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NY Town Bans Women Drivers

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    The status of women in New Skver is an innovation. In 19th century Eastern Europe, Hassidic women were often deeply involved in earning an income and were
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2005
      The status of women in New Skver is an innovation. In 19th century
      Eastern Europe, Hassidic women were often deeply involved in earning
      an income and were more likely to be multilingual than their husbands.

      Hasidic Village Keeps Women Out of the Driver's Seat
      October 14, 2005

      Even as the White House presses Saudi Arabia to permit women to drive,
      an ultra-Orthodox community in New York has launched a campaign to
      reassert its ban on female motorists.

      During her trip last month to Saudi Arabia, Undersecretary of State
      Karen Hughes delivered a speech in which she stressed the Bush
      administration's determination to see Saudi women obtain more rights -
      including the right to drive.

      Meanwhile, in the Hasidic village of New Square, N.Y., religious
      leaders recently issued a document reminding residents that "women
      should not sit in the front of a car." Released in July by the
      community's top rabbinical court, the document was aimed at shoring up
      several communal standards - especially those regarding women's conduct.

      "It's considered not tzniusdik [modest] for a woman to be a driver,
      not in keeping with the out-of-public-view [attitude]," village
      spokesman Rabbi Mayer Schiller said. "If you can imagine in Europe,
      would a woman have been a coach driver, a wagon driver? It would've
      been completely inappropriate."

      The village's religious leaders have made an exemption for an
      80-year-old woman who was one of the community's original residents
      and hadn't known about the driving prohibition before she moved there.

      New Square, a 7,000-person enclave located 40 miles north of New York
      City, was founded by the late Skverer rebbe Rabbi Yaakov Yosef
      Twersky, a Holocaust survivor, and his followers. The village was
      established in 1954 and officially incorporated seven years later. It
      relies heavily on private charitable donations and on
      government-assistance programs.

      In the recent document, New Square religious leaders reiterated the
      prohibition against girls riding bicycles; also, women are forbidden
      from going outside in their long housecoats - a common fashion staple
      in many Orthodox communities.

      The rules "are nothing new," Schiller said, but "there's just a sense
      that for some of the young people they need to reinforce them." He
      added that in the village's entire history, similar comprehensive
      lists of communal standards have been posted "maybe five or 10 times,
      but probably no more than that."

      "If you would poll the community... 97.5% would say, 'Yes, this is
      what we want,'" Schiller said.

      While the rules are meant to apply to residents, clearly they're not
      part of the criteria for endorsing candidates for elective office. New
      Square's top rabbis endorsed Hillary Clinton in her successful run for
      the senate in 2000, and delivered all but a few votes for the former
      first lady. Clinton spokeswoman Nina Blackwell did not return repeated
      requests for comment.

      The recent document in New Square addressed a wide range of
      prohibitions. One rule requires that a fence be constructed around
      houses that have a trampoline. Another states that exercise groups can
      be formed only with the permission of a rabbinical court and that they
      require a mashgiach (religious inspector) to oversee them.

      Some of the regulations are targeted at men, including a clause
      instructing male worshippers to keep their cell phones off and to
      refrain from talking during prayer times. But it is the rules
      pertaining to women - in particular, those related to driving - that
      bear a striking resemblance to the Saudi practices criticized by the
      Bush administration.

      In some ways, Saudi Arabia's laws regarding women are more permissive
      than the religious edicts in New Square. For example, a Saudi woman is
      allowed to ride in the front seat of a car if the driver is her
      husband. While husbands and wives in Saudi Arabia are allowed to walk
      with each other, New Square men and women always must walk on
      different sides of the street. In strong contrast to Saudi Arabia, the
      government does not enforce the religious rules in New Square;
      violations do not result in any form of corporal punishment. But those
      who frequently violate the rules in New Square are blackballed from
      the community.

      "I can think of just a handful of cases over the years" in which
      someone was expelled from New Square's religious community, Schiller said.

      "I don't think any of these transgressions would get you to be
      expelled from the community," Schiller said. But, he added, "If a
      young woman was driving, that would be fairly serious."

      Schiller warned against drawing any negative conclusions about New
      Square based on the Saudi situation. "It is a mistake to view a
      religious practice negatively just because another culture, aspects of
      which we may find troubling, also practices it," he said. At the same
      time, the New Square spokesman was critical of the Bush
      administration's efforts in the Middle East.

      "American foreign policy has moved towards a messianic, crusading
      secularism which judges all other peoples by the standards of our own
      'fashionable' elites," he said. "This monolithic utopianism inevitably
      yields spiritual, moral and practical disasters."

      Copyright 2005 © The Forward



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