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British High Court: Secular Court Cannot Rule on Halachic Matters

court hammer.jpgThe Jewish Free School in London was cleared of discrimination charges for refusing to accept a student who is from an intermarriage and whose mother is not Jewish. According to the London Times the father of the 11- year-old boy sued the school for racial discrimination. The school had refused to accept the student because he is not halachically Jewish.

Legal proceedings reached the British High Court, where Judge Mumby determined the school did not discriminate against the boy based on race, saying that a secular court cannot rule who is a Jew according to halacha. The judge said Jewish schools are entitled to set admission policies according to religious criteria.

The boy’s father argued that the North London school rejected his son based on ethnic rather than religious grounds. During the trial two other families also appeared in court, testifying that their sons had also been rejected even though they are Jewish. The London Beis Din had not recognized the conversion one of the mothers had undergone in Israel and consequently the school refused to accept her daughter. The judge acknowledged that his ruling on the inability of a secular court to intervene in Jewish halacha would set a precedent and have broad ramifications.

The judge rejected the petitioners’ claims of discrimination, saying that Jewish schools do not deviate from the types of admissions prerequisites required at other religious schools. The principal of the Jewish Free School invited the judge to visit the school and see for himself that there is no racial bias. “We’re pleased the court endorsed our student admission policy, and we’re especially pleased with the judge’s ruling that the definition of Jewishness can only be determined by halacha.”

Perhaps in Israel the High Court would do well to accept the decision of the British High Court as an example of secular courts refraining from intervening in halachic matters.

(Arnon Yaffeh, Paris for Dei’ah veDibur)

4 Responses

  1. “The judge acknowledged that his ruling…would…have broad ramifications.”
    Seems like if he would have ruled otherwise the ramificiations would have been much broader.

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