The “phenomenal” growth of Charedi Jewry in Britain means the Strictly Orthodox should “take more responsibility” for issues in the wider Jewish community, according to a leading figure in Stamford Hill.
Rabbi Avraham Pinter, principal of the Yesodey Hatorah schools, is under no illusions as to his community’s reputation for insularity.
At the moment, he says, “the Charedi community feel comfortable — there’s no threat to their survival — and they are not looking anywhere else. I think that’s wrong.
“In another 20 years, the majority of Jews in the country will be Charedi — we really need to take responsibility for every Jew. It doesn’t matter which community they belong to.”
How that might be accomplished is less clear. Rabbi Pinter does not think, for example, that representatives will be joining the Board of Deputies any time soon. However, he does suggest “there is a lot of co-operation going on behind the scenes”.
He would know; his influence spreads well beyond the field of education. In the early 1980s, he became the country’s first rabbi to sit as a local councillor — in Hackney for the Labour Party — and he is still involved in local politics.
At the publication of the Chakrabarti inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party last summer, a photograph was taken of Jeremy Corbyn shaking Rabbi Pinter’s hand.
“I do know Jeremy,” Rabbi Pinter says. “To describe him as a close friend, that would be somewhat of an exaggeration. I think he’s a decent man; I think there are issues he needs to address.”
The “issues” he refers to mainly concern the tidal wave of antisemitism allegations which have swamped Labour since Mr Corbyn, a long-time critic of Israel, won the leadership.
Rabbi Pinter says “some people will use antisemitism in the Labour Party to get at the Labour Party”, but at the same time, it is clear there is a problem within the party.
“I personally sometimes feel very uncomfortable going along to Labour party meetings,” says Rabbi Pinter. “I feel very tense, and sometimes the atmosphere is toxic.”
After one particular incident, he brought the situation to the attention of Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
“She responded that there was a real problem with the right wing. I said, ‘Diane, this is a local problem within the left and Labour, and we need to recognise it’.
“And she still went on with this ‘oh yes, I’m totally supportive’, but she again referred to fascists. I felt very upset about that.”
Despite this, Rabbi Pinter says he would only leave the party if Jew-hatred became “acceptable” throughout Labour.
In the Stamford Hill community, a growing issue has been concern around those who leave the Strictly Orthodox lifestyle, and often Judaism altogether.
Perhaps predictably, Rabbi Pinter seeks to play down the matter and cannot hide his frustration at what he believes is an “obsession” of outsiders looking into the Charedi world.
Two organisations that help people leave the community have worked with 65 individuals out of a community numbering around 28,000 in Stamford Hill, he points out.
“I can’t understand it,” Rabbi Pinter says. “If you want to move on, move on. They put out stories which are totally alien. They describe us as a cult. How can you be a cult when you’ve got 80, 90 shuls, each with a different way of life?”
As an educator, however, he is well aware of cases where children are involved.
“Sometimes when people leave the community, they feel they have ‘escaped’,” he says.
“And the first thing you do when you ‘escape’ — you want your children to reject that way of life.”
In a prominent case last month, a father who left the community and subsequently transitioned to become a woman was denied direct access to see her children, in part because the judge feared they would be ostracised by the Charedi community as a result.
Speaking about the case, Rabbi Pinter says: “The community should be compassionate and accepting, and never ostracise a child.
“That is an essential part of Yiddishkeit, to show compassion in all circumstances, even challenging circumstances.”