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On the dark side

16 December 2016


WHEN a couple divorce, the altar weeps. So it is said among the Or­­tho­­dox Jewish Haredis. But, as Faith or Family (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) revealed, that is not the half of it. Intimidation and stalking might also be the result if you get on the wrong side of the community.

In this documentary, we heard the stories of two women living within the strict Hasidic religion whose marriages failed, and who, as a result, felt the weight of the community’s dis­pleasure.

It is worth saying from the start that nobody from the community offered any com­ment on the stories related. The stories of Ruth and Emily recounted here may, as witnesses “off the record” said, be attributable to rare conditions and malicious person­alities.

None the less, the patterns of behaviour had a certain consistency, and you wonder whether these Haredi communities might not have done better to spend some of their funds on a PR campaign rather than on ex­­pensive family lawyers.

The pattern includes being tailed by a private investigator, harass­ment, and slander. Emily was photographed taking a trans-Atlantic flight on the sabbath as evidence of her unfitness to be a mother; Ruth’s boyfriend found his tyres slashed. Lawyers were hired to act against them. Fund-raising events were organised to pay for them.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this is that it can take place within the context of a British legal framework: the recent restrictions on legal aid have made it more difficult for the women to defend themselves against a well-resourced opposition.

There is never a good time; and, in the festive season, it seems par­ticularly inopportune. But we need to talk about We Need to Talk About Death (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week), a series in which Joan Bakewell has been discussing various facets of the Grim Reaper’s mission. The format is tried and tested — a studio panel whose discussion is prompted by pre-recorded material — and the mood is professional. If you wanted to spend 45 minutes of your evening listening to the experts talking about the management of extreme pain, then this show would have been just your thing.

But there is no necessary correla­tion between the universality of a subject and the universality of its appeal; indeed, there is a drabness to the business which only becomes more drab when discussed in the clinical tones of hardened profes­sionals.

One person who seems to have conquered death, at least in show-business terms, is the 1980s popster Rick Astley, who was talking on The Danny Baker Show (Radio Five Live, Saturday) about his latest album. In his new incarnation, Astley is a serious musician, who looks back at the Stock Aitken Waterman days as if it were another life.

In those days, he achieved the John Lennon boast of being bigger than Jesus — at least if his prize anecdote is anything to go by: being asked by two Italian nuns to sign their copies of the Bible.

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