Haredi Jews in Stamford Hill have reportedly raised £1 million to fight custody battles in British family courts involving children potentially at risk of being removed from the ultra-orthodox community where they grew up.
The Jewish Chronicle reported on a meeting to set up the fund, which, according to its backers, would help “rescue the holy children from descending into ruin”.
The money would be likely to be used in cases where one parent wished to walk away from their Haredi lifestyle but the other did not.
According to the JC, Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, the spiritual head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, wrote a letter backing the fund.
He reportedly referred to “17 of our pure and holy children, where one of the parents has chased after a wicked culture and wants to drag their children after them”.
Gesher EU, a group that supports individuals from the community “who wish to explore living beyond the confines” of their tightly controlled ultra-orthodox lifestyles, warned many women felt trapped in lives that were “oppressive, intolerant and authoritarian”.
In an article on her organisation’s website, Emily Green, from Gesher EU wrote: “I, along with some other women, made the brave decision to leave the Hassidic community we were born and raised in and make different choices.”
She added: “My entire family as well as extended family have severed all contact with me, my closest friends betrayed me and now regard me as an evil woman whom they must keep their children away from at all costs, and all the community as a whole including headteachers and rabbis came out publicly and denounced my decision, threatening to take my children away from me.”
Divorce is frowned upon in the strictly orthodox community living in Stamford Hill, and extensive efforts are often made to avoid internal family issues being aired in public. Conflicts over custody, where they do arise, rarely find their way into the UK courts.
Critics of the new fund fear it could place further impediments in the path of women wishing to leave the community, thereby limiting the range of choices open to them further still.