always been regarded in Hasidic circles as not the done thing for a lady to drive,” he said.
However, a Stamford Hill woman interviewed by the paper argued that the policy was discriminatory and “disables women.”
“The more kids they have, the more they need to drive,” she said.
The Belz dynasty is one of the largest and most powerful religious movements in Israel, and has sizable communities in the UK, US and Canada.