Leaders of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect in north London have said children who are driven to school by their mothers will be turned away at the school gates.
Rabbis from the marginal Hasidic sect Belz have told women in Stamford Hill who drive that they go against “the traditional rules of modesty in our camp”.
In a letter sent to parents last week, seen by the Jewish Chronicle, they say there has been an increase in the number of mothers driving their children to school and add that this has led to “great resentment among parents of pupils of our [Hasidic] institutions”.
The letter says the ban, to come into force in the summer, is based on the recommendations of Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, the Belzer spiritual leader in Israel.
It says that if a mother has no other choice but to drive her child to school for medical reasons, for example she should “submit a request to the special committee to this effect and the committee shall consider her request”.
The move has been met with some disagreement within the Orthodox community. Dina Brawer, the UK ambassador of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said: “What this is really about is the curtailing of women’s freedom of movement rendering them dependent on men. It’s an issue of power and control not one of religious sensibility.
“The positioning of this ban is that women drivers somehow breach the values of modesty, which is absurd, as by any objective standpoint there is nothing at all immodest about a women driving a car.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews distanced itself from the decree, saying the letter was from a marginal and unaffiliated group.
But a statement issued on behalf of women in the sect by a local Belz women’s organisation said they felt “extremely privileged and valued to be part of a community where the highest standards of refinement, morality and dignity are respected”.
“We believe that driving a vehicle is a high pressured activity where our values may be compromised by exposure to selfishness, road-rage, bad language and other inappropriate behaviour,” they said.
“We do, however, understand that there are many who conduct lifestyles that are different to ours, and we do not, in any way, disrespect them or the decisions they make.”
Not all Orthodox sects discourage women from driving. This is believed to be the first time a ban has been imposed in the UK.
The Belz, who originated in Ukraine in the early 18th century and established their headquarters in Israel after the second world war, are one of the most prominent Hasidic sects.
In September last year, there was similar controversy when posters put up by an Orthodox Jewish group warned women to walk on one side of the road for a religious parade. The posters were removed by Hackney council after they were deemed unacceptable.