Aren’t you just bashing a strictly / ultra orthodox or Haredi lifestyle?
No. We support those who wish to live a conservative strictly observant Orthodox Jewish (“Haredi”) lifestyle. It is the right of every British citizen to practice their religion and experience their culture as they see fit. We fully recognise that a life within a religious community is valuable to many of its members.
However, they, in turn, may not cause harm to others through the practice of their religion. Their right to freedom of religion does not extend to allowing individuals to cause harm in the name of religion. Harm caused by religiously inspired conduct is a form of extremism, and it should be opposed.
We believe the problems which arise in strictly orthodox communities are more serious in some groups than in others. We are not suggesting that harm is being caused in all Haredi communities.
Our primary concern relates to compliance with UK law, the denial of education to children, and the limited autonomy of young adults brought up in this community. Providing secular education and agency to young adults, in particular in relation to marriage partners, is not incompatible with a Haredi lifestyle. We believe that people should live Haredi lives as adults because they have chosen to do so, and not because they are trapped in a particular way of life. We are also concerned that a religious community in which limited educational skills are provided to children will inevitably become dependant upon public assistance, and will ultimately not be self-sustaining. Change is therefore essential if such a community is to survive.
What do we think is the minimum non-religious education parents should give children?
Children should receive an education which enables them to obtain at least 5 GCSEs in maths, English (language), double science and a humanity.
Children with artistic or sporting talent should be given the opportunity to develop their abilities. The quality of the teaching that they receive should be good. It is essential that children leave school fluent in English. Such an education requires at least 3 hours a day, from age five to age eighteen.
After the age of sixteen all teens including those attending yeshivot and seminaries should have the choice of 3 A levels in mainly facilitating subjects (eg maths, history, geography, physics, chemistry, biology) or vocational courses; i.e. the recently announced T-levels.
What might an arranged marriage, with agency, look like?
Children should be brought up with an understanding of the importance of autonomy in their choice of spouse. They should be exposed to diverse role models so that they are not led to believe that marriage is the only permissible aspiration. Young adults should know they have the option to defer the shidduch process for as long as they want, or understand that it is acceptable to meet someone by dating instead. Guidance on how such a process can work in the orthodox community needs to be provided.
Young adults should not be pressured into a decision in any set timescale, and should have a chance to meet the proposed partner as many times as they see fit. The young person rather than parent should control the relationship with shadchan, and decide who to meet. No stigma should arise from meeting several people before deciding who is the right spouse.
What crimes and breaches of legal requirements are we concerned about?
There is a lack of awareness about the requirements of UK law within some Haredi communities.
In particular, we are concerned about ignorance relating to the following criminal offences: fraud, income (and other tax) evasion, benefit fraud, forced marriage, sexual offences (including marital rape), trafficking, a failure to reporting abuse and neglect (where a legal obligation to report arises), immigration fraud and domestic violence.
In addition, there is a need for a better understanding of the requirements of equality and employment law, and of the Children’s Act.
What harm are we concerned about?
Domestic violence, denial of educational rights, including being educated in unsafe buildings, being taught by untrained teachers who have not been DBS checked, insufficient assistance and stigma related to mental illness, the impact of forced marriage and marital rape, failures to report sexual offences, child abuse and neglect to the police, issues relating to physical autonomy including clothing choices and contraception, and isolation. A particular harm arises when adults do not have the requisite skills to enable them to earn a living due to the lack of education they received as children.
What do we think that the government’s role is in this?
Central government must acknowledge that this part of the Jewish community is likely to constitute the majority of the British Jewish community within the next 20-30 years. They should appreciate that their policies around education, immigration, housing, and welfare affect this community in unique ways, and must plan for the future appropriately.
The government should ensure that the law as it stands is being enforced. It should pass new laws, where necessary, to combat forms of extreme behaviour which is harmful to members of Haredi, and to support wider community cohesion. The government also needs better to understand these religious communities, and should promote integration with society. The government has a central role to play ensuring that multiple state agencies work together to meet the complex challenges that those living within strictly orthodox communities face.
What do we think that the role of mainstream Jewish communities and institutions (e.g. OCR / US / BOD / JLC ) is in this?
Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh: Jews have a responsibility to each other. The wider Jewish community should seek to ensure that Jews for whom the Haredi lifestyle is inappropriate have the same opportunities as they themselves have enjoyed. To this end, all parts of the Jewish community should work to provide support for those seeking to leave. They should provide a home to those seeking a different type of Jewish community or form of religious observance. More broadly, these groups should help to ensure that the Haredi communities are able to contribute to the wider community and wider society in a sustainable manner that maximises the autonomy of its members.
Mainstream Jewish communities should not be providing a figleaf for those who seek to harm others, whether intentionally or not.
What is our view about movement into (kiruv / baal teshuvah) and out of the Haredi community. How should the community support people wishing to move in either direction? Does the direction matter as to the support?
Those joining the Haredi community: Broadly speaking, freedom of religion is an adult choice. However, it should be recognised that this choice can affect future generations’ access to secular education or autonomy / agency over adult life and that significant choices should be made on the basis of transparent, clear information and full disclosure of the implications.
Those leaving the Haredi community: We believe there should be support for those seeking to live a different sort of Jewish lifestyle, in a different sort of community. When a person leaves such a group, they will generally lose the structures around which their lives have been built. We have an obligation to provide assistance to them.
What is the minimum necessary integration with the wider world? Does the level vary at different points in life?
The practice of religion should not result in a negative impact on an individual or others. Children must be sufficiently integrated and should obtain appropriate skills so that if they do decide to maintain their Haredi way of life, it is a conscious decision and choice.
At school age, this requires meaningful contact with children from other backgrounds. It also necessitates the ability to mix sufficiently in non Haredi circles, so that they can choose to attend university and proceed to employment outside the Haredi community if they choose to do so.
Adults should have sufficient knowledge of UK society to enable them to comply with all aspects of UK law including in relation to civil matters. They should attain fluency in English in order to facilitate effective communication with those who are not members of their community.
What happens when there is a clash of freedom of religion and UK law? What’s your view on providing children with sex and relationship education (SRE)?.
In the UK there is a limit to the freedom of religion as tested in recent case law. Freedom to manifest one’s religion can be subjected to limitations prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. SRE that is designed to protect children’s rights and prevent them from suffering future harm should be a requirement in all schools.