Jewish social media was humming this past week with the news that a group of “ultra-Orthodox Jews” in London had banned women from driving cars. And apparently, beginning in August, children in this community whose mothers drop them off at school will be barred from coming to school. http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/136878/stamford-hill-sect-bans-women-drivers. This is the same group, by the way, that had once tried to enforce separate sidewalks for men and women.
I’ve restrained myself until now from posting information about this “ban” or about the opposition to it that has come, most forcefully, from other Orthodox Jewish groups and, to a lesser extent, from more liberal Jews.
I’m breaking my silence. Not because I’m outraged that a particular sect that is a part of Hasidic Jewry, which is a subset of Orthodox Jewry, which is about 10-15% of all Jewry, which is turn is one of the smallest religious groups in the world has put this rule in place. Rather, it’s because those of my fellow Jews who have rallied the troops against this admittedly archaic, sexist and even outrageous enactment have actually given credibility to this fringe group and its wild rules. Parenthetically, by the way, this group had tried to enforce separate gender sidewalks in its neighborhood a while back.
The problem is that, by publicizing what was meant to be an internal communication to a group of a few thousand followers in one particular location, most readers don’t recognize how insignificant this ruling is to the vast majority of Jews – including the vast majority of Orthodox and even Hasidic Jews.
Most of us Jewish folks have far more concern with bigger issues. We worry about when peace in Israel and the Middle East will ever happen. We are concerned about the economy, and joblessness and poverty. We want to make sure that the environment we hand to our children and grandchildren will be a healthy one. We obsess over quality education, not just for fellow Jews but for the members of the overall societies in which we live. And when it comes to our women, our concerns are that they are paid fair and equitable wages for the work they do or will do.
Don’t get me wrong. I am deeply distressed that a group of seemingly religious Jews appear to be trying to take basic rights away from women. And I hope that edicts like this will result in members of the group, men and women alike, reconsidering whether this is the sect that they wish to be a part of.
At the same time, fomenting anger or hatred of one Jew (or one human) towards another, doesn’t seem to be a tactic likely to help anyone.
Want to do something useful? Support organizations and movements (Jewish and otherwise) that uphold the dignity of women and men alike. Send a few dollars to institutions of higher Jewish learning that are educating men and women towards professions that benefit society. Even help the organizations that have been founded in recent years to support those individuals who flee the more extreme expressions of Judaism as they create new Jewish lives in mainstream society.
But let’s stop validating minority fringe extremist groups by helping them to spread their words and to allowing them to be perceived as anything more than just what they are: minority fringe extermist groups.