(JTA) – The United Kingdom launched an inquiry and condemned a Chasidic group in London for barring women from driving.
Last week, Belz rabbis in London issued a letter saying that female drivers violate “the traditional rules of modesty in our camp” and that children would be expelled from Belz schools if their mothers dropped them off by car.
Last Friday, U.K. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan called the ban “completely unacceptable in modern Britain,” according to the Jewish Chronicle.
“If schools do not actively promote the principle of respect for other people they are breaching the independent school standards,” Morgan said. “Where we are made aware of such breaches we will investigate and take any necessary action to address the situation.”
Ahron Klein, chief executive of the Belz Boys’ School in Stamford Hill, defended the driving decision in a letter to Morgan. The Belz schools fully accept “that despite being private schools we have responsibilities to our members and to the wider public,” Klein said in his letter, according to the Chronicle. “However, as private schools we have the freedom to set our own high standards by which we seek to live and bring up our children.”
The letter noted that the guidelines on women drivers are “restricted to our community and guided by the Torah and by the teachings of the Rebbes of Belz. We do not impose these guidelines on anyone who has not chosen to adhere to the mores of our community of his or her own free will in line with our time-hallowed traditions.”
Dina Brawer, the U.K. ambassador of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said the ban was “draconian” and compared it to the driving ban on women in Saudi Arabia, the Chronicle reported.
A Belz community member, Yanky Eljan, disputed the comparison, telling the French news agency AFP, “There’s no comparison to Saudi Arabia, women can be flogged in Saudi Arabia, there’s nothing like that.”
Many Chasidic groups in the United States also frown upon women driving.