Rabbi urges wider role for Charedim


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

Cor­byn: ‘de­cent man’ with ‘is­sues to ad­dress’ 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 Je­wha­tred 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.”


Rabbi Avraham Pin­ter at the Ye­sodey Ha­torah Sec­ondary Girls School where he is prin­ci­pal


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