So there’s this joke going around about a pious hassid looking for a parking spot. After twenty minutes of driving around the lot, he starts praying, promising God that if only he gives him a parking spot, the hassid will take upon himself more stringencies, more prayers, more money given to charity. This goes on for another full fifteen minutes, and finally someone pulls out of a spot. “Never mind,” the hassid says to God. “I found one.”
I like this joke. It has many uses. Unfortunately, some of the top rabbis in Jerusalem have conspired to make it unusable. Accoring to a report in YNet, driving a car is no longer considered appropriate for the truly pious student of Torah. This week, the heads of one of the main Jerusalem yeshivas expelled four students because they got driver’s licenses. Nor are they alone. According to YNet, “Most ultra-Orthodox rabbis oppose the notion of a haredi person getting a license. “‘It’s inappropriate for a person who defines himself learned in the Torah to have a driver’s license,’ a prominent rabbi told the yeshiva director when the latter came to consult him on the issue.”
For the life of me I do not know what sorts of evils the rabbis believe result from driving, or what this has to do with Judaism. True, Moses and King David did not drive cars. But neither did they take the bus. We do know that, according to Genesis, Rebecca rode a camel. Abraham rode a donkey. So did talmudic rabbis like Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Elazar. So will the messiah one day. And I suspect that the vast majority of the ultra-Orthodox yeshiva’s donors do drive cars — those who cannot afford to hire a driver. Is it an environmentalist thing? Fear of exposure to immodest billboard ads?