Simon Rocker

You have to question the calibre of Charedi leadership

'Don’t expect to see revolution in the sacred square mile just yet,' says Simon Rocker

February 04, 2021 10:16

The raid on the illegal wedding at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School two weeks ago was the third time in less than three months that police have slapped a £10,000 fine on the organisers of a Jewish celebration in Stamford Hill.

In the previous two instances — a wedding with more than triple the number of guests than the permitted maximum and a “large party” at a shul over Shabbat — the police did not even identify the venue as Jewish in their report, let alone name it. But this time was different.

When video footage of officers swooping on the school as if about to make a major drugs bust went viral, Stamford Hill found itself the centre of unwelcome scrutiny.

In a hastily convened virtual meeting with Chaedi representatives of last Thursday, the Faith Minister Lord Greenhalgh warned that such egregious breaches of lockdown rules must not recur.

The police may have concluded their investigations but questions remain for the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, the main umbrella body for London’s many Charedi synagogues.

The Union’s rabbinate this week issued a public notice saying everyone was “duty bound” to avoid unlawful gatherings and to comply with requirements to wear masks. “This call from our rabbonim makes clear everyone’s responsibility to adhere to the current lockdown in order to save lives,” said the UOHC president Binyomin Stern.

But did the UOHC previously make clear that weddings were off-limits or ban its affiliated rabbis from participating and is it investigating any caterers under the UOHC-associated Kedassia licence for involvement in rogue simchahs?

If leaders were to claim they did not know what was happening on their home patch, they would reveal themselves so out of touch that they would hole their credibility.

If they tried but failed to stop the simchahs, they would have shown themselves ineffectual.

Even before the latest episode, the calibre of leadership in Stamford Hill was a matter of debate. The Chasidic school headteacher and blogger Eli Spitzer recently argued that the Charedi community “lacked an institution like the Board of Deputies with the stature and ability to consistently make an impact at the highest levels of British politics and society”.

Three years ago the Charedi community appeared to be moving towards more effective representation. For the first time a national body, representing Gateshead, Manchester, Stamford Hill and North-West London, was set up in order to defend Charedi schools. Chinuch UK had broad, if not universal, support – you can’t expect miracles.

The group mobilised against a perceived threat to its education system in the form of government diktats that schools should talk about same-sex relationships in class. The Charedi community has a plausible case that the legislation intrudes too far into areas of sexuality, once the province of families. But in the wake of the latest episode, it may struggle to make its voice heard.

Some officials in the Department for Education might conclude that the neglect of social distancing rules reflects an insularity that is best countered by a more robust secular education and the tightening-up of so-called “British values”.

While events may ultimately strengthen the hand of those inside Stamford Hill who want to see change, don’t expect to see revolution in the sacred square mile just yet.

A local Charedi activist who support change told me this week:

“We must not fall into the temptation of letting things go on as before”.

The old guard, however, may take some persuasion.


February 04, 2021 10:16

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