Monday, 27 February 2012

Rabbi Abraham Pinter: Will the UK see segregated bus services?

Rabbi Abraham Pinter answers questions on the high growth rate of Stamford Hill's Charedi community. A full list of questions put to Rabbi Pinter and links to his answers can be found here.

Could the same thing happen in Hackney as has happened in Israel – at least as portrayed in this New York Times article about rising tension between communities and the erosion of womens rights?

Rabbi Pinter: You need to look at it in a different context. It is not something you can explain in a few moments. However, the general background is that when Israel was started up there was a strong leftwing core and the name of G-d was never mentioned. Zionism had a very strong anti religious side.

But Israel has changed over the last 30 years. Opinion polls show that 80% of the population believe in G-d which would have come as a shock to the founding fathers, who would have been horrified.

For a lot of people this is very challenging particularly for those Israelis who read Haaretz - which you could see as a cross between the Guardian and the Independent. They tend to have a problem with people becoming religious and if they can run down religion they take the opportunity.

There are now 1.2 million people in the Charedi community across the world and it is starting to have an influence and some people are finding this very, very hard to come to terms with.

The Charedi community does have accepted norms, but there are not things that they want to impose on other people. It is a way they choose to live. For instance, there are areas of Jerusalem which are 95% Charedi and in these areas they have a bus service where men and women will sit separately. Where they’ve chosen to provide this service they’ve found that more people want it this way and so more bus companies have provided the same service and compete for customers. Something similar has happened in New York.

But Charedi women wanted it just as much as the men. It is an arrangement that everyone is happy with – women feel more comfortable sitting on their own in the back. It is perhaps worthy of mention that separated seating, even on designated bus-lines, is a recommendation only. Legally people can choose where to sit, and 9 out of ten times other travellers will not comment if someone does not sit in the designated section, unless the aim is to provoke.

The vast majority of Israelis haven’t felt threatened by this type of thing. But there’s a minority who think, in an enlightened society, we must have gone wrong somewhere if people believe in G-d.

Now some incidents have happened in Israel and there are calls for these services, which have been running for years, to be shut down. And these calls come from people who generally don’t approve of religion.

It is fair to say too that within a community of that size you are going to get all sorts, particularly as every different Jewish community – including AshkenaziSephardi, Jews from India or Africa, all have their own strictly orthodox - or Charedi – communities, and each one has its own culture. A British Charedi Jew has in many areas more in common with an Englishman than a Charedi Jew from India.

One problem is that if you have people in communities like this who put an emphasis on living morally, when some of them don’t live up to those standards, people seize on it. In my view, if the time comes when a Charedi person commits a crime and it isn’t frontpage news, then I’ll be worried.

Do you see segregated bus services in London?

Rabbi Pinter: England is different. I don’t think it will happen here. You could maybe have something like that happen on a specialised service running between Golders Green and Stamford Hill. But generally, it is not something that would take-off here, I don’t think anybody would want it to. It’s only in areas where 95% of the community are Charedi that it would even become an issue, and it is more down to public demand and economic power – using buses that offer the service rather than those that don’t – that saw this happening. I don’t think we’ll ever see that on the 253.

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