Thursday, 4 June 2015

Driving Miss Reizy

Why the letter, people have been asking. I don't have in mind those who see it as chasidim reverting to form or those who believe Isis to have started a chapter in Stamford Hill. I suppose I would be a prime candidate for decapitation and yet I can assure you that I sit here with my yarmulke some distance from my shoulders.

The question, however, is being asked within Belz and within Stamford Hill where Belz would not generally feature amongst the extremists. The regular litany of bans and strictures on wigs, tights, skirts, heels and anything else the vivid chareidi imagination conjures up will rarely if ever carry on them a Belzer imprimatur. Having supported eiruvs and their dayan having backed the breakaway milk and more recently the new meat, Belz is usually an advocate for change rather than one of the local extremist groups of which we are blessed with a broad range of shades and colours. So why this letter that has caused so much consternation within and without?

Well, to answer that, an understanding is required of the tensions facing chasidic communities worldwide and not just Belz in particular. It is no exaggeration to say that chassidim are scared. Scared stiff, in fact. Chasidim in general operate to a greater or lesser degree on the basis that authentic Judaism as we know it today was born in the Carpathian mountains in the 18th century and this is what we must and do maintain. We dress during the week like the Amish and on Holy Days like Polish counts circa 1780. East European Galicia may no longer exist on the map but its heart pounds vibrantly in various chasidic dynasties.  And if we are to believe our elders and what the western media often tell us then this is what we have indeed accomplished and what would otherwise have been considered mission impossible is precisely the way we are.

But if that were true my soapbox would consist of vacuous bubbles rather than heavy suds. Because sorry to disappoint those believers who stumble along here in a moment of temptation but chasidim are nothing of the sort. We are all westerners ok. We engage in almost all the west has to offer bar that precious commodity of free speech, and especially on the printed page, and unfortunately we could do much better on the educational front. Yet notwithstanding our shortcomings we have proved very adroit in straddling the two worlds; in keeping largely to our traditions while enjoying the freedoms the western world has to offer.

Only this week Belzers across the globe watched their Rebbe's grandson's wedding live streamed through the otherwise banned you know what. For every odd flying chosid making the headlines in refusing to be seated near a female there are a dozen chasidim comfortably ensconced in club class and above.  Those guys are turning left not veering to the right. And so it is on all fronts. Chasidim can't resist issuing bans but then break them almost before the ink is dry.

But beneath this shiny veneer, those in charge know that something deeper is taking root. Our youth are drifting and chasidic circles are feeling it most acutely. Youngsters in their fur hats and breeches discuss Big Brother and not in the context of a Bar Mitzvah or wedding. They talk about I'm a Celebrity and think, get me out of here; they pick up moves from Strictly and import them to our raucous weddings. And too many rather than import the alien ways export themselves out. It is this tide that the Belz spiritual leaders are trying to stem but which in this instance has unleashed a torrent.

This in and of itself may still not excuse the letter and anyway that is not my mission. Let the Belzers do as they wish and I simply want to set out the context. One must further consider how driving is viewed generally in Stamford Hill and amongst chasidim in particular. A family where the woman drives is a subset with its own characteristics and stereotypes.  Remember there were few cars in Eastern Europe when this all began and what ever they did ride is unlikely to have been driven by a female, let alone a Jewish one. Thus ‘she drives' has become shorthand for a somewhat less traditional life style.

This is difficult to define to an outsider because it does not suggest being less Jewish or less frum in any way but it does imply being less chasidic of a certain schmaltzy type. It signifies being more relaxed about the yumminess of western culture, less minded about every uttering of the rabbis and points to having something of a mind of one's own. Not the woman driver in particular but the household she and her husband are leading. And if they are from a more stringent background then it implicitly represents a rejection of an element of our traditional values. It could even point to a closeted heretic, not necessarily of the mysterious ways of God but towards the movement and its mores.

When faced with these kinds of risks our gatekeepers would rather not delve into the details and reflexively resort to what they know best: banning. But alas such are the times that bans are not what they used to be. Banning smartphones has made not one bit of difference as Whatsapp may like to tell you. It has become impossible to enforce and too much of a necessity to too many people for it to be realistic to even try. Banning long wigs and sheer tights has not affected their ubiquity and banning the internet has just made more people sign up.

It is in this context that women's driving becomes an issue, not as a cause but as yet another symptom, and a very overt one at that, of the much feared downward spiral. What follows could be – for men - short sleeves, coloured shirts, a short coat and heaven forfend even a short suit, and once you reach there who knows where it all ends. If this sounds like madness then you are evidently not a chosid in any sense of the word and have never vacillated prior to the wedding of a second cousin thrice removed whether to wear a streimel or a hat. But as any self-respecting chosid will tell you, many an apostate started by twisting his peyos rather than curling them and when the woman starts driving then the proverbial has truly hit the fan.

But there is something more at play and even apostasy is not the entire truth. We are well aware that there are many good Jews who don't look and conduct themselves like us and are no less Jewish for that. For ourselves, however, we, by which I mean men and women alike, generally want to be the way we are because it's what we know, what we like, what we believe to be right and what we want for our children. Part and parcel of that is the standing of women in our society.

No one forces anyone to have large families and no one prevents those women who wish to work from doing so and indeed plenty do. But yet many women do have large families, out of choice or out of being conditioned to make such choices, and prefer to stay at home to raise their children and look after the home. And very many of these same women choose or have been taught to choose not to drive. You or I may not approve but then no one has asked us. God save us if we all have to live our lives in accordance with the latest headline of the Daily Mail or The Guardian, and when they start singing from the same hymn sheet it really becomes scary.

Yes there are women out there who would love to drive but their husbands won't allow them. But then there are men out there who'd love to trim their peyos and beards but their wives won't allow them. The comparison may be somewhat disingenuous but the fact is that a woman wanting to drive will be as anxious of the sisterhood's displeasure as she will be of her father's and husband's censure. As a woman from a prominent Belz family said to my wife, she would love to drive and there are other things in the system that she is unhappy with but she chooses to belong there and so must take the good and the bad. I might think that they often get a raw deal and if one side of the equation chooses to sit in the kitchen while the other gets the car I hardly need to tell you who's living the good life. You may also question how free such choices are but once again it's not what you think that matters. Trust me, being around  when some of these women tell you that they can make up their own minds for themselves would put many a sturdy man to flight.

And to those wonderful Jews out there falling over each other to tell all who care to listen how this is not Judaism I say thanks but no thanks. If the Chief Rabbi, Board of Deputies, the JC and other bastions of Anglo Jewry would care to speak up on the parlous state of chasidic boys' education in general or the rampant cover-up of child abuse in the larger community I'd cheer them to the rafters. But that is where one barely hears a murmur. It is only when they feel the need to tell the wider world how Belzers do not practise the real Judaism that they suddenly find their voice.

Well, let me remind them of what we constantly hear from them when the boot is on the other foot, that there is no ‘real’ Judaism and yiddishkeit comes in all shapes and sizes. So you don't lecture us on ours and we will leave you alone with yours. Should they ever come to burn bras in Belz then an invitation will undoubtedly be extended to all those terribly nice people out there but in the meantime your chorus has that same self-righteous ring that you all too often accuse us of.

So raise a Lechaim to Belz for the simche in their Rebbe's court and for the all but signed peace treaty they reached this week with their lifelong adversaries. But you needn’t drive yourself to distraction by a ban which if it’s to be honoured will be only in the breach.


Avi said...

I think the point that you and others have missed is that they threatened to throw children out of school for their parent's transgressions.
That crossed the line and deserves condemnation.

Shleide said...

As impressive a lady as Mrs Spitz is and notwithstanding my admiration for her work at Interlink, she has entirely missed the point.

The cause of the uproar from across the Jewish community and the reason that the Education Minister is investigating is because the Rabbonim's letter states that the children will be excluded and banned from school.

As eloquent as Mrs Spitz's article in the JC is it utterly fails to address the crux of this crisis. And that is solely that children in the UK are being threatened with exclusion from school due to the acts of their mothers.

The Education Ministry is right to investigate.

Sholem said...

Shleide - most frum schools accepts this to a greater or lesser extent. For some, the line is keeping shabbos, for others covering hair, and by chassidim it's the takonos of their group. It's simply a matter of degree. If the parents don't like the rules, they can send to a slightly less strict school.

belzer shtreimel said...

A novel defence of the indefensible on the grounds that 1) I'm not trying to defend it 2) other chassidim are even less defensible 3) chasidim find their own edicts indefensible 4) chasidim feel vulnerable because they are failing to persuade their youth of the indefensible 5) because women's standing isn't important when it conflicts with cultural practices 6) women are empowered by being disempowered 7) critics without a beard have no right to an opinion.

The JC has a distinguished history of shining a light into some dark places. They did explain that Belz are relatively moderate. You bemoan their silence (actually they are very vocal) but protest their involvement.

What did you expect the chief rabbi to say? That this is commonplace behavior in all Jewish schools?

For you chicken soup and gefilter fish non believers , chassidim are focusing.on what you regard as the essential core of Judaism; its cutural aspects. Forgive us orthodox non charedim for taking the ethical aspects of our religion seriously. We have fears of our own. Our children are being drawn to these mindless vapid personality cults which dehuamise and reject critical thinking. The monotonal future is an endless sea of black and white masses shuffling in circles around rebbish roshei yeshiva, brain washed into economic and social sterility in their teens

Children are not the private property of their parents and if they are being educated to misogynistic cults then the community and the state have a right to an opinion and if necessary to intervention.

Yufitig said...

Sholem - all true but you are missing the point in spectacular style -

The point here is not that children would not be accepted to the school. It is that children ALREADY in the school would be THROWN OUT if their mothers drive them to school.

And that I am afraid remains of great and correct interest to the Dept for Education.

No doubt without any intention, Stamford Hill has caused a giant chilul Hashem.

AskanwithLexus said...

May I graciously suggest that the 3 senior communal askonim who have spent a great deal of energy and money to defend and cover up a convicted child abuser now use their spare time to represent the Stamford Hill kehilla to the Dept for Education.

All of their brilliance, logic, funds and well meaning will be sorely needed.

Perhaps the silent related Rabbonim might help too!

Sholem said...

Yufitig - would you have a problem if children were thrown out because their parents stopped keeping shabbos or kashrus? Yes I know those are not the same, but after that, it's a matter of degree.

Belzer Shtreimel - or "Orthodox Non-Charedi" (I seem to remember a commenter using that self-description during the Fed mehadrin brouhaha), you are confusing 'providing context for' with 'defence of'. As much as you'd like to pretend it isn't the case, your 'Orthodox' religion is shot through with what you describe as 'misogyny', from Maimonides to the Vilna Gaon to the contemporary authorities cited in your "Orthodox non-Charedi" halacha guides.

And actually, those mentioned are not at all vocal when it comes to Charedi boys' education - if anything the BoD lobbies on behalf of chadorim.

satmar saucer said...

Even the guardian and the daily mail can distinguish.between established halachic practice and casual misogyny which has no basis (there were no cars two hundred years ago in Lithuania as well). In fact I think tickle has probably produced the most cogent explanation of the ban - a classis sociological consolidation of the inside group under osmotic pressure - by shared hostility to the outsiders - in this case women. Bullying bela'az. Throwing mud won't defend the indefensible.

But as you ask let me tell you this - those of us who have been pushing for sensible halachic evolution in equality for women in leadership and prayer are stymied at every turn by the squawks of competitive outrage from the right. Now the Fed has been subverted over to the dark side - powerful lay askonim hidden by a celebrity rabbinical culture with no respect for accountability. At a time when the state of Israel is buckling under the freeloaders, don't be surprised if we break from our previous indulgence of your unrequited sniping. Your fate is intertwined ('arevim') with our own.

belzerchassid said...

Not one single recognised Rav/Posek/Authority has ever paskened lehalacha that it is forbidden for women to drive. Indeed the overwhelming majority of frum women worldwide, outside of Israel, drive. Just go to Monsey, Boro Park or Golders Green etc. and look.

The Belzer Rebbe has NEVER said publicly that women may not drive.

Sholem said...

Belzerchassid – Perhaps none have totally forbidden it, but Rav Vozner in Shevet Halevi 4:1 comes pretty close:

Chassidim certainly regard Rav Vozner as an authority, although perhaps Mr. “Non-Charedi Orthodox” doesn’t. But then again, this disgruntled member of the Fed old guard is seeking “halachic evolution in equality for women in .. prayer”, by which I presume he means so-called “Parternship Minyanim”, whose leading backer (Dr. Daniel Sperber) is the rosh yeshiva of a “non-denominational” rabbinical seminary in Canada. If that's the case, then the Shevet Halevi is the least of his problems.

bezerchassid said...


Did HaRav Vozner prohibit it or didn't he?

And even if he did are you really saying that Rav Vozner is so great an authority that his unsubstantiated ruling (i.e. without proofs from Chazal)is absolute law and binding on all frum yidden. I mean what you define as "Chareidi Orthodoxy".

Also if you compare women driving to chillul Shabbos and kashrut it won't be long before someone says "Oh! they're all the same".

Ho'oiser ess hamuttar, soifoi lehattir ess ho'ossur.

fefferkorn said...

what a storm in a teacup. anglo jewry are so concerned about the oppresion of SH woman. .01% of woman drive in SH and from that .01% were told not to drive by a Rebbe they follow. why does it bother everyone so much? its terrible how a little bit of 'frummer then thou' irks even the mightiest. why cant everyone just live and let live. the sh ladies are very happy not to drive. stand outside either of the two westfields or even the SH outpost known as Maxim. you will see the ladies are not suffering to much - between Emess Car Service and the obedient Husbands they get ferried around like princesses!

Sholem said...

Who said it's binding on all frum yidden? All I'm saying is that Rav Vozner was as recognised as they come, and was very much opposed to women driving (albeit he doesn't say it's totally ossur al pi halocho).

hat related pun said...

Your percentages are off according to guardian reporters who saw mothers, in finest united synagogue style park around the corner. But the argument cuts both ways. If 80% of Stamford.Hill women are being treated this way it is indicative of a bigger problem!

And infantalising women is not empowering. Would you like to be ferried a princess?

hat related pun said...

Surely you must realise that there is a difference between partnership minyanim and a women 's driving ban. All I hear from the Hill is self pity, denial of the undeniable, wild irrelevant comparisons and a complete failure of introspection.

hat related pun said...

Trying to have your invisible cake and eat it?

fefferkorn said...

Mr hat related - you have it all worked out. Does a rebbetzin who doesn't drive been infantalised? Maybe women daven by the umod in your shul so they shouldn't feel infantalised? I have news for you the Torah is different for men and woman. Torah and feminism dont go together. Maybe for Women of the wall but not for most of orthodox Judaism. Asking woman not to drive right or wrong is certainly not about infantalising and empowering rather an attempt to strengthen core values of yiddishkeit. It may sound distorted to you and the jc but you can rest assured the ladies concerned are not members of a reform synagogue seeking women's rights rather they are part of an ultra orthodox chassidish society who are happy to do the wish of their Rebbe. There are many many more rules which they uphold as part of their way of life which you wouldn't grasp if you tried. The Torah is 3000 years old and where as some parts of Yiddish society are happy to erode its values in line with modern culture others are not.

Trilby said...

Another straw man comparison from NE11. You want to talk about everything apart from the ban on women driving. This is not about the women at the wall wearing a tallis. There is a Halachic discussion to be had there. It's about driving a car. There is no Halachic discussion apart from possibly bal tosef.

If you think that the Torah hasn't changed in 3,000 years to rebalance gender inequalities, you should consider Rabbeinu Gershon (male monogamy; restrictions to male unilateralism in a get); Tosefos / Rema (women making berachos on MA shehazamn grama) and the Chassam Sofer (yes, he of "choddosh ossur min hatorah" fame - eidus from a woman in restricted circumstances). An inability to perceive evolution in Halacha is every bit as wilfully blind as an inability to perceive the biological equivalent. It's the very special amaratzus you have to spend 10 years in charedi yeshivos to obtain.

I suggest you stop throwing mud at our beautiful ancient and ever evolving religion just to cover your own personal cult's shame. I am not suggesting capitulation to secular values, and the cult of human rights. Many of us believe, for example, that M versus JFS is profoundly wrong.

But this is not about women at the wall, partnership minyanim, female chazzonim, or shaven heads. It's about the driving ban. The Chief Rabbi, and the JC, and even the Daily Mail are not advocating deviation from the mainstream halachic norm. You are.

belzerchossid said...

You are confusing admiration and respect with obeying pesokim.
Like you I greatly admired Rav Vosner but to suggest that I am bound by his pesokim is ridiculous. Even you admit he didn't actually forbid women driving.

Many thousands of chareidm in Israel greatly admire the Satmar Rebbe ztl and acknowledge that he was one of the greatest of the post-war gedolim yet they all go to the kotel, speak ivrit and participate in the elections etc. All of which he actually forbade and had hundreds of other Rabbonim supporting him.

Chicken Soup said...

This whole Parsha may be embarrasing for some of us. But it is not a CHilul hashem as some seem to say.

A chilul Hashem means going against what the Torah requires off us. Requesting mothers not to drive is not against the Torah.

When the Daily Mail ran an article about the Shabbos Pelican Crossing outside Kinloss with hundreds of negative comments we didn't feel the need to explain and nobody cried "Chilul Hashem". This s no different. WHether we subscribe to Belz values or not - the letter sent to parents was done with th intention of increasing kvod shomayim, and not, as some seem to think to ecrease the power of women.

Hard Hat said...

I'll believe the "Belzer values / identity" explanation when the schools next chose to send out a letter threatening to kick out children where the father doesn't wear a shtreimel. The fact is that many Belz mothers in the school do drive, and this letter was intended to disrupt their lives.

So why the ban? Does anyone really think it's more "gidrei tznius" to walk the streets, or take lifts in strangers' taxis? Are men any less susceptible than women to "foul language and road rage"?

Or is it about keeping women dependant?

Beis Yaakov Parent said...

Now now...

Some mothers were seen driving to the Beis Yaakov primary school. 3 governors have today resigned incl Chairman.

Accounting guru said...

Beis Yaakov resignations nothing to do with women drivers. Battle for control between old governors who do ......... and young governors who work hard. Reflection of situation in the wider kehilla in NWL.

Anonymous said...

"The Torah is 3000 years old and where as some parts of Yiddish society are happy to erode its values in line with modern culture others are not"

So men and women dancing together, spending time 'fetching water from wells' etc didn't happen?
That znius was the name of the game, and the that T'nach isn't one giant collection of lecherous individuals and acts.

We have a 3000 year old culture - not a monochrome moment frozen in time from the 18th century Poland. Why not the 1960's???? At least it would have been colourful and fun!

Life should be enjoyed - Hashem gave us brains for individual thought, we are not insects. Flaying ourselves like Catholics, Covering women with Burkas? What's next? The next generation is uneducated - proudly so, and their children will be the same. The Torah teaches us to work- that it's a GOOD thing to provide for our families.

You have taken the meaning of Judaism and perverted and distorted it. n what way is this 'Aunthentic'?? Not driving is 'almost'

Anonymous said...

his is the hot news in Stamford Hill UK.
A group of Satmar chasidim have decided to open a new yishuv outside London. They will only accept Satmar chasidim although they dont tell us which branch of them. The aaron or zali.
There is a very long letter in Yiddish going round from them explaining the problem. Basically that Stamford Hill is near the 'rich' city of London and houses have hit a million pounds (not dollars) being bought by the rich of the city of London.
So the Jews have to move out. They claim to have found a place an hour by car away (most likely travelling at night) where the houses are a third of the price. So people should sell here and buy three there for themselves and two married kids.

So here is the rub.
The goyim dont want yidden living next to them. They wont go to their pubs (cafes) wont use their shops Jews have their own so who needs them.

More important in SH no one works. Everyone lives on the state. One buys houses together with someone else and each lives in the others and takes housing benefit to pay the mortgage.
If they try to do that in a new place what will happen. They know all the tricks to get benefits which are now capped at 26000 pounds a year. And you can be sure the yidden take the lot. So why work.

Anonymous said...

Latest hot new in stamford hill.

The notorious lev tahor (a misnomer if ever there was one) Hell-Brand (what a name burning in hell!) cult has opened in London.
Satmar 26,86 are falling over themselves to join. Both Wosner and Schneck have signed the letter including Lunczer and our porky Halpern.
Lock up your daughters!. This hell burner is after them. He has a lot of 'old' men lying in waiting.
His representative in London is making a 'party' in pardes for anyone who wants to join. On the first letter Padwa, Schlesinger Shechter David Halpern also signed saying what 'great' people they are. It makes one wonder. That is what happens when rabbonim dont read the net. Now they got the signatures the normal town schnorrers have added their names. Abba Weinberger, Bar chorin, Bennedikt and others.

Well with such tsaddikim all at offering hell burning there will no one left for Eden!

Anonymous said...

MH had a rant yesterday too, about the very nice Oneg Shabbos divrei torah sheets.

Guess he wants his mispalelim to read only the divrei chaim sheets.

Golden Greener said...

there's a divrei chaom dvar torah sheet? Never seen it. Is it printed on the back of a towel???

Anonymous said...

Re: Helbrans Party

It's hardly surprising that Stamford Hill Rabonim supported the Helbrans fundraising event. They support and protect all the local peedos etc . They seem now to be onto newer project too.