The perils of public transport are too much to bear for some of the delicate flowers of northwest London. Golders Green and Hendon have a seedy side and many anxious parents insist on driving their daughters to and from school to shield them from the sort of people they are likely to meet on the bus en route to one of the religious schools in the area.
I have a different approach – stick our kids on the bus and let them see how the other half lives: girls with skirts up to their pupik [belly button], with pallid skin and multiple earlobe piercings, smoking nervously and looking pathetic hanging onto the shirttails of smelly, gangly and pimply boys. This has to be the most effective antidote to any frum girl’s aspirations to be ‘normal.’
There is a climate of fear about teenage girls. Media reports suggest that girl gangs take pleasure in gratuitous violence and target defenceless victims. We don’t know what to do about the young girls drinking alcohol to excess and starving themselves to death. The crowds will part in a shopping mall to let a group of prowling girls pass by. I know as I have done it myself – they can be very intimidating, even though underneath it all, they just want a young man to love them and look after them. This is why the UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in western Europe.
One of the obvious implications of multiple sexual partners is the increased chances of sexually transmitted diseases, and recent news that the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination, designed to protect against ‘the commonest causes of cervical cancer,’ will soon be available to 12 and 13 year olds has confused religious parents. The government sponsored brochure explains that the virus is very common and you catch it by being sexually active with another person who already has the virus…you need to have the vaccination before you start being sexually active. And, while most girls don’t start having sex before they’re at least 16 or quite a bit older, it is recommended that you have the vaccine at 12 or 13 years of age to protect you as early as possible.
Community responses has varied: doctor-mothers have not blinked an eyelid and are signing the parental consent form without hesitation while fathers who don’t like the innuendo implying that their religious daughters are sleeping around are wavering before signing on the dotted line. Most parents seem to have taken the ‘better safe than sorry’ route of agreeing to have their daughters vaccinated while in the same breath have expressed a wish that the Jewish schools would take more of an interest in coping with breast cancer and educating young women about proper self-checking as they get older.
In the Jewish Tribune, one of the weekly charedi newspapers, a news article on the 30th October explained the vaccination and cited support by key members of the community including a prominent rabbi and a frum doctor. However, in this week’s edition (6th November) the Office of the Rabbinate of the Union of Hebrew Orthodox Congregations issued a large advertisement saying that
“It was reported last week in certain newspapers that the Rabbinate has given its approval to the current vaccinations programme, for girls, against HPV. This report is untrue, and the Rabbinate has not advocated participating in this project.”
Have the Rabbis advocated anything? Would it be too much to ask that they advocate seeking a medical opinion? This ambiguous proclamation, without citing medical evidence or consultation, is irresponsible and places families guided by rabbinical authority in an invidious position. The implicit message is that if parents allow their daughters to have these vaccinations, they are suggesting that their young maideles could be promiscuous and we, as a community, are condoning behaviour that is contrary to a religious lifestyle.
This approach is so naive and endemic of the “hush hush” approach to relationships and a denial of the changing social mores that are trickling through to every part of the religious community. There will always be unblemished boys and girls from good families who will marry very young, however, there are sexual diseases in the religious community acquired in a number of unsavoury ways and we have a responsibility to the young girls of the community to protect them. The percentage of people affected may be much smaller than in the general community, but how can these medically unqualified leaders who intimidate their community into avoiding this vaccination carry the burden of potentially contributing to an unnecessary and devastating illness in the future?
Cross-posted to The Jerusalem Post blog.