Hipsters vs Hasids: A Commentary

Hasid and BicyclistA news article from New York was heavily making its way across the cycling blog/Twitter-verse yesterday, about some New York City bicyclists that repainted some bike lanes in Brooklyn. I vaguely registered the news item on my radar, but did not take a moment to read it until a friend of mine sent it to me by email. It was then I clicked and read it, and realized the Brooklyn area this happened in was Williamsburgh, a section that is full of Jews, specifically Hasidim (or as they are called in the  news, Ultra-Orthodox, a title I do not like at all). Oh boy.

NYPost.com: Hipsters repaint bike lanes in brush off to Hasids

I don’t know exactly what happened that those bike lanes in Williamsburgh were sandblasted away. I can only comment on what is said in the article, and even then I have to treat it as not entirely accurate. That said, there’s one part that really pressed my buttons:

Scantily clad hipster cyclists attracted to the Brooklyn neighborhood made it difficult, the Hasids said, to obey religious laws forbidding them from staring at members of the opposite sex in various states of undress. These riders also were disobeying the traffic laws, they complained.

Again, I have to assume that this is the paper embellishing things unless I actually hear it from someone who could corroborate that is precisely what was said. The thing is, it does sound like something they would say, and based on a Google News Search of recent news, and even some articles from a year ago, it would appear this is indeed cited as the reason.

Listen, I’m a Jew, a Shomer Shabbat, Kosher-keeping Orthodox (not a Hasid) Jew who rides a bike in South Beach, the hottest, trendiest, most trafficked area of Miami Beach. There is more than this city’s share of scantily clad people all around me that I pass by while I ride, or that pass by my house, the park, the yeshiva (the Torah school), the various synagogues, etc. Guess what, I’m under the same religious law forbidding me from looking at “members of the opposite sex in various states of undress,” and you know what I do? I don’t look. Yes, I slip up sometimes, but in general, I don’t look. I, me; I take the action, or decide to not take the action as the case may be. The onus of that Law is on me to not do it. There are also religious laws that govern how we should dress modestly, but again, those are on me; I can’t enforce those on anyone, Jewish or not.

Eliminating the bike lanes for this reason (and “disobeying the traffic laws” was an add-on, at least as the writer put it) is inane at best. Bicyclists are allowed full use of the road, so riders will continue to use the same avenues, bike lanes or not. Difference is, you just made it a bit more unsafe for them, and last I checked, that is also disallowed by halachah (religious Law). If it’s because they are not obeying traffic laws, have the same Shomerin Patrol educate them when they see them do things wrong, remind them that there are kids around they can hurt if they don’t ride according to the law, etc. But don’t attempt to have your neighborhood, where you are not the only one who lives there, shaped to your convenience; that’s just rude (and shame to those in City Hall that gave in to these demands for political reasons without any survey on the larger safety implications).



While I normally don’t condone acts where people take the law into their own hands, I can’t disagree with the bicyclists that repainted those bike lanes either. I’m not necessarily going to be behind a Naked Bike Ride going through the Hasidic neighborhood (that would be rude on the part of the cyclists as well), but the responsibility to not look at bicyclists in shorts, tanktops, etc is on you, the Jew. You are the one bound by the Law of Hashem, not them (Jewish bicyclists aside – and as far as those that are Jewish and not dressed modestly, well, there’s far more effective ways to establish that conversation than by stripping off/blocking the construction of new bike lanes). Take responsibility for your actions and take care of those around you, Jewish and Gentile; it is the mission that was entrusted to us by G-d, after all.


  1. The fact of the matter is that those bike lanes belong, effectively, to the city. If the community members had a grievance about them, then they should have taken it to city officials, regardless of any religious issues. Good analysis.
    .-= Julie´s last blog… The only magic is the curtain. =-.


    • At least according to the article, the Satmar community took the grievance through the proper channels and City Hall sandblasted them away. A source in the article states that it was done to appease that voting block just prior to the elections. If this is true, and frankly, living in Miami I know about political pandering to the Jewish community for votes, then it is shameful that the safety of thousands of bike riders was put below the comfort of a few hundred Hasidim.


  2. You guys couldn’t have found a picture of a law abiding cyclist for your article? I ride along that stretch of Bedford fairly often, and honestly I’m more concerned about idiots like that girl riding against traffic than I am about losing the bike lane. Bottom line is I hope that they do replace the lane with a new one, but its people like that girl that are truly making cycling dangerous in NYC.


  3. The NY Post is reporting today (12/10/09) that the Hipsters vs Hasid bikelane brouhaha has gone global:

    NYPost.com: Biker brawl goes global

    When Mayor Bloomberg arrives at the climate-change meetings in Copenhagen Monday he’ll be confronted by a group of activists from the borough, demanding to know how an environmentalist can take an anti-cycling stance.

    “How can he fly all the way there to talk about being a green mayor when at home he is yanking bike lanes off the streets?” said Baruch Herzfeld, an unofficial spokesman for the groups of riders who repainted sections of Bedford Avenue bike lanes in protest at the removal.


  4. Great and thoughtful analysis, Mr. Perez.

    I’m pretty secular, but can certainly understand why a religiously conservative enclave of NYC would want to be left culturally alone. I would respect their values to the extent possible in the same way I do the Amish in parts of Upstate N.Y. where I often go to visit.

    However, having it all one’s own way is not entirely possible in a multicultural nation like ours. We all have to give a little, especially to live in a teeming metropolis and as you say, the onus for obeying our religious principles is on us alone, on fair days and foul.

    We all have to remember that if we start imposing our narrow values on others, the shoe will some day be on the other foot. That’s what the First Amendment is all about.

    Meanwhile, those cyclists need to ride properly and stay out of those door zones.


    Khal Spencer
    .-= Khal Spencer´s last blog… If you can’t ride, ski =-.


    • Thanks for dropping by, Kharl.
      Yes, the bigger issue is one of accepting we live in mixed communities and not in the shtetl back in Russia or wherever. If that were the case, then sure, they can call all the shots. But it isn’t. We all need to be more respectful of our fellow’s ways.


  5. This is an interesting analysis. I’d read something about the conflict several month ago, but had not heard of the latest development about stripping the bike lanes. More often than not lately, a blog is the best place for me to find thoughtful insights into stories, rather than the mainstream media.
    .-= Dottie´s last blog… Ice on the Lakefront Trail, Prada on Rush Street =-.


    • Unfortunately, it devolved into a mockery (though thankfully, the scheduled naked bike ride through the area didn’t happen). The thing about this story is that it illustrates how far we still have to go. I mean, when people think that removing a bike lane increases security, there’s a big problem with education right there.


  6. Daniel, thank you for a great insight into this whole argument, which has registered quite large on the blogosphere this side of the pond as well. I think you are absolutely on the nail with the emphasis on the ‘I’, as in it is my responsibility not to look at scantily clad people, not the the responsibility of the scantily clad people to cover up for my benefit. The idea that people should change their behaviour to appease a majority is awful. Live and let live should be the ethos of all Americans.

    And of course, saddest of all, for hipsters, Jews or any one else who might like to bike is that a cycling facility has been lost.

    Great article!
    .-= MarkA´s last blog… y o u b i k e l o n d o n; Simon from Reading =-.


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