Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet answers readers’ questions in his weekly column, Ask the Rabbi
Why knock the belz ban?
So the Belz Chasidic movement in Stamford Hill banned women from driving cars because they consider it “immodest”. Critics have described this move as Draconian, yet you defended them in the media last week. Don’t you think it’s utterly demeaning to treat women this way?
First, I did not defend them. I said that as much as I might personally disagree with them, it is not my place to grab every microphone and exploit an opportunity to criticise them. Second, as critics will be aware, this so-called edict has been a reality in many parts of the Chasidic world for many decades.
In fact, even this edict from the Belz community was, as reported, a reiteration of some old edict that has long been in place in its community. The fact it resurfaced, giving people an opportunity to pounce and criticise, is a little disingenuous.
Third, modesty is a very subjective term. What would the reaction have been had Belz said that women can no longer walk in tank tops and mini-skirts? I imagine they would not have been as critical because that is something that they, too, can relate to as immodest. Many others, of course, would argue, however, that I can dress as I so please because it is less offensive to their mind.
Leaving that extreme example aside, what if they issued a proclamation against married women who refuse to cover their hair or who wear trousers? Again, some would not be so quick to condemn because that is an acceptable standard in their world as well, even as countless other Orthodox women dress just like that.
Just because there is disconnect in mine and your minds between driving and modesty doesn’t mean they have to think like us anymore than others would not think like me about hair covering.
Where I do take issue is when they are penalised. For example, when children get banned from school as a result. Every community has a right to set its own standards. Those who are members of that community can subscribe to them or walk away.
But punishing children is indeed a crass means of enforcement. Besides, why does this edict go (back) into effect in August? If it’s wrong, it is wrong from today, in fact yesterday.
And if it can wait, it can wait altogether.
Still, I do wonder whether Jewish critics of the Belz community are as quick to condemn the many Muslim men who make their wives walk around in burkas all day.
Or is it just easier to knock down one of your own?
What is kids’ jewish future?
I failed to secure a place for my son at a Jewish secondary school at the first hurdle. I appealed and have just been notified that this, too, has failed. I don’t understand. He went to a Jewish primary school and we gave him a good Jewish education at home. Now, at this most influential stage of his life, we are advised to send him to a non-Jewish school as there is no room at the three Jewish secondary schools we applied for. My understanding is that many other families face a similar dilemma. What’s worse, we pleaded with the school to consider a bulge class, but they made it abundantly clear they are not interested. Doesn’t anyone care about our shared Jewish future?
Do you remember when Benjamin Perl looked to build another Jewish primary school and the community’s bigwigs said it was a waste of time and money because supply would be greater than demand?
When he went ahead and built Yavneh College, there were critics who still decried the venture because, after all, JFS was expanding to accommodate nearly 2,000 students. And yet, here we are!
More parents than ever before are keen for their children to have a sound Jewish education. For the foreseeable future, the demand is far outstripping supply.
I find it painful when parents come to me in a desperate state, asking me to write a letter of appeal on their child’s behalf, because I know there are hundreds more like them and that only some are going to get in to the school of their choice.
If the only solution presently is to introduce a bulge class and that would alleviate much of the problem then the onus is on the governors to seriously take this into account and I appeal to them to please do so.
I appreciate schools are governed by considerations beyond my grasp – but surely the overriding factor must be the future of Anglo-Jewry and the interminable question: “Will we have Jewish grandchildren?”
Not to suggest that attendance at a non-Jewish school spells the end, but it undeniably slashes the odds on inculcating our Jewish children with a strong sense of identity.
Someone find Mr Perl and say: “Sorry.” Then see if he’s willing to continue where he left off.
• Rabbi Schochet is running 1K tied to 11 other rabbis to raise money for US Futures. You can sponsor him at justgiving.com/ rabbischochet