Belz schools in London face government inquiry

UK chief rabbi calls hassidic sect’s ban on female drivers ‘at odds with Jewish values.’

Hassidic Jews in the United Kingdom (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hassidic Jews in the United Kingdom
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – The two Belz Schools in London’s Stamford Hill whose management told parents that their children would face expulsion as of August if their mothers drive them to school, now faces the prospect of government action to force them to desist.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan ordered an investigation into the controversial announcement after she had labeled the move as “completely unacceptable” over the weekend in her dual ministerial capacity of women’s and equalities minister.
A departmental spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that there would be no further comment as the investigation continues, nor on the letter sent by Ahron Klein, chief executive of the Belz Schools administration, to Morgan apologizing for the way the matter had been publicized and explaining why the Belz community had decided to follow advice from their rabbinical colleagues in Israel to ban all women from driving.
But problems mount for the two elementary schools with their 850 pupils. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission was asked to investigate the lawfulness of the driving ban by MP Gloria de Piero, the opposition representative on equalities issues.
Their spokesmen said that “this sort of discrimination has no place in our society and we will be writing to leaders of the Belz educational institutions to underline their legal obligations.” He added that “it is unlawful to ban children from school attendance because their mothers, rather than their fathers, drive them there.”
UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis distanced the mainstream Orthodox synagogue community from the Belz decision, declaring a ban on women driving as “at odds with Jewish values.”
Describing their attitude to women as objectionable, he used a reception for a the appointment of an Orthodox Jew, Roz Altmann, to a ministerial post and a seat in the House of Lords to praise her and single her out as an example of how modern-Orthodox woman can have a role in wider society.
“After a week in which our community has been faced with a characterization of women which is both objectionable and at odds with Jewish values, here is a role model for young Jewish women everywhere to look up to,” he said.
And the leader of the UK’s Sephardim, Rabbi Joseph Dweck, described the move On his Facebook page as “deeply upsetting on many levels” and against the Torah, making it seem “restrictive, oppressive and anti-life.”
Judaism recognizes the important values of restraint and modesty, he said, but this restriction was “a form of subjugation” that controlled and manipulated.
He added that it would cause feelings of inadequacy and inferiority among women in the strictly Orthodox sect, and was “not in line with Torah’s call for the sanctity of the human being created in the image of God.”